A review of The Mother of My Invention was posted to the blog a few days ago. Subsequently, I met the author, Pat Taub, to talk about the experience of writing the book. We met in a charming tea shop in Portland, ME. and were soon well into her writer’s mind.
AL: What was the date you learned of your mother’s diagnosis? How old were you at the time? How old were your kids? How much time elapsed until your mother passed away?
Pat: My mother was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in May of 1999. I was 55. My sons were young adults, 27 and 25. My mother died about 18 months after she was diagnosed. She died in December of 2000.
AL: When did you start writing the journal/memoir? When did you publish?
Pat: I started writing the memoir in the summer of 2002. It evolved from what I thought would be an essay. My original intention was to write about her death as a way to resolve the lingering anger and frustration I was experiencing. However, before I knew it, I was writing about her whole life and mine and our lives together. The memoir poured out of me. It took on its own life.
AL: What inspired the title of the book?
Pat: I came to see my mother through her eyes and not through my wounded memories. Thus, The Mother of My Invention.
AL: Over what period of time did you write the first draft?
Pat: I had a complete manuscript in about 10 months.
AL: How much additional time for copy edits and additional drafts?
Pat: I worked with an editor for several years. The additional drafts and rewrites took about two years.
AL: How many drafts altogether?
Pat: I’m guessing there were about 5 drafts. Some of the chapters went thorough even more rewrites.
AL: What is the word count of the final book as compared to the first draft?
Pat: The final book is half the size of the first draft.
AL: Tell me about your editor. How did you find her?
Pat: I found my editor by luck. I had written about 50 pages and was eager for feedback. I answered an ad in the journal for the International Women’s Writing Guild. The ad was placed by a publicist who was soliciting memoirs with the proviso that they didn’t have to be finished works. I sent her my 50 pages. She got back to me rather quickly, saying, “Your memoir needs a lot of help. I can refer you to an editor.” She offered the name of Clare Mead Rosen, a former Time exec. editor. I called Clare, who asked me to mail her my manuscript. Within a week of receiving it, she phoned me to say she thought I had the makings of a great book and not to worry about the publicist’s comments, explaining, “Publicists don’t know anything about writing.”
AL: What was it like working with her?
Pat: Clare was wonderful to work with. She couched her critiques in very supportive terms, praising me when it seemed appropriate. She had me cut my original 350 pages by half, getting rid of lots of extraneous details. She suggested that I minimize some of the conflictual exchanges with my brother, Nate. With Clare’s guidance I ended up with a much more diplomatic book than I might have produced otherwise.
From Clare I learned a lot about how to create clear sentences. Now I have incorporated Clare’s advice so when I’m doing a piece of writing and get stuck, l frequently ask myself how Clare might tackle such a passage. Clare and I had a very healthy give-and-take. There were times when I disagreed with her suggestions. Some of those times she convinced me to see it her way; other times I was the one whose viewpoint won out.
AL: At what point did your children get their first read? Did you make any changes after they read it?
Pat: My sons didn’t read the book until it was published. They both read it in the winter of 2012.
AL: Did the book inspire any more openness between you and your kids?
Pat: I wish I could say “Yes,” but not really. My sons didn’t comment much on the book. They may have been uncomfortable with the telling of family secrets. I’m not sure as to why they had so little to say about it.
AL: Did your brothers read the manuscript prior to publication?
Pat: I never ever considered letting my brothers read the manuscript before publication. I realized they would be uncomfortable with my candor.
AL: Did they feel it was an evenhanded treatment? Did you make any changes after their feedback?
Pat: I don’t really know how they feel about the book. My one brother, Nate, has never made any reference to the memoir. Gary commented only to say that he liked the way I depicted his now deceased wife.
AL: I understand you’ve developed women’s workshops as a result of the book. How has that been?
Pat: I have led several workshops for Maine Writers and Publishers. The workshops are entitled, “Discovering Our Mother’s Stories.” The focus of the workshops is to lead women in writing exercises to arrive at a more objective understanding of their mothers by studying their lives in the context of the times and their particular family culture. All this echoes my own journey.
AL: Is there a consistent profile of the attendees?
Pat: Generallythe women in my workshops have been middle-agedwith ages ranging from the early 40’s to the late 70’s.
AL: What have the workshops taught you? i.e. any experiences that are alien to yours?
Pat: The workshops have been very gratifying for me. They’ve taught me that women work well in community and to respect the centrality of the mother-daughter relationship and also to recognize that when a woman begins to hold her mother’s story she, the daughter, can feel liberated in new ways.
AL: What is your sense that the women take away from the workshop?
Pat: A feeling of well-being is often ushered in with a new mother acceptance along with a deepened love for the mother.
Most of the women attending reported that they uncovered new compassion for their mothers.
AL: I see you self-published. I am wondering if you shopped the manuscript to agents, what sort of feedback did you get? Or were you just impatient with the conventional publishing process?
Pat: I had an agent for a year. When he couldn’t sell my book I decided to self publish.
AL: And following on that. These days authors know that promotion is their responsibility. How much promotion have you done?
Pat: Generally my marketing has focused on library readings. I did do an in-depth interview with a Portland TV station and was a guest on a local community radio program that features a local writer once a month. I hope to schedule more readings in the future and am teaching a week
AL: I have no children. My sister has four sons. One thing we agree on is that in our next lives we want a daughter. Knowing what you’ve sorted out in the process of writing your book, do you want a daughter in your next life?
Pat: I always wanted a daughter. I now have a 9-year-0ldgranddaughter, Jane, who was named after my mother. Jane is my true soul mate. We are a lot alike–both feisty, with strong opinions, very creative and individualistic. Jane texts me regularly. We are already planning trips we’ll take when she’s a bit older. Jane is studying Chinese, so China is at the top of her list. She has also promised to march with me when she’s a bit older. When I visit, Jane wears her “Girls for Peace T-shirt,” a gift from me.
AL: Any additional thoughts you’d like to share?
Pat: Writing about my mother and coming to see life through her lens was life-changing.I developed a profound love for her I didn’t have when she was alive. This new mother love has given me an enhanced sense of well-being. I never could have anticipated that shedding my anger and resentment towards my mother and replacing it with a new respect for her would reverberate throughout my entire life. In many ways I feel like I am a new woman.
AL: I can think of dozens of women, as well as several men, who might like to read this book. How can they get their own copy?
Pat: They can purchase a copy of The Mother of My Invention directly from me for $10.00 by writing me, Pat Taub, at email@example.com
AL: Thank you.
Pat: Thank you for your interest in my book.