Now that the piece is done and out there, I am thinking about the edits. And about the letters the piece is getting and how some of what I meant to say maybe didn’t get said although I’m mostly happy with it. Well, actually I am absolutely happy with it.
There were a lot of style edits in the piece (they changed all of my “I would” to “I’d”, for example) and those are par for the course because most magazines want their writers to sound like they fit in the rest of the magazine. So Brain Child made me sound smarter, Salon made me sound more casual, and Parenting made me sound like a Parenting robot. I don’t take issue with this — if I wasn’t willing to sound like the magazine I was targeting, I wouldn’t target it. If there comes a time where I don’t get edited that way, I’ll know I’ve hit the big time where it’s expressly my voice they’re wanting. I haven’t hit that yet (I may never) and that’s fine. I’m content right now to it being my voice through their stylistic filters. It certainly doesn’t change what I’m trying to say — it just makes it sound more cohesive when held up against their other articles/essays.
The big changes were adding more information to the piece. Some of this was practical (for example, the addition to “Per US Law” to the line about Madison’s amended birth certificate) and some of it was more in depth (for example, the first meeting with Jessica at the restaurant). The original essay was around 1500 words and this is at least 1000 words more and most of that is background.
The hardest thing to contend with within the edits was the ideas that people have around adoption. The editor (who was incredibly patient and thorough and kind) wanted to know why Jessica chose adoption. I couldn’t tell her that. For one, I would be afraid of misrepresenting Jessica. For two, I think that that part is Jessica’s story to tell. For three, I don’t think there’s anyway to effectively tell it without getting into a whole different essay. It’s a big piece to be missing there and I can see through some of the letters that other additions to the piece confused people or led them to think wrongly about who Jessica is and so I better understand why the editors wanted more about Jessica’s decision.
The big thing, it looks like, is the mention that the family reunion/wedding happened at a country club. It is very very very interesting to me that at least one reader immediately tied that (I think, his letter is confusing) to Jessica’s race. And then someone else assumes that Jessica’s wealthy parents must have bullied her into the adoption. The only thing that anyone can really know from reading the essay and seeing the mention of the country club is that we were at a country club. That’s it. But unfortunately, that doesn’t stop people from making those wrong assumptions. As the writer, I think that placing the event somewhere else would have helped but there you go — we weren’t someplace else. Probably I should have chosen another anecdote to end but I really do have those pictures (snap, snap, snap — three pics of Madison and Jessica in the sandtrap) and they really do sum it up for me. (I wish I could share them on my photo blog but it’s enough that Jessica gave me permission to share so much already.)
This is the challenge in writing memoir — how do I cast the truth in a way to reveal a more personal truth? Inclusion of the country club — while true — may have detracted from the more personal truth. But the irony is that I chose that in part to combat stereotypes about women who make adoption plans. I knew that it would strike people as inconsistent but I hoped that it would do a small part to illustrate the complexity of any adoption story. How many of us have personal stories that are consistent?
What the editor asked directly was, “She was sort of young but still, why adoption?” When Jessica and I discussed this I said, “They want to be able to sum it up so it’s a story they can neatly tell themselves.” I know this because this is just what I wanted to do. I wanted Jessica to have a Reason. It would have been easier for me if Jessica had a clear reason that I could say, “Here is her reason and I deem it good.” (I pretty much say this in the essay.) But I only had Jessica’s word on it. (Only, I say, like it’s the least important piece of it!) This is one of the things we discussed when we talked about the essay.