I started writing The Eighth Wonder while I was recovering from retina re-attachment surgery. This was very serious. I had surgery in both eyes. I was homebound for almost five months and the surgeon was not sure if I would see again out of my left eye. All he could say was that it was “in God’s hands now”. I was scared. I made an entire career from reading and writing, so the idea of potentially being blind was difficult for me. During my recovery, I could not drive, bend, or even poop too hard for fear of my retinas becoming dislodged. I felt pain in my eyes, something I had never experienced, both were full of blood and I looked like I was punched in the face several times. I felt embarrassed for anyone to see me.
The first weeks of recovery, I laid on the couch thinking about my life. During those reflections, I remembered how lost I felt when I first moved to Bradford after graduating with my doctorate in clinical psychology. I had moved to Bradford to be near my father who was dying of cancer. Like Nicole, my dad was the only anchor in my life. It was very life-changing when he died. It was only a few weeks before I was diagnosed with retina detachments and had my surgery, so the experience was still fresh in my mind.
This began the journey into Nicole’s character. I started making notes, some by hand and some on the computer. My surgeon said that using my eyes was good — they were muscles in need of exercise is how he put it. I had long hours alone after my husband went to work so writing gave me something to do. It helped take my mind off my eyes.
As I wrote more about Nicole, a story popped out, and four months later I had the novel written. It was written in first person, focusing on Nicole. I sent the manuscript out to several agents. Several rejections later, I started to re-examine the novel. I realized that I had not talked about Tom. For him, a devoted family man, I needed to dig into his character much deeper than I had. He was the one making harder choices after all.
Writing about Tom reminded me of many men that I met in life, middle-aged, content in their lives and marriages yet longing for something more. Tom was not looking to have an affair. He loved his wife, Rose, and the life that they made together over 23 years of marriage. When Tom meets Nicole, something very deep stirs within him. I started looking at his relationship with Nicole from new eyes — yes, repaired now with some limitations — and I began to write more about Tom’s character. I re-wrote the manuscript from first person to third person and added new chapters devoted to Tom’s life.
As I wrote more about Tom, I realized how I fell in love with his character. He was my ideal man in many ways. He was very stable, smart, and didn’t realize how sexy and attractive he was. I wanted to have Tom be very human and endearing.
He can talk with Nicole in ways that he can’t with Rose. I think this happens in life. I think people met others who they can relate to in different ways than a spouse. It is completely possible to love more than one person.
Because he isn’t attractive by the standard definition, he loves Nicole even more, as she is younger and more attractive, but he can’t understand what she sees in him.
I definitely remember that the more I wrote about Tom, the more I reflected how different it was to fall in love at mid-life. A pivotal moment in the novel comes when Tom says “falling in love at this age is much deeper”. It is fairly easy to fall in love when we in our 20s with our lives ahead of us. It is a different experience in our 40s or 50s (or beyond). After our expectations for relationships have evolved, falling in love takes on an entirely different meaning.
Writing became my therapy during a difficult time in my life, I enjoyed writing the novel. I didn’t know how much it was impact me personally unlike anything I have written before. I only hope that others enjoy reading it!