Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Book Deal

For most of my life I dreamed of getting rid of my left foot. When I was ten, it started twisting and turning into something that embarrassed me, scared me, and eventually had the power to shape my self esteem and character. I spent a good part of my life trying to hide it. I spent many weeks on crutches, after repeated surgeries did nothing to change it. It wasn’t until I was tucked safely into an encouraging marriage, to a man who didn’t care about my foot, but instead about my heart, that I was able to exhale, and stop letting it rule my life.

Once I got brave enough to get rid of it, eight years ago, I never looked back. Through all the ups and downs (mostly ups) that have come with adjusting to a metal leg, I have never, for one micro second, wished I had my old foot back. My worst day on this new leg is still a hundred times better than the best day on my old flesh and bone limb.

I have always loved to write, and when the kids were little I poured that hobby into writing essays and stories. Once I was propped up on our king sized bed, waiting for amputation stitches to heal, it suddenly occurred to me that the journey to becoming an amputee might be something good to write about. It actually happened something like this (an excerpt from the first chapter of my book):

We were laying in bed, watching TV, the cat curled up in the place where my calf would have been, if I had a lower left leg. The title amputee was still new and the results of my radical decision still up for grabs.

"I really think I want to write about this," I said to my life mate, out of the blue.

"Write about what?"

He could not connect my comment to the episode of the Daily Show that blared across the room.

"My surgery. My decision. The reason I had it cut off."

"Oh." He turned to face me. "Yeah, that'd be good. Write it all out. Get down the details. Tell your story."

His encouragement made the wheels of composition turn in my brain.

"But where do I start? Last year? The year before that? When we first began letting our family know I was choosing to lose a limb?"

He was quiet, reflective. Jon Stewart had been muted and my man was fully engaged in this new conversation.

"No…you need to start at the beginning. The very beginning. There's no other way to do it."

"But why?" It seemed excessive, vain.

"Well, because….because for someone to understand how you could be happy to lose a leg, they have to see the sadness that came before. To understand why a grown woman would beg a doctor to perform such a drastic surgery they first have to see the little girl who hid on the playground and forgot how to run. They first have to witness the life you had, the years you had, with a limb you grew to hate."

His answer made me silent. He was right. I had to start at the beginning. There was no other place to start. To understand the decision I made at age 37 you first have to understand who I was at age five.

And so I dove in. So much of my decision came from the events in life that shape who you are. I was raised in a big foster family, which made our natural family of seven constantly in a state of super sized flux. I noticed my foot starting to grow wrong, but hated bothering my overworked parents about it, knowing they had bigger things on their plates.

I hung out in the middle of the commotion, happy to fly under the radar, as I silently questioned and feared what that twisting foot meant for my future.

Years of doctors visits and quizzing any medical professional I could, about the idea of cutting it off and starting over, only to be told it was a foot with a pulse (not diseased) so amputation would never be an option, beat down my resolve.

Then marriage came, to the first man I had ever shown my naked foot (and he valiantly said, “What’s the big deal again?...”) and children arrived. More medical issues arose, this time not concerning me, but my mother and then my newborn son. I learned to step up, and fight for medical answers. I learned that doctors are just people. Many of them are heroes, but many of them are misinformed. It was up to me to decide my own fate, when it came to my wayward foot.

Finally, through a series of other events, and eventual access to a bigger and bigger internet world, I decided to have that surgery, that so many doctors had told me would never be possible.

And I love my new leg. I love my new options. I love sharing my story. It’s about much more than a leg that I lost. It’s about never giving up, on getting the life you really want. For some people it might mean losing that extra weight. For some it might mean working on the quality of their marriage. For me, it meant losing a limb.

It was scary. But it was so worth it, in the end.

I wrote the bulk of the manuscript for my book, that I’m calling “Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability”, then spent months researching how to get it published. This was over five years ago, when the publishing industry was just starting to wobble. E books were coming on the market, and everyone was scrambling, to figure out what it meant to traditional books.

I got many nibbles, many notes of encouragement from publishers, and lots of flat out rejections, but no takers. Life picked up in intensity, and the manuscript was buried in the back files of my computer for the past couple of years.

Then, for some reason, in the middle of this chaotic move from NY to Colorado, I pulled out my files again. I found a great memoir on the new book shelf of our local library that inspired me. I wrote the author and told her I loved her book, but that something about it had also inspired me to pull out my old files.

She kindly replied to my email (as many of my favorite authors do, something I’ll always be grateful for) and encouraged me in my own writing. She also shared with me that she had self published her book, then was picked up by a traditional publisher.

I’ve toyed with self publishing in the past. The main reason I’d dragged my feet about doing it myself, was the respect factor. I was in a wonderful writers group in NY, filled with published writers, and it just seemed like, to be picked up by a traditional publisher was the standard to meet. It meant your work was worthy and edited well. It meant it ‘deserved’ to be in print.

But in the past few years I’ve heard more and more stories that contradict that advice. Some really great books have been self published. My book can be a great book, without a traditional publisher, but it’s just up to me to make sure it’s right. The editing needs to be spotless. The layout needs to be professional. The cover needs to be perfect. And at that point, what’s the harm in getting it out there ‘myself’?

I’ve now decided I’ve reached the point where I’d rather have it out there, than wait for the stars to align, and have the Manhattan guys calling my number. I’d love to get my story into the hands that need it. The people who approach me at the gym and say, “My nephew just got back from Iraq and lost his leg. How can I encourage him?” The people who are brave enough to ask about my lost limb, then fascinated when I tell them I chose to have it taken off (there is just not time in the aisle of Walmart, to give them the deep reasons for my decision). And the friends I grew up with, many of whom had no idea I had anything more than a slight limp, as we navigated the years of middle school, high school, and college.

I truly believe, in this age of constantly changing technology, that my story will not be the exception, in years to come. The foot I wear today was not created a handful of years ago, when I was getting my first leg. I can’t wait to see what technology will bring me in the future. I see it in the same light as hip replacements and organ transplants. The old part didn’t work, there are parts that can replace it. Why would we not choose to start over?

I’d love to get my story out there, at the beginning of this new age, to introduce the idea to our changing world.

Because I really and truly believe in the subtitle to my soon to be published book - amputation most definitely cured my disability.



Sandra said...

I would so love to read your book. The reason why I got to your blog was a post about your let and the amputation. And I stayed here because I love the way you write and the thoughts you have.
Please let me know when it is out so I can buy it!
All the best

Just One Foot said...

Thank you so much, Sandra, for the encouragement! I'll be counting on you to spread the word, once I get it published! I treasure comments like yours.


cherylm said...

Judy, I think your story would mean a great deal to new or prospective amputees...especially those of us who had to make a conscious decision to lose a limb. I know that I had to spend a lot of time justifying my decision to amputate, and I've spoken with other elective amps who feel almost guilty about "giving up on saving the leg." You once wrote something called "You've already lost it" that I've referred others entire book telling your experience would be a godsend to many! Publish away!

Just One Foot said...

Cherylm, I'd love to get my book into waiting rooms of prosthetists across the country. I searched high and low for a story of a 'regular' amputee, before my surgery, and could only find stories of super athletes. It's one of the reasons why I decided to write my story.

Thanks for the encouragement. I'll keep plugging away at the publishing process!


Marion Roach Smith said...

Absolutely compelling, this story is one that you tell beautifully. I am fascinated -- right from the start. The wider world of all of us who struggle with moving on from anything will love to read this book. Waiting by the bookshop door.


Hi Judy, I saw your comment on Marion Roach's posts on She Writes. You are a beautiful writer and I'm sure your book will be an inspiration to many. You've been faced with many tough decisions in your life, the choice to amputate and then the choice to self-publish. I've written a memoir too and still haven't come to a decision about publishing. I wish you much success!

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Judy, I also saw your comment on Marion Roach Smith's blog post on She Writes, and heeded her advice to read your blog.

Your writing is lovely. I definitely want to read your book when it comes out . . . and I just know it will, one way or another. Your story will help so many people.

I am struggling with my own memoir. I will continue to read your blog for inspiration!