Friday, March 15, 2013

Understanding What a Book Means to its Readers

Miller Family: 1920
When you pull together a book documenting a family member’s life, it is hard to look beyond what the value of that story is within your own family. I definitely set out on my writing journey with the objective of capturing an interesting story about an amazing, beloved person so that her story would not be lost to time. The idea was to create a gift for future generations while satisfying my own desire to write.

That gift for future generations is still my overriding objective and I am happy to see it fulfilled. But what I am discovering as the story circulates is that what is important about Esther’s story to me may not be what is important to other readers. In other words, Preacher Kid has other meaning to people who never knew Esther Miller. And understanding those alternative meanings will help me market the story and share her life with a broader audience.

I had the good fortune of being invited to a book club meeting of women who read my book and wanted to discuss it with me. I knew three of the seven women at the meeting, so it was interesting to get the perspectives of some people who know me and others who do not. We had a great discussion and they gave me many good questions to ponder. I saw as the meeting unfolded that two of the underlying themes of the book really resonated with this group: Esther’s adaptability and the importance of preserving family memories.

My grandma amazed me and all of the people who understood her journey with her adaptability. I’m thrilled that I may have successfully captured it in the book. There is a distinct possibility that people confronting their own challenges and being forced to adapt in order to survive might find inspiration in Esther’s relentless adaptability. I recognize this from an adult perspective as well as a teen perspective. When I contemplate what age groups this book may target, I consistently imagine adults, but I will not overlook the teens. Even though it lacks the standard teen genre themes of today (vampires, suicide, pregnancy, etc.) it may resonate in the teen psyche from a different angle of survival.

What I am growing to appreciate is the interest people are taking in the book simply because it captures a family story. I have yet to meet someone who does not have a family member, alive or dead, whose story they would like to preserve or wish they had preserved. What is holding them back? Time, energy, life, resources. There are many reasons that make it hard to get started or to carry it through. It is a big project; there is no doubt about that. But I feel, in a way, I am a poster child (woman) for getting it done! When I look back at all of the reasons why it took me 6 years to write this little book, any one of those reasons could have been the sole reason for abandoning the project or sidelining me from even getting it started in the first place - I had very little documentation to go on, my main subject and all of her siblings had already passed away, I was raising three small children, I was trying to hold down a real job, etc. One of the most compelling moments of the book club meeting, for me, was when I pulled out the 12 pages of hand-written notes my grandma wrote to my sister in 1989. To be an example of having taken her story from those twelve pages to the book in my lap was rather powerful.

When I approached my local library with the offer to discuss my book as one of their programs, they were intrigued. They are considering my offer not because it might be a captivating story or that I might be an astounding author hidden in their midst, but because I was careful to stress how much I used library resources for my research! In my library pitch, I tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together to create an image that is a familiar desire for many: a non-author with a family story to tell, capitalizing on the databases in which the library invests, creating a memory out of very little, and publishing it as a book, making it available on the most widely shopped network in the land. I hope they take me up on my offer and I hope to get the same response from libraries in the Ohio towns where my grandma lived (Naples wouldn’t be bad either!). If I could present to a group of interested readers (or potential readers), and out of that group, one person commits themselves to documenting the story of an elder, I would feel as though I had really accomplished something. Preserving that story is such a great task to embrace and complete. It is a task completely void of any regrets.

If I get the library gigs, I’ll be sure to post the dates here! I’d also love to be the guest author at your book club!

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