Are you showing yet?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I wanted to tell everyone as soon as I took the drugstore test — in the bathroom of a Chinese restaurant, actually, because I was too impatient to drive home. And I didn’t regret telling people even in the next few weeks, when I had signs I might lose the pregnancy. (I didn’t.) I didn’t understand my mother-in-law’s softly spoken unease with the idea of sharing pregnancy news so early. My own mother kept me a secret from family members for several months. I didn’t understand that either.

I’ve been working on a new novel since January. I like to pretend that I’m skipping the second novel problem – the difficulty sophomore novelists have getting published and favorably reviewed — by jumping ahead to the third. That’s a flippant way of saying that my flawed second novel is sitting in a box and probably won’t ever see the light of the day.

I loved that novel, I struggled with it, I traveled to Europe and the Middle East in order to write it, I questioned everything I knew as a writer working on it, and through trial and error (and error, and error), I learned a lot about issues of pov and voice and character and chronology and theme. But though I finished it, the novel came out with a weak heartbeat. The intensive care of several rounds of radical revision didn’t save the story’s life. With apologies to anyone who has had serious fertility problems or who may take offense with the metaphor, my second novel was stillborn.

Here is why my mother-in-law and the women of her generation often didn’t share news of their pregnancies until the end of the first trimester and certainly didn’t buy early baby presents: because miscarriage in those first months is so common. Make a big fuss, make a lot of announcements (as I did with both my first pregnancy and my second novel) and you’re bound to be a little embarrassed if things don’t work out.

Here is why my mother kept news of her pregnancy quiet for as long as she could: not because she was afraid of calamity, but because she wanted to savor the experience. I get that now, too. Working on my current novel following the difficulty of my last one, and knowing better now how many projects stop and start and flounder, I’ve been enjoying those quiet kicks and flutters of a new story that might – might — just be healthy enough to make it. I’ve enjoyed feeling creative without any pressure from future readers, real or imagined. I’ve tried to provide a quiet, safe place for this new baby to develop.

At some point, though, the news gets out. You start to show.

I started showing earlier this month when I was awarded a Rasmuson fellowship in connection with this novel-in-progress – a huge honor, and a much-need financial and emotional boost. The fellowship will pay for a family research trip to Italy this fall, without which this new little novel wouldn’t make it through the next growth stage.

Many writers have been kind enough to offer me congratulations for the award. They’ve asked about the novel, and I’ve started to tell them. “The Discus Thrower” is set in Italy, in 1938. The story takes place over three intense days as a young German art cataloguer attempts to transport an ancient statue that has been purchased by Germany – over the objections of many — from Rome to Munich. Political backdrop and some criminal tensions aside, the novel is about one man’s struggle with his own life, past and present. Art history and the 1936 Olympics, body image and eugenics, brotherly and passionate love are all part of the story.

At this point, I still worry about a literary miscarriage, even as I creep steadily toward the middle of Act II. Maybe the second act will bog down (as second acts often do). Maybe I’ll be satisfied with the finished project but the publishing world won’t welcome my latest addition. I know several fine authors with fine, viable projects who are getting more “nos” these days than ever before. Doubt and faith are equal parts of creation. Anything could happen.
But I guess at some point, you simply have to move forward. You have to ditch the old jeans and wear the stretchy ones. You have to get used to people patting your belly. It feels a little good, actually, this time around…

Next week, I’ll share some more thoughts on the novel’s factual origins.

5 thoughts on “Are you showing yet?”

  1. I love this analogy – the literary miscarriage. If only our fears could be mostly set aside, as in pregnancy, after the first three months. But at some point we have to start talking. Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. Terrific entry! I’m struggling with a similar situation. My first novel is in a box — has aspects I’m proud of but needs work. My second novel got picked up by an agent and of course I told everyone close to me because I felt like I had gotten through the first trimester, and because that’s the kind of person I am. I tend to talk through both the good and bad things in my life. For the past year since I signed with the agent, encouraging friends and relatives are asking — so when is it going to be in bookstores? Now, as my agent gets ready to take The Snow Child out to a few publishers, I realize there are still no guarantees, even as you come into the 9th month. It is a difficult market for fiction right now, especially for first-time authors. And I know that as much as I don’t want to fail, I don’t to disappoint all those people who have patted my belly.

  3. Congratulations on getting your research trip funded – we just returned from a cycling trip (definitely research-free, in our case) in Italy and it felt like we were always surrounded on all sides by a depth of history I could not have imagined. Yours sounds like a fascinating novel idea, and I can’t wait to see it.

    By the way, little piece of trivia that’s sort-of-literary-but-not-really: one day we were stopped by a film crew doing aerial shots for the sequel to “Twilight.” (I’m so out of it, I didn’t even realize there had been a first movie.) So if anyone sees the movie and swears they see the glint of a blue helmet in one of the aerial shots, I’ll know we disappointed the young Italian guy who told us, “Okay, now you must hide.”

  4. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Thanks to all, and to Karen: I told my 11-year-old Twilight fan daughter, and we’ll be watching the next movie for that possible glint of blue!

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