The family profession: women who write.

December 2, 2011 § 5 Comments

I am a novelist, the daughter of a novelist, and now, much to my surprise, the mother of a novelist.

In a moment I’ll turn this post over to Josephine Faass, the author of, “Eight Days, Seven Nights, the Italian Cure,” who will tell you about her journey from resentful daughter of a novelist to a story-afflicted writer.

When talking to readers about my books I tell tales of growing up in a house littered with manuscript pages. What I don’t share is how hard it was for my mother to write those pages. It’s indicative of the balancing act that was her life that her rough drafts were always typed on the backs of old reports from my father’s job as a chemical engineer.

Writing was her guilty pleasure. She was stealing time from her “real job” as a wife and mother to spend time with people who didn’t even exist. Until my books became an income source I did the same, giving up sleep to write. No one but my characters wanted anything from me at 4:30 in the morning–and still I felt guilty–with cause as I now see from what my daughter has written.

In the only interview my mother ever gave, which was for the local paper, she said that her goal was to write with the raw courage of a Norman Mailer. I contend that Norman Mailer, in fact any man who writes, has the wind at his back. For a woman the act of writing is kept private, done on the sly in order to cause as little inconvenience as possible. I remember watching her stir dinner with one hand while editing with the other.

This is the way women write.

 A Writer’s, Writer’s, Writer, by Josephine Faass

My childhood memories are full of writers.  And I’m not talking about Judy Bloom or Edward Gory (although they’re in there, too), I’m referring to Maria Bontempi Fogelin and Adrian Fogelin.  My grandmother and mother.

They weren’t the chart-topping Steven King type.  Heck, Mom didn’t even get published until I was in high school.  They were the up at five am to write before the day started type.  The drawers filled with stacks of “scrap paper” for drawing type, one side of which, much to the annoyance of the artist (i.e. me), was always printed with some piece of a discarded manuscript.  The one foot in reality, the other planted firmly in a story type.  And I didn’t get it.

Why on Earth would you get out of bed at such an ungodly hour just to sit in front of the keyboard? I’d wonder.  And from my perspective, that was the most benign part of the deal.  After all, I wasn’t the one staring at words in the predawn hours.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it was about the writing that didn’t sit well with me, but I think it was mostly about the absence it created.  Absence in the sense of time not spent with me was a part of it (those writing sessions weren’t solely confined to the predawn hours).  But it was also absence in the sense of withholding.  I could tell there was something more to the writing than punching keys.  It was a lot bigger than the physical act; and although I didn’t understand how or why, I understood completely that it didn’t, and couldn’t, include me.  I would never get even one toe into their stories, let alone a whole foot.

So I wasn’t a fan of writing.  I mean, there were Barbies to play with!  Canals to swim in!  Pictures to be drawn on clean paper!  Besides, the life of a writer seemed doomed to unhappiness.  For my grandmother it was a major family fall out when her first published novel turned out to be a bit too autobiographical for some people’s tastes.  For Mom it was the constant balancing act between her writing and her “real job,” an act which seemed to leave her stressed and exhausted.

And then there was the misery of trying to get published.  My grandmother got herself a post office box just for rejection letters so that her father, who collected the mail each day wouldn’t know how often the rejections came.  Mom got her rejections with the rest of the family mail, but the results were the same: crushed hopes and battered egos.  Given this, it’s hardly surprising that the life of a writer was the last thing I planned to pursue when I grew up.

Fast forward a few years, okay, more like twenty years.  I was married, owned a house, and had just finished my Ph.D.  The five-year plan had been penned and things in my life were humming along nicely.  And then IT happened.  What “IT?”  The big “IT:” I had an idea for a novel.

It came from nowhere, really.  I was just folding laundry and minding my own business when it popped into my head.  A whole story.  Start to finish.  Soup to nuts.  Nothing like that had ever happened to me before (the story part, not the laundry, that happens way more often than I’d like).  It felt, for lack of a better term, like a divine intervention.  Up until that point, my life had been relatively intervention-free, so despite my trepidations, I sat down the next day and began to write.

I’d be lying if I said that the writing came as easily as the storyline.  Remember that new Ph.D. of mine?  Well, in the course of getting those three letters behind my name I’d done my share of academic writing, and let’s just say that the ability to communicate human emotions or show character development isn’t exactly a prized skill in the ivory tower.

The first draft was rough going (and rough reading).  But it was more than that.  It was my opportunity to live like my grandmother had, and like my mother does, with one foot in reality and the other in a world that only existed in my own imagination.  Suddenly it all made sense: the predawn wake ups; the dreamy “I can’t quite concentrate on what you’re saying because my brain’s stuck in that scene on page 159” facial expressions; the thrill of creating something that was completely my own.

I had assumed the mantle that had passed through the generations of women in my family – I had become a writer – and it was far from the heavy burden I’d imagined it to be as a child.  Creating a world in five dimensions (x, y, z, time, and emotion) was more addicting than anything I’d ever experienced.  I couldn’t get enough.  I’d claim exhaustion and head to bed early, only to pull my laptop out in the darkness of the bedroom.  I looked forward to each train ride to and from work because it meant 27 minutes of uninterrupted time with my story.

When I wasn’t writing I was mulling.  In my head I composed dialogue over dinner; formulated plot twists in the shower.  The characters appeared in my dreams, and when I’d turn on the radio, certain songs seemed sung just for them.

But the dark sides of writing started showing up too.  It didn’t take long for my husband to start exhibiting a series of “person on the outside who doesn’t get it” symptoms.  He didn’t resent my unwillingness to play with Barbies (for which I’m grateful on multiple levels), but like I had as a child, he noticed the absence the writing created.  I was present, but I wasn’t.  I stole away whenever possible.  I thought about my story constantly, sometimes at the expense of coherent conversation.  And of course there was the shadow of future rejection forever at the edge of my consciousness.  Would I rent a post office box or just get the “Not for us,” letters with the rest of the mail?

Of course, those things didn’t stop me.  They couldn’t.  Writing is too much fun.  And now here I am.  A thousand rewrites, five rejection letters, and one baffled husband later, I finally have my novel: “Eight Days, Seven Nights: The Italian Cure.”  It’s available for download on Amazon and is also available in print.  So in a world of ever-increasing entropy, it seems my fate was strangely linear: I am a “writer’s, writer’s, writer.”

Please visit the book’s website by clicking here.

All the proceeds from the book will be donated to the World Food Program to help alleviate the famine in Somalia.

Download an e-book  by clicking here.

Order a real book by clicking here.

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§ 5 Responses to The family profession: women who write.

  • craig reeder says:

    kudos to both of you for elucidating the real sacrifices needed to be a writer, and kudos to Josie for getting published with ONLY 5 rejections, and only 1 baffled husband, and good on you for helping the world food program!!!

    Like

  • Richard D. says:

    And from one writer to another, your first novel clicks. The plot is compelling. The dialogue is deft and often funny. The story works on multiple levels. Great job! Richard Dempsey

    Like

  • Welcome to the world of the inherited writer’s genes, Josie. I, too am a writer’s daughter (times 2 for me as both parents followed the muse).

    As to the dazed husband, I completely understand. Mine has at least learned to stand and wait, when he needs to talk to me, until I have finished my thought and gotten it onto the electronic page and look up.

    I look forward to reading your book!

    MLS

    Like

  • Gosh Amy, this is frightening. After 30 years my wife finally understands. She often interrupts me as we are riding down the road to ask me who I am talking to. For the longest time it was Johnny Carson. Today it could be anybody. I’ve determined that I must be moving my lips but I suppose there are other obvious signals. I wish your daughter the best. I’ll be checking into her book but I still have more of yours that I’ve yet to read. I’m so busy, busy, busy. I’m going to share this with my “vast” facebook audience. Take care.

    Like

  • Tgumster says:

    Writing women living parallel lives; ooh, we are fortunate, indeed.

    Like

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