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Friday, April 28, 2017 7:34 pm

Marilyn Shapiro finds her voice with help from the Jewish world

The cover of Marilyn Shapiro’s book.

The cover of Marilyn Shapiro’s book.

By MARILYN SHAPIRO
“It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly shots rang out!” 

Poor Snoopy! For all his “dogged” attempts, Charles Schultz’s beloved beagle has not yet published his novel. Thanks to The Jewish World, however, I have been more successful. I have published a book.

It was a dark and storm—Actually, it was a bright and sunny day in June 2013, when Josie Kivort, Hadassah Capital District’s Chapter Campaign chairwoman, and I paid a visit to The Jewish World’s office. For the past several months, we had been serving on the committee to plan the organization’s annual Special Gifts event. Jim Clevenson, the publisher of the Schenectady-based regional biweekly, Josie, and I met to discuss the timeline for future press releases and advertisements.

Inspiration

I had communicated previously with The Jewish World mostly through press releases. For years, I had worked on publicity, first as a volunteer for several organizations in Clifton Park and later as part of my responsibilities at the Capital District Educational Opportunity Center in Troy. We had been in “virtual contact” as I had been sending the newspaper various articles that I felt would be relevant to the Jewish community.

During our discussion, I mentioned to Jim that I had retired three years earlier. Jim asked if I would be interested in doing reporting for The Jewish World. 

“I have done enough press releases for a lifetime,” I told Jim. “However, would you be interested in publishing some short non-fiction pieces about my life as a Jewish woman, wife, and mother in Upstate New York?”

Jim agreed to give the idea a try, and he told me that I should send the articles to Laurie Clevenson, his sister and the paper’s editor-in-chief.

From Private To Public
My first article appeared in the Aug. 27, 2013, school opening issue. “There Goes My Heart” recalled how saying goodbye to my children—whether putting them on the bus the first day of kindergarten or dropping them with-shap-storyoff at their dorms their first day of college or waving them off as they got in their own cars and drove cross country to new jobs—always brought me to tears.

I had asked my mother if the farewells ever got easier. “Oh, Marilyn,” she said. “Every time any one of you gets into the car and drives away, I think to myself, ‘There goes my heart!’”

So started my regular contributions to The Jewish World. Every two weeks, I wrote a story and submitted it for the newspaper’s consideration. Growing up as the only Jewish family in a small Upstate New York town; experiencing anti-Semitism on my first teaching job in the Capital Region of New York; participating in a playgroup for our two-year-olds; adjusting to retirement; leaving the home we shared for 36 years to move to Florida—these many once-private moments became very public columns.

Initially, I was afraid that I would run out of ideas. As the months progressed, however, I found that even the smallest event— biking up a steep mountain in the Rockies, visiting the Portland Holocaust Memorial, changing my granddaughter’s diaper—could morph from an idea to a story. Family and friends shared their experiences, and, with their permission, I wove them into my articles.

Not Always Easy
Not that the stories always flowed easily from my brain to the Mac laptop. “Writing is easy,” wrote sports writer Red Smith. “All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” I often found myself up at midnight before a deadline trying to polish what I had written. But, like some people I knew who devoted hours to quilting or photography or golf, I devoted hours to my writing.

When I moved to Florida in 2015, I joined SOL Writers, a group of women who met twice a month to share their drafts or to participate in a free write. A few of the women were published authors; others, like me, had dreams of expanding their audience. I brought in pieces I had either completed or were working on for The Jewish WorldThe women were not afraid to criticize, but they were also generous in their praise. “You seriously need to think about putting these essays into a book,” one of my writer friends suggested.

Polishing The Stories
In March 2016, I got up enough courage to contact Mia Crews, a professional editor who would be responsible for formatting the manuscript, designing the cover, and uploading the finished product to Amazon.

Nothing prepared me for the amount of work required to go from a collection of stories to a polished book. I started editing. And  there was editing and more editing. I thought I was close to finished before we left for this summer’s trip out west. However, I worked on it on the plane to San Francisco, at nights in different hotels up the Oregon Coast, and during every spare minute during our six week stay in Colorado. I enlisted my husband Larry’s help, and we sat together on the couch in our rented condo going over the manuscript with a fine tooth comb while two political conventions and the Summer Olympics played on the television.

Accomplishment
When we got back to Florida, Mia Crews and I completed the final revisions, On September 3, my 66th birthday. There Goes My Heart was launched on Amazon. I had done it! I had written a real, live book with, as a friend commented, with a cover and pages and nouns and verbs and everything!

“A writer only starts a book,” wrote Samuel Johnson. “A reader finishes it.” Thanks to Laurie and Jim Clevenson for giving me the opportunity to publish my articles. Thanks to you, my readers, who have helped me reach the finish line of my lifelong dream.

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