My newest women's fiction novel, LADIES IN WAITING, came out a few days ago. Authors will be familiar with this process, but for others let me explain what happens before a book goes to publication. First there's the editing process which can take several back and forths between the author and the editor. Then the book goes to a copyeditor. The last stage involves the galleys being sent to the author for one last look. That's when you search, line by line, word by word, for any small errors that may have been missed in the earlier editing processes. Books don't just happen. They go through rigorous scrutiny.
In working with the galleys for LADIES IN WAITING, I discovered something. Well, not discovered so much as was reminded. I love writing women's fiction. I very much enjoy writing romance and suspense, but I LOVE writing women's fiction. Perhaps it's the dormant psychotherapist in me that enjoys digging into the psyche and the emotions of the character(s) and seeing what makes them tick. Then partnering with the character to not only tell their story, but walk with them to a resolution of conflicts. See, that's what really moves us through. Conflict. It's an essential element when writing a story to create conflict and keep it going to hold the reader through to the end. I think the same is true of life.
LADIES IN WAITING is a book about internal conflicts. Liv, Cee Cee, Julia, Andi and Markie are strangers to one another who all land in Cape May, New Jersey for a women's retreat titled Embracing the New You: Reinventing Yourself After Fifty. But each woman has a very different reason for being there and each one is as much running from something as she is moving toward something. When the retreat director, Bree, is called away on a family emergency, the five women decide to stay anyway and have their own sort of retreat.
As I worked through the galleys for this book, I found myself drawn into the story as if I'd not written it and had never before read it. I found myself reflecting upon my own reinvention. I've wrestled with that word, questioning if we really do reinvent ourselves or if we reclaim those parts of ourselves that we've put aside or shed for the sake of someone or something else. But reinvention seems to be a more widely understood and accepted term for what we women face as we move into our second and then third acts of life. A significant part of my own reinvention was to embrace my desire to write. LADIES IN WAITING is my 20th published novel! Some reinvention, huh?
My reinvention had a lot to do with embracing truths and letting go of fantasy thinking about life. Reinvention can be a painful process, but it's also one that offers a new freedom--freedom to be honest with ourselves, to make new and sometimes better choices, to dare to give free rein to our dreams and step onto formerly untried paths. It might sound overwhelming and little scary. And it can be. But it's also a hell of a lot of fun.
Liv's life blew up in her face and she had to face the truths of what she had compromised or given away of herself to make a life that was less than satisfying for her. Cee Cee (only thirty-two, but taking her mother's place at the retreat because she needs time away from her husband and kids) is questioning her marriage. Julia arrives at the retreat wound so tightly, she fears if she relaxes, she might fall apart. And falling apart is not acceptable on any level for Julia. Andi is still trying to find her way through early widowhood and into a future of happiness. Markie, in whom the hippie era meets new age, doesn't see an option for reinvention so much as a need to find some inner peace to make a decision she feels is imperative and final.
By the time I'd finished the work on the galleys and sent them back to my editor, I was feeling a loss. What I imagine post-partum depression could be like. I wanted to sit on the beach with these five women and draw my energy from them as they grappled with lies and truths and changes to find the next step, the true path that fit for each of them.
Whether we engage in this process of reinvention in big ways or in small, it seems to me it's not something we choose. It's an invitation that life lays before us. We women have so much wisdom and experience to offer one another. We are each architects of our own reinvention, but I dare say it would be a lonely, possibly impossible, task without our girlfriends to hold our hands and to sometimes give us that much needed shove from behind.
Two of my favorite authors have written non-fiction books about this process of reinvention. Barbara Sher wrote It's Only Too Late If You Don't Start Now in 1999 and her words still ring true today. Claire Cook (one of my all time favorite authors of women's fiction) wrote Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way) in 2014.
If you find yourself thrust into your own reinvention, I recommend both of these books. And if you want some companions for the journey, I recommend LADIES IN WAITING. The girls will be happy to pour you a glass of wine and sit with you while you figure it all out.
Here's to your journey!