The Peregrina started with a conversation with my younger brother, a reimagining of history that involved an Anglo-Hungarian Empire. A strange new world started coming together in my mind, a vibe. It was going to be a middle-grade fantasy adventure like the Tian Di books but I had something quirkier, a little edgier and a little sillier, in mind.
I was pregnant with my first child at the time and I figured I had to write this book before Life As I Knew It was over. The protagonists were a pair of twelve-year-old twins, Fruzsina and Benedek, whose mother was a witch and whose baby brother contained in his DNA a fragment of magical text sought after by all the great powers of the world. The Peregrina was the name of a pirate ship they ended up on. (I was throwing everything into this book: witches, pirates, ROBOTS, seriously – all my childhood obsessions, basically). The gist was that these two kids would have to rescue their mother and their brother from the terrible beings that sought to make use of them. Rescue is always fun.
I wrote and wrote with great enthusiasm, avoiding articles about pregnancy and all the things I should and shouldn’t be doing / eating / drinking / standing next to / touching / inhaling / etcetera. Some friends gave us a crib. A homeless cat started sneaking into the house and sleeping in the crib, and we bought a carseat, and some days I would just sit and stare at that carseat, unable to believe that a miniature person would sit in it and I would have to take care of it somehow and wondering what we were going to do about the cat. I wrote and wrote, and the story started to flounder.
I got bigger and bigger, and the baby was breech. That Guy came home to find me in bizarre yoga positions, shining flashlights and playing music at my lower belly to try and encourage the baby to flip. I could feel his great big head wedged up by my ribs. I terrified the lifeguards at the pool doing deep dives while gigantically pregnant. (This was supposed to help the baby turn around, which he didn’t). I went in for an appointment a month before my due date and two burly OB-GYNs grunted and strained and tried with all their might to force the baby to turn around while I breathed into a paper bag and thought, if I can’t handle this, there is no freaking way I can get through labor. The baby didn’t turn. I looked at the 245 pages I’d written and thought, this story is going nowhere, I don’t know how to take it to the end, it isn’t working. I lay awake at night feeling the baby squirm but not turn, cold with dread at the prospect of a c-section, imagining lying there immobilized while a doctor cut into me.
I stopped writing. I scheduled a c-section but went into labor a few days before my due date, while sitting on the sofa eating raspberries. We raced into hospital, somebody gave me a shot in the back, I lay down, chatted with That Guy, and then the doctor said, “here is your baby” – and there he was.
When J was a year old, I got pregnant again. J was a fun, happy toddler and took a reliable nap every afternoon. By then, I had given up most of my freelance work except for waitressing. Naptime as writing time actually seemed plausible. I went back and looked at the unfinished wreckage of The Peregrina. I salvaged it for parts. The book I wrote (still undergoing revision, but without a doubt the thing I am proudest of so far) is an older YA but took a lot of its world-building from The Peregrina, and a number of the characters too. Everything that worked in that earlier, failed book found a home in a new story. So while it’s a failed book, it wasn’t a useless book.
What I learned: Beware of Too Many Characters and a Too-Complicated story. This is something I still struggle with. My word-counts tend to be a little out of control and I have to do a lot of cutting when I revise. I get excited about minor characters and they start to take over where they have no business. Some writers talk about that with great excitement, the moment when the character starts telling you what to do. But my characters are not good story-makers, they are just narcissists, and I need to keep them in line, remind us all that I am the boss.
Next week, a wee excerpt from The Peregrina. Stay tuned, or don’t. Kisses.