It Turns Out You Can Go Home Again

Darlyn Kuhn - Color - RWW author photo - hi-res

Darlyn Finch Kuhn

With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, it turns out you can go home again.  When you’re caring for an aging parent, you have to go home – often .

The house I return to, on the southern bank of Trout River in Jacksonville, is the same house that Tupelo Honey Lee inhabits in my novel, Sewing Holes.  Loosely based on the people who inhabited the house during the 1970s, and our friends, neighbors, and relatives, the characters have been camouflaged, altered, and combined.  Some events I’ve made up out of whole cloth.  Unlike Wolfe’s unfortunate George Webber, I’ve received no menacing letters or death threats, but I did have one explosive telephone call from my hysterical mother, during which I had to remind her, repeatedly, “Mama, it’s FICTION.”

It’s so confusing.  On her first read, my mother announced that she LOVED the book. I exhaled a sigh of relief, because the mother in the novel is a difficult one, and clearly some of the events paralleled our own experiences.  Then one day my stepfather asked his visiting personal caregiver to read the book aloud to him, due to his failing eyesight.  Hearing the same words she’d already read silently, now falling from another person’s lips, sent Mama into a rage.  “I never knew how much you hated me!” she cried into the phone.  After she calmed down, I gently suggested to my stepfather that they abandon the reading.  He died without ever hearing the lovely scene of mother-daughter reconciliation at the end.

Mother’s memory is failing enough that her pride in my accomplishments has replaced her fear that someone in her Florida hometown will read the story and decide that she and the mother in the book are one and the same.  She now introduces me as, “My baby, the author.”  Embarrassing, but, given the alternative, I’ll take it.

What I find fascinating is how entering the doors of that small frame house takes me back to a time when I felt small and powerless.  The river is still lovely and timeless; the hill our house rests on still slopes gently to its shore.  The rooms inside still form a circle to traverse endlessly, and some of my father’s paintings still grace the walls.  Mother is still queen of her domain, forever pruning her flower garden and fishing for compliments on its beauty.

True power has shifted.  I have her power of attorney and am her medical surrogate.  I pay her bills, and when the time comes, I’ll decide where she spends her last days.  We both hope that she’ll go to sleep one night in her bed in this house, and wake up in Heaven.  But not for a long time to come.  For now, I spend our visits doing her bidding, trying endlessly to please her, and sometimes succeeding.  Like little Honey in the book, my fondest wish is her nod of approval. She gives it more freely now than then.

Home, for me, will always be where Mama smiles.

Darlyn Finch Kuhn‘s work has appeared in literary journals, newspapers, magazines and online, in addition to her two poetry collections (Red Wax Rose and Three Houses). Her poems have been featured on Poetic Logic on NPR, and read by Garrison Keillor on the Writers Almanac. She was interviewed on World Radio Paris. Kuhn is the eponymous “Scribbler,” of the Scribbles literary e-newsletter. She produces book trailer videos with her husband at Brad Kuhn & Associates in Orlando, Florida. Her debut novel, Sewing Holes, (available now from Twisted Road Publications) won first prize in the 2015 Royal Palm Awards from the Florida Writers Association.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Book

Brad Kuhn

You’ve finally done it.  You opened up a vein and somewhere between a year and twenty years later, you finished a book.  Whether that book is poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or just an old scrapbook of family pictures, congratulations!  By actually seeing your book through to completion — and yes, completion includes revision and professional edits, just as a finished diamond requires final cuts and polish — you’ve gotten farther than 95 percent of the people who say they are “thinking” about writing a book. F or the record, that’s 81 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 200 million people.

Publishing a book is an incredible accomplishment, and without ever having met you, I can see you opening that first box, breathing in that fresh-from-the-printer smell of ink ethers and binding glue.  Don’t try to deny it.  I know it as surely as I know that you read that published book cover to cover looking for typos and flaws, even though you knew it was too late to fix anything.  It’s a rite of passage, like a new parent counting a baby’s fingers and toes, getting to know its geography.  It’s your baby.  It’s finally here. And it’s beautiful.

Like any parent, you know that your baby is the prettiest, smartest, and most adorable baby there ever was and that everybody else might as well stop having babies because you have done it to perfection.

Everybody wants their baby to thrive.  You want it to have all the advantages.  You want it to get into all the good schools, and maybe even become President.  In your heart, you know there will be disappointments.  You know it’s a dangerous world and that, despite your best efforts your baby is going to get teased, bullied, and rejected.  But that future has yet to be written, and you’re willing to do everything in your power to raise a happy, healthy and successful child.

What does that look like?  As an author, what should you expect, now that you’re expecting?

Expect to work.  Books, like babies, take TLC.  We know it takes years for a baby to find its way in the world, but it’s surprising how many authors expect the world to show up at their stable with Frankincense and Myrrh.

Expect to market yourself.  Booking a venue is just the “where” in a value proposition that also includes: who, what, why and how.  People can only be in one place at any given time.  In this event-planning equivalent of Tinder, you have to give people a reason to swipe right.

Expect mixed results.  Every author has had the nightmare, and experienced the reality of showing up at a bookstore only to be met with the sound of silverfish gnawing on slow-moving inventory.  With luck, you’ll also experience the joy of eager readers lining up for your signature.  As Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Treat these two imposters just the same.”

Expect to have fun.  We haven’t talked here about money.  That’s a discussion for another day.  But, really, who has kids for financial gain?  The joy here is in the journey.  It’s about the places you’ll go that you may not have otherwise gone.  It’s about making new friends — both readers and other authors, the other “parents” you may never have come to know except through your offspring.  It’s about hearing and celebrating their stories and raising your “kids” together.

We’ve only scratched the surface here.  My wife the author Darlyn Finch Kuhn, and I will be facilitating a session on this topic at the Florida Heritage Book Festival Friday, Sept. 16th, at 10 a.m.  The session is called “Bookstores and Beyond: Marketing in the age of Amazon,” and we’re hoping you’ll come. Expect a lively discussion.

Brad Kuhn’s first book was I Hate My Banker, a business book published in 1997.  He is a founder of the Jack Kerouac Writers in Residence Project of Orlando and Shady Lane Press.  He and his wife, the author Darlyn Finch Kuhn, have ghostwritten several books, and own and operate Brad Kuhn & Associates, LLC, a PR and marketing firm with author and publisher clients.