How a Book Becomes a Book

Thoughts on how Eating the Sun came together.

A few years ago my aunt gave me the book Good Grief by Ellen Stimson. It is a memoir of her family life in a small Vermont town. Not normally a huge reader of memoir, this book pulled me in. I forgot I wasn’t reading fiction. I think one of the burdens on memoir is to be successful in writing, the author needs to show not tell. Because we tell our favorite or horror family stories as we meet new friends or reminisce at gatherings, we are already telling. So making the gear change to showing can be a challenge.

Ellen uses the homely object, a table, as the vehicle to carry us through her story. Whether it is the nicked antique dining room table, a bedside table stuffed with books or a new kitchen slate counter top the table is the symbol of family because we do gather around it in all its forms. I’ve never forgotten this.

Fast forward to last summer when the idea for doing a mixed genre memoir about my marriage and my husband came to be. At first I put alternating text, poems, and recipes in chronological order. This meant some of the poems were written by a very young poet and then spanned 30 years as I grew into and honed my voice.

Luckily for me, my manuscript was accepted and then the editor assigned to work with me was Laura Williams French. She was able to rearrange my chronology into seasons, creating the metaphor for a love story between a much older man and a young woman. The manuscript became dynamic and the flow smooth and readable. Poems and recipes were included with whatever season they involved and not necessarily in age related order. I was amazed when I read the first proof. She had converted what I had submitted into a living breathing book.

I asked several authors and colleagues to write back cover blurbs. Yesterday I received the first one by Linda Lowen who writes for Publishers Weekly and whose specialty is memoir though her yearning is fiction. When I read what she wrote, I was again amazed in a good way, by how clearly she interpreted the book and understood the story.

My point, hearkening back the Ellen Stimson’s Good Grief, is that unwittingly and with the help of my excellent editor, I have created a book that uses the garden in the way that Ellen used tables.

That makes me very happy. Reading is one of the most important ways to learn to write. Memoir is way out of my comfort zone as a poet. And yet, those who’ve seen parts or proofs of Eating the Sun are enthusiastic and excited by it.

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