How’s your summer been? Mine’s been busy in the best possible sense. When I wasn’t in the garden with the bees, or preparing for my youngest to head off to university, or teaching at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, I was recording the audiobook version of Daughter of Family G.
I knew from the start that it was going to be an interesting journey, especially when we had to enlist the help of two cast iron ravens to steady the stand for the i-Pod I’d be using to read the manuscript. (The fuzzy blue blanket we’d draped over the table in an effort to get a warmer sound had caused the stand to wobble. Enter the ravens to save the day!) If you’re familiar with my novel, The Witches of New York you’ll know how perfect it was to have a pair of ravens standing guard as I worked my way through the memoir.
In addition to loving the ravens, I was absolutely thrilled to be reunited with the same talented crew I’d worked with last summer to record my novella, Half Spent Was The Night. Under the stellar guidance of director, Peggy Hemsworth-LaLeune and sound engineer Luke Batiot, I felt completely at ease.
Being relaxed yet energized is absolutely essential when tackling a 300+ page book. It takes many hours to get exactly what the producer needs for a finished recording. And since this is a “genetic” memoir, there was some pretty challenging scientific and medical terminology to master along with the emotional terrain of the narrative.
It was SO different from reading from my other work. This time, there are no fictional characters to stand between myself and the listener. This time, the story is me. Hearing my voice through the headphones as I laid out my hopes, dreams, fears, desires, and wishes that did and didn’t come true, was, by turns, emotionally challenging and strangely freeing. A couple of times, I even caught the sound of my mother’s voice in my own, a humbling and profound experience that I hadn’t anticipated. Throughout every second of every chapter, no matter the ground I covered (be it family history, scientific breakthroughs, or personal struggles and revelations) I had to be in the moment. My goal was to bring listeners on a journey with me, to discover every bump, heartache, epiphany and joy, together.
The day I recorded the last word of the last chapter, my dear husband picked a bouquet of black-eyed Susans for me in honour of the flowers that grace the cover of the memoir. As I placed them on the table where I’d written so much of the book, I thought about how meaningful it had been to read this book, word by word, in this season of blossoms and becoming.
This summer marks a century after my great-great aunt Pauline Gross’s death. As fate would have it, I actually taped the story of her passing on that solemn anniversary. She died July 15, 1919 from uterine cancer. She was the original “Daughter of Family G.” It was Pauline’s story that started me on this journey, my wondering how she’d had the courage to speak out about the cancer that was plaguing her family at a time when the mere word was taboo. How did a working-class girl of the 1890’s, the daughter of immigrant parents and grandparents, come to confess her fears to a university professor and then boldly ask for his help? How did she find a way to persevere after she’d been told by men of science that they considered her family to be “inferior stock?” How did she gather the strength she needed to persist in her cause, collecting names and tracking illnesses and symptoms for twenty-five years in an America that was increasingly obsessed with “race betterment” and the pseudo-science of eugenics? She is known in scientific literature simply as “The Seamstress,” but she will forever be a hero in my heart. This book is as much hers as it is mine.
When I finished the recording process, my wise, lovely editor sent me the following words: Now you’ve thought every thought, written every word and spoken them all aloud.
And in 33 days those thoughts and words will find their way into the world. I’m looking forward to sharing the next part of the journey with you.
For more information about Daughter of Family G: a Memoir of Cancer Genes, Love and Fate, or to pre-order the book, please visit the following page: Memoir.
To find out where I’ll be appearing this fall, please visit my Events Page (more cities and dates are currently being added, so check back for updates.)
PS Here’s a short clip from Chapter One.