Writing a memoir is definitely not for sissies. My fifteen-year-old son was reading his advance copy of my book a few months ago, and every evening when I walked past him, his long legs sprawled over the arm of the easy chair, I squinted my eyes and asked, “Where are you now?”
“What do you mean?” he asked the first time.
“How old am I?” I said. “In the story.”
“Oh,” he said, smiling. “I just read the part where you got knocked up.”
When the first copy of my book, BLOOD STRANGERS, arrived in the mail, shrink-wrapped inside a padded envelope, I had removed the packaging and caressed the book’s raised letters and the smooth glossy wave anchoring the bottom. Then I called my mother.
“Are you free?” I asked. “I need to come over. Right now.”
At her house, I handed her the book and directed her to the dedication page. She skimmed the memorial to my grandmothers and the loving wishes to my two fathers, and settled on the dedication. For My Mother. Her eyes filled and she waved a hand in front of her face.
“I’m going to cry,” she said.
“So am I,” I said. And we embraced.
A couple of weeks before the publication date, Google Alert directed me to the first review of the book, a piece on Examiner.com that I read through the crosshatches of my fingers held up in front of my face, as if I was watching a horror movie and waiting for the knife-wielding maniac to jump out and slice the young woman with a machete. It turned out I didn’t need to be afraid, this reviewer wrote lovely words praising my words, and I began to eagerly await more of these gratifying reviews. My publisher had sent galleys to all the major book review publications and many middle and small ones, too.
On the weekend of May 1, the official publication date, I Googled my name to see if I could beat Google Alert to the reviews I imagined had been written for the Sunday papers around the country. (New York and Washington, D.C. were high on that list, but I more realistically imagined San Francisco, Indianapolis, and St. Petersburg, Florida mastheads.)
Before this, I had never considered what might be worse than a bad review in a major book review publication, but I learned it that week. No review. My book, described by my second reviewer as a “quiet book” that is “more gripping than most big press memoirs that are efficiently marketable with the one-line blurb” has so far been passed over by all the biggies. And the not-so-biggies.
I know book review editors are sorting through hundreds of books a week to choose the ones they think their readers want to hear about. I know their budgets and pages are shrinking every day, and that they may fear for their jobs because publications are folding all the time. The ink on printing presses is drying up faster than I can type.
But still I was disappointed. My book is worthy and it deserves some attention, critical and laudatory. Even though I’m a Bay Area author published by Heyday, an esteemed local press, BLOOD STRANGERS had not been reviewed by the home town papers.
Then came what felt like a wonderful consolation prize: an email from an independent bookseller who thanked me for “a very brave, emotional, and engaging piece of writing.” I emailed her back, thanking her for thanking me, and we set up a reading in her store.
More emails followed from other readers. A friend wrote, “Awesome! I laughed, cried...” Others said they read it in one sitting, couldn’t put it down. “A page turner,” someone said. “I was blown away,” another emailed. Adoptees told me I had “nailed” the drive to search. A few gay readers thanked me for writing a story that needed to be told. Each comment let me know that all that work—years of struggling to capture the emotion, tone, and narrator’s perspective—had paid off. Then another independent bookseller took me to lunch before I read in her store, and for that hour I felt like a celebrity. Following another reading, an independent bookseller allowed me to choose any book in her store as a gift, and I felt blessed.
To reach a wider audience, online and print reviews would help. And maybe they’ll still come; I’m only a month out of the gate. But I have truly learned something relevant to the Be Grateful for What You Have category of life. I have been reviewed. And it feels great.
For independent book stores mentioned, check the events section of my website: http://kathybriccetti.com/
Causes Kathy Briccetti Supports
Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society
Women's Educational Media