Every once in a while a dream gets made. Rarely does this happen with just one person toiling away; more often than not it takes a village. In my case, it took something more like a small city.
After my first audio diary aired in California, my brother, Aran, told me I should have someone read my blog—preferably an agent. He felt strongly that I could use my blog to speak to more Americans whose lives were affected by the recession. He thought I should write a book. I did not think I could write a book—I wasn't even sure I could pack the boxes in front of me and get into the car to drive across the country and go home. But, nonetheless, at his urging, that Sunday after my first diary aired, Dan watched our baby and I wrote up a note and sent it to a few writer friends asking if any of them would be willing to introduce me and my story to their agents. Richard Ford said 'yes' (thank you, Richard!) Now, when Richard makes introductions people pay attention. And, so, before I knew it, I was rolling across northern New Mexico with Larissa Silva on the phone, who had called to book a phone call with her boss, Kate Lee. When Kate and I finally spoke, I was sitting in the parking lot of a Red Lobster in Virginia. I knew immediately that I had gotten really lucky—she's everything anyone wants in a dream agent: smart, quick, opinionated, kind, thoughtful, ballsy, articulate. A week after we got home to my mother's, she and I dove into crafting a proposal for this book. It took me months of drafts and she never pulled any punches with her edits. But she always told me she knew I could do it. And then, when it was ready, she went to Barbara Jones at Voice. The thing about Barbara that was remarkable was that she made me feel immediately comfortable, and, even more, understood. For our first phone meeting, one of our babysitters, Chelsea Ellis, was watching our son and I was in my bedroom with the door shut but I started the conversation with "I might need to go if my son needs me…" And she got it. In fact, she got everything—the way I write, what I wanted to say to a larger audience, what my dreams were, what scared me, and what was important to me. Six months later, Barbara took an unwieldy first draft and helped me shape my first book. Without her cheering me on, without her thoughtful changes, both big and small, without her just being on the other end of the line, this book could never have been written. I am beyond grateful to her.
When anyone ever asks me about Voice, I say the same thing: I've died and gone to heaven. From Ellen Archer, the President of Hyperion Books and Voice, to Betsy Wilson (who spent hours helping me secure the music rights for this book) to Allison McGeehon who got out there and sold this book to Claire McKean, Katherine Tasheff, Laura Klynstra and everyone who has helped put this book together and then sell it, I cannot write enough praise. The kindness, thoughtfulness and care that was put into every decision and the wonderful teamwork on all of it moved me—and, truly, made me believe in miracles.
And then there are the friends who cheered me on as I wrote the blog, as we traveled back and forth across the country, as I wrote the proposal, as I wrote the book: Craig Pospisil; Vanessa Moore; Frank Menair; Anne and Darren Hendler; Gary Robinov; Andrea Meyer and Harlan Bosmajian; Laura and Brian O'Hare; Annette Lemieux and Erik Hansen; Terry Tempest Williams; Libbet Cone; Anne Esguerra and Corey Koch; Jordan Scott; Mercedes and Mike Vance; Ken and Kamala Hahn; John Saldana; Guy Miracle, Lance Castro and Steve Hernandez. Frank Williams believed in and encouraged us even when we were at our lowest and didn't think anyone should believe in us. And Jessica and Tim Rhys emailed and called with words of love every step of the way. On our long road home, Tim wrote to me: "Tell Dan we will organize a parade for him this summer... or at least buy him a lobster." Well, he came through on the lobster. Joan and Daniel Amory gave us a home base (and meals, hugs and great coffee) in Portland from which to put our lives back together.
There were the friends who gave us food, shelter, care and thoughtfulness: Sam Hayward helped Dan get a job and became our stalwart friend; Kathleen Bender took a chance on us and rented us our apartment even though I doubt we seemed like we'd ever make our rent—and she became our friend; Annette and Rob Elowitch gave me a room of my own on the top floor of their beautiful brick town house in which to write this book and welcomed me at any hour of any day for over a year—this was an incredible gift; Sandra Richardson was a faithful and honest reader; Leah Whalen dove in and read this book in its final stages, helping me make it that much sharper; Jodi Moger kept us in good food; Peter Davis made a suggestion of how to tell this story that gave the book the direction it needed.
And there were the people who made our lives better, even though they didn't have to: In California I was lucky enough to have had the most wonderful OB I could ever have imagined—he was funny, McDreamy, kind, relaxed and knew when to boss me around—thank you David Ghozland for not only delivering our beautiful child but also for becoming our friend; thank you, also, to St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica—to my mind, the ideal place to give birth; thank you Dr. Carlsen for giving our animals the very best care-- and then for escorting Ellison, Dan and me through Ellison's death; thank you to Joanna Sutton, our son's babysitter who made it possible for me to write this book; Pete Seeger who helped me with Woody Guthrie fact checking; Larissa Silva who was Kate Lee's terrific assistant and then to Kaitlyn Flynn who became Kate's new assistant just before publication; Sarah Willits and all the readers of my blog who wrote in and cheered me up, kept us going and reached out to us—you know who you are; Bethany Flannery for helping me with all things technical; Deb Murphy who was an early and important advocate of the book; Greg Brown for his music that tethered us to something we believed in both ways across the country and then his generosity in letting me reprint some of it here (and use "Late Night Radio" in my author video. Apropos of music, thank you to the musicians who wrote and sang the songs that inspired much of the writing of this book: Merle Haggard; Lyle Lovett; Kevin Welch; Woody Guthrie; Bruce Springsteen; Van Morrison; Tom Waits; Solomon Burke; Simon and Garfunkle; Townes Van Zandt; Foisy Ferron, Greg Brown and Bill Morrisey. Thank you, also, to Nora Guthrie and the Woody Guthrie Archives.
If Andrea de Leon at NPR had not believed in my story and commissioned this series of audio diaries, I never would have known how many people were touched by circumstances like mine. To Scott Simon for graciously and intimately introducing my diaries on Weekend Edition Saturday. And thank you to the engineers and producers who helped me make those pieces: Pete Nenortas, Walter Watson; Rolando Arrieta. And thank you to Tom Cole who gave me work when we were broke.
Rob McCall offered me faith, guidance and words of wisdom when I sorely needed them.
Thank you to my family: My mother, Susan Hand Shetterly, took us in and sent us back out into the world more whole; my father, Robert Browne Shetterly, Jr. and his partner Gail Page helped, fed, loved and cared for us more than could be told in this book; Cherie and Ken Mason (Meme and PopPop) offered grandparently advice, lots of meals and love; Aran, Margot, Tom, Sally, Jay, Maggie, Eric, Daegan, Talia, Carrie, Jane, Andrew, Katie and Daisy—you all sent me hundreds of emails and called us both ways across the country and were just there for us. Also, to the memories of Grammar and Trav; Birdie and Pop.
Thank you to Ellison and Hopper who went west with Dan and me and gave us the gifts of trust, love and companionship. Thank you to my patient, accepting son, who came east with us when he was two months old and has gamely embraced all the craziness Dan and I have foisted upon his young life as an adventure.
And, finally, to Dan, who read each and every draft of this book (and listened to me read the whole thing out loud over one long weekend), who cheered me on and made me tea; who was right by my side through not only the worst but also the best of tough times, who stood right by me during the writing of my first book, and who, at the end of every day, no matter what is going on, says, "I love you, goodnight."