The other day, I received three versions of book jackets to choose from for my pending publication of a memoir entitled, My Million Dollar Donkey. I chose the one most resembling the description I gave the editor of what I felt would be most appropriate. I’ve been rather excited about what’s to come ever since.
I began My Million Dollar Donkey nine years ago as a series of creative non-fiction essay assignments that I turned in to a professor at Lesley University while I was getting my MFA in fiction. He was the one who said, “These are really great. You should put them all together and write a book ….” Of course, this set the seed of the idea, and my mind started swirling with how I might go about turning those shorter pieces into one comprehensive memoir that explores the bigger themes of that period in my life. I sent one chapter in to a literary contest for New Southerner, a creative non-fiction literary magazine, and it won first place and was selected for their yearly anthology in 2008. If nothing else, this enhanced my feeling that the book concept had merit.
I finished the book hurriedly, and because my life was imploding and we were under extreme financial duress, I sent queries to agents immediately in a desperate hope something good might happen to balance out all the heartache of my life at the time. Out of 40 queries, 27 agents asked to see the book – an unprecedented positive result. Of those, 5 wanted the full manuscript. Of course, I felt all that earnest interest proved the subject matter of the memoir was timely and pertinent to others, but the book was not really polished, so each of those agents politely turned it down. Rightly so. More or less, I blew my wad because of impatience and my desperate desire to validate some element of my life (writing) when nothing else seemed to be working. Big mistake, that.
After life fell apart, I continued working on the book. Partially because that was the only project that seemed to have potential at the time, and I was in no condition to begin something new, but also because writing the book helped me better understand my life and what all the events I was experiencing meant in the bigger picture. Writing memoir is, beyond all else, an act of healing. In 2011 I sent the book in to The Royal Palm Literary Awards” competition and it won first place in the memoir category. . . another stoke that had me feeling the book was significant, but still, the project had a long way to go to be ready for publication.
So I kept working on the manuscript. I’ve been working on the dang book on and off for 9 years total. David read the book before our first date, and has often told me that seeing how I viewed the world was pivotal in his falling in love with me. Having insight into someone’s heart and mind when you are getting to know them offers a huge head start in feeling connected. He has since read the book over 9 times, and given me insightful feedback, done line editing and helped the book evolved from the rough first draft that I stupidly sent agents too soon, to the finished work it is today. I’ve had writing students read the book and give me feedback too, and their enthusiastic responses have fueled my sense that the book is a worthy effort. There is not much more tinkering left to do, and at long last, I could readily see the book was “finished.” So we’ve begun the publishing process – following a self publishing path since I jumped the gun and destroyed other opportunities earlier – and frankly, this is the most practical path now that the evolution of technology and communication has changed the face of traditional publishing forever.
Anyway, the book has been poked, prodded, examined, and reviewed so much I could recite each page by heart (David too) and I felt deeply relieved to send in the final manuscript, knowing that I’d have to forever hold my peace once I hit “send.”
Knowing the story is manifesting and will be available to the world soon is exciting. But I’m left with a feeling that now, I’m meant to begin something new. I certainly don’t plan to be a one shot wonder, and while I have 3 other historical fiction books I’ve written from the past that I could return to (one of which also won several awards and the Literary Palm too), none seem worthy of the time and attention I know is involved in completing a quality finished product. Getting my degree opened my eyes in so many ways. Formal education forever changed the kind of books I want to write. I miss my lost innocence regarding past writing projects that now seem indulgent and lacking quality, because frankly, writing romance was a great escape from my life, like watching an adventure movie where you enjoy two hours of thrilling drama for much needed entertainment after a long day of life’s daily grind. But as one professor often wrote on the margins of my paper – “You can do better.” I believe I’m meant to do better at this juncture of my life.
So, I am pondering the next project – letting the next book percolate in my heart and mind. I am never sure when I begin writing what the big picture will be when finished, but at least I have an idea of where I might begin. This will be book two in the ongoing adventure of my life- with the metaphor of planting a Chakra garden driving the story. This memoir will be about my adventures in yoga, healing, recovery from the circumstances of book one (Donkey) and about the manifesting of a retreat center. It will be about learning to love again, forgiveness, and gracefully living through the embarrassment of defeat. It will explore the complex web of entering a new stage of life when children leave home, careers change, and life moves on under the constant strain of a shorter risk horizon. How’s that for a mountain to climb?
They say to write is to live life twice. When you are writing memoir, that is not exactly an appealing thought, considering so much of life is a challenge and our greatest lessons often come wrapped in painful paper. Ah well. I’m excited to learn my own heart and mind regarding all that has transpired. And while putting Donkey to bed at long last is deeply satisfying, doing so reminds me that constant and never-ending growth as a person and an artist, means it is time to return to the introspective process of writing my life story once again……
Writing is hard. Time consuming. The return on your investment of time and effort, at least in monetary ways, is hard to justify when you have bills to pay and real life obligations. But I am meant to write, not just for myself, but for others. I truly believe that. So a new story must begin.