I think if I’d known what I was getting into, I would never have even started—writing and rewriting my memoir for an entire decade. By the way, this literary adventure started well before I thought of myself as a writer.
At the time, my son, Paul, was a year old, a cute, blond, curly haired bundle of energy. I think I had just purchased his first pair of white stride rite shoes which I later bronzed in a fit of enthusiasm from a door to door salesman. I don’t believe he could quite believe his luck—“We have a sale on those.” He said, smoothing down some stray gray hairs on his smooth pate.
I was expansive with my money because I’d never expected actually to have a child because I came from a very troubled family—my little brother died of cancer and my mother, always very fragile, struggled with severe depression.
Feeling proud that I had finally made it, I decided to write a memoir to celebrate this wondrous occasion.
I began to write the book on a forth hand computer I’d purchased for $100 bucks from “Computer Salvage” which included free software for WordPerfect 5.0, a word processing program which stretches way back in time as far as Wang computers.
Yeah, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll get my point about how ancient history it was, even for then.
For a year I wrote this book. But I had a problem—my first chapter was five times the size of any other chapter in the book and was completely unwieldy. Slowly and surely, for an additional year I began to farm out parts of that chapter to other sections of the book.
I then sent an exploratory proposal out to an editor of a substantial publishing house. She wrote back saying, “Cut a hundred pages from the book. First time authors shouldn’t write anything more than 300 pages.”
So I cut 100 pages.
I brought parts of my book to writer’s groups for feedback. “We don’t like that chapter on the history of pediatric cancers.” said members of one of those groups, so I cut that part out and reshaped the book again.
Eventually, I began to send sections of the book out to more editors hoping one of them might bite. No one took me up on my proposal, but I did continue to receive a steady stream of suggestions
Buoyed by my absolute faith in my project, I continued to trim, change, adjust, improve, and send out parts of my manuscript, and still the rejections kept rolling in. But at no time did I get discouraged or bored with what I was doing. I felt completely absorbed and entertained by the task—or maybe a better way of saying it was that I was just completely mesmerized.
Three more years went by, and I finally connected with an editor who was a friend of mine and he began to ask more questions. In response, I changed, adjusted, corrected, improved, repaired, and got excerpts of the book published in national magazines. Ok, well that was a step forward!
Another three years went by until this editor was finally satisfied, and he referred me to an agent. This agent also had changes he wanted done and I was perfectly happy oblige. Unfortunately, another two years went by, the book remained unpublished, and finally he died.
No, my book didn’t kill him! But by then it had been a full decade. I had multiple versions of this book, and I realized if some editor actually expressed an interest, which version of the book would I send? I had no idea. So I lugged all the manuscripts to my attic and left them there to collect dust.
I am sure all of my friends thought I was nuts during that decade where I was completely immersed in this project. I’d ended up as a cliché—as just another writer pursuing her phantom dreams.
I now have three children—Paul is in college. I am self -publishing two books, both spinoffs of the original book, and I may end up selling them door to door, if necessary! I also have a blog that I contribute to regularly that generates considerable interest and is a source of immense satisfaction to me.
As a writer, I feel as though I am in a good place—I am confident of my ability to write and to speak my mind. I don’t just cut sections willy nilly out of my work and twist it into pretzels simply because someone I look up to criticizes it.
It seems that I have accomplished a great deal on my way to going nowhere. And there is so much more work to be done that beckons me onward just beyond the horizon.
I have moved on. But even so, when I sit with my writer friends, I sometimes tell the story of that first book, the one I loved, the one I gave my all to, the one I had to leave behind.