Guest Post: Lauren McLaughlin on Babies & Novels

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much in February. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

Today’s blogger, Lauren McLaughlin, is a crazy talented YA writer, who has one of the more unusual backgrounds of all the YA novelists I know. She used to be a Hollywood producer. This means that she has more confidence than anyone else I know and is extraordinarily good at saying “no” and meaning it. She is also one of the most focussed and driven people I’ve known. I am all admiration and awe.

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Lauren McLaughlin is the author of Cycler and (Re)Cycler, both YA novels about a teenage girl who turns into a boy for four days each month. She can be found all over the internet, but tends to materialize most frequently at her blog and
on Twitter. She strongly encourages people to read things for free whenever possible and has thusly provided the first three chapters of Cycler as a free download here.

Lauren says:

Greetings Larbalestians!

The wise and wonderful Justine herself has invited me to occupy some air time on her blog, which I am only too thrilled to do, being a friend, as well as a fan.

I’m still fairly new to the world of publishing, having only published my second novel, (Re)Cycler, in the fall of 2009. But I’m even newer at being a mother, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on what it’s like to be a rookie at these two endeavours.

Novels and babies can both be challenging, but if I had to crown one the Supreme High-Maintenance Pain In The Butt, I’d have to go with the novel. Babies spend the first three months in a semi-vegetative state and have no problem whatsoever about informing you, quite loudly, when they’re in need of something. Novels, on the other hand, never inform you of anything, but rather sit there dumbly while you work your tail off. And only after you’ve invested a week/month/year/lifetime in their progress do they casually scream that you’ve COMPLETELY FAILED AND HAVE TO START OVER!

You can’t start over with babies. They have to adjust.

Also, novels never look up at you in blind dumbstruck love then grab a fistful of your hair and suck it while nuzzling into your shoulder. (I know, it sounds gross. Trust me, it’s transporting.)

Because of deadline pressure, I had to work through the first four months of my daughter’s life. It was difficult at times, squeezing in writing sessions between the frequent feedings and changings, but luckily my husband was around to pick up the slack. And when I turned in that final draft, I took two whole months off, something I’d never done before. In fact, I’d never had more than two weeks in a row off in my life.

It was strange indeed to face each day without a gaping blank page staring back at me. The only thing staring back now was my daughter. And without the pressing need to squeeze four hours of writing into each day, life seemed to open up for us. I could truly focus on her and enjoy our time together without ever feeling crunched.

Alas, after two blissful months of full-time motherhood, my editor delivered her rewrite notes and it was time to be a writer again. But something had changed. My novel was a futuristic story about teenagers and surveillance, and all of a sudden I realized I wasn’t just writing about the future. I was writing about my daughter’s future. My editor, brutal genius that she is, had already done a bang up job of pointing out all the little ways I had failed. And now, I found myself adding to the list. The novel lacked seriousness. It lacked a clean persuasive connection to the current state of affairs. And worst of all, it lacked color. Everyone in it was white.

But my daughter is not. My daughter is mixed race. What kind of a literary heritage was I creating for her if I kept situating my novels in the thinly fictionalized version of the all-white New England suburb where I grew up? The world had changed. Even that suburb had changed. When I was there, it was all Stacy’s, Kristin’s, Jonathan’s, and Patrick’s. But now it was sprinkled with Rojit’s, Jayla’s, Shinya’s and Yuri’s. I had to stop being so lazy. I had to open my eyes. I had to learn how to write my daughter into my fiction.

I had tried this in the past. Tried and failed, unfortunately. In an early draft of (Re)Cycler, one of the main characters spent four months as a thirty-five year-old African American woman before I realized that, although she was a fantastic character, she was in the wrong novel. I give myself no extra credit for the try, incidentally. Both Cycler and (Re)Cycler are overwhelmingly white.

But my next novel will not be. The main character is mixed race. And I have a feeling my days of setting novels in the white-washed suburb of my past are over. Of course, I’m only at the beginning of this journey and I expect plenty of bumps along the way, but I’m committed to it nevertheless. I could have made this commitment at any time, of course. Perhaps I needed the confidence of completing two novels within my teenage comfort zone first. Perhaps, I needed to read other writers’ attempts at writing outside their race. Or maybe all it took was for my daughter to look up at me, a chunk of my hair in her tiny fist, then smile at me with that blind dumbstruck love.


  1. Tansy Rayner Roberts on #

    Hi Lauren!

    Thanks for a great post. I have also been experiencing the combination of babies and novels this last year – when my first baby was born, I had a thesis to finish, though not until after 6 months of maternity leave had passed, and my novel-writing had already been put on hold. This time around, I have deadlines deadlines deadlines, and while I didn’t work my way up to full tilt writing until Baby #2 was three months old (you make me feel like such a slacker!) it still felt like one hell of an adjustment.

    I find there are many problems with working/writing from home in combination with a small baby, but ultimately I do think that motherhood and writing are jobs that can co-exist well, possibly (ha!) more effectively than either of them can be combined with other out-of-the-house jobs, though everyone’s experience is different!

    I have a month long break of my own coming up once my book is delivered next Monday, and I have to say – while your revelation is exciting and inspiring and will undoubtedly make for a stronger book, I kind of hope I’ll just have a month of playing with my baby and *not* figuring out how many essential things are wrong with my own book, thanks very much.

    Is it too much to hope that it’s perfect, just this once? After all, my baby is!

  2. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    Hi Tansy. I hope you do get some time to just play with your baby without figuring out any “essential” stuff. Essential stuff can wait. Unfortunately, sometimes these epiphanies come at the most inconvenient times.

    Working from home can be a challenge. I’m lucky to have a freelancing husband whose schedule is almost as flexible as mine. I also have a library that’s a ten minute walk from my house. I get loads of work done there. No distractions. Thank goodness for libraries.

  3. Laura White on #

    Great blog Lauren. Really enjoyed reading it. Your daughter is officially the best hair sucker on the planet (judging from my experience of hair suckers that is…)

  4. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    Laura, your hair is indeed suckable. I caught Addie trying to suck her own hair, but it’s not long enough yet. Poor thing.

  5. Julia Rios on #

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Lauren. I loved Cycler and (Re)Cycler, and I think it’s worth noting that you included diversity other than racial and ethnic diversity in those books. The gender and sexuality themes you explored there are also important. I’m very much looking forward to reading your next book, and glad to see another person trying to write about the world as a place full of color. You’re right. I was in your hometown area yesterday, and it’s not all white anymore. I’m glad to see more people actively trying to reflect this in fiction. I hope that sort of consideration becomes the norm.

  6. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    Thanks, Julia. I too share your hope. It’s important that we push ourselves as writers to reflect the world both as it is and as we hope it to be.

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