This week I was extremely pleased to learn that After Action had won not one, but two awards in the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards. It took a Gold Medal in the “Memoir” category, and Bronze in the “Best Adult Non-Fiction Personal E-Book” category. In reading the “winner information” email I learned that medalists will not be allowed to speak at the awards ceremony to be held in New York City in late May.
Could you imagine over 400 authors getting up there and rambling on about everybody they owe their success to? It would make a filibuster sound interesting. There’s a reason we chose the written medium to work in–the ability to delete.
Which brings me to the point of this post: Moms. Or, more specifically, Mother’s Day. It might sound like a stretch, but let me elaborate. Even if I was going to attend the awards ceremony, I wouldn’t be able to say “Thank You” to a couple of special moms out there who were instrumental in the success of my book. Good thing I have a blog.
Late in the writing stages of After Action, I hit a point where I could no longer tell what the words I’d written truly said. I had spent so much time writing and re-writing them, trying to find the right nuances to accurately portray the inner confusion I’d experienced in combat, that I simply couldn’t tell what the actual words on the paper said anymore. I knew the history of every sentence I’d written–from drafts 1 through 10–and found myself injecting meaning from previous iterations on the one currently in print on the page. About this time I turned to my Mother-In-Law, Mary, for help.
Mary had been a high school english teacher for thirty years–an occupation as under-appreciated as it is challenging. When my weary eyes stopped communicating the words on the page to my foggy brain, I outsourced their work to Mary. I sent the entire book to her and asked if she would read it and tell me what it said. Over a period of months she read it and took painstaking notes–not about what was wrong, or lists of typos, but rather exactly what I asked her for. She told me what it said to her.
This was incredibly helpful to me as a writer. I had an external reader now, someone without any personal military experience but a wealth of knowledge dealing with humans, emotions, and the inner workings of our minds. Each time she sent me her impressions of a chapter I knew immediately what I needed to fix. If something was unclear or gave the wrong impression, she told me. If something struck her especially hard, she told me. Mary gave me her clean, unfiltered reactions without sugar coating them or telling me what she thought I wanted to hear. Her assistance was invaluable and I don’t think I’ve ever told her just how helpful it was.
And then there was my mom. At the end of two and a half-years of writing, after reading multiple drafts of my book and allowing my extra commas,, misplaced apostrophe’s, and there/they’re/their’s to slide by without comment, mom offered to proof-read the final draft.
This was not an offer I accepted lightly.
My mom is a very rule-oriented person. This is a good thing as many of the drugs we rely on today are approved only because she was technical editor of the proofs sent to the Federal Food and Drug Administration. Luckily, she had enough time and energy after correcting the work of MD’s, PhD’s, and bureaucrats to turn her attention to detail to my final draft.
I figured she would rip me a new one. There were places where I wanted a comma because the sentence flowed better that way. Rules be damned. There were metaphors that no mother would want her son making blazoned all over the pages. And I’m sure I used “F*ck” as a verb when I’d meant it as a noun. All of this was certain to get caught by her steely gaze–and they did. But instead of telling me what was screwed up–or worse, just fixing it herself–she went through it with me. Every place she found a mistake she explained to me why it was incorrect and left it up to me to decide to change it or not. Many times she caught things that simply didn’t register to my eyes, and other times I had written it that way for a reason. She accepted my refusal or admission of error with equal grace.
I owe these two women for many things, the least of which is the success of my book. But that’s the current headline in my life so I’ll grab hold and wring every bit of “Thanks Ma” I can out of it.
Books can be written about some pretty amazing things, but if the information isn’t effectively conveyed to the reader, or if it is so rife with errors and typos to be unreadable, then the author should have saved himself the time and effort of writing it. That After Action won two awards this week is proof that the efforts of my mother and mother-in-law were not in vain. They are largely responsible for its critical success.
Thanks Mary. Thanks Ma.
Happy Mother’s Day.