Sunday, March 30, 2008

Birth of a Book, A Couple of Crucial Decisions

by Rita Golden Gelman

Hello Book Passage People--Staff, Customers, and Whoever Else May be Here,

When Joe Chappell wrote to me about blogging, he said, "You may blog about anything you like--it's your platform!" Hmmmm. I think I'll start slowly, at the beginning. I have four more days to work my way to controversial.

TALES OF A FEMALE NOMAD was published in 2001. A long time ago, as current books go. When I turned in the first 100 pages to Emily, my editor at Crown/Random House, they came back loaded with marginal comments. I thought I was finished with those pages, but I had just begun.

Almost all of Emily's comments, and there were at least as many as my high school English teacher had penned on my compositions, had to do with my emotional reactions to the events I was writing about. I thought it was enough to tell entertaining stories of my fifteen years as a nomad, with no home and no possessions. It wasn't enough for Emily. She wanted my inner thoughts and emotions, my reactions, my feelings.

When I was finished crying, I added the emotional stuff and continued it throughout the rest if the book. My secrets, my feelings, my pain, my ecstatic moments, it turned out, infused the story with a very real me, scared at times, angry at times, sometimes in tears, but mostly bursting with joy. Oh, how right Emily was!

And when I was finished writing the book, I decided to put my e-mail on the final page and invite readers to write (Emily wasn't so sure about that decision). I have received more than 20,000 e-mails. Many begin with the words, "I feel as though I know you." That's because the reader easily identifies with those very personal responses and shamelessly expressed vulnerabilities.

It's clear to readers that I am pretty ordinary, with the same reactions that they would have had if they'd experienced my adventures. There is nothing superwoman about me. Like most of my readers, I am never going to ride a camel across Australia or climb Kilimanjaro or win a Wimbledon title. But my life, simply because I'm willing to step outside of the traditional mode, is extraordinary and filled with the joy. A typical reaction is, "If she can do it, so can I." Lots of readers write me from wonderful places, having been inspired to take off after reading NOMAD. I love having caused that reaction. It's almost subversive!

But the book is about more than "taking off." It's really about "connecting," enriching life through being open to diversity and encouraging it. One of my favorite e-mails was from a woman in the San Francisco area who wrote that she finished NOMAD, walked across the street, and introduced herself to the Vietnamese family who had been living there for three years. Yesss! I fantasize that they have been exchanging dinners ever since.

And putting my e-mail in the book has dramatically enriched my life as well. People of all ages, mostly women, write to me about their experiences, tell me about their passions, and share their secrets as I've shared mine. Whenever I'm in an area, I try to meet readers who have written to me. I've met wonderful people, some of whom have become close friends. We've cooked together, flown together, traveled together. I've visited their book clubs, house-sat their homes, talked to their college classes, visited their kids' schools. And I've shared thousands of meals with readers all over the world. (I'm hoping to spend Sunday, the 6th, hanging out with readers in the Bay area.)

This morning, in Fort Collins, Colorado, I had brunch with four women I had never met before, all of them considerably younger than I, who not only introduced me to new ideas (such as how you can get a job for a while in Antarctica, and how working part-time for Frontier airlines can get you medical benefits and free plane tickets), but they also shared information and e-mails with each other. (I'm planning to put the Antarctica and Frontier stuff on my website as soon as I get it.

Yesterday I had lunch with ten people from a bookclub. Interesting women who are asking themselves some tough questions about life and what it's all about. Discussions I would never have had with women I would never have met if it weren't for that guidance Emily provided when I was writing the book. And I never would have heard from that book club had I not put my e-mail address in the book.

I'm not one of those writers (maybe they are mythical!) who would die if they couldn't write. I'd actually rather talk, eat, share secrets, discuss passions, and lots of other things, well, most other things...than write. The best part of writing for me is "having written!" Given the dramatic and wonderful expansion of my interactions in the world because of writing TALES of a FEMALE NOMAD, I'm definitely glad I wrote that book!

OK. More tomorrow. I think I'll write some ideas about how to break down inhibitions so those of you who tell me you could never do what I'm doing...can work your way toward breaking out of your comfort zone. It's all about risk, trust, and serendipity.

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