The Artist in the Nursery Interview: Jennifer McMahon

Jennifer McMahon is the best-selling author of Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell.  She lives in Vermont with her partner, Drea, and their daughter, Zella.

Although your first published novel, Promise Not to Tell, appeared in 2007, you’d been writing seriously for a long time before that.  Can you talk a bit about your history as a writer and what lead up to publishing your first book?

I studied poetry in college and for a year in an MFA program.  Then one day, a prose poem took on a life of its own and became the start of my first novel.  Once that novel was finished, I sent out a batch of queries and was overjoyed when one of my top agent choices expressed an interest and soon offered to represent me.  I was so overjoyed, enthusiastic (not to mention just blissfully clueless!) that I quit my day job to devote myself to writing full time.  I was sure that the book would sell and my career would be on its way.  The book did not sell.  Months went by, then a year.  I finished my second novel and sent if off to my agent, who pronounced it “a bit dark” but diligently went to work pitching it to editors.  In the meantime, I wrote book #3, a long, rambling mess that I stuck in a drawer, too ashamed to show anyone.   By this time, nearly another year had gone by and my agent hadn’t had any success selling either book.

I sat down to write book #4, determined that this would be “The One.”  It had to be.  So I asked myself, “What sort of book would I most want to read?”  And the answer that came back, loud and clear, was a ghost story.  So I wrote my ghost story and when I was done, I was sure that this was going to be the one that did it.  I knew it was good and had the potential to be a success.  So I sent if off to my agent.  I didn’t hear from her for weeks.  When I did, it was a letter saying the book just didn’t do it for her and much as she respected my work, blah, blah, blah, it was time we parted company.  I was devastated.  I drank a lot of tequila.  I thought about quitting.  But I knew I couldn’t quit.  Writing is too much a part of who I am. Continue reading

The Artist in the Nursery Interview: Marian Henley

Marian Henley is a cartoonist and author who’s work has appeared in Glamour, Ms., The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Austin Chronicle, among other places.  She is the author of Maxine, Laughing Gas, and The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story.  She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.

At 49 you were working professionally as an artist full-time, when you decided to become a mother and adopt a baby.  That must have been quite a change!  Can you talk a bit about the ways you had to adapt your life to having a child?  Were there any ideas you had about mothering and/or having a baby previous to bringing your son home, that you found were unrealistic or at least different when you did bring him home?

Adapt my life?  Hmmm.  No, I’d say nuclear annihilation followed by painstaking, piecemeal reconstruction is the best way to describe the adjustment period.  This had nothing to do with William – he was an easy baby and, considering the first twenty-two months of his life had bobbed along quietly and predictably (Russians believe babies do best with strict routine), he adjusted to the zip-zip, zoom-zoom kaleidoscope of life outside the orphanage – with two stranger/parents babbling at him in English – with an ease that I can only describe as heroic.  No, what flattened me was the difficulty of the adoption process itself.  My agency made key blunders at several points, one of which was failing to notify anyone that I was arriving in Moscow.  Alone, exhausted, I waited in vain for my ride and finally consulted the information lady, who blew me off in a puff of cigarette smoke.  A young taxi driver saved my life, perhaps literally, considering that dozens of foreigners “disappear” from that airport every year. Continue reading

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Birth Center

So my son was born in the backseat of a vehicle. Before I go into the story I want to first clear something up. As romantic as it sounds, it was not a Yellow Taxi Cab. I know it would be so New York if it was, but this is not one of those “New York” stories. It actually is, if anything, a Brooklyn story. We were in what New Yorkers call a “Gypsy Cab.” Graham said that the more APPROPRIATE term is a Livery Cab. Gypsy Cabs are usually a town car of sorts or some other pedestrian vehicle contracted by a car service company. The one we were in was a minivan and driven by a Hispanic driver named Gladys.

I was a little ATTACHED to the desire to give birth in a non-hospital setting. We did our research and happily signed on with the only remaining freestanding birth center in the New York area, The Brooklyn Birthing Center. Now here is the thing about Brooklyn: It is HUGE. Just because you live in one area doesn’t mean you are ANYWHERE NEAR another area. BBC was on the way other side of Brooklyn from us. On the subway it takes an hour and fifteen minutes to get there. Our visits would last 15 to 20 minutes tops, but our commute was two and a half hours roundtrip. Not exactly convenient and it was something we wondered about when discussing what would happen on THE BIG DAY. So we took a car service to one of our appointments, just to time it, to see what we were really dealing with. It took 45 minutes. Not ideal, but doable. We discussed this with the midwives who said that this was a common thing and they would factor the time in for gauging when it was time to come in.

The car service driver we had for that trial run was named Gladys. Thirtysomething, mellow, agreeable Gladys. I liked her because she was a woman and didn’t drive like a maniac. The problem I have with Livery Cab drivers (actually make that all taxi drivers) is that they drive like maniacs, talking on their cell phones, listening to their radios full blast, and not giving a shit for much. I am almost always white knuckled in the back of the car, sure I am going to die (and still have to tip). When we had friends visiting from California this summer, Gladys had been the driver to help us transport five of them and their luggage to Manhattan. She drove a minivan and seemed calm and pretty friendly. We talked to her on the way to the BBC on our trial run, told her what was happening, and asked her what her hours were. Her English came and went at odd times, but she was very friendly about being our driver and gave us her card so we didn’t have to call through the car service, we could reach her directly. Great. Our transport was secured and now Gladys was part of the plan. Continue reading