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Does Publishing A Novel Change Your Life?

My book’s launch party felt a little like a wedding. Well, one where my five children had already been born, and were racing around jacked up on chocolate-dipped strawberries.

The bash was in an old brownstone in Boston. There was a long brass bar and passed hors d’oeuvres, a few speeches, some roasting. I read a bit from the first chapter in front of friends who appreciated the efforts it had taken to get there, and teetered in lemon-yellow shoes more than a few inches beyond my comfort zone. (My fear and secret thrill: I’ll never be able to chase the kids in these.)

In the past 10 years of my writing life, I’d gone from being a magazine journalist and mother of one to being a sometime-freelancer and mother of five. That evening of the launch party felt like a line of demarcation down my life: who I was before, and who I was becoming. Here I was burning rubber in my Sienna minivan. Just look at that S car go.

Shortly after the launch party we got an au pair for the summer, and I started traveling for readings at bookstores. It was both heady and humbling: One night an audience of 75 and the next just a few, including several who had to, because they worked there. Mornings, I’d get in a rental car and drive to bookstores that were not stocking my book in hopes they might give it, and me, a chance. My father asked in an email what it felt like to be on book tour. I told him that while one person did squeal excitedly to meet me (I’m pretty sure she mistook me for someone else), a lot of the time it felt like being a Fuller Brush salesman, hawking your wares stop by stop. Brushes you’d made yourself. Plucking one horsehair at a time from a pissed-off rodeo bronco.

The truth is, I love it. Pretty much every single bit. After a pretty intense diaper decade there is a sense of settling back into myself, with the miscellaneous scattered parts — personally, maternally, creatively, professionally — coming into alignment. I felt incredibly fortunate that all the years of of being the crazywoman writing in the attic have resulted in something I can hold in my hand, and share.

But with the sharing came traveling, time away from the kids and from a household that operated, on the best of days, like a catamaran flying a hull. I created this travel schedule myself, and had anticipated it for forever three months. The bigger trips shimmered on the calendar like tinsel and Easter grass. Why was I so excited? Did I think I was going to shed my momma skin and slip back into the days of my 20s professionalism, the independence and travel, the adult stimulation and recognition?

But to be honest, I had dreaded it, too. I imagined reading in a Chicago bookstore and receiving a call from a hospital back home. Or almost as bad, a simple text message that I’d failed to call in time before bed, and small people were sad. (Which happened.) My husband was able to come on several trips — my parents gave us babysitting as a Christmas present — which was wonderful. He’s my best supporter and critic, and things are just plain more fun with him around. It reminded me of the early years of marriage, zipping around at the top of our games.

But a funny thing happened once I got home and started doing the regional events this summer: I wanted my kids around, too.

I started feeling this way when some health issues hit my parents and father-in-law, and all three needed surgeries. Home didn’t feel like something that was functioning just fine back there. Home felt like something that needed to be in my back pocket, my tote bag, the train seat beside me.

The New York event was more fun with my two oldest along; they were wide-eyed at the hotel mini-bar candy, the Empire State Building, Amtrak’s café. The highlight of a reading on the Cape was my dinner date afterward, my four-year-old son who was so giddy about the high patio over the dunes that he dropped the ketchup bottle down into them. Ooops.

Back to the launch party, which I’d both hoped and feared would represent a yellow line through my life. Toward the end of the evening, as I sat signing books, my oldest child walked up. My 11 year old, my mature one. He interrupted my conversation with the publisher of a magazine where I’d once worked to hand me his stained napkin and empty kebab stick. “Here, Mom, I can’t find the garbage.”

Here Mom, I can’t find the garbage.

And that — along with the fact that after the party, I was squatting in those high yellow shoes to change a diaper — perfectly summed up the line of demarcation. Sure, there was travel, independence, adult stimulation and recognition, but mostly the change to my life was invisible. Because of course there’s no going back to that person in her 20s, and nothing had substantively changed in the watchworks of my life. Nor did I want it to.

About NicholeBernier

Nichole Bernier is the author of THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. (Crown/Random House, June 2012). She contributes to magazines including Conde Nast Traveler, Self, Health and Boston Magazine, and lives outside of Boston with her family.
This entry was posted in On Faith, Hope & Love, On Parenting, On Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Does Publishing A Novel Change Your Life?

  1. Kristen @ Motherese (http://mothereseblog NULL.com/) says:

    I really appreciate your perspective, Nichole: both on parenting and on creating a life where there’s room for it and for the tiny people that hand us wadded up napkins and gently used skewers.

    On my darker days, I rail against the fact that there’s not enough time between drop-offs and diaper changes to bang out some words of my room. But your words are a reminder that we all have the same 24 hours each day and there’s room in there for more than I sometimes think.

    Congratulations on your success!

    • NicholeBernier says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful words, Kristen. Don’t let me mislead you: It took a long time. A lot of short stints between diapers and drop-offs and middle-of-the-night writing sessions, when someone had wet the bed (not me) and then I couldn’t get back to sleep, so might as well make hay.

      But the short stints can add up. And seven years later, there’s a book. And the kids are so intimately aware of the process by this point, that they try to sign them themselves at readings.

  2. Lindsey (http://www NULL.adesignsovast NULL.com) says:

    I’m laughing at the image of here Mom, I can’t find the garbage. I’ve often joked that the definition of motherhood is that when your child comes up to you with trash or needing to spit something out, you just put out your hand. Without batting an eyelash. It’s sort of wonderful to see that doesn’t change when you have a book out in the world. But the shoes do sound fabulous. xox

  3. Julie says:

    What a wonderful blog post! Thank you for sharing your perspective, your heart and for still taking care of the garbage. Gotta love kids! You sound like a great mom. Keep up the good work and the writing! And the shoes – bet you were a very stylish diaper-changer!

  4. Jeanette Paine says:

    Hi nichole. I bought your book in our local book shop in mt Eden auckland new zealand based on the cover alone. I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by that but your novel called to me and made its way home. I hid myself away and read and read. I loved your story.

    As a working mum of two boys I love to hear of other creative mums out there rocking it. Hurry up and finish that next novel!

    Maybe next time you can extend your book tour and bring your kids with you to hobbit land.

  5. NicholeBernier says:

    Shoes, garbage and diapers…. Sounds like the title of a novel. Thanks all for reading my essay and taking the time to comment! And Jeanette, the kids would love to come to hobbit land. And so would their mother.

  6. Johnnie (http://johnniecougar NULL.wordpress NULL.com) says:

    Nichole, I would truly like to thank you for this post. I am a very young mother in my twenrties, and it has always been a dream of mine to become a published author. I am currently doing everything I can to make that happen, simply because writing has been, and always will be near and dear to my heart. I’ve dreamed of getting my work published, going on tour, doing book signings, and all of the lovely things that go with it. But, this post has made me wonder: will my family be able to fit into that equation? My writing is a wonderful get away, and so much a part of my soul that I could never imagine NOT doing something with it, but, if my family can’t be a part of it with me, is it really a good dream to hold on to? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily discouraged, just worried that where my heart is, reality is nowhere near.

    • NicholeBernier says:

      Johnnie, thanks for the kind words about the post. The great thing about publishing today is the flexibility — there’s no right or wrong way to promote a book, and many writers don’t go physically on tour to bookstores much anymore. Social media has made so much possible from the command central of your own kitchen laptop.

      Of course, the first concern is getting the best book written that that you can. And as far as work and passions that work well in the family equation….I look around at friends trying to juggle work and family life, and frustrating as it can be at times, writing feels to me like one of the better careers on that count.

  7. Helen Baker says:

    Thank you, Nichole, for the welcomed conversation today in Natick. It was exactly the prescription I needed…the pep-talk I give myself everyday, but infinitely more comforting coming from you and then reinforced with this particular blog post. I naturally hurried home to find your blog. I cannot wait to read the book and believe all of us finding ourselves in a similar place would do greatly with a solid dose of your work. Thank you.

    • NicholeBernier says:

      So nice to meet you today! There’s nothing like playground serendipity, and empathy on the mom-still-a-person journey. Cheers to you.

  8. Lauren Denton says:

    This post made me laugh out loud. I stumbled on your discussion on Goodreads tonight and realized I missed a great conversation! Luckily, I got to read the discussion after the fact. A good friend of mine participated in the discussion and asked great questions about your book and writing process. She and I are both writing novels, her first one, my second one. My first one may end up being put in the proverbial “box under the bed.” I have high hopes for the second, but with two kids (I feel bad even saying that, since you have five!), it’s hard to carve out consistent time. Reading through your blog is inspiring, in the sense that it’s making me want to put other non-important things (like catching up on Project Runway, as much as I love Tim Gunn) on the back burner and writing–even if it means doing it at night when I most want to turn my brain off.
    Thanks!
    Lauren Denton

    • NicholeBernier says:

      Thanks for coming on over here even though you missed the all-day Goodreads chat. It was really fun, with great questions:
      http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1223058-ask-nichole (http://www NULL.goodreads NULL.com/topic/show/1223058-ask-nichole)

      You really hit it with the issue of how to spend free time (ha!). I’ve written many essays on this for magazines, usually coming in under some version of the assignment topic, “What did you have to sacrifice to write a book while raising young kids?” And it’s true of anything you choose to do in addition to being a parent. There are only so many hours in a day, and like it or not, only so many things we can really do in addition to being a parent.

      For me, and I’m not proud of this, most of those other things went out the window. But it wasn’t because of any noble sacrificial thing — it was a selfish thing. When I wasn’t parenting or room-parenting or laundrying, the one thing I wanted to do was write. Not run races anymore, not knit sweaters anymore, not grow flowers or watch tv or fool around on Facebook. Okay, I’m lying. I still fool around on Facebook.

      But the fact is, it’s kind of a blessing, this forced triage. When you have limited time, just sit back and watch what you really want to do. For some of my friends it’s run a marathon or start a business selling their gorgeous crafts on etsy. What’s your non-negotiable thing? It’s a useful thing to learn about yourself.

      Good luck with your writing, Lauren!
      Nichole

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