How a Mid-Life Crisis Led Me to My Passion
In 2007 after my husband and I dropped our youngest daughter off at college, I went through a sort of mid-life crisis. I missed being a mom and I wondered how I would fill the void. Sure I had my part-time bookkeeping business, but it consumed only a few hours a day and it wasn’t interesting anymore. Something’s missing—but what? This prompted me to review what I like to call my “mid-life list.” This is similar to a “bucket list,” but instead of exploring things to do before you die, you refocus yourself, while you’re still relatively young, and figure out the things you want to do in your fifties. My list was short.
-Learn to play the piano
-Travel to Africa to see the elephants
-Travel to Tahiti and see the island of Bora Bora
-Write a book
At the time, I didn’t own a piano and, with two daughters in college, I couldn’t afford a trip to Africa or Tahiti. What about the last item on my list? If I did write a book, would it be fiction or non-fiction? What genre would I choose? The answers to my questions came to me in the shower (which is where many of my ideas seem to materialize, strangely enough.) I’ll find my diary from 1979 and write a memoir! I’d told the story of my au pair adventure in France on countless occasions, and the reaction from friends and family was often the same: You should write a book! Now, I finally had the time.
Over the next few days, I tore the house apart looking for my diary. Where in the world did I put the thing? It wasn’t in the garage. It wasn’t in the closet under the stairs. It had to be somewhere. I drove to our storage unit and searched through a few containers but left in despair, certain I hadn’t put it there in the first place. The next day, I checked the house again and then went back to the storage unit. One item at a time, I carried everything out of the room. Wiping the sweat off my brow, I searched through bins and boxes until only one box remained. Buried inside this last container was a plastic bag and inside that bag was my diary. Clutching it to my chest, I almost wept as I whipped out my cell phone and called my husband to tell him the good news.
That night, as I read through my diaries, I shook my head, reliving the experiences I had so meticulously detailed, day after day, when I was twenty- one. I couldn’t believe how many things I’d forgotten. Laying the diaries aside, I pondered a few questions. Did I have enough material for an entire book? How long would it take? Who would help me with edits? This last question was a big one, since I had no formal writing experience.
Three months passed as I painstakingly outlined my diary, concluding I did indeed have enough material for one manuscript, and possibly two. Now, all I needed to do was fill in information and, “voila,” I’d have a memoir. Boy, was I naïve! After I expanded my outline, I realized that I had the bones of a good story, but I lacked the technical knowledge to create effective dialogue and compelling descriptions. It was time to take a few steps backwards. I was more determined than ever to finish my memoir, but first I needed to learn how to write.
A year passed while I enrolled in online writing classes and worked with an author friend who became my mentor. My confidence soared as my creation took shape, but along the way difficult questions arose. Would I have to change the names of people and places in my manuscript to protect identities? The answer was yes. I quickly realized that this was especially true with regards to my host au pair family in the Loire Valley. Acquiring permission from them was out of the question. Totally out of the question. If you read my memoir, you’ll understand. Additionally, many years had passed since I spoke with anyone I’d met in France. I no longer had any contact information for them.
With this in mind, I researched common French names that might fit my characters. I tried them out and retained the ones that were a good match. A handful required more effort. Choosing a name for my main love interest was difficult because it had to be plausible in both Morocco and France. Songais, the name I chose for the town, had to sound French, but it couldn’t mimic any others in the region.
My biggest challenge was finding a name for the family’s chateau in France. I knew this term would be repeated over and over again, so it had to be perfect. In my hometown of Kirkland, Washington, there was an old apartment building called “Mont Clare” just off of State Street. I never thought about it much until one day, during a walk with my dog, I glanced at the building and it clicked. That’s it! I’ll call it the “Chateau de Mont Clare.” I loved the way this name rolled off my tongue. During a rewrite, my French editor convinced me to alter the spelling to “Château de Montclair,” but the pronunciation remained the same.
Other decisions haunted me during the writing process. I struggled with how much French to incorporate into the story and whether or not to include translations in dialogue. In the end, I decided to keep most of the French and bring in translations only when it was absolutely necessary to the story line. Finding data from 1979 on the Loire Valley, the Loire River and the town of Tours was another conundrum for me. It took hundreds of internet searches and numerous travel books to supply this information. The most difficult dilemma was how much detail to include in my own love scenes. Wiping the sweat off my brow, I wrote and then rewrote these scenes until I could read them without squirming in my seat.
Once I had finished my story, my next hurdle was finding an editor who understood and related to my voice. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I searched the web for many months, pouring through blogs and editors guilds until I found three candidates who looked promising. I asked each of them to perform an edit on my first chapter. They all agreed, and over the next few weeks I received their samples. With a critical eye, I spread the edits out on my office floor and carefully compared their work. Each editor offered something, but none of them felt like a good fit. Reluctantly, I tossed all of them aside.
I continued to search the web until I stumbled across my first editor. She grew up in the Loire Valley and spoke fluent French. A match made in heaven. Actually, no. Admittedly, she helped me with translations and corrected several cultural issues, but let’s just say she identified a little too closely with my antagonist. In the end, I asked her to return my manuscript knowing full well it would need additional line editing.
Disheartened, but more determined than ever to complete my manuscript, I took another look at the three candidates who had provided me with sample edits early on. One of them stood out and I chose her as my second editor. She was a pleasure to work with and she ironed out some important kinks in my book. Her positive feedback healed my wounds. Definitely, a match made in heaven this time. Almost.
After she returned my fully-edited manuscript, I sent an excerpt to a promotion site and they found a punctuation error in the first few sentences. I found a whole lot more on my own. Arghhh. I tracked down a final line editor and, thankfully, she corrected the remaining errors throughout my book. Whew! My manuscript was done! I could scratch an item off of my mid-life list.
No—not yet. I still had to find a publisher.
Once again, I turned to the web. I fashioned a query letter and emailed selected agents interested in memoirs. Several weeks passed and I received a handful of politely-worded rejections. In the end, self-publishing appeared to be my best option. Who knew this last part would take so long? Three more months passed while a company created the cover and produced the interior parts of the paperback. Another month slid by while a second company created my eBook files. Formatting issues ate up another few weeks. It was a long, drawn-out process that kept me awake nights.
Finally, after three years and countless hours, I self-published my memoir. I’m happy to report that it’s been well received, and I’ve gone on to write and release the sequel. My mid-life crisis helped me find my passion. Maybe it’s time for you to go out and find yours.
Linda Kovic-Skow is the author of French Illusions: My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley and French Illusions: From Tours to Paris. You can find more information about Linda and her memoirs at http://lindakovicskow.com.
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