Two months ago I began a revision of my out-of-print book, Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit, with this goal in mind: to create a storyteller’s voice that would bind the story vignettes together, unify them and provide a larger coherence and meaning. I looked at the characters in the stories from the POV of the setting, that is, the setting personified an all-seeing entity called The Third Floor. For two months it was challenging fun to play with the advantages of OPOV, omniscient point of view. My plan was to launch an e-Book edition of the revised work in the fall.
It was a great idea with craft possibilities for expanding on and deepening each tale, as well with marketing potential due to directly addressing readers’ fears about dementia. I experimented with acknowledging the narrative voice as part of the story. I let go of my discomfort with expressing authorial involvement with all of the characters. I finished the revision and then gave it to three beta readers: a writer colleague, a visual artist, and a filmmaker. A beta-test is a trial of something in the final stages of its development carried out by a party unconnected with its development. So these three were not critique partners, so much as overall book testers.
Each one gave me the feedback that my great idea of using the place as a narrator didn’t work, that in fact, it depersonalized and therefore de-dignified the individual elder protagonists of the stories. For all three readers, the Third-Floor-as-Narrator device stopped the action repeatedly, and resulted in a blurry tangle of stories that detracted from reader satisfaction. Two of the beta readers had also seen the original 1996 version of Tales From My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit, and they both opined that the original version’s format created framed portraits that were clearer and far more poignant than the OPOV revision.
Whoa! To detach, I sat with this feedback for a couple of weeks. The disappointment began to fade. I sat some more. I went on vacation and forgot about the project. I cam home and reread the beta reader feedback. Omg, these readers were right. I sat with this dawning realization another week. Finally one morning I sat at my computer and laughed. I laughed at myself, I laughed with myself. I sat at my desk and actually enjoyed this comical discovery that the original format of my out-of-print book was better than the revision. And then gratitude completely replaced my lingering disappointment. My beta readers had truly tested my product, as well as my writer’s soul. Without their generous attention, my work would have fallen short, would not have reached into my readers’ hearts as I hoped. Because of their feedback, and because I was able to take it in, Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit is all it can be.
I updated the prologue and expanded several stories, but otherwise the e-Book edition will retain the book’s original vignette format.Another amazing result of the feedback pertains to the book’s original photographs, which had been destroyed in publisher outsourcing machinations, back when the book went out of print. One of the beta readers encouraged me to scan the full-page photo portraits of the elders, to see if they could be salvaged in this way for the e-Book edition. They can! Without her encouragement to inquire into this further, I would have remained stuck in my mistaken conviction that recovery of the photographs was impossible. Instead, 20 retouched portraits of my teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit have been rescued for publication in the updated e-Book. My target for e-launch of Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit is September 2013. Stay tuned!