I Am Writing a Book

As I wrote in my first post, one of the reasons for this blog is to keep myself accountable to projects that mean a lot to me. I think that many of us have those things that we care about, but that get neglected for a variety of excuses. For three years now, a project that has meant the world to me, is writing a book. By way of a series of circumstances, I came to know about a medical experiment that occurred in the 1940s. It involved a child with cancer. I came across the story in an old newspaper article and it intrigued me and stayed with me. When I decided to really embark on my lifelong goal to write a book, it was that story came to mind. My first thought was to fictionalize it. There were so many ways to go with the little information that I had. It would be easy to build a compelling story. But as I made some initial attempts to create a trajectory, it occurred to me that the real story was probably where the writer in my really wanted to go. That was a decision that has changed my life.

That single newspaper article has grown into a amalgam of stories centered around three families. I now know members of each of those families. Each family has shared memories with me that are weaving an American saga that continues to thrill me. The other piece of this work has been that I have been able to give each of those families memories that they didn’t know existed. I have pieced snippets of stories together. I have built histories and made connections. I even found a recording and got to share voices of family members now gone.

The whole book writing process is new to me. There are lots of guides out there that tell you how to go about it. One that I just finished reading is Betsy Lerner‘s The Forest for the Trees.

After working on this project for three years, I am now at a point that I know this can actually happen. What I don’t completely understand is how it all works. Betsy, who has worked in many areas of publishing, gives a good analysis of what it means to write, what it takes to find an agent, get a publisher, get edited, watch your book get built, see it delivered to your neighborhood bookseller, and how the work of promotion can be a make or break. There was something comforting about reading this. She made it clear that my publishing innocence brought challenges, but did not guarantee defeat.

When you write a non-fiction book, the process for publishing does not wait until the book is done. Once you know what you want, a proposal is created. The proposal gets sent out to agents who can decide if yours is a project in which they could get interested. The proposal is like a business plan with a couple sample chapters attached.

I do have a proposal for my book and last year I sent it out a few times. I have gotten as many rejections. Even though I knew rejections are part of the game, they are deflating. But now we have a new year and new promise. I am giving my proposal a new going over, before sending it out again.

What started out as my project is now a shared project. The gift from the families I have gotten to know is also my debt. This book will happen. I love telling it, and I owe it to so many to tell it. I will keep readers of the blog updated on my work.