Different kinds of limbo

Writing is such an odd career. I’ve known I wanted to be a professional writer since I was seven years old (the year I made my first sale – a poem to a kids’ magazine – and learned my first Big Publishing Lesson, when the magazine folded and I never got any pay or publication from it after all). I wrote industriously through all the years that followed, although I majored in music instead of creative writing in college. Writing was always my serious long-term goal as well as my fantasy career, and anything else I took on, from grad school to a career in arts administration, was only my day job.

But when people asked me what I did? Well, after a couple of painful experiences, I stopped saying “I’m a writer.” Because, of course, the next question that always came was: “What books have you published?”

Ouch. I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut, even after I started regularly publishing short stories. The problem is, short stories don’t count on most people’s radar. If I mentioned those, I’d get pitying looks and then the next gentle question, “…no novels, then?”

I’m thirty-one years old now, and one of the most amazing things of my entire life so far happened for me this summer: my fabulous agent sold my YA Regency fantasy trilogy to Hyperion Books. When he first called me to tell me about the offer, I had to fight to hold back hysterical laughter. I felt giddy. It was too unreal to be believed. Fantasies don’t really come true, do they? Even when you’ve worked really, really hard for them?

Sometimes they do. The offer was real. My books are going to be published in 2010, 2011, and 2012. I’ve spoken to my editor, and she’s smart and passionate and enthusiastic. I am a published novelist…almost.

First, of course, there’s a year and a half to wait before the first novel comes out. Before that, there’s the contract with the publisher to be negotiated. Also, pretty soon I’ll be getting my first editorial letter with requests for revision. Right now, I’m hanging in a funny kind of limbo. I’m a professional novelist now…almost. I’m going to be a published novelist…but not quite yet.

Meanwhile, one of the other most amazing events of my life is also in the middle of happening. I’m over eight months pregnant with my first baby. And sometimes, the parallels are mind-boggling.

Earlier in the pregnancy, when every unexpected new symptom filled me with panic (and I made the mistake of looking each symptom up in fear-mongering pregnancy books, which tell women that every new symptom might be a sign of something fatal), I used to wake up in the middle of the night worrying about the health of the baby, and whether the pregnancy would really continue…whether I really would ever have a child at the end of it.

This was at almost exactly the same time that my agent was submitting my trilogy to publishers in America. There were a lot of sleepless nights, on both counts, as I crossed my fingers and told myself it would all work out, for my baby and my novels. It would. I had to believe it…but the panic over both questions felt overpowering, in different ways.

Now, in my ninth month of pregnancy, my baby is kicking and rolling around inside me every single day. There’s a promise in every movement. My husband has been devoting his days at home to strenuous DIY, reorganizing our house to hold the baby we know is coming. On sunny days, you can see a row of tiny baby clothes hanging outside on our clothesline, clean and ready for use. We really are going to have a baby. We really are going to be parents…but not quite yet.

In a way, of course, we’ve been parents for over eight months already. In an even bigger way, I’ve known I was a mother since I felt that first kick inside me…but it won’t feel completely real until we can hold our baby in our arms and look into his or her eyes. That moment could come any day now, and there’s no way for me to know which day it will be. As our midwife says, only the baby knows when it’s time to come out. In the meantime, we’re hanging in limbo.

I’ve been a writer since I was seven years old. I’ve been a novelist since I was a teenager and finished my first novel (which, thank God, will never see the light of day). In a way, I’ve been a professional novelist since Hyperion made the offer. And yet…none of it will feel quite real until I have the published novel in my hands.

Right now I’m waiting. What color will my baby’s eyes be? How will he or she feel in my arms? What will my novel’s cover look like? What will my novel itself be like, after the coming rounds of revisions?

There’s no way to know the answers to any of those questions yet. But I can’t wait to find out.

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  1. 1. Carrie Jones

    Brilliant comparison, Stephanie. Both writing and mothering are odd careers. Thanks for linking them in such an intelligent, lovely way.

    -Carrie

  2. 2. Stephanie Burgis

    Thanks Carrie! I hope I can blend both careers as well as you do. :)

  3. 3. Pat Esden

    Beautiful post–and so true.

    Congratulations on all accounts.

  4. 4. Sherwood Smith

    You are so right about the limbo effect. I learned early on (because I too started writing young, and sending things out all through junior high and high school) that to say “I’m a writer” gained me a skeptical, at best, response. Along with that killing “So what have you published?”

    I kept my lip buttoned about it until I finally was published, claiming to be a teacher, or a mom, or whatever fit the social context. After my first book came out, I felt that I could legitimately say “I am a writer” but you know something, I was always a writer. People whose careers are just beginning, or are still a dream, are still writers. They just haven’t hit print yet.

    If I meet a stranger who tells me she’s a writer, I ask “What are you working on?” She can let me know if she’s published or not.

  5. 5. Tiffany Trent

    Well-done, dear lady! :) I often feel like making a book is the closest thing to gestating, though all the pangs are emotional/psychological rather than physical. The limbo is definitely an odd place to be!

  6. 6. Stephanie Burgis

    Thanks Pat!

    Sherwood, “What are you working on?” is such a better question to ask any writer, published or not. And it leads to much more interesting answers, too! Plus, you’re absolutely right: if someone writes, they are a writer. Period.

    And thanks Tiffany! You’re absolutely right about the parallels between making a book and gestating a baby – complete with aches and pains and moments when we think, “I just can’t cope with this any more!” ;p

  7. 7. Jackie Dolamore

    Great post, Stephanie…really beautiful, actually. How exciting for all those great things to enter your life at once. (Are you worried about time management? ^_^) When people tell me they’re writers I always ask “What do you write?” which seems like the obvious, interesting question to me…but it’s true, I did get “What have you published?” fairly often.

    It never really deterred me from saying I was a writer, though, possibly because it still sounded better than my lousy retail jobs…

  8. 8. Stephanie Burgis

    Oh, I am TERRIFIED about time management! But at least I’m very, very lucky in that not only am I going to be at home full-time, but my husband is going to be home part-time as well, providing time off from childcare for me to write…so I know that I’m in a much better & easier situation than an awful lot of writers with children! It’ll just be a whole new set of skills to learn.

    And you’re absolutely right – “What do you write?” is SO much more interesting than “What have you published?”, but I think that second question is just automatic and instinctive for a lot of non-writers…partly for the very good reason that they are interested in going out to the bookstore and looking for books by someone they know. Which is great! But oh, when the answer has to be “Nothing”, it feels so cringe-worthy to give it…

  9. 9. Tricia Sullivan

    Having been around the block a couple of times myself both with novels-to-be and people-to-be kicking around inside me, I really loved reading this. That pent-up, neither-here-nor there feeling–to me it’s an aspect of all creativity. Like the old Tom Petty song used to go, ‘The Waiting is the Hardest Part.’ In publishing, there’s lots of waiting! And in pregnancy–well, you know about that.

    You bring a fresh, exuberant energy that I’d forgotten about. It’s always a delight to read your posts on your blog for the same reason: you’re wide open to new experiences, and I bet this can’t fail to translate into your fiction.

    I’m really looking forward to reading what you write. And it’s going to be great to see those baby pictures, too!

  10. 10. Stephanie Burgis

    Thanks Tricia! You will definitely be seeing many baby pictures. :) And I really hope you enjoy the novels!

  11. 11. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    All I can could think of when you said that it wouldn’t feel real until you could look into the baby’s eyes was . . . and panic. And actually, while that was my experience of parenthood, it was also my experience of the first book. Like now I was supposed to know what I was doing? What’s the feeding and care of little bits of things like kids and books? So you can look forward to the next step . . . and the next limbo. I believe that that is one of the cornerstones of being a writer.

    Di

  12. 12. Alma Alexander

    Welcome to SFNovelists, Stephanie, and congratulations on both the book and the babe! I look forward to reading more from you (on this blog, and when the book comes out).

  13. 13. cindy

    congratulations on all the wonder and wonderful things
    happening for you this year. how exciting! and regency fantasy YA? i’m all over that with bells on. =)

  14. 14. Stephanie Burgis

    Thanks Di, Alma, and Cindy! And I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to reply – one of my limbos ended quite definitively early Saturday morning, less than 18 hours after writing this post, when my beautiful baby boy arrived! I’m typing this one-handed, feeling exhausted but very, very happy right now. :)

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Author Information

Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis is an American writer who lives in Yorkshire, England, with her husband, fellow writer Patrick Samphire, their son "Mr Darcy", and their crazy-sweet border collie mix, Maya. Her Regency fantasy trilogy for kids, The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, will be published by Atheneum Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in 2010, 2011, and 2012, beginning with Book One: A Most Improper Magick. She has also published short stories in a variety of magazines, anthologies, and podcasts, including Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Escape Pod. You can find out more, or read/listen to her published stories online, at her website. Visit site.

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