Memoir and Mortality

Many have asked when my memoir is going to be published, and I hope to answer that question in this blogpost.

Once you begin writing a book you learn that you must start building a potential readership as soon as possible, with an author platform and online presence, including a mailing list of interested readers (those who will actually buy your book).

For me, this (marketing distraction) created frustration, as interested individuals frequently asked when my memoir would be published.

At first, I was naïve, believing that writing a memoir was simply the act of telling what happened rather than crafting a story that would have impact. I learned that nobody enjoys a fluff self-indulgent memoir. True, this type of tome works for celebrities and those of notoriety, which I am neither. Therefore, it became necessary for me to pursue a story which in the words of memoir guru Linda Joy Myers, “must reach the heart of others; it must make a difference.”

Through attending not only writing and publishing conferences (but genre-specific as well), joining a local writer’s group, plus working the story in writer workshops, my memoir began to take shape.

By networking with other writers and published authors, I realized writing and publishing is not an overnight process. One author I met took almost eight years to write a best-selling memoir. Her encouragement and insight helped me understand that it’s okay to take whatever amount of time you need to write your story.

It took me about two years to finish what is referred to as a healing draft (free-writing a traumatic past no-holds-barred), and another two years to complete a second draft (molding a coherent story).

“Your first draft is really the heavy, therapeutic one. That’s when you’re going to cry, that’s when you’re going to be angry, that’s when you’re going to feel really deeply…it can be unsettling, nerve-wracking, or unnerving. When you’re writing your first memoir, this is what’s supposed to happen. Congratulations, you’re doing the right thing, you’re accessing the feelings. We’re in the therapy part, not the literature part.”

Denis Ledoux, Writing about Family: A Memoir Quicksand (National Association of Memoir Writers, February 2021 Tele-seminar)

Author Gregory A. Kompes once told me the story would change, and it did, considerably from that healing to second draft. No longer just an indictment of those who had wronged me, but a better understanding of the roles played by all involved. Sure, there’s accountability, but no excusing bad behavior.

Why? What is the reason for revealing an unfortunate aspect of one’s past? For me, I felt a compelling need to revisit the treatment of LGBTQ people and our history, documenting the progress, understanding, and acceptance made in the decades since. Thus, making the memoir about more than just my story.

Besides, there isn’t enough literature on the gay 1970s and 1980s, and many untold stories. For numerous LGBTQ people, San Francisco (the epicenter of gay life) was much more than what was portrayed in Maupin’s Tales of the City.

Stories from the survivors of the AIDS pandemic are now beginning to emerge, as more of us age and begin to reflect on those desperate yet incredible years. More-recently, David P. Wichman’s Every Grain of Sand, and Andrew M. Faulk’s My Epidemic. Lost, are the memories of those who did not survive.

Unfortunately, my endeavor has faced setbacks due to health issues.

In 2003, I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease which has affected my heart, lungs and joints. Sarc is the disease that took the life of my favorite comedian, Bernie Mac.

Most-recently, writing came to an abrupt halt for me September 2020, due to problems with my appendix and right kidney. An emergency appendectomy and extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy left me with a kidney contusion and hematoma. After months of pain and discomfort, I’m now able to sit comfortably at my desk and write again.

But it’s not over. During my recovery I began experiencing neurological issues resulting in partial loss of hearing, visual disturbances (bouts of kaleidoscope vision), nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness, and vertigo. Following two brain MRI’s (months apart for comparison, with and without contrast dye), I was diagnosed with a left frontal venous angioma (also known as an AVM).

Angiomas of the brain can lead to epilepsy, or worse, ruptures that lead to stroke or brain damage.

“Many patients feel that living with AVM is like living with a time bomb in your head that could explode at any time.”

Professor Rustam Al-Shahi Salman, MRC Senior Clinical Fellow at University of Edinburgh

So where does that leave me? Like others in my situation I experienced depression but eventual resolve. At one point I downloaded John Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud to my Kindle, but feeling Maudlin was short-lived and I opted to read Michael J. Fox’s No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality instead.

I’m also looking forward to the upcoming virtual Las Vegas Writers Conference, which always manages to get my creative juices flowing.

It was at this annual Henderson Writers Group conference where I first encountered agents and publishers who told me my story was unique, interesting, and sellable. I’ve had several offers since, but I keep telling those interested I’m not ready, yet.

When will I be ready? Despite what’s happening with me health-wise, I’m moving forward to completing my final draft this summer before submitting to a professional edit.

I’ve had offers to help me complete (and publish) by agencies in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but again, am working at my leisure and as my health allows.

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