Ten Days by Janet Gilsdorf

Welcome to Author Janet Gilsdorf

I spent my childhood along the banks of the Red River of the North, whose murky water flows backwards—from little puddles in South Dakota up to Lake Winnipeg. It was both the land of the prairie wind, which roared across the plains with only a rare shelter belt or grain elevator to slow it down, and a place of raw, stark beauty and unsurpassed simplicity.

Growing up in North Dakota introduced me to an endless series of adventures. I pedaled my bike all over town and out into the countryside. My friend Mary and I organized neighborhood parades and plays, and, one summer afternoon, we tried to dig to China. During the long, dark winters we built snow forts and, on the coldest days, made paper clothes for our paper dolls, guided by the fashions in the Sears, Roebuck, and Co. catalogue.

My first love affair occurred in kindergarten. I fell desperately, passionately in love with school and wanted to live forever in Horace Mann Elementary, where Miss Brown’s room would be my bedroom, I’d have my own private bathroom (the girls’ lavatory), and the library and its books would be mine alone. Learning to read opened a world of new places and ideas to me. In fact, I’ve never really left school. After high school, college, and then medical school and medical training in Nebraska, California, and Minnesota, with stops in Alaska and an Indian reservation spanning the Idaho-Nevada border, I landed at the University of Michigan as a faculty member, where I continue to love school.

As a scientist, I pursue the secrets of nature and in my field of infectious diseases, those secrets are microscopic in size yet powerful in impact. As a pediatrician, I counsel my young patients and their families during their finest, as well as their worst possible, moments. As a teacher, I guide young physicians and scientists through their journeys toward successful lives and careers. As a literary writer, I integrate the scientific, medical, and personal truths I witness and make emotional sense of their meaning.


Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.

If you wish to accompany a family and a community on a difficult journey through the illness of a child and wish to conclude the journey with a deep sigh and the words, “That was very satisfying,” then read Ten Days.  

What inspired you to want to become a writer?

As a physician, I have the privilege to see people during their very finest moments, and their very worst. I wanted to find a way to express my respect and awe for my patients and their families. 

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

My best advice is encapsulated in a formula:          S = (I) (μ) λ


where S = success, I = intelligence, μ = motivation, λ = luck, and δ = distractions.  The message is to ride your intelligence, motivation, and luck (which are, for the most part, not modifiable) toward success and decrease the distractions along the way (which are modifiable) as much as possible.  

Which authors have influenced you most? How?

First and foremost, Michael Ondaatje—who is a superb story-teller and, as a poet, has mastered the use of the very best words—serves as an unending inspiration to me.  I enjoy the energy of T. C. Boyle’s work and think Lorrie Moore’s “Dance in America” (in her collection Birds of America) is the perfect short story for its power, beauty, and complexity disguised as simplicity. Marilynne Robinson is a brilliant, thoughtful, compassionate, articulate person and writer.     

Favorite places to travel?
I love to travel to out of the way places where I can observe ordinary people living their seemingly ordinary, but really complex and interesting, lives.  Such places have included Lake Five, Minnesota; Croatia; Tuscany in Italy; Ischia (off the coast of Naples, Italy); El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain; upper, coastal Maine, in the dome cars aboard the Amtrak Zephyr and Empire Builder.  


Besides reading (every good writer is a passionate reader), I enjoy cooking, which gets my creative juices flowing, knitting, which somehow stimulates my very best thinking as the stitches and colors interweave with each other, and traveling, which introduces me to different ways of living.  

Where do you write?
I’m best able to retreat into my “writing mood and mindset” while seated in my easy chair (with my computer on my lap) in the sitting room off our bedroom.  It has a fireplace to take the chill off winter nights and two huge windows to let in the outside world during the day.  Alternative (and unexpected) places for me to write are on long-haul airplane trips or while holed up in a hotel room. 

Favorite/most influential teacher

My first influential teacher was Mr. Buchli, biology teacher and basketball coach at Fargo Central High School, who ignited in me a love of biology.  Second were Drs. Sokol and Schindler, biologists at North Dakota State University and also my bosses, who believed in me when I expressed a yearning to learn biological processes. 

What is your favorite scene in the book? Which scene or characters were the most difficult for you to write and why?

I have many favorite scenes in Ten Days, all for different reasons, and like best the passages that show the true nature of the characters.  I like Anna when she is dealing with her children and Rose Marie when she contemplates the effect of the illnesses on her business and on the children to whom she is very attached.  The most difficult scenes to write involved Jake as he struggled with how to handle his old girlfriend, Monica.  I needed considerable nudging (from writing group members and editor) to get Jake to do what he absolutely had to do to stay true to who he is. 

How do you go about revising/editing?
Revising/editing is the most important, and time consuming, aspect of my writing.  I generally start each chapter with a “skeleton” of actions and narratives relating to the characters and the situation, and then, later, fill in the details of each scene. I read out loud, as hearing the narrative gives a different kind of input than just reading it.  I obsess over each word, making sure I choose those that best convey whatever I’m trying to say. 

Do your characters really talk to you?

Anna, Jake, and Rose Marie, the major characters in Ten Days, revealed themselves to me as I wrote the novel.  Along the way, they did and said things that, then, drove me to understand what motivated their actions and words.  In that way, I could get to know who they really were. 

Ten Days

Although Anna and Jake Campbell interact with the world in very different ways, she as a cautious worrier and he as an optimistic realist, they successfully navigate the everyday problems that percolate through their marriage until the night their young son becomes ill. Anna has a bad cold and longs for the peace of evening and Jake, an orthopedic surgery resident, spends the night at the hospital, taking care of other people’s sick wives and children. As a result of their irreversible, achingly regrettable inactions, Anna and Jake face losing their child.

Anna, who works part time as a linguist, is devoted to her two young children—Chris, who irritates her with his friskiness, and Eddie, the placid baby that everybody adores. With Eddie’s illness, she is both crushed with guilt and embittered with blame toward Jake. As she withdraws into her distorted perceptions, she becomes increasingly unable to trust the medical system that is as familiar to her husband as a stormy spring evening.

Like many surgical residents, Jake has blindly embraced professional commitment to the point that he is wedded to his medical responsibilities and a relative stranger to the concerns of his family. Once Eddie’s diagnosis becomes clear, Jake struggles to orient himself to his new position in the medical sphere – parent of a seriously ill baby – about which he has no understanding, no patience, and no control. In his misery, he reaches to a former lover for solace.

If she weren’t the widow of a no-good guy who left her nothing but debts and two bossy adult daughters, Rose Marie wouldn’t have to run a day care home to support herself. Rather, she and Beefeater, her wine-loving Jack Russell terrier, would lead leisurely lives loading the bird feeders and weeding the petunias. Two cases of meningitis among the children in her day care bring her nose to nose with the public health system and threaten to close down her business.

Illness, particularly that of a child, is heartbreakingly cruel but Anna, Jake, their healthy son Chris, and Rose Marie, like most people who face daunting life challenges, find their way.

Giveaway Details
1 copy of Ten Days
Open to US only
Ends 1/24/13

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