Seraphina: Origins IPosted: August 4, 2011
(I know, I said I was only posting three times a week. Apparently I’m starting that next week.)
It took me eight years to write Seraphina. More accurately, it took me eight years to write four distinct novels, three of which were called Seraphina. The first was called Theodosia. I started writing it when I was pregnant with my son, but I started thinking about it a couple years before that.
When I was a wee lass, just twenty-nine years old, my parents got divorced. It was a shock; I’d sooner have believed the Law of Gravity was being repealed (in fact, for a time I was certain it had been). I found my feet again, eventually, and as the dust settled I was left with an idea: what would it be like to marry someone with a terrible secret, and then to learn it only after they died?*
*NB: this is not what happened to my parents, exactly. This was just some residue I found on the ground after the explosion.
I didn’t get to work on it right away, though. I’d just won the Xeric Grant and was putting together the collected edition of Amy (and oh, was it ever lucky I’d finished Belondweg Blossoming, because I was in a very different place than when I began it!). I didn’t get a chance to start writing until I was nearly 31, when I was pregnant and about to move across the continent and in the mood to write a dismal novel full of family secrets and futility.
I wrote Theodosia by committing to e-mailing a chapter a month to my sisters and Josh (who was an honorary sister). That’s a slow way to go, 10-12 pages a month, but I was writing in 15-minute stretches while the baby napped (he was never a very good napper). There was a father, Claude, whose wife had died in childbirth — revealing her terrible secret! The child, Theodosia (called Dosey), wasn’t told the terrible secret because of course the best way to deal with such a thing is to continue keeping it secret at all costs! No one must know! And then Claude married into a family of gangsters who would want to know the secret, and there were other secrets as well, the keeping of which eventually exploded Claude’s second marriage. Poor Claude, he just never learned. Then Theodosia, having finally learned all the secrets, decided to keep them.
When I got to the end, my REAL sisters were kind and supportive and give me a dog biscuit for having finished. Josh, that phoney baloney sister, said NO NO NO you can’t end it that way. You’ve written a tragedy, woman! Dosey’s just going to go out and make all the same mistakes as her father!
Yessss, I said. Isn’t it gloriously dismal? It’s like Ibsen, with dragons.
But then I thought about it some more and realized he was probably right. It was depressing. I brightened up the ending, had Dosey leaving home and her father advising her not to be a bonehead like him, and then I called for beta readers on my blog. I was shocked how many volunteers I got.
And that was the beginning. Poor, sad Claude has been with me the whole time. The father-daughter tension is still there, but not as front-and-centre as it was. As tends to happen, my preoccupations changed over time. I’m never able to write the same book twice.