The Next Big Thing

Hand-writing-with-penA few weeks ago, I was tagged in The Next Big Thing by my friend and fellow writer, Jennifer Simpson. For those of you who want to know more about my memoir, here’s your chance.

What is the working title of your book?


Where did the idea for the book come from?

Back in 1995, I had dinner with a long-time friend. Faye had battled ovarian cancer and was officially in remission. We celebrated at an Italian restaurant. We’d finished our pasta and started the second bottle of red wine when Faye mentioned that she’d recently attended the funeral of the ninth woman in her cancer support group. Faye was the only survivor. She told me life was too short to fuck around, and next thing I knew, she’d extracted a promise from me to sign up for a creative nonfiction writing course offered by U.C. Berkeley Extension. I’d seen the course a few weeks earlier in the catalog. I had no idea what creative nonfiction was, but I liked the sound of it.

At the time, I envisioned that I’d write wilderness and environmental essays like a modern-day John Muir. What I ended up writing with increasing frequency were essays that dealt with my ongoing struggle to get pregnant. At every stage of the infertility process, I’d write an essay and invariably someone would tell me—privately, as we walked to our cars after class—that they knew someone struggling with infertility and they hoped I’d keep writing about it. So I did. Eventually, as the number of essays grew, I began to secretly harbor the idea that I was working on a book.

At first I thought my book was about infertility. By 2004, when I first muttered aloud that I might be writing a book, I knew it was about infertility and adoption. Now it has morphed into a book about infertility, adoption, addiction, single parenting, and autism.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary memoir.

What other book within this genre might you compare to MY GUARDIAN ANGEL SINGS THE BLUES?

This question is difficult for me. I’m not sure there are any memoirs that combine infertility, adoption, addiction, single parenting, and autism. (If you know of any, please fill me in.) Infertility is one of the last taboo subjects. I find it fascinating that people will talk openly about sex and even ED, but if they don’t immediately conceive, they clam up. Of the infertility memoirs that I’ve read, most end with the woman magically getting pregnant—which is not how it works for the vast majority of infertile couples; still these couples prepare for all aspects of giving birth including talking to a Birth Defect Lawyer. There are a greater number of adoption memoirs, but most deal with international adoption. To my knowledge, no one has written about domestic, open adoption, which is the path my ex-husband and I chose. I could call it a grief memoir, except it’s really much more than that. I have been blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with an incredible abundance of material.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Last summer I had the pleasure of seeing one of my stories performed on stage by the Petaluma Readers Theatre. I was nervous about what another person would do with a piece that contained a tremendous amount of internal dialogue. It was strange hearing my words coming out of someone else’s mouth, but Leslie Scratchard did an incredible job. Now it’s hard to imagine anyone else performing my work.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A successful attorney embarks on a ten-year odyssey to become a mother—shedding her profession, her expectations, and even her clothes—until she finally meets her drug-exposed “dream child” and discovers not only herself but also important truths about love, loyalty, and loss as well as how a second-generation American carries the cultural lessons from her past into an unanticipated future, redefining what it means to be a mother and daughter in the 21st Century.

Every so often I’m grateful that I learned to write really long sentences in law school.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I wrote my first infertility essay in the late 1990s. I completed the 250-page draft in 2007, just in time to submit for a Masters Workshop in Memoir taught by Gregory Martin at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. So you could say it took ten years, although I didn’t decide to write the book until the summer of 2004. If you start the clock then, it took just under three years.

I’m now working on my third draft. I hope it’s the last one.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My daughter inspired (and inspires) me to write this book, which when all is said and done, is the story of how she and I came to be a family. My daughter’s birth family is pretty amazing as well. I’m incredibly blessed to have them in my life.

Also, I wanted to write about what happens to the roughly 80 percent of couples who don’t have success with infertility treatments. I want women like me to know they are not alone and that there can be a “happy ending” even without a biological child.

Lastly, Jennifer Simpson has taught me so much about grief. Except for the lucky 20 percent (and maybe even for them too), infertility is a grief story. So is adoption. My ex-husband and the birthmother suffered tremendous loss and trauma as teens, so grief factors heavily into their stories as well. Jenn taught me that one heals grief by constructing a narrative about it. I know from personal experience that the more I tell my story, the less power it holds over me. By writing this book, I hope I can help others heal.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My daughter’s birthmother was in jail for the last month of her pregnancy, and we still went through with the adoption. And yes, we have ongoing contact with the birth family. I’m friends with all of them on facebook, and we visit several times a year. None of this seems strange to me, or more importantly, to my daughter and her three brothers.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m going to try for an agent first, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll consider self-publishing. I’d like to have at least one book published the old-fashioned way.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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