This past week my phone shared the above flashback photo of me reading at the first launch of a book I helped write. The anthology is titled Before They Were Our Mothers: Voices of Women Born Before Rosie Started Riveting. To this day, I feel honored to be a part of that project. I even interviewed the creator and editor, Patricia A. Nugent, for WOW! Women on Writing last year. I recommend the read if you’re interested in self-publishing or have a grant or anthology project in mind.
My story is titled Secrets and is about my grandmother. Being in the anthology was a combination of amazing people, hard work, and being open to someone saying Do this! In April of 2017, a member of my amazing writing group forwarded a submission call which read as follows:
“Seeking first-person, present-tense TRUE stories giving voice to the author’s mother or grandmother born before World War II.
Chosen submissions will:
• tell an interesting true story in her voice about a certain time in her life before she becomes a wife and/or mother (not a biographical sketch or chronology).
• showcase how she asserts herself at a time when women’s voices are often silenced.
• showcase her success against the odds and/or disappointment with unrealized aspirations.
• follow literary conventions and demonstrate an excellent command of the English language.”
Because I lacked experience reading calls, I asked my writing group buddy follow up questions, and she replied, “You have so many stories about strong women, Christy. If you can, you should go for it.” So I did. What appealed to me the most was the chance for a free workshop. The physical book was not even on my mind. The deadline was May 31st, and I saw the call on April 10th. I wrote like crazy to get something in on time. When I found out I was a finalist, I jumped around in my kitchen for a few minutes. Then I got wicked nervous and overwhelmed at the reality of rewriting. I only hoped I could make it the best it could be.
The women who were accepted had varying degrees of writing experience and were from all over New York state. The idea was to collect the best stories. We were provided editing feedback and worked on our own. Then we gathered at the Saratoga, NY library to have the workshop. We read each other’s work, got to know each other, and brainstormed how to promote the book. Almost everyone showed up.
The big launch also took place in Saratoga in January 2018. The date wasn’t planned to coincide with the Women’s March, but it was a perfect fit for the day. My family drove out from Massachusetts and Connecticut. They were the first ones in their seats, which was good since we were double room capacity, and people filled the aisles and sat on the floor. I was so nervous looking out at the crowd.
The comradery of the authors made me feel a part of something big. I was the youngest contributor, half as old as the oldest contributor. One author brought artwork for each of us, another flowers, another pens. We all signed each other’s copies. Only one woman written about was still alive, and she was in attendance. I practiced reading my section and timing myself for days. Projected on the screen behind each of us as we read, was the photo of our ancestor. I’d forgotten to ask anyone to take a picture, but luckily my husband did. I read too fast, but in the events and reading that followed, I got much more confident and improved my pace.
Being a part of that project has been one of the most exciting things I’ve done so far. It was also an excellent way to test whether I wanted to write for real. It could’ve been enough to satisfy the itch, it could’ve shown me that I didn’t want to keep going down this path, but I wanted more.
The authors of the anthology have stayed in touch, and we have gone on to run more printings. Articles were written. We’ve been to book festivals, done readings for a variety of audiences, did a performance, and the book’s available in a variety of independent bookstores. I even saw copies for sale at my fist Hippocamp in 2018.
I’m so grateful to my writing group members for pushing and supporting me, my family for attending, my husband for his many rereading’s of the piece, and my fellow contributors for making it such a positive experience. Most of all, a big thank you to my grandmother for sharing her story with me. She always encouraged me to write and continued to needle me about getting back to it, even when she knew I wasn’t well enough. She told me stories then made me repeat them back to her to make sure I remembered them and got all excited when I told them to other people. Here’s to the future and more nervous days to come.