When I tell people that my novel, Nanny on the Run, is based on my summer of 1977, I’m sometimes asked, “What percentage of the book is true?”
The answer is difficult to quantify.
Like Bridget, I was a nanny on the run in New York City in 1977. The guts of my experience are what I used to shape the fiction that is Bridget’s story. And fiction it is. I began the story years ago. Then, in 2002, The Nanny Diaries hit the shelves. Not wanting my work in progress to be viewed as a copycat novel, I started over. I wrote my true story—but changed the names of some of the key players.
I finished the memoir in 2005. After an unsuccessful attempt to find an agent or publisher, I tucked my manuscript away. I hadn’t intended to write the truth anyway, so it seemed fitting to box up the pages and slide them under my bed. The end, I thought.
Instead, it was only a hiatus. In 2010, I began anew. Rather than resurrecting my previous fiction, I started over. That result, Nanny on theRun, was published nearly six months ago.
When I contemplate Bridget’s story, I think about the Play-Doh 3-packs of my youth.
I envision yellow as my life, blue and red as fiction. Bridget’s story is a patchwork of yellow—those places where her story mirrors mine; green—blue mixed with yellow to symbolize the places where my story undergoes change and morphs into Bridget’s; and purple—a blend of red and blue to signify where Bridget’s story is purely make-believe.
My intent to not tell my true story carries through to today. When asked questions about me or my summer, my M.O. is to steer my answers back to Bridget and her story. But I will tell you this. Three parallels between Bridget’s summer and mine are that we each felt like fish out of water. We were treated like servants. And both of us left without saying goodbye.
As for bits of yellow? Bridget and I share the same hula hoop record. We both were candy stripers. And each of our dads were Golden Gloves boxers in their youth. But mine was tougher.
It’s a thrill to launch a new book into the world. As people gathered at Fact and Fiction prior to my debut reading of Nanny on theRun, I spotted a young boy standing near the back. After chatting with him for a few moments, he asked, “Are you the author?”
“I am,” I said.
The reverence in his voice reminded me of a conversation I had with a long-time friend. Both of us are nurses and avid readers. We both write, too, though my friend hasn’t yet shared her work. We’d asked each other, “Do you think you would’ve considered writing as a career if you would’ve met any authors when you were growing up?”
“I don’t know,” was our echoed reply.
I do know this. I’ve loved my mother’s nursing stories ever since I was a little girl. I’ve loved to read, too. And having become both a nurse and an author, I feel very fortunate. Very, even though I avoid adverbs whenever possible.
Following the Q & A at my Shakespeare & Company reading, a gentleman said, “You didn’t say anything about your nursing.”
So I obliged. While I was sharing a bit about my nursing career, the rest of the audience remained in their seats to listen. A couple who had wandered into the store during the Q & A stopped and took notice as I began my nurse talk.
I learned afterward that the woman was a nurse. Better yet, she wants to become a nursing instructor.
Nearly two weeks have passed since my second book reading. There are more on the horizon. Last night at a barbeque, I chatted with friends and acquaintances and with people whom I’d never met. More than one said, “You published a novel?”
This year, I’m applying to be a giver of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’sThe Language of Flowers. Not only has Diffenbaugh written a powerful debut novel about what can happen when you age out of foster care (you might find yourself homeless and sleeping in a park like protagonist Victoria Jones), she also is a co-founder of The Camellia Network, whose mission is to create a nationwide movement to support youth transitioning from foster care.
A bouquet of angelica, bellflower, flax, lisianthus and orange to Vanessa Diffenbaugh. White carnations, cosmos and peppermint to all who make World Book Night 2013 possible.
I have loved books for as long as I can remember. And for almost as long, I have been fascinated with the world of nursing. My mother sparked my interest with her stories when I was a young girl. Later, countless Cherry Ames books fueled my desire to become a nurse. As did my candy striping days. I felt important beyond measure when I walked past the bold-lettered sign at Saint James Hospital: NO VISITORS UNDER THE AGE OF SIXTEEN and knew that, though only fourteen, I had a job to do.
Fast forward to 2012. I’m an OB nurse, I would say. And a writer, I added in recent years.
The former has ended. The latter has not. Less than three weeks have passed since my exit interview for the nursing job I held for nearly twenty-one years. It felt bittersweet as I walked into Community Medical Center to offer parting words that day. Bittersweet, knowing I would be replacing the wonder of birth with the wonder of books.
I said goodbye to my old website this month, too, as library books and You Tube videos taught me about WordPress. Looking at the photos our older son, Eric, helped me stage for my website years ago induced pensive feelings. Those photos captured much of my and my mother’s essence. And though neither of us is practicing right now, we will always be nurses.
So I share the photo that graced my website for six years and helped garner stories for Nurses on the Run.
I share one of our alternates, too. It’s a poignant reminder of the boxes of childhood books my parents moved on my behalf. Not once, but twice.