Monday, March 7, 2011

Emily Gray Tedrowe author of COMMUTERS

Commuters (HarperCollins 2010) was the first book I was asked to blurb so it will always hold a special place for that reason, but also for the delicate beautiful story of two people falling in love at the end of their lives.  For those of you who have not read Emily Gray Tedrowe's book, I am not giving anything away.  The main characters are in octogenarian territory, one close, one already there, and this new union causes anxiety for every person in their lives, except them, mostly for selfish reasons.  Emily writes of this passion, of taking second chances, so effortlessly, so engagingly, you will be drawn into the world of this late-in-life couple and won't want to leave.  Among the notables that agree with me in this stellar debut novel are the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Review, Kirkus, Booklist, Entertainment Weekly (Best New Paperback) as well as Target who named the book to their amazing Breakout Book program. 
Please welcome Emily to the blog, as always, I'll see you in the comments!

Moments in parenting, in writing: a mother reflects     

1) My first child, my daughter, is three weeks old.  I’ve moved past exhaustion into a nether-world of too-bright colors, too much caffeine, and very little humor.  When my mother-in-law offers to come over once a week to give me a break I’m so relieved I probably cry.  I cry a lot in those days.  It would be the first time I separated from my daughter—she even slept in bed with my husband and me—and the very idea is sad, is exhilarating.  What do I want to do? My mother-in-law asks.  Take a nap?  Go to a movie?  See a friend?

Write, a voice inside me says, against every inclination I have to sleep, sleep, sleep.  So that first day I trudge to a coffee shop down the block.  For a while I just sit there, off balance from the sudden proximity of other people.  I just want to be in bed.  Or holding my baby.  In bed holding my baby. After a while I open my notebook.  Whose thoughts are these?  Bit by bit, I pick up the thread and find my way back into the story.

(Thank you, Karri, for the gift of that time.)

2) She is now one year old.  I’m caught up in a short story about an imagined day in the life of Jim Croce, the (real) singer-songwriter.  What I need are photos, biographical details, music sheets—and I find them, online, but that’s not enough.  I push my daughter in her stroller up twenty blocks or so to the main branch of Chicago’s library.  Her face lights up at the sight of the looming gargoyles, but today we don’t go to the children’s room.  Instead, I hand her toys and rattles and contraband Cheerios while paging through reference materials, scribbling whatever looks useful, steadfastly ignoring the glances that come our way.  My daughter strains against her stroller straps, makes noises that are cheerful, and then agitated.  I unbuckle her and she crawls around the floor while I flip through Jim Croce’s liner notes.  She cries and I breastfeed her, sitting at a table with researchers and street people.  It’s a race against time now to get home before her nap, so I copy whatever I can, writing left-handed when I need to, a sweet girl on my lap and a story in my head.

(Thank you, library guard, for your patience that day.)

3) 5:15 am, my alarm goes off.  This is the worst part, I tell myself, that painful sound and the climbing out of a warm bed.  If I can make it through these moments (I can’t always, especially after nights where we’re up with a crying child), the rest gets easier.  Coffee helps.  And a quick bleary tour of the internet.  Soon enough I’m writing, slow at first and then faster, better, as the caffeine kicks in and I wake up to my novel. 
            We have two girls now, one infant and one preschooler, and they are sleeping upstairs while I write at my desk for this one hour before the sun comes up.  When it does, they’ll be awake, and loud, and need milk and breakfast and diaper changes.  But for now, it’s quiet.  I’ve shut off the baby monitors; my husband will hold them at bay if they wake up too early.  I can work now, one eye on the clock, both hands on the keyboard.

(Thank you, Courtney, for those mornings.)

4) My youngest is two and a half.  She’s in her high chair, waiting for a snack.  I’m snappish, discombobulated, wishing I could be alone.  My novel has been on the market for three weeks, and I’m not handling it very well.  Several times, I get my heart broken when an editor says she loves the book, but eventually passes on it.  I check my email forty times an hour.  I bark at my kids.  I can’t sleep.
            When my cell rings, I’m spreading peanut butter on apple slices for a hungry, fussy toddler.  At the sight of my agent’s number on the screen, my heart skips a beat.  She tells me that we have an offer for my novel, from an editor and a publishing company I hadn’t dared to hope for.  Phone wedged between cheek and shoulder, I shriek and laugh and dance, to the delight of the startled girl in the highchair.  Minutes later, I get off the phone, dazed.  My daughter is puzzled; she’s holds up what I’ve given her—a butter knife.  Later, we discover apple slices in the cutlery drawer.

(Thank you, Alice, for sharing motherhood and work with me.  And for that life-changing phone call!)

5)  It’s a hot late-spring day and I fear I’ve already sweated through my fancy new silk blouse.  The girls are absorbed by a kids craft project but we’re smack in the middle of a packed book fair and the crowds are making me nervous.  I’m also worried; will my husband make it from work in time to watch them before my panel begins?  It’s the first event for my book tour, and I so wish I didn’t have to be mom right now.  I don’t have the luxury of pre-reading nerves, because I’m fending off two sets of glitter-glue hands from my black pants.
            Courtney arrives, and we all go into the small auditorium.  I meet my fellow “first time author” panelists, and note that none of them have brought children.  In fact, there are no other kids in the rapidly filling room, aside from mine.  Crap.  Not for the first time, I doubt my ability to balance this hybrid mom/writer life.
            While my youngest is kept busy (and quiet) in a discreet back row with my husband’s iPhone, my older daughter, now 7, chooses to sit in the very first row.  Directly in front of me.  She clutches a copy of Commuters and beams at every word I say.  My heart fills, and when it’s my turn, I find myself reading to her.  With love.

(Thank you to my daughters.  For everything.)

Emily Gray Tedrowe lives in Chicago.  Her first novel, Commuters, was named a Target Breakout Book and an IndieBound Next Notable pick.  Visit her on the web at


  1. First, let me thank Robin, not only for generously featuring me on her rockin' blog, but for the blurb that makes me smile and blush every time I see the back of my book!

    This post is especially meaningful to me, given the personal nature of the subject matter, and I was grateful to have the chance to reflect on some of the moments that have shaped me as a mother and a writer.

    I would love to hear about your experiences in parenting and/or writing, too. I have a feeling that sharing these hilarious/awkward/painful moments helps all of us get through the craziness of this particular lifestyle. Comment here, or feel free to let me know your thoughts -

    Thanks again, Robin!

    - Emily

  2. What an inspiring post! I've read the book- Ms. Tedrowe is an amazing writer... Nice to see she is an amazing mother as well!

  3. What a beautiful post. I am so teary...

  4. Okay, I totally teared up...certainly for the emotion in the post...the image of your little girl sitting proudly in the front row is lovely.

    I think I also got a little teary from sheer terror because I have a baby due in July, a preschooler and two looming deadlines on books two and three of my first contract! What madness is it to be a writer, on deadline, with a newborn and a 3 year old??? :)

    I didn't do so well with no sleep when my son was born, but I was able to just write as I had energy since I was unpublished then. So I must admit to some healthy fear of how I'm going to get through it this time, when the older child doesn't let you nap during the day even if the baby kept you up all night and I'm 3 years older.

    Yet, your lovely post shows it CAN be done. Thank you for the inspiration, and congratulations on your success!

  5. Thanks, Jenny - and thank you, Doreen. You guys are really making my day.

    And thanks to Heather, too! Yeah, the sleep deprivation is awful. It's just bad. It turned me into a different person - I was bitter all the time. And yes, it gets harder when there's less time to sleep with an older child around. So no real advice here, just a big I-hear-you and good thoughts your way. (And congrats on both the baby AND your books!!)