The Story behind ‘Ninth-Month Midnight’ by Marie Bacigalupo

Ninth-Month_Feb9 (2)For as long as I can remember, reading and writing have been my twin passions. Reading came naturally and has given me joy since I was a little girl and got my first taste of Alcott’s Eight Cousins. I devoured Little Women next, and then just kept on reading through adolescence, when Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer left an indelible imprint on my heart. To this day I can feel the poignant yearning of first love and the sense of loss at its abrupt ending.

Fiction has always been my favorite genre, perhaps because of its immersive qualities. I escaped a lonely childhood by entering a multitude of fictional worlds and to this day I go back to my favorites time and time again. My husband wonders how I can keep reading the same books over and over. It’s easy, in fact, a pleasure. I don’t read to find out what happens but to hang out with old friends like Elizabeth Bennett, Holden Caulfield, George Smiley, Lily Bart, Scout and Atticus Finch, the second Mrs. De Winter—the list goes on.

But unlike reading it, writing fiction does not come naturally. I earned a living for a time as a copywriter, but my dream was to write creatively. At some point, I realized I couldn’t seriously tackle fiction unless I addressed my shortcomings, so I began training in craft. I enrolled in The Writers Studio, took a number of workshops at NYU and The New School, studied at the Center for Fiction, and participated in Narrative Magazine and One Story programs, in addition to attending numerous writing festivals and conferences.

Writers are often asked, Where do your ideas come from? For me, they come from everywhere: newspaper articles, literature past and present, song lyrics, visual art and photographs, history, random thoughts . . .

The idea for Ninth-Month Midnight arose out of reading of Whitman and his ideas on the nature of life and the after-life. The book’s epigraph is a passage from Leaves of Grass, which expresses the idea that life reasserts itself in constant replenishment. I asked myself: What if the souls of the dead linger among us for a while? Would we be able to communicate with them on some level? When Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” I say, You betcha!

I’m interested in the inner life of women as well. Their strengths are too often unacknowledged, their feelings and judgments too often dismissed, and their spirit too often crushed by socially defined limitations. For Ninth-Month Midnight I combined the idea of a spirit world with the story of a troubled woman who develops a desperate attachment to a male psychic.

To add credibility to content, I researched contemporary and 19th-century spiritualism on the Web; I read about Houdini who spent years trying to make contact with his dead mother, ultimately to no avail; I perused the arguments of debunkers and believers; examined the practices and rates of storefront mediums; and sampled the writings of celebrity psychics, such as One Last Time by John Edwards and Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss. I also re-read pertinent novels, specifically, McShane’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon and Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time.

As for the actual writing, the first draft was the hardest. Helping me over the rough spots were some words of wisdom that never fail me: Allow yourself to write garbage, said the wise person whose name I can’t remember. In other words, just get the words on paper. Once purged, I searched for kernels of value that I could expand and revise into the book that became Ninth-Month Midnight.

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A former copywriter and administrator, Marie Bacigalupo studied creative writing under Gordon Lish at the Fiction Center and participated in workshops sponsored by the University of Iowa and Story Magazine. Her work has appeared in The Examined Life Journal; Romance Magazine; New Realm Magazine; Perspective Literary Magazine; Spark: A Creative Anthology; and other publications. One of over 7000 entrants, she won First Place in the 13th Annual Writer’s Digest Short-Short Story Competition.

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