Friday, September 27, 2013

Never Give Up! A Winner Tells You Why: A Guest Post by Memoirist Elizabeth diGrazia

Elizabeth diGrazia joined me last week on Madeline Island, where she worked on her storyboard for her memoir-in-progress--the same memoir that won her a recent place in the renowned Loft Mentor Series, sponsored by the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.   

Being a Mentor Series award-winner means a year of close mentorship by a well-known writer, and Elizabeth was thrilled to hear that her manuscript won.  Here she tells exactly the process she went through and how long it took.  Her story is very inspiring to all writers, especially book writers, so I wanted to share it with you this week.

Be sure to check out Elizabeth's blog at WordSisters to read more.
I was a Loft Mentor Series finalist four times.

This doesn't count the many times that I submitted to the Loft Mentor Series and wasn't a finalist.

Because I had been in the finalist circle I knew that I had 'something' readers liked. And, that gave me the gumption to keep submitting. I also believed in the Loft Mentor Series and the possibilities that came with winning. (The Loft Mentor Series in Poetry and Creative Prose offers twelve emerging Minnesota writers the opportunity to work intensively with six nationally acclaimed writers of prose and poetry.)

I graduated from Hamline University with an MFA in 2003, the same year that Antonio and Crystel came home. To have the infants at my graduation was important to me. I was birthing an MFA and a created family.

In 2003, I was a Loft Mentor Series finalist in poetry and nonfiction. Ten years later, I've become a winner.

In those ten years I honed my submission over and over, finally landing on "The Trip." The trip is an essay that speaks of my relationship with Jody, our trip to Guatemala to see Crystel and to bring Antonio home, and our challenges as a same-sex couple who were creating a family.  

This past year for the mentor series, I added a four-page chapter, "Fire," that I revised after taking a workshop with Mary Carroll Moore. The story illustrated family dynamics after I burned my back and required hospitalization when I was fifteen years old.   

In essence, I had scourge and rebirth side by side.

You can have the finest essay and never be a winner in the Loft Mentor Series because you have to be chosen by two mentors, who are stating by choosing you that they want to work with your material.

Each year that I submitted, I'd research who the mentors were and I'd always wonder if I would be chosen. Jerald Walker and Mark Anthony Rolo  are the nonfiction mentors for 2013. Part way through reading Jerald Walker's memoir, I thought, Maybe, just maybe he might pick me.  

Something resonated with me in his words and, though our histories are different, there are also similarities in the odds that we faced in climbing out of our circumstances and that our past didn't determine our life.

Mark Anthony Rolo's first chapter describes his mother entering a burning house to save her children (who were not in the house), and how she was badly burned in the process. Fierce love and deprivation was being described in the same sentence.  

Whoa, I thought. Maybe, just maybe.

Thankfully, my mentors never gave up.  And they chose me.