Writing a book had never been my plan. Retirement was just around the corner, and I could finally have the time to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. I saw myself going to concerts, plays, and movies. My exercise regimen no longer had to be rushed. I could finally tackle the recipes that were in the dozens of cookbooks waiting for me on the kitchen bookshelf. I could read and read and read. The world was going to be, as they say, my oyster.
But in the space of two phone calls, life would throw me a curve ball that would change everything. In call number one, my aging, somewhat distant father told me a funny, quirky, off-the-wall story about an experience he had during World War II. Without thinking, I interrupted him and told him I wanted to write it down. Without knowing it yet, I was suddenly writing a book.
What possessed me to ask for more on the second call is beyond me, but I was hooked. Dad started at the beginning – and in the end, I had pages and pages of notes. When he said something that couldn’t possibly be true, I told myself that he was older and his memory couldn’t be right, could it? I checked up on him. I researched. But this research was not the tedium of trying to write a college paper; this was fun. The file drawer in my office became packed with articles which supported exactly what Dad had said. I was still not conscious that I was writing a book.
Within the notes and the research were stories my family had never heard, and so I began writing a book that I thought would be just for them. By the time I had reached chapter four, it began to dawn on me that maybe, just maybe, there could be a wider audience. I began to scour the internet, but what I had already was vastly different to what I found out there. There were books about the prominent men and women in the war. There were books about heroes and death marches. There were books about armament and campaigns. But there wasn’t a book about an ordinary GI and his journey from enlistment to flying missions over Germany and France, and his returning home and selling clothes in a men’s store.
When I gave an early draft of what I had written to Dad, his comment was one sentence, and it was sobering. It wasn’t that he expected me to write it as he would have, but that it was missing something. It took prompt after prompt until he opened up and said, “Combat was terrifying.”
I took those comments to heart and, as authors do when writing a book, I rewrote the manuscript. I could see how much it had improved, but something kept niggling at me. As much as I believed in what I was writing, I kept asking myself: Was the manuscript the best that it could be? How was the sentence structure? Had I punctuated it correctly? Would the reader really get the gist of what I was saying?
I came face to face with the fact that I didn’t know what I needed to know. I hired professionals to read the manuscript, to make corrections where necessary and to give me feedback. I followed the suggestion of reading other memoirs.
I grew to really believe in my newly-developing vision for writing a book. What would a publisher think? And how would I go about getting one? I hit the internet again, and the more I read, the more concerned I became. It could take years to find a publisher, and how many years did I have left? I knew about self-publishing, but I had also read about its less than admirable reputation. Anything could be self-published, regardless of quality or accuracy.
Serendipity happened when I went to see a movie about Charles Dickens. He took A Christmas Carol to all of the publishers he had used in the past. None of them would take it on. He kept hearing that it wouldn’t sell. He so believed in it, however, that he took out his life savings to have it published, and the first run sold out.
Again, knowing what I didn’t know, I read about the legal side of self-publishing. I went on to read the Alliance of Independent Authors’ book on choosing the best self-publishing companies. I knew I wanted one-stop shopping, and I selected four companies as possibilities. I picked up the phone and called, setting up interviews. I had my questions ready, but I was listening for more than just the answers. I was listening for the tone of voice and an enthusiasm for the project that equaled my own.
Ingenium Books’ Boni Wagner-Stafford and John Wagner-Stafford were the clear winners. John’s technical knowledge helped me navigate the intricacies of what a computer could do. Boni’s excitement about what I was attempting to do by writing a book was contagious, and our work together became a satisfying collaboration. She was able to criticize and correct, because it always came across with her respect for me as an author. She knew exactly what I needed to hear to keep me motivated until the book was published, and she guided me on how to make the book flow and to be immensely readable. I am so proud of what I accomplished with Flying with Dad, because Boni and John knew what I didn’t know.
I had previously been told that I needed to be in the story, and I had previously pooh-poohed the idea. This wasn’t about me; it was about my dad. When I heard it the third time, I took it to heart and put the manuscript down. Then I understood. The book wasn’t just about Dad. It was about how our relationship had blossomed from a place of distance to a closeness based on a newfound, deep and abiding respect.
I agreed to restructure the manuscript—again—and to write more about my own story at least as it related to Dad.
And now, I’m face to face with another long list of things I know I don’t know. Marketing Flying with Dad! I’m busy organizing book signings and presentations and doing media interviews and asking for reviews.
It has already been a long, intense journey. That first phone call with Dad was in 2008. I first spoke with Boni and John at Ingenium Books in 2017. Flying with Dad was published in November 2019.
And so, in my retirement, I’ve already accomplished much more than I ever expected. I do have the time to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. It’s just that what I want to do includes so much more than trying new recipes or exercising. I’m learning, being challenged, I’m creating. And I also get to keep my Dad close as I talk to more and more people about Flying with Dad.
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