Monthly Archives: February 2015

Publishing the Book “SUMMERSVILLE”

My first contact with the publisher, LifeRich Publishing (an imprint of Reader’s Digest), was at the end of July 2014.  We exchanged a ton of information, the most important of which were the Author Services Agreement and my manuscript, as polished and dolled up as I could possibly make it, by mid August.  I had engaged my own editor, Neva Corbin, one of the most accomplished grammarians and English usage experts I had ever met.  After fifteen months of my own countless rewrites and revisions and her highly professional review, I felt confident I was submitting my best effort.

While I awaited LifeRich’s Content Review, I busied myself getting possible photos together for the book.  I submitted approximately sixty photos which, since they were mostly from my or my parents’ childhoods, were mostly old and grainy, you know, like the black and whites on Kodak paper.  My check-in coordinator kept coming back and telling me that some were unacceptable and others would work but may not print well because they were smudged or blurry or had some other defect.  I finally told her, “Look, these photos are from the 1950’s and 1960’s or earlier.  That’s what family photos looked like before digital photography.  I expect them to look like this.”  So I found twenty that were acceptable to her and went with that.

In early September, I got the results of the Content Review of my manuscript, which was primarily intended to ferret out possible instances of copyright infringement, libel or defamation of character, and invasion of privacy.  Because my book was to be a memoir (that is, not fictionalized at all), the publisher exercised heightened scrutiny.  I had used excerpts from articles from several newspapers and publications to support my story, primarily the parts about Dad’s political life.  I thought that as long as I properly gave credit and cited my references, I would be OK.  Not so fast, honey.  What they came back and said was that I could reprint someone else’s work ONLY with their permission unless what I was reprinting amounted to no more than ten percent of that work or four lines, whichever was less.  I had used a lot of articles from The Nicholas Chronicle (published weekly in Summersville since the 1880’s) so I carefully copied each excerpt into a Word file and sent that in an email to the editor asking for permission to reprint.  I ultimately got permission from the Chronicle and a couple of other sources.  For the other works of concern, I cut down the reprinted part to four lines or less and paraphrased as necessary to provide context.

In other cases, LifeRich was concerned about defamation or invasion of privacy when my story ventured into negative or very personal portrayals.  I ended up getting written, notarized permissions from Dad and a couple of other family members, and for others, I simply deleted the questionable part of the story or rewrote it to where LifeRich’s concerns were allayed.  That whole process did take quite a while though.  It was not until October 30, almost two months after I received the initial Content Review, that LifeRich sent my revised manuscript back for a follow-up Content Review.

Here’s a little of the back story though.  I was so frustrated with the amount of work I was having to do on the manuscript because I was ready to get this book published and move on to my next project.  I kept getting sidetracked with things like, what would my next project be, shouldn’t I be establishing an author platform, and so on.  I really had to keep pushing myself to go back through the entire manuscript with LifeRich’s Content Review commentary by my side, making sure that I picked up and addressed each and every instance that may give them heartburn.  Their Review did not consist of them meticulously reading every page and listing each item of concern.  They merely did a sample review and gave me guidance as to the type of things that were unacceptable.  It really was up to me to go through and identify the passages of concern and take appropriate action to fix them.  That made for some really tedious work for me.

In the end, though, I was surprised in a very unexpected way.  My revised work, even with deletions and rewrites I was initially loath to make, really was better than what I had originally submitted. I had gained a deeper understanding of what it truly meant to take a very hard look at what I had written.  Lesson learned.

 

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How the Book Was Actually Written, Start to Finish

When I started writing, back in May of 2013, all I had was the 3,500 word essay I had written about my sister Caroline’s adoption experiences and an outline that I built and framed around that essay.  The outline covered things like Mom and Dad’s childhoods, their meeting and marriage, starting a family, and so on.  I layered in events like how Dad got into politics and his early elections.  I moved on to political challenges he faced and his very real local successes that endeared him to much of Summersville’s populace.

I had two main sources for this part:  Dad and The Nicholas Chronicle.  I wanted color around everything.  What made Dad decide to run for mayor to begin with, what people or other obstacles got in his way, what were his first homes like, what did Mom think of Summersville, how did he ever decide to buy the big house we lived in?  I generally emailed my questions to Dad, and he emailed me back.  That was critical, because I revisited countless times what ended up being about forty pages of emails between Dad and me.

The Chronicle was also critical though.  As a memoirist, I was lucky to have a family that lived a very public life.  We had a bunch of clippings already saved–from when the hospital opened, when President Johnson came to town, when Summersville celebrated Bill Bryant Day–and all those were very helpful.  But as I constructed my story, I realized I had missing pieces of the puzzle and that if I had access to the Chronicle archives, I might just have a treasure trove of material that would be useful to me.  Imagine my disappointment upon visiting the Chronicle office and finding that they had bound copies but only back to the 1960s, and their store of those was spotty.  That’s when I found out that the West Virginia Archives and Library had on film practically every issue of the Chronicle back to its inception in the 1880s.  Even then it was not easy.  I had to compile my list of dates, periods, or years in which I was looking for something, and then Caroline and I hoofed it to Charleston to go research the film frame by frame.  By today’s standards, it was primitive, but primitive was better than nothing at all!

At other points in putting this story together, I realized I had missing pieces that neither Dad nor the Chronicle nor Caroline could help with.  For those, I’m thankful to Aunt Peggy and Aunt Patti, my sister-in-law Linda, Billy’s old girlfriend Marilyn, and several other kind old friends of the family who shared their memories.  For the remaining holes, I had to simply hunker down for some old-fashioned research.  That’s how I got the great context around Prohibition and the Mine Wars in West Virginia, the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and the supreme and selfless efforts put forth by Louise Bing, Jim Comstock, Dad and many other loyal West Virginians to procure a Lincoln statue for the Capitol grounds.

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Retro Post (final)

This is the last Retro Post.  I’ve gone back to early 2014, when I was in the middle of writing SUMMERSVILLE, and pulled forward a few blog posts that I had written about my process.  This one focuses more on how I was structuring the outline from which I would write.

SO WHAT WAS THE FIRST STEP FOR THIS BOOK? (Originally posted 2/23/14, edited for clarity)

 

I knew it was going to be primarily a memoir of my early life in the town where I grew up in West Virginia.  My family was heavily tied to local politics, and I wanted to focus on that aspect while also emphasizing the very privileged life I had.  We were not super rich, but we had a beautiful house, 60 acres, a pool, a barn, antique cars, a houseboat, and parents who, while not graduates of a four-year college, were very well educated and well spoken.  In turn, they wanted us to be well educated, well rounded, and well behaved kids.

As with every other upper middle class family in the world, having money did not mean you had life wrapped up in a pretty package filled with nothing but chocolates, roses, expensive wine, and all the admirers one could ask for.  We had challenges both political and personal, and although our struggles were not on the magnitude of poverty and oppression like some unfortunate souls face, they were keen and gut-wrenching at times.

I wanted to focus on the parts of my early life that shaped us as a family and as a part of the surrounding community.  In particular I focused on events that illustrated and provided insight into the deep political involvement, the privileges, and the passions that infused our emotional crests and troughs.  How did these things confront and define my family, forcing us to be humble and grow, no matter how painful, rather than hide from reality and stagnate?  How were our actions influenced by our geographical location in a small Appalachian town or by the social and cultural mores of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s?

I let these questions guide me as I made an outline, which grew and changed over time, in fact which is still growing and changing as I near the end of writing and the beginning of editing.  It was a simple chronological listing of events that I thought relevant to the book’s mission, which I could then piece together the details of and mull over their place in the story.  The tough job of brutally cutting out what did not contribute to the mission, regardless of how brilliantly I had crafted the paragraphs, would come later, after the first draft was completed, during the long process of editing and rewriting.

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