WHEN I UNDERTOOK the writing of my memoir, Kisses from a Distance, I didn’t know what I was getting into.
People have asked me why and how I decided to do it, what inspired me? After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve actually developed a lecture on that topic that I have given to several audiences. I hope my story will in some small way inspire each of you.
It’s strange how things work out. My book was actually born of the death of my mother. Strange as that sounds, it was because of what she left behind that impelled me to take on the momentous task, a task I had woefully underestimated.
In her personal effects, Mom left us over 200 letters that she had saved over a 65-year period from family and friends in her native Lebanon. After a linguist in Lebanon generously translated the letters, I began to feel there was a book secreted in those foreign-looking scraps of paper. So I started to seriously think about sitting down and writing this story, the story of my ancestors.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? The more I got into it, however, the more obstacles I found. I thought I’d take the easy way out and pen a fictional account—I could make up the stuff I didn’t actually know. After a couple of years, I finished a MSS and gave it to readers, agents, and publishers. The response was… deafeningly quiet. No takers! Well, that’s not unusual in itself, especially in this day and age, but still I was discouraged.
So, I put it on the shelf for several months, not knowing what to do next. One day I was talking to my daughter Angele, a published poet and writer, who said to me, “Dad, you’ve got to make it into a memoir.” “Well,” I replied, “easier said than done.” Frankly, I didn’t know how to do that. So, back on the shelf it went, although it was never far from my mind.
After several weeks of contemplation, I awoke one morning with an epiphany. I knew just how I could structure the book into a memoir, even though many of the events took place before I was born. I immediately went to my computer and began typing.
I had awoken with a vision of my taking a trip back in time to the land of my ancestors where I would walk the same paths to the same places they had. I would try to understand how they lived and why they made the decisions they did. It was an emotional moment, one that would sustain me through the recreation of the events that had precipitated my very existence. Often as I typed, tears would trickle down on to my keyboard because I had become so emotionally involved in the story.
It turns out that I hadn’t found my “voice” as they say, my “voice” had found me, and it led me on this fantastic journey that culminated in the publishing of my book. The encomiums I have received from readers have validated, at least to me, the highs and lows of what turned out to be a torturous eight-year journey. As I wrote in the book’s Foreword:
I often grew weary and many times abandoned the journey but after a short respite would take it up again, much like a Bedouin in search of a new pasture for his flock, just over the horizon. And the joy the nomad felt at his discovery had to be similar to what I felt when I unearthed new data for my story.
I can now honestly say that my whole adventure was inspired and I continue to feed on the inspiration I get when unsolicited mail from readers comes in, including from other authors.
One man, a local head of a construction company, called to invite me to lunch one day but wanted to meet at his office an hour early. I thought it strange but showed up at the appointed hour. I was ushered into his rather spacious digs and seated in front of his desk. He told me that he wanted me to come to his office so he could tell me how deeply touched he was by my book. There were tears in his eyes as he recounted how my story awakened long submerged memories that he had suppressed.
I have to tell you, I was deeply touched by this man’s reaction and had a hard time controlling my own emotions.
So, dear fellow writers, I can’t tell you how to do it—only how it happened to me. I hope the voice in each of you finds you and you have an experience similar to mine.
Remember, that green pasture may be just over the next hill.
RAFF ELLIS is a former computer industry executive and prolific writer of short stories, essays, and political commentary. His first book, Kisses from a Distance, was published by Cune Press, Seattle, Wash. He lives in Florida with his wife Loretta and their faithful companion Antar.