Today I received a heavy box in the mail, and I wondered what my kids had ordered without asking. To my surprise, the box contained Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of An Elegant Woman—such a beautiful cover and so many copies. I hadn’t felt that thrilling sensation of seeing a work of mine so composed, so ready to be read, in years. Ten years to be exact.  In January of 2010 I received a similar box containing Dear Money, my last novel. My daughter was ten and my son was six; I was younger, too. My mother didn’t yet have dementia. Dear Money was my third book in a decade. I didn’t yet have teenagers. I hold An Elegant Woman in my hand, and the past ten years come rushing in—the challenge to write the novel, the fight for time while taking care of teens and a sick mother, the slow pace of the words making their way from my brain to the page, the false start, the long revision, the clobbering self-doubt. I had a professor who described that kind of self-doubt as “your shit bird.”  “Swat it away,” he’d say. Swat and swat and swat, but the little shit bird kept landing again on my shoulder, a little bop-bag doll. Finally, somewhere along the way, with the encouragement of a patient, trusting, and believing editor, the characters took over. The book has a lot to do with stories my grandmother used to tell me about her life, her childhood, our ancestors, the way she made it from poverty in Montana to a bourgeois life in New Jersey. Across the years, I’d scribbled notes, first while she was alive and then after she was dead. I followed those notes like bread crumbs, followed them from Ohio to Montana to New York, Maine, to New Jersey—her life against the backdrop of the American landscape and the 20th century.  Word by word, I followed her lead, and now I have a book. That’s how it is done, bushwhacking, swatting away at the bird. But the view from here now is very beautiful.

8 thoughts on “TEN YEARS

  1. I can’t wait to read it. Such an effort; must be incredibly rewarding. Love the picture; it’s the essence of Tommy. One of the most challenging people I ever knew — and I’m grateful to her for so many things. Good luck with the book. When will it be available?
    Congratulations for this very huge accomplishment. Love, Pat

      1. Gorgeous images evoked with hope and determination. Look forward to this read and assemblage of bread crumbs of one’s family history. Astounding photo of you both. Did Mother Pryde take that?. Congratulations

      2. Thanks, Grant. Yes, Mom did take the picture of Grammy and me. We were in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and had just had lobsters for lunch. I hated having my picture taken–hence that sad, little annoyed expression: “Another photo, Mom. Really?” How I wish she could still take them, how I cherish the ones I have–impatient face and all the others.

  2. Martha – I visited my friend Eileen Pollack in your building last week. I’d like to interview you about An Elegant Woman as part of my author conversation series at McNally Jackson – Between Two Worlds.
    If you’re interested, have your publicist contact our event managers – Nora Kipnis – nora@mcnallyjackson.com; and Cameron Scott – cam@mcnallyjackson.com. I think it will be great.

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