Within a week, I read two narrative non-fiction books that were deeply connected in theme and evoked a powerful emotional response. Both Man Alive and The Other Wes Moore examine the journey to manhood; what it means and how it is achieved.
For the two Wes Moores, whose stories are traced in The Other Wes Moore, this passage was fraught with peril, poverty and the absence of fathers. Growing up in West Baltimore and The Bronx, the boys had similar struggles and yet their lives diverged greatly, one going on to become a Rhodes scholar, Army officer and accomplished writer/speaker, while the other is serving a life sentence for a heist in which an off-duty police officer was killed.
Do you think that we’re products of our environments? I think so, or maybe products of our expectations. Others’ expectations of us or our expectations … I realize how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.
A series of letters and visits between the two are the basis of Moore’s analysis as he examines what manhood meant to each of the boys and how they faced the approaching need for responsibility – caring for family, trying to better themselves and their lives, sometimes achieving, sometimes failing.
Thomas Page McBee’s path to manhood, chronicled in Man Alive is likewise fraught with obstacles. As a female-bodied man bearing the scars of family trauma and reeling in the fresh vulnerability of surviving a mugging, McBee’s experience is unique and his insight, broadly relevant.
It seemed possible to me, in the dry heat of that courtroom, that heaven was a metaphor for the grace of perspective you get when you die.
Through intertwined narratives of past and present, McBee explores both the perception of and his internalized messages about what it means to be a man. In a story that could be full of heroes and villains, we find instead nuance and complexity. McBee comes to terms with the humanity of his abusive father and mugger, freeing him to embrace manhood on his own terms.
I highly recommend both books and hope you will read more about Thomas Page McBee and Wes Moore.
This Sunday, GoodReads will be selecting two winners from the 200+ readers who have entered their Giveaway drawing for a free paperback copy of THE COMPLICATED GEOGRAPHY. There’s still time to get on the list, but if you don’t win, you’re still in luck because we’re kicking off our Kindle Countdown Sale first thing Monday morning.
If you’ve been waiting for a chance to snap up a copy or share with your budget-conscious friends, this is it. You’ll be able to scoop up the Kindle version of the book for $1.99 on Monday, $2.99 on Tuesday and so on throughout the week until it returns to its regular price by Saturday, May 2nd.
(Part 1 – How I Ended up Publishing Independently)
I didn’t intend to get all indie with this book, or maybe I did in the beginning, but when editors start nosing around one feels hopeful and when agents get involved it’s easy to dream of the big leagues. Who doesn’t want a posh NY Agent with international connections?
When I got one, I thought it was time to kick back and let her take over. Oh I wrote the proposal she asked for (with gritted teeth, mind you) but once I handed over the proposal, I ceased to be an active participant in the process.
It was up to her now.
Read the rest of this entry »
I’m breaking up with my agent.
Or maybe she’s breaking up with me.
Either way, we’ve apparently come to the end of this eternally awkward and non-communicative road.
Some of you know that I have been underwhelmed by her activities on my behalf – six months to get a working proposal, followed by six months of radio silence until finally, in July, a brief flurry of effort which ultimately culminated in – well, nothing.
From the beginning, we disagreed on fundamental issues – namely how much we should tell editors about the end of story. I understood that she wanted to withhold that kind of information in the proposal, but she seemed intent on keeping Alice’s death from them until a deal was on the table.
For me, framing the story as something other than what it is makes sense in a three paragraph query but NOT at the point where editing notes are being exchanged. This strategy wasted time – mine and that of the editors involved.
Yes, I’m frustrated that she dragging this process out for sixteen months, but at the same time, I’m weirdly excited at the thought of having it back in my own hands. To a certain extent, when I handed it off to the agent, I disengaged. But no more.
I’ll be looking at other ways of moving forward (non-traditional publishing options and such) for the next few weeks so chime in if you have thoughts on the matter.
Intensely personal stories often illuminate universal truths. Writer and actor Jim Beaver’s memoir is one of those. In October 2003, his wife Cecily was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. In an effort to keep loved ones abreast of the situation, Jim began sending a nightly e-mail to 125 friends and family members. These messages, eventually reaching an audience of nearly 4,000 and spanning a year, are the basis of “Life’s That Way”.
Jim writes: “I’ve attempted to flood the path with light where I could, and where I could not I’ve wanted at least to hold up a candle so that others coming this way might not stumble too painfully.” And indeed he has. The first 1/3 of the book traces the course of Cecily’s illness, painting her so vividly that her death in early March is a punch in the gut, even to the reader who met her a mere 125 pages earlier.
The remaining 2/3 of “Life’s That Way” deals with the aftermath in a way that is immediate and intimate. Beaver continues the nightly e-mails, processing his experiences, sharing the struggle of raising a young daughter alone and mourning his beloved wife. “I will bear this grief. I will endure it. I will reach a point where it doesn’t kick me down an abyss whenever I turn my back on it.”
As someone who still deals with the abyss of grief on a daily basis, I found this beautiful book wrenching and yet somehow hopeful as Jim Beaver weaves wisdom and humor into his story and their lives. I recommend it highly, not only to those who have faced such grief but to anyone who someday might. As Beaver so pointedly writes: “Some kind of Providence keeps us blind to the intensity of suffering so as to keep us sane, until that day when the suffering is our own or that of someone we love beyond imagining.”
But taking this journey with Jim, Cecily and their daughter Maddie has made me more acutely aware of the necessity for life beyond the grief.
[You can find “Life’s That Way” now on Amazon or GoodReads.]