In my last post, I had a comment from Cathy with regards to writing. I hope you don’t mind, Cathy if I post my answer this way, as it occurs to me that other people might be interested in my journey to published book as well.
After Arron died and I started coming out of that dreary numbness stage, I started thinking I should start writing down some of the stuff I had experienced, if for no other reason than to record the events for the kids in the years to come. By this time I had met the Prime Minister of Canada, Carter had slapped Joe Clark across the face, I had collected my Ground Zero dust in a weird little urn, received tons a letters and had been visiting the various “Family Centers” on a regular basis. Life was so beyond normal.
So for a year or so, this idea just kept bouncing around in my head. I wondered if perhaps I could write something that might help other widows, or other widowed parents, or if I should write something specifically for kids. This hung me up for a while. I thought I had to have it all figured out before I started writing. Of course, that was silly.
Just before the second Anniversary, Selena and I traveled to London in July and had a tour of Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove, meeting the Prince himself in the process. We went back to London in September with the kids, had tea at the Canadian Consulate, and attended a beautiful ceremony in Grosvenor Square, which is where Carter almost knocked over Princess Ann chasing pigeons, a skill that Arron had taught him.
It was at that point, after so many amazing experiences, that I realized that I had better just hunker down and write. So, shortly after I got home from London, I sat down at my computer and wrote “September 11, 2001” across the top of the page and just started writing. I didn’t care very much about how it sounded or grammar or all that nonsense. I just was trying to get down all I could remember. Remembering the first year was the hardest. Mostly it was a series of crystal clear events punctuated by long periods of fog. But it didn’t matter. I wrote on and off for around 9 months, until the kids got out of school for summer. At this same time, I was building the birdbath, so I was busy!
That summer, we went to Seattle for the month and decided we were going to move there. When we got back, I had the birdbath party and wrote an essay about it. Through a writing class I took sponsored by Tuesday’s Children I become friends with the teacher, Maria Housden who wrote Hanna’s Gift, a beautiful book about losing her 4 year old daughter to cancer. Maria had had quite a lot of success with her book, and she loved my essay, so passed it on to people she knew at SELF and at O Magazine (who I never did hear from). SELF loved it and actually wanted to pay me for it! In June, they arrived to take a picture for the magazine, loaded with clothing and makeup artists, the whole shabang! It was crazy.
It was the first time I thought, “Hey maybe I AM a good writer.” Before I was published, I really just thought I was just getting the story down. I had spent all my years as a student thinking I was a crappy writer. I blame my 9th grade English teacher who tried to teach me the art of essay writing as though it was a lesson in geometry — all triangles and rectangles, and it made absolutely no sense to me. I got terrible marks and from then on, decided I was a bad writer.
After we moved to Seattle, I took a memoir writing class through the University of Washington Extension program with Theo Nestor and learned a ton. The class forced me to practice, and increased the amount of material I had, not to mention my confidence. The summer after the class, The National, a CBC TV News program in Canada, came to Seattle to film me, the kids, my sister and my mother for a piece they were doing about me for the 5th Anniversary. It played on September 6th, 2006 and was almost 20 mins long!
About a week after the program aired, I got a call from my mom, telling me that an old colleague of hers was trying to reach me. Denise had seen me and my mom on the show, (where I had read a little of something I wrote), and as luck would have it, she was now a literary agent who wanted to see more of what I had written. She and my mother had worked many years before for a publishing company in Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, where my mom was a book designer and Denise was an editor.
Two weeks later I had written a full proposal (with her help) and attached a couple of sample chapters (stuff I had written way back in the beginning) and she began shopping it around with some of the Canadian Publishers. By some divine stroke of serendipity, it was picked up within two weeks, by, you guessed it (given my love of serendipity), McClelland and Stewart. That was October 2006. They gave me until June 2007 to finish the manuscript. I worked hard to make the deadline, but I did it, practically ignoring the kids in the final stretch. I handed in double the amount of words that I was supposed to.
I had the summer off and then spent the fall doing (a ton of) edits as suggested by my editor, which were finished by December. The book came out in Canada in March 2008. Alas, selling it in the US where “9/11 widow” seems to be a dirty word, we went through 30 publishers who all turned it down. HCI finally picked it up, but like many publishers in the US has done almost nothing to promote it. They are not even going to produce it in paperback. Sigh.
So, Cathy, my advice? Get writing. Buy Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, one of the best books on writing out there (and it will make you laugh) and just begin. Pour it all out. Don’t worry about what it’s going to be, there will be lots of time for that.
You all know how I love the idea of living with “No Expectations.” Writing definitely fits in that category. Its very freeing to have that mantra in the back of your head as you write. And you just never know where a little serendipity might get you.