“So…What’s Your Book About?”

When people hear I’m publishing a book, they always say, “Oh! What’s it about?” It seems like a simple question with a simple answer. But my critique partner, Aimee, thinks I should probably come up with something a little snappier than I have no idea anymore; something more engaging than a blank stare. The thing is, there have been so many versions of this story over the three years it took to get to this point, I sometimes have to stop and think. What is it about?

In 2014 I wrote a book about a woman who used a sperm donor to conceive her child. I wanted to write about someone who wasn’t a single mother by divorce or death, but rather by choice. She worked at a dog rescue and had a funny assistant. Her kid was having some problems.

By late 2014, I realized I needed to ditch the dog rescue idea, so I made my main character, Paige, a geneticist (though I kept the funny assistant). I wanted to play up the idea that she thought she could circumvent the emotion of choosing a partner and instead just live inside the facts. I had her gaming the system to figure out who her donor was BEFORE going through the procedure, in order to make sure she picked a good person (she had some trust issues). When her son starts to struggle socially, she approaches her donor and befriends his wife. What could go wrong? It was kind of creepy and somewhat unbelievable.

I stayed with that premise for far too long, though in that time I was able to sort out exactly where Paige’s trust issues came from (her father) and how she handled conflict (she doesn’t). By 2016 I’d scrapped the hard-to-believe premise, realizing the story wasn’t about the donor at all, but about Paige—as a daughter, a mother, sister, and friend. And by early 2017, I’d zeroed in on the core: This was a story about Paige and her son, Miles.

They say write what you know. I didn’t use a donor to conceive my kids, nor am I a geneticist. But I am a mother. I remember planning it all out, what kind of parent I’d be, what kind of life I’d give my kids—from the big stuff like religion and discipline all the way down to sugar and screen time—and like most not-yet-parents, I didn’t realize it was all negotiable. I didn’t know—and Paige certainly didn’t—that you can’t think in absolutes, because as your kids grow, they have their own personalities, wants, and needs you’d never considered. We don’t plan for our kids to have problems we can’t fix. Nor do we think about what we’re willing to risk—and lose—in order to fix them.

Paige never considered that Miles might not be entirely thrilled with the choices she’s made. But that’s just backdrop to the larger questions all parents ask, the easy ones we think we know the answers to, and the big one that keeps us up at night when we realize we don’t know much of anything: How can I give my child the best life possible, and what if I choose wrong? THE ONES WE CHOOSE is set against that fundamental question, and Paige struggles with it alongside the rest of us.

I’m pretty sure this 600-word post isn’t the snappy elevator pitch my critique partner had in mind. But it’s a decent length for an introduction of me and my book, THE ONES WE CHOOSE (I’m told I need to work that in whenever possible). I’m thrilled to be here on Thursdays for the 2018 Debutante Ball, and much gratitude to the 2017 Debs for giving me this opportunity to share my publishing journey with you.

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When she's not working or picking stray Legos off the carpet, Julie Clark is busy reading and calling it "research".  Her writing has won Honorable Mention accolades from Glimmer Train, and has been selected as a finalist in the Pitch Wars contest. She lives in Santa Monica, California, where she teaches and writes full time. Her debut, THE ONES WE CHOOSE, will be published by Gallery/Simon & Schuster in August 2018.

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This article has 11 Comments

  1. What a wonderful explanation of your process. As a writer myself, I know how an idea can morph, but you nailed it, along with explaining your reasons for re-imagining your original idea. Sounds like a good book.

  2. Splendid introduction Julie. I can’t imagine what a writer goes through to publish. The Debs have opened my eyes.
    I have a dear young friend who is your sperm donor woman. She rescues animals too. She went ahead with the process and her beautiful daughter Is amazing. I told her all the things that could go wrong, as did her devasted parents. The only thing that went wrong is that,she has a teenage daughter, with all the bells and whistles August 2018 seems so far away.

  3. No wonder you couldn’t say easily what it was about! The morphing shows incredible fortitude..that would be you…thanks for sharing!

  4. So excited for you Julie! I feel honored that I had the opportunity to take a “sneak peak” into your book. I’m a fan of your writing and am inspired by the insight you share here into your journey. Git it girl!!

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