For the past few months the focus of my writing has subtly changed; instead of feverishly writing, revising and submitting individual pieces (which I had been doing for the previous four years) I began thinking about finishing a collection. I’ve blogged in the past about the potential trap of “going for a book” too soon, but after two years of MFA study and two years of hard work improving the work in my creative thesis and producing some new essays, I felt it was time to develop a manuscript. This doesn’t mean I stopped writing new work; on the contrary, I felt that the manuscript I had in mind had a few pieces missing and I concentrated on filling in the gaps I thought existed. I also took out some old work and revised it heavily; but in most cases I found that even after a lot of revision, some of the older pieces didn’t stand up to my best work.
As of this week, on the advice of my wonderful agent, Joan Schweighardt, I believe I have “finished” my manuscript. What this means is that I think I have enough individual essays that have either been published by literary journals or that are polished enough to include in a linked collection. What it doesn’t mean is that I’m finished with the job. I still have to work on ordering the essays in a way that works a cohesive read, and then the process of proofreading and final edits will begin. But we’re close; we’re now beginning to work on a “pitch” for the book.
Joan asked me how I would describe the book, which has a tentative (Message from a Blue Jay – the title of one of my essays) that might change as the process progresses. This is what I wrote as a very quick first draft of the pitch:
Message from a Blue Jay is a collection of linked personal essays that also serve as a memoir of the decade of life between forty and fifty – a decade that is receiving so much attention in today’s media. It is a time when people grapple with the concerns that accompany the onset of middle age: coming to terms with one’s heritage and the lessons of youth, exploring the meaning of marriage and interpersonal connections, accepting bodies that are still youthful but are beginning to age, handling illness and the passing of parents. Rapoport DesPres also touches on her experience as the child of a Holocaust survivor and as the survivor of a life-threatening illness who grapples with her resulting childlessness. But in addition to exploring the very human passages that occur in this middle decade, the author explores her (and in extension, the human) relationship with the natural world and its inhabitants, which serve as the backdrop and ultimate metaphor for her emotions, her life, and her ultimate search for home. In the classic tradition of the personal essay, Rapoport DesPres’ writings are both observation and rumination and allow the reader to join her on a sometimes lyric, sometimes observational, and occasionally experimental narrative journey of both personal and philosophical exploration.
Creative nonfiction and personal essays are experiencing a resurgence in popularity thanks to the success of memoirs such as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and Kim Dana Kupperman’s recent essay collection from GrayWolf Press: I Just Lately Started Buying Wings. Faye Rapoport DesPres studied this genre at the Solstice MFA Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College under the tutelage of such known authors in the field as Michael Steinberg, the founding editor of one of the premier literary journals in creative nonfiction, Fourth Genre; well-known memoirist and fiction writer Joy Castro, and literary scholar and author Randall Kenan. She is also a volunteer for Kupperman’s Welcome Table Press and an active blogger on the topics of writing and creative nonfiction. Eleven of the essays included in this collection have previously appeared in literary journals, one has one an honorary mention in a short prose contest, and two have been highlighted and reprinted or republished online as “best of the year” pieces by the literary editors of those journals.
That’s it, the first draft of my pitch, straight off the top of my head. Joan will certainly work her magic and improve it.
So, any publishers interested out there?
Here we go! Let the adventure of attempting to publish a book begin.