34. Stories: Burning Bridges To Cross

05/31/2021

When the first book of my memoir trilogy, Victory Is My Name, was published late last year, I invited some friends and close colleagues to read it online at a private web-page, or download the e-book there. I didn’t request feedback, though of course I was hoping for some. One of my longterm friends (we were best-friends as children and young teens) started to read the book and then stopped when it got to the hard parts. I believe it became too uncomfortable for her to read about some private feelings and events of my life that had never been visible in my cheerful optimistic nature as she  knew it. For me this was so disheartening, more than I can even begin to tell you.

Reading a book that’s historically or personally true requires embarking on a journey that may not be entirely safe, and certainly will not be entirely comfortable. But the reader always has an easy escape – just quit. Close the book and walk away. 

There were several friends who stopped reading when they got to the hard parts of my life. They were not abandoning me, they just instinctively and innocently did not want to go there. They didn’t want to know me that well. They liked me the way they had come to know me: cheerful, honest, not too complicated.

The dedicated “Real Readers,” deep readers, the kind who love and devour books as a normal part of their daily lives, those are the ones every writer wants to love us. But capturing them is like fishing the ocean with a bent pin on a string. And if we succeed, most of them will be strangers who are not handicapped by any prior perceptions of us. 

In every good book there will be a burning bridge the reader must cross, usually early-on, and in every great book, there will be many more ahead. That’s where the commitment is made, at the  first burning bridge, whether to cross into this journey or turn away. 

My readers and yours are out there, but they probably won’t be our family or friends, and this will hurt. But it’s because some parts of us will emerge through our writing that will disturb their old concept of who we are. They will suddenly see someone deeper or more complicated than they knew, which may shock them. Not-knowing was fine, and it was working for them. God bless them, for they probably loved their version of us very much, as they perceived us. Now if we turn out to be too much more than they knew, it disturbs their comfort. It might even cause them to take a deeper look at their own lives.

Here’s one truth out of many that I learned over and over in my 20 years as an ER caregiver, where we cared for every unimaginable level and form of humanity: You don’t know that person in front of you, no matter who it is. 

You don’t really know your parents, or your family as individuals, or your friends. You never met them until you met them. You never knew your parents when they were young, and yes, as sexually passionate, instinctively selfish, and earnestly foolish as you are, or were, when you were 20-something. You don’t know what emotional life-baggage they’ve carried, and struggled with, down the path to get this far. You don’t really want or need to know. 

That colleague who is confident, successful, and self-assured, may have been abused, abandoned, physically or emotionally starved and beaten as a child, and nobody knew. Maybe s/he is one of the brave ones who were strong enough to survive. Maybe whatever they had to overcome forced them to grow stronger and braver, and that force became instead what sustained them, became the scaffolding of the quiet confidence that you see now.

You don’t know how the filthy homeless alcoholic or drug addict on the ER gurney got here, with a bloody face from falling down drunk again, whose life my co-workers and I will save, again. You  don’t know their story. Everyone you meet may have crossed a few burning bridges to get to this place, where they now stand before you. You  don’t know their story.

As the pandemic begins to reluctantly subside and I venture out into my life again, I’ve made a new commitment to my book. I sent another email to one of the friends who stopped reading the book, and asked her to to give it a second chance. I said something like “Try not to see this odd little girl, latchkey kid growing up on the sad side of Dallas in the 1950’s, as someone you know. Don’t try to match her up with the woman you know me to be, now or ever, that’s not who she was then. Try to read it like a novel, an entertaining story with a protagonist and antagonist and other characters and events. I think you might quite enjoy it that way.” 

She did read the book again. Afterwards she sent me an email, and said she had read it straight through in two days. I was stunned, but not entirely surprised. She is a professional woman, dedicated and hard-working. She has always been a leader in her field, and like all strong women, knows how to make a commitment and get a job done. She wrote me an extraordinarily generous positive review, and a massive boulder of doubt and discouragement fell off my shoulders. The book was not so bad. It had been the commitment to the journey that was the block, the burning bridge that we are all naturally reluctant to cross. 

So here is the challenge: for your book or mine to succeed. For its gift to be shared and its truth be told, we’ve got to find a way to get both friends and strangers to take the risk, to brave the journey, for a good book is always a dangerous journey, and a great book will have many burning bridges to cross. But just beyond, there will be a discovery of something about ourselves and all of us.

You don’t know the person standing in front of you, no matter who it is. They might have an unexpected gift to give you. Only a few of us will dare to tell our story, but in every one of us, there is always more to the story.

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The book is Victory Is My Name, a Memoir, Book One. It’s available in paperback at your favorite bookseller, both paper and ebook are at internet stores (Search by author, Victoria Chames) and any brick & mortar bookshop will order the book for you with no shipping charge. You can read a sampler here –  http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html

If you’re interested in being a Beta Reader for Book Two: The West Bank, please contact me by email:  victory (at) darkhorsepress dot com. The first draft of Book 2: The West Bank is now in progress.


14. Dear Beta Readers

03/10/2017
First of all, thank you for participating in this pre-publication First Read, and helping me to write the best book I can. Some of you have known me at some time in my life. It’s going to be a task for you to step back, and read the stories as objectively as possible, as characters you’ve never met. That’s how you can help me in the writing process. As you read, or after a chapter, notice things like “what was my impression of this chapter? What stood out for me? What seems strong? Weak? Too fast or slow? Confusing? Unrealistic? Vivid?.” Was there enough of __(fill in the blank)__ or too much? Those are the things I need to know, things that if spotted and corrected will make the book better and clearer at saying what I want to say in a way that is understandable, not phony, not preachy, not fancy, and as genuinely as I can. Even though this is a memoir, in writing the stories, I found it helpful to think of the protagonist/ storyteller as simply a character in a book, not me. That changed both my perspective and my perception surprisingly. When I stepped back and looked at this funny little girl from a distance, as someone I was observing like a character in a movie, I saw things about her that I never could have seen when I was her.

So if you are one of my friends, don’t take Victoria with you into chapter one, dump her at the gate and leave her out of it. She is someone else, who came much later. The first time you meet Vickie, see her as somebody you have never met before. And in your comments and suggestions,  if you refer to this character as “the little girl” or “the storyteller.” That will help you keep a fresh unbiased perspective. For example, write “she was…” Not “you were…” Other than that, just enjoy a free book.

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Congratulations, you are now a Developmental Editor. Professional ones make big bucks for this. So please know how much I value and appreciate your participation in my creative process. This will surely bring you lovely Karma. I’ll be blogging more here about the beta reader experience, so y’all come back.

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Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames. For a sampler, go to http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html

If you’re interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress., please contact me through “victory @ darkhorsepress dot com  Thank you.


13. Beta Readers = Fresh Eyes

03/08/2017

A beta reader is someone who reads an unpublished manuscript at an early-draft stage and gives feedback to the writer. Beta readers provide a second perspective (or third, or fourth) which can often spot fixable flaws or shortfalls in the manuscript that the writer can’t see, because we are too close to it.

How does the process work? We have signed up with a terrific new site that takes care of the process for us, and just gives us your responses and views of the work. You can read as little or as much as you like, comment on some chapters or all, if you wish. Your impressions, your “take,” your point of view, is valuable.

On the web, the works and your comments are password-protected; they can’t be seen by search engines or any outside parties.

I’m seeking a few readers who might be:
(1) fellow-writers, but don’t know me personally, or
(2) non-writers, just people who love to read.

(3) people who know me, but are willing to take a chance on the real me…
(4) this will probably be cataloged as a “women’s” book, but its about overcoming the well-meant untruths we were all taught as children about gender-roles and responsibilities that hold us hostage in life.

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Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames. Publishers’s sampler: http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html

If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress, please contact me through email:  “Victory” at Darkhorse Press dot com. Thank you.


12. Trust The Inner Voice

01/03/2017

I have learned to trust my intuition and the lines that come to me in the middle of the night, I get up and write them down. So many times, this is a stream from an unseen source, but it very often, very surprisingly, tells me truths I don’t even know yet. The book I’m writing was intended as a memoir but has become more like an epistle of faith. Looking

The book I’m writing was intended as a memoir but has become more like an epistle of faith. Looking across my history and the history of my family from the  outside-in, I can see patterns and meanings I didn’t see when I was looking from the inside-out. It is being written like a letter not from my persona’s usual view, but more as if spoken from some inner voice, seen by inner eyes, uncontrived and unplanned. Whatever comes to me from this source, I write it down. If it has value, if it that rings true and real, it will stay. If it should turn out to be unimportant, it will discard itself along the way–these things take care of themselves. All of my poetry came this way – as  gifts of grace, never as the product of conscious endeavor, craft, or intention. I trust the soundless voice that speaks much more than I trust my own limited and conflicted intellect.

When I was in my twenties, an artist and a fledgling poet, I said to God “Make me your instrument.” Maybe God will finally do that, or maybe that’s the One who placed the desire there to begin  with. Either way, the prayer has not really changed much, for I have learned and relearned that by myself I can do little of real importance or significance. But when I’m driven to the page by that unnamed voice, something clear and clean and beautiful emerges into the light of ordinary day. In that moment, the ordinariness, the stories, the simple truths of life become what they have always been, but unseen: they become sacred. My response to this can only be awe, wonder, and gratefulness.

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Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames. Publishers’s sampler: http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html

If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress, please contact me through email:  “Victory” at Darkhorse Press dot com. Thank you.


#9 Seeing

11/05/2016
This morning when I looked out my window at the huge old oak tree that I see every morning, again I marveled at the loveliness of it in the glittering morning sun, and a thought came to me: I am grateful that I have eyes that see beauty so many of us here on earth at this time don’t notice– don’t see what I see. The same kinds of beauty I have seen always, since I was a child, sustain me. Amazingly many of them don’t go away like other things do. Beauty has brought solace to me even in my darkest hours. The beauty of the Mississippi Riverbank in snow, the winter sky at night, ink-black and gleaming with tiny stars, each one securely set in that vast silent infinity. Beauty brings a little bit of joy into anything. There is some kind of beauty almost everywhere, if you look for it. And even when I’m surrounded by everything else that’s not beautiful, there is still an immense supply of remembered beauty inside of me, that never leaves me; I carry it with me. Autumn days, beautiful songs I have heard and felt, the thrill of the first warm day of spring, when the fine green needles of first-grass are pushing up through an ocean of mud. I have seen beauty in 10 million ways, and all of it is still mine, soaked into my soul. That my eyes can see what only they see, has made me an artist and a poet. I didn’t choose these things, they chose me, because this soul could see. And this morning, more than ever, I am grateful. The book: Unintentionally I am writing the last chapter. Even though the Hunger Years and the Fire Years chapters are not finished yet, the last chapter is pushing to get out. More parts of it are coming forward, and I’m willing to let them, happy to receive them. There is more to the ending now, and it is more complete. It closes the far-reaching wandering circle of the story, and quietly speaks the simple truth of it all, the secret that never was really a scret. This is a wonderful book. I continue to be astonished that I am the one to whom this book is given, amazed that I am the one somehow chosen to make the marks on paper. I am humbled, and grateful, and scared. It’s an assignment that’s so much bigger than I am. But I’ve been scared before, and so, hoping that somehow that I can be enough, I’m committed to giving it the best I have.

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Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames.

If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress., please contact me through “Victory” at Darkhorse Press. Thank you.

Victory Is My Name, a Memoir. This is a trilogy, and the first section, Book One: The Burning-Barrel launched in February and is available everywhere in paperback and e-book. Publishers’s sampler: http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html

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