My son looked up at me from his post at the kitchen table, his blue eyes staring at me reproachfully from behind a spoonful of Cheerios.
“Mum?” he asked sternly, stretching the word out so it bowed in the middle and ended on a higher pitch.
“What?” I was on the defensive and emotionally more than a little on the run.
He was only 12, but he had the stance of a lawyer who might one day adopt a nickname like “Crush” or “Pitbull.” While my two daughters might gracefully let me squirm away from an uncomfortable question, my son never will, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for pushing me on the issue we were discussing at the time.
“I asked when you were going to get your book published,” he said with a noble courtroom flourish.
Truth to tell I had pretty much given up on the project. I had started writing a novel when the little-league lawyer in question was not much more than a twinkle in his father’s eye. Twelve years of raising three children and two stepchildren while supporting my spouse in his career as a currency trader, doing a little freelance writing and editing, then walking my father, my dog and finally the spouse himself to their deaths – it had all quenched much of my earlier enthusiasm.
I had tackled the job of replacing my husband’s income with determination but I was tired. I was lonely. I was discouraged. And I didn’t think I had any time or energy available to continue working on my novel.
Like many other would-be authors, I have wanted to become a published writer since I was all of about 8. I used to climb into a backyard apple tree clutching a writing tablet and a stubby HB pencil and scribble endlessly between doses of daydreaming and mouthfuls of McIntosh. In high school, I wrote soulful and self-centred poetry about the anguish of young love and the confusion of growing up. In university, I wrote for my student newspaper.
As time went on, I realized that creative writing was unlikely to generate the income necessary to support myself, let alone a family. So I turned to jobs that would at least let me write. Journalism. Government communications. Marketing. Public relations. I felt grateful to be able to make my way in the world with language as my stock in trade. Still, a wayward part of me kept thinking, “But I really want to write a novel!”
A few years into my second marriage, my husband confronted me on the topic.
“It’s something you’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “What’s stopping you?”
I had a million reasons not to do it – leading the list were self-doubt, anxiety and the fear of not being good enough. But they all dissolved in the face of his question that day. Actually, nothing was stopping me.
Other than me.
So I began the fun and endless task of creating a story. I had no clue what I was doing or how one was supposed to write a novel. I just jumped in and wrote. I wrote a story about a woman who faced challenge and disappointment but who gathered up her courage and learned to dream.
By the time my husband drifted off into his final slumber, I had managed to wrestle myself into completing a final draft. But I had a heart full of tears, two children to raise and a business to run. My novel seemed trivial in the face of eternity, and yet more important than ever.
We don’t know how much time we have left on this planet to make our mark, and I agonized over my own future. What if I died before seeing if my manuscript could be turned into a real book? What if my novel could actually become a published work? How would I ever know if I didn’t try?
Then again, what if my children went hungry because their mother couldn’t make a successful living as a freelancer?
Practicality quietly won the day and I neglected the effort to find an agent.
By the time of my son’s inquisition last spring, I had been ignoring the irritating voice in the back of my head that wanted me to pursue my dream.
“I don’t know,” I said aloud.
My son chewed thoughtfully, then took another mouthful of cereal. After a moment, he put his spoon down and looked at me wisely.
“You’re always telling us kids that we should never give up,” he said. “How can we do that if you don’t show us how?”
His words curdled in my heart. How indeed?
And then this: “You can do it, Mum! Pleeeease?”
And so I did.
Manor House Publishing released Shades of Teale at the end of November and all three of my children are proud of their mother in a way I could never have imagined. It has been a long journey and I’ve learned much. But it appears there’s more to come. My son, now 13 and still a fan of Cheerios, feels I’ve only just started this novelist business and there is much more to be done.
“So when is your book going to be a bestseller?” he asked the other day.
I groaned. “I think we might have to give that one a little more time,” I said.
My son raised an eyebrow and looked at me skeptically. “Mum?”
Susan Crossman lives in Oakville, Ont.