I like the alone part of writing; I enjoy closing the door on my own life for a bit so I can tune in to Pandora while listening to the voices in my head. But even loners get lonely, and writing a book about controversial topics is even lonelier, because I can’t just talk about my book with everyone because there are things in my book that a lot of people don’t want to talk about, or even think about. This election cycle and its politicization of women’s reproductive rights, and what some are even calling “the war on women,” is proof that not talking about these things isn’t helpful; it has allowed a bunch of men (and certain female politicians who’ve left the sisterhood) to co-opt these issues in order to energize the conservative base.
In late 2009, when I was toying with the idea of writing Expecting, I attended many a cocktail party excited to have some news to report, I’d tell people: “I’m writing a book–get this–what if Sarah Palin was the president?” I was always in a safe zone (surrounded by Democrats) when I’d give my pitch, and people would get excited, they’d laugh, they’d recite their own little nugget of Palin-speak, they’d tell me they want to read my book. I was tapping into the vein of social currency that was our collective relief that, in 2008, Sarah Palin did not become our vice president-elect. I realize now that my big idea to seize the cultural moment that is/was Sarah Palin and create a narrative around her character is not original–HBO made a movie about her role in the 2008 election called Game Change (based on the book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime),which debuts on HBO on March 10.
Once I actually got down to the serious business of writing Expecting, and once my protagonist, Sheila, became a real person to me, talking about my book-in-progress seemed silly and premature, because while I was giving my party pitch, I didn’t know I was fixing to write a book about teenage pregnancy, nor had I even read any books about teenage pregnancy. After finishing Expecting I came across a book review on NPR’s website of a book by Paul Zindel (1936–2003) called My Darling, My Hamburger, which was published in 1969 and tackles the delicate issues of teen pregnancy and illegal abortion, which were very common in a pre-Planned Parenthood and pre-Roe v. Wade America. Zindel wrote many books for the young adult audience in his lifetime, and he even won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1971 for his play called The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. I tracked down a well-worn copy of My Darling, My Hamburger at my local library and read it in one sitting. I highly recommend reading this book–the characters are real, the issues are vital, and it is truly amazing, and also terribly saddening, to find out that a book about teen pregnancy and abortion from way back in 1969 is totally relevant in the year 2012. Here is an excerpt from Zindel’s book where one of the characters, Sean, a seventeen-year-old who recently found out his girlfriend is pregnant, is trying to talk to his dad about what to do without coming right out and admitting that he is the one needing advice:
“Then you tell her to get an operation. You tell that guy to spend a few bucks.”
“He said the girl offered…” Sean turned back to the bar and added another ice cube to his drink.
He turned back and looked at his father. “She offered to get an abortion, but–“
“Then what’s the problem?” his father in interrupted.
“Is it that simple?”
“Hell, yes! Any one of the doctors in this town’ll recommend her for a special Puerto Rican vacation. They do that sort of thing down there like it was pulling a tooth. That’s all that little girl needs–a good P.R. weekend.”
“Would a doctor in town arrange that sort of thing, Dad?” Sean asked.
“If the money is right, they’d do a lobotomy…”
In the end, Zindel’s book shows the reader that when abortions were illegal in America there were still plenty of abortions happening, many of them with dire consequences to the woman.
UPDATE ON Expecting IN PRINT:
It is nearly enough, for me, that I have finished Expecting, and I would just as soon keep working on the next book rather than push Expecting out of the nest for all to see. But the reason I write is to communicate, to have a conversation, to entertain, and to try out ideas. If I don’t show my work to anyone, then what was the point of doing it all? It is thrilling and terrifying to know that very soon, within a week from now, my book will be available in print (it has been an ebook for a while now), which means it is final. What’s done is done.
If you do have the chance to read my book, please take a minute to write a review on the Amazon.com page–the good, the bad, the ugly. The good will make me feel good and help others decide whether or not to buy my book; the bad and the ugly will make me a better writer.
Thanks for visiting!