There is this book I really admire called Pledged: The Secret Lives of Sororities, by Alexandra Robbins. It has this lovely format in which the author, who had managed to infiltrate a sorority by pretending to be a pledge, tells the story of several young women in the sorority who become pledges, and their adventures, mistakes and surprises as the year goes on. She stops the story multiple times to talk about the national trends surrounding the Greek system, for example, how hard it is to get liability insurance.
My first idea was to have a book that went like this. We spend a chapter talking about our son, the baby whom the doctor did not want to treat, and then we spend a while talking about the American Academy of Pediatrics and its ethical guidelines that actually recommend denying treatment to preemies at his stage. Daily NICU journal, relevant national issue, daily NICU journal, relevant national issue, etc… And then also, we were going to have one journal entry by me, one by my wife, one by me, one by my wife, etc., reflecting our different experiences and also making the book appeal to women who are going to be the overwhelming majority of readers in this genre.
But, I’ve been talking to this developmental editor whom I met at a writer’s conference last month, and she’s told me that there’s two problems with this — one is that I’m stuck between genres. Memoir readers are going to want a story that’s basically a true novel, and they’re not going to want to stop to hear about how surfactant works. They want emotion, they want growth, developing characters, and a question that gets answered at the end.
The other problem is that she says my wife’s writing style is too detached and scientific, and she suggested making it more emotional, or cutting it from the material entirely. I talked to her about this, and Miri was actually ok with the idea of having her material worked in to my voice. And, she had zero desire to be more emotional as the whole business is still too upsetting to read about, much less write.
She also said I was trying to be too unique in my creation of a book. That is, when I wrote my list of competing titles, I did too much to prove my book was different. Rather, I ought to say my book is exactly like another book that was successful. So, rather than saying my book is a combination of education and story telling that will appeal to both Christian and secular readers, I ought to say I’m just like Alexa Stevenson and Kayla Aimee, except that I’m a boy. Alexa and Kayla both wrote preemie books — Alexa seems to be the genre leader, actually being carried by our local library and she got on NPR. Kayla’s book came out just this summer, and she seems to have star power and is rising quickly.
The developmental editor also said that I’m trying to do too much — tell a story, educate readers, and push on the medical community to change their policies that deny care to babies such as Gabriel.
I spent Wednesday and Thursday modifying my first four chapters to have a unified voice, and to stay in one genre, memoir. I hope I’m getting it right, but… ARGH!
Anybody want to read four sample chapters?