Tag Archives: publishing

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.”

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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.

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.