Sunday, March 07, 2010

This Writer's Life

MPH was the third publisher to whom I sent my query. I had sent the first query a whole year earlier and the second one just one month before. After waiting in vain for responses from the two publishers, I wasn't really hopeful that I'd hear from the big publisher in KL.

So it was a surprise when I received that letter from MPH. They wanted to view the whole manuscript! I was asked to email my story to them.

Suddenly, I felt I couldn't email the story immediately! I wanted to improve some parts and tie some loose ends. There was also a lot of non-writing stuff to do.

Around this time, I fetched my mother from my brother's house in Kota belud, one hour's drive away. I knew it would not be easy to have her around because she is bed-ridden and we have no help. But she had been begging to be taken every time we visited. So I told her she could could stay with me for a month although mentally I was prepared to look after her for two months. No more than two months. I knew she would drive me crazy. No, let me reword that... I knew we would drive each other crazy.

I've always felt the least favoured among my siblings. Sometimes almost unwanted. I suppose it has not been easy for my mother either. To her, I've always been the bad guy and she's so convinced of my 'badness' that she had conjured up stories to tell to whoever came to visit, more in the hope of gaining sympathy, perhaps, than to cast a bad light on me.

Anyway, I took her to my house and ensconced her in my tiny writing room, my writing table pushed against one wall and her bed against the opposite wall. The whole room was like a jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing.

During the time she stayed with me I had to attend to her day and night. Twenty four hours. My day started early so breakfast was ready before she woke up and clamoured for my attention. I prefered to feed her breakfast before bathing her. Taking her down from the bed was a challenging exercise, both physically and emotionally. I had to make her sit on the bed with her legs dangling down over the side and from that position I carried her by hugging her under the armpits and, by straining myself, I was able to lift her and deposit her into a chair. I had to be careful to keep my back straight so I would not hurt my spine.

The tight bear-hug didn't last more than a few seconds but she'd be complaining of pain. She felt there was a rock on my chest and that was hurting her. I guess she wasn't aware that I was hurting too and that I could easily injure myself carrying her weight. (We weigh around the same -- 50 kilos!)

After breakfast, I pushed-pulled-lifted the plastic chair to the bathroom where I transfered her from the chair to the toilet bowl. I won't describe how we managed in the bathroom. Suffice to say that after her bath, she came out fresh and smelling sweet, her hair shampooed, her teeth brushed and her bottom cleaned.

Then there was the trip back to the temporary bedroom where, still in the chair, I towel-dried her hair, combed it, sprinkled powder on her body and rubbed skin lotion from her knees to her toes. She can't help? No, unfortunately. Her left hand is quite useless and she keeps it fisted so tightly that the tip of one finger has carved a hole in the palm. No amount of cajoling -- or threats! -- can help to remind her to move her fingers.

After changing her sheet and pillow cases, I transfered her to the bed while she repeated her earlier performance: "Oui! Oui! Ouiii!"

My mother prefered to stay in bed all day but I insisted she sat up for meals. I didn't want her to choke on her food. I encouraged her to watch TV so she'd be sitting upright longer but she'd get grumpy when things didn't suit her.

I slept just outside her door, like a dog, so I'd hear her when she called at night. I hung a chime on the curtain above her head and told her to jerk the string I tied to the chime when she needed me -- so she didn't have to strain her voice. And jerked the string she did, never mind if it was 10am, 3pm or 4am!

I was going crazy. I never nap -- waste of time -- and there she was, insisting that I stayed up with her when she couldn't sleep (because she'd spent the day time sleeping.) What have I got myself into?

I did it for three months. I almost went mad and was tearing out my hair when help arrived to relieve me during the last two weeks.

Hey, you're saying, why is she telling me this? I tell you why. Despite all this craziness, I was able to self-edit and improve my manuscript. I worked right in the room where my mother was parked and sometimes when I was on my computer, she'd be talking non-stop about this, that or nothing at all. And when she couln't get a sound out of me, she'd say, "Oh, you're writing?"

And I'd be overwhelmed with guilt.

I revised and readied my chapters and sent them bit by bit. The last chapters were emailed on 12 November, 2008. My birthday. It wasn't a coincidence. I had planned to send the final chapters on that day.

It was exactly two years since I retired and about 20 months since I started writing.

One month later, just before Christmas, Janet (an editor at MPH) emailed me. "Great news," she said. MPH has accepted my manuscript.

I've passed another hurdle.

Was I happy? Of course. But when I received a draft of the contract, doubts set in. What if people were not interested in reading my story?

In hindsight, I think I should have just bask in the warmth brought by the acceptance and not worry about problems until I had to cross the bridge. Many people take years working on their manuscripts. Some never get published at all.

I was lucky. My manuscript found the 'right' editor.

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