Tag Archives: nonfiction

Return to the Zone

A Crime Novel_Pic

I’ve been wondering what to devote my writing hours to besides the articles and essays that put food on the table. The nonfiction book proposal I’ve written and rewritten hasn’t come together in the way I had imagined. The sample chapters are nothing that any reader would appreciate. Fifty pages into the book I knew something was wrong, but I continued writing. By the time I reached 150 pages, a sagging disbelief in my ability to communicate something meaningful gnawed at my soul. I decided to not write for a while. I would lay fallow. Take a vacation. Go visit family and friends. Let my thoughts bubble up and float away like helium balloons instead of jotting them down in my notebook.

Only one week passed without writing before something miraculous happened.

On the drive through the desert, I passed the location of the beginning of my crime novel and felt a jolt of joy and enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in months. When I wrote that book I knew it was only a draft and not a very good one at that, but I had been content to hole up in my office tapping away for every moment I could steal until the story was done. My husband warned me to hurry up and finish before I became too lost in the imaginary world I created and lost my job, my children, my family, and my friends. I wrote about the entire experience in “Surviving the Zone” which is currently under consideration. If I had been at a writer’s retreat, I could have indulged my obsession and polished off the book in two weeks. But I had other responsibilities that interfered. People who didn’t know what I was working on commented that I seemed distracted. Of course, I was. I was living in two worlds, not sure which one would pull me under and claim me first.

Passing the scene of the crime reawakened me. Why am I writing a nonfiction book? I asked. I’m a novelist. I should be writing novels.

That’s when I decided to return to the crime novel that held me captive for so long. If it possessed that type of power for me as a writer, what type of power would it possess for a reader? How selfish I had been to shelf the draft and never look at it again. No matter how disappointed I was with the imperfections, everything could be fixed. Fact-checking, plot structure, and characterizations should not be an excuse to deny the heart of the story, which pulsed with as much life as an actual event I had lived through and needed to share.

All of my fears melted as soon as I returned home and unburied the manuscript from underneath my desk and started reading. The chapters flew by effortlessly. It didn’t read like something I had written. It read like a good book I could not put down.

So this is how I will be spending my summer: returning to the zone.

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The Manuscript Monkey on My Back

Have you ever heard of someone dying a week after retiring? That person lived for work. It wasn’t just a part of their identity. It was their identity. When work died, they died.

That’s the way I feel about The Take and Go (formerly Our Summer at No Name Beach, a novel, and before that Red Eggs and Good Luck, a memoir). Since the manuscript was written in 1992, it has gone through various incarnations so that it no longer resembles anything it once was.

In college, I wrote a piece from my childhood and tried to disguise it as fiction. It failed. Once I restructured it as memoir, the piece sold. I was encouraged by a literary agent to expand it into a full-length memoir. I did. Excerpts won numerous local and national awards for adult nonfiction. The manuscript gained the attention of an executive editor of a major New York publishing house. The executive editor championed the manuscript from start to finish. She presented the polished manuscript to the editorial board, the sales and marketing committee, and finally the attorneys. When it was determined the publisher didn’t want to risk publishing the memoir without liability releases from all parties mentioned in the manuscript (this was right after the James Frey scandal for A Million Little Pieces, which turned out to be a million little lies shortly after Oprah endorsed the book on her show), I was asked to turn the book into fiction. My first attempt failed. My second attempt failed. My third attempt is stored in the safety deposit box of my bank. I didn’t have the heart to bring it out again. But last week, a reader who had read an excerpt from one of the book’s various incarnations asked, “Did you ever publish it? It’s really good.”

That comment haunted me. It’s the monkey on my back, the book that won’t go away, no matter how hard I try to get rid of it. I swear I could burn all the various manuscripts and delete all the copies on my hard drive and still someone somewhere would ask, “Whatever happened to The Take and Go? Or Red Eggs and Good Luck? Or Our Summer at No Name Beach? It’s really good.”

It’s not like I haven’t had the opportunity to publish it. In fact, over the years, I’ve been approached several times by several different publishers to publish the book in one form or another. What I haven’t found is the right publisher for the book.

Why am I so picky? Am I thinking this is another Harry Potter or Hunger Games? Not necessarily. But I do think it needs a wider readership than I am able to give it on my own. I want someone who believes in reaching the widest possible audience—that means foreign rights, movie rights—that means advertising, endorsements, and other marketing strategies I cannot afford. And if this manuscript truly is my magnum opus, I will not settle for less.

On November 6, 2014, the manuscript monkey is no longer on my back! She Writes Press will publish the memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, on October 6, 2015, as the result of winning the Memoir Discovery Contest.