Push to Publish report by Jerry Waxler

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by Jerry Waxler

For weeks I considered dedicating a precious Saturday to attend the “Push to
Publish” conference, hosted by Philadelphia Stories. I enjoyed the event last year
and thought I ought to do it again. Now, I needed to commit the time.

By Saturday morning my preference to meet writers won and I drove into pouring rain,
to find myself back along the winding paths and elegant buildings of the Rosemont
College campus on Philadelphia’s Main Line. The registration room was packed, and
looking around I spotted a likely networking candidate, a young man sitting alone.
“What do you write,” I asked. “A memoir,” he said. Jackpot. The memoir gods were
smiling.

He was an undergrad in the English Department at University of Delaware. “People
think I’m crazy to write a memoir when I’m so young.” I looked at him. “I think
they’re the ones who are crazy. It’s your story. You should tell it any time you
want.” Just then, a woman I knew from another regional writing group leaned in to
interrupt us. “Aren’t you the memoir guy? There’s someone I want you to meet.”

I excused myself from the youngest memoir writer I’ve met, and was introduced to a
woman, perhaps in her 40s, who had written about her family history. She told me a
fascinating tale complete with twists and turns. “I’m finished the draft. Now,
before I spend a lot of time editing it, I came to the conference to see if anyone
believes I’m wasting my time.” I looked at her. Had she really come here searching
for naysayers? “Ouch,” I said. “Why would anyone tell you that? And if they did, why
would you believe them?” She shrugged and I moved on.

Waiting on line for coffee, the woman in front of me turned, smiled, and stuck out a
hand. I clasped it in greeting, but instead of introducing herself, she pointed to
the man next to her. “This is my husband. I talked him into writing a novel.” I
asked her, “How did that work for you?” She said, “It was great” and they both
laughed.

We sat down together to eat our continental breakfast, and I said, “I’m into memoir
writing.” He said, “If I wrote about my life, it would put everyone to sleep.” I
chewed my bagel and tried to imagine an entire life with no dramatic tension.
Finally, I said, “It’s not about spectacular events. It’s about great story
telling.”

He grew quiet. “Well, actually, I have written a couple of stories about myself.” He
went on to describe an incident from his childhood that completely grabbed my
attention, like I was back there with him, and we were in danger together. I said,
“How could anyone fall asleep? That story is enchanting.” (No, I won’t tell it. It’s
his story, not mine.)

On my walk through the rain to hear the keynote speech, I wondered, “Why do so many
people think there’s something wrong with writing their own stories?” The keynote
speaker, Lise Funderburg, didn’t have this problem. She published a memoir about her
relationship with her father. Apparently, one of her goals as a writer is to share
herself.

In fact, most of the talk consisted of tips she had learned about the writing life.
For example, “You have to be okay with rejection. And that doesn’t stop. In fact, it
still hurts me when I’m rejected.”

“Well,” I thought. “That’s a consistent message. Writing is hard work, with long
periods of uncertainty, plenty of pain and for most of us not too much money. So, if
it hurts so bad, why is this room full of people again?”

Funderburg went on to read a passage from her recently published memoir, which I
have not yet had an opportunity to read, called “Pig Candy: Taking My Father South,
Taking My Father Home: A Memoir.” It’s about discovering her relationship with her
father while he was dying of cancer. The passage was rich in imagery, full of
kindness and conveying the same sparkle in her words as danced in her eyes. At the
end, I raised my hand and asked, “How did you find your voice?” She hesitated for a
moment, and said, “Finding my voice was really a very long journey around a big
circle until I finally came back to just being myself.”

Dodging rain drops and puddles on my way to the next section of the conference, I
thought, “Even her voice is an expression of herself. No wonder it hurts to be
rejected. We’re pouring ourselves out to other people. What a crazy thing to do.”

I realized that in addition to learning the art of self-expression, writers must
learn courage. We imagine, we write, we polish, and then we beg gatekeepers for the
opportunity to share our work with readers. But Lisa Funderburg didn’t shrivel back
from the task, and her story provides one more inspiring example of a writer pushing
through obstacles to reach higher goals.

Notes

Visit the Amazon Page for the memoir Pig Candy by Lise Funderburg
Lise Funderburg’s Home Page

Click here for the essay I wrote about last year’s Philadelphia Stories Conference

Cross-posted on Jerry’s blog about reading and writing memoirs, Memory Writers Network.

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