Putting Pain to Paper by Susan Blumberg-Kason
After my mother read my memoir, Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong, she didn’t speak to me for a week. The night she finished the book, she sent a melancholy e-mail saying she was upset and would call me soon to talk about it if I was up for it. Although my mother knew about most of the events in the book, she later told me that she felt bad she had pushed these things out of her mind, that she had even forgotten some of them. I jumped into the mother role and consoled her, telling her not to feel upset about it. I had, after all, spent years working through the problems in my first marriage that I write about in Good Chinese Wife. From start to finish, it took me six years to write and publish my memoir.
Unlike most authors, I didn’t share my manuscript with anyone in my family (except bits and pieces with my brother Jonathan) until I had review copies in hand. By that time, the book was all but finished. I felt like I needed to get my story out—and polished—before sharing it with those closest to me. If I hadn’t written about such personal issues, I may have handled things differently with my family. I guess I needed to feel comfortable with the book before showing it to loved ones.
Although it might seem like six years is a long time to work on a book, in my case it worked out to my advantage. First of all, I needed to place some distance between that marriage and when I first started writing the book. In that time, I had many chances to talk to friends and a therapist or two about what went wrong in my marriage.
I remember attending a kid’s birthday party with my then-toddler son. In the kitchen some of the dads were drinking beer and talking about business trips to China. I butted in and started in on my ex-husband’s penchant for porn and talking to prostitutes in China. It was completely socially inappropriate to disrupt a kid’s party like that, but after keeping my problems to myself for so long (the five and a half years I was married), I let them all erupt once I left that marriage. If I had started my memoir at that point, it would have been drivel and total free association. Just like it’s never a good idea to write a letter or e-mail when you’re angry, it’s also best to put some distance between painful events and starting a book about them.
And in writing my memoir, I worked with a number of independent editors before I signed with my amazing agent Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency in 2012. By the time I started working with Carrie and later with my wonderful editor Stephanie Bowen at Sourcebooks, I could discuss anything in my manuscript and almost look at it objectively.
Besides talking about my story and putting some time between my divorce and writing my book, I also found that the road to publication created a new distraction that seemed to put even more distance between my old life as a good Chinese wife and my new one as an author. I became so focused on writing, querying literary agents, and revising my memoir and proposal. By the time I signed with Sourcebooks and started working on revisions and publicity projects, the painful events from my first marriage seemed like a lifetime ago.
Time may not always heal all wounds, but it certainly makes writing about them a little easier.
Susan Blumberg-Kason is a freelance journalist in Chicago. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, TimeOut Chicago, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and Chicago Parent magazine. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and three children. Learn more about her memoir, Good Chinese Wife, here.
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