The Next Big Thing: Paper Doll Fetus

Amy Newman generously tagged me for the Next Big Thing interview series. Following is my self-interview about my upcoming book.

What is your working title of your book?

The book is called Paper Doll Fetus.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Paper Doll Fetus explores the unborn baby as well as the doctors and midwives who treated and mistreated the birthing mother through history.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came when I first learned about twilight sleep, an amnesiac state induced during childbirth to relieve pain and cause the mother to forget the experience. But the trade-off was that women felt detached from their newborns, who seemed to have come from nowhere, and the drugs caused sometimes erratic or aggressive behavior. Women were tied down.

It was the early 1900s, but were we in the dark ages?, I thought. I sat down to write a book about twilight sleep. I wrote one poem. And then I thought, what about the dark ages, so to speak? As I researched medicine and midwifery across the past thousand years, a world of superstition and fantasy opened up for me both inside and outside the womb. It wasn’t too far a leap from a physician believing a woman could give birth to a live mole to a talking fetus or even a bedtime story told to a stone baby by the calcium that entombed it.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Persona. Historical poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I didn’t see any Oscars handed out to the unborn at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Maybe the people who masterminded the “In the Womb” series for National Geographic could get it done?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book is slated for publication by Persea Books in December 2014.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a year and a half. Many of the poems came very quickly because I was so immersed in the subject. But everything slowed when I became pregnant with my daughter. I had written a poem about maternal impression, the superstitious belief that what you’re exposed to while pregnant can affect the physical development of your baby. Silly, but I had a hard time shaking it off.

I had to write a poem about a doctor using the crochet, a long tool with a hook on the end for removing a dead fetus from the mother’s body piece by piece. I can’t describe how hard it was for me to write it. I procrastinated. I started. I stopped. Then halfway through, the doctor, who is the speaker of the poem, started telling the story as if it were a dream in which the fetus is a ball of yarn and the doctor is crocheting a blanket. When he is finished, he lays it beside the mother. That was what I had to do to keep writing: turn a baby into a blanket.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The Discovery Health Channel. Wendy Moore’s The Knife Man. The writings of Jan Bondeson. John Maubrey’s The Female Physician (1724). Gould and Pyle’sAnomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (1896). Ambroise Paré’s On Monsters and Marvels (1573). And more.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The title of the book comes from the poem, “The Paper Doll Fetus Speaks to the Viable Twin in Utero.” The poem is a letter of forgiveness from one twin to another and comes from the phenomenon known as fetus papyraceus, in which the body of a twin who has died becomes flattened like a sheet of paper against the wall of the womb by the force of its growing twin. The poem is the letter I imagine to be written on that twin’s body.

Despite the seemingly shocking subject matter, I believe the book is overridingly hopeful and life-affirming. The book is not just for women; in fact, men speak more than women. But it’s not just for men, either. Or parents. The story of birth is the story of all of us.


I’ve tagged J.L. Conrad and Rita Mae Reese.