Category Archives: Publishing
As I’m typing, see that the sun is suffusing new leaves on the tree outside with transparent yellow light. A red cardinal flew by so fast that I caught the color and a rough shape. Life happens all around me every day if I’m awake and alive enough to notice. Happy I was able to sleep deeply, to rest my body, especially my fingers. The rest of the morning, afternoon and part of the evening I wrote. We also enjoyed a beautiful walk along Sligo on a gorgeous spring evening.
Friday evening I met for the first time with my new writers’ group. The woman who invited me to join the group had participated in a class with me at the Writer’s Center last fall on Narrative Non-fiction. She gave excellent, detailed feedback on my book and other submissions by students in the class. The revival of her writers’ group happened at a perfect time to give me energy, focus and feedback on the book and a proposal I need to submit to an agent within a week. I sent the participants the first four chapters of the book before our meeting, and received enthusiasm for the story, stimulating questions, suggestions and a possible new title. Saturday afternoon I worked on a revised proposal, including a cover letter with a pitch, an overview, bio, marketing plan and chapter summary. This evening I sent it to several members of the group for feedback.
Saturday I was also inspired with yet another approach for the beginning of the book. This idea led me to search for the ex-priest who was supposed to participate in a draft board action several days before our DC-9 action. I envisioned our dialogue as we waited outside the building housing the DC draft files and wanted to interview him for details. I researched him on line, found a lead, emailed an organization in California to locate my old friend. By this morning I had an email back from him. Re-connected after decades! Love the internet! Tomorrow we plan to do the interview.
My husband is constantly urging me to continue writing, to follow my muse, to let the world know how important this book is to me. Is it true that when we follow our deepest instincts, when we open our hearts to share our truth, we are aided by angels? Definitely when we ask those angels for help. Help arrives.
Thank you, my angel fellow writers. Thank you, California peacemakers.
My manuscript for The Power of Love will arrive in the hands of an agent today.
Putting it in the mail felt like sending my child off to school on his first day of kindergarten.
Should he wear a coat? Have more fruit in his lunchbox? Will the teachers like him?
Will he like them?
These were some of the sentiments I expressed to the agent who comes highly recommended from a friend who has worked with him on two of her books. My narrative non-fiction book is an account of attacking the Dow Chemical office in DC in 1969 (while a nun) to try to prevent and expose their sale of napalm for the Vietnam war. While it is not the usual genre that this agent shepherds to publishers, he was interested in the spiritual journey of a nun turned federal felon. What moved me to do such a radical action? Knowing that it might carry as much as 40 years in prison. What transformation took place inside me? How did my decisions affect my religious order, the private girls’ school where I taught, my family, my life? What universal messages emerge in the book that will speak to hearts searching for courage and purpose?
The invitation to read the manuscript came as I was leaving the house for a weekend retreat, from which I emerged with a bad case of bronchitis. However, as soon as I was able, I devoted my daily dose of energy to one last read-through/edit before sending out the manuscript. I hope he has time to read some of it before departing for the London Book Fair.
My conversation with him convinced me that my little one is in good, kind hands.
Have you experienced sharing your creations with the world?
To the publishing industry. In an earlier blog, I used a rather global comparison to dictators holding onto former wealth and power. Opps. The old dualistic, black/white, sometimes extremist me coming out. An entire industry could not be Qaddafi-like. Sorry. The more investigation of agents and publishers I do, the more normal and decent the individuals seem to be. Isn’t that true almost anywhere? Good people abound. Stop me the next time I make any statement that contains the hint of an “always,” “never” or “all,” even in the subtext.
An article I read in the Writer’s Yearbook 2011 by Linda Formichelli – “2010: The Year in Review” – gave some factual and analytical perspective that helped me soften my tone and raise my hopes of getting my book published. She maintains that “the publishing industry is slowly struggling out of the recession” and that major publishers are seeing leaps in operating profit over the last two years. Some types of magazines have taken a serious hit, but sales by major publishers – including those to e-readers – are up. One survey also showed that e-readers buy more magazines than the average American.
So, less fear….more hope, more courage to just keep “shipping,” generously putting out our gifts to the world, knowing that there will always be readers, people who buy and read books in many forms. In that spirit, I sent out yet another query letter to a local agent.
In one day, I experienced the exquisite joy of finishing my fourth draft of The Power of Love and later the upset over a dear friend’s conflict with her agent. So many days and moments are like this – joy and sorrow, triumph and disappointment intertwined in the same heart at the same moment.
Somehow amidst traveling to Florida for a meditation retreat and organizing another upcoming retreat, I managed concentrated time writing (I love my laptop that goes with me everywhere) and polished off the last four chapters on Monday! I was also given the timely opportunity to join a writers’ group at the exact moment I need readers. Now I face the more difficult task of searching for an agent and publisher.
Later in the same day, I heard from my friend that her new agent had attempted to slash one of the most beautiful and moving novels I have ever read. My happy heart felt the arrow with her. The agent is so wrong, so misguided. Yet I know that my friend will do what she needs to do to preserve her own voice, to find an agent and publisher who appreciates this important work as it is. I see how disappointing and vicious the publishing world seems to be right now. Like the desperate dictators fighting to the death for their former wealth and power, the industry clings to what they think will make them a fast buck. But they underestimate you, readers waiting for great books.
I so deeply believe that there are millions of readers – like me – in the world who long for enlightenment, real literature, moving, powerful writing that can take us into worlds we don’t yet understand and find there our own lives, our own struggles, our own suffering and redemption.
Yet, to get my book into your hands, will I also have to experience the same conflict, disappointment, mistrust and abuse that I see much better writers experience? Probably so.
Then I will use the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh as I do today to work up courage to approach a new agent myself. I pluck off my shelf his book of poetry, Please Call me by My True Names and turn to the end of his poem of that same title:
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth
My pain is like a river of tears,
So vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open
the door of compassion.
This poem (much longer in its entirety) was written in 1978 while Thay was rescuing boat people from Vietnam in the Gulf of Siam.
Do you feel your joy and pain as one?
See a video of this poem at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y-Ik3HB6fQ.
2010 has been a wonderful year, full of accomplishments and new beginnings for me and my family. Pat has begun recording another solo guitar CD (see his blog). I finished the third draft of my book and am a quarter of the way on the fourth draft that starts with the DC9 action. Some firsts: I joined the Writer’s Center and received great support and advice from courses there, did a public reading from the book and started this blog. I organized several meditation retreats and workshops for women and gave private meditation training. I attended a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and a Guitar Craft Course in Italy. My granddaughter is teaching me games on her Ipod. Learning and growth continue.
So, hopefully 2011 will allow me to maintain my awesome life and relationships and to keep growing, learning and “shipping” my writing to agents and publishers. Thank you, to each of you who have read and responded to my blog posts. Perhaps this is the year The Power of Love: How a Nun became a Revolutionary or the Mini-Skirted Nun or whatever the final title might be is PUBLISHED! Wouldn’t that be terrific!
It will only happen if I treat each day as a new beginning, a new opportunity for growth, love and service to people I meet along this path called life. I will plan without planning the results, living in gratitude for each precious moment as it is. Happy New Year, New Day, New Life.
This week I worked four mornings on my book…more editing of Ch 3, “The Journey to Loretto,” readying it to send to a friend at the Motherhouse who figures as a character in this period of my life. After the new Ch 1 (“The Action”), Ch 2 (“DC Women’s Detention”), my co-conspirator Catherine begins asking questions about my life in the convent, how I moved into political action. This segue device allows me to build the themes of religious and social awareness that give the plot meaning. I suppose using only three chapters of “backstory” is better than five. I know there is more work ahead to tighten up the plot, to keep it focused on the action, the “leadup” and consequences, while being true to the internal story of what is happening in my life as the events of the late sixties move me closer and closer to an irrevocable stand against the War in Vietnam.
Ch 4 now includes both the beginning of my civil rights involvement in 1963 and the nuns’ attack on the St. Louis police station in 1968, following the thematic story of my participation in the civil rights movement rather than the chronological one. How do I bring in all the events in Kansas City from 1964-67? Primarily as the other political threads of my development – working to stop poverty and war, in addition to racism? The story of my relationship with David Darst, a major catalyst to my own action in DC?
Novels get to move all over the place. Can I do that successfully in a memoir? Others have – Azar Nafisi for one. I also finished reading another Pulitzer prize winning novel – The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau – that hints at the ending but never gives it away, weaves and builds a story by telling it from the viewpoints of three main characters. She keeps to a basic chronology but also develops the theme by saving key pieces of information for the ending. Good fiction and non-fiction can skillfully weave a story without adhering to a strict chronological line. Next I’ll focus on the relationship with David, my admiration of him as teacher, my own development in “teaching with my life,” his action….leading to mine…..then I’ve sort of covered the main things necessary to moving forward with the rest of the book. It can be refined, edited, but I’m close to having a completely different approach that starts with the central action, develops theme and plays with a different approach to chronology.
It may or may not be the one that editors and publishers prefer, but I will have it to offer as an alternative to strict chronology, a version that focuses on “exciting” actions for our action-oriented audience.
Have you writers out there ever struggled with this question of theme and chronology? I suppose the Zen approach would be that every moment of our lives contains all of human history – past, present and future.
Photo by lambertwm
One email and a week of illness slowed down my writing and my desire to publish my book. How did I become so afraid of doing what I have been moving toward for these past three years? The email stirred up images of the FBI trailing my every move again, of negative reactions to revelations I intend to share in the book, of paparazzi disturbing my family and my peaceful life. Crazy? It seems so, now that my health and energy are returning, now that I cannot find the email that started my downward spiral. There will be negative reactions to the story of a nun committing five federal felonies. The hate mail flowed in 1969. It will come electronically this time.
Should these fears keep me from sharing my story with the world? My husband says fear is my “lizard brain” talking, limiting me from taking chances. He and another favorite author gave me pep talks, encouraged me to keep writing, keep revising. Fear is often “false evidence appearing real.” Perhaps the FBI has more important things to do these days than hassle an anti-war protester.
Seth Godin says, “Be a generous artist, even if it doesn’t work.” What do you do when it doesn’t work? Make more art. Give more gifts. Overcome fear with a generous heart.
Does generosity motivate you, soften your heart, create more gratitude in the world, melt fear?
What I actually write for publication is such a CHOICE. I’m at that point with my book. I have to focus and choose what to keep and what to drop. I have to find a way to weave my early childhood, my motivations for joining the convent into “backstory.” It might mean changing the whole chronological way I approached the book, possibly a total re-writing! UGH!!!!!!!! But I’ve known that just rearranging the first three chapters, while cutting out NOTHING of the childhood, education, joining the convent parts wouldn’t work. I need to focus on the real heart of the story, the time from 1968-70 and find my beginning! I know the end, of that I’m very certain. It was like a revelation to see the end of the book-our sentencing in 1970. And it helped to have Pat’s suggestion about beginning each chapter of the book with a progressive “tease” from the sentencing. The action, trial and sentencing are important, the public parts of the story. But perhaps I need to also look at the beginning, middle and end of the story of my other very personal decision. How are the two interwoven? It would have been lovely to know this part of the structure of my book beforehand, but the writing process began where it did – first with journaling and telling pieces of the story to classes orally. Then I just wanted to get the whole of the story into the computer. The final book clearly has to be more selective in order to appeal to a wide range of readers, to grab and hold the reader.
The class last night (‘Narrative History and Biography: Works in Progress” taught at the Writer’s Center by Ken Ackerman) has already been helpful. He asked two of us to give our “elevator speeches” as if we had three minutes to tell a publisher about our books. I had a little warning, so I practiced with Pat as if I had met Gina Contrello from Ballantine Books. But Ken stopped me right away when I launched into the description of the book to ask “where are you now?” It threw me off. Why? Oh, I guess I’m in a class and being introduced to these other nine people. So, I said a bit about my difficulty giving up teaching and making this book a huge priority in the last three years, that I have a completed third draft and am waiting for an agent and need some critical feedback.
Ken talked for about an hour about how to find the “narrative arc” (beginning/end) of the story and showed us dozens of different books to illustrate that this can now happen in many different ways. “A Night to Remember,” 31 Days, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire each choose a particular time frame, a limitation. Reality is infinite. We are using story telling tools to tell the truth, so we need to find the core conflict and its resolution. The story can begin at the end, as does a biography of Emma Goldman – with her exile to Russia. There is a lot of freedom now, even with all the changes in the publishing business.
Then we looked at the two handouts, beginnings of books by members of the class, and gave them feedback. The lecture on “narrative arc” helped us focus on telling the story, finding its beginning and end point, the passion that drives us to write this particular book. In a week I will give the class copies of my first chapters to read!
I had to write this version as best I could for my family if nothing else. I wanted all the details in there someplace. I wanted to tell a woman’s version of the Berrigan-style Catholic Left actions. But the final published book will probably have to be more spare, more focused. I’m really hoping that one of the people in the class can become a possible reader for me.
What choices are you making today? Do they involve letting go? Limiting?