March 20, 2018
Beginning in 2012, Cheri Register suggested I streamline my sprawling memoir, saying I could write a second book later. “This isn’t autobiography,” she said.
Cheri advised me for the Foreword Writing Apprenticeship in Creative Nonfiction (often misspelled Forward) at The Loft Literary Center. That’s how I met my writing partner, Katherine (aka KQ). Besides group meetings, we each enjoyed fifty precious hours of Cheri reading our drafts and discussing them over coffee. And Cheri had won a Minnesota Book Award and also an American Book Award for Packinghouse Daughter. And she was brilliant. (And Cheri didn’t start sentences with “AND”…)
“It’s not enough to be clever,” Cheri told me. “Help your readers make connections. Don’t hedge.” Truth be told, she and I once almost mutually fired each other before a come-to-Jesus talk at our usual coffee shop. She didn’t offer praise lightly, and I was sending everything I wrote. After that, Cheri explained discovery writing: like gathering a messy bouquet of wildflowers, grabbing anything that caught her interest. From there she selected key stories with the most impact. Not easy, but essential, and sometimes a bit of a slog.
At graduation, Cheri lauded my newfound, passionate voice and promptly retired from teaching. (I’m sure it wasn’t me…) Meanwhile, KQ and I have watched each other’s books progress like neighborhood children growing up. We’re fully aware that Foreword (and Cheri) turned us into practicing writers, in it to the end.
Last March, the manuscript I thought of as Where the Other Me Lives returned from copyediting. “You have two half-baked books,” the editor said. “Which one will you choose?” She identified one German book, and another about strong women who showed me the way home. I was fascinated (Conjoined twins!) and mortified (I was the girl who cried finished book!) and dismayed (Such a long way to go!)…
KQ nodded when she heard the prognosis. “Keep going. You’ll write both.” She’s never let me give up. For her part, KQ has a wise-ass humor book coming out (you’ll see…) and a soulful memoir in revision. Since beta testing my Translate Your Life Toolkit, she uses it daily to keep herself moving.
That’s how this pilgrimage works. We writers nurture each other, and nobody does it alone. KQ and I have talked about that a lot this past year—and this month.
Two weeks ago on Tuesday, my new editor emailed that she loved my second revision of German Awakening: Tales from an American Life. I’ve written one book. For real this time.
In 2017, Cheri won her second Minnesota Book Award for The Big March. Two weeks ago on Wednesday, Cheri passed on. She was 72. I’ve seen wildflower references ever since.
It’s hard to miss the connection. In a culture of rampant, toxic patriarchy and privilege, I’ve been blessed by consistent guidance from independent, strong women. They’ve stepped outside of expected roles—and shone brightly—and entrusted their wisdom to me. Several have died young.
This morning by chance, I opened a box labeled, “Where the Other Me Lives” Inside, among other prompts for revision, I had stashed a page of loose leaf from Cheri. “What can you save for another book?” she’s written. In her obituary picture on my desk, Cheri laughs.
I’m feeling called forward.
Where are you feeling the pull?