I was crouching down, reaching into my black bag, when Cheri said, “How can you just give your book out to strangers like this? Isn’t your book like one of your children?” I stood up and laughed nervously. I’d only been a member of the book club for a few months, and they were strangers, just like she said. Yet there I was, eight copies of my manuscript in the crook of my arm like I was carrying a baby, and I was ready to hand them over. I shifted them over to my hip and headed back across the room to the group. She was right, my books are like my children. But just like children, at some point you’ve just got to let them go into the world. Not everyone will like them, and that will hurt. But I know they’ve got some good in them and I hope they’ll find a spot to flourish.
When I sent The O’Malley Trilogy out into the world, I knew it wasn’t my best work. It still had braces on and a few big pimples. But it was just as I’d envisioned it, and it was a really good feeling.
My struggle giving birth to my second book was different. At first, Finding Frances was a sort of memoir of my mother’s dying. I don’t read many memoirs, but I could tell the one I was writing was really bad. My mother wouldn’t even have wanted to read it. At a loss, I put it away for a few months.
I tried again. I wrote about my mother sitting at the kitchen window drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette. A sob, like a black hole, began deep in my gut and sucked everything into it—my breath, my throat, my strength, and finally all of my thoughts—until nothing was left but tears flying in all directions. This book was going to be harder to write than I thought.
I wrote a hundred pages before I realized I hated the whole thing. I’d been raising it all wrong. I hated the characters. I hated the point of view. I hated the tone and the lazy word choices. I hated that I’d been writing in Times Roman. But I loved Frances and I still wanted to tell her story. My brother, who loved my first book, said he couldn’t read more than 40 pages of what I’d written. He hated that all the characters seemed like they were taking too much Prozac. I’d been trying to take the easy way out. But how could I tell the story without involving my family? After all, they were all working through their own grief. I couldn’t bear adding weight to their hearts. A book about our experience would put it all on my terms. That wouldn’t be fair. No, this baby wasn’t related to them. After a few months of trying to engineer a solution, it finally dawned on me. I could develop the characters around the issues. So I created them and adopted them, and finally I could call them my own.
In April of 2010, with a gentle push and not a lot of fanfare, Finding Frances hit the market.
The book is growing on its own now. As the months go by, I’ve learned that my story has stopped being mine. Every time someone reads it, it becomes their story. When I hear about the difference it’s made in some people’s lives, I am amazed, proud, and sometimes overwhelmed. At first I said that if the story could help just one person facing “the issues” of death and dying, then it would have been worth the time. At this point, hundreds have read it and many, many have taken the time to tell me about the peace they now feel.
Parenting has its rewards.