If This Were Fiction

Now that the kids are back in school I have more free time and, more importantly, fewer distractions and I have been working on my book proposal. Not one to go off half-cocked my ‘working’ so far has consisted of researching the elements of a good proposal. I’m reading a book called “Bulletproof Book Proposals” which purports to both provide clear instructions on how to write a book proposal and to provide ‘insider secrets’ that will make your proposal a shoo-in! The exercises require you to focus in on the mainnidea of the book, write ‘hooks’ and come up with catchy titles, and to think through things like who makes up the audience and why anyone would want to buy your book. I like the concrete approach.

Originally I thought to just tell our story within the context of the Great Recession – sort of a focused snapshot of the difficulties millions of families have experienced. Now I’m not certain whether that is worthy of a book – perhaps a blog is the best venue. Or maybe our story needs just to be a smaller part of a more extensive discussion of the larger topic – the damages that the Great Recession has wrought on many members of the middle class and what I believe will be lingering costs to a way of life taken for granted by many of us. Ideas to mull over.

One thing I do know – if this story were fiction it would be easier for me to write! Of course if this were fiction the dangers would loom larger and more menacing – fending off robbers instead of fighting ant infestations, dealing with earthquakes or fires instead of the hassles of having to change RV parks! And the heroism wouldn’t consist of keeping the kids fed, clothed and in school and involved in extracurricular activities, tirelessly sending out resumes or putting together a week’s menu with grocery items purchased at the .99 cents store! And there would be an END to the story – a grand finale in which we are reunited as a family, regain our status in society and win back the respect of friends and neighbors, where life at least returns to ‘normal’ (although the kids prefer the ‘we win the lottery and live happily ever after’ ending)! In a non-fiction book, as in life, the ending stymies me.

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18 Responses to If This Were Fiction

  1. Bob says:

    Your old WordPress blog link is broken.

    If you buy a book through a link here, BCK gets credit, but also if you buy a TV or swingset, she also gets credit (a commission). NEAT, huh?
    Sharon and I are so happy to be out of Evergreen RV park (we were BCK’s down the street RV neighbors). Like is much better now.

  2. Jerry says:

    I hope you are backing up your work. If you don’t have a flash drive, there are free services (such as Mozy), or if you have some form of webmail you can just email files to yourself on a regular basis.

  3. maja says:

    Just start writing, you have to tell your story!

  4. Linda Piazza says:

    My computer is melting down, I think. I had started a comment, but I don’t think I was successful in sending it. I hope you’ll forgive a duplication if it did get to you.

    I agree with a previous responder. You can query now, without a manuscript or a big formal proposal. Some editors or agents will want a first chapter and a synopsis along with the query, but some don’t. Start with a hook: a brief scene that pulls the agent or editor right into your life, a surprising statement or a question, although that last one tends to be overdone. Tell the specifics of your book, as in “I propose to write a book of about xxx words.” If you can get enough online access, research whether similar books exist. If so, tell how yours differs. If not, tell why yours meets a specific needs. Refer the agent or editor to your blog so that your authority to write this book is established.

    You do have a great voice. You can do this. You can begin working on a refined first chapter while you await results on your queries.

    You should expect rejections. Consider them your dues that establish your credentials as a real writer! You should not expect huge funds, however, as few writers make enough to support themselves from their writing. I didn’t, although I sold books both in the U.S. and in Germany. I taught writing and wrote for the educational market to supplement funds from the books I sold. Eventually, I gravitated toward writing for a website. It still wasn’t great pay, but it was steadier. Now that my husband is retired and we’re older, I’m back working on my first love now, writing a YA fiction, trying to find an agent just as you’re doing.

    Have you considered writing for the educational market? I no longer write for the educational market, but a friend handily supported herself and her three children with writing for the educational market. I don’t have contacts any longer or I would send them to you. It took my friend a while to build up a steady list of prospects who contact her now, but a former student of mine once took a contact I had given her and wrote for them steadily for many years. Development companies tend to dissolve and reform, but you can run an Internet search and come up with some beginning how-to articles about breaking into the educational market.

    Good luck!

  5. Caitlin says:

    I would keep in mind that you don’t have to adhere to a conventional story structure. A few ideas things to consider:

    – Write it like a french film- I remember film I saw years ago called Peppermint Soda. No conventional beginning or ending. Just a year in the life with some interesting life lessons. Autobiographical too, I believe.

    – Write it like All Creatures Great and Small – This book is wonderful and engaging. And one of the things I like best is that’s it’s episodic. The book has an overall narrative arc, but each chapter can stand on its own.

    – Essay collection a la David Sedaris.

  6. Lynn says:

    I’d start earlier than the job loss, so people understand where you were coming from and there were happy days. I’d start in 1998 or before (grad school?) even if you only skim over that part. Building a family, buying a home and selling it to buy a larger one, promotions and leaving for better jobs, and so on. Then the financial disaster has more truth and more contrast.

    I’d buy the book. I am addicted to the blog.

  7. Anne says:

    I keep thinking of the movie “Julie and Julia”. I loved the interwoven plot lines; one based on a blog. I don’t know how you would weave something together with your blog, maybe a character who lived during the 1930’s Depression? Regardless, I think yours is an important voice and an important story and it’s a book I would probably buy.

  8. Donna says:

    And now I will use your AMAZON link to go buy some books for the kindle. I hope everyone else is using the AMAZON link, too! It adds up and it’s a free way to help someone who inspires us.

  9. Donna says:

    I would actually consider writing it as fiction. It will reach a broader audience. You can decide how much license to take, but that’s ok, too. Think of the parables that Jesus told…profound truths meant to change hearts and lives through stories. I think you have the ability to do the same. And if it helps you get it down on paper and out to a publisher, I think that’s the way to go! Have you also investigated lulu? Or selling the book by chapters to a magazine like Redbook or Good Housekeeping? Yours is exactly the kind of story that their readers could relate to. Just some thoughts.

  10. hdware says:

    The last line of this post could be the motto for millions who are caught in the multiple binds of our current mess. Perfectly said.

  11. Sue says:

    I saw on PBS news last night that we as a nation probably won’t recover till 2016 from this economic drop or possibly even later, like 2020 and that the recession is causing permanent damage to kids emotionally & psychologically.
    My son will be 16 by then & I couldn’t help but wonder what impact our hard times will have on him. I think if/when he gets married he’ll hold her and any kids they have dear; I think he’ll always be protective of me. I’ve already noticed when we go to help someone he puts all he has in to what ever we’re doing.

    Yesterday I got severely dizzy to the point I was on the floor and almost passed out (stubbornness kicked in & I think that’s all that kept the black veil to the edges of my vision); we (my son & I) think it’s because I’ve not been eating enough. He doesn’t know how much I don’t eat – I hide it from him so he doesn’t feel bad. But what can you do when you only have X amount of money for food and your kid eats it all in 2 weeks?

    And I can’t go to the doctor to make sure it’s just lack of food because my insurance has raised all the deductibles & coinsurance things to the point that nothing is covered – the last doctor visit was over $300. I can’t afford any more medical bills. But I know I’m lucky to have a job, even if it pays poorly & lucky to at least have catastrophic type coverage.
    I agree with Tiffany – friends & family don’t stick around through hard times like they used to in my grandparents day & all the church type people do is lecture you on what you did wrong while showering your kid in toys.

    I guess maybe that’s the reason I keep my deep problems to myself & I’ll help anyone I can – because I want to make the world a better place & if I help others enough maybe we’ll find respite of some sort in this storm.

    In the end the only thing that really matters is those we love & helping those we can. We’re all in this world together.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Sue – I hope you can find a food bank in your area, you must eat or you’ll endanger your health and you ability to keep your job. It’s time to reach out for some help if you are fainting from hunger! I agree that there will be lasting negative impacts of poverty – the latest figures show that 20 percent of children in American live below the poverty line as of 2009. I’m working on a post about this. Hugs to you- take care of yourself for your son’s sake, but also for your own sake!

    • Anne says:

      I’m just addressing the comment about the “church-type people”…. you need to find a different church! Maybe the majority of churches ARE like that, but not all of them (and I’m lucky enough to have found one of the good ones). The right church, just like the right spouse or the right job can add immeasurably to your life. It’s worth the search.

  12. Lisa D. says:

    I agree with Elizabeth, you have an incredibly strong voice and that would translate well to a non-fiction book. I have enjoyed reading your blog and, to me, it’s like tiny chapters in a book. I prefer to read about reality…life in the raw. (Please don’t mistake me for someone who likes reality shows…they make my skin crawl)

    Your blog translated to a book would incredible. I would buy your book. I would appreciate the honesty and embrace the fact that it’s not crusted with a sugar coating.

  13. jalan says:

    chantal, you’ve got a riveting and timely story. all you need now is a good agent. i wouldn’t worry much about a proposal. just send a query letter and writing sample to several agents who’ve recently sold memoirs. my other suggestion would be to contact writers in the chinese adoption community, such as scott simon. if you’re recommended to an agent by a client, your work is much more likely to actually be read rather than tossed in the slush pile. i can see your book being hugely successful. let the bidding wars begin!

  14. Tiffany says:

    I think your story would make an excellent book, but I think the real story is lack a lack of safety nets in our current society.

    Back the depression era, there were a number of backup systems in place so that the middle class didn’t have to fall quite so far. A majority of two parent homes (that lived on one income), close extended families (and larger families), real friends who stuck around to help in emergencies, giving neighbors, and fellow church members were all ready to step in and help when things went wrong. Also material backup systems like gardening, canning, sewing know how, handy man skills etc. helped to keep the middle class family afloat.

    We’ve chucked a lot of these ideas out the window during the later half of the 20th century and I think now in the 21st century we’re coming to regret it. Sure unemployment checks are fine and dandy, but wouldn’t it be better to be able to be under the care of a kind spouse, a familiar family member, a loving friend, a giving neighbor, or a kindly fellow church member instead of under the whim of some government bureaucrat? The checks could stop coming tomorrow for thousands of unemployed families and the government bureaucrats really won’t care.

    Maybe the book could be about your teaching your children to build these safety nets for the future. Both social safety nets and material safety nets.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Fictional stories are easier to write, but you lose the potency of your story because you can edit things to be more convenient. I think you have an incredibly strong voice in your writing that would translate well to a non-fiction book.

    You could take your blog entries and turn them into a book where each chapter is a particular theme along a timeline, such as: (1) losing your job and coming up with a plan; (2) purchasing the RV and downsizing your life; (3) adjusting to small spaces; (4) raising children in this situation; and (5) adjusting to the loss of power associated with living in a park and depleting your savings.

    If nothing changes in your life by the end of the book, your ending would be the process of finding your voice through writing. Going from employed and owning a house to unemployed and living in a park was a process of losing your voice and becoming a victim of the recession. By writing the book you regain your voice and show readers that this could happen to anyone.

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