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Thursday, November 10, 2011

I'm There But I'm Not ~ Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D'Innocenzo)

I'm There But I'm Not

by Tess Gerritsen

I just spent a lovely week with my family, cooking Thanksgiving dinner for ten, hanging out with my sons, catching up with out-of-town relatives, and watching the latest Harry Potter movie plus a season's worth of "Mad Men" DVD's. I'd like to report that I was completely focused on family and friends but, sadly, that is not the case. Because no matter how scintillating the conversation, or how shocking the movie plot twists, there was always something nagging me, nibbling at the edge of my consciousness, sucking away from complete enjoyment of the here and now.

And that would be my book in progress.

It's the curse of the working novelist. I hate to sound ungrateful for my good fortune -- and yes, anyone who's a working novelist, who actually has a contract with a publisher and an audience waiting for her next book, is a lucky duck indeed -- but there's a price to be paid for it. And that is, your brain is not your own. You may think you're in control of it. You think you can sit down to a nice turkey dinner and enjoy family conversation, but in reality your mind has been commandeered by thoughts of that novel in progress. During Thanksgiving dinner we traded family news over champagne and turkey, yet all that fascinating gossip couldn't drive thoughts of THE BOOK out of my head. I'd be in the middle of a conversation with my darling niece and nephew, and suddenly, wham! A snatch of dialogue would pop into my head, and I'd have to fight the urge to bolt from the table and head upstairs to my desk to write it down. Or I'd see the way the candlelight glowed on my son's face and I'd want to snatch up pen and paper to describe the image. Or I'd get that searing jolt of anxiety about the fact my deadline is only two months away, and I'm having a leisurely dinner with the most important people in my life.

When I really should be writing.

That's a curse, it really is. It keeps us from living in the moment, from being totally engaged with the ones we love. And the ones we love sense it. Even as we talk to them about what's happening in their lives, they see that faraway look suddenly drop over our eyes and they know we're somewhere else. We're in another universe with people who don't exist.

If you're lucky, you have a family who tolerates your eccentricity. Maybe they murmur to each other: "Oops, we've lost her again." And they tolerate you as they would the crazy aunt. I acknowledge that I am the crazy aunt. Here one moment, gone to Mars the next. "What was that you said again, dear? Sorry, I was thinking about ligatures. Yes, the turkey is juicy this year, isn't it?"

So that was Thanksgiving dinner this year at my house. I cooked, I ruminated, I thought about strangulation.

Next year, I promise, will be different.

First appearing at Murderati - Tuesday, November 30, 2010 , reprinted with permission.


  1. Love this! Thanks for sharing.

    This affliction is not unique to novelists, however. When I'm working on the structure for my nonfiction work, my head stays in that game and not always in the one I'm living. And at times I find myself playing with subheads, illustrations, chapter titles, etc. instead of concentrating on the task (or person) before me.

    Like Tess, I both love and hate this quality. It allows me to work when I'm not working. But sometimes I just want to play.

  2. Boy, could I relate to this! I have a hard time staying focused on movies or anything ... only when my fingers are on the keyboard, does my mind zero in on the task at hand. Thanks for sharing, Tess!

  3. I was working on a monologue last night for Mary, the mother of Jesus and my wife was standing right beside me talking about our son and I got this great idea, wait a second! I got it . . . .

    Where were we?

  4. I'm not even a novelist (yet), just getting my feet wet with fiction. But I already find myself focusing on my "imaginary friends" too!

  5. It's not just "working novelists" who have this affliction. I think I live in my WIP more than I do my real life. Mine is currently in the form of blogfiction, which means I'm constantly on the lookout for new "scenes" I can write, so everything becomes potential fodder for The Blog. My two main characters talk to each other out loud when I'm home alone (one with a Texas accent, the other with a New Zealand one), and those conversations often make it into the WIP. I'm always thinking about what Phil would say about this thing, or how Caddie would react to that. It's fun ... but I do have to watch it around the Real People, lol.

  6. First of all, I love this blog. Thanks for creating it!

    As to not living in the moment, what, you mean that's not normal? You mean being vexed with people for interrupting your fantasy world isn't a good thing? You mean I shouldn't resent every interruption of my writing life as if it were the Bubonic Plague? Wow, I must be in trouble then.


  7. Of COURSE next year will be different. You'll be working on a different book!

  8. YES! I'm glad I'm not the only freak in the world. Thanks for sharing!

  9. For some reason, at family Thanksgiving dinners, I'm always pondering strangulation.

    Unfortunately I don't have the excuse of writing thrillers. But yes, even in the midst of a really good time THE BOOK is on my mind, like a lover awaiting the next tryst.


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