[SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] Whose Voice is it Anyway?

When faced with the inevitable – that I must write a memoir (the “must” propelled by an inner transmission that just wouldn’t shut off) – I did what I’m sure others have: questioned my sanity. How could I, who perfected the art of invisibility, write a book that would expose me? I comforted myself by telling myself no one would have to see the finished product if I deemed it inadequate. After all, I thought I was already not-good-enough – I didn’t finish college, much less get that coveted MFA that seems to be de rigueur for any “real” writer. So – maybe I could write and still have it not be my story.

I thought maybe the beginning should be my father’s account – how he found his way to a tropical island after a decade of hazardous engineering jobs. I could write how he was seduced by a curve of beach, by the promise of paradise after too many dangerous assignments building dams high in South American mountains. Or how he sweated in submarines below the Pacific’s surface, repairing electrical systems damaged by Japanese war planes. 

Maybe it ought to be my mother’s tale, the one about a young schoolteacher who’d never left home and was herself seduced by the tall man with wavy brown hair, a crooked smile, and brown eyes who pulled her right into his dreams. I could chronicle how she found herself at the rail of a ship that trudged its way to South America – her “honeymoon” of two lonely years in the cold Peruvian Andes with llamas for company and the haunting mourn of a Quechua flute slicing through the thin air. I could describe her descent to sea-level with two small children and a different loneliness on a tropical island, and how she began her own sentence of submission. 

Or it’s my sister’s story – the one she couldn’t tell, wouldn’t tell – the one with too many secrets. She, the blue-eyed, yellow-haired child, was a cypher who learned to disappear into her own skin, into silence, far too young. But I never had her consent to break open the doors she kept locked, so how could I betray her by writing her story?

In the end I had to face reality. The memoir needed to be told by the only voice I knew – the one that faded in and out like the transmissions on the old Zenith Transoceanic radio, my faint link to an outside world. My own account was twined with my family’s, like a river whose origins are different but cleave together as one. Our multiple stories bled into each other, some caught up in eddies, but all finally pooling at a sand bar by the ocean’s edge. I’d need to pry apart our separate channels until my river became a torrent of words, slicing its singular way forward in its search for truth – secrets be damned.

Once that torrent slowed and I had a manuscript, then came the question of how to publish my book. After some attempts at securing an agent or sending proposals to traditional publishers, I learned about She Writes Press and its hybrid model. After reading about the process to become a She Writes author, I realized this is how I wanted to be published. During that same time I also happened to attend an event put on by a group of She Writes Press authors, and came away even more impressed by the writers themselves, the quality of the books, and the clear benefits of working with a team that clearly would have my best interests at heart. And so I took the plunge and submitted the required materials. From that day forward, Brooke, Cait and the rest of the She Writes team have been responsive, proactive and supportive. I chose Liz Kracht, a developmental editor, from their roster and can only say good things about her. She guided me through the difficult task of deciding what worked, what didn't, and where I needed to "kill my darlings" - and how to still have my own voice. And now I'm three months away from publication, and that voice - my own - will soon be seen and heard out there in the world.

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Comment by Barbara Stark-Nemon on July 2, 2014 at 5:09pm

Wonderful post.  I look forward to reading The Coconut Latitudes.  

Comment by Rita Gardner on June 30, 2014 at 10:14am

Leslie - thanks for your note! Much appreciated. Am very interested in your writing too...from  your posts I gather it's sometimes a struggle. It is, but also worth it. Keep writing!  By the way, Goodreads is doing a giveaway of 15 copies of my book; the contest starts today through July 30...please enter!

Comment by Leslie Johansen Nack on June 29, 2014 at 5:10pm

I can echo everyone else and say I can't wait to read your memoir.  

Comment by Mayu Molina Lehmann on June 29, 2014 at 1:51pm

Best of luck, Rita!

Comment by Nancy Davis Kho on June 26, 2014 at 1:23pm

Can't wait to read this, Rita!

Comment by Kay Rae Chomic on June 26, 2014 at 12:12pm
This is a great piece of writing, Rita. Can't wait to read your memoir come September!
Comment by Suzy Soro on June 26, 2014 at 11:40am

Rita, I see we both have an essay in BlogHer VOTY 12 but I couldn't find yours. Did you use another name? ("...How could I, who perfected the art of invisibility) Anyway, was interested in reading it. 

Comment by RYCJ on June 25, 2014 at 9:15am

love the cover... so I just purchased a copy. can't promise when I'll get to read it, my to-read pile is really up there, but I'm suspecting it'll be a lot sooner than I'll get to some of the others. Congrats again. Still wishing this one all the best.

Comment by Sue Leonard on June 25, 2014 at 8:23am

Memoir writing is very interesting. I began writing my story, and it lead in directions I did not expect it to go. It really became my stellar characters story more than mine and it became a much more endearing story through the voice of a significant other that played a significant role in my upbringing.

Comment by RYCJ on January 8, 2014 at 2:09pm

Oh, I love memoirs... no real big secret there. I love the inner-reflections, just what you've expressed here; so lyrically novelish I must add.

I understand the hesistancy for writing a memoir however. Many are so enjoyable to read, and not for the secrets they may or may not expose, but for the bravery it takes to look inside us. I applaud those who can honestly critique themselves, and am over the moon when poignant lessons come out your lessons. This short post captures that feeling well. Wishing you all the best... and oh, "Secrets be damned" - loved that quote too.


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