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A Project Close to My Heart

This post is somewhat lengthy, but there’s a lot to say about this project. Volumes. So let’s start with the blurb and other important information, then please read on to learn why I didn’t originally want to edit this book…and why I ultimately had to.

Blurb:

A small-town childhood, a close-knit family, a successful career, and an Olympic athlete—this was Amy’s life…until it wasn’t.

That’s the thing about mental illness, it doesn’t care where you grew up, how smart you are, how many awards you’ve won, or how much money you make. It’s an equal opportunity destroyer.

From the earliest signs, to the denial, the manic highs, and despondent lows, bipolar disorder has the power to affect every aspect of a person’s life. It derailed Amy’s athletic and corporate careers, ruined relationships, and caused a whirlwind of chaos within her family.

But now she’s ready to tell her story. Ready to share the darkest parts of her life in hope of showing those diagnosed with mental illness that there is a way to overcome this world of uncertainty—a way to live and thrive in the midst of this life-altering disease.

This is Amy’s story…

Pre-Order on Amazon coming AUGUST 11!

Release on Amazon and B&N coming August 23!

Visit Amy’s website

Find Amy on Facebook

 

And now the story I promised to tell…

I’ve been editing fiction for many years, and I have released several books of my own through two different publishers, but I edit, write, and read only fiction. I couldn’t tell you the last non-fiction book I read. I do own a few favorites such as So That Others May Live by Terri Crisp, Wilderness Mother by Deanna Kawatski, and Time Steals Softly by Virginia Jones Harper…maybe a few others, but there’s nothing like this anywhere on my To Be Read list.

I definitely don’t edit non-fiction. Academic topics bore or confuse me, depending on the subject. I’ll read a novel about a doomsday prepper or a business magnate, but don’t ask me to read a non-fiction book on the subjects.

The favorite non-fiction books I mentioned above, though, are about people, yet I never felt the urge to edit anything of the sort. Yeah, I know, it’s all just words and storytelling like fiction, but I guess I simply don’t feel like most people are very interesting.

So when a childhood friend asked me if I’d beta read her memoir and give her some advice, I was torn.

Why? It’s kind of a long story…

Amy Gamble and I grew up in the same rural community in northern West Virginia, and attended the same small school from first through ninth grades. In early elementary school, we were quite close, both being “tomboys,” and also very smart, the kind of girls who were usually found either outside in the woods and fields, or tucked away somewhere with a book. (For those of you who are also former Sherrard Elementary and Junior High students, my maiden name was Cunningham.)

As we got a bit older, it was soon clear that Amy was an extremely gifted athlete. I couldn’t catch or throw, and I’m sure I “ran like a girl.” What miniscule athletic ability I possessed fell in the area of gymnastics or cheerleading, which was essentially the opposite of Amy’s hard-core skills in any sport she set her sights on. Though we spent most of the school day together, since we were both always in the advanced reading and math classes, our social lives drifted apart.

I opted to go to a private high school, while most of my friends—including Amy—went on to the larger public high school. Amy excelled, and I often saw her in the newspaper for regional awards and championships, and later national accolades. She was arguably the most accomplished female athlete in our area in our generation.

Following high school, she went on to play college basketball at the University of Tennessee under legendary coach Pat Summitt. I got pregnant, married, and ended up giving back my numerous college scholarships, assuming I’d go back at some point in the future. Then in 1988, Amy went to the Seoul Olympics as part of the women’s team handball team. Wow. I knew an actual Olympian! But it was many years before my path once again crossed with Amy’s.

Which brings us to now. I had a history with Amy and sincerely liked and admired her. I was also a little intimidated by her. I’d always assumed that in school, and probably still, she’d think my life choices hadn’t measured up somehow, that being a cheerleader didn’t have the merit of “real” sports, that I hadn’t fought hard enough to go to college…I don’t know what I thought. Though I’ve now been married going on 34 years, raised a wonderful son to adulthood, am the managing editor for an established publishing company, have authored my own books, I felt my success wouldn’t equal hers in her own eyes.

Amy had recently begun blogging…and the topic was her decades-long battle with bipolar disorder.

Wait…what?

This nationally and internationally known athlete, this brilliant student and accomplished business professional had struggled with mental illness, and at times, it had really knocked her world out from under her, destroying everything she’d built and threatening her future—and at times, even her very life. She’d lived large on the world stage, and now she was “back home” and sharing her story about mental illness.

But did I want to help her with her memoir?

Short answer? Nope, not gonna happen.

I have a very full work-week managing all stages of every edit that passes through my publisher, coordinating anthologies, and editing my select list of authors. I also have a group of “indie” authors with whom I work regularly. And let’s not forget I have my own books to write and promote.

Seriously, I suspected this memoir was going to be a crap-ton of work, and I didn’t have the time or inclination to deal with it, despite my strong feelings of affection and respect for Amy.

I kind of tried to hand her off to one of my editing team, but that didn’t pan out. Now she had completed a first draft of her memoir, Bipolar Disorder: My Biggest Competitor. She needed someone to read it and advise her how to improve it.

Fine.

I charged a token few bucks and accepted the assignment. I read the book and sent her my comprehensive report on what it needed to be compelling to readers and well-done in a literary sense.

Basically, it needed to be longer. A lot longer. Her story was so complex and fascinating and heartbreaking and triumphant, and she needed to tell all the parts of it in full and do it justice. I didn’t want to simply be told what happened, I wanted to see it, to live it through her eyes, and to do that, she had to show me. She had to include all the stories, thoughts, impressions, sights, sounds, smells…I wanted to be there.

Yep. A lot of work.

But she still needed an editor, because I was right, and this was going to be a crap-ton of work. Amy is brilliant and a very good writer, but writing for publication is a different critter than blogging, and a steep, slippery, soul-sucking slope with a sharp learning curve.

You totally see where this is going, don’t you?

Yes, that’s when I knew I was going to be her editor. Having known this woman literally since we were six years old, and having now read what she’s gone through, the huge victories, the crushing defeats, the overwhelming challenges…how could I live with myself if I handed this off to someone else?

Sure, I know a lot of wonderful editors. They’d do a nice job. But they wouldn’t be me, and I knew I could do a great job. Amy’s story deserved an editor who would care about it almost as much as she did, and as far as I was concerned, I was officially the only one for the job.

I’m putting in approximately twice the hours I usually do on an edit, and additionally, I’m using my connections in the industry to guide her through cover design, formatting, pre-sale and release date options, the wonders of marketing and promotions…you get the idea.

Ever the athlete, Amy says I’m her “book coach,” and I guess I am. I’ve never been this personally involved in a book project, and it’s often a bad idea to work with friends. Writing, especially a memoir as deeply personal as this, leaves you emotionally vulnerable and often defensive and more than a little twitchy. And editors often get on an author’s last nerve. It can get heated and contentious.

Yes, it has been a lot of work…for both of us. But one thing Amy Gamble has never shied away from a day in her life is hard work. If she’s willing to keep digging until this book is the best it can be, so am I.

Her story is not only gripping and deeply fascinating, it’s extremely important. Mental illness affects people from all walks of life, yet it’s still something that is whispered about, and the stigma of having a mental illness is still far too strong in our society.

Amy’s mission is to drag that stigma into the light of day and burn it to ashes, so those who suffer from mental illness will be able to step up and ask for help without guilt or shame. She wants people to take a hard look at the mental health system in this country, which—if possible—is even more broken than our general healthcare system.

What is perhaps the most compelling thing about the whole deal is it feels like this is what was meant to happen. The Universe has a way of making sure some sort of cosmic balance is achieved, and it’s as if two little girls who used to tell each other stories at recess in second grade were supposed to go off and live two wildly different lives, but come back together, each armed with the skills and experiences to enrich both their lives, and bring this message of healing and hope to those who need to hear it.

She’s doing important work, and I’m honored to be a small part of it. Good job, Universe.


Please also check out my upcoming release, a romantic suspense called Dead End Road!

Pre-order NOW, release date July 4! Also be sure to check out my Facebook page.

One Response to “A Project Close to My Heart”

  1. […] A Project Close to My Heart by Lori Whitwam. […]

  2. Kelly Carter says:

    That is so awesome! So glad you got together on this wonderful project. I was recently looking over old year books and found you there in the top 5 of your class and Amy, the master of the basketball court! Best to you both! ps I work at SJHS now. 🙂

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