The following are the words of Archway Publishing’s Sandee Hart, co-author of “Nighthawk” with Bill Bowers. Learn more about the book or Bill on his author website and Facebook. To keep up to date with their book, follow Sandee on Twitter. Download the Archway Publishing free publishing guide for more information on our supported self-publishing services.
When my childhood friend Bill Bowers contacted me about helping him write his memoir, I immediately said yes. After all, he was an incredible storyteller and I had spent my life writing in the shadows for others. There wasn’t a lot of glory, and it was hard work, but I was quite comfortable hiding. I guess you could say I was afraid if people knew it was my work they would think it wasn’t good enough. I learned very early on that when you’re not noticed, people don’t bother you. They can’t assassinate your character, your opinions, or your choices. Being hidden is safe because there is no risk, no missed chances and no record of your existence in the writing of others.
Finding the Story
Writing Nighthawk, A Young Airman’s Tour at Clark Air Base with Bill would be the perfect job for me. I was honored to help him recreate his favorite memories centered on the antics and comedic misadventures during his first tour of duty. What I didn’t expect was that intimacy would become the currency of his memoir.
Bill’s story is about the ups and downs of service, the culture of the Philippines, and the actions of a bunch of kids tossed onto an island paradise. In order to share this narrative, I needed direct access to his thoughts, memories and emotions. In that process, my job was, quite literally, to disappear. I wasn’t writing a biography as an outsider looking in, I was inside connecting Bill’s experiences with his audience. I committed the truest part of me to the pages of his book, and I had to be vulnerable to his thoughts and feelings. Though it was scary, I knew that I was going to give Bill the greatest gift a writer can offer- his story in print.
Two months into the writing process, something was missing from the stories Bill sent to me. Why did the stories sound so good when he told them, but seemed mediocre when in print? I came to realize that his emotions, much like my own were hidden. Bill was afraid to, shall I say, go deep. I was okay with that, because, I wasn’t ready either. I wanted his stories to explode on the page the way they did when we talked. Then, a light bulb went off: more like an atomic bomb landed on my head. Exploring Bill’s life invariably led to me exploring my own. At first, I thought that was a mistake. However, the more I discovered about Bill, the clearer the lens into my own life became. I discovered myself, which in turn allowed me to discover Bill.
Dance of Minds
As a storyteller, Bill imparted meaning. My job was to convey that meaning to others. Each story began to take on more power than the last. Instead of Bill telling his story alone, we were collaborating and creating layer upon layer from shared experiences. Together, we gave each other a window into our souls. In return, a window opened for readers to do the same. Our work together became a symbiotic relationship. We each had minds of our own and thoughts of our own; but at the same time, we lived the same life.
We’d remind each other daily to not to let the critical voice inside- the one that said, it can be better than that! — win. We had to accept that each draft was a piece of trash. Once we could say, that’s okay, telling the story was much easier. We realized that once we got out of our own way, what needed to be written, was written. Then, we’d read over the draft, spend the rest of the day obsessing, and prayed we would not end up dead before we had to completely rewrite chapters or delete the entire book.
In helping Bill tell his story, I found my true self. I found my purpose in life and began to accept those experiences that shaped me- good and bad. The journey included confusion, misunderstanding, doubt and literally re-visiting all my life’s choices. The journey was worth it because like Bill, I came to understand myself. I found truth and I found freedom, I stopped being my own worst enemy! I started accepting my feelings and allowed others to see what I had kept hidden. Life was no longer what anyone else wanted for me; it became about what I wanted.
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