Path to Publication, pt 18: Book Launch!

2 books 2 authors2-page-001

This photo of Lilian Baker Carlisle, the subject of my book, from 1970 when she published her first book, has been a source of inspiration for me over the last two years. I envisioned creating this side-by-side from the first time I came across it. 

Well, I did it. The book is finished. Lilian Baker Carlisle: Vermont Historian, Burlington Treasure — A Scrapbook Memoir is, finally, gosh-darn really real!

I truly didn’t believe it was real until the moment I first held it in my hands at the book launch. It’s always just been a one-dimensional design on the computer, even the printer’s proof was digital. Now I can literally flip through the pages instead of figuratively doing it by clicking the “next” arrow. And, oh, it feels good. Continue reading

Path to Publication, pt 17: It’s happening! (pt2). Subtitle: ARGH, the Critic!

Good grief.

Nine months ago I wrote a post in celebration of the fact that the first draft of the book manuscript was imminent and that layout was finished, meaning in just a few months more the book — a (mostly) visual biography of a local historian and writer — would be ready for publication.

HAHA… heh.

Yeah. No, that didn’t happen. Why?

Continue reading

Path to Publication, pt 16: It’s happening!

Wow, it’s been a looooong time since I last wrote, especially on this publication series. And here’s one of the reasons why: I’m about to get published!

Quick background: Over 18 months ago I was hired — as a history buff, writer, and someone with some graphic lilian-scrapbookdesign skills — by a historical society to put together a biography/memoir on a local historian — Lilian Baker Carlisle. This required traveling regularly 90+ minutes to Lilian’s former home (now owned by her daughter) to go through 80 years worth of scrapbooks she kept starting in 1925 when she was in 8th grade. Now all these months later, the text is written and the layout (which looks like a scrapbook itself) will be finished next week.

And let me tell you! For the past few months, since I have been able to see the end of the tunnel, I have been like a woman possessed. Having dropped all other freelancing projects so I can give this one my full attention, I have nothing else to occupy my mind (oh, don’t worry, every once in while I remember to take a shower or feed my kids).

I go to sleep thinking about the book and I wake up thinking about it. Like this morning, a Saturday, I was awake at 5:30AM worrying about the details — I wonder if the table of contents page get numbered? How do I know what goes on that very first page where the publication details go? Will I EVER finish?! And even when I’ve put in a “full” day of work (“full” for this intensive work is at most six hours, but I can usually get in four hours before my eyeballs start to shrivel and shoulder muscles go into full spasm), I am thinking about what and when I will do next, sometimes forcing myself to stay watching TV instead of escaping to my office to put in a few more minutes.

When the book committee first told me the details of this project, passing over a large file book smelling strongly of stale cigarette smoke (Lilian was not a smoker, it was from the researcher before me), the stage at which I am now seemed an impossibility. How to pull 94 years of an extremely active life into one book with a theme without it sounding/looking like a long run-on sentence of “and then she did this, and then she did that…” felt like a monstrous challenge.

Did I doubt I was up to it? Of course I did. Almost every day. But I didn’t let that stop me. I kept doing what I had to, believing the next step and then the next step would become clear. And they did, step after step through the stages of the research and the compilation.

lakeviewAnd every step was fabulous! I carefully skimmed crumbling scrapbooks from the 1930s and ’40s, guided the photographer through shoots and scanning photos and brochures and newspaper clippings and articles in huge binders from every decade, all while looking out over the most amazing view of Lake Champlain from Lilian’s house. I visited museums and the state historical society. I enjoyed a comfy bed, good food, and good conversation provided by Lilian’s eldest daughter and I oogled over carefully preserved clothing my grandmother might have worn in her younger days. AND I will have a book with my name on the cover at the end! I feel like I hit the jackpot of freelancing.lilian-suit

But here I am, just weeks away from having a completed manuscript in my hands and I feel like I will never make it. All the details are swimming in my head and I have never felt quite so overwhelmed. I’ve never put together a book before and so I don’t know all the details, and I don’t have to (*she reminds herself as writing that sentence*); the members of the historical society have done it many times and the printer we are working with is ready to help in any way. But that doesn’t help my obsessive thoughts. Even on weekends (notice I am writing this on a Saturday), I can’t leave it behind my office door.

This is, I realize, a lot like a pregnancy. At first you’re in disbelief that one day there will be a new little person (book) in your midst but you just go along doing what you’ve got to do, eating right, mulling over names. Then it starts getting kind of uncomfortable, your belly (manuscript) and thoughts of the new arrival get bigger and take over your life. Then the reality of it all takes over and you begin to think, I can’t do this! But you know you have to. This book is in its last month of gestation and soon it will enter the world. When it does, I will be exhausted but ecstatic.

When I began this Path to Publication series, I never, ever thought it would veer off in this direction, that the path would take me to publishing someone else’s book before my own (but that’s next!). But I’ll take it, happily. It has been — and continues to be — a fantastic ride.

I will be very glad to be done with it though. I’m tired (obsessive thoughts are pretty tiring), I’m ready to sleep for about a month. I’d also kind of like to (don’t laugh) clean my house and start paying my bills on time. And shower on a regular basis.

In January 2017, look for news about the “birth” of this book. I will most likely be doing some book tour-ish type things at local libraries, bookstores, and museums, mostly in the Burlington, VT area but hopefully in my hometown too.

So, I’ll be off — back to my worrying, er, I mean, pondering pagination and ISBN numbers…

Writing Practice: The roles my journal plays

(I originally wrote this post, with the title, “Writing Practice: How I learned to use my words,” for the Transformative Language Arts blog’s series highlighting TLA practices.)

journal-with-lockWriting is my life. Day in, day out, I am writing—four weekly columns, magazine articles, and my journal—or I am helping others get their own words down. And I am living this life today because I began practicing at twelve years old.

At twelve I started recording my life in a turquoise diary with a lock. At 22, I became addicted to writing stream-of-consciousness style thanks to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. At 32, I began passing onto others through workshops the incredible benefits of writing I had experienced. At 42, I am a published writer.

And it was in my journal that I set a path for this future. I envisioned a life filled with words and using words I laid a road in that direction.

I remember sitting in my cubicle at the bank where I was a Trust Account Assistant or scribbling in my journal at the coffee shop during my lunch break imagining the day I’d be sitting at my own desk, writing in front of a big sunny window. I didn’t know what I’d be writing; I just knew my fingers and my heart ached to churn out words, not crunch numbers.

In my twenties, I tapped out the beginnings of an historical fiction novel and a mind-numbing autobiography on a dinosaur of a word-processor whose sheer size overwhelmed my small antique desk. Meanwhile, each morning I was turning out pages upon pages of handwritten drivel.

Back then, if anyone asked, I would say I was a writer. To the inevitable next question of “Oh, what?,” I’d respond sheepishly, “Mostly just a journal right now.”

What I didn’t realize then, as I penned on its pages my fears, excitements, dreams, it wasn’t just a journal, it was a journey. A journey towards my future.

Or as Natalie Goldberg would say, I was practicing. Writing practice. I was learning to write—and, more importantly, to become myself. Having no audience but myself, I was learning to write and be from a place of intuition and inner truth.

Like meditation, prayer, yoga, running, etc., it was a practice of self-care that helped calm, heal, and energize, so that with greater confidence and understanding I might face the world knowing who I am and what I wanted for myself. By practicing to see and accept my own foibles and paradoxes, I was learning to interact with others with more empathy and emotional maturity. I was learning the need for safe and sacred space in which to write one’s own truth. I was learning how to help others write theirs.

Checking in with myself on an almost daily basis—How am I feeling? What do I want to be doing? What could that dream have meant?—I was also learning to be observant. Then, by honing the skill of observing the personal, the minutiae of my life, my experiences, my feelings, and weaving them into a more universal story, I was learning to become a better public writer.

Today, whether it’s to write an article, help a client get writing, navigate the hills and valleys of everyday life, or envision my next future dream, I always feel more capable when I have practiced and processed my life and emotions through the free-flowing, free-of-judgment words of my journal.

***

Here are a few of the specific roles my journal practices:

Best Friend. It is always there to lend an ear to my concerns and hopes regardless of whether I require its services at 6AM before the kids get up looking for breakfast and a lost sock, at 10:30PM when I need to process the day before I call it a night, or at 3AM after waking from a bad dream.

Therapist. More than even a best friend could, my journal helps me through difficult situations—helping me be more self-aware and accepting. I ask myself hard questions about how I’m feeling, why I might be reacting a certain way; the paradoxes, the biases, the conflicting emotions. I try to always be truthful with myself and accept the answers that flow onto the page. I dig deep and unpeel the onion that is the emotional body: the memories, the triggers, the yearnings.

Personal Secretary. Being self-employed and working from home I am constantly juggling my schedule and brain space. When the inside of my head resembles the starting line of a marathon, my journal helps me sort through it all, to see what needs to split from the pack and take the lead, and what needs to sit it out for a while.

Creative Partner. When I was writing my memoir and thesis during graduate school, many essays and vignettes began in my journal, where, without the pressure of “perfection,” the words (and memories) would start to flow. When I couldn’t quite see the connection between some concepts I would take them to my journal, write through my confusion, ask myself questions until it clicked. Or, when faced with a particularly difficult memory, I would write it out first, let the tears, anger, hurt flow into the safe pages of my journal before I wrote the more emotionally-controlled piece for school. These days I use the journal to generate ideas for new workshops or consider themes and threads for my articles and blog posts.

A Path to Publication, pt 10: Kicking open the creaking door

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

At this past Saturday’s conference of the League of Vermont Writers, keynoter David Dobbs encouraged us to kick open every door that creaks. This metaphor has been a repeating one in my life lately and I have been knocking on several.

What I didn’t expect was for some of these doors to not only creak, but, in one case,  swing wide open.

On the Friday before this conference I had a meeting at my favorite coffee shop with the editor of the paper for which I am a freelance columnist. I walked into the cafe with one column in full swing and one due to come off a summer sabbatical, and walked out with two brand new columns to add to my weekly roster which I hadn’t expected. My planning calendar just got busy.

Where would this leave my book, I wondered? I’m not great at multi-tasking (despite my claims to the contrary and the forced necessity as a mother at being so) and writing fourteen columns a month, plus the occasional cover story, while revising a book seems a scheduling nightmare. (And then there’s the up-my-alley, possible door-opening part-time job I applied for… but that’s another question mark for another day.)

Then came the conference where I pitched my book to three agents. At this point I will offer some advice. If you ever attend a “pitch fest,” one of these occasions where you are given the opportunity to pitch to your book in person to an agent, be prepared to:

1. Know your pitch inside out and upside down.

2. Throw the pitch out the window and be able to conversationally tell said agent about said idea without rambling or sounding staid.

I was prepared for only one of these scenarios (#1) and consequently didn’t come across as convincingly or elegantly as I had hoped when I was suddenly faced with the “Let’s just chat” scenario. However, I received good news and was asked by two of the three to send some follow-up material.

So, here I am on Monday morning facing one wide open door (with three deadlines right on the other side of it) and one slightly open one which for years has been nailed shut, and which I could put off for lack of time or–as is more probable–out of fear.

But that would be foolish. I don’t know what this creaking door will reveal, it could slam shut again, but I won’t know until I push at it a little further. I will push forward and get my follow-up materials ready to send off, even though the thought of doing so makes me feel slightly ill (you know that feeling of nakedness after you’ve sent off the resume/thesis/design/etc., that knowing you may have just set yourself up for rejection? That.)

Better to have knocked and found the wrong door, than never to have knocked at all.

(Next up: Some great questions to ask yourself when writing. What IS this book about?!)

The Path to Publication, part 7: Brewing questions

What is it ABOUT?

It’s been almost exactly a year since my graduate thesis and creative project was approved by my advisors. It has had time to mellow. Or ferment?

Was I afraid it had fermented so much that it would explode when I took it from its box buried in the closet? What on earth had me so afraid that I would rather do anything — I mean, anything; I even went out and scooped up the dog’s piles of do-do — than sit down and start on this project? You know, the one I am so ready to do? “That’s what I want to do!” I said.

Well, I know, really: FEAR OF FAILURE (perfectionism) and/or SUCCESS (imposter syndrome or “What if that’s all I had in me? What then?”) But that’s a topic for another day… (although I have written a lot about fear before as well as little about the fear of success.)

But finally after a lot of procrastination in the form of house-cleaning, binge Orange is the New Black watching, and justified-as-research memoir reading, and yes, dog-poop-clearing, I finally picked up my manuscript. (And then I wrote this blog post as an additional justifiable procrastination method.)

So far I have only read the memoir section. I have to admit I’m pretty happy with what I read. That is, in Part I. It’s more complete than I remembered and I don’t think it will need a whole lot of editing. Part II, however, is a different story. Literally.

In that section I am telling a very different story than I was in the first part, which is the telling of certain childhood memories. Part II is an existential exploration into the ineffable. It has no structure as it was a recording of what I was experiencing while I was writing my memoir and doing research into the worlds of myth, women’s development and spirituality, and psychology. It is as fragmented as I felt at that time as I was attempting to connect of the dots of ME.

So, in order to gain some focus for my next steps I have challenged myself to answer some questions about my book.

1. What is my story about? What is the question I am asking?

2. In my story, what do I (the author, main character) want/need?

3. What is the obstacle to what I want/need?

4. How do I get over this obstacle?

5. How do I change in the process? What do I learn?

6. What am I teaching others through my story? What information do I hope to relay? What personal learning speaks to the universal? WHY am I telling this story?

I am hoping that as I answer these questions, I will gain insight into the true reason for my story; what it needs to say, not what I think I want it to say.

 

To read snippets of my memoir, “Leaving Fundamentalism in Search of  Voice,” click here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Path to Publication, part 5: Writing from “home”

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(Number 2 of 3 posts on the Creative Nonfiction conference in Pittsburgh, PA, May 23-25, 2014)

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in needing time to recoup and process after downloading a bunch of information. After a conference, for example, I need time to transition back to regular life, as well as time to assimilate all that I’ve heard and learned. For me, this process of assimilating usually includes writing. I write in my journal and/or blog post. As was Anais Nin’s reason for writing, I write in order to “taste life twice,” and for me, the second time is when I truly savor all the juices and unique flavors.

I took copious notes on day two of the Creative Nonfiction conference, but I have yet to re-read and properly digest them (and I will share some things in an upcoming post). So, this post is my attempt at crystallizing how I feel, not what I learned.

How do I feel? One word: Validated.

I’ve made some decisions over the past couple of months that are both scary and freakin’ exciting. And as I have mentioned in previous posts, as soon as I made these decisions, the Universe opened up and seemed to say, “OK!” Learning about this conference and then actually being able to attend it were major components of this opening. New stones were laid down on my path towards this new life to which I appear to be headed. Then what I heard at the conference seemed to further stabilize the path.

As I listened, and spoke personally, to the various editors and author presenters over Friday and Saturday, these were my points of validation:

1.  Creative Nonfiction, and specifically Memoir, is a genre that is “hot” and growing all the time. While at one time personal essays/narratives were practically unknown, and memoir was hidden in works of fiction, the personal narrative is now everywhere. Writers in every field are “teaching”  — informing — through story.

2. The new wave of memoir — a genre that took off in the mid-90s — now has this added dimension: Research. Memoirs and personal stories are not just about telling a good story anymore, they need to have substance. They need to be about something. As I just said, they now teach and inform on a subject.

When I began writing, I had no name for the style I was producing. But I was just writing the only thing I knew: my experience.I was writing where I most felt at home — comfortable and most myself. Authentic.

Journaling didn’t seem like “real” writing at that time, but I have since come to recognize that day to day observations of life and feelings are the bedrock to understanding the world around me. How I feel about a subject, whether it is political, social, or intensely personal, has to be worked out in the journal first so I can then write to, and resonate with, a larger audience.

Now the style in which I write has a name and an audience. I write local interest and history stories for my town paper, writing-for-well-being posts for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and my own memoir pieces, all of which need my personal insight, feelings, and (human) experience in order for others to relate,  to learn, and to be informed by them — rather than them just being narcissistic pieces of “feel good” for me. What truly makes me feel good is when I hear that my writing has inspired someone else. Then I know it has fully served its purpose: helped me — as the act of putting words to experience and emotion does — and helped others.

My memoir is the story of a girl who lost her voice/self as a result of religious indoctrination and leaving her home country, and the woman who found it again. It’s a pretty good story in itself, but I had recently decided to incorporate my research into a feminine-centered spirituality and women’s psychological development. This decision has been validated. A new genre of which I knew nothing other than through reading Sue Monk Kidd’s “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” and Candace Pert’s “Molecules of Emotion,” is apparently ready and waiting for the book I am writing.

To read snippets of my memoir, “Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search of Voice,” click here.