The Process: It Only Took 30 Years

The High Heel is a metaphor

In 1992 Les Nickelettes celebrated their 20th anniversary with a party at my house. The group hadn’t produced a play since 1985 but we still got together regularly for parties, pot lucks and gab sessions. Throughout my home I curated a museum style history of the troupe with a display of posters and photos from my archive. This led the revelers to conjure up old memories and laughs. Near the end of the event someone said, “We should write a book about Les Nickelettes.” 

            “Yeah, it could be Anarchy in High Heels – The Book,” I laughed.

The title Anarchy in High Heels had been coined 10 years earlier when I utilized the phrase in recounting the history of the group at Les Nickelettes Tenth Anniversary Bash. Subsequently, we used it as the title of one our shows. I was the only member that had been with the group from the very first time we stepped onstage through to the final show – a roller coaster thirteen years of highs and lows and everything in between. I was considered the glue that had kept it all together – the “mama” that watched over her brood. A light bulb went off in my head; I had to write the story of Les Nickelettes.  

I sat down the next day and scribbled down my recollection of the very first performance, and then fast forwarded to write my memory of the last performance of the last play. But then, I pondered how to fill in the gaps from that beginning to that end. I knew I couldn’t do it by myself. I started inviting different groups of performers from the various eras to my living room to reminisce about their time in the group (through the many years the group existed it evolved into three distinct phases). I taped these sessions, and they helped to trigger my memories, but also, critically, they filled in the lapses of my remembrances. Some people weren’t able to make the sessions, so I traveled to their homes and taped one-on-one sessions. And then there were people I had stayed in touch with but who had moved far away. I sent them a list of questions and they wrote back with their replies. Organizing, transcribing, and following up on the gaps in this material took many years. Not to mention that this project competed with my responsibility as a parent, and a day job. Still, slowly, a structure and a series of stories began to take shape.

Life intervened once again with a lay-off, a new demanding job, and a daughter in high school. My extra-curricular writing project was put on the back burner.

Five years later, after another job change, and my daughter off to college I returned to the project. Picking up where I left off, I saw I had about four chapters – not even half-way. I committed to writing every Saturday evening, a time when I was rested and knew I didn’t have to get up early the next day. It was a slow slog. I dove into my extensive archives: posters, flyers, scripts, press releases, photos, videos, and did more interviews. I also refreshed my memories by reviewing written comments and feelings jotted down in the pages of the datebooks that I kept at the time.

Finally, when I retired in 2013, I had a first draft. A big, messy, inflated, overwritten, shitty, first draft. But now, I had the luxury of devoting all my time to revising and polishing the writing and finding a pathway to publishing. I figured it would take me about a year to whip it into shape, then I could “shop it around” to agents and publishers.

It took six years. Revise, revise, and then revise again. I thought when I started that I was writing a non-fiction account of Les Nickelettes but the initial feedback I got from early readers suggested a shift in perspective: “How did you feel about that experience?” “How did it affect your life?” And finally, “Why don’t you make it more like a memoir?” This led me to insert myself, my feelings, and my personal growth into the manuscript. 

At the same time, I started researching the publishing process. I volunteered at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, I signed up for workshops, read articles, books, and scrolled through the internet. I learned that, like many things, the process of publishing was changing with lightning speed. As traditional publishing paths became increasingly difficult, especially for debut authors; e-books, self-publishing, small press, and hybrid-publishing was booming. I slowly began to get a feel for this broad spectrum in the current publishing landscape. 

After I completed the manuscript, I knew instinctively something wasn’t right. I knew it was too long, and… what? I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was stuck. Maybe if I cast it out into the universe, find a publisher, or an editor, they could help me find clarity. This led me to write a book proposal, another big time-consuming learning experience. When it was completed, I paid a publishing professional to evaluate it for me. Her critique of my first two chapters included in the proposal at first devastated me. But, after reflection, I began to see the light. First, I hadn’t completely committed to the point of view of a memoirist. Second, I had avoided letting the reader in on the “takeaway”. Wait. I’m supposed to let the reader in on what I learned? I had avoided inserting my takeaways because I thought you were supposed to let the reader “get it”. 

I opened the file on my computer, looked at the first page of a nearly four hundred page manuscript, and sighed, could I slog through another compete revision? I took advice from a book on writing by the well-respected writer Anne Lamont: take it just one bird at a time. Just one scene at a time. And then, it clicked. By completely buying into a memoir point of view, and adding my upshot at the end of stories, I sensed the narrative falling into place. I knew I had nailed it when I enjoyed re-reading the adventures of Les Nickelettes for the twentieth time. 

I was excited. I rewrote the proposal and sent it out to agents. I got mostly radio silence, and the agents that did respond did so with with a rejection (“not right for me right now, maybe some other time”). Then I turned to small presses and got some encouragement, but no takers. Finally, I submitted to She Writes Press – a hybrid-press that champions women writers. Bingo! The She Writes Press hybrid model does require the writer to invest in the project, but the dividend is a first-class published book with national distribution, and a gateway into a women’s community of writers. Like Les Nickelettes I found acceptance in a society of women; now that’s a takeaway. And so, after a mere thirty years, I present Anarchy in High Heels: A Memoir to the world.  

One thought on “The Process: It Only Took 30 Years

  1. susan evans June 29, 2021 / 6:49 pm

    You go ggurl!!

    Brilliant work

    Like

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