I have to call this a wonderful challenge. Being forced to look back at a particular place in my lifetime, which I had tried to drown in the depths of my being, I've found some solace in dredging up the negative experiences. When Martha contacted my cousin Cole, he was not aware I’d be so vulnerable, but he knew something inside me deserved exposure. He was so right. Sharing my experiences for the book woke me up. Now, I’m just attempting to accept the facts of my life.
The books arrive
Addressing the issues...
MK Eddleman is a mother daughter writing team. M stands for Martha, the mother of the team. K stands for Katherine, her daughter.
Sheryl Williams and MK Eddleman would like to address the issue of race before readers begin A Call to Courage. A white woman writing about a black woman’s experience in 1967 Mississippi raises questions. How could any white person know the accumulated indignities, angst and fear resulting from centuries of segregation? The answer is, she couldn’t.
Martha: My husband, son, six-year-old daughter Katherine and I lived in Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement. For years, I have wanted to write about our enlightening and sometimes frightening involvement with the Head Start program and the newly integrated public schools. As I started to write, I had to find a way to recall accurate details of events that forever shaped my life. I watched countless hours of interviews recorded by the Library of Congress/Smithsonian Voices of Civil Rights project of black men and women who worked and fought for justice. I realized the story I had in mind was so much deeper than what my family and I experienced.
Slowly, a new fictionalized version of events, with a heavy emphasis on the struggle to achieve full voting rights, took shape. But I knew if I were going to write about the courage it took to fight for rights, I needed the perspective of someone who had lived the experience, someone who fully understood all the nuances of the physical threat, psychological anxiety and emotional trauma associated with bigotry and violence. Cole Powell, a friend of mine, suggested his cousin Sheryl Williams, a 72-year-old African American who lives in Florida.
The moment I connected with Sheryl, a collaboration was in the making. Daily we talked on the telephone. In time, she embraced the concept and began adding to the storyline from personal experiences. As we talked about our understandings of past events, we created A Call to Courage. At the end of each day of writing, I sent rough drafts to Sheryl. She would read the day’s work, then accept, add or correct the manuscript. She made sure the characters and tone representing black culture in 1967 were authentic. Though the book references real events and details from many diverse lives, the characters in A Call to Courage are fictionalized. Once we were finished, I sent our work to Katherine who edited with a discerning eye for detail and imaginative understanding of storyline. She spent many hours adding her insightful perspective to each event before she gave her final approval.
Sheryl: I’d like to thank my cousin Cole Powell for recommending and introducing me to Martha Eddleman. I never envisioned having such an opportunity to be a part of a novel that I helped create. I initially approached the work with questions of commitment from the author. Why did a white woman hold onto the negative experiences? I had tried to put similar experiences or events away somewhere. This story really hits home for me. Some events happened and even worse. A friend of mine and her parents, her dad a minister, had to leave Mississippi after her dad was accused of touching a white woman inappropriately. They were terrified, afraid of their shadows, even in Manhattan. They were receiving death threats. A woman I met had to leave South Carolina after being impregnated by a law officer. He threatened to kill her if she stayed. She found refuge with my neighbor, who was her sister, until she gave birth to a baby boy. Recalling some of the indignities I personally was privy to (as well as my grandparents and other persons I’ve known) these were expected to be normal, part of a brown skin person’s life, with no complaints. Complaints could cause cross burnings or house burnings or even loss of life.
During my many conversations with Martha, I discovered though our skin color was different, our souls were held together by a common thread. Our self -expressions were worded differently, but her passion was greater than mine. I was so accustomed to accepting a degree of bigotry without a fight, I’ve lived a great part of my life as isolated as the world would or will allow, oft times being termed a hermit. I love everyone; however, I truly enjoy being left alone.
Katherine: Mom and I are collaborative by nature. We approach each project differently. In this book, Sheryl and mom are the creative entities; I am the bricks and mortar. When mom came to me with this concept, I encouraged her to move forward, as I knew our experiences in Mississippi, both mutual and distinct, impacted our perspectives on life. I believe conversations about difficult subjects need to be held both privately and publicly. This story is the result of private conversations between two deeply creative women who took a risk to write A Call to Courage. I strive to be as courageous as they.
We would like to thank all our readers - Tom Anderson, Linda Berzok, Doris Bobo, Bob Drach, Ro LaFrancesca, Georgia Lambert, Karen McClave, Cole Powell, Beverly Preslik-Gerbracht, Myrna Loy Riles, Carol Shaw, David Silberman, Linda Starnes, and Claudia Wanlin. All were fearless in their reviews and suggestions yet generous with their encouragement and time.
Finally, thanks to Donald McGuire and Brighton Publishing for their confidence in the book and Tom Rodriguez for designing the perfect cover.
We hope the story resonates with all readers.
I'm 17 again
A light bulb went off in my head as I was reading the 2017 Literary Guide to Agents. I identified the feeling in my stomach as the same overwhelming anxiety I felt when I was a 17 year old applying to colleges. First, choosing an agent is like choosing a college. I suspect the prestigious agencies look only at the proven. Not to say if I'm not a proven quantity, I won't apply. I applied to Stanford at 17 and was turned down. Turned out University of Pacific was a better placement for me. Hope I'll find a "Pacific" for an agent.
The next step is writing a query letter and a synopsis to "sell" Invisible Injuries. This process is so similar to writing an essay to impress, I shudder. I knew how to write a personal essay, and yet I freeze trying to write a query letter and proper summation of the book. I was on the other side of grading for too long. I sympathize with agents' feelings when they receive unsolicited manuscripts from hopeful authors. That sympathy leads me to hope brevity is the answer. I tell myself, don't brag, don't drone on and on, be concise. Hopefully, the first two chapters of the manuscript will be good enough to attract someone to take a chance on the unproven.
One huge difference between 17 and 80 is when I'm too overwhelmed, I can stop, pour a nice glass of Chardonnay, sit on the deck and relax.
Next installment in the process of publishing was copyright, or so I thought. I started with the Library of Congress. Once again, the amount of reading required to know what to do is amazing. I found out that once a book is in complete form, it is my intellectual property. Whoa! A Bit overwhelming and kind of an ego trip. After two attempts, I found the online form to fill out. More reading. There is a visual tutorial to help, but it really burst my "intellectual property" into a short lived ego trip. Started filling the form out only to have to go back to reading what each line meant. As Katie and I wrote the book together, I had to figure out if we were anonymous or pseudonymous. We are pseudo since I am the M and Katie is the K of MK Eddleman. I'm exhausted and I'm only on line two. What tuckered me out was trying to figure out if that meant we owed a single fee or a double fee so I quit for the day. The patent office is trying. At least they ask for feedback unlike many institutions. I suggest every head of company, university, public office etc. fill out forms, buy products, sit in coach seats for 8 hours (that's directed at airline CEO's) and try to get through to a person on the phone. Whoops, I just fell off my soap box. Bye for today
starting the process
Invisible Injuries awaits an agent. People have read it, critiqued it, suggested improvements, corrected grammar and errors, and generally helped make it the best it can be. Now starts the process of trying to find someone who cares enough about the characters and the mystery to want to represent it. I thought it might be interesting if the blog describes the experience of how to or not to get a book published. First, Katie and I researched a plethora of "how to" articles - how to find an agent, how to write a cover letter, what's the difference between cover letter and letter of enquiry (BTW, enquiry means to ask a question, inquiry means to formally investigate), what type of mystery we had written. Our choices were capers, crime, whodunit, Pasitische, urban fantasy, steampunk, cozy, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, police procedural, suspense, thriller and true crime. I had to look up every one of them to understand the distinctions. Turns out Invisible Injuries is a police procedural mystery. Who knew!
After the research, finding agents who accept unsolicited manuscripts is another journey into testing one's tenacity. I went to the websites of some of my favorite writers to look for answers. Louise Penny was most helpful except she threw in a new road block. Her first book was discovered when she entered and earned top ranking in a national writing contest. Writing contest??? Holy Moly. Never thought of that, so a new search started. Hundreds of them but the big problem is which are legitimate and which are simply out to get the writer to spend money.
Are you beginning to understand why so many writers are self-publishing? If so, stay tuned in for the continuing saga of MK and the search for a book publisher.
Expectations of perfection have ruined more events for me than I can count. The perfect prom. The perfect mate. The perfect family. The perfect Christmas. I'm reminded of the story of the wealthy man who was looking for the perfect woman. He searched the world over. Dated constantly. He finally found her. She was perfect in every way. Except, she was looking for the perfect man. In actuality, perfection is rare, fleeting and unexpected. So, back to expectations. I have finally learned to let go of expectations and try to enjoy what comes, both good and not so good. It's only taken 80 years.
Does my age have anything to do with not being able to wait anymore? Or do we live in an age of instant gratification, and I've fallen into step? I do hear myself quip, "I don't have enough time left to wait." I was saying that ten years ago. Even titled our first book No Time to Wait. But here I sit writing as I wait for the date to have new cabinets for my bathroom installed, for the opportunity to submit the new book to some agents and for feedback from a police friend whether references to codes and procedure are right. Waiting has much to do with patience; ahhh, perhaps that's the problem. Do you find yourself impatient when someone doesn't answer your text right away? Or you have to press one, then four, and finally zero to speak to someone on the phone? I guess we're not too different.
Recently I listened to a Wait, Wait podcast featuring Nora Roberts. She writes romance novels as Roberts and mysteries as JD Robb. To say she is a prolific writer would be an understatement. When asked how she does it, she said writing is a habit. I started to think about habits. Almost everything I do is the result of habit. It is my comfort zone. Even my behavior is habit. With one group of friends I'm funny; with another I'm serious and intellectual; with another I'm quiet - all habit. When writing a book, I am so much in the habit of writing everyday, when I finish, I feel as though something is missing - empty, at a loss, searching. How do I fill the void. Either start writing again or find another habit. Are you the same way?
When I make art, I have to keep reminding myself not to be afraid, especially of making mistakes. I constantly tell myself to let go: let go of fear, let go of what other people think, let go of expectations. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn't. When it works, I feel calm, relaxed, fulfilled. When it doesn't, I feel anxious, frustrated and incomplete. To make a piece of art work, I cannot hold onto parts that are precious to me, parts I worked on for hours. I've also learned that occasionally what I thought was a mistake turned out to be a fortuitous moment. Writing is exactly the same, but I have to apply what I know from painting/sculpture to act of making stories. Writing is simply another form of art.