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Second Draft of My Life

Second Draft of My Life

2.6 3
by Sara Lewis, Sarah Lewis

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Forty-two years and five books into her life, Charlotte Dearborn abandons her noncommittal boyfriend and her sinking-ship writing career, and becomes an elementary school teacher. Sure, she's giving up her dream of being a famous novelist, but in exchange she'll find a stable income, job satisfaction, and maybe even love. At least that's how it'd work if she were a


Forty-two years and five books into her life, Charlotte Dearborn abandons her noncommittal boyfriend and her sinking-ship writing career, and becomes an elementary school teacher. Sure, she's giving up her dream of being a famous novelist, but in exchange she'll find a stable income, job satisfaction, and maybe even love. At least that's how it'd work if she were a character in one of her novels. In real life, she's busy coping with twenty yelling first-graders, a teacher's lounge full of nasty coworkers, and a series of romantic misadventures that fall far, far short of the real thing.

Charlotte's struggle to navigate the waters of a new career, a new single life, and the loss of her identity as a writer make Second Draft of My Life a funny, compulsively readable gem. From an author The Boston Globe applauded as "very, very good on the business of falling in and out of love," it is part romantic comedy, part manual for living, and wholly triumphant.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers of "women's fiction" will find escapist entertainment and some nuggets of insight in Lewis's latest novel. It follows the tribulations of a praised but chronically impecunious author, Charlotte Dearborn, who abandons the writing life and her boyfriend to start a new career. Crushed when even her editor and her agent encourage her to "get out of this cesspool of a business," Charlotte determines to chuck it all and reinvent herself as a first-grade teacher in affluent southern California, welcoming the idea of a steady salary, benefits and a summer vacation. Lewis (The Answer Is Yes; Heart Conditions) delineates Charlotte's adjustment to teaching, introducing a school full of students and teachers who all speak in the same undifferentiated voice. She follows her heroine home to cheery-but-clunky dialogue with her twin sister, bookstore owner Emily (they were named after the Brontes), and a coterie of middling men who catch Charlotte's attention. Meanwhile, Charlotte discovers that she can't keep from recording her thoughts on the difficulties and satisfactions of her new profession, and eventually she has a manuscript whose heroine is a veteran teacher. Unfortunately, Lewis's own writing lacks subtlety, and the characters are dull and flat. Although she has the courage to create a character who struggles with mediocrity, Charlotte comes across as insipid and essentially uninventive, further burdened because she is lonely and overweight. The idea that writers' lives parallel those of their characters is an interesting one, but it's not developed here. Instead, the episodes resemble the events of a sitcom, and the ending is so cheerily simplistic that Charlotte's happiness feels too slick to be deserved. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Even the title smacks of loserdom for a 42-year-old narrator-novelist turned first-grade teacher determined to have a life-in Lewis's fourth (The Answer Is Yes, 1998), a pale, unmemorable tale. Sales of San Diego writer Charlotte Dearborn's self-effacing novels (My Self-Portrait of Someone Else, etc.) have gone nowhere, and when she's nominated third place for a book award in a category (horror) that she doesn't write in, she decides it's time to call it quits and try another field. She breaks with her low-commitment boyfriend, Andrew, moves into her own place with the help of her married-with-kids sister, Emily, and starts a new career as a first-grade teacher. But Charlotte hasn't counted on the unsupportive teaching staff, who ridicule her for her decision to go into teaching for "the money" (and for her inability to control her class); or on the cute, divorced sixth-grade teacher Rick Barnstable, who wants nothing to do with her dopiness and desperation; or on her unruly class of unpredictable six-year-olds. In flashbacks, we learn of Charlotte's previous grind as a novelist, the sudden highs of miscalculation by her New York editor, Howard, and her lowest moments facing a public reading with no one there. When she finally decides to introduce some discipline into her new life by imitating a severely upbeat Jane Eyre-like character from an unfinished novel she's been writing, Janet Greenhill, her destiny turns around. Too late, though, to undo the reader-damage already done by the dominant air of triteness and defeat in Lewis's own writing, or by her way of proceeding so listlessly as to suppress much of any characterization. The prose is curiously odorless, colorless, andtasteless-conceivably a calculated effect, but not one that works very well. Most noteworthy is the record of Charlotte's 15-year gyration through New York publishing hoops. On balance, though, a life with too little life.
From the Publisher
Houston Chronicle Witty and bittersweet....Lewis writes with a companionable ease....Flashes of humor shine throughout the novel, at times reaching drop-the-book-while-laughing brilliance.

San Diego Union-Tribune There is something honest and sweet that just works here, something so straightforward and hopeful and true that it cancels out any criticism.

Product Details

Atria Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.72(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My old life ended at the South Coast Book Awards. I was the author of five critically acclaimed novels that no one had ever heard of. I was attending the awards ceremony because I was nominated in the Mainstream Fiction category for my most recent novel, My Self-Portrait of Someone Else. Sometimes people's lives change forever when they win something huge; mine changed because I lost something small.

It wasn't just this awards ceremony that made me want to chuck everything and start over from scratch. If my life had been a novel, readers would have seen the foreshadowing in any number of incidents that led up to that evening. What happened at the South Coast Book Awards wasn't the worst moment of my writing career; it was simply the last, the event that jerked my former existence to a final, screeching halt.

At the ceremony, I was sitting at a table with a group of writers of how-to computer books. They all knew each other. The event took place in a hotel meeting room. You may not think of southern California as a place where a lot of writers live. Most of the time, it seemed to me that I was living in a land of software engineers and biotech specialists. But once a year, I found myself in a room packed with writers of every physical description, ethnic group, interest area, and income level. Of course, many of them wrote about computers and biotechnology, but still, the room was so filled with writers that the waiters could hardly squeeze between the tables. Small talk nearly drowned out the Easy Classics tape. I didn't have a date for the evening. My boyfriend, Andrew, a software engineer, never came with me to these events. He said he wouldn't know what to talk about in a roomful of writers. I tried to explain that he would have more in common with most of the attendees than I would, but he was unconvinced. He asked me, "Why would I want to pay thirty dollars to eat a bad dinner, make polite conversation with people I don't care about, and listen to a bunch of boring speeches?" I didn't have a good answer for him, so I went alone.

"Who are you again?" a woman asked me, shouting over the noise of the crowd, as we waited for our drinks to arrive. I had already introduced myself a few minutes earlier.

"Charlotte Dearborn," I said again. "I'm a novelist."

"A novice?" a man across the table shouted, cupping a hand behind one ear. "We've all got to start somewhere!" He smiled magnanimously. Everyone nodded in agreement.

"Starting out is the hardest part," a young woman across from me said. "When I first started — "

"No," I said, shaking my head. "I said I write novels. The one I'm nominated for is my fifth, and it's called My Self-Portrait of — "

"Self-published first novel!" said a heavy man with a frizzy gray pony tail. "More power to ya!"

I shook my head. "It's published by Collard & Stanton. You know, in New York? It's about a portrait artist who — "

I didn't continue because just then a waiter brought rolls, and everyone leaned forward to peer into the basket and see what kind.

I participated in this kind of event in the hope that the press coverage it generated might sell a few more copies of my books. However, there had been no media at all at last year's event. After winning the highest honor of the evening, I hadn't even ended up with my name in the San Diego newspaper. I was hoping that this year there would be some press. Now I put dressing on my salad and stayed out of the conversation at my table, which was about computers and people I didn't know.

After dessert, there was a rambling speech by a local television chef about the vast and varied writing community in our area, how fortunate we all were to live here. Then the awards presentation began. There were a lot of categories — cookbooks, children's picture books, self-published poetry, eight different categories for books having to do with computers. Everyone at my table either won an award or was the date of someone who did. I clapped for each of them. As they returned to the table, I admired their plaques and congratulated them.

"And now," said Jim Shaw, after what seemed like hours, "we've reached the very last category and one of my own special favorites." I sat up straighter and felt for my lipstick in my purse. Almost home, I thought. Jim said, "It's the horror fiction category."

"What?" I said loudly.

Jim continued. "I've been reading scary stories since I was six years old. I love 'em. We're blessed with a thriving community of excellent horror writers from historical to sci-fi. So it gives me great pleasure to announce the three nominees in this category. They are Aaron Garner for Never-Ending Nightmare, Bonnie Chernoff for Screaming Bloody Murder, and Cheryl Dearborn for Self-Portrait of Myself." He began to open the envelope. He did this slowly to heighten the drama.

"Oh, no!" I said. I turned to the man on my left. "They got my title wrong, my name wrong, and my category wrong!" The man looked annoyed that I was talking during the presentation. I went on. "This is a mistake! I'm supposed to be in mainstream fiction!" I turned to the woman on my right. "This is not — I can't — what should I do?"

A couple of people at my table turned to me, smiling tolerantly, even though I was making noise and distracting them.

"And the winners are," said Jim, pulling the paper from the envelope, "in third place, Charlotte DiBone for Soft Portrait."

The people at my table smiled and clapped. I walked to the front of the room, took my award certificate, walked back through the tables, out of the room, down the stairs to the lobby, and out the door to the parking lot. I dropped the certificate in a trash can and drove home.

Of course, it wasn't the awards ceremony that made me decide to give up writing. When you lose a war, it probably doesn't end with the explosion of a big bomb or the death of an important general. While such a singular event may directly precede your walking out of your bunker with your arms raised, a white flag held high in one hand, defeat happens by degrees. And so it was with my career as a novelist. The award I didn't win was simply the last of a series of defeating events.

Copyright © 2002 by Sara Lewis

Meet the Author

Sara Lewis is also the author of the novels The Answer Is Yes, But I Love You Anyway, and Heart Conditions, as well as the collection Trying to Smile and Other Stories. She lives in San Diego with her husband and two children. You can visit her Web site at www.saralewis.com

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Second Draft of My Life 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm sorry, but I had a really hard time getting into this book. I kept putting it aside, and then picking it up again, hoping I would start to like it, but I didn't.
harstan More than 1 year ago
San Diego novelist Charlotte Dearborn is going through a mid life crisis as the forty two ¿old woman, encouraged by her agent and publisher, decides to become an elementary school teacher after her writing career seemingly failed. The published author feels first grade has to be better than the lack of sales beyond family and friends, and horribly worse award nominations in genres she does not write in.

Starting over in the classroom, Charlotte is stunned by the siege mentality of her peers. The other teachers deride her for turning to teaching as a profession. Furthermore, they scorn her inability to keep her first graders in line as her class of six-year-olds runs roughshod over her. Meting out discipline is difficult to someone who cannot discipline herself until she begins to mirror a character from one of her novels.

SECOND DRAFT OF MY LIFE is a look into the life of a person trying to get off a treadmill of what she deems as a so far failed life to start fresh. However, Charlotte is so unprepared for teaching, the audience must wonder why she selected that profession to the point that this reviewer agrees with her classroom peers that can she really be that ignorant to choose it for money and vacation time? Still the audience will feel empathy for the lead protagonist until the nirvana ending, but wonder where the tale could have went if Sara Lewis explored the concept of parallel lives between Charlotte and one or more of her charcaters.

Harriet Klausner