My friend Bee Bloeser has written a memoir, and revised it (several times), and published it. If you’ve published a book, you know the joys, torments, doubts, and exhilaration that travel along with you on the journey from dream to book.
Witnessing my friend Bee during her journey with this book has been awe-inspiring, to say the least. Looking at her journey through the lens of a writer, and focusing it with the colorful lens of our friendship, I knew when this book was published, I had to write about it and my friend Bee.
Meeting a New Friend is No Accident
I met Bee seven years ago in 2014 after a panel discussion on memoir that I had been a part of.
“I want to write a book about my husband’s work in eradicating smallpox in Africa,” she told me. Her husband Carl dreamed of writing his story but died while it was still folders stuffed with reports, letters, and memories.
It’s not unusual for writers and would-be writers to think out loud, dream, and fantasize about writing that book. I believe everyone’s got a story to write or tell. Indeed, at each meeting of the very first writing group I joined we repeated that belief. “You are a writer if you say you are- even if only one person hears your story.” Even if only one person benefits from hearing or reading it; it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Not everyone writes that story. Or some writers write their book out of frustration, or to correct an error in history, or to revise their “personal history.” Or as Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
So here was a woman who had a story she wanted and, by the determination in her voice as she spoke, needed to share. I knew that feeling quite well.
My writing group here in Tucson met on Tuesdays. We talk briefly about our writing intention for the day and spend the next two hours writing. The energy around the writing table was palpable. By a quirk of “coincidence” Bee lived not more than a 15-minute drive from my house. (We’ve continued meeting, and through COVID, on ZOOM)
I thrust a business card in her hand. “Here’s my info. Come to our group next Tuesday.” And she did. Tuesday after Tuesday after Tuesday.
I learned about Carl and Bee in bits and pieces as she shared some of her Tuesday writings. Her doctor husband Carl and she, and their young family spent most of the years of the 1970’s with the West Africa Smallpox Eradication/Measles Control Program. This petite, cheerful woman was dedicated. She was committed to her writing. She was tenacious.
She arrived with laptop in hand, then laptop with extra tote bag of documents, notes, letters. Then emails texts, not on Tuesdays. “Have you read this book on smallpox? I think I can use parts of this in my book.” Or “This book addresses what Carl and I went through. But I have documents that show a different perspective. Read this.”
Stories are important as they fill a container for our longings, anxieties, hopes and dreams. ~ Terry Hershey, Sacred Necessities
Then came the period of time when we all realized this book about Carl’s work was destined to be an historical memoir. Bee’s musings uncovered discovery of her own courage and strength along with her husband’s in dealing with the differences in a culture on the other side of the world. Armed with medical training, and love and idealism, they dealt with the growing awareness of threats that came not just from the disease of smallpox but the diseases of ignorance, and greed, and political power run amok. All this went into the book.
You write your first draft with your heart, and you rewrite with your head. – James Ellison, Finding Forrester
As members of the Eastside Writing Room, we witnessed Bee writing, revising, discovering new documents, making timelines and speaking at Tucson organizations about her work. We watched as a post-it timeline grew along the wall of her apartment hallway- dates for chapters added, chapters revised, first draft completion. We watched the layers of writing and revisions begin to reflect information from phone calls, interviews, newly discovered files. Not being a digital native, Bee learned the ins and outs of fonts, margins, styles, saving, sharing, and how-to’s of social media, using her well-honed skill of asking for help and always appreciating efforts to help her on the journey to complete this book for Carl.
The timeline on the wall shifted to final drafts, researching publishing options, queries, suggestions that came along with rejections, more queries. The publishing decisions. Cover design. The emails to us in the group. ”Which cover idea?” “Think this color works with the title?” We were as thrilled as she when Sasha Polakow-Suransky showed a genuine interest in her work. She persevered for seven years to bring her story of her life and her husband’s commitment to eradicate smallpox to the literary world.
The quest for a story is the quest for life. ~Jill Johnston
No detail has been overlooked in this quest for the book to be THE BOOK. Bee’s heart and personal history have been expertly crafted in her historical memoir, Vaccines and Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa Amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War. And this story has life.
The inspirational and timely result arrived in my mailbox this past weekend. Don’t just go by my words about this. Of course I’m biased. I’ve been a witness to this success for the seven years of writing. But there’s a heck of a lot of truth in what I say. Find out for yourself.
Vaccines and Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa Amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War by Bee Bloeser https://beebloeser.com
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure joy of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. Now that she is FV (fully vaccinated) she is looking forward to expanding her world in person.