When you come to a fork in the road
by VALERIE TAYLOR
A heartfelt thank you to Lisa Kissane for inviting me to blog and for featuring What’s Not Said in The Nomo Book Club.
In short, What’s Not Said is the first of a three-part series that features Kassie O’Callaghan, a middle-aged woman who has stayed in her childless marriage way past its expiration date. Just as she’s about to move out of the house and move in with a younger man she’d met on a solo vacation to Venice, she learns her husband has a life-threatening illness. When she discovers he’s kept secrets locked in his pajama drawer, Kassie is forced to decide whose life to save: her husband’s or her own.
With all the twists and turns in the story, I’m often asked if I outlined What’s Not Said before sitting down to write it. The short answer is “no.” But if I stop at that, there’d be no need for you to read on. So here’s the long answer.
After my divorce in the early 2000s, I knew I wanted to write a book because I had an ending swirling around in my head. An ending that haunted me…for years…and years. Did I say years? I began writing scenes long hand and each January I’d open a new Word doc, hoping that would be the year I’d write the darn thing.
Through the years, the husband and wife were always the same—Jack and Kate. That is until I discovered many books have characters named Jack and Kate. Fiddlesticks. So I changed their names to Mike and Kassie (spoiler alert: the leading lady needed an initial K).
But that was not the only change I made. Up until I retired and got serious about the story, the couple had a son. Of course, easy peasy. I have a son. Not so fast! Red flag alert! No can do! I feared I might unwittingly reveal our own family secrets, which I had no intention of doing. This was to be a novel, after all, not a memoir. Exit son, stage right.
And, wouldn’t ya know, that was the best thing that could have happened. Why? Because then, after more than a decade of false starts, the story I wanted to write began to take shape, almost writing itself.
With the son out of the picture, I centered on Kassie and Mike—on what they brought to the marriage, their dreams, their fears. I’m not a therapist, and I don’t play one on television, but I believe marriages often fail because the couple does not share the same goals. Perhaps they did once upon a time, but when the rose petals start to fall off, if they’re headed in opposite directions, divorce court is often the ultimate destination.
Unfortunately, like too many marriages today, such was the case with Kassie and Mike. They’re on different wavelengths when it comes to having children and raising a family, and this becomes a core conflict throughout the book.
I was called to write a story about a contemporary marriage; a marriage today’s mature women could relate to. In some ways, I think I’ve achieved that goal. One reader said “I touched her soul;” another lauded What’s Not Said as “one of her most favorite reads of the year”; and several gave me a thumbs up for portraying mature couples who enjoy sex. Did I say sex?
While motherhood is a central theme in the novel, it is not the only one. And though the themes are serious, I tried to approach the storytelling with humor and honesty.
Not surprisingly and despite her age, Kassie is still disheartened by her plight in the sequel, What’s Not True, which publishes August 24, 2021. Nevertheless, she attempts an attitude adjustment while she fights to protect what’s legally and rightfully hers.
Even though it took years to complete the book I was meant to write, I did what Yogi Berra, a famous American baseball player once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” As Kassie made her choice, so have I. Lucky for me, it brought me here to Lisa and The Nomo Book Club. For that and for you, dear reader, I will always be grateful.