Memoir Writing Update: Wherever the Road Leads

I can’t believe it’s been two years since I posted my last blog! How could it have taken so long to write my memoir?

Originally, I set a goal for myself to finish within a year. For twelve months, I poured over old letters, studied maps, looked up details of time and place on the Internet and wrote the account one chapter at a time. Assuming I can count a manuscript of over 200  pages to be finished, I achieved my goal. I had written a full account of two years of travel and, though it all interested me, I knew it not ready for publication. I was too close to the story to know where to cut and what to keep. Sending the manuscript to Beta readers who promised to give me their unvarnished opinion was my next step.

Our Van on a snowy morning in Yugoslavia, 1972


My selected readers ranged from an old boyfriend from high school to my younger sister’s friend, from the husband of a lady in my book discussion group to a woman I had never met who volunteered after seeing the request on my Facebook page. I signed-up seven readers in all. Each was sent either a PDF file or printed-out hard-copy. I also asked them to answer specific questions customized for the main sections of the story. The three pages of questions included, “If you read only the table of contents and the first page, would you want to buy this book?”; “Does the author reveal sufficient personal details to keep you interested in the relationship aspect of the story?”; and “Do you feel the last two chapters bring the story to a satisfying finish? Why or why not?” I also asked the readers if they liked the working title—Venus and Mars in a Van. Mostly they did not.  The title is now Wherever the Road Leads.

A variety of comments came back from my Beta readers. Some liked the travel sections best, while others found the description of life in a van more interesting. Some readers liked the discussions of food and cooking, while others wanted less food and more travel. One reader suggested more material on my motivations. They asked why I would leave a good job and a safe home for this daunting journey. Another wanted me to share more about our romance and what held us together as a couple. Several readers suggested maps and drawings as illustration. With all their comments in mind, I worked to improve some sections and cut others. I was able to reduce the word count, but at 112,700 words, I knew it was still too long.

At this point my fabulous editor, Lorraine Fico-White, who works with me on my writing, suggested I send the manuscript to her son, a young man in his twenties who is also an editor and writer. Nick and I had never met or worked together so his critique would be unsullied by past experience.  Also, his reactions would exemplify a younger audience. Nick’s comments gave me confidence. He was sincere and his appreciation and insight helped. Again, I  edited the manuscript and was able to further reduce the word count, in spite of an added preface and expanded dialogue. In the fall of 2018, with the manuscript at 108,900 words, Lorraine and I began to work together.

While I waited for Lorraine’s content and line editing suggestions, I roughed in illustrated route maps. I labored using an old Adobe publication program I had learned years before. After only a couple of the maps, I decided to enlist the help of Cole Waidley, the graphic designer who created the book cover and map for my novel, Immigrant Soldier. His knowledge and up-to-date graphic skills soon produced maps that reflected my vision.

After months of the back-and-forth editing process, Lorraine and I felt the manuscript, a leaner 94,000 words, was ready. As one final test, I asked a friend from my high-school days, Georgeanne Brennan, a well-known cookbook and memoir author, if she would be willing to read my manuscript. Georgeanne’s comments led me to write an epilogue, as well as change lingering overused words such as “delicious” and “lovely.”

Finally, after more than two and a half years of work, Wherever the Road Leads was ready. My “baby” has been sent into the world of agents and publishers. I am determined to see it published, whether through a traditional publisher or by publishing it myself as I did Immigrant Soldier. Either way, the story of my honeymoon in a Volkswagen van probably won’t be launched into the public realm for as much as a year. Publication is another slow process.


5 responses to “Memoir Writing Update: Wherever the Road Leads”

    1. Katie Slattery

      Thanks, Gail.

  1. So happy to hear that you have finished you second book. I know this one is also a labor of love and I can’t wait to read this one too!

  2. Thank you for the update in the ongoing birthing process of your book. I love love love the new title! Perfect!! Excited to be a part of your blog as the next leg of the journey has been launched on path to publication! Congratulations!

  3. Wow! You’ve sure worked hard to get your book ready for publication. Good for you. I wish you luck in deciding on a publishing platform. It sounds like a fun book and I can’t wait to read it!

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