where did i go?

I wrote three books in 1984: a biography, a financial advice book and a cookbook. The only complications occurred when I started to plan the publicity tours (they did that then, even for lesser known authors like me). Writing for three different publishers must be like having three different lovers in the same time period. (I’ve never done that, so I’m guessing.) I never let on to anyone that I had two other projects on the go . As I say, the complications arose when I started to book the tours.

“You did what?” each publicist said to me. But they worked it out, and it was easy really, because the books were different, were handled by different reviewers and read by different readers. And they sold well.

The biography - of my son Matt, titled The Book of Matthew - went to a paperback edition and was also published in The United States in paperback, also with an accompanying tour.

The financial advice book - Everywoman’s Money Book (written with a partner, Lynn Macfarlane) - went to five editions, each one with several printings.

As for the cookbook - The Betty Jane Wylie Cheese Cookbook - it’s still available through Amazon selling for $18.95, one paperback left, and spiral-bound for $92.95, two left.

The actual writing went quite well. I sat up in bed early in the morning and wrote the book about my son Matthew, starting in a Hilroy notebook in longhand as I wrote his story chronologically (and later broken down into subjects and themes). I wrote on the right hand side, and scribbled queries and notes and questions on the left to follow up for subsequent drafts.

I cooked my way through the second book. Unlike professional writer-cooks nowadays I did not have a professional kitchen. I was a home-cook, a writer who cooks, not a cook who writes. I planned my meals around the cookbook and invited family and friends to be my testers.It cost a lot for the food and I appealed to the publisher for expense money. They gave me an advance, not a subsidy, and my agent took ten percent of that. I tried to be frugal and wrote suggestions for leftovers as I struggled through the grocery bills. The artist who illustrated the book (with line drawings) gave me a page of drawings he said were suggested by my leftover ideas: pictures of rotting food with fumes rising from it, or crumbling stale bread or cakes, flies hovering over salads, and so on. Funny. My first cookbook had been about leftovers and the food was good, and safe.

In fact, I had to sign a safety promise in my contract, that nothing I suggested would harm or poison or damage anyone who tried my recipes. No one requires that of a writer whose incendiary thoughts might incite readers’ minds to riot or murder or self-destruction.

The third book, the financial one, was suggested to me by an old buddy from my newspaper days (one summer job) who had become a stockbroker. I liked the idea and I gave it the title, which stuck. We wrote it together, but apart - physically as well as topically. She did the nitty-gritty about stocks and investments and I did the financial juggling, planning and ordinary household budgeting. So: half the work (almost) and half the pay.

We toured both separately and apart. When apart I warned my audience about my missing knowledge (the stock market). I recalled a time when my daughter Kate was a Brownie working towards a badge in - Housekeeping, I think it was. One of the skills she had to learn was “Tea and Toast”. So after she had earned her badge I asked her one Sunday afternoon if she would bring me tea and toast after my afternoon nap (only on Sundays - then). She said she could bring me toast. It turned out that the Brownies earned their badges in teams of two. For that project Kate had learned the toast. So with me and my partner on the money book, I told people I handled the toast.

How did I do it? Not the toast. How did I manage to write three books in one year?

For one thing, I needed the money so I had a great incentive. Ironically I had just received my first Canada Council grant (a B grant) to work on a new play. (I always loved drama best.) And the day after I received the notification that same tea-and-toast-daughter Kate came to tell me she was getting married and she wanted a nice big church wedding with as many trimmings as I could manage. So I needed money. Publishers may have run publicity tours but they didn’t pay much to mid-list authors. So I signed up to write three books and used the advances to pay for the wedding.

I also wrote the play I won the grant to do. Time Bomb was first produced in 1986 at the Waterloo Playhouse in Waterloo, Iowa.

I’m telling you all this because looking back now, I wonder how I did it. I can’t seem to work as quickly as I used to. I get tired. I stop for naps - not just Sunday afternoons.

Right now I am polishing my memoir, Endings, for publication some time next spring. Then I will write the final (?) draft of my screenplay, based on a book by a writer-friend/partner. Then I will get back to the screenplay I wrote last year when I took that degree course from ScreenwritingU (online, out of LA), and see if I can come up with a final script. Then I will finish a mystery novel I wrote five or six years ago. I have to change the names of some of the characters and add descriptions. (As a playwright, I don’t enjoy doing set design.).

But my New Year’s resolution will be to finish culling and collating my files and to send them off to the University of Manitoba archives.

And now I’m going to recharge the battery, mine and my laptop’s. Nap-time.