Saturday, May 1, 2010, was a big day.
My life coach had encouraged me to celebrate the initial completion of the manuscript for my memoir, The Stage Is On Fire. I had been working on the manuscript for well over three years (a year and a half of steady focus) in supportive writing classes, with a patient editor, and in a coffee shop surrounded by fellow writers who by their very existence proved that people can still get books published. Celebration needed to happen, and my friend Wendy graciously opened her doors for the festivities.
The first Saturday in May has always been an important day for me. I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. The Derby makes that day, and the month prior, truly special. It made sense that the manuscript launch would happen that day. We decided to call it “Out of the Gate” in honor of the race. Kentucky fare would be served, and people would come in their Derby best.
My mom came in from Louisville to help get everything together. We cooked for three days–burgoo, cheese grits, benedictine, pimento cheese, and Derby pie. Of course, we also attempted mint juleps with Maker’s Mark bourbon. The traditional food gave people in Chevy Chase, Maryland a taste of Kentucky.
The party started and friends began to arrive. Most of the people who attended had been involved in my writing process; as friends who missed me while I was writing and not hanging out, as willing readers of drafts, and as members of writing groups. People from across my social spheres arrived and mingled. It was humbling and inspiring to see them come together to celebrate the manuscript.
At about 5:30 pm, I read two short excerpts. I looked out over the group of 20 or so people and got tears in my eyes as I explained how much the event and their support throughout the process meant to me. I read a section from the Obama campaign chapter, “Hope, Pig Roasts, and the Purple Tunnel,” and from the chapter about moving titled “Cats on Ice.” I was nervous and probably read too fast, but it felt good to share my work aloud, especially with people who know and care about me.
After I finished, I asked my friend Wendy to share the story of the clock that graced the mantle that afternoon. She told the story of her Kentucky-born grandmother who had placed a Derby bet on a long shot in the 1936 race. Bold Venture won the race at 20:1 odds. Wendy’s grandmother used her substantial winnings (I think she said $40, which was a great deal of money in 1936) to buy the clock that was on Wendy’s mantle. My bold venture of a manuscript launch (and eventual publication) was connected to the story of a Derby winner.