Whenever I wanted feedback on a piece of my writing, I would call my mother. She listened patiently as I read, sometimes stumbling over notes in the margins, deletions, and edits. Like most supportive mothers, mine made a few suggestions here and there but, most often applauded my work.
My mother has been dead for over ten years, and I haven't found another first reader to take her place.
My dad? He read a lot of detective novels and wasn't too keen on the personal topics I covered. However, he blew a gasket when he read the subtitle of one of my books: "Love, Sex and World War II." The sex business infuriated him. And he didn't miss the chance to let me know it --in front of a table of relatives gathered for a family dinner.
"You have to change it."
"Dad, I can't. The book is about to published. And even if it weren't, I wouldn't."
The other people at the table sat silently, shocked, afraid to get involved.
"I don't give a damn. This isn't a book about sex."
I tried to explain that my editor had suggested I add the word--you know to whet the appetite of more readers. After all, it was a book about the relationships between men and women during the war. And there were all kinds of prostitutes hanging around bases and in the European theatre to service the men far away from home.
My dad did relent and reluctantly attended a book talk I gave in Florida where he and my mother lived at the time. I don't think he ever looked at me directly during the presentation. My mother beamed with pride. (And she managed to get just about everyone there to buy the book.)
A personal narrative about a game of Scrabble my mother, father, and I played when my mother's dementia was in full display was just accepted by Literary Orphans, an online magazine. My first impulse was to call my mom. She would have been delighted. Well, maybe. I'm not certain how she would have reacted to me writing about her mental fog. She'd done a good job of fooling all of us.
When I got word that the piece would be published, I had trouble falling asleep. My mind raced with ideas about how I might turn this narrative and others into a book about life, death and everything in between. I would write about my brother's suicide, my son's automobile accident that just missed severing his spine, my addiction to sleeping pills, the "reader" and hypnotist who helped me kick the habit, and a lot more.
The next morning, I woke up at 4:20 AM, the exact time I was born. Coincidence? Or a sign that my mother, my brother were standing behind me, cheering me on?