The Next Big Thing

A heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth Fletcher for inviting me to participate in The Next Big Thing, an internet-age ponzi scheme to connect writers to one another.  Creative projects incubate in privacy for SO LONG; it’s a relief to get a public glimpse of a work-in-progress—almost a confirmation that it exists.

I imagine all the contributors to The Next Big Thing are like chickens sitting on enormous eggs.  Squawk!  I’ll send you to two other Next Big Thing blogs as soon as I hear back from the writers.  Meanwhile, here’s what’s growing in my egg:

  • What is your working title of your project?

Hannah, Delivered.  Although I’m also considering The Faith of Midwives.

  • Where did the idea come from for the project?

My sister is a homebirth midwife living in Taos, NM.  She and her midwife colleagues tell the most hair-raising, awe-inspiring stories about delivering babies.  Whenever I’d hear them go on about natural birth, and especially about the state of maternal care in the United States, I would think:  There’s a basic, sacred power within women’s bodies that  our culture’s reliance on medicine is erasing.  One of my sister’s mentors once said, “If we really loved women, we’d trust their bodies.”  It seemed to me that childbirth is the final frontier for feminism—that a deep faith in women’s bodies would radically overhaul maternal care but also women’s spirituality.  I wanted to explore all this in fiction.

So I asked myself, what would it take for a woman who’s not very body-aware (not unlike me!) to move into the radical trust of women’s bodies that I’ve seen in homebirth midwives?  I created Hannah to help me find out.

  • What genre does your book/project fall under?

Fiction.

  • What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

How does Hannah Larson, a conventional young woman with a strong need for stability, wind up in jail for delivering a baby?  Hannah, Delivered tells the story of how inexplicable passion, buried strength, and the mysterious drama of Hannah’s own birth conspire to deliver her from fear into a rich and risk-filled life.

  • Will your project be self-published or represented by an agency?

After almost five years of working with my agent, Kelly Sonnack, we sold Hannah to Koehler Books.  It will come out next June.

  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

That was twelve years ago!  I don’t remember.  I can say with some confidence, though:  A long time.

  • What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Chris Bohjalian’s novel, Midwives, hit the market just as I was conceiving of this book.  His story is about a midwife who winds up at a treacherous birth in the middle of an ice storm and decides to cut a C-section with a butcher knife to save the baby.  All the midwives I know hated it.  They said a midwife would never make that choice.  I deliberately chose not to read his book until I had a complete draft of Hannah; I didn’t want my work to be a reaction to Bohjalian’s.  Once I did read it, I had to agree with my midwife acquaintances.  I didn’t like how he sensationalized homebirth, played into every stereotype about midwives, and did nothing to illuminate the dynamics of fear in our culture around birth.

I really hope my book does justice to women’s strengths.

I feel abashed to say this, but in writing Hannah I was striving to write a novel like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead—a reflective, deeply personal story of spiritual transformation.  Very few contemporary novels trace this kind of journey.  Which is why I think of Hannah as a fictionalized spiritual memoir.  It shares more in common with books like Virgin Time or Eat, Pray, Love or The Spiral Staircase than with most novels.

  • What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Exterminating Angel Magazine just posted their new online issue with a chapter from Hannah in it.  It drops you into the middle of the book, once Hannah has begun her own practice in central Minnesota.  In this chapter she meets Melinda, a fiercely stubborn organic farmer who becomes her client.  The political climate around homebirth is heating up; a midwife was just arrested, and Hannah is beginning to appreciate how precarious her work is.  The environment around birth pushes Hannah to take risks she’d never otherwise imagine herself taking, and so she has to find sources of strength far greater than she’d ever imagined in response.

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