How about The Visible Woman? That’s the title of a zine I wrote years ago and I still like it. I proposed the title to an agent I was working with at the time, one of several who got in touch with me after I published an article about our house a couple of years ago. She thought what I had written had the potential to be expanded a successful memoir published by a mainstream publisher. “You know,” she said “the biggest book-buying demographic is middle-aged women.” But no, she said, not The Visible Woman.
I pulled together the various things I’d written over the years, things I’d written mostly to try to make sense to myself of the choices and changes I’d made. The agent looked at them and suggested Standards of Living, but that didn’t feel quite right. How about Qualities of Life? I thought. Actually, no. Um, let’s see… Border Crossings. A Change of Address. Jumping the Fence. No. No. No.
The New York Times had titled my article Inviting Anarchy Into My Home. How about that? No, nobody liked that one. Then I remembered something I had read once in a history of punk rock: “Life matters, so don’t fuck it up.” How about that: Life Matters. I walked around for a couple of days sure that I’d found it. No one else could see it.
This went on for well over a year.
One late afternoon last November I asked Mark if he would help me decide among The Visible Woman, Standards of Living and Life Matters. Or maybe The Visible Woman: A Memoir of Life Matters. Or Standards: On Living. I had just come back from a week at a writer’s retreat where I had done yet another revision of the book proposal I’d been working on for a year and a half. I was ready to send the latest version off to New York, but I still needed a title.
“Just those ones?” Mark said.
“It’s the best I can come up with,” I said. I felt a little defensive. “It’s not that easy you know.”
Mark stopped whatever it was he was doing and stood up. “Look,” he said kindly. “You’re going about it all wrong. You have to have a lot of bad ideas before you can have a good one.” He went into his room and came out with a big roll of adding machine paper. He taped one end of the roll to the coffee table and put a pen down beside it. “Let’s say we won’t leave here until we’ve come up with a hundred titles. Bad ones. No, let’s say a hundred and one.” At the top of the paper he wrote 100 TITLES FOR LIZ’S BOOK.
1. Mark picked up the pen and wrote FREE FURNITURE!
2. I wrote A Dangerous Question
3. It Started With A Question
5. Home Renovation
6. Home Repair
Crystal and Jodi came in. “What are you guys doing?”
“Coming up with a title for Liz’s book.”
They sat down on the sofa.
7. Less is More, Jodi said.
8. More for Less, Crystal said.
9. The Same Light, Mark wrote.
10. “I’ve always kind of liked Traveler’s Rest,” I said. Mark wrote: Traveler’s Rest.
It went on like that…Grounds for Divorce…New Eyes…In Case of Police Raid…Coming to My Senses….
27. “How about just Home?” I said, and wrote it down.
“But that doesn’t tell anyone what it’s about,” Jodi said.
Mark made a noise that sounded like “Bzzzt.” “No editing,” he said. “Just bad ideas.”
The bad ideas flew.
58. Riot Mom
60. Notes on the Sink
61. Graffiti and Kitchen Notes
62. Resisting Arrest
63. Resisting A Rest
“How far are we?” Mark asked.
“Only sixty-three,” I said. “Steve across the street suggested Off The Rails And On The Run,” I added.
“Write it down!” Mark said.
Momentum returned. 66: Diet For A New Home. 67: Chicken. 68: Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road? 69: The Other Side
“I’ve got to go,” Crystal said.
88. Picking Sides
89. “Or maybe Choosing Sides,” I said.
90. Picking A Fight
“Picking My Nose,” Jodi said, and Mark grabbed the pen.
“Don’t write that down!” I said.
We hit 100 (Hunger) and kept right on going.
146. Happily Ever After
147. Ever After
148. After Ever After
149. After Disaster
…and finally we were done. Mark unstuck the paper, rolled it back up and handed it to me. I took the paper upstairs and sat down on the bed to look at it, and there between Staying Home and Biscuits and Gravy (where did that one come from?)was Straying Home. Straying Home. I liked it. I couldn’t even be sure who had said it, but it expressed better than anything I’d thought of so far the paradox I felt in having traveled so far in my own life without leaving the house.
So Straying Home it is.
But it turns out that Mark was right in more ways than one. I was going about things the wrong way–not just the title of the book, but the whole process of trying to get a book published. The wrong way, at least, for me. I sent off the proposal and didn’t hear anything. Not the first week, not the second week, not the third. Over the year and half or so that the agent and I had been working together the intervals between my submissions and her reactions had grown longer and longer, but this was unprecedented. I gave it a little more time; by early December I admitted to myself that chances were pretty good that I was never going to hear for her. It seemed as though the time had come to admit the truth. I quit. So as the year ended I had a title, a book proposal, some sample chapters, no agent, a good deal of confusion, and a surprising amount of relief.
Then a friend introduced me to the intriguing concept of print-on-demand–a new form of self-publishing that circumvents the whole agent/author/publisher nexus. Somehow that feels right for who I am and what I have to say. After all, my new life owes a lot to the DIY–do-it-yourself–ethic. Why not do this one myself?
So that’s what I’m going to do, but first I’m going to take it even one step further and serialize the book on line, on a separate blog. I recognize that in publishing the book myself I’m sacrificing the help of an editor, so please, if you have an interest in reading what I write, feel free to offer your editorial comments and suggestions. I’ll pay attention, I promise.
Here it is! Straying Home: A Memoir of Changing in Place