Kevin had been assigned to me. I'd been writing for his college's alumni magazine for years but was feeling swamped with other work, so I respectfully passed on this young widow's story. But the boss would not accept that answer, and offered me a raise I couldn't refuse. I called Kevin, we talked for an hour, I wrote an article. At the end of the process he offered up this: a feeling he'd had to do something more with his story, and would I be interested? We agreed to meet over a weekend and record the unabridged tale.
Mornings and afternoons, we'd sit and talk, recording his story in two, three hour intervals. I knew that Marilyn had died when a car crashed into hers at a toll station, but Kevin hadn't yet walked me through the time from the phone call to the hospital, where he'd sit alone with her body and say, "I'm sorry." And telling his toddler that Mommy's gone. Meeting the man who killed her. Hard, very hard to hear. And as a writer, difficult: this was a truly heartbreaking story, and yet those are the hardest to write well.
Later that same weekend, I sat on the bed with my notes, planning out how I’d let Kevin down. And right about when I’d convinced myself to step away from this project, I was hit with the conviction not only that I needed to do this, but how to do this: I’d let Kevin, and the others, tell the story. Cheese would only come if I reworded things myself, so I wouldn’t even try. I'd always loved reading oral history, and yet the format of, say, Studs Terkel books always tired me out--one person tells their side, then the next, then the next. Instead of following that tradition, I would weave the firsthand accounts together to create the narrative, creating a poetic feel that better resembled a novel than a memoir.
For seven years, I organized and wrote when I could. I met with Rick, the driver who killed Marilyn. Kevin lent me Marilyn's journals. I watched the DVD of the funeral service.
The scope of the project demanded uninterrupted work, which my schedule couldn’t always permit. I would pick it up and grow overwhelmed by what was asked of me, and yet each time I resumed, everything would flow. Piece by piece, the process would move forward.
I completed a full draft in October 2012, thanks to a push from Dave Eggers's 826michigan's Great Write-Off. A few trusted readers provided input, and last month I completed the final manuscript. Right now it's in production, as we're planning to self-publish through CreateSpace. Soon I'll be able to announce its release date. Too, the book is in the hands of two very respected writers who I hope will provide endorsements.
Seven years in the making, and yet I make no apologies. I was not ready for this book when it came to me. As I matured, the book matured--not because of me, but as if it was waiting for me to be ready. Even when I thought I was ready—in October, 2012—I had only just begun. The final rewrite was a heady one as I restructured sections for even more impact.
It’s hard to find a better word than overwhelming to describe reading Marilyn’s journals. A budding therapist, Marilyn felt life deeply and wrote much of it down. And then the pages go blank. All that life, those worries and prayers: to silence. The stark, empty page shattered me, perhaps even more so because I identified with so many of her fears, which weren’t written for my eyes. This privileged look into a life that ends so abruptly brought real gravity to an already somber project.
And though I tried a couple times to "sell" the book, never has it turned me into a desperate writer. I'm very confident that the book speaks for itself, though a handful of publishers have disagreed. The book sits on the line between being too religious for some and not enough for others, but that's okay; life is rarely black and white, and I am comfortable in the gray. The book provides its own kind of messy redemption, and the world needs more of that.
I am grateful for the place this book has held in my life, and can hardly believe that soon, I'll be able to share that experience. Watch here for information on how to purchase the book, or email me at amy AT gregscheer DOT com to add your email to my mailing list.