One thing I love about writing historical fiction is the power it has to transport me to a different world. I might be typing away at my desk in the little alcove off our bedroom where I work, while garbage trucks screech and clank down our busy Chicago alley every hour and a snowblower growls next door, but in my mind I am stepping off a paddlewheel steamship docked at Mackinac Island in 1835. I am a woman named Susannah Fraser, who ran for her life from the husband who nearly killed her and now faces a future of uncertainty. I am Magdelaine Fonteneau, the wealthy fur trader’s widow who wants to save Susannah because she cannot change the past, cannot go back and save her own sister from a man’s violence. When I’m writing about these imaginary people, I travel through time, to another place.
Here’s another thing I like: These stories are not about me. Sure, I put plenty of myself into my characters. But this is not memoir. I am not examining my own life in fiction, at least not directly. Truth be told, I really don’t like to talk about my own life all that much. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone would find it very interesting. I guess I am one of those “private” people.
But this year, something “private” happened to me that has changed me forever, and changed the way I do the work I love. I became a mom.
A few weeks after my daughter was born in February 2012, we were settling in to our new life with a newborn baby. I was out of my mind with exhaustion and physical pain, and two competing monologues about overwhelming love were duking it out inside my brain. One monologue was focused on the “love” part: “Ilovehersomuchilovehersomuchilovehersomuch.” The other monologue addressed the “overwhelming” part: “What if I make a mistake? What if she gets sick? What if I can’t do this? Whatifwhatifwhatifwhatif?”
Somehow in the middle of all this, I agreed to a January 2013 deadline for my next novel. I cannot explain the level of delusion that allowed this to happen. I guess January sounded far away at a time when just making it through twelve feedings in twenty-four hours felt like it took about ten days. Maybe I am just bad at math (okay, we know I am bad a math). But I said I would do it. And once I say I will do something, I WILL DO IT. So it was settled. I figured out when I could write around my daughter’s naps, and when my husband could watch her, and I made a schedule and set my word-count goals for each day, and I just told myself I would will it to happen. I had willed many things to happen in my life up to this point. Why should this be any different?
Except, I would learn, this was different. This was DIFFERENT. I slogged to the library all summer with my books and my laptop, only to find that most days I was so tired I couldn’t string a sentence together. That feeling of escape I used to get when the writing was going well, that feeling of being transported into the world of the book–it just wasn’t coming. Something–someone–was keeping me rooted right here in this world, right in the now of pajama snaps and hiccups and fevers and giggling–”Did she just giggle?!”–and The Big Red Barn and The Bear Snores On and first teeth and mashed-up avocado and the way she fell asleep in my arms every night and I knew I should put her down while I had the chance and tiptoe out but I would keep rocking and stare at her and think, “let me have just one more minute.” This, this, this is where I was.
I failed, you guys. I totally failed. I couldn’t will the book to happen on time. I turned in my draft in January and my editor told me the truth: It’s not ready. I need more time. I am sad about the delay, but I want the book to better than it is now. I want the time to do it right. So. All of this is to say that the book will be delayed until the spring of 2014. And I wanted you to know why.