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.