Kath here. I love it when we are able to feature the debut of someone who has been part of the WU (and now RU) community. Some of you many recognize Erika Liodice’s name. Her website and blog Beyond the Gray have been a source of inspiration to the online writing community for years. And now Erika is celebrating the release of her debut novel EMPTY ARMS. We asked her to share her writer’s journey and a little bit about the process behind writing her novel. Happily, she agreed.
Please enjoy this special Take 5 with Erika Liodice.
Q: What’s the premise of your debut novel?
Empty Arms is the story of Catharine Chase, who had a baby out of wedlock in 1973, when she was just sixteen. An embarrassment to her parents, Catharine was exiled to a maternity home to carry out her pregnancy far away from the watchful eyes of their tight-knit community. What they didn’t tell her is that she wouldn’t be allowed to keep her baby.
With her daughter’s screams still echoing in her ears, the medical staff told Catharine she’d move on with her life and have more children, they promised she’d forget. But they were wrong. Catharine never forgot Emily. And when she and her husband, Paul, learn that they can’t have children, she risks her job, her marriage, and her family’s reputation in a desperate attempt to find the daughter she never wanted to give away and reclaim her only chance to be a mother.
Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
Empty Arms explores adoption, parenthood, and infertility, while shedding light on the experiences of nearly 4 million unwed mothers who were forced to surrender their babies for adoption in the 1940s-1970s (a period known as the Baby Scoop Era). Many of these young women were coerced into the decision by case workers, medical staff, and their parents. They were told they’d move on with their lives, have more children, and forget about the babies they were giving away. But how can a mother ever forget her baby? Most never did. And their decisions haunted them every day, resulting in a lifetime of problems, ranging from guilt, shame, and depression, to troubled marriages, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even suicide.
Between the birthmothers, birthfathers, babies, and adoptive families, I estimate that the number of people impacted by these “forced adoptions” is in the tens of millions. And yet there are hardly any novels written on the subject. Until now.
Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
Empty Arms opens with the protagonist, Catharine, and her husband, Paul, learning that they can’t have children. It’s a cruel irony for Catharine, who was forced to surrender her daughter for adoption twenty-two years earlier. Catharine never told Paul about the baby, but when he reveals that he wants to adopt a child of their own—an option that Catharine can’t bear to consider because of own her traumatic relinquishment experience—she’s faced with having to tell him the truth at the risk of destroying their marriage.
The other major challenge that Catharine has to tackle is the search for her long-lost daughter, which is made even more difficult by a complicated closed records system and her mother’s determination to keep the family’s secret.
Q: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
The biggest challenge was figuring out how to deliver the backstory without disrupting the narrative. In my first draft, the story jumped back and forth in time to show teenage-Catharine’s pregnancy, her grim experience at the maternity home, and her postpartum depression, versus adult-Catharine’s infertility, failing marriage, and search for her daughter. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to work with a talented developmental editor who helped me see that the “back and forth” method was hurting the story more than it was helping it. She suggested that adult-Catharine’s story flow linearly with the backstory woven in. I knew it was good advice, but I also knew that I would have to rewrite about 85% of the book. And after spending 2 years writing the first draft, the prospect of an extensive rewrite made me wonder if I should just give up and start a new project. There was just one problem: I was still very passionate about the story and didn’t want to abandon it.
Instead of giving up, I stepped away from the project for a month or two, during which time I cleared my head, mulled over my editor’s feedback, and recharged my batteries. When I finally felt ready to tackle the revision, I reworked my outline until I had a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish. The rewrite and additional editing took another year, but the book is much stronger as a result, and I know in my heart it was the right decision.
Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
Researching Empty Arms allowed me to connect with a number of birthmothers who went through a similar experience. Hearing about the shame they faced during their pregnancies, the heartache of losing their babies, and the struggle to locate their grown children was fascinating, educational, and heartbreaking all at the same time. And each and every story reminded me why Empty Arms needed to be written.
Empty Arms is now available at an e-bookstore near you, and the paperback is due out in December. For more information, please visit www.erikaliodice.com.
Watch the book trailer.
A special message from Erika…
I’m donating 10% of the proceeds from Empty Arms to Save the Children, because at the heart of every adoption story is a child. Sadly, there are millions of children around the world who don’t have a family to love them, clothes to keep them warm, food to nourish their growing bodies, a safe place to sleep, medicine to keep them healthy, or a decent education so they can thrive in this world. I’m proud to be supporting this fine charity through the sales of my novel. Together we can help save the children.