Torn Between Two Lovers: A Tragicomic Tale of Second-Novel Rivalry 💔

Torn Between Two Lovers: A Tragicomic Tale of Second-Novel Rivalry 💔

My first love, a thirteen-year affair, caused a lot of emotion over its long life—excitement, rage, fear, euphoria, satisfaction, frustration. It was both thrilling and exasperating and, truth be told, there were a few breakups, one I thought would be irrevocable. Friends were concerned we wouldn’t make it, calling it my phantom novel. But we went the distance and finally celebrated going public nine months ago. Since then it’s been a party, all champagne and celebration. A victory lap full of hard work, yes, but mostly pure joy.

One of the names I call the object of my affection is The Fourteenth of September. When I’m in a rush, I use its pet name, “A Woman’s Story of Vietnam,” sometimes just a short but sweet “Set in ’69.” We’ve had our moments. Never will a relationship be so volatile, meaningful, or memorable, and it will always be with me.

But I’m ready, as they say, to move on. It’s me, not it. No fault, harm, or foul. It’s just time.

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When Writer’s Retreats are Hard: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Muse

When Writer’s Retreats are Hard: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Muse

Process is not for the faint of heart. I’ve emerged from my latest residency without coherent pages in my hand—nothing tangible, nothing new to read on my last day where we shared what we’d been working on. My time there was all about process, and I feel scattered. Does thinking count? Did I waste three precious weeks or take a big step? It’s been making me ponder this question: how do you judge your own “productivity” when it comes to the creative arts? Is it the thickness of the manuscript in your hand, or the heaviness in your heart from the wrestling you’ve done to get it there?

I could always write at Ragdale

We often talk about “writer’s block” (I believe that comes just before The Crack-Up), and I’ve certainly had it in spades, but never at a residency. On the contrary, I’ve been to a variety of writer’s retreats over the past twelve years, primarily at the wonderful Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois. And it’s always been a great experience, miraculous actually. Ragdale is where I’ve written about 90% of my novel, The Fourteenth of September, most of the time in a delightful nook with a sloped ceiling and French doors named after one of the historic building’s original inhabitants, my “lucky” Sarah’s Room.

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