In 2007 after my husband and I dropped our youngest daughter off at college, I went through a sort of mid-life crisis. I missed being a mom and I wondered how I would fill the void. Sure I had my part-time bookkeeping business, but it consumed only a few hours a day, and it wasn’t interesting anymore. Something was missing—but what? This question prompted me to review my “mid-life list.”
-Learn to play the piano
-Travel to Africa to see the elephants
-Travel to Tahiti and see the island of Bora Bora
-Write a book
At the time, I didn’t own a piano and, with two daughters in college, I couldn’t afford a trip to Africa or Tahiti, so I focused on the fourth item on my list. If I wrote a book; would it be fiction or non-fiction? What genre would I choose?
The answers to my questions came to me in the shower (which is where many of my ideas seem to materialize, strangely enough). I’ll find my diary from 1979 and write a memoir! I’d told the story of my au pair adventure in France on countless occasions, and the reaction from friends and family was often the same: You should write a book! Now, I finally had the time.
Over the next few days, I tore the house apart looking for my diary. It wasn’t in the garage. It wasn’t in the closet under the stairs. I eventually found it inside a plastic container buried deep in our storage unit. Clutching the diary to my chest, I almost wept as I heaved a sigh of relief. Without my little black book, my story would have been almost impossible to reconstruct.
That night, as I read through my diary entries, I shook my head, reliving the experiences I had so meticulously detailed twenty-seven years earlier when I was twenty-one. I couldn’t believe how many things I’d forgotten. Laying the diary aside, I pondered some new questions. Did I have enough material for an entire book? How long would it take? Who would help me with edits? This last question was a big one since I had no formal writing experience.
Three months passed as I painstakingly outlined my diary, concluding I did indeed have enough material for one manuscript, and possibly two. Now, all I needed to do was fill in information, and “voila,” I’d have a memoir. Ha! I was so naïve. After I had expanded my outline, I realized that I had the bones of a good story, but I lacked the technical knowledge to create effective dialog and compelling descriptions. It was time to take a few steps backwards. I needed to learn how to write.
A year passed while I enrolled in online writing classes and worked with an author friend who became my mentor. My confidence soared as my creation took shape, but along the way, difficult questions arose. Would I have to change the names of people and places in my manuscript to protect identities? The answer was yes. I quickly realized that this was especially true regarding my host au pair family in the Loire Valley. Acquiring permission from them was out of the question. Additionally, many years had passed since I spoke with anyone I’d met in France. I no longer had any contact information for them.
With this in mind, I researched common French names that might fit my characters. I tried them out and retained the ones that were a good match. Finding a name for the family’s chateau in France was one of my biggest challenges. I knew this term would be repeated over and over again, so it had to be perfect. In my hometown of Kirkland, Washington, there was an old apartment building called “Mont Clare” just off of State Street. I never thought about it much until one day, during a walk with my dog, I glanced at the building, and it clicked. I’ll call the family’s chateau the “Château de Montclair.”
Other decisions haunted me during the writing process. I struggled with how much French to incorporate into the story and whether or not to include translations in the dialog. In the end, I decided to keep most of the French and bring in translations only when it was absolutely necessary to the story line. Finding data from 1979 on the Loire Valley, the Loire River and the town of Tours was another conundrum for me. It took hundreds of internet searches and numerous travel books to supply this information. The most difficult dilemma was how much detail to include in my own love scenes? Wiping the sweat from my brow, I wrote and then rewrote these scenes until I could read them without squirming in my seat.
Once I had finished my story, my next hurdle was finding an editor who understood and related to my voice. I searched the web for many months, pouring through blogs and editors guilds until I found three candidates who looked promising. I asked each of them to perform an edit on my first chapter. They all agreed, and over the next few weeks, I received their samples. With a critical eye, I spread the edits out on my office floor and carefully compared their work. Each editor offered something, but none of them “wowed” me. Reluctantly, I tossed all of them aside.
I continued to search the web until I stumbled across my first editor. She grew up in the Loire Valley and spoke fluent French. Admittedly, she helped me with translations and corrected several cultural issues, but let’s just say, she identified a little too closely with my antagonist. In the end, I asked her to return my manuscript knowing full well it would need additional editing.
Disheartened, but more determined than ever to complete my manuscript, I took another look at the three candidates who had provided me with sample edits early on. This time, one of them stood out, and I chose her as my second editor. She was a pleasure to work with, and she ironed out some important kinks in my book. A final line editor corrected a few remaining punctuation errors, and my manuscript was finally complete. I could scratch an item off of my mid-life list! No—not yet. I still had to find a publisher.
Once again, I turned to the web. I fashioned a query letter and emailed selected agents interested in memoirs. Several weeks passed, and I received a handful of politely-worded rejections. In the end, self-publishing appeared to be my best option. Who knew this last part would take so long? Three more months passed while a company created the cover and produced the interior parts of the paperback. Another month slid by while a second company created my eBook files. Formatting issues ate up another few weeks. It was a long, drawn-out process that kept me awake nights.
Finally, after three years and countless hours, I self-published my memoir. I’m happy to report that it’s been well-received, and I’ve gone on to write and release the sequel. My mid-life crisis helped me find my passion. It’s not too late for you to go out and find yours.
Linda Kovic-Skow is a best-selling author in travel in France. Originally from Seattle, she currently winters in Gilbert, Arizona and spends summers on a boat in the San Juan Islands. She earned an Associate Degree in Medical Assisting in 1978 from North Seattle Community College and a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Seattle University in 1985. She has been married for 31 years and has two daughters. An enthusiastic traveler, Linda also enjoys hiking, boating, gardening and socializing with friends. “French Illusions: My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley,” was her debut memoir. The sequel, “French Illusions: From Tours to Paris,” recounts the rest of her adventure in France. For more information, visit http://lindakovicskow.com.
Get published on our site: Submission Guidelines