Today is a big day in a journey I have been on for a few years. The cover of the novel I have been working on, Cassandra’s Daughter, is finished!
When I was only a year old, my mother had electric shock therapy. It was the 1960s. She blurted this news out to me when I was assigned to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school English class. The information was delivered matter-of-factly, with no detail or further explanation. And it was never brought up again. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable asking any questions.
But as my mother came near the end of her life, I thought about what that experience must have been like for her. This was also a time that I was doing a lot of writing, mostly essays, op-eds, and narrative nonfiction articles for newspapers and magazines. Between articles, I challenged myself with writing exercises. I wrote about my experience getting a filling while at the dentist, doing my best to capture the sterile environment and the horror that all my senses were going through. I detailed a ride I took on a city bus, describing the indiosyncrasies surrounding me. And I thought it might be a good exercise to try to climb into my mother’s skin and “feel” what it was like for her in a hospital room in 1963. Twenty-five pages later, I was horrified at what I imagined she had gone through.
Those pages sat in a virtual folder for years, as it was moved from computer to computer when I upgraded from a desktop to a Dell laptop to a Lenovo Thinkpad and then to a MacBook. But a spark was ignited.
“Life sure can be hell, can’t it?” I thought.
For the first time, I was driven to write a novel. I wanted to explore the secrets in families and how those secrets impact those who keep them as well as how those secrets impact mothers and daughters. And then granddaughters.
In 2017, I went to a writers retreat – get ready for this – in Mozambique. It was an opportunity of a lifetime and a trip of a lifetime. I made the decision that I would go with the intention of discovering this novel: the characters, the themes, the plot.
And I use the word “discovering” intentionally. The writing process is different for everyone, but many authors discuss what can almost be called a passive process, where the novels reveal themselves during the process. That is certainly how I felt.
A year later, I became an empty nester and decided to move from LA, where I had raised my two children.
For six months in 2018 and six months in 2019, I lived on the beach in the Outer Banks. I had never been there before but thought that might be just the place for me to find the inspiration to finally write this novel. And it did the trick. Not only did I have a complete draft when I left there, but I had new friends, a lot of sea shells, and some amazing memories.
And I was continually astonished at what showed up in my writing sessions: the people, the experiences, the details, the trauma, the joy. It was a torrent of emotion and awe.
I then moved to Chicago, just in time for the country to lockdown in response to the Covid pandemic. Terrible timing! But rather than finish up the novel, I put it aside to write and publish the timely Clara’s Journal: And the Story of Two Pandemics, which came out in June of 2021. In this nonfiction book, I flesh out the journal of my great aunt Clara Horen, who was 18 years old in 1918, experiencing the Spanish Flu Pandemic and the death of many people from her small town, Cresbard, South Dakota.
(You can order Clara’s Journal HERE if you haven’t yet read it!)
But today I am so excited to announce that my novel is FINISHED! And today is the cover reveal for Cassandra’s Daughter (as you can see in the photo above!). The novel should be available for sale mid-October. Exact date TBD. The sense of accomplishment, after working on this and enduring many many days, not of writer’s block – that doesn’t seem to be a problem – but of second guessing myself and this whole project.
I have to thank those who kept me on track, especially my daughter and son! I had a period when I read through whatever current draft I was on and suddenly had the realization that the whole thing was “shit” and I had just wasted so much time (actually, I had more than one of those periods – I am sure most writers can relate). I sent a copy first to my son, who has tried his hand at his own novel and is a good writer in his own right. I asked one simple question: “Is this crap or is there something here worth continuing the work?” He got back immediately upon finishing it: “This is great, Mom. Absolutely keep working on it!”
Next, I sent it to my daughter, who might be closer to the target market for the book. She wasn’t a big reader growing up, but she has recently joined a book club and been reading a lot more. Plus, she has never hesitated to tell me exactly what she thinks, so I felt confident that if she didn’t like the novel or if it didn’t hold her attention, she would certainly be willing to let me know. Instead, I got a call fairly quickly. She loved it! That endorsement meant the world! And I dove in with a seriousness that ensured I would finish it.
And here we are – a day that at one point felt very far away. I am so grateful for the entire process. It has afforded me purpose, pushed my writing skills to the limit, forced me to be vulnerable, taught me to surrender to the unknown and to trust of my intuition. And it has been a blast.
Many people throughout the process have asked me how the writing had been going, sometimes even attempting to sympathize with what they assume is the drudgery and difficulty of the project. And when I reply instead with a sense of joy and discovery at the process, they are dumbfounded. But it is true. My best days have been when I dove into the world of Cassandra and her mother Leah and grandmother Cora. Sometimes their experiences brought me to tears, surprising me at how moved I could be by characters I invented.
Life isn’t easy, and that is part of the point of the book. When my son finished the book, he also told me he had a question, one he felt necessary for his due diligence as my son. “Are you ok?” he asked.
I laughed. Of course I’m ok. Noting I wrote about had actually happened to me! So not to worry. But I was also excited to know that perhaps I succeeded at climbing into my characters’ lives in order to relate them to the reader.
FYI, I have a newsletter that I send out weekly, usually with notice of new blog posts, but also with updates on my writing. If you want to sign up for those updates, you can go HERE. And I am also putting together a Launch Team to participate in the launching of Cassandra’s Daughter. If you want to be a part of that group, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So thanks to those who have supported me through this journey! And keep your eye out for the release date of Cassandra’s Daughter.