A Reinvention Rant
With What A Mother Knows in the bookstores, people ask what I’m working on now. I’m tempted to say: answering this question!
The truth is, I have a lot of ideas, but I’m not sure which one is worth a few more years of my life. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer last August and realized might be my last book, I couldn’t help but smile. If you read between the lines of this novel you’ll find a message about what really matters. For me, it’s a love story about mothers and daughters.
A woman who recovers from a fatal car accident only to be accused of murder must risk everything to find her missing daughter, the only one who might know the what happened that day.
But you won’t find it under love or romance. At Barnes & Noble, What A Mother Knows is in Fiction & Literature; at Target, it’s in Women’s Fiction; in a bookstore in Delaware, it was spotted in Thrills and Chills; and in the airport bookstores, it’s a Mystery. It’s all of these things…and more. It’s the culmination of all of my work about the challenges of contemporary women.
I often wonder if I should reinvent myself by writing a series or sticking to one bookstore shelf. Some say genre is merely marketing, but marketing is important when determining our “brand.” I wish I could find a formula and stick to it, but for me, the story determines the form.
When my New York Times "Modern Love" column came out on June 23, I got an email from a childhood friend. We hadn’t spoken in years, but she knew I’d written it before she read my byline. She said it sounded as if I was there telling her the story in person. I was thrilled – not only because she called, but also why she did. The hard part of writing that piece wasn’t shaping the story or exposing a personal experience, but finding the right words through the chemo fog. Having a voice, a distinctive cry amid the chorus, is why I write.
Yesterday, the manager of my favorite yogurt shop commented on how I used to be “all sporty” with a ponytail and sweat pants, but now I’m “so elegant” with a half inch of hair and coordinated clothing. Maybe she didn’t recognize me during all those months of chemo when I only ventured out with a wig or a scarf. But if she thinks I reinvented myself, she’s wrong. I am still in treatment and I am still me. I may choose chocolate or vanilla, but I will always put sprinkles on top.
Will my next book redefine my brand? Force me to pick a major? If only it felt that easy. No matter what I write next, there is only one requirement: it has to be good.
Leslie Lehr is the prize-winning author of six books, including the nonfiction Welcome to Club Mom and the book club hit Wife Goes On. She is a screenwriter and an essayist featured in Mommy Wars. Her new novel, What A Mother Knows, is her favorite.