Thank you so much to Eve Brown-Waite, author of “First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria,” for agreeing to write this guest post for me as I’m mostly gone for maternity leave. If you like her post, take a minute to read my very positive review of her book.
Jennifer asked me to talk about what it’s like to write a memoir. I think it’s a bit like being in psychoanalysis or going to Divinity School (both of which I’ve done, by the way, so I know). It’s like peeling back your skin so you can look at every teeny tiny thing that’s underneath – and trust me, it ain’t all pretty under there! But wait, it gets better – because after you’ve really dissected yourself, you get to tell everyone about it! And then it gets published in a book for the whole world to read. And then someone mentions that it has great film potential and maybe it could even be adapted into a great movie, and well, remember that dream you used to have where you somehow showed up at school naked … or if you were really lucky you had a towel? Me? I usually have a pillow. (C’mon, I’m not the only one who has that dream!)
I’m not complaining. I really, really wanted to tell this story – most of the stuff that happened in FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA was hilarious and I wanted more Americans to get a sense of what it’s like to live in some of the places I’ve lived. And with a few exceptions, I’m hardly laying bare my deepest, darkest secrets. Still, it is kind of weird seeing your life in print.
Maybe you have to be a bit crazy to write a memoir. And I guess brave enough – and let’s face it – have enough chutzpah to think that your particular life (or some portion thereof) will be of interest to anyone but you. See, here’s the thing: we’re all fascinated by our own lives. And well, we should be. But lives are like noses. What’s inside yours might be of great interest to you (most especially if you are a five-year-old) but that does not mean it’s of any interest whatsoever to anyone else (except maybe your mother in the case of noses – and memoirs too). So first you’ve got to have a very critical eye – and a great agent – to help you figure out exactly what really might be of interest to anyone else.
But as with any book, you have to know what the story arc is. Where is the beginning, the middle, the end? How is this thing going to end up and how do all the pieces you’re putting in there relate to that bigger picture? And I have to admit – certainly when I first started writing – that I didn’t always know how it was going to end up and where all the pieces fit. Now you might say, Eve! (you can call me, Eve. We’re on a first name basis here) How you can say that? After all this was your own life you were writing about. But here’s the thing, the more I got into the writing process, the more I actually learned about what I had experienced. Things that hadn’t made sense at the time began to make sense. Events that had seemed insignificant finally revealed their meanings. I began to see connections and finally get the lessons of what I had been through.
So even when I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with something, I began to let the horses lead me home. Let the horses lead the way home. It’s a great concept, isn’t it? And for me, it worked.
When the very first copy of my finished book arrived, I held it in my arms and was, of course, vahklempt. Pardon me for lapsing into Yiddish, but I know of no English word that portrays that same sense of brimming over with joy.
“Was it just like holding your babies for the first time?” my mom asked me the next day. I thought a lot about that question. And the answer simply, is “No.” There is – for me anyway – NOTHING quite like the feeling of holding each of my babies for the first time. But the process of writing any book – and ushering it out there into the world – is in some ways like having and raising a child. It’s a huge undertaking and you don’t get to sit back and just bask in the glow when the baby finally arrives. (But let’s not tell that to Jennifer just yet!) And there are times you know exactly what you need to do. And other times you just have to trust the horses to lead you home.
Thank you, Jennifer (and your baby) for letting me share a bit about myself and my “baby,” FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA.