Adventures of an Author
July 7, 2023 -- Marisa Guerin, PhD
I may have been writing for a long time, but I have only been a for-real published author of a for-real printed book for some months now. It's been a learning adventure and a challenge, as well as surprisingly touching at times.
"Life Lessons from St. Thérèse of Lisieux" was published in October 2022 by Word Among Us. The book was co-authored by me and my life-long friend, Br. Joseph Schmidt, who passed away last year. As you know if you have been reading my blogs over time, this little book was a labor of love. Joe and I collaborated in putting out into the world a practical, accessible book that gives the reader life-guidance based on Thérèse's strikingly-modern emotional and spiritual maturity. It's been doing well, is highly praised, and is into a second printing. But none of that was clear at the outset.
In February of 2022, just a few weeks after we finished the manuscript and sent it off for consideration by a publisher, Br. Joe passed away after a lengthy decline in his health. His death came just two days before I went into the hospital for a grueling three-week stay. I was being treated for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, by receiving a transplant of my own previously-harvested stem cells. That part wasn't so hard; it was the high-dose chemo that preceded the transplant that was the kicker. How I got through that time period, I'll never know.
I found myself grieving the loss of Joe, one of my dearest friends ( and attending his funeral via livestream from a hospital room), navigating a foreign, scary world as a hospital patient during Covid time, mostly feeling physically miserable, and then trying to sound cogent and normal in emails to the publisher from my laptop in the hospital room. I burst into tears more than once when something trivial just dropped me over the edge of my coping ability. I will be forever grateful that the folks at Word Among Us, who had already published many of Br. Joe's writings, readily agreed to publish his latest, last work. My biggest burden, the sense of obligation to get this book out to the world, had been lifted right away. Whew. The first chapter of my author adventure was high drama, for sure.
More new experiences awaited. As I recuperated at home over the following months, every few weeks I found myself engaged in the back and forth process that occurs between author and editors. The publisher kindly warned me that authors typically find this challenging --- it's not easy to have someone else propose changing, much less deleting, the words on the page that you sweated over for days or months or years. For me, the challenge was perhaps not the normal one that an author experiences: Joe and I had written the entire book already, and I was now the only one of the two of us who was alive and able to consider how to respond to editorial guidance. I didn't feel too much investment in my own words, but I felt deeply obligated to represent what I knew to be the material Joe would consider essential and non-negotiable. It was an odd combination of calm detachment and fierce defense!
I appreciated the skills of the editors, accepted most of their advice on tightening up the writing, but stood my ground on several points that I knew had to be retained. Mutual respect, honesty, and forbearance helped me and the publisher find our way to a good result. I was especially glad of that, because there was no way I was in shape to do the editing myself. When the manuscript went to the printer in mid-summer 2022, I breathed a sigh of relief. The hardest parts were over.
Now we fast forward to the Fall of 2022, with my cancer in remission, my health returning, and the book actually finished. It was such a thrill to hold the real book in my hand that I and my friend had written! It was time to spread the word, and I have been doing my best since then. Joe's own brother, Msgr. Frank Schmidt, singlehandedly accounted for hundreds of gifts of the book. The Amazon page got populated with author info and reader reviews, and with the high praise of the generous colleagues and experts who had read the manuscript in advance. We were off to the races.
For most authors, I think it is usual to do a lot of marketing and promoting. In the past, Joe himself had been a regular on the US and international retreat leader circuit, giving talks and selling his own books all over the place. I wasn't going to be able to do that. But some options for presentations and talks did present themselves, and I enjoyed them. I gave a full day retreat on themes from the book to sold-out groups at Francis House of Prayer in Trenton and at Cranaleith Spiritual Center in Philadelphia. Both retreats were extremely well-received and reinforced my confidence in the value of the book for regular folks.
I presided over a little table at my parish Christmas Bazaar and was delighted that friends and fellow parishioners were interested in buying the book. I was invited to give a zoom talk on the book by Fr. John Dear of the Beatitudes Center as part of his ongoing speaker series on nonviolence topics, and a month after that was invited to address a theology class at La Salle University that was studying women doctors of the Church (of which St. Thérèse is one). I enjoyed introducing Thérèse to both of these audiences, especially the students, smart and thoughtful young women paying attention to how to live in the real world. Thérèse impressed and captivated them.
Most recently, my friend Tim Fallon has written one of his excellent weekly blog-posts on the topic of healing from perfectionism and what he learned about it from reading this book about Thérèse. If you follow the link, you'll find your way to his website. Well worth signing up for the weekly reflections!
I'll wrap up my author adventure so far with a few words about how deeply moving it has been to hear from readers who have been touched by Thérèse's example. One person went to the trouble to contact the publisher for my contact information, and then called me to talk about how profoundly helpful the book was for him. Another who reached out to me was a friend from elementary school, lo these fifty-five years ago, who said the book reached her at a tender time and filled her with consolation. Others who got in touch with me were close friends of Br. Joe, hearing his "voice" in our book, and grateful for another chance to take in his wisdom.
I myself am a member of that last group, mentees of Br. Joe. I re-read a chapter from the book most evenings, as a way of keeping myself grounded in the messages of Thérèse's Little Way. She and Joe have been among my most important spiritual teachers. With their encouragement, I remember the words of St. Paul, "love is patient, love is kind," and I try to live Thérèse's lessons of inner freedom, compassion, creativity, a willing spirit, gratefulness, and self-surrender.
In the days to come, I may try recording a video presentation that summarizes some points from the book, and if I do, I'll pass it along to everyone on my blog-reader list. But in the meantime, I will content myself with gladness that this little book is making a difference in the world, one reader at a time. If you haven't read the book yet, perhaps you will, and you can let me know what you think. Peace, Marisa