Then I got sucked back into the black hole of law practice. But I did keep writing when I could. I joined a critique group, and when I retired from law a few years later, the group encouraged me to send out queries on the second manuscript. When one of the agents called me, she told me she really liked the story and asked what I was working on next. Well, I’m no dummy; I pitched her the first one – it really was already written after all. “THAT should be your first novel,” she said. And I said, “Well, okay then,” pulled out what really was number one, and tossed number two in the drawer. I did a bit of revision - like adding cell phones that didn’t exist fifteen years ago, and Mothers and Other Liars was born.
St. Martin’s exercised their option on my second novel before MAOL was released. I’m thinking easy-peazy, got that one in the drawer, too: a Thelma and Louise and Louise tale of friends searching for the man they think might be the biological father of one of them. The story is told from the perspective of Samantha, flowing back and forth from her past to the present. Here’s a short excerpt:
I am seven.It is the spring of second grade at Country Day. I have worked so hard to shield myself from the taunts of my friends. Loony bird. Loony bird. Samantha’s mama’s a loony bird.
My stomach had churned each time when I heard my classmates talking about the birthday parties to which I had not been invited. I myself had intercepted the invitation to the Bluebird mother-daughter tea, snatched it right out of the silver bowl on the marble-topped foyer table. I had crumpled it and buried it in the bottom of the wastebasket, too ashamed of Lily to risk attending.
But today, on this warm spring day, I hear the snickers of the other kids before I see the spectacle of Lily wending her way from the back of the room between the neat rows of desks. Lily in her Lanz night gown and bare feet.
Mrs. Galloway just stops the spelling lesson in mid-sentence as Lily sidles up to me, holding a half-melted ice cream cone with pink goo running down her arm. She is a Medusa, her hair a tangle of snaky strands.
With a splat, the remnant of an ice cream ball lands on my spelling book. “Hi, honey," Lily says. “I brought you an ice cream cone. Strawberry, your favorite.”
I look over at Mrs. Galloway, who shrugs her shoulders. I stand up from my desk, pry the soggy cone from Lily’s sticky fingers, and lead my nightgown-clad mother back down the aisle, our hands cleaved in goo. I cast my eyes down, concentrating on the disintegrating cone in a desperate attempt to avoid the smirks and stares of my classmates.
Once we are outside, past the flag pole, past the prying eyes at the windows, I wrench my fingers from Lily’s grasp and fold my arms in armor across my bony chest. I walk briskly, put several paces between myself and Lily. Knowing in my marrow that I can never outpace the humiliation.
I refuse to turn around, but I hear her, feel her, back there, following meekly in her shuffling bare feet.
It would be so, so much easier if Lily were just dead. Janeylynne Blake’s mother had died in childbirth. Spencer Craig’s mother had died when he was five. How much easier it would be to just lose my mother once, to have Lily totally gone instead of this half-person drifting in and out of my life.
I envy my friends their absolute motherlessness as I guide Lily home through the bright, warm light.
Crisp pages in a drawer, just waiting for a bit of spit and polish. And then I crashed into the brick wall of marketing. Mothers and Other Liars was being praised for its characters confronting difficult choices, moral dilemmas, for being edgy. Yay me, right? Wrong. Of course it was yay for Mothers and Other Liars. Just not so much for the one in the drawer. “They” wanted something edgier, something more fraught with moral tension and didn’t think Number Two should be number two. Maybe down the road, they said.
The problem was that I didn’t set out to make MAOL confrontational; that’s just where the characters took me. I didn’t know the choices Ruby would face, and I’m still not sure what decisions I would have made in her shoes. But now not only my writing but I was being marketed, shoved into a tiny hole of “edgy but literary author” in an ever fragmenting system. So I’ve been working on a new number two, in a room now crowded with not only me and the voices in my head but with agents and editors and marketers and even readers. I’ve struggled with this one, worrying that I am losing the thread of what wants to be written, wondering if I am writing from that essential place of truth. Or thinking that I am just a hack, laying down words like bricks in tidy rows to please other people.
I hate to whine; I know that I am truly lucky to have had Mothers and Other Liars published at all and to have an editor committed and waiting enthusiastically to publish my next novel. I’m just not sure that “edgy author” is who I am. (Not that the first number two is mere fluff, unless you consider insanity, suicide, alcoholism, a child with a terminal illness and abortion light reading.) For now, though, I’ll keep plodding on,writing the book “they” want.
Because I like those people in a marketing-induced coma in my drawer, and I know that the story on those pages is the one they want told.