On August 6 of this year I turned in my manuscript for my memoir to my publisher West Margin Press. RAISED IN RUINS is about growing up in the ruins of a cannery in the Alaskan wilderness with only my family.
It took me just over a year to write it. I'm not somebody who dwells on the past a lot, so it was a struggle, but also an adventure, to constantly delve into things I'd experienced that I hadn't thought about in years.
I found that just the process of writing memories down made more memories surface. And when I re-wrote them, additional details I'd forgotten jumped to the surface. To help me remember, I had written a lot of journals when I was a kid, we'd audio recorded conversations, and my entire family generously shared their point of view of what had happened. Of course I had to write it the way I experienced it, but they helped me remember a lot that I'd forgotten, making it a fuller, deeper story.
And in the process of writing the memoir I came to realize in a way I never had before what an amazing experience we had. We lived so remotely that it gave me a different perspective on space and especially time than I would have had growing up in the world.
We learned many lessons children aren't usually taught, including the basic one of how to survive, which I wrote about in a guest blog for a wonderful woman and inspirational blogger who in one brief experience of Alaska understood it immediately and deeply. Her name is Carla Kirkland and you can find my guest blog at:
Due to ongoing signal problems my blogs will have to be shorter than usual with less photos, but if this works I'm hoping I can post them more regularly in the future.
I can't wait to see what happens with RAISED IN RUINS and how readers will respond to it when it comes out next year.
In November of last year, my friend Bjorn Dihle, author of "Never Cry Halibut" and "Haunted Inside Passage" (See Authors and Books categories), wrote: "Have you ever considered [writing] a 'tell-some' memoir?" He added, "You have a real good story to tell that I think would resonate."
For as long as I've been a writer, which has been most of my life, people have told me I need to write my family's story, of moving out to the burned cannery in an extremely remote area of SE Alaska where we built a home with our own hands and rarely saw other people. But I always dismissed these urgings because the idea didn't excite me. It was normal to me, the way anyone's childhood is normal to them. It wasn't until I began writing this blog and people contacted me to tell me how amazed and thrilled they were by our lifestyle and history that I began to see it through their eyes.
Bjorn's encouragement came at just the right time. He didn't limit it to just words, though. In February of this year he generously wrote to his editor, introducing me and the story I had to tell, assuring her that I was a "thoughtful and talented writer."
His editor responded favorably and he sent me his publisher's proposal form. Following it's guidelines closely, I wrote up a detailed proposal, including a chapter by chapter breakdown of a book I'd never really given any thought to until then, and sent it off that same day.
A week later Bjorn's editor responded, telling me that they were definitely interested in my proposal and that they believed I had a great story to tell. It just had to go through an upcoming acquisitions meeting before they could tell me anything definite.
In March the editor wrote: "I'm reaching out in regards 'Raised in Ruins,' the book proposal you had sent last month. We just had our acquisitions meeting and were really interested in the book and the unique story you have to tell. We also think your blog is fantastic!"
I hadn't written a single word of the actual book yet, but as soon as I received this message I began to write about our first day in our future home:
"Our uncovered skiff, about the length of a Volkswagen Beetle, was a speck.
"The world was big, I knew that from school lessons. But the wilderness was bigger. There was no end to it. We were the only humans in it as we sped across the gigantic white cloud reflections.
"...In the photos of our first visit to the cannery ruins my dad is behind us kids as we explore; he's pushing the skiff off and anchoring it in the current of the creek so that it won't go dry as the tide recedes. Jamie is watching over the two little ones while my sister and I, blonde hair gleaming, stand together out in front. The bay stretches out behind us kids and my dad to a shimmering, hazy horizon, as if we've stepped through a curtain into another dimension, into a different experience of time."
I've since written the first three chapters, but I still have a long way to go. Thankfully, I have plenty of time.
The publishing director, who has patiently and kindly helped me through the negotiation process, wrote: "We are thrilled at the prospect of publishing your remarkable story....we're looking at publishing the book in 2020."
That gives me plenty of time to write, revise, re-write, and polish it. I'll continue to share this adventure with all of you. I want to thank everyone who reads my blog, and especially those people who have contacted me and changed how I see and think about my family's Alaskan story.
And I want to give a special thank you to Bjorn, and to Mike in Mongolia who helped me understand contract negotiations, Jeff Kleinman at Folio Literary Agency for his time and encouragement, and everyone else who's helped in large and small ways to get my writing career to this point.
Most of all, thanks to my family for sharing this journey and giving me so much to write about.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)