Memorial day journey, part II

My walk beside the Willamette the other morning took me an hour and forty-five minutes. A hike, really. The broad, north-flowing river sends finger-crooks off its east bank near a shopping mall. Tall reeds, cattails, and unwelcome nutria-hovels border quiet water sections. Cottonwoods and birches flutter new leaves above the half-submerged log where a mallard and his mate converse in low chuckles.

I breathed deeply, following the cement pathway’s curves past signs announcing, “Fragile habitat. Stay on the trail.” Lavender blooms bunched close, fragrant in the light breeze. My feet had found their rhythm; they didn’t stray.

A year ago I read my book’s first chapter to one writing group. The women critiquers agreed. My flittish descriptions of the troubles I’d gotten into while living on the coast in my twenties were far too vague. “We need more of the story you’re hinting at,” they said.

So I rewrote and a month later read the results to another writing group. The eclectic members confirmed my suspicion that I was turning this into a sermonette, a throwback to articles I used to provide to Christian magazines in the 1990s. I didn’t want to preach, but I couldn’t deny my story involved the way I grew up understanding God. I pondered one experienced writer’s critique. “You’re giving us the ending in Chapter One,” she said. I concluded I’d gone too eternal, theological, and with too heavy a hand.

Over the summer I strove to expand those parts at which I’d hinted in my first chapter, and this plunged me fully into getting my ages-past drama on paper. I’d always supposed someday I’d write it all down, and once or twice I’d made attempts but had given up. Now imagination plopped me directly onto Oregon coast sand, and I watched it all unfold again. My biggest failures. My greatest lessons.

I read version after version to hubby Tim. “Is this okay?” I asked. “Should I really try to publish what happened?”

He’s not for nothing the man I married and am with today. “I’m on the edge of my seat,” he commented, “wondering if Deanna and Tim will make it.” By August, though, Tim asked, “Could you just read this to me when you’re done changing it?” I began to notice I’d put him repeatedly through hell.

I branched out for opinions to three trusted friends. I had 27 pages. They each read them and provided very helpful impressions. Autumn had arrived, and when the time changed to standard, I shifted to arising an hour earlier. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I was on a roll.

Aloneness, many authors have told us, is both the solace and bane of creative souls. Though I tried to write with the door closed, I found myself around page 150 needing to share. Wishing I lived next door to an agent, editor, or some other professional who’d fix me hot cocoa on stormy mornings and assure me this effort would be worth it. I used my handy blog for an emotional, often quite whiney outlet.

What I began to guess is what appears to be true. Working on a book-length project for me looks the same as producing an article or essay, only expanded. I flail and go through machinations and sometimes zip along and often deceive myself as to its doneness, but eventually (and in a book’s case it’ll be a long eventually) I finish. And almost every time I need outside help. I sure wish I could do this writing thing alone, just as I walked four miles last week in solitude, but for whatever reasons I’ve been given a task that requires input to be done well.

Thankfully, my need for feedback met recently with an editor’s desire for material. In April I began a conversation with Lisa from Relief, the journal that published one of my essays last year. Lisa liked both versions that I sent her of my first chapter (by now I’d completed the book manuscript and was beginning further revisions). She wanted cnf essays, and she liked my style. The problem was my Chapter One was a springboard to what had become the first third of my book. It didn’t stand alone, either way I’d tried it.

So Lisa offered to coach me in a reworking that would make the piece I’d titled “Memorial Day” fit Relief. She said I could let her know my decision about the revising, and one other thing. The publishers required that Tim and I were both certain ahead of time we would allow this story to see print. Apparently they’ve had several authors pull memoir-type pieces after developing chilly feet about letting the world know their pasts.

I seriously considered both elements of Lisa’s request, but my decision was pretty easy. First, sure, I had to release my dream of completing and selling a book any time soon. I was consenting to squish my life crossroads story back into one essay. I sensed that with guidance, though, this might work the way I’d envisioned when I started last year, only it would be richer, better.

The second part, me telling about Tim and me and some intense stuff. Well, I’ve blogged about us for two years, right? Plus the two of us have shared our story in public – more times, I’m sure, than Tim would have chosen – but we’re fairly used to it. I gave Lisa an eager thumbs up.

After a challenging, educational process for me, working with Lisa throughout May, I sent her my essay last week. And then I enjoyed my long walk. On Friday Lisa emailed that the Relief team wants to publish “Memorial Day” in their August issue.I’m happy. I’ll receive a free copy of the journal once again. Though I can't foresee whether some tide will bring me book publication one day, I’m finding confidence and joy in accepting that I am an essayist. Where my words can fill a need, no matter the wobbly process getting there, I want them to go.

Mainly, and finally for you who’ve bleary-eyed through to the end of this post, I see more clearly than ever the benefits of friends, the reasons for blogging. I gain rather than give posting here. I truly hope that will change someday, and I can be much more of service. For now, if you feel a bit gypped, because I’ve only told you that my dramatic story will be available for sale sometime in August, feel free to email the address listed in my profile. We’ll talk.


Deanna said…
HI Deanna,

Congratulations on the future publication. You have certainly 'peaked' my interest!
Cherie said…
Congrats on yet another Relief essay! I'm glad you found closure via this publishing - at last your telling of the tale has found a home. I'm happy for you.
jodi said…
I think I would have been torn. Long term versus right now--I see exactly where you're coming from, did the right thing. Writing is nothing if not a process, and sometimes we get all tangled up in in selling "this" piece, and forget--hey, there's more.

God never gives talents without reason.

My favorite essayist is Earl Swift, he's a journalist for the Virginian Pilot. He took a series of essays he wrote for the Pilot about the James River and turned them into a book. I think a book of river walks exploring your understanding of God has strong marketability.
Deanna said…
Thank you, Deanna!

Cherie, your words mean a great deal. Here we both are at something of finality in big projects (your house; my essay), and yet in a way these things are never quite over, true? :o)

Jodi, I've just looked up Earl Swift. Thanks, I plan to read some of his stuff. And I appreciate that you get where I'm at. In process, always.
Patti said…
Yay, Deanna! That's wonderful news, and I very much enjoyed reading these two posts about the process.:-)
Marianne Elixir said…
No bleary eyes here. I thoroughly enjoy hearing your process with all of this (the personal emotion aspects of the writing, as well as the publishing aspects). I will enjoy seeing the essay form. You've got me thinking about putting a little more energy into some of my posts to turn them into essays. Wish we lived a little closer so that you could give me some pointers. I am sure if I ever do make any grand writing efforts, I will be sure to pass them across your screen first =)
Deanna said…
Thanks, Patti and Marianne, for reading the whole thing.

Marianne, you of course have been part of my support for this. Thank you. We'll keep in touch about continued writing projects whenever we can.