Writing with my Mom

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One of my current projects is a book of short stories. I have a dozen of my own offerings, from micro-short flash fiction to slightly longer pieces, plus four stories I have recently co-authored with my mom. If you knew my mom, you’ll raise an eyebrow at how this project is possible. You see, she died in 1997.

My mom wrote a lot. I’m still in the process of recovering so much of her work. But, to my knowledge, only one of her short stories was every published – Ten Days Out appeared in the Story Teller Magazine in the fall of 1996. Most of her work was in a constant stage of rewriting, revising and preparing for resubmission to one magazine or another.

The four stories I have been working on for inclusion with my work appeared in an anthology that she and her writing group, The Coastal Tail Spinners, put together for family and friends.

So – why the need to co-author these works? Why indeed …

I had thought to simply transcribe and include these works under her name. The moment I started to type, I realized it wasn’t possible. I began to make changes and what I was doing was much more than editing. An internal dialogue with my mom ran steadily through my head. It goes something like this:

slides0011 (2)I don’t think she’d say it like that, Mom. What about this instead? No – well then, I’ll rewrite it like this. Do you like that better? I’m reading between the lines here, but shouldn’t we tease this part of the story out? Good grief, this section is far too long – let’s shorten it up. I know what you’re trying for with the vernacular dialogue but it’s sure to irritate the reader – you see that, right? The story just can’t end here. I’m going to take it in this direction. What do you think of that?

And on and on it goes. The process is emotionally draining. By the end of a few hours working with my mom, I feel the need of a long walk, a hot bath, and a big glass of wine. And she isn’t even here to argue!

And that’s the hardest part. I would give anything to have my mom beside me in this process. We’d be pulling our hair out by the end of the day but it would be invigorating and enraging and oh so wonderful. This one way conversation makes me feel the loss of her in ways I’ve not plumbed the depths of in the sixteen years since her death.

The writing process has brought me into a new relationship with my mom – a relationship I have to build without her, through words left on scattered pages. It’s lonely and some days it makes me cry but I wouldn’t miss this opportunity – not for anything.

I will put the book out in both our names and claim co-authorship for my mom’s stories – though her name will appear first. No matter the work I’ve done, the one who came up with the ideas and the characters deserves first billing.

What would you think of taking on a project like this? Share your thoughts; I’d be interested in participating in such a dialogue.

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Flowers are blooming somewhere – right? I’m longing for spring In love

22 comments on “Writing with my Mom

  1. I remember your earlier post about finding her mss on paper place mats, and I’m still agog! Actually writing with your mom will certainly be daunting, but I don’t have any doubt that it will be cathartic.

    Above all, I hope you enjoy the process and cherish the gift.

  2. our life is much like these flowers; as they appear now is their season of fullness! enjoying yours with your mom is a special treat!
    thank you for subscribing to me. Eddie

  3. P. C. Zick says:

    I’m so happy you’ve gone to this project. I remember the post about finding the stories. I think it was one of the first ones I read.

    • I really have to go back and forth on a number of fronts these days but I do keep returning to mom’s work and each time it is – yes – emotional, but at the same time so enriching. For every time I want to change something, I certainly find many more instances where I am in awe of her storytelling ability.

  4. This is a lovely raw and honest post, Francis. I still have my mum, but alas on the other side of the world. I can only imagine how taking on such a project would bring you close again, stirring emotions that you thought you’d dealt with years ago. I think what you’re doing is very special and I’m sure because of the emotional investment the finished product will be a winner!

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Gemma. Always welcome. Blending two voices is a challenge (especially when only one of those voices has a say!). But sometimes, in the quiet, I feel sure I know what my mom would want me to do.

  5. Gwen Stephens says:

    I remember you posting about this some months back, glad to hear it’s still in progress. I don’t know how I’d cope with this kind of project, since previous generations in my family didn’t write (to my knowledge). I think it would be fantastic to discover a loved one’s written legacy. I have a small collection of albums on cassette tape that my dad created for me (he died in ’99). Though I have no use for them anymore (I have all the albums now in electronic form or on CD), I can’t bear to throw them out with his handwriting on the labels. It doesn’t tell a story, as your mom’s work does, but handwriting is a very personal, unique trait that so deeply represents a person. Are your mom’s stories handwritten? I’d think that would amplify the emotion of the experience.

    • I have every example possible of my mom’s work – from handwriting to ancient Remington typewriter and some computer printouts as well. The handwriting is the most powerful and maybe the most challenging – my mom could have been a doctor with the illegible quality of her script. I do understand what you’re saying about your dad’s handwriting. I’ve kept a few things from my dad, who abhorred writing anything down – maybe because of that. Odd things – he had this old kid’s exercise book where he wrote down all his stops, mileage, and gas costs of a trip to Southern California he took. Hard to think what use something like that will be to me but I won’t part with it just yet, for sure.

  6. oldmainer says:

    What a great idea. So often the writings of those before us are lost. But to have them and DO something with them is wonderful. I am sure you will do them justice while bringing your Mom a little closer. I applaud you. Regardless of the effort or result, it is a win win. You get to spend some time with your mother doing what you both love(d).

    • That is the best part of it – sharing the joy of writing with my mom. I could lament at length about why we couldn’t have done this years ago when she was alive but I wasn’t ready then to write fiction. I was till being honed for what I would later do. So, as you so aptly put it, now it is all win-win.

  7. I think your project will be very emotionally rewarding for you. Best of luck with it! I am working on something similar – a small book of poems written by my grandmother around 1900. She died before I was born, but I think she communicates with me as I read her words and beautiful handwriting.

  8. I can’t imagine what an emotional process this is for you, Francis. I do remember your initial post on the subject and I’ve often wondered if you were moving forward. I’m so happy you are. Hang in there, and keep the wine bottle handy.

  9. I can’t say enough about this…about how special it is…what a wonderful opportunity. I too, remember the post about the place mats and how I basked in the fortuity of it back then. What a fantastic opportunity and I believe you are doing exactly the right thing.

    Much luck with it, Francis. :))

    • Thanks. It feels right – not just bringing my mom’s stories to the light of day again but doing the edits and changes. As I wait for my editor and cover designer to do their things on this book of short stories, I’ve been working at how they’ll be arranged. I’m seeing a great flow between my work and my mom’s and so many wonderful connections. An emotional but excellent experience.

  10. ianmooremorrans says:

    Wow, did your blog post on writing with your mother ever resonate with me, Fran! In fact, I feel it has answered a few questions I’ve had in the past year. As you know, our blog is mostly about my husband Ian’s writings. When I started out editing his stories about nine years ago I had just retired from my editing job, we had only been married a year and soon headed for Mexico in our motor home to explore retirement there. I relished getting to know him better through his writings, especially becoming familiar with his impoverished upbringing in Scotland during the depression and war years, his military service with the RAF in Egypt and his early marriage and fatherhood and then immigration to Canada. Editing that book was a true editing job in that I took his words and only changed them for grammatical reasons when necessary but then rearranged large chunks in a much more logical sequence as he had pretty much written it in a “stream of consciousness” fashion. When I found there were gaps or inconsistencies I returned the manuscript to him for additions and clarification. Though Ian was in his early 70s then, he was in robust health and had energy to burn. When he wasn’t writing he was entertaining by performing Scottish songs or teaching me his repertoire so that we could sing and perform together.
    That way of working cooperatively continued after our move back to Canada two and a half years later. But it lasted only for a little over a year when a sudden illness brought him to death’s door and a long hospitalization, much of it while he was in an induced coma. Recovery from the near-fatal illness was a slow process. He was kept alive and healed by over five years’ treatment with prednisone; however, it is basically a poison which wrecked havoc on the rest of his body. A heart attack in 2010 necessitated five stents in his arteries and another regimen of medication, exercise and diet changes. Now at 81, he is pretty much a recluse, rarely sings, no longer writes and rarely even reads. He sleeps a lot and is lucid mostly late afternoons and evenings but doesn’t have the energy to do much with his pile of writings which still need to be published, nor has he been able to do anything about promoting those which have already been published.
    That’s where I come in. I’ve put aside the pile of writing I’ve done over the years, mostly on spiritual insights and family history and feel it is my “labor of love” to try to get the rest of Ian’s writings edited and published. However, as you’ve found with your mother’s writings I have been grappling with the fact that I no longer can ask Ian to do re-writes when I feel they are warranted. Like you said with your mother’s work, “I began to make changes and what I was doing was much more than editing.” Ian and I have discussed how to address the authorship of the next book which I hope will be coming out soon. Granted, he is the main author. He originally wrote the children’s story, nursed it through a number of revisions over the years and had sent it to several publishers even before I met him. It was hung up on the need for editing though. I now have done the editing but have also made a number of changes in the story and added a spiritual component to it which I felt was lacking and needed. It no longer is just the story that Ian wrote. I’ve also recruited our 8-year-old great-granddaughter to do the illustrations for the book and have extensively adjusted those illustrations using Microsoft Paint to make them more consistent and the characters more uniform. So how do we identify the authorship of the book? Ian and I have discussed this and have tossed around listing a co-authorship or a “with” authorship such as “by Ian Moore-Morrans with Gayle Moore-Morrans.” We’ve thought that perhaps the former gives too much credit to me and perhaps the latter makes it look as if Ian had a ghost writer (which certainly isn’t the case).
    I found your remarks helpful when you stated, “I will put the book out in both our names and claim co-authorship for my mom’s stories – though her name will appear first. No matter the work I’ve done, the one who came up with the ideas and the characters deserves first billing.” Now I’m feeling more at peace with the “by author with another author” claim.
    What a great legacy your mother has left you and how wonderful that you can keep her memory so alive by working with her writings. I have the added advantage of still having Ian here with me so I can toss ideas and solutions around with him even though he can no longer physically do the re-writes and adjustments. I can even do future book readings and promotions for him without having to take along videos of him reading from the particular book. (Something I did twice in 2012 when I was able to travel to the States to do book readings/sales for Ian when he was unable to travel there because he couldn’t get travel insurance to go out of Canada.) In addition, Ian has added an addendum to his will granting me full ownership of his writings, both published and unpublished and free rein in pursuing publication of any as-yet unpublished writings of his.
    I wish you well with your co-authorship adventure with your mother and plan to re-blog this latest post of yours on our blog at ianmooremorrans.com. Thanks for your insights.

    • Thanks for sharing this story, Gayle. It most obviously has moments that cannot have been easy for you. I’m so glad that the way I am choosing to handle my mom’s stories is helpful with what you face. Thanks also for the reblog. Wishing you the best as you meld voices with Ian to bring what will become both your work out into the world.

  11. ianmooremorrans says:

    Hi again, Fran. I forgot to sign the comments above. Obviously, they weren’t written by Ian but by me – Gayle Moore-Morrans

  12. ianmooremorrans says:

    Reblogged this on Ian Moore-Morrans, Scottish Canadian Author and commented:
    Very illuminating and inspiring post. I’ll comment on it in my next post.

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