Good news. A book I was hired to write has been nominated for a statewide award. The news came via a text message from the man whose childhood story needed telling. I congratulated him and he texted back that he had been invited to speak before a group about domestic violence.
The story was about that, but it was also about a redemptive weekend he spent with grandparents as a teenager that was crucial in helping him stabilize his life. When we met he’d been fretting for years how to write the story he felt he needed to get out of his heart and down on paper.
It was an extremely rainy spring morning as I gave a talk about writing grants to a nonprofit group. Grants were not my strongest topic and I was not thrilled with that day’s delivery so I was surprised
when he came up to me afterward to suggest we meet to talk about a writing project.
The timing was good for me to devote myself to something entirely off the grid of what I’d been doing to expand a resume. Without a contract we agreed on payment, a general outline of how it would be handled, and what would be included.
The story wasn’t mine but there are enough similarities in being human that I started to catch on and feel an affinity for this time in a young man’s life. A challenge I hadn’t experienced since writing copy for advertisers was keeping his voice, word choices, and cadence without my intrusion.
Billable time that didn’t include obsessing about it while driving, preparing meals, showering, sleeping, and meetings at Starbucks was over 200 hours. I was an outsider listening to a story from his and his mother’s views, discerning emotion and what was behind the words, constructing and parsing sentences that portrayed but did not glamorize, discount, or make human experience sappy. Then I edited and re-edited until it was time to give it up. Give it back to the one who had lived this now fictionalized life.
Oh boy, could I get corny with all the metaphors that at their best would never compare with really having or giving up a baby, but still… I’m going to push a few. When the manuscript was gone and no longer mine to fuss over, I was sad like a mom is sad sending the kid off to kindergarten. “Let me wipe a tear that Baby grew up so soon while I giggle in joy that I might now get a free hour to myself.”
When he called me weeks later thrilled he was getting nibbles from a publisher who represented an author friend of his, I was happy and envious. Months later when it became apparent that wouldn’t happen I didn’t know how to untangle a knot of disappointment and anger.
The anger was toward me. Why hadn’t I seriously started writing decades earlier? I did have some talent with it. I did. I did. I did. But time slipped through my fingers with other responsibilities. Phooey. What really slipped through my fingers was belief in myself. Time was the by-product.
Editorial changes by him and others have inevitably been included. Perhaps I wouldn’t recognize the end product though he told me the changes were minor. He said he’s sending me a copy.
A year has passed while the real dad has nurtured the manuscript and
he deserves the accolades I hope he gets. The story has done what it needed to do for me, too.