What’s the Story?

by Trish

Just like you all, I’m an author working on my “story.” And I don’t mean the topic of a book manuscript that I’m currently writing. I mean, how do I view things? What’s my lens?

I’m in major transition, as you can see by my earlier post this week. This place makes it hard for me to know exactly what I am focused on. Parts of the old focus are drifting away and new focuses feel clumsy, like a coat that is either too big or too small, not quite fitting.

Perhaps some authors reading this feel as if they too are in transition. So this post is for you.

So, I have written a few books in my time. I got started back in the late 1990s; if you’ve read my bio, you know this. My first book I half-sold (it didn’t make it through the editorial committee, alas) was when I was 23 or 24. It was in the aftermath of my grandmother’s death. I was very attached to her and I wrote a book proposal about letter writing (she had always written letters to me and to everyone) and also in the midst of this I had applied to write a series of work-for-hire (no royalties) books for Publications International. One of the book titles was GRANDMOTHER, so you can see how I was chosen. The bits of verse I wrote for GRANDMOTHER touched many of the editors that saw the book as it was being produced (this series was hardcover gift books; five in all, only four were published, FATHER was pulled for some odd reason). So, this book came out and I had sent the proposal for the letters book in and then I sent a copy of the GRANDMOTHER book in as well and I think that was what made the acquiring editor want to sign me up.

But I was young, without an agent, and the publisher decided my idea was pretty good, but I wasn’t famous, so they handed it off to a famous author. True, the words they told me were “this other famous author just pitched us a book about the same subject” but I refused to believe that. I still don’t believe it. The other author’s book on letters BOMBED. I mean seriously, no one bought it. Why?

Because it was my idea. It was how I viewed the world. The story was authentic. I had just buried my “other mother” and my grief was raw and I chose to use that grief to write about a beautiful piece of her that to this day (14 years ago this week) I still treasure deep in my heart. How could anyone else take that idea and do it justice without their own authentic experience?

This is what I mean by story. It’s yours, first of all. No one else’s. True, other people can try, but it won’t work, no matter how much energy they put into (or how famous the author is). My story was MINE. I was the only one who could do it justice. And it won’t ever be published. Because I’ve changed. I see other things from my beloved Gram Bee’s life that I want to share.

Perhaps my story back then had to do with how strong love is even after someone is gone.

The second series that I wrote for Publications International was a kids book series. The titles were cutesy, but it was a fun project. HUGS FOR MOM and HUGS FOR DAD were little tiny hardcovers that were to be used as gifts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (sure enough, they were sold in Target stores nationwide for years. Every May I’d get a call from a friend in Texas or Oklahoma telling me my books were back and they had their own endcap on the books aisle!). That was fun. That was also inspired by my grandmother. I simply channeled the “story” inside me to other projects.

But my interest in work for hire was waning. I wanted my own book. And then 9/11 happened and because I worked in publishing, so many things shifted. I started a novel (and have been writing novels ever since) and my story changed. I fell in love, got married, changed some more.

I’m not the person I was in 1996 to 2000.

All that to say, the story you have may not be the story you stick with. I’m trying to find my story again, both for my fiction and my nonfiction. But things are moving around in my life and it’s hard to pin it down. I rely on the fact (and so can you) that there is something there that propels us as authors to write, to communicate, to tell the world about over and over. It’s just up to us to find it.

So, what’s your story?

Question or comments?


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Monica Millard September 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I can totally relate to where you are right now. When life is in upheaval it’s hard to find where you are at yourself and your writing. I had a period where I started like 4 different books but couldn’t pin myself to any one specific and those four are sitting in various states of finish. Now that I’ve settled a little I can again truly devote myself to one that I feel and is my story at the moment, one that is new. I find it hard to return to those others because they were about that time in my life, even if not literally. Thanks for writing this blog and helping to see that. I thought for a while I’d lost my ability to write and finish anything.

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