I’ve been a writer most of my life. In school, I never met an essay question I didn’t like, and in a 20-year career as a newspaper editor, I found ways to stay active as a writer, too – from penning an occasional “Monday column” to writing about my vacations for the travel pages.
But in all that time, I never really thought about writing a book. Of course, that was before my wife, Mary Bishop-Baldwin, and I fought a 10-year legal battle for the right to marry that took us to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court and then to the steps of the Tulsa County Courthouse, where we finally said our “I do’s.”
At first, it felt a little arrogant to think about writing a memoir. I mean, everyone has a story; who did we think we were? But it is true that our story might be a little more unique than some others, and besides, so what? Everyone else can tell their stories, too. It’s not like writing – or even publishing – is a zero-sum game.
How to go about getting published was the first decision I grappled with, in fact, once I decided to write “Becoming Brave: Winning Marriage Equality in Oklahoma and Finding Our Voice.” Breaking into the published-author clique is not easy. The big publishing houses want to know what you’ve done previously, and they’re not easily sold on an unproven writer might see as a certain best-seller. Surprisingly, perhaps, quite a few writer friends suggested I go the self-publishing route.
Although it’s true that not having a big-name publisher can be a detriment to a new author, our story was that rare case in which if there were ever a time to go it alone, this was it. We had a built-in audience composed of nearly every lesbian, gay man and bisexual, transgender or gender-nonconforming person across Oklahoma, not to mention a bevy of heterosexual and cisgender allies. I have just begun the “sales and distribution” part of this grand experiment, so I’ll have to let you know how it goes. But so far, sales are brisk, and I’m pleased with the buzz that’s developing around the book.
As with any new adventure, there were some surprises. The first was simply the amount of research I found myself doing. You might think that writing your own story – one you lived and breathed – would be as simple as writing in a diary. But a book needs to give context and framing for the events it depicts, and it needs to be accurate. Many were the days I spent researching the birth of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts or a hearing on the Defense of Marriage Act before a congressional panel in 1996 only to have half a written page to show for it at the end of the day.
I was surprised at how hard it is to be critical of people in a book. I didn’t gore anyone’s ox, by any means, but some criticisms needed to be brought into the light, so I did that. But it was difficult on occasion.
We all know just from social media how easily the written word can be misinterpreted, so writing about friends and loved ones was especially laborious when working in a medium with such permanency, but equally difficult, at least on some emotional level, was not writing about people I know and love. The names of some of my favorite people don’t appear in my book. I have worried that the implication is that those people aren’t truly special to me. The truth is that Mary and I talked about the stories we needed and wanted to tell, and in telling those stories, certain names had to be there. If I had told other stories, different names undoubtedly would have cropped up. In only one instance did I specifically add a gratuitous sentence just so that a certain name or names would appear in the book. (And I’m not telling you any more than that.)
Perhaps the biggest surprise was one I totally should have been prepared for. As a child growing up in Tulsa, I read two newspapers a day – the Tulsa World in the morning with breakfast, and The Tulsa Tribune in the afternoon after I got home from school. No surprise that I became a journalist, but I never anticipated that working for a newspaper would steal some of the joy of reading the newspaper. Once I became a professional journalist, I never looked at any newspaper the same way again. And I regret that.
So it was with a bit of panic that I realized at one point near the end of writing the book that I was getting tired of it. The story chronicles some of the absolute happiest, most amazing days of my life; how in the world could I be bored with it? Did that mean readers were going to be bored with it? Was it bad? Talk about self-doubt! Well, the antithesis of that fear and self-doubt came just this week. Excited by the arrival on my front porch of five giant boxes holding hundreds of newly minted copies of my first book, I sat down and read “Becoming Brave” as a reader – straight through, and without taking time to dwell on any of the minor points I had debated with my editor (my wife, also a career newspaperwoman who has worked for the Tulsa World for nearly 22 years now).
And you know what? I think it’s good.
Casual readers might disagree, and that’s certainly their right. But I’m pleased with the book. If it never sold another copy from this point on, I’m good. My bank account and wife really, really hope that doesn’t happen, but for me, it feels good to be at that place of peace. I told our story. I did my best. The rest is out of my hands. Now – what to write next?
Click: To buy the book
Where: Oklahomans for Equality
621 E 4th St, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74120
When: Saturday, Feb. 4, 3 p.m.-6 p.m.