Monday, June 23, 2014

Straight From the Mouth of Meryl Ain, co-author of 'The Living Memories Project'

Meryl Ain holds a BA from Queens College, a MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and an Ed.D. from Hofstra University. She began her career in education as a social studies teacher before she became an administrator. She is also a freelance writer specializing in issues related to education, families, parenting, and children and has contributed to Huffington Post, Newsday, the New York Jewish Week and The New York Times. She embarked on The Living Memories Project after she lost both her father and mother within a year-and-a-half. She and her husband Stewart live on Long Island and have three sons, three daughters-in-law and three grandchildren.

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Thanks for letting us interrogate interview you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

I didn’t want to be an author as much as I wanted to get this book published.  That may sound strange, but it makes perfect sense.  This was never about me
(or my coauthors) but about sharing, as a tribute to my mother, a message that can help anybody and (we believe) even change lives.  First, about my mother: My mom was my best friend, a reliable loving, comforting, and wise presence in my life.  I spoke to my mother several times a day. When there was a lull at work, she was the one I called. When something wonderful happened, I called her. When something challenging happened, I called her. When I needed advice, she was the one I trusted. I could always count on her to be a calm and intelligent sounding board. And, when I was bored, sad, or depressed, she would say: “Get yourself a project.” So, when she died and left a huge gap in my life, I decided my project would be to interview people about how they keep alive the memories of their loved ones. I was hoping to get ideas from them, and to heal myself.

I enlisted the support of my husband, Stewart, and my brother, Arthur, and together we captured the stories of more than 30 individuals who created tributes – big and small – as living memorials.  The project was therapeutic and cathartic for us; not only did it give us wonderful material, but it turned into an inspiring book and an amazing tribute to my mom.  

Second, the message of the book: Remembering the values and zest for life of a loved one can be as easy as hanging up their picture, playing their favorite song or wearing their favorite scarf. Loved ones die only if you let them. As Malachy McCourt puts it so memorably in Chapter One of our book, death is not fatal.  A person’s values and goals don’t have to end when he or she dies. The loved ones they leave behind are here to build upon and carry on their work.

Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

Thus far, the demands far outweigh any perks.  No one tells you when you write a book that 50% (or more) of your time will need to be spent on promoting the book if you hope to have any kind of audience for it.  We’re still in that “newly published” stage when it’s all about getting the world ready to receive what you’ve done.  When people actually start to read the book, that would be the biggest perk we could ask for  

Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like? 

It was slow going for quite a while but we were prepared for it to be.  A book such as this – which some publishers saw as a book on grief, others as a self-help book and still others as some hybrid of these or other genres – was not easy to sell.  In the end, our book was published by a small independent press, Little Miami Publishing Company, in Ohio. My brother-in-law, Howard Ain, who is a TV reporter in Cincinnati, introduced us to the publisher, Barbara Gargiulo. At the time, her mother was dying. Barbara said the book resonated with her and she decided immediately to publish it. 

What’s the snarkiest thing you can say about the publishing industry?

Publishing is a business, and most publishers are not going to take on your project unless there’s a really good expectation of turning a profit.  This means that if you’re not a celebrity or already-published author, the odds are stacked pretty heavily against you. We were told that our book was a great idea, that it was well written, and inspirational, but that we just weren’t famous enough to get a book deal.  We tried, without success, for two years with two agents who strongly believed in the book.  There seems something inherently unfair about someone’s being able to dismiss the product of several years’ work with a tersely worded form letter. Had we not found, through our own connections, an independent publisher who got the idea of the book immediately, we might still be sending out query letters.

Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

They have been nothing but supportive. They have encouraged us every step of the way. And they are thrilled that we were able to harness our grief and create something that not only helped us, but hopefully will inspire and comfort others as well.

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

We are promoting it through Facebook, Twitter and a blog tour.  We’re getting favorable responses everywhere, so no complaints.  It’s too early to tell what effect all of this social mediating will have on book sales.

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

In addition to Facebook, Twitter and a blog tour, we’re promoting the book on our website and through traditional media. We have also scheduled a number of speaking and book signing events. In addition, we are partnering with relevant charities and non-profits to present programs about the message of our book. For example, on April 23, we are participating in a benefit for LI Cares with special guest singer/songwriter Jen Chapin, who tells how she keeps alive the memory of her father, Harry Chapin, through her music and work on behalf of the hungry.

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