“You should be glad you didn’t get your girls back yet,” a friend told me while we were in line at a coffee shop. “Your book will be that much better.”
It was 1995, and I had just returned to Alaska from Greece after my first failed attempt to rescue my kidnapped daughters, taken by their non-custodial father a year earlier.
No, I wasn’t glad at all. My daughters’ kidnapping was a continuation of leaving an abusive relationship. It was the answer to the only question asked when a woman was abused. Why does she stay? Here’s why: Because sometimes, the cost of leaving is incalculable.
I wanted to write a book about bringing my daughters home. I knew that my stoic ways had helped me through a turbulent childhood of my own, punctuated with family violence and my own childhood kidnapping, would carry me through. This is a story, and it will have a happy ending. It has to. It simply has to.
I knew that this story was one to be shared, one day with my daughters, and with other women wanting to break out of their own intergenerational patterns of abuse. So in the thick of the crisis, I journaled, and then I sketched an outline of things to share, and eventually I made cassette tapes of events I wanted to remember when I started my memoir.
At first, I thought the trickiest part about writing my memoir was deciding where to end it. Was it when my daughters and I were finally reunited in 1996 and came home to Alaska? Was it after their father sued me from Greece in the federal courts the next year? Or might the end be when the children and I found our new normal, after the benefits of therapy and the passage of time kicked in?
To find my book’s end, I would need to begin writing. At night after work, after the dinner dishes were cleared and the girls were tucked in bed, I pulled out my journal from Greece and the outline I’d penned and began to cobble together the memoir.
This book became my third baby. I wrote during my daughters’ soccer practices. I wrote late at night. And then there were times I stopped. When the roof of our home caved in. When my youngest daughter ran away. When I needed a second job to pay our mounting legal and credit card debt left over from the abduction.
While I was absorbed in my own minutia, I failed to notice that the publishing world was shifting. I quietly believed that the only real route to success for my baby would be to traditionally publish. I’d already been single parenting my daughters for over a decade. This time around I wanted a partner.
I finished the first draft of my book just in the nick of time. I signed up for my first writer’s conference and paid extra for an agent to review my first ten pages.
“So what’s your hurry?” the staff literary agent asked, having glimpsed my first paragraph. To my horror, he shook his head and wrinkled his nose before looking up at me to hear my answer. I thought he would be wowed. He was not.
But he wasn’t bored, either. He tracked me down the next day to offer more pointers. “Let the reader know within the first page what your hook is. You told me what it will be about if I read to page 50. Instead, why not tell your readers on the first pages what the hook is so that they’ll keep reading until the end…Don’t just write what happened. Write how you changed after what happened. Remember, you get one chance to write your story. Once it’s out, there aren’t any re-dos.”
For the next ten years, I tried everything I could think of to get it right. I joined a critiquing group. Then a book group. I took more writing classes. When progress stalled altogether, I set the manuscript aside and decided to start a novel. This time, I hired a writing coach to help. And week by week, chapter by chapter, I learned how to craft a story.
My writing coach would say, “I’m not sure why this paragraph is here,” or “Is this necessary?” referencing a scene in my novel I had cherished but that did nothing to move the plot forward. Though she and I were strangers, my writing coach seemed to understand where I was headed in my novel’s plot almost before I did.
A year and a half later, I finished my novel. I told her in our wrap up conversation about my long overdue memoir, and she agreed to take a look at it.
Before sending my manuscript to her, I decided to re-write the whole book in present tense. Rewriting it in present tense drew me back in to that horrible time in my family’s life, but it also opened my eyes to see my story’s potential. Instead of Then he (my ex-husband) strangled me, I wrote As Gregory squeezes my neck, my weakness, my passivity, escapes my body as the air is wrung out.
Much better. I felt good about sending this revised manuscript to my writing coach. My book still needed work, I was told, but we could work together to get it publication-ready.
Now I am no longer daunted when asked why I waited so long to publish. Yes I am 51 years old, my girls are nearing 30, and my book will be just over 21 by the time its journey is complete. But my book is not overdue. I know this now. Its delivery feels perfectly timed, allowing my daughters to become solid in their healing, and providing a gestational period just long enough so that its own pieces and parts could be seamlessly formed.
L.A. Meredith LLC is a writer based in Alaska with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in psychology. She has worked as a domestic violence advocate and a child abuse investigator, and with at-risk teens as a juvenile probation supervisor.
More than another missing children’s story, Pieces of Me recounts Lizbeth’s struggle to bring home her internationally abducted daughters from Greece to Alaska. It’s the story of a 29 year-old woman whose own life was marked by family violence and childhood kidnapping who then faced her own $100,000 problem on a $10 an hour budget. It’s the story of the generous community in Anchorage, Alaska, and of a welcoming community in Greece who joined Lizbeth’s efforts to make the impossible a reality.