I grew up in a big traditional Italian family. Being a mom has always been part of my story, an expectation as well as a dream, an essential part of who I am. It’s only natural that being a mother would shape my life as a writer and it has—both practically and philosophically.
My husband and I have four daughters. We were very young when our eldest was born; in that sense, I’ve lived my life backward. We had children, and then I attended college and graduate school. While our children were growing up, I worked part-time. Although all my jobs involved writing, I didn’t have the luxury then of an apprenticeship in creative writing. Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining. I loved my life—and my jobs. I wrote news and feature articles for the town paper, a column for a regional paper. I edited a newsletter, and wrote copy for marketing, advertising and public relations. This was all great practice.
I attended my first creative writing class in my mid-thirties. Once I did, I was hooked. As a young woman, I’d read mostly spy novels and sweeping sagas like The Thorn Birds. In my thirties, I favored literary fiction, stories about people and families that felt real and pertinent to my own life. Like most authors, I wrote stories similar to the stories I read.
Given the timing, the fact that my life revolved around my family, it’s not surprising that family plays a central role in my body of work. When I wrote In Leah’s Wake, our daughters were teenagers. At the time, immersed in their world, I was acutely aware of teen issues and problems. In Leah’s Wake is not our family’s story—not a single event portrayed in the novel happened to us—and I’m not, or at least I hope I’m not, anything like Zoe. But the thoughts and feelings I describe absolutely belong to me and spring from my being a mom.
Like Zoe, I worried constantly. I used to think, if only I knew everything would turn out well; I wouldn’t worry so much. Of course we can’t see into the future, and fear of the unknown kept me on edge.
Addressing Issues Related to Parenting & Parenting Philosophies
The ways in which my philosophy and parenting style were accepted or challenged by others, my fears, my anxieties, the pressure I felt to raise perfect children, inspired and drove In Leah’s Wake. My novel-in-progress, Nowhere to Run, is a psychological thriller, a very different story from In Leah’s Wake, and yet many of these issues and themes repeat.
Parenting is the toughest job in the world, bar none. Unfortunately, children don’t come with instructions. We do the best we can. Really, that’s all we can do. The Tyler family is far from perfect, yet they love one another. Had the community rallied and supported them, Leah might have not have gone down such a terrible path. At heart most teens just want to feel accepted and loved—not for what they accomplish or contribute, but for who they are. When problems arise or when teens go astray, the fallout affects the entire community.
These themes of community and communal responsibility run through both novels. This repetition of themes is, of course, common with novelists. Like anyone else, authors are driven by our internal beliefs, philosophies and assumptions. We all have what my college philosophy professor called “mobiles,” or internal motivators that we may or may not be conscious of. For better or worse, novelists tend to be more introspective than the general populace; we’re always thinking and digging, trying to scratch the itches that most normal people let go. Those itches become storylines or themes in our work. This is certainly true for me—it’s one of the myriad ways that being a mother has influenced me as a writer.
I feel tremendously blessed to be a mother and doubly blessed to be a mother of daughters. My family means everything to me and they come first, before anything or anyone else. If my children need me, I attend to their needs. As with many moms I know, this affects my productivity. I admire writers who can pump out a book every year. I doubt that I’ll ever achieve that goal. This makes me neither a martyr nor a hero. It simply makes me a mom!
Terri Giuliano Long is the bestselling author of the novel In Leah’s Wake. Her life outside of books is devoted to her family. In her free time, she enjoys walking, traveling, and listening to music. True to her Italian-American heritage, she’s an enthusiastic cook. In an alternate reality, she might be an international food writer. She lives with her family on the East Coast and teaches at Boston College.
In Leah’s Wake is her debut novel.
For more details about Terri and her book events, please visit her website: www.tglong.com, www.tglong.com/blog, Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter: @tglong