A Delay

by kelly on February 3, 2013


Dear Readers,

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.

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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.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire Zulkey February 4, 2013 at 8:15 am

You didn’t totally fail at anything, gurl.

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Emily Harris February 4, 2013 at 8:24 am

You survived the first year of parenthood! For that alone, you are a success. Delayed timetables are often gifts, and I believe this one will be so for you, too.

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Kelly February 4, 2013 at 8:58 am

All I can say is yes, this. This is how it is. Whether you call it failure or success, it is exactly how it is.

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Mary February 4, 2013 at 10:10 am

Sounds like a good reason to me!

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Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams February 4, 2013 at 10:10 am

I don’t think you failed – you have a lovely little girl and you’re figuring out how to be both writer and mama. That’s huge. And we’ll gladly wait for your next book, no problem. :)

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Amy Sue Nathan February 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm

It will totally be worth the wait! xo

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Erin Blakemore February 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm

So not a failure.

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Lori P February 4, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Not even in the same category as failure. We get something to look forward to and you don’t regret missing out on Willa time. Your priorities are exactly right.

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Anita February 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm

You have done so much more than turn in a first draft. You have done all those little things in this year that you could not re-do, that only happen for the first time once, that you will never regret taking the time for. I know this because I’m a mother and because I can tell from twitter and blogs and your work that you are passionate and want to do it right. Your daughter is your glory, your best work yet…and dare I say, will always be that.
I thought you might announce you’re pregnant..ha ha.
Looking forward to book 3, and the wait is worth it!!! Hugs to you and the upcoming one year old, Willa? I really think Cheeks is the best name!

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Beth Hoffman February 4, 2013 at 4:59 pm

You have failed no one! My goodness, you brought a precious little girl into the world and your priorities are exactly as they should be. The book will come when it’s supposed to, and not a moment before.

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kelly February 4, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Thank you all so much for your support. What a bunch of sensible, level-headed people I have been lucky to meet!

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Phyllis February 5, 2013 at 7:06 am

When I was singing, I had my first child. I accepted a contract to sing Donna Anna in Don Giovanni when Jeremy was 10 weeks old. My husband wasn’t able to go with me, so I was getting up at night with him and nursing during intermission when I would have been resting. It was not a wise decision. I did not sing well ( can you say no breath support) and it became one of my few regrets. It’s okay to wait until you are through the first throes of motherhood. Enjoy that to the fullest and then you will enjoy the writing, but everything is changed forever.

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Phyllis February 5, 2013 at 7:07 am

Just correcting the web address

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kelly February 5, 2013 at 7:57 am

Some of you saw the comment from my friend Alisha about the rhyme hanging in her childhood room. Here’s the complete text, courtesy of Amanda Weltman:

Mother, O Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.

Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullabye, rockabye, lullabye loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peek-a-boo

The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo
Look! Aren’t his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullabye, rockaby lullabye loo.

The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep

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Sharon February 6, 2013 at 8:10 am

You didn’t ‘fail’ at anything. You gave birth to a brand new person; the word ‘fail’ just doesn’t come into it! The book is up there, waiting patiently in the nooks and crannies of your imagination. It’s not going anywhere. Just enjoy your beautiful little girl.

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Theresa Tinkle February 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm

NOT a failure! Not in any way. Not in any scheme of values. You are, fortunately, capable of bonding with an infant and caring for her and being there with her, in mind as well as body. That is so very important! That is a book you’re writing together. May it be full of love.

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Mary Ann February 18, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Take the minutes…believe me they won’t come again! My son is 31 and now I have two infant granddaughters and I take as many minutes as I can get. Somehow, though, those stolen minutes with my son are still very definitely imprinted on my heart. So treasure the stolen moments, make memories for you future, and we will all be patient.

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Kathy May 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

I bought The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott two days ago at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. I love Louisa May Alcott, AND I live in Keene, NH, only a stones throw, as I’m sure you know, from Walpole, NH. I decided to start your book while seated on a bench on the town common in Walpole. Shortly after I started it I was drawn in, and then the train in Bellows Falls blew its horn and just added to the ambiance, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had looked up and seen women in crinoline skirts! I started to circle street names in the book, and after some time I was curious about them, and I was delighted to see Main Street, Wentworth Rd., Washington Street (then Square), Middle Street, even a quote by Emerson on the fountain. It was all so delightful! And then continuing your book at home in Keene, NH, you mention Keene. How perfect! (And I am happy that the horsepower it takes to get from Keene to Walpole is much greater than the horsepower from a horse drawn carriage.) I have never had the experience of being in the town where a historical novel takes place, and it is a real pleasure. So, on with the rest of your book. I am half way through, and can’t wait to get back to it! Have a great day!

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kelly May 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Kathy, how wonderful! It really is a special place. I’m so glad you are enjoying the book. Thank you for writing to me!

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