Monday, January 14, 2019
“Guten Rutsch” people in Germany wish each other in the days before the upcoming New Year. I’m not sure how to translate it appropriately. Literally, it means something like: have a good slide. Apart from the fact that ice and snow might make for a slippery surface, why would you slide into the New Year?
This year, the greeting was often shared together with a video of a baby elephant sliding down a hill.
Watching it, the meaning finally dawned on me: I think it has to do something with letting go, with trusting the energy that propels you forward, and, hopefully, enjoying the ride.
Releasing my memoir for publication shortly before Christmas, I let go of the biggest project I’ve undertaken so far.
The beginnings go all the way back to the spring of 2010 and the course in memoir writing that Mark Matousek taught at the Open Center in New York City. I had a memoir about my journey as a musician in mind, but Mark suggested a self-help book about surviving through music. Self-help reaches more people than memoir, he said. As a published author in both genres, he ought to know. He was confident I could do this in no time, considering the samples I had submitted. In spite of my doubts, I gave it a try.
About 100 pages into the project, I ran out of steam. Today I know why. It’s hard to give advice while you’re struggling from day to day, unsure if and how you’re going to survive your own current adventure. I had just moved to Maplewood from New Hampshire and, after a lifetime of employment at music schools, was trying my luck as a private teacher and freelance musician.
Back to the beginning, this time, with a memoir. In the course of three years, a version emerged that got plenty of praise from friends who read it and from my writing buddies at the Public Library in Montclair, where I faithfully attended the meetings of the memoirwriting group every other week. Thus encouraged, I hired a professional for a developmental edit. “This is a story worth telling. But it needs a substantial revision …” was the bottom line of Liza Darnton’s extensive critique. If there ever was a moment when I was tempted to give up, this was it. Encouraged by my friends’ reactions, I’d already started to bathe in the feeling of success. Liza’s assessment sent me back to square one.
You can drop a project, but then, what do you do? Pick up something else – and if you stick with it long enough, you’re bound to find yourself in exactly the same spot, staring at a dead end, an impasse that requires a major detour. I have plenty of experience with that at the piano. Major obstacles are to be expected, so you might as well finish what you set out to do in the first place.
Liza nailed the flaws: Construction. You have to tell a story that hangs together and engages the reader. You have to introduce characters and work out themes as if you were composing. What is your theme?
I’ve done a lot of other things in my life before I became as committed to the piano as I am today. In the first version of my book, I tried to separate “life” and “music” as much as possible, last not least, to protect other people. It didn’t work. Resolving certain issues in my life opened the door to liberating the music. Ultimately, the connection between life and music became the major theme of the book that emerged.
There’s another challenge to writing memoir: it requires revisiting situations that left lasting imprints. You’re filled with emotion. You’re also trapped in it and probably unaware that your writing is not communicating what you feel to the reader. Finding the right words is just as difficult as finding the motion at the piano that produces the sound you imagine in your mind. You repeat a phrase thousands of times until you get it right. I discovered the meaning of the saying: Writing is re-writing.
When the story began to develop momentum of its own, I sensed that I was on the right track. I could already see the finish line when my landlord announced they were going to sell the house where I live. Well aware that finding another place to rent and moving would have to take priority over all other projects, I turned my panic into a summer of frantic writing. It took a while until the house was sold, and it turns out I can stay in my apartment, but the threat of losing it helped me get finished.
“Finished” boils down to “almost finished,” if you want to share your work with an audience. The publishing world has changed dramatically since new technologies offer a variety of options for self-publishing. Everybody told me it’s close to impossible to find a publisher unless you’re either a celebrity or a well-established writer, or you have excellent connections, or an enormous portion of good luck. I draw a blank on the first three. As for good luck, at least I wanted to give it a try.
There’s no access to a publisher without an agent, so you do research, and write proposals tailored to the requirements of that particular agent. Everybody wants something different. Once again, you find yourself writing and re-writing. Three agents showed interest, requested the manuscript or parts of it, spent several months deciding and declined in the end, for various reasons.
Half a year had passed since I wrote the final sentence. I can continue searching, and in a couple of years, I may end up with an agent. If the agent finds a publisher, requests for revisions are almost certain. There’s always something than can be improved. Next time. I’m done re-writing, and ready to self-publish. Friends recommend kindle direct. They’re affiliated with Amazon. I’m no fan of that giant, but their no-cost-if-you-do-it-yourself-all-the-way offer appeals to my thrifty nature.
A couple more loose ends have to be tied up before I can proceed to setting up an account. Get permission to quote. I spend an entire day inventing “alias” names to protect the identity of people and places and inserting them into the text. Writing a book description for the back of the book and a text for the “author” page require a style that is concise and captivating at the same time. This is not my forte, but Miriam Michael, who's done a brilliant final edit and proofreading, comes to my aid.
Finally, I’m ready to work my way through the pitfalls of uploading the manuscript and designing a cover. The instructions and online-tutorials that come with the program are pretty good. The moment arrives when the program has no more objections to my file and I’m ready to order a proof copy. A few days later, a package arrives in the mail. I hold a real book in my hands! My friend Elaine, whose presence supplies moral support, captures the moment for posterity.
A few corrections, some tweaking here and there, update the file and order another proof copy. It looks perfect to me. I take a deep breath and push the “publish” button. Two days later, a notice from the company: the file is not up to standard; there are issues with pagination and the image on the back cover.
It’s the last thing I’ve expected, the inevitable flat tire three miles before you reach your destination at the end of a long bike trip. I’d already started to get the word out: the book will be available to order from Amazon next week. I’m embarrassed.
The Christmas cards I was planning to write that weekend remain in the box. For three days, I battle with the manuscript file, but my ancient computer system is unable to fix the problem. On Monday, I reach out for help. Miriam, my editor, saves the situation. Once again, I press the “publish” button - this time, I have no expectations.
“Congratulations, the paperback edition of your book "MORE THAN THE WORLD IN BLACK AND WHITE: How music came alive and my life became music" is live in the Amazon Store. It is available* for readers to purchase here. ”
It’s Tuesday, December 18th, 2:40 pm when the message appears in my in-box. More than a year has passed since I wrote the final sentence of the manuscript on November 24th 2017. The first student of a long teaching afternoon is just walking in the door. The upcoming holiday is packed with appointments, choir rehearsal, three services to play on Sunday, two services singing with the choir the following day, Christmas Eve, then a few days to get ready for a short vacation trip. I’ll barely have time to spread the news. Actually, it’s good to live with the fact for a couple of days by myself to process the reality. The book is out! No one got a Christmas card this year, but there’s really something to read now.
In the meantime, we’ve all slid into 2019 – I hope it was smooth and pleasant for everyone. “Guten Rutsch” that’s also what I wish for my book – that it will find its audience and provide hours of good reading, encouragement and inspiration for many people. Here's the link to more information on the book and to order:
“Guten Rutsch” – eine Einladung zum Loslassen
„Guten Rutsch“ wünscht man sich in Deutschland in den Tagen vor dem Jahreswechsel. Ich habe mich oft gefragt, was das eigentlich bedeutet. Warum sollte man in das Neue Jahr hineinrutschen, mal abgesehen von schlechten Straßenverhältnissen aufgrund von Eis und Schnee? Diese Jahr wurde der Gruß oft zusammen mit diesem Video von einem kleinen Elefanten versendet, der einen Hügel hinunterrutscht.
Open Center, einer Bildungsstätte in New York City hielt. Ich hatte an ein Buch über meinen Werdegang als Musikerin gedacht. Mark empfahl ein Selbsthilfebuch zum Thema „Überleben durch Musik;“ denn Selbsthilfe hat einen größeren Leserkreis als Memoir. Als publizierter Autor von Büchern beider Genres muss er es wissen. Auch war er zuversichtlich, dass ich nicht allzu lange brauchen würde, gemessen an den Texten, die ich im Verlauf des Kurses geschrieben hatte. Ich hatte Vorbehalte, machte mich aber trotzdem an die Arbeit.
In der Zwischenzeit sind wir alle ins Neue Jahr gerutscht – ich hoffe, es war für alle ein guter Anfang. „Guten Rutsch“ – das wünsche ich auch meinem Buch, daß es seine Leser findet, und ihnen gute, ermutigende und inspirierende Lesestunden bereitet.