Know Your Limitations

Auburn McCanta

Auburn McCanta. Photo by Carolyn Dryer.

People told Auburn McCanta she couldn’t do what she did. But she had a purpose, and she pursued it.

She wrote her debut novel, All the Dancing Birds, in a way people advised against: first person present tense, from inside the head of an Alzheimer’s patient.

“That’s what makes the story impactful,” Auburn said. “I’m a 19-year brain tumor survivor. “Even though I didn’t look like it and couldn’t communicate right after my surgery, there was a tremendous amount of thinking going on.”

Imagine how it felt when people looked at her and said, “There’s nothing going on up there.”

When Auburn was able, she researched brain injuries and Alzheimer’s disease. She came to understand that her experience was more common than she realized. She knew how she could help and became a purposeful writer.

“I wanted people to know that there is joy, pain, sorrow and happiness going on inside the head of an Alzheimer’s patient. For them, every day is a new day, and there are many new days in the span of a single day.”

All the Dancing Birds book cover

All the Dancing Birds tells the heartbreaking story of an Alzheimer’s sufferer, from her own perspective.

Auburn created Lillie Claire Glidden. Readers experience everything — from an early, fretful search for Lillie’s keys, through her 10-year battle to remember.

In spite of many warnings not to write the way Auburn did — friends, critique group, editors, publishing consultants — All the Dancing Birds has been recognized for its excellence. The book won the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards (gold) and Benjamin Franklin Award (silver) for popular fiction, and it’s earned numerous five-star reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Barnes & Noble.

“I wrote in a lyrical style to help blunt the harsh reality,” Auburn said. “I’ve had so many wonderful people send me emails or write reviews that are stunning to me. They tell of the ways All the Dancing Birds has touched them internally and helped them understand the nature of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Lessons Learned

“I’m a more seasoned person,” Auburn said. “I wanted to just get the show on the road.” She and her husband started Marcanti Clarke Literary Press, with Auburn as the company’s only client. While attending the Tucson Festival of Books, she ran across the booth of The Editorial Department, and she hired them to hold her hand throughout the entire process of taking her book to market.

Her advice to others is to know your limitations. But how do you find your limitations without falling into a money pit?

  • Find a topic that strikes a universal chord, but write what you know.
  • Write with purpose, whether it’s to lighten your readers’ load with a laugh, help them understand something or simply entertain.
  • Read constantly and make sure your work stands up to the professionalism of your favorite authors.
  • Be open to wise advice, but sort through it carefully. Even good advice may not be the right advice for your purpose, but it takes discernment to know the difference.
  • Stay informed about, and roll with, the changing tides in publishing.
  • Find joy in being happy for others; you’ll find your own happiness there.

“People have to do what feels best for them,” Auburn said. “If you’re 23 and want to go through traditional publishing, you have plenty of time to hang in there and keep offering your book and writing more in the meantime. For someone like me, it made more sense to grab hold of the tail and create the dog.”

She said some people can make a living writing books, depending upon your skills, the situation, your goals and your drive. But she warns against allowing money to be the primary goal for your writing.

“If the impetus is making money, we’re losing ourselves as authors,” she said. “Our drive should be creating a good story and good material to inform, enlighten and engage people. Writing is a giving profession. Those who make grand sums of money deserve it. We all deserve it, but we don’t all get it.”

You can contact Auburn and learn more about Alzheimer’s through her website.

This entry was posted in Bookshelf, Craft of Writing, Joy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.