Carl’s been my father’s best friend since elementary school. He’s now 77-years-old, sitting across from me in a booth at Olive Garden in Wichita, KS.
I’m an aspiring author frantically trying to find my path into the publishing industry. My memoir hangs on me like a child I want to protect, prepare and send into the world.
Over the post-Christmas holiday celebrated with my parents, they once again repeated how thrilled they are that a publisher picked up Carl’s book. Wow, isn’t it great?
I’m not sure they intended to say: What’s taking you so long? Carl didn’t need an agent. Why aren’t you really going for it and getting published, like Carl? If your book is so damn good, why isn’t it published? But, that’s what I heard.
My writing dream is being supported by my older, wiser, and more successful in the corporate world sister. Her grand gesture felt like the lucky tap of a magic wand. It has been, in that I have what every writer dreams of: time to write. Hell, I had enough time to write a book. I wrote a book—a damn fine memoir. I also wrote a book proposal and polished it with some high-priced and well-worth-it editing and coaching.
Still, I’ve yet to land an agent. Carl says he was told you don’t need an agent.
I wasn’t born yesterday. Just because I haven’t proven my publishing knowledge—by way of being published—doesn’t mean I haven’t been studying the industry like a menu at a fabulous restaurant.
Here I am at Olive Garden in Wichita with Carl. He’s my dad’s age. A couple years ago, Carl’s beloved wife, Clee passed away after battling Alzheimer’s for years.
After she died, Carl found the numerous stories Clee wrote in writing classes she took to ward off the memory thief.
Her stories reflected her life in Iran with her first husband. Well, more like life with their daughters and his Iranian family. She wrote about lighting up when Carl came around and negotiating her way out of her marriage while maintaining close connections to the family she’d come to love. The stories revealed Clee and Carl stories, starting in Iran, going on to various places in the US, and Germany.
Compelled by these stories and his discovery that his late wife had aspirations of being published, Carl was compelled to complete a mission. It was a mission of love when he desperately missed his mate, playmate, friend, lover, wife and wise counsel.
Carl put Clee’s stories (along with photos and his words to fill in some missing pieces) into a book. I read the book and wondered what I would say to Carl about it.
I asked him what some of his favorite parts were. I honored both the book and the writer (mostly Clee) by telling the truth.
The truth is, through Clee’s Odyssey, I came to know a woman who was a friend of my parents for decades, but who I “never really knew very well.”
Carl said, “You didn’t know her at all.” I’m familiar with grief’s reflexes.
He was right. Now, I feel honored to know of this woman, Clee Fox, in the same way I’ve known other heroines, like Jackie Cochran or Eleanor Roosevelt.
In this book, I learned of a woman owning mistakes and choices, and leaping into opportunities like failing was foreign. For her, it was.
Carl told me they led a charmed life. As I read the book, I kept waiting for a person to turn on Clee, or a plan to fall through. They did have some travel challenges. Mostly though, the writer Clee’s attitude and life on the page revealed flow, grace and nonjudgment.
No wonder Carl, some 30 years later, and less than a handful of years since her death, remains enchanted.
I’m enchanted with this woman I met in a book Carl paid to have published. I knew when I saw it. I knew when I heard the process. I knew when I looked at the publishers’ website.
I tried to explain to my folks the difference in what Carl had done to what I was doing. “I’m trying to build a career as a writer,” I said. “But, isn’t it just wonderful what happened to Carl?!” my parents said, again.
As I ate my chicken Marsala, which Carl suggested, and drank a wine he favored, I leaned into my memories of the book. Across the table, Carl and I played with Clee’s stories, and marveled at her magnificent character, and the luck of their love! And ski trips across Germany! Stepdaughters blended in like the Brady Bunch. It was all so fabulous I dripped on the inside with hope, jealousy, and sadness over Carl’s loss.
I had to shift gears. I had to know. Had he paid to have Clee’s book published? Yes. He told me the figure, in the ballpark I imagined. The truth I knew all along. If only my only goal was to be published…
Back at Carl’s house, he showed me his earnings on Amazon. So pitiful we laughed. Carl was silly.
Happy to have talked about his beloved, to be sharing her book and the joke of it all, along with the out loud wonder about how a guy who grew up in South Dakota got so lucky.
He told me how pleased he felt when the publisher agreed to take him on. I thought, “Yeah, because you paid him.” Then, Carl said he asked the guy why he agreed to publish Clee’s Odyssey and heard, “When I read about a guy who’d given up on love and then got this life, I was hooked.”
I was hooked, too, as I witnessed Carl glowing talking about Clee. My cynical self quieted. I applauded Carl and Clee and dreams coming true. I celebrated the power of stories and individual paths. I considered the price Carl paid to get this book published—well worth it. For Carl.