Regular moms make cute little photo albums when their babies arrive. I’m about to bring a new book into the world — “The Other Mother: a rememoir” so why not create an album for my baby too?
So here goes. It takes more than the author to make a book. It takes a great story — burlesque dancer choreographs a life with unrequited novelist and teaches a young TV reporter the dance of truth, becoming her “Other Mother.” It also takes a partner — and for almost five years my husband Gary has been cheering me on.
But “The Other Mother: a rememoir” wouldn’t have happened without — okay here comes the baby analogy — without midwifery of my publisher and editor: Susan Kammeraad-Campbell of Joggling Board Press. She took the manuscript of a former journalist and helped me deconstruct it. The story started fifty years before I was even born and I was trying to tell it chronologically, through stories Byrne told me over glasses of wine on her screened porch. It felt distant and restrained — nothing like the story that emerged after she showed me how to polish and string together the pearls.
And so began four years of research, writing and rewriting — interrupted by documentaries and video work to pay the bills. The former journalist in me loved the deep dive into Byrne and Duncan’s past. Even things I hadn’t thought important, turned out to be pivotal.
Eventually the research phase was finished and Susan and I began the process of editing each pearl — chapter by chapter. Coming up with
a title was the hardest part… we called it everything from “Dancing with Byrne” to “The Adagio” before settling on the phrase that defined
her. Once we had that, the marketing phase began. I gave a TED talk and created business cards featuring Byrne’s sassiest womenisms.
Byrne would have loved the design process — Torborg Davern did the spectacular cover and Shanna McGarry made the interior just as beautiful. Will Green got the social media ball rolling, making me Tumble, Tweet, Pin and Blog while the advance review copies went out to media, literary competitions and bookstores. So far the reviews are amazing — from Lowcountry Weekly and the Beaufort Gazette.
While the books were being printed — in Minnesota, USA thank you very much — we got to work planning the launch. Byrne taught
me well. Everything can be a party — from combing through mailing lists to figure out who died, remarried or moved, to
addressing envelopes. Byrne’s “collection” of children is still growing — even in her absence — because of this book. I’m sure
she’s leaping through the air somewhere at the thought of it.
Yesterday, the books finally arrived from the printer. Six pallets worth. All of which had to be muscled from the end of Susan’s driveway to her warehouse — good thing for girl power. But at the end of the day I got to hold, in my hands, my baby. I just wish its Other Mother could have been there too, directing the new arrival.
For a minute yesterday, I thought I was having an 80’s flashback. My publisher invited me to help her pick out headbands and gold foils. Seriously?
Oh yes. Very. It turns out much fashion sense goes into designing a hardcover book. Here’s what I learned at Joggling Board Press’s HQ as we went over the proofs for “The Other Mother: a rememoir.”
That’s Susan Kammeraad-Campbell, my editor and publisher, peering through the overlay that represents everything embossed and shiny on the cover. “The Other Mother” lettering will be raised; I’ve figured that much out. And a little shiny — though I’m sure Susan’s cringing as she reads. It’s actually called spot laminated something or other.
Here comes the headband part. I wasn’t kidding. See that striped red and gold piece of fabric at the base of the book’s spine? It’s called a headband. I’ve never noticed them before, but that’s because they’re normally a boring black or grey that blends in with the hardcover. Nothing bland or ordinary will do for “The Other Mother” — if Byrne Miller ever wore a headband I’m sure it was as groovy as our gold and magenta pick.
And finally the gold foil part…
See all the little gold medallions I’m holding? Intern Sylvie (on the right) helped me pick the perfect shade of gold to serve as “The Other Mother” lettering on the cloth-like interior cover. It had to complement that gray swatch Susan’s holding in the middle — if you ever lose the dust jacket on this hardcover you’ll still have an elegant, modern looking hardcover for your bookshelf.
As Byrne often said (one of my favorite womenisms) … “If you’re going to be a snob, be unrepentant!”
November seems to be one of those wait and see months. The kind where emails languish, entries dangle and decisions loom larger than life. As a kid I hated surprises, so it’s not surprising that waiting to find out if an editor likes a manuscript, or if a producer likes a screenplay is driving me crazy. I want to get in there and convince them, play an active role in my future. I’m type A — this leaving it up to fate is for the birds.
I should have more patience. Byrne did. At least with the literary world. She waited patiently for the publishing world to discover Duncan all of their married life, almost sixty years. In their early years of marriage, one would work a pay-the-bills job while the other followed their artistic dream. It’s romantic, but not particularly encouraging since Duncan died unpublished. Gary and I burned his rejection letters in our firepit to avoid bad ju-ju in the house where I now slave over the written word, but even that doesn’t seem to help when the economy is tanking and the publishing/movie world wants only the sure thing.
What I do find hope in is this photo. Byrne and Duncan’s love lasted longer than any external validation. The grins on their faces are proof of the simple joy they found in each other and something I am incredibly lucky to have in common with Byrne. A man who is my champion. My believer. And one who makes me laugh when I would otherwise sulk.
(A quick note — if you haven’t read the comments from Avant-Garde in Beaufort, make sure you check them out. My sisters-by-Byrne have the whole scoop on that wild party and the woman who threw it.)
Since so many of you loved seeing the footage of Byrne’s love, Duncan Miller, at the Beaufort 3 Century forum, I thought I’d share an idea to honor him. I never knew Duncan well. He was sliding down the slope of Alzheimer’s when I met him and I remember him mostly through the stories Byrne told. Theirs is still the best love story I have ever known. Married twice, once in secret, devoted to each other for 60 years, him watching her get dressed each day of those 60 years and telling her she was marvelous.
Byrne had very few regrets in life, but the one she shared with me is one that I hope I can erase. Duncan was a writer. A dedicated writer. One who completed six full-length novels without the reinforcing, confidence boost of publication. He kept at it, rejection after rejection. Byrne was his believer. She typed every manuscript (before computers) and every query letter to agents and publishers. She kept those manuscripts for years after his death. She felt she’d failed him – by not getting him published.
So here’s my idea. With the help of a few of my siblings-by-Byrne, and the Otram Slabess poetry group, I culled through some of Duncan’s manuscripts and pulled, from them, an assemblage. The common thread through six novels. It’s how I’ve ended my memoir. If an editor out there likes the manuscript, then Byrne would say “Duncan darling, at last you are published.”
And so, here is Duncan’s love for Byrne, drawn from lines the world rejected.
I’m hanging with my fingertips on the lip of a big idea.
I must grab hold of the earth,
or be swept away through an endless sky.
The air is so still that summer scents lie coiled close to the ground.
The palm fronds splinter and tree toads cry.
The night sobs for me.
My mind returns to those moments when I first began to know you.
Seeing through your eyes,
dancing on the edge of dreams.
I was a river coursing through your soft green banks.
We love each other for the sum of what we are.
Implicit with movement, even in repose.