At Joseph Beth Booksellers on Friday I picked up a copy of Writer’s Digest. The purchase seemed ostentatious, although I suppose no “real” writer would need to buy the magazine. But since the theme was How to Write and Publish your Memoir, something I had been working on for several years, and since I could sneak the purchase in with several kids books Jeremiah had grabbed, and, finally, since Wendy was there and could be relied on to make the actual purchase, I went ahead and bought it.
After reading only a few pages of quotes from editors and literary agents, I had my expected anxiety attack. Why bother, I wondered. But one editor did give me hope: “Anyone who can complete a memoir deserves to see it in print, as far as I’m concerned, but that may not mean mainstream commercial publication.” (Sharlene Martin)
After comparing the suggestions in WD to what I had written I concluded I didn’t have a hook for my book. I guess I have a habit of linear thinking, a good trait for an engineer, and maybe even a logician, I suppose, but not so much for a creative writer. Mustering a tad bit of courage I tried for a bold in medias res hook. So for your pleasure and critque, here is my hook for Not What I’m Supposed to Be: A Mormon Childhood (and, I suppose) for this blog:
With the heavy wooden door closed and the lights off, it was only the diffuse light from the window, now mostly in shadows that illuminated the room. The softness of the light made the harsh sterility of the hospital room more palatable. I sat on the hospital bed still wearing my own pajamas instead of a hospital gown.The strangeness of the wooden crucifix made me uncomfortable, as did the three men who had joined my parents and me. I knew who the men were—C. Shirley Reynolds, our LDS stake president, and Richard Howe and C. Ellwood Bunker his two counselors—the stake presidency who oversaw God’s kingdom in the small slice of the Salt Lake Valley where I lived. Their dark suits blended into the increasing darkness of the room, while their white shirts provided a stark contrast similar to the habits the nuns wore as they wandered the halls. Did these men feel as out of place as I did in this Catholic hospital?My mother grabbed a chair and put it at the foot of my bed.“Brian, come sit down on the chair,” my dad instructed me. I slid off the bed, my feet cold on the tiles, and walked over to the chair and sat down. The four men, all ordained high priests, circled around me while my mother, as a woman excluded from the LDS priesthood, sat in a nearby chair.“Earl, why don’t you anoint him,” President Reynolds directed.My dad stepped behind me and took a small plastic bottle out of his suit pocket and squeezed out a drop of olive oil onto the crown of my head. Returning the bottle to his pocket, he placed his large hands on my head, my neck bowing to the weight of his hands. “Brother Brian Earl Chapman,” he spoke, slowly, authoritatively, “by the power of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood which I hold, I anoint you with this oil that has been consecrated for the anointing and blessing of the sick. I do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”After completing the anointing, my dad stepped back and traded places with President Reynolds. All four men then placed their hands on my head. The weight was sobering, and their hands transferred to my head the slight sway of their bodies. President Reynolds spoke for the other three men. “Brian Earl Chapman, in the name of Jesus Christ and by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, we lay our hands upon your head and seal this anointing and pronounce a blessing upon you.”President Reynolds spoke of the recently diagnosed malignancy in my kidney, of the skill and concentration of the medical professionals caring for me, of my bravery as a seven year old facing unexpected circumstances. But of all that President Reynolds spoke, one sentence settled in my mind: “If you live worthily you will live to fulfill a mission.”When the blessing was finished, the men patted my back, rubbed my shoulders, and shook my hand as they somberly wished me well. My dad walked the men to the hallway and thanked them for coming. My parents stayed a little later and then said a prayer with me as I lay in my bed, comfortably tucked in under the sheets.“I’ll see you in the morning,” my mother promised as they walked out the door.The next morning I was going in to surgery to remove my right kidney, possibly amputate my leg. But now I wasn’t worried; everything would be fine. President Reynolds had laid out my destiny. I was going to serve a mission. If I lived worthily.