Comparable Titles: Part of the publishing journey is figuring out where your book fits in amidst many published books. Since this is my first manuscript, I want to share my writing and publishing journey with students and others. I completed the first draft of my memoir Healed at the end of the summer, and I am working on my second, third, and fourth revisions.
Healed is not just a near-death experience story; it is a tough, raw, honest portrayal of my survival, relationships, teaching experiences, and my eventual triumph over trauma. One of the many themes of the book is how the lessons from a near-death experience can benefit many people and assist in their healing.
The Joy and the Agony of Writing: I’ll be honest—writing a longer work like this has proven exhilarating. Revising and rewriting entire sections or scenes of a manuscript is challenging, but even the challenges can be important lessons. While writing this memoir, I’ve learned how to tell the truth gracefully and what parts to emphasize or eliminate. Crafting the story and jumping around in time was one of my favorite parts of the revision process.
When I felt bummed about the many revisions, my editor reminded me that Jeanette Walls revised her lovely memoir The Glass Castle eight times. I can only pray that my writing will occasionally be as lovely as Jeanette Wall’s prose.
Though I have a few more revisions to complete, two small presses have contacted me after seeing my NDE video and reading this blog. The interest in my story has given me incentive to keep working and look for an agent soon. Most agents ask for a lot of information including a synopsis, detailed outline, cover letter, author bio, comparable titles (in some cases), and the first 50 pages.
Writing a manuscript is not a quick, easy task, especially when you work full-time; nonetheless, it is a labor of love. Writing is often an obsession for those of us who stick with it. As Charles Bukowski says in the poem “So You Want to Be a Writer,” “unless it comes out of / your soul like a rocket, / unless being still would / drive you to madness or/ suicide or murder, / don’t do it. / unless the sun inside you is / burning your gut, / don’t do it.”
Despite warnings like these, many English majors and others continue to dream of writing a memoir, novel, or screenplay. Years ago, I hoped my first book might be a book of poetry or categorized as literary fiction. However, when National Geographic interviewed me about my near-death experience, I realized that the brief blurb featured in their magazine did not capture the complexity of my journey, and I knew I had to write this book. I’ve never tried to sell a manuscript before, and I hope my process might benefit students and others in their writing journey.
Themes: My memoir, Healed, echoes themes from many books besides books about near-death experiences, but the beginning and ending of the book clearly centers around my near-death experience. Some of the titles listed below are more inspirations than comparable titles, but when I explain my book these are the titles that come to mind.
Though my NDE was a life changing event, I wrote Healed mainly to help spread good energy into the world, and to help others heal from personal wounds, not to become a definitive source of NDEs.
Near-Death Experience Comparisons:
Saved by the Light by Dannion Brinkley: This was the first book I read about a NDE after my own experience. Like Brinkley, I was no longer the same person after my near-death experience, and I realized how kindness to others is one of the most important things we can practice. The movie Saved by the Light came out a year after my accident, and I was happy to see a story about a near-death experience reach a wide audience.
Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander: I enjoyed the fact that Dr. Eben Alexander has a strong science background, argued that near-death experiences were impossible, and then had one and changed his mind. I was agnostic before my near-death experience, but the minute my spirit left my form and I saw the operating room, my surgeons, and angels, I knew I had more than enough proof that the spirit does goes on. I enjoyed many of Dr. Alexander’s beautiful descriptions of the afterlife. The writing in his memoir is lovely, and the descriptions about the love of the divine reminded me of my experience with God.
Dying to Wake Up by Dr. Rajiv Parti: Though I did not experience hell or past lives during my NDE, I identified with several themes in Dr. Parti’s book. I grew up poor, and my focus after high school was getting into a good university and landing a high paying job. Material success was a drive before my NDE, and when God told me to return to my life and work as a teacher I struggled with the idea. However, I found that the divine light’s mission was exactly right for my life. Teaching and serving others healed me and expanded my life in ways I never could have imagined. In Dying to Wake Up, Dr. Parti also touches on his struggle with addiction, and this is a theme present in my memoir.
Dying to be Me by Anita Moorjani: Anita Moorjani’s story is inspirational and exceptional. Though I cannot claim to have experienced a healing as profound as hers, I saw angels sending healing light through my surgeons. These beautiful light beings wanted me to know that they were there to assist and help. They also wanted me to be aware that they could work through me in the future, and that they work through many others on the planet. Moorjani’s message of self-love and listening to one’s intuition is one that I discuss at the end of my memoir. Of all the near-death experiencers, her loving message is one that I resonate with the most.
Why be Happy When You Could be Normal by Jeanette Winterson can be added to the list of inspirations mainly for her examination of dysfunctional parents and a difficult childhood.
Lucky by Alice Sebold: Lucky is a searing memoir about a rape that occurred when Alice Sebold was a freshman in college. The book examines how this moment in time affected her friendships, her relationships with her family, her identity, her attempts at romance, and her sense of safety in the world. Rape is also a part of my story and occurred while I lived in a foreign country. The aftereffects of rape, stalking, and harassment extend for years. PTSD and sexual trauma is profoundly painful and can even threaten to diminish the light of an experience as profoundly beautiful as a near-death experience. As Sebold says, “You save yourself, or you remain unsaved.”
Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: Frank McCourt became the hero of many English teachers and professors when his first book Angela’s Ashes came out. Besides the near-death experience, my favorite sections to write were the sections in my book about my teaching experiences. I went into the teaching field fully believing that God and the angels might work through me. The love and hope that I had for my students transformed my life in ways I could never have imagined. Their journeys taught me much about myself and helped me find the courage to heal my wounds. Their success became my success. I can tell that McCourt enjoyed writing about his moments in the classroom, so I include this book on my list of inspirations.
Second Sight by Dr. Judith Orloff: I list this book because Dr. Judith Orloff felt more comfortable incorporating her intuitive gifts into her practice as a psychiatrist. Directly after my NDE, I feared my intuitive gifts and didn’t want to be labeled a psychic, intuitive, or medium. Using guidance in the classroom as a teacher felt perfectly natural, and I never labeled this type of guidance. I simply helped the students I could help and opened myself up to assistance from the other side.
When I received a message from God that my contract as a teacher/professor was completed and that I could do “whatever I wanted to do” (even continue to teach if I wished), my mind raced in various directions. I wondered if my contract was up because I might die soon. This made me want to write my story in case I didn’t have much time on this earth; I wanted others to know the lessons from my near-death experience.
Eventually, I realized I probably had more time on the earth, and if I applied the same principles I learned during my NDE to any work, all will be well. In other words, work to inspire and help others grow.
Comparable Titles: Many unknown writers make the mistake of comparing their manuscripts to great books which have sold millions of copies and that is not my intent. Of course, I’m tempted to compare my book to Wild by Sheryl Strayed , but I didn’t hike the PCT to overcome my personal struggles. I know that nature has the power to heal us, and her story is a great testimony of this truth. My near-death experience was the awakening that I needed to eventually find my way to greater healing, and my memoir is an attempt to bare my soul in the hope that readers might relate, connect, deepen their own healing journey, and perhaps find the courage to share their own stories.