My latest novel, ETCHED ON ME, is an at-times-gruelingly intense story of a young woman’s recovery from self-harm and fight for her right to be a mother. The book didn’t start out that way, though.
It began as a touching but mild-mannered tale of a couple navigating their relationship along with an international adoption. Then I read about a real-life custody battle in the UK, and thought it might make a small, poignant subplot. When my fictional young mother upstaged the couple, I decided to rewrite the book using multiple POVs, giving each situation equal weight.
All the while, I knew deep down that the book had the potential to go frightening places that I didn’t want to visit. What I wanted was a tidy ending in which the heavily pregnant young mom escaped in the nick of time. I wanted to feel safe in my literary choices. The thought of writing a scene in which a mother has her newborn taken away by a social worker gutted me as a mother. “I can’t do that,” I kept protesting to my writer friends. “No way could I handle it.”
But then my mentor in my MFA program, Leonard Chang, leveled with me. “This is extremely professional work,” he told me, “but you’re ducking the heart of the real story.” He suggested I try writing Lesley, my young mom, in first person. Let her talk simply but honestly about the prospect of losing her daughter. Continue reading