The House Girl will be released in paperback on November 5th (yay!) and it’s the Target Book Club pick of the month (double yay!) I’ll be touring west, east, north and south in the first few weeks of November: check out my website www.taraconklin.com for dates and cities. As part of promotion for the paperback, I was asked by Page & Palette booksellers in Fairhope, AL to write an essay for Sense Magazine under their regularly featured column called “The Why of Writing.” I wrote about a moment of clarity, something that rarely happens in my day-to-day life, that marked the point at which I committed to finishing my novel. So here it is:
Moments of clarity happen all too infrequently in life but, when they do, they change everything. My moment of clarity came at about 8 am on a Monday while I was getting ready for work. The year was 2009 and I was living in London with my English husband and our two young children, aged 2 ½ and one. At the time, I was a full-time corporate lawyer in the London office of a large US firm. My husband had recently left his job to stay at home with our kids, a decision we had both embraced, making me the sole breadwinner of our family. Over the past three years, I had been working on what I called “my writing project”. Even saying the word “novel” aloud seemed too risky, too ambitious. Since grade school, I had always kept myself entertained by writing stories or poems or plays about whatever it was that interested me. There were plenty of unicorns and forest animals in my earliest work, as I recall, which then swiftly segued into G-rated love stories involving bookish, glasses-wearing teenage girls and the hunky, sensitive boys who love them. All of this, I told myself often and with emphasis, was not fodder for a career. Writing was a diversion, a fun hobby. Some people collected 80’s memorabilia, others painted or played tennis; I wrote. As I launched into a peripatetic and not particularly satisfying professional career, first in non-profits and then law, I had this vague, soft-focus view of my future self in retirement: obligation-free days and me at my computer, writing.
On that morning in London, my husband was chasing the kids around; at least one (though probably both) was naked. I believe bananas featured in the mix that morning and maybe a diaper (clean) was being thrown in the general direction of a child’s bottom. I was wearing my lawyer clothes, holding my lawyer bag, and I yawned because I’d been up very late the night before working on my writing project. I’d completed the stories of Josephine Bell, Caleb Harper and Dorothea Rounds, three characters whose lives intersect in 1852 Virginia, but they didn’t feel finished to me. Something was missing. It was a tickle, this idea that another character was out there, just waiting for me to find her (I felt sure it was a her). Without this missing piece, the story would never be complete. And that’s when it hit: my moment of clarity. I realized that if I didn’t try to finish my writing project, I would always regret it.
I read a quote once from a famous writer (whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten): I didn’t write until I couldn’t not write any longer. And that, for me, was what happened. That morning, the scale tilted, the switch flipped. Something within me – or rather, the someone’s who had been inhabiting my daydreams and late nights for the past three years – sat up and started shouting. What could I do but listen?
The moment came, and then it passed. I kissed my husband and kids good-bye and I went to work. On the surface, I’m sure that I looked the same. I probably wrote some emails that day, maybe attended some meetings or a client lunch. To my colleagues and clients, I was the same Tara Conklin they had seen the Friday before, and the week before that, and the year before that. But, for me, everything had changed.
The thing about moments of clarity is that they don’t always arrive at the most opportune times nor do they always tell you what you want to hear – or, in my case, what your boss and your bank account want to hear. There were countless reasons why leaving my job to write full-time qualified as an irresponsible, stupid, lunatic thing to do: mortgage, job stability, the economy, which had just begun its serious nosedive. My husband and I discussed our options, we talked to our families, we crunched the numbers and compiled a list of cities where we’d like to live and raise our children. Seattle – where my younger sister had lived for many years – was firmly at the top. My husband contacted some distant connections about job prospects and we searched online for a temporary rental. Should we do it? We were both ready for a grand adventure, a lifestyle change, a jump into the unknown. And so we jumped.
That was four years ago. We now live in Seattle and our two diaper-avoiding children have grown into a second grader and a kindergartener with a one-year old little brother. In Seattle, I found the space, time and community to dedicate myself to my writing project, which I began calling by its true name: a novel. I also found my missing character – that tickle that wouldn’t let me rest. Her name is Lina Sparrow, and her story became the piece that allowed me to complete my first novel, The House Girl, published in hardcover in February 2013 and forthcoming in paperback this November. The journey has not always been easy and I expect we will encounter more bumps along the way. But I remember distinctly that moment of clarity, the realization that I had to try. And I couldn’t be happier that I did.