February 20, 2018

Award – Validation and Connection

Book Award“2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards – Important Announcement!” The subject line on the May 3 email grabbed my attention, and the text was even better. “Your book has been named a Finalist in the MEMOIRS (Other) Category.” I took a deep breath and kept reading. “Your achievement will be published in the next few weeks at www.IndieBookAwards.com along with the other Finalists and Winners.”

I jumped up from my chair and pumped a fist in the air with a whoop. This award not only filled me with joy and validation but it also helped me clarify the connection I feel with my memoir, The Crane Dance: Taking Flight in Midlife. And, the award reminded me that writers don’t work alone.

“Your book will be listed as a Finalist in the 2017 NGIBA [Next Generation Indie Book Awards] catalog and distributed at Book Expo America in New York as a countertop handout at registration desks.  Your book will be promoted to book buyers, book lovers and library reps along with media and industry professionals.” 

Self-publishing The Crane Dance meant that I had to be a promoter, not just a writer. “We typically have to work a lot harder to get our books into retail stores (or our authors onto Oprah) and ultimately into the hands of readers,” explains the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group (IBPPG) website. The IBPPG co-sponsors the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the largest not-for-profit book awards program in the world for self-published and indie authors. The award program recognizes the best independently published books of the year in more than 70 categories.

Three of the categories in the competition relate to memoir: Historical/Legacy/Career, Overcoming Adversity/Tragedy/Challenges, and Other. I entered two memoir categories and thought my best chance was Adversity/Tragedy/Challenges. But the judges chose my book as one of the five finalists in the general memoir category.

The Crane Dance recounts how I hit an emotional bottom when I lost my job in midlife and then came to understand and transform my coping mechanism at stressful stages in life, chronic low-grade depression, patterns deeply ingrained in my brain and behavior. I drew on the energies of the men’s movement, the power of expressive arts, and the quiet force of meditation, along with antidepressants, therapy, and reflections on my relationship with each of my parents to find a new vitality for the second half of life.

So, is the storyline of my book about depression, an “adversity/tragedy/challenge”? A friend wrote on her blog: “The book is well written. Parts of it are compelling. However, I found the lengthy descriptions of Bill’s various efforts toward acknowledging and gradually reframing his depressive tendencies, well, depressing. I wondered if it wouldn’t have been more rewarding for me to read a ‘standard’ life journey book – hero starts out, hero encounters challenge, hero finds mentor, hero overcomes challenge, hero is celebrated by his peers – end of story. But perhaps Bill’s story is truer to reality. In our instant-everything culture, we may need reminders that not all problems have quick or evident solutions and that many of our efforts will not fully succeed.”

One reader, a person I don’t know, wrote in an email: “I’ve never been so emotionally moved resulting in personal growth from reading any book. I had as many wow moments as those moments when I shed tears.” Re-reading the note, I notice that the word depression did not appear with comments about personal growth, tears, and wow moments.

Talking with a friend who has published several mainstream novels, I asked, “Do you think it’s better for me to talk about this as a book about men and depression or as a memoir about the arc of one’s life in general?” Without hesitation, she said, “The second one, the arc of your life.”

“Good. I see my dealing with depression as a case study for the larger purpose I was driving at – how a person comes to view and understand the driving forces in his life, a kind of mythological tale.” She nods. “I stepped back and observed myself, how I changed and what forces led me on a new path.”

“I agree completely,” she said.

The award in the general memoir category validated my vision for the book as well as my late change in the subtitle. At a friend’s house, with a group of guys taking a break in a bridge game. I asked them what they thought about my current book subtitle, “Coming to Terms with Depression.” “That sounds sooo depressing,” one of them said. We all laughed, me included. Then the group started brainstorming. I told them more details, and they came up with my final choice about flight in midlife.

Books are not completed alone, from title choice to promotion efforts. I learned about the Indie Book Award contest from one of the regular emails that the NC Writer’s Network sends out. Turns out, my friend Drew Bridges also learned about the contest from the Writer’s Network. And, he too was named a finalist, in the category of fiction under 80,000 words. Drew and I were in the same writers group while completing these two books, meeting every other week for about three years along with four others. We shared versions of chapters, gave each other comments, rewrote, more comments. This group provided a supportive and vigorous structure to help me finish my book.

“Congratulations on your memoir being a finalist for Next Gen Indie Award!” wrote Charles Fiore of the NC Writers’ Network, upon hearing about our awards. “It’s wonderful to hear how you and Drew – and the rest of your writing group – have supported one another in your achievements. As we’ve been saying all year, nobody writes alone!” “Nobody writes alone” is the current slogan for the Network.

Drew’s book, The Family in the Mirror, a psychological thriller, centers on a complex woman, who has developed unique psychological defenses to help her cope with a cult-like existence. She was failed by the larger world including the mental health clinic run by a clinician who himself has lost his grounding in life for personal and professional reasons. Both are traumatized and find themselves stumbling into a relationship with great hopes but filled with mortal danger for both.

The overwhelming number of new books, combined with the millions of titles already in print, makes it difficult for booksellers, librarians, and consumers to identify books that are worth buying and reading, especially when those books are not published by companies with multimillion dollar marketing budgets. Drew and I are happy to talk about our awards and the value of writing groups, and how you can help our books stand out in the crowd.