The People in our Path: Unlikely Friends

Ten years ago, I gave myself a birthday gift of attending a writing conference in Greensboro—about forty minutes from my home. I didn’t know anyone going to the conference and decided to approach it like my solo journeys—praying that God would bless me and the people in my path, trusting that things would unfold as they should.

I arrived late, and had to sit at the back of the meeting room of the hotel. I don’t remember what that particular session was about, just that the focus of the conference was finding faith-based publications for our writing. I hadn’t published any of my creative non-fiction at that point, so it seemed to be the right next-step for me. They closed that session with a Q and A and I remember that a woman who sat at the front table seemed to have a lot to say.

Later, when we took our lunch break, they instructed us, “Sit anywhere.”

There were tables for four and I planted myself at one and was joined by a mother and her eighteen-year-old daughter. The woman who’d sat at the front of the room and was so vocal in that Q and A, joined us. Her name was Erika.

We talked about where we were from and what we were writing. While Erika was originally from New Jersey, she had moved to North Carolina to attend Duke University, then later, she and her husband settled in the area.

No wonder she sounded forceful, I thought. She’s a Northerner, from New Jersey and had gone to Duke. As a native North Carolinian, a graduate of UNC, our most fierce rivalry is with Duke, especially in basketball.

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At lunch last week with Erika

While eating together, Erika seemed more relaxed, smiling and laughing easily. The mother and daughter finished and left to join some folks they knew. Erika and I became engrossed in conversation. I learned that she lived within eight miles of me and had grown children who were close in age to mine. She’d been caring for her father with dementia while I was doing the same for my mother. Erika talked about how her father coming to live with her had changed things.

“Now, since I have to be home with Dad, I’ve found time to write. I can easily pen my essays and take care of him.”

She’d taught English for years and had that spirit of a teacher, wanting to help the curious student, offering suggestions for places I could publish my essays. Sometimes other writers can be competitive and don’t share publishing sites, but Erika freely told me the places she’d been published and encouraged me to send them my work.

When we left that day, we exchanged emails and made plans to meet for coffee. Our cars were parked across from each other. The political sticker on the back of her Cadillac was as polar opposite to the one on my Camry as our universities!

Since that meeting at the conference, we’ve had many afternoons of coffee at Starbucks and lunches at local restaurants, sharing about writing, and lately, our new roles as grandmothers. We’ve attended several writing conferences together. Erika’s been supportive of my memoir and I’ve supported her writings.

She’s been very prolific in publishing her essays in anthologies such as Chicken Soup for the Soul and regional magazines like Sasee of Myrtle Beach. Her advice on writing humor has been published in The Writer, and her essays on craft published in the online Funds for Writers Magazine and the Writers Digest website. She’s used her talent for teaching with her adult education course for Olli at Duke University on composing the personal essay. These are just some of her accomplishments and now she’s getting ready to publish her mystery. She’s generously given to me over the years and now I want you to know my friend and fellow author:

 

Erika Hoffman’s mystery, Why Mama will be published by Library Press Partners of Wake Forest University this April.

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Erika Hoffman

Why Mama emits a gothic southern, nostalgic aura.  The story revolves around Fancy, a fifteen- year- old figuring out who killed her parents in 1974.  Three narrators tell the mystery.  One is Fancy, an upper -class teen who becomes orphaned on a summer day with gusting hurricane winds. Forced to live with her 19 -year- old sister Eve and sis’s lecherous husband in a duplex way off the wrong side of the tracks, Fancy begins her quest.  The mission is clear: to discover the identity of her parents’ killers despite the sheriff’s ruling it was a murder/suicide and despite doubts expressed by many townsfolks regarding her sanity. People, Fancy assumes, are allies betray her. Others, viewed as enemies, help. Another narrator is her sister Eve, whose judgment isn’t sound and who’s subject to panic attacks. Fancy’s best friend Judy is the most objective reporter of the murder and ensuing action.  During it all, Fancy follows leads provided by an albino doe whose soulful eyes remind her of her mother and make the teen question the idea of reincarnation. Because of her mother’s strong Christian faith, Fancy believes her mother could never have committed the crimes she’s accused of. Fancy has many questions she’d like to ask her deceased mama, but the main question is: “Why? Why did this happen to us?”

(Watch for Why Mama on Amazon and wherever you purchase books)

 

You never know who you’ll meet in your path or how they’ll impact your life.

I didn’t have any idea that the greatest thing I’d walk away with from that conference was meeting Erika, my mentor and friend.

Now, all these years later, we’re still unlikely friends who’ve navigated our relationship around university and political party affiliations, and the regional differences of our backgrounds. Instead, we’ve focused on the things we share, building our friendship one conversation at the time, one writing success at the time–as we cheer each other on.

How About You?

Have you had a chance meeting with someone in your path that turned into a long-term friendship?

What ways have you shared support of each other’s dreams over the years of your friendship?

 

Unless You’re Famous

The Literary Agent from Denver sat at the opposite end of the sofa from me, both of us turned toward each other for my fifteen-minute session at the writers’ conference. In his hands was the proposal for my memoir that I’d painstakingly prepared over the past six months. The last fifty pages included the first three chapters of the book, work that started in its earliest form ten years before and had gone through several iterations. He asked me to tell him what I had for him and as I described my memoir, he thumbed through the first few pages, then closed the proposal.

He was quiet for a moment, then said, “Unless you’re famous, I can’t get a traditional publisher to take a memoir.” He went on to say that it didn’t matter how well-written it was, and he didn’t say it, but the implication was the same for the proposal—it meant nothing if the Literary Agent couldn’t go before traditional publishing houses with my memoir.

I sat there, not quite sure what to say, disappointed but also relieved that he was up front with me. That could have been the end of the conversation and we could have wrapped things up early, giving us more time before our next sessions. But then he continued.

“Let’s talk some more about your book,” he said. “Tell me what you were feeling when you went through that experience in Sedona?” At the time of our meeting, the title for my memoir was, Saved by Sedona: Finding a Path of Pilgrimage.

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I told him about the pivotal moment in the book that takes place when I’m alone with God in Sedona. That experience of being present during a serendipitous trip after cancer treatment and struggling with a toxic job, had impacted my life and later led to yearly solo journeys. I told him how the first three verses of Psalm 40 became my go-to scripture during that difficult time, and then I quoted the first verse.

“You have to change your title,” he said.

While I’d had some concerns, I’d become attached to it and could think of nothing else. The agent told me he was good at titles, and since he was a veteran of many years with the industry, had worked with many titles in the inspirational, faith-based genre, I believed him.

“How about, He Heard My Voice,” he said.

I listened to him, trying to take in what he was telling me, trying to absorb how my pitch had turned into a brainstorming session for a title of a book he couldn’t represent. I did like the sound of his title, the alliteration and the clear reference to the Psalm.

“And the subtitle needs to speak to your target audience and what they’ll experience reading your book,” he said. He asked me to tell him more about the journey for the reader through my memoir, what did I experience and how did I change. I remembered some of what I’d rehearsed for the pitch, but mostly answered him like we were just having a conversation.

“How about something like,” he said, and told me his idea, then changed some of it as I filled in the blanks. We came up with the subtitle, “A Midlife Mom’s Journey Through Cancer and Stress and Her Unexpected Arrival at Healing and Wholeness.” Later, when I had time to wrap my head around what we’d created in such a few minutes of working together, I liked that long and accurate subtitle.

Before the conference, I’d prayed for direction knowing I wanted clarity about how to move forward with the book I’d worked on for so long. It had been my dream to publish it and now, at sixty-three-years-old, I wasn’t willing to keep waiting to put it out there.

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Four years prior after successful pitch with an agent. Later saw this as a ‘False Start.’

 

“What do you think I should do with this memoir since I can’t go the traditional route,” I asked him, feeling that he’d been placed in my path and I could trust his advice.

“I think you should go the Indie route,” he said, and then gave me some suggestions for how to self-publish using contracted freelancers like editors and cover designers who’re also used by the publishing houses.

That evening I left the conference feeling relieved, scared, overwhelmed, and exhausted.

I’m not famous; Oprah has not shown up at my door; I’ve not been kidnapped and forced into a cult; I’ve not performed an unusual physical feat for a woman my age. But I do feel fortunate that the Literary Agent from Denver took the time with me to go beyond rejection and give my memoir new life. Now, I have a better title and have been set on the path for a new type of Solo Journey—the adventure of Indie Publishing. Just like other journeys, I’m traveling into the Unknown and each step is an act of faith.

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Morning view of Lake Champlain July ’15. Now wonder what journey through Indie publishing will be like.

How About You?

What dream do you have that is yet to be realized?

How can you step forward on a path toward achieving your dream?