October 31, 2012

Thanks to LornaCollins for inviting me to the Blog Hop where authors answer questions about their new books.

What is the working title of your book?

Out of Step:  A Diary To My Dead Son

When I told the title to some friends, there was a visceral reaction to the word “dead” in the title.  Death is a difficult topic, but this is precisely what I wanted to make clear in my title.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

My son died of AIDS in 2003.  In 2011, I felt he was just too dead.  I needed some way to make him come more alive to me.  But how?  The idea of starting a diary to him began to form.  I decided to see where the diary might lead.  I didn’t really know whether or not I would continue it and I didn’t have a plan of what I would say in it.  Our relationship held so much pain, feelings of rejection on both sides, and many unsaid conversations.  Having spent so many years apart, I wanted to get to know him better as an adult, and to help him know me as an adult.

What genre does your book fall under?

Establishing communication with someone who is dead puts the book in an unusual gap between genres.  It’s non-fiction, based on the actual facts of our complicated relationship over the years he was alive.  But it’s also fictional in how our communication evolved during the book.  I made it clear that I had no belief in parapsychological methods of communicating with the dead, but I used imaginary phone calls with my dead son to introduce conversations into the book.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’d like Meryl Streep to play me, the mother.  She’s an amazingly versatile actress who could make my story as believable as it, indeed, was.  Frankly, I’d be interested in how she would portray my part.  For my son, I would select Shemar Moore, a tv star known mostly for his role as Morgan in “Criminal Minds.”  Although Shemar Moore is a little darker shade of brown, he and my son look alike.  I can imagine he also looked like my son while growing up.  There’s also a remote quality to the character of Morgan.  Since I never felt I knew my son as an adult, the hidden part of Morgan reminds me of my son.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Can a mother mend a damaged relationship with her son seven years after he died?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m thinking of publishing this as an e-book, possibly through BookBaby.com.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Although I was concerned I wouldn’t know when to end a book that could go on and on, I instinctively knew the ending when I wrote it — one year after I began.

What other books would you compare to this story within your genre?

I was interested in reading Joan Didion’s book, “Blue Nights,” that came out the year I was writing my book.  Although her book is not actually TO her dead daughter, we shared the same experience of losing an only adopted child to a very cruel terminal illness in their middle-age prime.  As did I, the mother Joan Didion was trying to come to terms with not only the untimely death of her daughter, but also trying to scrutinize the relationship between them.  Joan Didion is famous for saying a lot in very few well chosen words that penetrate deeply.  Unlike my book, however, I found “Blue Nights” very depressing.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Anger, guilt, and sadness had kept me from being able to write this book for many years following my son’s death.  But I knew I didn’t want our relationship to end there.  There were many things I wanted to tell him even though I knew I couldn’t.  But the movie, “Atonement,” had introduced the idea in my head that an author could continue a true story and make up the ending.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I started the book without a planned plot.  It is a diary because that is precisely how I wrote it. Would it lead anywhere?  Where ?  How?  It was all rather unknown and mystical.  As the entries continued, I saw the evolution of what I was feeling and saying.  The diary itself dictated when to end it.  The diary accomplished my goal of making my dead son come alive to me.  After the communication through the book ended, I was reluctant to let it go.  I felt the loss of writing to him, so I have continued by writing e-mails to him.  That is the personal legacy of my book.

Comments?? Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

October 9, 2012

I sent a birthday card to my granddaughter.  The envelope said that extra postage was required in the U.S.  Since it was not an odd shape or large, I couldn’t understand why extra postage would be needed.  I put on one first class stamp.  It came back to me saying more postage was needed.  So, I asked the postman why.  He didn’t know why, but thought that the fact that the envelope had told me from the beginning that extra postage was needed was explanation enough.  I re-sent it in another envelope that was larger, but not too large.  However, the “why” of it kept bothering me.  What I finally decided was that the envelope required more money because it was neither too large, nor too odd-shaped, but was smaller than standard.

Life, in general, emphasizes that what is standard rules.  Go outside of standard at your own risk.  And yet that is what I have done many times in my own life.  What is not standard became more or less my standard.  At a time when it was odd, I got married in my senior year of college instead of after graduation.  I was moved by the logic of Zero Population Growth and my experience as a social worker with foster children to choose adoption over creating a baby.  In the short-lived experiment in the 1970s of allowing white parents to adopt black foster children, we became a mixed-racial family.  A decade later, Meryl Streep as Mrs. Cramer in the groundbreaking movie, “Cramer vs. Cramer,” and I were among the very small minority of  American women who divorced and left their children with their fathers.

I certainly didn’t match the average world traveler that wandered the planet for almost two decades.  I was solidly middle-aged and rather poor with a pack on my back when I made my own challenges and learned how to face them within a variety of cultures, especially in Asia.  I wasn’t an explorer who discovered places for the first time (although I was the first foreigner that some Chinese villagers had ever seen), but neither was I  following well-trodden paths.  I learned that I could avoid crowds by not following the crowd.  In my own style, I thrived even in cultures where following the standard way was considered the only, the most important, the best way to live.

Now I live in a retirement community.  I buck the tide by not making medical care my major concern.  I don’t take the standard medications and standard tests that the majority of seniors take.  And I get my 8 hours of sleep at a very non-standard time.

Yes, there are risks.  And there are losses that accompany not adhering to the standard.  I don’t have enough money to be considered eccentric.  And I’m not quite strange enough to be considered crazy.  I am, well, odd.

I feel a certain kinship to people like Izhar Gafni of Israel who has invented a 95% cardboard and 100% recyclable bicycle.  People told him it couldn’t be done.  It is cheap.  It is light.  It is practical.  It is odd.  But it works well.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

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