Tuesday, May 17, 2022

A HALF-WRITTEN MANUSCRIPT, A JELLYFISH, AND ME. A guest post by Lindsey J. Palmer.

RHYS BOWEN:  Who could not love a post with such an irresistible title? I'm thrilled to welcome Lindsey to Jungle Reds today and to celebrate the pub week of her brilliant new book, RESERVATIONS FOR SIX. 


LINDSEY J. PALMER:  A half-written manuscript, a jellyfish, and me 

It took 800 miles of distance and a jellyfish sting to realize it was time to give up on the novel I'd been toiling over for the past year. Things had been going poorly for a while, as much as I denied it. This was my fourth novel, and I reassured myself that it was expected for me to hit rough patches. I continued dutifully showing up to my Saturday morning writing sessions—although on Fridays, as most people were breathing a sigh of relief for the weekend, my stomach would be in knots, dreading facing that damn document. And the pages kept piling up: 50, 100, 150—halfway to a draft, I tried to encourage myself, even as deep down I knew I'd lost confidence in the story. 

And the longer I kept up the charade, I understood, the harder it would be to abandon. When I gave myself the Mother's Day gift of skipping my writing session for a yoga class, I rationalized that I deserved a break—I don't enjoy writing, I often say, I enjoy having written; but as I lay in savasana alone with my thoughts, I knew this wasn't about a break; it was avoidance. 



All I needed, I thought, was a change of scenery. I've often done my best writing on vacation—no day job to occupy my brain, no alarm clock interrupting that rich soup of early-morning ideas. Luckily, I had a trip planned—a weeklong family reunion with my in-laws on Hilton Head Island. My husband, Damian, was already in the area for work, so I'd be flying down from New York alone with our toddler. When I considered the logistics—one arm to push a stroller, the other to manage our luggage—I knew I could bring only one suitcase. 

So, I streamed a series of flight attendant how-to videos on efficient packing, then set about trying to cram a week's worth of essentials for me and my daughter into a carryon: clothes, toiletries, beach things, and of course, my laptop. Each round of elimination, I eyed the laptop case. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave it behind—because that would be admitting defeat, an acknowledgment that I wouldn't actually spend the coming week in a productive frenzy. So, I removed a few more outfits and a wad of diapers (I could buy some in Hilton Head), topped my brimming suitcase with the laptop case, somehow managed to zip the thing closed, and set off for South Carolina. Upon arrival, I unpacked my laptop into my room’s bottom dresser drawer, and—this will come as a surprise to exactly no one—there it remained for the duration of the trip. 

Meanwhile, I had a grand old time. We were sharing a condo with Damian’s two sisters and their husbands, the so-called “JV team”; there were six kids in their family, and the three older siblings were dubbed “varsity.” We beached, we cooked, we hung out at Damian's brother Pete’s house and watched alligators pass by in the lagoon. Once, in search of my elusive goggles, I cracked that bottom dresser drawer and felt my belly lurch; I quickly closed it again. In the morning hours when I might have been writing, I instead swam laps in the ocean. The turquoise water beckoned—so clear and so temperate compared to the frigid New England waters I was used to. The repetition of strokes was meditative and exhilarating. I’d been a high school swimmer, and during those morning swims I felt connected to my teenage self, when the water had been transportive, making me feel strong and free, long before I began measuring my worth by word count. And then—sting! I was returned in a snap to the present. My hands burned and itched. I didn't register what had happened until I saw the strange translucent bells undulating around me. I fled to shore. Pete, who'd lived on Hilton Head for decades, asked if I really hadn’t known there were jellyfish out there. Well, it looked so idyllic, I answered lamely, gesturing to the winking turquoise surface. Pete laughed goodheartedly. I’d chosen to see what I wanted to see, and of course things were not as they seemed. 

In search of a first-aid kit, I opened that bottom dresser drawer again. It seemed to stare back at me: the abandoned laptop. My skin was on fire, like an alarm sounding off in my body. What was I doing keeping up this pretense of my novel in progress? It wasn’t working, and it was time to accept it. Luckily, the cannonball jellyfish is one of the tamer species. I endured a few days of discomfort, and then I was fine. Shit happens, then you move on. As soon as I realized I wouldn't continue with the novel, I felt lighter, clearer, more attuned to my surroundings. I started paying attention to what was going on in this house: our group of six (plus my daughter), the three siblings and their spouses, the three couples who'd been together a decade or longer, such a close group with so much shared history. 

The next night at dinner, my sister-in-law announced that she and her husband were separating. She opened up about their marriage, and I was struck by how ordinary it sounded: the problems she outlined were similar to the struggles I’d heard about from married friends, similar to ones I’d experienced in my own marriage. It made me consider how maybe a solid relationship was a matter of degree, things being fine until they weren’t, endurable until they weren’t, and how different couples might draw different lines. 

I watched everyone at the table take in the news, perhaps mulling similar thoughts, for sure knowing that this familiar dynamic among the six of us was over. The end of one marriage would have a ripple effect, also spelling the end to our tight-knit group. I didn’t go back in the ocean. The next morning, I woke up, retrieved my neglected laptop, and started typing notes for what would become Reservations for Six: three marriages, six longtime friends, the announcement of a divorce. A year later, I’d written a draft. A year after that, I had a publisher. Six more months, and I held a physical copy of the novel in my hands, which had long ago recovered from the jellyfish incident. But I didn’t forget the shock of the sting, and its reminder to see what was plain in front of my face, to summon the courage to acknowledge what wasn’t working, slough it off, and move on. Like my sister-in-law had done with her marriage. And I did start swimming in the ocean again—in Cape Cod, where I’ve recently moved, where I like to pretend the waters aren’t teeming with great white sharks. 


A little delusion can be a good thing, I tell myself, or maybe I’ve learned nothing. I’ve also started writing a new novel, and honestly, I’m not really sure how it’s going. Have you ever had a sudden realization that shook you out of your denial? Answer in the comments for a chance to win a copy of Reservations for Six.


RHYS: Lindsey, I loved this post. I know the book is going to resonate with so many people Here's to a great launch week.

Lindsey J. Palmer is a writer, editor, and educator. She is the author of four novels, RESERVATIONS FOR SIX, OTHERWISE ENGAGED, IF WE LIVED HERE, and PRETTY IN INK. She worked in the magazine industry for many years, most recently as Features Editor at Self, and previously at Redbook and Glamour. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she earned a Master of Arts in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and taught A.P. Literature and Creative Writing at a Manhattan public school for several years. Nowadays she’s a senior editor at BrainPOP, an animated educational site for kids, which means she spends her days researching topics as diverse as Alan Turing, Juneteenth, and Mindfulness, and then translating what she’s learned into an engaging, narrative format. Lindsey lives on Cape Cod with her husband and daughter. 


Here's the synopsis:
Reservations for Six captures a decade-long tradition among a tight-knit group of friends: On everyone's birthday, the three couples gather to celebrate at their favorite New England restaurant. Nathan is the first to turn 40, and when the cake arrives, he makes a shocking announcement. The birthday ritual, and the relationships, will never be the same again. Confessions follow, and secrets get revealed. One couple's crumbling marriage forces the other couples to reexamine their own marriages, and the fault lines that lurk beneath. Will their bonds be strong enough to survive issues like infidelity, infertility, and waning passion, plus a series of crises that push each relationship to the brink? The answers may prove surprising. A year after Nathan's big declaration, as the group gathers for the year's final birthday celebration, every person and every relationship will be fundamentally changed.

And here are links:
You can find me at lindseyjpalmer.com, www.facebook.com/lindseyjpalmerauthor, and as @lindseyjpalmer on Instagram and Twitter.

52 comments:

  1. LINDSEY: Avoidance, procrastination and physical dread was definitely your subconscious telling you that was not the book you were meant to write! Congratulations on running with that germ of a new idea during that fateful Hilton Head dinner and writing/publishing RESERVATIONS FOR SIX.

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  2. I think it must always be difficult to decide to set something aside, especially after you’ve put so much effort into it. Nevertheless, I suspect it’s an important step in the book-writing process. Congratulations, Lindsey, on your new book . . . .

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    1. Thank you! And yes, so hard, but sometimes necessary!

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  3. The universe was sending you a message that was hard to hear - but look what opened up when you listened! Congratulations on the new book. It's a great premise.

    I'm on a solo writing retreat in West Falmouth this week, wrestling down a manuscript in a new project that has presented many obstacles. Having a birdsong-filled back yard and salt marsh plus a beautiful walk to the beach is helping me work through those blocks! That, plus zero other interruptions, of course.

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    1. Thanks, Edith! Enjoy the writing retreat--sounds idyllic!

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  4. We are always told to never give up, don't be a quitter, etc. But sometimes just trying is enough, and can lead us to our true purpose. Continuing to try to cram a square peg into a round hole, whether it's a story that isn't working, or a relationship that has run its course, can only end in frustration. I've watched someone dear to me do this, over and over again.

    Reservations for Six sounds great, Lindsey. I will add this to my list, for sure!

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    1. Karen, I saw the same thing! Leaving a project is like leaving a relationship. You keep thinking there's something you can do to fix it. Ack!

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    2. Such a good point--persisting at all costs isn't always the right path forward! Thanks for your interest in the book, Karen!

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  5. "Don't be a quitter" is not always the right advice to follow, because, sometimes, quitting something is the only right thing to do. Reservations for Six sounds good; I'm off to find it.

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    1. Such a good point! Persisting at all costs isn't always the right path. Thank you so much!

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    2. Thanks for your interest, Amanda!

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  6. What a great story Lindsey, thanks for visiting the Reds today.

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  7. Yes! And it felt really good after I made the decision to leave the mess behind and start over with something else.

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  8. Lindsey, thank you for sharing. It is so interesting to learn about the events that inspire an author creatively. Your new book sounds terrific.

    On the other hand, I think that it is very difficult to discard a project that one has put time and effort into without finishing it, but that can happen with relationships, too. I'm thinking "bad boyfriend." It's always a relief to leave a sour situation although we can have regrets for what might have been. The timing of your new story idea made it easier to leave the other behind.

    Now I am looking for all of your books.

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    1. Thanks so much, Judy! And yes, tough to let something go, but sometimes necessary!

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  9. Congratulations on your new release! Good luck with the great whites on the Cape.

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  10. Congratulations on knowing when to fold them! But who's to say, that sometime, maybe far down the road, it will come to you, a way to make that other story work, after all. Or maybe you can recycle some aspects of it.

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  11. Giving up is really hard to do... I do find that *sometimes* coming back to it years later, one finds sparks and pieces that can be recycled. Like compost. Congratulations on the new novel, Lindsey! And most especially on getting to THE END>

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  12. Congratulations on this captivating book. When we are faced with a struggle it is difficult to leave.

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  13. I was enthralled with your story since real family stories are usually stranger than fiction and fascinate me. I recall many when I was young and growing up but learned more about them late ron in life. Giving up is not in our genes as I have seen so many deal with adversity who have succeeded.

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  14. What a great story, Lindsey. We're taught to work through any difficulty, but sometimes the best course of action is to give up.

    The Hubby and I have been looking for a "cabin in the woods," a place we can make a nice retreat. Every candidate has either slipped through our fingers or been too expensive. Today's offering needs a lot of work - but it's definitely cheap enough. Maybe this time the universe is giving us what we unconsciously are looking for.

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    1. Best of luck with the cabin, and thanks for the kind words, Liz!

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  15. Finish what you start, clean your plate, go the distance. We have had these phrases pounded into our heads since children, and erroneously so. Knowing when to give up or move on and stop eating when you're full is much sounder advice. Few of us will just quit after a desultory try; we try hard to make something work. So, knowing the effort has been made should help release us from continuing with a project going nowhere, but, of course, we are stubborn beings. I'm so glad, Lindsey, that you knew when to stop, even if it took a jellyfish sting to drive the point home. And, now you have a book that is intriguing and will touch so many. Congratulations.

    In writing book reviews, I have had to occasionally set aside a paragraph, especially the opening one, and just start it anew. But, oh boy, do I try to rework it in its original form more than once before I admit that it just needs to be discarded in its entirety.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy! And yes, I often find with a short piece that I end up ditching the open paragraph--the real opening is further down.

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    2. Hank Phillippi RyanMay 18, 2022 at 1:14 AM

      So agree!

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  16. It's funny how we expect ourselves to keep on keeping on even when we don't really want to. When I was preparing to move from Ohio to Minnesota I had told my workmates that I didn't intend to continue working as a CPA. The general feeling was it was a shame to "waste" my education and experience. Heck. I'd been using it for years. Why would not using it now be a waste? Anyway guilt made me apply for an accounting job in a small town close to where we moved. I'm sure I didn't present as enthusiastic and I didn't get the job. Much to my relief. I realized then it really was time for change. At least I didn't need a jellyfish sting to figure it out! Best of luck, Lindsey! I'm really looking forward to reading your book.

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    1. So interesting--I sometimes catch myself thinking that about my masters in education, since I only taught for a few years. But it's not a waste--it was used. Glad you got a well-needed change!

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  17. Hi, Lindsey. What a fabulous post - so many poignant lessons. From jellyfish to separation. Your book sounds very on point as my husband and I are of an age when a lot of our couple friends are
    calling it quits. I can't wait to read Reservations for Six.

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  18. Lynn in Texas here. Congrats Lindsey, what a great post and I look forward to reading your books! One of my 1st life-changing moments that happened in my late 20 's was quitting a job I'd previously loved as secretary to the VP of a resort area on a lake outside of Austin, where I had various duties, including writing a monthly column in both the HOA and employee newsletters, besides organizing and even working special events. The parent company brought in new people & policies, I was stressing out, Austin was beginning to boom with unbearable traffic and dh was unhappier than I was with our situation. So I quit and we moved back to 10 acres outside of Dallas, I got a new job and we grew a huge vegetable garden and sold our organic veggies and sold lots to health food stores, including the one where hubby was produce mgr. That lasted for 5 yrs. til we permanently moved to our family farm in East Texas, raised beef cattle and veggies while having other jobs, and eventually built our log home there.

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    1. What a great story, Lynn! Your farm sounds wonderful!

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  19. Wildly late to the party today. I enjoyed your post, but then I read the description of PARTY OF SIX and it so captivated me that it knocked the post right out of my mind. That literally happened -- I had to go back up and re-scan the post to remind myself your post was about, because I was so caught up in wanting to read the book. It reminds me a bit of the movie THE FOUR SEASONS, and a little of how I've seen group and family dynamics change after a divorce or more recently, the death of one spouse. I think that's a truly universal experience.

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    1. Thanks, Susan! I'm so glad you're interested in my book—i hope you'll check it out!

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    2. Also, I love the movie The Four Seasons! Haven't seen it in years.

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  20. Lindsey: Congratulations on your new novel. RESERVATIONS FOR SIX sounds like a good book.

    Diana

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  21. Sorry to be so late.
    Fascinating post. After reading it, I bought Reservations for Six
    Danielle

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    1. Thanks so much, Danielle--I really appreciate it!

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  22. Hank Phillippi RyanMay 18, 2022 at 1:13 AM

    Coming in so late! But these realizations, —and I’m sorry you had a jellyfish thing of course—, are so life-changing! All the puzzle pieces in our lives lineup a different way, I don’t know how it happens. So pleased to see you emerge. so successfully and so happily!

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    1. Thank you, Hank! And thanks for the opportunity to be a guest in this fantastic community!

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  23. While the demise of your sister-in-law's marriage is sad, I'm glad it sparked your inspiration for your new book. Your subconscious was obviously open and waiting for a new idea after wrestling for so long with the other one. I agree, "never quit" is bad advice and we need to teach our kids how to discern when it's time to move on, and then give ourselves permission to do the same. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, especially the jellyfish sting. What a great metaphor although a horrible thing to go through at the time.

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