Here is some news I haven’t shared with you yet: I’m writing a book!
Update: Confessions of a Worrywart: Husbands, Lovers, Mothers, and Others is now available at Amazon and elsewhere!
I’ll give you a moment to digest what it might be like for a worrywart to write a memoir.
Will this offend? Is that too racy? What will my three 20-something daughters think? Will this come back to haunt me? Is that too boring? Too long? Too short?
For example, I enlisted a former Mr. Wrong to opine on a couple of lines: Here is my email to Mr. W:
Hi W. I’d love your thoughts on this excerpt from a chapter about my Jamaican boyfriend of 40 years ago. Would this be offensive to non-Jews? Here it is:
“Susan,” my father said, sounding graver than I had ever heard him. “You’re going to have to choose him or us. We want what’s best for you, and seeing this boy can only hurt you. You think about it and we’ll call you tomorrow.”
There was nothing to think about. Did my father actually think I would give up my boyfriend just because he was black? Anyway, Dad had to have been bluffing; Jewish parents did not disown their kids–they didn’t even send them away to boarding school.
W replied that he thought it was good, which inspired me to hit him up again for his opinion:
W, One more? A little background–in the story I make it clear that Chev and I had a relationship before we jumped into the sack together. Let me know what you think of this excerpt (and let me know if you no longer want to be my compass.):
After we hung up, the phone rang again.. It was my father; he got right to the point.
“Did you have sex with him?”
“When did you begin having sex with him?”
“On the first date,” I answered, barely audibly, surprising myself with my boldness at having answered at all. It had not actually been a date. Chev and I had been playing tennis together nearly every day for months; on many days we just hung out at the courts for hours. One afternoon we walked to my house for a drink. The next thing I knew we were in my bed, his bony brown hips pressed into my soft white belly.
To this Mr. W replied that the last line reads like a cheap porn novel.
I worried on a couple of counts. Regarding the question in the first email about Jewish parents and boarding schools, the one Mr. W liked, I worried because, like me, Mr. W was Jewish and I realized I needed a couple of Gentiles to weigh in. As for the porn, I needed a focus group for that too. So I sent a group email with the same passages to a handful of friends:
If you have a chance, I’d love your comments. How does this sound to you? Do I sound slutty? Does the last line sound like cheap porn?
Here are a few of their responses:
Not slutty. Jackie
It doesn’t sound slutty. But … do you care if your daughters read this? I’m such a prude… The boarding school line is very funny to us non-Jews. Caren
I find myself trying to figure out how his hips were pressed into your belly. He would seem to have been badly off-center! Bunny
Whew, glad this doesn’t sound slutty to my friends, who were also single during that little window of time after the sexual revolution began and before anyone had heard of AIDS. Oh dear, now it occurs to me that I need a focus group of twenty-somethings. And do I need to clarify that Chev and I were not badly off-center, but that Chev was terribly narrow?
There is the larger picture of how much a writer is entitled to reveal about others, how much one owns one’s own story. Authors expose all kinds of things about parents, ex-husbands and paramours. In her riveting tell-all memoir, At Home in the World, about her affair with J. D. Salinger when she was 19 and Salinger was 53, Joyce Maynard reveals embarrassing details about all three.
Maynard explains in her book’s introduction, “I had always believed I owed [Jerry Salinger] my never-ending silence, loyalty and protection. It came to me as a new thought that the girl he had invited into his life . . . deserved certain things, too.”
As for the “shameful and embarrassing” things she reveals about herself Maynard writes, “I wanted to tell the story of a real woman with all her flaws. I hoped by doing that, others might feel less ashamed of their own unmentionable failings and secrets.”
Joyce Maynard is not worried. In my book, every line gives me something to worry about.
In the comments below, I welcome you to share your thoughts on the Jewish and porn questions, as well as on the kinds of things authors reveal in their memoirs.
See me telling some (ahem) funny stories from my book on YouTube.
Visit me on susanorlins.com and read an excerpt!
Check out some of my Life Goes Strong articles: