by Jerry Waxler
After reading Carol O’Dell’s memoir, Mothering Mother about her experience caregiving for her mother with Alzheimer’s, I contacted her to ask what it was like to write and share her story with others. Here is part one of a two part original interview.
Waxler: What did you have to do to turn your very personal experiences into a book?
O’Dell: Like most newbie writers, I used my own life to teach me how to write. I joined local writers group in Atlanta in 1996 (we still have a reunion once or twice a year and all of them are terrific, active writers). There’s a real art to telling your own stories and making them readable, interesting, and universal. I’ve come a long way from my first attempts. One way I’ve found to tell stories that people find meaningful is to focus on the ones I tell the most. If my friends and family listen, and their faces light up, and I see they have been moved by it, I write that one down. If I can make them cry…well, that’s gravy.
Waxler: When you were writing Mothering Mother, what sort of work did you do to reclaim this story from your memory?
O’Dell: I wrote MOTHERING MOTHER in “real time.” I wrote journal style (but on the computer) every day. I wrote in the style you read in my book—in vignettes with headings. Whatever I was mulling over in my mind became the topic for the day—and if it didn’t fit under that heading, it didn’t belong there. Of course, many entries didn’t make it in. I tried not to show that I was whining every day. I also didn’t revise my journal during this process. I didn’t begin to compile this as a book until one year after she had passed. I knew the editor in me could really muck it up—make it too writerly—not keep it emotionally raw. I wanted to capture the moment so that other caregivers could truly relate to me—as a caregiver—not a writer.
Waxler: When you were ready to write the book, were you worried about getting it wrong?
O’Dell: Because the word memoir means literally, “a memory,” I knew that certain moments had to be recorded as I, or as my mother remembered them. Facts are in some ways, secondary to memoir. It’s a perspective kind of writing. Yes, I would at times go back and check “the facts,” to see just how off or skewed my or my mother’s thinking really was. It’s good to juxtapose the facts against memory to show what people “do” with their past.
Waxler: When did you decide to try to seek a publisher, rather than just writing it for yourself?
O’Dell: I wanted to be published early on, so I submitted and published articles, essays, short stories, excerpts, and poems over the last ten years. In regard to MOTHERING MOTHER, I did not revise the book until my mother had been deceased for one year. I wanted to capture that first year—birthdays, mother’s day, receiving the death certificate, ordering the headstone, reinventing my own life—in order to round out the experience.
I revised it that summer, (my mother died in June) and then had it professionally edited (mostly copy edited, not content edited. By the way, I highly recommend this. It’s a competitive marketplace, and no matter how good you are, you need a professional eye to take a look at it). I also had to create a proposal, which takes several months to do a good one. I began submitting it in January, six months after starting the revision process, and it took almost a year and a half to sell—in part due to my moving, my daughter’s marriage and the time that took, and honestly, the funk you fall into after a couple of rejections hit you in the gut. It sold in April of 2006 and was published in April of 2007.
Waxler: What’s next?
O’Dell: The prequel to MOTHERING MOTHER is SAID CHILD, which is under consideration at my publisher’s right now, and it’s the story behind the story, so to speak. It’s even grittier, edgier, and took a decade to write, hone, and come to terms with.
To buy a copy of this book, click the Amazon link, Mothering Mother
This interview coincides with Carol O’Dell’s Virtual Book Tour. For more information about what a virtual book tour is and how to enter Carol O’Dell’s Virtual Booktour contest, and for more interviews and information about other services Carol offers, visit her website at http:\\www.caroldodell.com.