One day, when this book has been long published, and I am being interviewed by Oprah (what ever happened to laugh tracks, anyway?), I will tell the story about how the biggest challenge was, of course, managing my emotions while writing about painful stuff, but the second biggest challenge was figuring out the structure of the damn thing.
I will tell Oprah how when I first envisioned the book, it was as a collection of thematically-linked stories about food and my father and, of course, my relationship to both. A memoir-in-essays. That is what I wanted to write.
Oprah will nod her head vigorously as I explain my vision. She will look at me with affirmation and approval. I’ll go on to tell her how I then abandoned that vision based on some advice I got from an industry insider–someone who would surely have been thinking about how Oprah and her ilk would NOT embrace such a disjointed, fragmented reading experience.
Oprah will frown. She hates it when people assume to know her mind.
Anyway, I’ll say, it was not bad advice, per se, but it was limiting advice. Advice for a particular kind of book. It was not the best advice for this book. My book. The one Oprah is now holding up to show the cameras so people all over America can catch a glimpse of the title and rush out during the break to purchase at their local bookstore. (In my fantasy, local bookstores still exist. Indulge me.)
You know where this is going, don’t you? (And for the record, I really have no fantasy that includes Oprah, though I am mighty happy to hear that one of my favorite non-fiction writers, Cheryl Strayed, just got her blessing!)
Yep. I sat with the chapters scattered around me on the floor (metaphorically) and realized (yet again) that this thing works better NOT as a straightforward (or, well, as close to straightforward as a narrative about events that happened 20 years ago and are being remembered by me can be) narrative but as a collection of thematically-related essays.
With maybe even a new title.
Look, I know I sound sure of this. And I know I have sounded sure of other iterations of this in the past. What that should tell you is that I’m open to trying something radical at this point. I told Paul, tearfully, yesterday that I just want to get it done and done right. For my dad, yeah, but at this point, for me. And if that means yet another dismantling, a re-imagining, so be it.
I’m closer than ever and still plan to send this sucker out this fall.
So at the close of my interview, Oprah is going to make a big fuss about how we have to trust our instincts, we women and we women writers. We have to have guts and then we have to go with them. No wonder she and Cheryl, aka, Sugar, are such an easy match.
Of course I’ll be happy to sign copies for the studio audience after the taping. Can someone fetch me a Pellegrino? Thanks.
6 thoughts on “Oprah & Me: A Fairy Tale”
Good luck, Sheila! I’m also at a very important crossroads with my book–except that, in my case, it’s the advice of experts that’s the more radical route. Decisions, decisions. . .Best of luck in making it to the finish line!
Thanks, Sharon! Still crossing fingers for you, too!
Memoir-in-linked-essays! My kind of book! Can’t wait to read it all. I love that form, which to me, is NOT a disjointed reading experience, but one which — like life, like memory — is less assembled, linear, and *easy to follow*, and calls for possibly a more engaged reader. And those readers DO exist.
Lisa, thank you for this encouragement and for being an “engaged reader.” That’s just what I want!
Makes sense to me. Like Lisa Juliet said, memory, like language itself, is fragmented, non-liner, tangential. A friend of mine, Doreen Baingana, wrote a collection of linked short stories called Tropical Fish. One of the reviewers, Reginald McKnight, called it a “novita” — neither a novel, nor a novella, but a collection of linked short stories, with different points of view (different characters as well as third person and first person stories), and roughly chronological. Now the question is whether Oprah will be one of your characters in the book as well as in this blog, hahaha. Or more seriously, will you have one Sheila or many different Sheila’s?… Anyways, I enjoyed this blog post. It made me giggle. No need for a laugh track. There was genuine laughter.
Steve, thanks. This thing has been a long time coming, as you know. I remember sitting in your apartment in Heatherbloom six bazillion years ago talking about it’s beginnings. You are dedicated, my friend. Hope I don’t disappoint!