The following was written for the Oak Tree Press blog site and appeared on February 9, 2014.
As many of you know, my memoir Only You will be published shortly by Oak Tree Press. Hundreds of published essays, short stories, news articles, interviews, humor pieces, book and restaurant reviews, plays and poems later, and finally this first book — a true story from my distant past — will be out there in the world.
After I wrote what was my first chapter, over 20 years ago, about my first steady boyfriend, I sent it off to Newsday for its Sunday Magazine. The story was immediately accepted and published, and I was paid $200 (good money at that time). My intent was to write about my relationships with men from early childhood on. “Lenny, the Leader of the Pack” received much praise from readers. This is it, I thought. I’ll write new chapters, send them out, and they’ll be published. In no time at all, it will be a book!
Well, it didn’t happen that way. I wrote and wrote and wrote and, eventually, a book did come together. But it was years before another excerpt or chapter would be published, and more years until the next one was accepted. A well-known literary agent took interest in the book – he grew up in Queens, New York, the locale of my story, during the late 1950s as did I – and he tried to sell the book. No luck.
I filed the book away for periods (years) of time, took it out, did some editing, submitted it, repeated this process, showed parts to family and friends – writers and not – and listened to them say, “I love this!” before putting it back in the drawer.
I returned to school, part-time, and for most of my four-plus years in the graduate MFA program I left the book in the file drawer. One professor, a memorist herself, read the book during that time and gave me some very good advice. After graduation, having written much new work during the MFA years – fiction and non-, plays, screenplays, poetry, humor – and having published some of it, I returned to Only You (named for the Platters’ song), determined to get it out there once again. I followed the comments of my professor, whose notes and spoken comments were still in my mind. The memoir went on too long, she felt (as did another reader). So I cut off what, in effect, could be a sequel to my story, brought forth one chapter in media res to add immediacy, and edited, edited, edited.
And, my fellow writers, it worked. All the time and effort and sheer persistence have brought Only You to where it is now: selected as a co-winner of the Oak Tree Press memoir contest last winter and scheduled to be released soon. Here is a summary/ review by an author and English professor at City University of New York:
“Obser interweaves childhood scenes, family and school scenes, and details of her social life as a teenager, with the present time drama she is living. Only You tells the story of a young, innocent and, from our contemporary perspective, incredibly naïve young woman whose sexual coming of age is complicated, and the context of Eileen’s story is what gives this memoir its power. The time of the narrative, the 1950s, is evoked with skilful use of popular references, especially the music of the time, and specific details about her personal life. This is a fine work, which will no doubt appeal to a wide audience.”
I am extremely grateful to Billie Johnson and Oak Tree Press, and I’m delighted to be part of the OTP writers’ community. What your stories of persistence? In the words of Tobias Wolff: “We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.”