The Magic of "Finding Your Book"
By Alexandra Grabbe
When I sat down with ten strangers for a first session of Joanne Wyckoff’s Finding Your Book, I had no idea the eight-week course would prove so memorable. A year later, every time I passed our empty classroom during break, pangs of nostalgia would shoot through me. Curious whether Finding Your Book had been as meaningful to fellow classmates, I emailed them. Six women responded for an online reunion of sorts, providing clues to what had made our 2011 group coalesce in such a special way.
“I really cherished our time together and looked forward to it every week,” wrote Kim Windyka. Note the verb she uses: cherished. Kim, who now attends grad school in Florida, added she’s still zeroing in on her book but feels more confident of finding it when the time is right. (In the meantime, Kim has published a snappy piece on building a social circle from scratch in The Atlantic.)
Sue Williams described Finding Your Book as “life-changing, one of the best writing classes I have ever taken.” Pearl Divers has not yet found a home but Joanne’s class did serve another purpose. Sue reported that “the proposal got me the Writers’ Room 2012 Fellowship in Nonfiction” and inspired a main feature in the print edition of Boston Magazine. She plans to write a new proposal, based on the feature, using skills acquired in Finding Your Book.
Sue and I had both already begun our books. Joanne patiently explained we would need a proposal prior to pitching an agent. I dug right in with chapter summaries. Inspired by class feedback, I cut 15,000 words from my manuscript and refocused. By Bea's Bedside became Seeing Joy: A Story of Life, Death and What Comes Next, not a very sexy topic, Joanne had warned. Still her class gave me the confidence necessary to pursue publishing options.
Inside Adoption is one book that really got “found” during our course. Joanne encouraged Paula Mackin to begin organizing her material and figure out the essence of what she wanted to convey. Paula emailed that she had written a proposal and submitted it to ten agents. She added, “Keeping in mind Joanne’s advice about building a platform, I started a website where the opinion and commentary pieces will reside, and am writing a light-hearted blog with my daughter called Tales From The Adoption Wars.”
Georgia Morris summed up why Joanne’s course had affected Paula, Sue, Kim and me so viscerally this way: “It is heartwarming to feel a connection to you and your projects through this series of evenings we spent together.” Georgia is back to writing plays and no longer seeks to turn her film Rescuing Emmanuel into a book but did write a blog post about African street children for Media Voices for Children.
Several class members already wrote blogs, including Linda K. Wertheimer who emailed, “Finding Your Book was my first long-term Grub class and it was a special experience because of that.” She reported that Boston Globe magazine ran a cover story spun out of the book proposal written during our Wednesday-night sessions. Linda is teaching Muse and the Marketplace 101: Hone Your Networking Skills Before the Big Conference, a reprise of a class created last spring: “The inspiration for it came from Joanne’s class when I heard a few people express their trepidation about attending.”
It may have been Linda who motivated fellow classmate Liz Quinn to attend. “Will many of you be at the Muse in May?” Liz emailed the group in February. “I will be there both days and would love to see you.”
No doubt about it. She felt a similar connection to those of us who had taken Finding Your Book over winter. The course had helped her focus in on how to present the multiple threads of her story, set in Guatemala, a challenge that she further pursued in classes with Ethan Gilsdorf, Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich and Steve Almond. “I’m very grateful for my Grub writing community,” Liz added.
So what was it about Finding Your Book that produced such nostalgia? After taking three more Grub Street courses, I’ve decided nonfiction creates a more personal bond between class members. Fellow students in Short Story and Novel in Progress labor over work culled, on occasion, from life but more often inspired by imagination. Finding-Your-Book alums had shared a specific passion. The story of a future doctor visiting rural clinics in an effort to understand Guatemalan midwives or of a filmmaker expressing her love for an African orphan moves you in a different way than a made-up story. In Finding Your Book, we discussed poignant real-life stories, verbalized our reactions to them, and came away enriched by the experience. Most of the women “found” their books, but in so doing, we also found each other.
Alexandra Grabbe is the author of Wellfleet, An Insider’s Guide to Cape Cod’s Trendiest Town and the editor of Émigré, 95 Years in the Life of a Russian Count. Her recent work has appeared in The Washington Post, Better After 50, Five on the Fifth, and The Gateway Review, and is forthcoming from The Offbeat. She is writing a novel.See other articles by Alexandra Grabbe