Hey, anybody around here remember me?
Six weeks is a near-eternity in OS time, I know. While I’ve been busy ignoring my old friends, it looks like a few thousand new members have signed on and I'm wondering if I’ll ever get back into the swim again. Being away from this place (aside from an occasional quick read here and there) hasn’t been easy. I’ve spent the last six weeks writing on my own, and must confess that I’m finding the company rather monotonous.
So here’s the story behind my absence:
Back in early February, in a departure from my usual light fare, I posted a more serious piece about growing up with a manic depressive mother. The following day there was a message in my inbox, under the tantalizing subject heading of “publisher’s query.” It came from the executive editor of a large publishing house, who wanted to know if I was interested in developing my story into a memoir. You can pretty well guess what transpired after that: much shrieking and jumping up and down, followed by calls to friends and relatives (especially the ones who’ve been poking fun at my blogging habit) and from there I quickly segued into fantasies about shooting the breeze with Oprah and Terri Gross, though being a realist, I refrained from mentally casting all but a few key roles in the critically-acclaimed film adaptation.
Anyway, at the editor’s request, I emailed him my phone number and spent a couple of anxious days waiting for his call (it came while I was driving, which explains the near-collision...luckily for me, this particular pedestrian was more agile than most). Mr. Editor and I chatted a bit about the challenges of breaking into the already crowded memoir field, and then he suggested -- without offering any guarantees, of course -- that I come up a book proposal, consisting of an outline, introduction, and a first chapter, preferably within a month’s time. (My lips are sealed re his identity, but I thought you’d be interested in knowing about this. I have good reason to believe there are other folks in the publishing world who read things here as well.)
Those of you who follow my posts with any regularity are probably aware that I’m not a fast writer. Even when I’m cranking on all three burners, one post a week is generally about all I can manage. Like a number of my buddies who have resurrected old literary ambitions here on OS, over the years I’ve become quite adept at ignoring that nagging inner voice that’s been urging me to write, figuring I’d get around to my true calling “someday.” After all, it’s easier to imagine you might have a knack for something if you don’t actually sit down and try to do it. Until I started blogging here back in October, I hadn’t written a thing beyond email and to-do lists for more than a decade. For some time now, this avoidance strategy has worked quite well, allowing me to channel my creative energies into a couple of extensive bathroom remodels and several Rubbermaid bins full of half-finished knitting projects. I’ve also become quite the virtuoso with a rolling pin. But there’s nothing like crossing the half century mark to alert one to the finite nature of life’s possibilities.
All of this is merely a roundabout way of saying that the publisher’s request was, for me, a fairly tall order, though I gave it everything I had, as my resentful dogs and affection-starved husband will attest. In truth, I have never been much of an outliner, even back in my long ago college term paper days. I’m more of a plunge-in-first, figure-it-out-as-you-go-along type of gal, an approach that does not easily lend itself to organizing a meandering life history into book form, at least within a thirty day time frame. It is a sobering thing to come to grips with the fact that I’ve walked this earth for more than fifty years without developing a readily discernable narrative arc, the hero’s journey from conflict to resolution that moves every good story along. My life, so far as I can tell, contains something more akin to a narrative squiggle, and I won’t pretend I’m not depressed about this. It’s bad enough to fail my outline audition, but frankly this pales in comparison to discovering that my existence has about as much point to it as a Seinfeld episode, though I haven’t yet given up hope.
My book proposal had numerous other shortcomings as well, which I knew when I submitted it, though the editor was very gentle, perhaps fearing that I, like my mother, could easily be launched into a depressive psychosis. My writing is too condensed, for one thing; I don’t really know how to unfold a scene slowly. (Looking at the positive side, this may mean I have a bright future with Cliff’s Notes or Reader’s Digest.) What’s more, as alarming as their behavior has sometimes seemed to me, my relatives are actually fairly run-of-the-mill in terms of craziness. Tolstoy’s famous pronouncement that all happy families are alike while every unhappy family is different doesn’t really apply to the world of the memoir, it turns out. For the last week or so, I’ve been speed reading best selling accounts of life among the dysfunctional, hoping for some sort of osmotic effect, only to discover that I’m not the only person in the world with a mother who sometimes enjoys rooting around in dumpsters, or a brother who receives Homeland Security dispatches via the amalgam in his bicuspids. I’m beginning to think that normal families are the true exotics among us; maybe these are the people who should be baring their souls on Oprah, regaling the audience with tales of harmonious holiday gatherings, where people happily eat what’s in front of them without fear of poisoning, and of childhoods in households where the television only talked when it was actually turned on.
The editor has turned me over to a terrific young agent, who’s been quite encouraging, though I can’t figure out if he’s just being polite, given our vast age difference. He does share the opinion that my proposal is not yet ready for prime time, so I’m floundering around at the moment, trying to figure out where to go from here. Having just spent a week with my family back in the Detroit area, the prospect of immersing myself in their world for months on end is somewhat daunting psychologically. There’s a reason why my relations are in Michigan and I’m in California; I probably would have gone even further but for the large body of water to my immediate left. The agent has suggested I write a few detailed scenes and see where it takes me in terms of finding that elusive arc, so that’s what I’m going to start with. I've also signed up for a few workshops. Which means, for now at least, I’ll be around here on a part-time basis, maybe more, depending on how it all goes. So please bear with me if I miss some of your posts or if my comments are less than scintillating.
Meanwhile, if you find a similar message in your inbox, and you’re enjoying your life as a blogger, you may want to think long and hard before opening it.