The Second Trimester: On Babies and Books

So, if publishing a book is like having a baby, I’m well into my second trimester.  The new novel, THE CELESTIALS, comes out in June.  I’m past (theoretically) the morning sickness, the horror at the changes in my body, the odd glances at my refusal to drink.  (She must be pregnant.  No other reason she could be turning down a martini.)  I’ve been edited thrice-over by the brilliant Meg Storey.  I’ve been copyedited by someone even more obsessive and anal than I.  There’s a beautiful cover.  There’s an author photograph I can live with.  (In my circles of Hell, there will be trying on bikinis and author photo shoots.)  I’m past, therefore, the first ultrasound.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I ran into a colleague shortly after that first ultrasound.  Knowing that I had been anxious about any number of things (brain inside skull, etc.) she asked how it had gone.  Good, I replied.  I went on about the coolness of having gotten to see inside the chambers of his heart. She was pleased for me.  Great, she said.  Good news all around.  She paused.  Then she said, “Well, now you can start worrying about the worst possible combination of your and your husband’s personality traits.”  Then she left, tootling along on her merry way.

I stood there.  Oh. My. God.  A moody, imperious control freak.  A bossy, anal depressive.  And if you added the grandparents, things really got interesting.  So, now, in my second trimester of THE CELESTIALS, I am thinking about the Book Tour.  For a writer with my sales figures, Book Tour may be too grand a term for the handful of bookstore managers who shrug and say, “Well, I guess, if she wants to come all this way, we can set up a chair or two.”  Nevertheless, this is what we do.  So my past book tour moments are rising to the surface these days.

At a visit to my aunt’s book group, the first question about my third novel, DON’T I KNOW YOU?, was: Would you like to know what I really didn’t like about this book?  Yes, I thought.  Of course I would.  That’s why I drove three hours to be here.  Did I mention this was a visit organized by my aunt?  A.  Member.  Of.  My.  Family.

At a reading for my first novel, AN EMIRE OF WOMEN,  in California, the total audience was my college roommate and my cousin.  The bookstore employee who had arranged the reading couldn’t make it.

After a reading in my hometown, an acquaintance of my husband, the writer Jim Shepard, came up and congratulated me on having published the novel.  Then he said, “So, did you write this by yourself or did Jim co-write it?” (More on what it’s like to be married to a writer in a later post, perhaps.)

After one of my first readings for my first novel, the sole comment my mother made was that she preferred the cover of the galleys to the cover of the book.  The cover for the galleys was white.  Plain white.  Later, she added that she felt I hadn’t thanked her enough in the acknowledgements.  (More on what it’s like to have a mother in a later post, perhaps.)

So perhaps my current position in the pregnancy explains the low-level dread and anxiety I’ve been feeling recently.  A friend of mine used to say that when she had to encounter people or situations that could potentially hurt her, she would place her hand over her abdomen, protecting herself.  I imagine doing that in perpetuity, or at least for the next six to ten months.  I imagine hand as shield, deflecting the world’s disappointments and, perhaps more brutal, my own disappointments in myself.  But I also remember what it was like in those second and third trimesters: you placed a hand on your belly.  You not only felt flutter and flight beneath it; you saw it.  Literally saw it.  Amazing, you thought.  Aren’t you lucky?  Here is the news from another world and you were here to see it.