From Books to Babies: How I Stumbled Upon the Biggest Decision of my Life

local-newsPlease welcome Miriam Gershow, author of The Local News, who has written this guest post as part of a TLC Book Tour!  Check back tomorrow for my review of this excellent debut novel!

For years, whenever anyone asked my mother when I planned to have children, she quoted a line I once told her: “Miriam needs to give birth to a book before she’ll give birth to a child.”  It was one of those lines I had said so off-handedly and so long ago, I barely even remembered it.  But my mother held onto it.  I think it reassured her as she waited through my twenties and then my early thirties, as she watched me get married at 35, as my husband and I bought a house and got a cat, and did all the things newly married couples were supposed to do.   

Well, almost all the things. 

My mother, like any good Jewish mother, awaited word of a coming grandchild, or, short of that, at least some a hint of interest from our end.  But at a time when the ticking of my biological clock should have been a base drum booming in my ears, it was barely even a tick. 

Because that line I had so casually tossed to my mother years before was true.  All my life, I have wanted to be a writer.  I dabbled in it through my twenties–writing bad stories and worse novels, joining writing groups, sharing my work with anyone willing to look at it.  At thirty, I returned to school for an MFA in fiction.  After graduating, I committed to writing as my honest-to-goodness job.  During the day, I took an adjunct instructor position at a university.  Whenever I wasn’t teaching, I wrote.  And wrote and wrote.  I began the arduous, one-step-forward-two-steps-back process of forging a fiction career.  I won a prestigious writing fellowship.  I was paralyzed by writer’s block for most of that fellowship.  I got a handful of stories published in literary journals.  I got dozens and dozens more stories rejected. I finished a short story collection.  I found an enthusiastic agent, who tried to sell that collection.  The collection never sold. 

miriam_gershow_portraitThrough this all, I could not conceive of conceiving a child.  Trying to get my writing published was already a full time job on top of a full time job.  I couldn’t fathom a third job–and one as life-altering and paradigm-changing as becoming a parent.  

And then a funny thing happened:  I wrote a novel and I sold that novel.  After fifteen years of trying, I had done it.  I had finally birthed a book. 

So now what?  

At first, nothing changed.  If anything, I was more consumed in my writing then ever. I was working with an editor and on-deadline for the first time.  My life was all about the panic, pressure and excitement of revisions.  There was no aching in my loins.  There was no longing for a child in my arms.  

But then an even funnier thing happened.  I finished the revisions, took a few months off, and began work on my next novel.  As I sat in front of my computer, I found I was a little bored.  A little restless.  This never happened with my writing.  My writing was always what centered me, what kept me sane and balanced and happy.  For the first time ever, I had the feeling of having already done this, of retracing my own steps.  I was not excited.  And it hit me, distinctly and undeniably: 

I’m ready to try something different.  I’m ready for whatever comes next. 

Without particular fanfare or panic or even those aching loins I’d been waiting for, I realized I was ready to have a baby.  I was ready to alter my life and change my paradigm.  The idea actually excited me.  Suddenly, I just knew.  If my writing career had been a long, slow process, with me concertedly hammering out each step of the path before me, then the decision to have a child was far more instinctual, percolating quietly beneath the surface until bursting through one day, clear and resolute. 

I am now two months away from my due date.  My novel came out four months ago. I’m still at work on the next novel and no longer bored by it.  Pregnancy has proven to be a creative wellspring; I’m bursting with ideas.  I know my life as a writer is about to change in ways I cannot even fathom.  I know everything is about to change radically and irrevocably.  For many years, the idea of such a change filled me with–at best–apathy, and–at worst–all-out dread. Now, though, I embrace it.  Surely, I’m about to stumble into the most rigorous juggling act of my life, but, to my own amazement, I’m up for it. 

My mother already has her plane ticket booked.  She arrives three weeks after the baby’s due date.  Briefly, my husband and I toyed with the idea of telling relatives to wait a few months before visiting, so we could have a long stretch of time alone with our baby.  But then we changed our minds; my mother, we figured, had waited long enough.

Blogger Bio:  Miriam Gershow is a novelist, short story writer and teacher. Her debut novel, The Local News, was published in February 2009. It has been called “deftly heartbreaking” with “urgency and heft” by The New York Times, as well as “an accomplished debut” (Publisher’s Weekly) with a “disarmingly unsentimental narrative voice,” (Kirkus Reviews).

A QUESTION for all you moms out there:  Did you have an ‘aha’ moment when you knew you were ready for parenthood?

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Guest Post: Author Robin Maxwell Talks About Book Clubs

It is my pleasure to welcome Robin Maxwell, author of the new historical novel Signora da Vinci, as a guest blogger today!  Robin, a veteran of many book club meetings, shares here how book groups keep her on her toes.

robinmaxwellscan9smThe world of book readership has changed dramatically since I started back in 1997 with Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn.  That was the period of ascendancy of the chains, Borders and Barnes and Noble, and for Diary I went on an old-fashioned national author tour, speaking at more than 100 venues from coast-to-coast.   Now with  my seventh historical novel, Signora da Vinci, I’m on my first “virtual book tour,” reaching out online, with an emphasis on book clubs.  Not only did I sign up for two book clubbing promotions, but my publisher (who had me include a “Readers Guide” in the back of the book) did a third, and very large promotion geared to their list of book clubs.


coversignorafrontEveryone in publishing is well aware of the strength and importance of readings groups.  They are, along with literary blogs, the most vibrant aspect of the book world today. It means so much to me, as an author, that book groups are reading and discussing my novels.  I see the groups as modern-day “salons” that perpetuate culture and ensure that literature continues to survive and thrive in such uncertain times. I’ve done a number of in-person book club events, and a few remote ones — on a speakerphone from the comfort of my own home.  It’s amazing to be able to feel the warmth and excitement of the women exuding through the wires and the cold machinery.

I never feel nervous or intimidated in these situations because, first, I know my subject so well.  By the time I’m sitting down for a chat about a book, I’ve been living with it for at least two years (between research, writing, editing, publishing and promotion).  I know the characters, the period, the politics and the aesthetics like the back of my hand.   And since I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know the answer to that,” it’s rare to be caught with my pants down.  Of course, if I’ve been invited to speak, I can pretty much assume the group liked my book enough to have me there in person.  I can’t imagine getting an invitation from a club that couldn’t stand what they’d read.  I just expect that I’m walking into a sympathetic situation — six to twelve intelligent women who love to read and discuss literature, at ease in a comfortable living room.  And usually there’s a wonderful meal afterwards!

At one event —  it was a mixed group, men and women — a man, in a rather confrontational tone, challenged me to defend the actions of my protagonist, Grace O’Mally, of The Wild Irish.  She was a 16th century Irish pirate, rival to  Elizabeth I, and “Mother of the Irish rebellion” against England.  He demanded to know why, as a writer, I was sympathetic to Grace, even though after her historic meeting with Elizabeth, she had gone back on her word to the queen to fight on England’s behalf against all the world.  Grace had, indeed, agree to help Elizabeth in exchange for the release of her son from an English prison.   

This was a legitimate question, and not a simple one to answer.  I really had to think on my feet, because not only did I not want to look foolish in front of these readers, but I didn’t want to let down one of my favorite heroines of all times.  I offered the thrust of my defense — that Elizabeth was the first to go back on her word — on another crucial promise she had made to Grace.  But the man parried, refusing to back down, calling Grace a liar, and not worthy of the readers’ respect.  I thought to myself “This man may be a raging Anglophile who simply has no sympathy for the Irish, a people who had been invaded, colonized, enslaved and murdered by the English,”  but that was no defense for the question at hand.  So I went for the emotional argument.  I asked him if he was parent.  He said he was.  I asked “If it was your child locked unlawfully in a tyrant’s prison, wouldn’t you say or do anything to secure his release?  Would you make promises to that tyrant?  Would you go so far as to lie?  Grace O’Malley was one of the great patriots of Ireland, but at that moment she was a mother first.”  Maybe it wasn’t a perfect argument, but the man thought about it and backed down.  Thankfully, somebody asked another question and we moved on.

In the last book group I attended face-to-face, while we were having our lunch afterwards, and everyone was at ease, I learned something interesting about how some readers feel about the questions put forward in the “Readers Guides.”  There was quite a bit of complaint that some of the questions were either irrelevant or obtuse, or that they were only answerable by the author.  These women took pride in devising their own questions for discussion if they didn’t like the ones offered in the guide.  I think that’s wise, and if you do find yourself with an author in your living room or on the other end of a phone line, it’s all right to put forth challenging questions.  It keeps us on our toes.  That man’s question challenging Grace O’Malley — it may have been the most difficult one I’ve ever had to face, but it certainly was the most memorable.

To learn more about Signora da Vinci, which is about the mother of Leonardo da Vinci, check out Amy’s review at My Friend Amy, or this terrific review at Passages to the Past.

Robin Maxwell is the author of 7 historical novels, with an 8th on the way!  Her website can be found HERE.

Discussion questions for Signora da Vinci can be found HERE.