Category Archives: Writing

A Big Decision: Writing Wednesday

Last Wednesday, I wrote about how some editors wanted me to turn my memoir into a novel. It seems that I first wrote a novel that reads like a memoir (more than once my hands came away red has been mistaken for my personal story, which has led to some awkward encounters with lovely old ladies who have patted me on the shoulder and told me that they’ve been praying for me as I recover from all that trauma). Now, instead, I’ve written a memoir that reads like a novel.

I decided not to fictionalize the memoir, which left me with two options. I could either wait – shelve this book and hope that it would get picked up by a publisher later – or I could self-publish it.

I’ve decided (drum roll, please)… to self-publish.

Despite the strident call to self-publishing arms and tales of riches and fame that are being peddled by folks like Joe Konrath and friends, I have no illusions that I’m incredibly likely to attain either riches or fame by self-publishing this book. That’s not why I want to self-publish.

I want to self-publish because I have spent three years working on this book, it’s important to me, I think it’s good, and I want to see it out there in the big wide world and move on to other projects.

It took me months to make this decision, but now that it’s made I’m excited. Self-publishing is brand new territory for me. To do it even halfway well I’ll have to learn a lot about cover design, marketing, publicity, independently copy-editing the text, etc. I’ll also have to give my website and my blog a makeover. All of this will teach me new things, and despite the fact that the to-do list I’ve been putting together is half a mile long, many of these things are medium-sized projects that I can tackle during baby nap time. I’ve already come up with an idea I love for a free spin-off e-book, and decided that I want to use some of any profits that I do earn from self-publishing to support a charity here in Laos that’s close to my heart.

More on all of that later.

For now, I’ll close with another writing-related quote that makes me laugh. And, tell me, if you’ve self-published a book or an e-guide recently, what’s one lesson you learned along the way?

 “Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”
Jules Renard

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Writing Wednesday: To fictionalize or not to fictionalize, that is the question

It’s Writing Wednesday. It has been, in fact, since I woke for the first time last night at 12:30 to put a soothing hand on a stirring baby, and since I fed him at 4:30, and since our wretched dog starting whining outside the bedroom door at 5:00, and since Dominic decided morning had indeed broken at 5:45am.

I do hope no one is expecting anything too profound from me today.

I also hope one of these days soon I’ll stop expecting anything too profound from myself during this particularly fatigue-fogged season of life.

So let me tell you a little more about the story of the book baby that hasn’t found a publishing home. If I were to cast this as a children’s story (of which I’ve been reading no small number out loud recently) it would go something like this.

When the agent overseeing book baby adoptions organized for publishing families to have a look at book baby, many of them said very nice things. Indeed, they said the writing was fabulous. Just like the bear’s porridge though, book baby never seemed quite right to them. Some of the publishers wished book baby talked more about Lisa’s faith and some wished it talked less. Some wished that book baby talked more about Lisa’s work and less about Lisa’s love life, some wanted exactly the opposite. Several wished book baby were not a memoir at all but a novel. And so, eventually, book baby arrived back to the book orphanage without having found a home…

Don’t worry, I’m not going to quit my day job to take up writing children’s stories (although when you read some of the crappier ones that actually get published you have to wonder how hard it could be to kick ass in this genre).

But back to my homeless book baby…

It seemed there were several editors who were seriously interested in the prospect of this book as a novel, and I spent weeks mulling over whether I wanted to rewrite the entire thing.

It felt weird to me. I’d spent three years working hard to make sure this story conveyed emotional and factual truth and here I was being asked to turn it into a novel. Where would I even start with that? By spicing up the details of my past, or adding a serious addiction or abusive parents?

In the end, I’ve decided not to do it. There are multiple reasons for this but here are just a couple.

Rewriting it as a novel doesn’t stay true to my original vision for the book. I realize that in saying this I’m running the risk of coming off as precious. I don’t mean to be. It’s just that the book I wanted to write to tell this story was a memoir. Three years down the track, after I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to carve an actual story out of the therapeutic mind-dump of my first draft, that hasn’t changed. I don’t get all that excited at the thought of taking this story and fictionalizing it, and at this stage I don’t want to see it published by an establishing publishing house badly enough to make that effort.

There is also the other baby.

Yes, that one. And the presence of this other baby means that right now I don’t feel that I have the time or the energy I’d need to embark upon a massive creative re-write. Freelancing, I can do. Essays, blog, even some consulting, I can do (on a good day). But I’m genuinely unsure as to whether I could stretch to writing a novel at the moment. At least, not one I’d be completely proud of.

So what to do about homeless book baby?

That has, indeed, been the question of my life this last three months – right alongside: Is Dominic hungry/wet/tired? If not, why is he crying??? And, what on earth am I going to do to entertain him today?

There are only so many afternoons you can spend gyrating to ABBA’s Dancing Queen in front of the baby bouncer, you know.

Come back next week for more news about the fate of homeless book baby, and if you have good suggestions for entertaining a three-month-old baby, leave them below! I guess you could leave a comment or question related to writing, too, or let me know what you think about the topic of fictionalizing memoirs. It is after all, Writing Wednesday.

I’ll leave you with this quote by John Berryman because it made me laugh. Here’s to a happy Thursday all round the globe. Thanks for stopping by.

“The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business.”

Writing Wednesday: On editing and rewrites

It’s 8:30am. My child has been lying in his crib, smiling and gurgling at the ceiling for the last ten minutes. Now he’s gazing at me across the room while his eyes drift shut. I lovelovelove these parental moments.

Huh. Now trying to think of parental moment from the last two days that I have loveloveloved that did not involve a content child safely contained in bed while I was on my laptop. You know, one where I was actually interacting with him.

I’ll have to get back to you on that, because I’m not here today to write about him. Nor am I here to write about me – though let me pause for a minute and say thank you for the caring comments and emails sparked by yesterday’s blog. Someone whose phone number I don’t recognize even sent me a lovely text saying “thinking of you”.

(At least, it’s lovely if that came from someone I know. Otherwise it’s sort of creepy. For the time being I’m choosing to assume that it came from someone I know. How’s that for glass half full and not being unduly paranoid? Yeah.)

On a more serious note, I do not think I’m immune to post-natal depression (no woman is) but I also don’t think things are quite that dire yet. The weekend felt pretty awful but things have brightened up a bit since then. I will keep you posted.

Now, on to writing about writing, cuz it’s Wednesday.  Let’s talk editing.

Michael Crichton is reported to have said, “Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”

The official number of times I rewrote my latest book is three, but that doesn’t take into account all the false starts I had before I even managed to pull the first draft together.

I finished that first draft in November 2009, the day before Mike got back from a month long consultancy in Indonesia. Pretty much the minute he got home I thrust the manuscript into his hands. In retrospect, perhaps I should have waited until he was out of the jet lag zone before demanding feedback. Or perhaps I just don’t take feedback well from my nearest and dearest on my first drafts.

Mike gave me lots of useful feedback, including telling me that he didn’t have a great deal of empathy for the main character (me) because I hadn’t made myself vulnerable enough and taken him on an emotional journey.

“You come across as an interesting person,” he said. “But that is not enough to command my attention for a whole book and make me wonder, intrigued, what you’re going to do next. You need more depth. You need to take me on an emotional journey.”

I believe my graceful response to this feedback was, “You want a journey? Well you can just get back on a plane to Indonesia then.”

He was, however, right. And during the next two years and two drafts I worked hard to identify a clearer story arc, strengthen my themes, and take people on a journey. In other words, I worked to tell a story instead of just letting people in on a 70,000 word, occasionally humorous, occasionally moving, monologue.

Feedback from other people was invaluable in helping me think through these rewrites. Before attempting a third draft I farmed the book out to about ten friends and sifted through their commentary. Then I took it to the next level and had two professionals look at it (thank you Joslyne Decker and Amy Lyles Wilson – check out their websites if you’re interested in writing workshops or editorial services).

All of these external eyes helped me spot things I just couldn’t see on my own. They not only said nice things about my work (always good to hear when you’re so sick of your own book you’re in danger of starting to believe the whole thing is just a terrible waste of everyone’s time). They also pointed out where I was losing or boring the reader, indulging in narrative tangents, and where they were left wanting more or less.

It’s always a delicate balance, I find, to be open enough to editorial feedback to benefit from it without being so open that you feel compelled to rewrite your work to suit the tastes and whims of everyone who comments on it. I didn’t act on all of the comments and recommendations I received but every one of them made me think deeply, and there’s no greater gift to an author than being challenged to see their manuscript through fresh eyes.

Over to you: What do you find particularly helpful when you’re trying to take a first draft to the next level? What’s your editing process like?

 “The real contest is always between what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing. You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.”
~ Geoffrey Gaberino ~

Want to read more about editing, particularly in the context of self-publishing? Check out the following articles over on Writer Unboxed:

Writing Wednesday: Making hard choices about priorities

Wow, this week is so turning out to be zero steps forward and five steps backwards. What happened to my relatively content child who, when sleepy, was usually happy to be placed in his crib with his stuffed rabbit? Who is this little being who refuses to be put down, who wants to be walked and sung to sleep instead? Who wakes up jumpy ten minutes into a nap? Who stays awake long past his bedtime and seems perpetually hungry? And why did his father decide that this was the perfect week to take a two-day trip up to remote villages in the north??

It’s Wednesday though, so here goes with a few thoughts about the process of writing my other baby – the book – while baby number one squeaks, mumbles, and sighs his way through what will hopefully be at least a 45 minute nap.

When I started writing the memoir more than three years ago, I had a choice to make. I could continue as I had been – working full time as Director of Training for the Headington Institute and writing only on planes, in the evenings, and on the weekend – or I could make a change that would allow me to more evenly balance my passion for my job, my passion for writing, and my burgeoning relationship with Mike.

In the end I decided to take the leap and drop down to working only four days a week at the Institute.

I took a 20% pay cut to be able to claim Fridays as my own every week, but it turned out to be worth every penny that I didn’t earn. Being able to invest at least one full day a week in my writing meant that I made progress on the book without stealing too much time from Mike. It also meant that I was happier to show up at the office, 100% focused, Monday through Thursday.

I have never regretted this decision, despite the fact that I haven’t yet made a cent on this book and possibly never will. I was an all-around happier person during the two years this system was in place, and how do you put a price tag on that?

Now, of course, things have changed. We live in Laos. I’m not juggling a full time day job and a life-job (for I suspect that’s what writing is for me, a good old-fashioned vocation). I am, however, juggling that vocation, a baby, and consulting work. Not to mention a marriage. Oh, and friends. I am coming to suspect that finding time to devote to writing will always be an exercise in making some tough choices about what to prioritize.

One tough choice I face daily at the moment is usually whether I should sacrifice some extra sleep to spend these quiet windows of baby-nap-time with my laptop. Another one is whether I should say yes to consulting work that would mean that even those nap times would need to be invested elsewhere.

What about you? How do you prioritize your writing? How do you make and guard the time to create? How do you defend that to yourself even if it doesn’t seem to make financial sense?  

Want to read more about making tough choices around priorities and creating the life you want to lead? Head on over to Alexis Grant’s excellent blog. And, finally, here’s the quote of the week:

One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, and that habit has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.
(Niyi Osundare)

Writing Wednesday and the Tale of Book Baby

I feel a little as if I’ve had two babies during the last couple of months, and Dominic wasn’t the first. The first was the book baby.

After a three-year gestation period, “book baby” was delivered to my agent in May, just before I left for Australia. Book baby was the product of three years of work, three rewrites (Mike jokes that I actually wrote three different books), and countless hours of thought and editing. I had high hopes that my agent would be able to find the perfect adoptive publishing home for book baby. A home that would love and care for it, polish it up, and send it out into the world with all due editorial (and marketing) care.

Alas.

It now appears that this will not be the path that book baby takes. At least, not now.

The day that I came home from the hospital after giving birth to Dominic I had several dozen emails in my account. Perhaps it should not have been, but the very first one that I opened was from my agent.

It was not the sort of email you want to get when you’re still shaky from blood loss and shell-shocked from the miraculous violence of your sudden induction into parenthood. Though, come to think of it, I can’t imagine when you would want to get an email from your agent telling you that one of the publishers who had expressed serious interest in your book had decided not to make an offer.

I read this email, took a deep breath, and looked at my other baby, who was lying asleep on a blanket on the floor by my side.

“No matter what happens with this I must remember that the most important baby is right here and healthy,” I said to myself. “I must remember that the most important baby is right here and healthy,”

Then I went upstairs and lay down for an hour and worked on believing it and feeling it.

You see, I’d said all along that even if book baby never got published it was good and therapeutic for me to write this tale of long distance love and my explorations of my issues with commitment and the concept of home. Now that mantra was being tested, and I was suddenly finding that it was easier to say that when I thought deep down that it probably would get published.

Now that my most important baby is twelve weeks old (and, thankfully, still healthy) I’m starting on a new journey with book baby and I’m going to take you along. Every Wednesday for the foreseeable future I’ll write about writing. I’ll update you on the story of book baby, talk tales, showcase quotes, and share some links to the website of some of my fabulous author friends.

But for now, I’ll leave you with this quote from Barbara Kingsolver.

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.

Do you have a favorite quote about writing? Do you write? Would you like to see your website featured on a writing Wednesday post? Let me know.

How is Memoir Writing Different than Fiction Writing?

Here’s a break from all the baby talk. This is a guest post I wrote for Moody Publisher’s blog InsidePages just before Dominic was born – they asked me to reflect on the difference between writing memoir and fiction…

When I got engaged in 2008 I wasn’t writing a memoir, I was writing a novel about sex trafficking. But as my fiancée, Mike, and I began to plan our wedding I found it increasingly difficult to flip in and out of such vastly different worlds – the happiness of the one I was living in and the harshness of the one I was trying to write about. After months of trying to force myself to persevere with the trafficking novel, one day I stopped long enough to ask myself what I really wanted to be writing about.

The answer to that question wasn’t trafficking. It was the idea of home.

I’d spent my childhood in countries as diverse as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. I carried Australian and Canadian passports. I was living in Los Angeles working for a non-profit organization that provided psychological support to humanitarian workers worldwide. I was hopelessly confused as to where home was. Perhaps, I thought, I could write my way towards clarity. How hard could it be to write a memoir exploring this theme?

Of course, the answer to that question turned out to be “much harder than I had imagined.” Luckily that wasn’t the only thing I learned during the whole process.

I had expected writing a memoir to feel completely different than writing a novel, and in some ways it did. When I was writing my first novel I found myself getting surprised by what was happening, but as I figured the “what” out then understanding my characters’ actions and reactions followed fairly naturally. Writing a memoir reversed this process. I already knew what happened – I’d lived it – but I had to work much harder to figure out what it all meant to me then and now.

The plotting process was different, too. With the novel I wrote my way into the story blind, without an outline, but during the drafting process the story gained increasing momentum as events unfolded. In contrast, I had a clear vision for the start and end of the memoir but little idea of how I was going to get from one place to the other. Despite repeated outlines I continued to flounder in the middle until the very final drafts of the manuscript.

What about ways that writing memoir was similar to writing fiction? Well, unfortunately, the first draft of the memoir turned out to be just as much in need of major revisions as the first draft of my novel had been. The first draft of the memoir was basically a therapeutic mind-dump. It was the product of a lot of thinking and soul searching and I had indeed gained a lot of clarity around the issue of home. What I hadn’t done, however, was tell a story in a way that might sustain interest for an entire book.

This second draft was the point where writing the memoir began to feel a bit more like writing fiction. First, I had to figure out what a story arc was. Then I had to take this therapeutic ramble of a manuscript and think about how to “nest” my reflections about home within a related story that could better structure the book and propel the action.

The second and third drafts were painful revisions. They involved completely restructuring the book around the long-distance love story of how I met Mike and cutting out scenes, even whole chapters, that didn’t move the story forward. In the end, however, it was worth it. I discovered that wasn’t just trying to figure out what home meant; I was trying to answer this broader question:

After a nomadic life that has been largely defined by coming and (always, inevitably) going, am I even capable of the sort of commitment demanded by marriage and children and a place called home?

I’d love to hear from you! For those of you who write fiction and/or memoir, how have you found them to be different and similar processes? For those of you who read both genres, what differences and similarities do you see between fiction and non-fiction stories?

Family talk about the memoir

It started shortly after I arrived here four weeks ago. Mum was asking me where I was up to with my next book, and I told her that my agent, Chip, had it and was getting ready to send it to interested publishers next month.

“And how many of those are there?” She asked.

“I don’t exactly know,” I said. “But he said there are at least half a dozen people who’d like to see the full manuscript when we’re ready.”

Mum looked… well, “doubtful” is too strong a word. More like “slightly confused.”

“But… why?” She asked.

“What do you mean, why?” I repeated.

“Well they haven’t seen anything yet, so how do they know they want to see something?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Some of them read my last book. Some of them have been browsing the blog. Maybe some of them owe Chip a big favour. I don’t completely understand how it all works, to be honest.”

“Me either,” Mum said. Then she went a step further. “Also, I just don’t see how this book is going to appeal to as wide an audience as your last book.”

“I think you’re wrong there,” I said. “If it sells, and that’s still a big if, then I think this book has the potential to appeal to a far larger audience than Hands did.”

Mum did not look at all convinced.

This was not the end of the conversation – this topic has come up several times during the last month. Just the other day we were talking about Francine Rivers’ new book and I casually mentioned that I thought her first book, A Voice In The Wind, was the best she’d ever written.

“I think that of a lot of authors,” Mum said.

“Yeah,” I said, “Like Bryce Courtney and The Power of One…

I was going to go on to list others but Mum got there first… with my name.

“Maybe like Lisa McKay,” she said.

“Mother!” I said, laughing but amazed. “What a thing to say!”

“Yes,” she said, only slightly abashed. “I guess it is.”

So, yesterday as we were driving into town, I brought it up again.

“Do you really think this book isn’t going to do well?” I asked. “I mean, for starters, you shouldn’t be comparing it to Hands because they’re totally different genres. One’s a suspense novel and the other is a reflective memoir woven around a romance story.”

“I guess that’s true,” Mum said. “And I haven’t read the whole thing yet so I don’t really know.”

“What??” This time I was honestly shocked. “You haven’t read the whole thing? Quite apart from the fact that that could deeply wound me if I were more fragile, how do you know I didn’t say something about you that you’ll hate?”

“Oh,” Mum said. “I trust your filters.”

This was getting truly bizarre given that exactly a month earlier I had been sitting across the breakfast table from my parents, having just disembarked the plane from Laos, while they asked me not to put anything on the blog about them without their prior approval while I was living at home.

“Well if you haven’t read the whole thing,” I said, “and you admit you don’t know all that much about the publishing industry, what would possess you to say things like ‘I don’t think this book will do as well as your first’?”

Mum squirmed just a little, unusual for her.

“I never meant to say that,” she said. “I guess I just meant to say that you had such an amazing experience the first time around being picked up by the first publisher you queried, and getting almost universally positive reviews, and having everyone tell you that you were wonderful… and it might not be like that this time around. I guess I just don’t want you getting your hopes up too high.”

“That is a very fair point,” I said. “But here is my point. With something that’s as deeply personal and important as this sort of project, maybe if you can’t honestly say, ‘Wow, I think this book is going to do just great’, maybe you should reconsider whether you say anything at all at this stage of the process. And, if you do, maybe you should work harder to phrase it more softly. You could, for example, say something like, ‘I’ll be interested to see if this book turns out to be as universally well-received as Hands.’

“That is also a fair point,” Mum said, as she pulled into the parking lot.

There was a brief silence.

“So, are you finished?” Mum asked, looking commendably grave given that she was clearly also battling the strong temptation to laugh.

“For now,” I said, getting out of the car.

“OK then,” Mum said, swinging into task mode. “Could you please stop and pick up the bread and then I’ll meet you at the grocery store in five or so minutes?”

“Sure,” I said.

Five minutes later I was standing just outside the grocery store having been waylaid by tempting tables full of bargain books, when Mum approached.

“I thought I’d find you here when I saw the books laid out,” Mum said. “And have I told you lately what a smashing success I think your next book is going to be?”

As I laughed she leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.

Juggling different worlds

I wrote an overdue email to someone far away today. I met Lynne for the first time in Kenya in 2004 when I took advantage of an introduction by a mutual friend and showed up at her house in Nairobi, still suffering from the worst bout of food poisoning I had ever had in my life. She fed me apple juice and yogurt smoothies and two days later we went on safari in the Masai Mara together for three nights. You bond quickly when you’re sharing a tent and getting before dawn to go be wowed by scenes like these:

Since then, Lynne and I have crossed paths regularly around the world – in restaurants in New York and DC, on houseboats in Amsterdam, and at her place in Atlanta. She is a lot of fun and one of the many people I would enjoy living closer to.

But instead there is email and skype, and today I jotted her a note for the first time in months. I started by saying I’d been meaning to write for weeks and that I didn’t know where time had gone recently.

On days like today, when it’s cold and raining here and I haven’t even bothered to get out of my pajamas yet, I can reach 6pm and puzzle over what, exactly, I’ve been doing. How is it possible, I sometimes wonder, that I’ve been bouncing from project to project, working relatively well, and yet I haven’t crossed off more than half of the things on my to-do list? Why am I still perpetually behind on emails and phone calls? And why is very little connected to preparing for the baby making it into the half that’s actually getting done?

Lest I alarm the extremely maternal (or paternal) among you, I am making some progress in relation to all things baby. I’ve washed the clothes we’ve been given (though I haven’t folded them all yet). I’ve made a list of small, practical gifts people could give us at an upcoming baby shower that lovely people from Mum and Dad’s church are organizing. I’m currently reading a book called Mama Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood – a rather fascinating memoir that looks at motherhood through the lens of Zen Buddist teachings.

But the baby is still only getting a certain amount of brain space (and boy, am I ever starting to wish I could impose similar limits on the amount of body space he was getting). For there are things still to be done before he arrives – things as dissimilar from buying baby wipes and diapers as a tent in Kenya is from a houseboat in the Netherlands.

For starters, there’s the consultancy on wellbeing and humanitarian work. For a project on wellbeing there’s an awful lot of trauma material that needs to be incorporated. The other reading material I’ve dipped into today, for example, focused on psychosocial interventions in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and collective trauma following atrocities and killings during a civil conflict in Sri Lanka. First thing tomorrow I will be starting A Human Being Died That Night – a memoir plumbing South Africa’s apartheid years and wrestling with questions of transitional justice. I’m aiming to wrap up this consultancy in the next four weeks, and I doubt I’ll mind taking a couple of months away from this sort of material.

Then there’s the memoir, which my agent is planning to start sending to publishers next month. That’s great news, but it also means that I need to spend some time pulling together all the bits and pieces that traditionally go in a book proposal – a bio, an outline, and information about my author platform and strategic connections that may assist with marketing. You’d think I’d know how to summarize the book in a couple of sentences after having actually written the thing, but that’s a lot easier said than done.

And there’s talking to Mike for an hour or so every night, doing some exercise, spending time with extended family here, filing insurance claims, and so on. I am not short on things to do.

Today I haven’t minded juggling these diverse mental worlds. Some days I can feel a bit fragmented, and I’m aware some of these worlds are going to need to take a dive on the priority list in the near future, but overall it’s good to have a bunch of different, interesting things to do right now when it’s quiet, cold, raining and I can’t be bothered to get out of my PJs.

What about you? What different mental worlds are you juggling at the moment? Are you finding it stimulating or are you feeling fragmented?

Writing about people from the past

I sent the manuscript of my memoir to my agent on Friday. Big yay!! This is only one step of a long process, but it’s a significant one. It means that, for now, I’ve come to the end of myself with this book. I’ve written it, rewritten it, and rewritten it again. I’ve had Mike and family members read it and offer their thoughts. I’ve asked some friends to do likewise, and others to help me copy-edit. I even hired an external editor to offer her advice on how the draft could be strengthened.

What I hadn’t done until very recently, was think about how or whether I wanted to contact certain key people I’d written about to give them a heads up; certain key people who might be surprised or hurt by what I’d written.

Like Jason, who I dated seriously in 2004. And Ryan, whose writing about his life and work in Afghanistan I found so compelling that I became infatuated with him… while I was dating Jason. I won’t go into the whole saga here. I’ll just say that I am not particularly prone to regret, but when I think about certain things I did and said (and things that I did not say) during this period, I still feel ashamed.

I included the tale of these two, tangled, long distance romances in the book for many reasons that had nothing to do with me needing to exorcise that shame. That said, however, writing this particular chapter was therapeutic. By the time I was done drafting and redrafting this story a dozen times, I understood the person I was seven years ago a great deal better and I had largely forgiven her the weaknesses and willful mistakes of that era.

I had not, however, dealt with any of this openly with either Jason or Ryan.

Ryan I have remained in intermittent and friendly contact with over the years. In a bizarre twist he was also an acquaintance of Mike’s long before Mike and I ever met (Mike met him in Afghanistan). Last July Mike and I met up with Ryan and his lovely wife, Celestina, in Vancouver for drinks and dinner. With Mike’s full knowledge and encouragement, I had intended to bring up the whole subject over the dinner table but the moment never seemed right (although one does wonder when the moment would seem quite right to bring up something like that).

So, two weeks ago, knowing I was very close to submitting this book for possible publication I sat down to write Ryan a letter. Here’s how it started:

Ryan, you know how when you write a memoir you sort of forget during the drafting process that other people may eventually actually read it? And, even worse, that the day will come where you need to send the draft to people who appear in the pages in ways that require you to seek their permission for what you’ve included? And that some of those people have never before heard you admit anything along the lines of, “I once had a crush on you”, much less, “I was once completely infatuated with you – or the you I felt I knew via email – and I booked a plane ticket to cross an international border specifically to suss you out without ever telling you what I was doing?”

Yeah, well. For me that day is today. And for you, well, you get to raise an eyebrow (or two) and marvel at the range and depth of my craziness back in 2004.

I’m so much less crazy now, I promise. Also much, much, happier.

The letter to Ryan was relatively easy.  Jason, however, well that was a different matter. I hadn’t spoken to him in several years and I had written about things in this chapter he knew nothing about. I had been far more frank in the book about my part in the dynamic of our slow and painful breakup than I’d ever had the courage to be with him face to face.

Mike and I talked this over during dinner one night by the Khan.

“So are you going to write to him?” Mike asked me, shooing the cat that had jumped onto our table back to the floor.

“I don’t know…” I waffled. “I sort of want to, but it was a long time ago now, maybe I should just leave it alone.”

“Leave it alone in the sense that maybe one day Jason will pick this book up and read about it then?” Mike asked.

“Maybe it’ll never get published,” I said. “And maybe he’ll never read it.”

Mike stayed quiet while I squirmed, recognizing the temptation to deal with the issue the way I’d dealt with so many of the issues that had arisen while Jason and I were dating – by avoiding and deflecting.

“What do you think is the right thing to do?” Mike finally asked.

“To write to him,” I answered reluctantly.

So I took a deep breath and did. I told Jason I’d written about aspects of our relationship. I offered to send him the chapter to read if he wanted me to. But first, I told him in this initial email, I wanted to apologize for ways I felt I’d wronged him during the time we were dating. Then I told him exactly what those ways were.

It was not an easy letter to write and send, but part of the dysfunction in our relationship had been that I avoided conflict with him and didn’t speak my mind openly. Writing the chapter had helped me understand this. Writing to Jason himself finally helped me break those old patterns and put into practice the new strengths I have gained in the years since then.

I was very happy to receive gracious emails back from Jason both before and after he read the chapter, but regardless of his reply (or lack thereof) I think it would have been a healing exercise of closure. It’s taken years, but it brought full circle the process that was first started when I put pen to paper and tried to figure out where and how we’d gone wrong. It transformed understanding into action.

Have you transformed understanding into action recently? How?

And, writers, last week I touched on a dilemma faced by most essayists and memoirists in a post titled, Writing About Loved Ones: To Do Or Not To Do, That Is The Question. Writing about those you have known and perhaps loved in the past, however, is a slightly different kettle of fish. Have you encountered this? How did you deal with it?

Writing about loved ones – to do or not to do, that is the question

So I’m in Australia, after a long journey from Laos that had its ups and downs. We’ll get to those later this week, but first let me stop and say how lovely it is to be here at McKay’s Pregnancy Resort and Spa. It’s sunny but cool, the dawn light is gilding the bank of clouds out to sea, and there are no roosters. Oh, and the shower is kick ass.

My parents, despite some teasing, seem quite happy for me to base myself here for the next five months. They have, however, tried to impose one condition upon my stay.

“We’ll raise your rent,” my Dad said over ricotta pancakes and lattes after we stopped at a café on the way home from the airport yesterday morning, “if you don’t agree to one thing.”

As my rent is currently zero this was quite some threat.

“Oh,” I said, spearing a strawberry, “what’s that?”

“That nothing that is said by us in this house goes on your blog without prior permission,” Dad said.

“I know you think I reveal too much of my own life sometimes,” I said, “but have you seen me cross the line with Mike or someone else in ways that makes you particularly blog-shy? Do you really think my filters are that poor?”

Well… no, they admitted reluctantly. They couldn’t think of any particular examples right then, but they remained wary nonetheless.

In the end, as Dad went to pay for breakfast, I said I’d consider it. But between you and me I just don’t know if my artistic integrity can accept such fetters. Nor do I understand exactly what are they so afraid of.

Well, actually, now that I pause to think about it, perhaps they’re worried that I’ll reproduce conversations like this one.

8:30pm last night. Mum, Dad, and I are sitting around sipping Milo and watching television.

“How long is your visa valid for for this trip?” My mum asked while fast-forwarding through commercials.

I took a sip and tried to make some sense of this. I failed.

Then Mum laughed.

“Oh,” she said. “I forgot. You have an Australian passport, don’t you.”

And some people wonder why I set out several years ago to write a memoir with the initial aim of untangling my deep-seated issues around the concept of “home”.

Speaking of the memoir, it should be ready to go to my agent within the next week (wheeee!). Speaking of home, I miss Mike and Zulu terribly already, but I am lucky indeed to have another home on this side of the equator. And speaking of crossing the equator, more on that later this week.

Writers and bloggers, how do you deal with this issue of writing about the living (particularly those you’re living with)? The rest of you, do you think I should agree to Mum and Dad’s request?