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How Following My Desires Led Me to a Memoir: Part 1, Genesis

Part 1: Genesis
Part 2: Expansion
Part 3: Contraction


I am publishing a book.

Not a children’s novel (although I’m working on that ~ Kelley Eskridge of Sterling Editing just did a fantastic developmental edit on my middle grade novel).

I’m publishing a memoir.
Here’s the story of how this book came about.

Last year around this time I announced Operation Hejira, our family’s plan to pick up stakes and travel the world full-time. What a rush to finally share the news after many months of secret planning!

I laboured over that post, Why I’m Taking My Life on the Open Road, with joy and trembling, sequestered in a carrel at the public library while my mom spent the day with Lia and Nico. I pressed Publish and the comments and exclamations rolled in ~ a gratifying mix of delight and envy, with a wide streak of sadness from those we would be physically leaving behind.

Not long after, I launched Operation Hejira: The Newsletter. Never before had my life been so interesting, so write-about-able, and I felt a strong urge to pull back the curtain. Not just to satisfy people’s curiosity and harness the drama playing out, but to blaze a trail for those who wanted to do something similar. As I wrote on the sales page for the newsletter:

Operation Hejira

You’re an artist who’s not settling for ordinary.

Even when your life looks perfectly normal on the surface, you’re brewing grand plans behind the scenes, patient to let them develop until just the right moment.

And you’re not much for jealousy. If someone’s doing something that makes your heart race, your first thought isn’t Damn them and their fabulous life, it’s I bet I could do that too.

You’ve gotten wind of families leaving their homes and travelling the world with their kids.

And you’re dying to know the nuts and bolts, the emotional ups-and-downs, the philosophical underpinnings to that ambitious scheme.

Well, I’m keen to indulge you ~ but not as a voyeur. I’m a coach and my business is transformation.

I have good stuff to share, and I’m making sure it goes to writers and artists who want this lifestyle for themselves when the time is right. People who want inspiration, ideas, and assurance that their dream is not crazily out of reach. Creatives who are ready to start taking steps toward that dream now, whatever their starting point.

I wrote four installments of the newsletter. The first one was about the emotional backlash that happened as soon as we announced, where I suddenly felt horribly selfish and guilty for what we were doing, and how I navigated that. Another detailed the goings-on at the Great Glebe Garage Sale in May, where we sold a whack-load of stuff. Another was about managing the overwhelm of the many tasks involved in making such a big life change.

I loved writing these installments, but they took time. And the newsletter didn’t have the size of paid readership needed to justify that time. I was starting to get behind on the letters and worrying that I wasn’t providing enough value for subscribers. Not a nice feeling.

Just before we were due to leave Ottawa, I went to Portland, Oregon for a business conference. The newsletter was on my mind (in fact, I worked on a letter between sessions in my hotel room) and at one point I decided that my next audacious goal would be to get 100 subscribers. But something else came along in the interim.

Late one evening I was lounging in a friend’s hotel room with a group of other entrepreneurs. One of those people was Michelle Farinella. I knew Michelle slightly from the coaching programs we’d done together ~ she was thoughtful, impeccably professional, and a stunning designer.

She asked me a few questions about the newsletter, and I shared my ambivalence about the project. I loved the idea of sharing the story in real time, but I felt the pace kept things somewhat surface-y and I longed for the chance to go deeper. I also wanted to find a larger audience and craft something that would really move people.

Michelle then described for me her vision for what these Operation Hejira dispatches could look like. I don’t even remember the details now, but the picture she painted was one of a beautiful and irresistible body of work that we could both be proud of, that would tell the story of Operation Hejira that people really needed to hear. We talked over ideas further while we shared an early morning coffee at the airport on the way home.

And at the moment I realized that Michelle was proposing we publish a book, an honest-to-goodness book, I started to cry.

I have wanted to publish another book ever since my first one came out twelve years ago (Brick and Mortar, a collection of linked stories). And the prospect of finally, at last, bringing another book into the world showed me that this fierce and tender desire to publish was as strong as ever.

Continue reading Part 2, Expansion.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • LaVonne Ellis April 24, 2012, 8:09 am

    Yay, so glad to hear this, Alison! And Michelle’s work is just scrumptious – what a great partnership!

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