Author Anna Broadway, Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity, has a fabulous “blog to book-deal” success story … with a twist! A writer, knitter, and web editor in the Bay Area, Broadway is also a contributor to Faith at the Edge. Her writing has also appeared in print or online editions of Paste, Beliefnet, Books and Culture, Radiant, Relevant, and other publications. Broadway shares her process and experience with the Write On! community, and reveals how her love of knitting played a key role in her success.
When and how did you start writing?
Before I could physically write, actually. When I was about 5 or 6, I remember enlisting my mom to write down some short story I wanted to dictate, but she only got through a sentence or two before she had to return to whatever chore was calling (my youngest brother was probably still an infant then, so she would have had four small children).
Once I learned to write, and then to type, there were a few short stories … then a regular 2- to 3-page newsletter called “The Tardy Tribune” (published for about a year before I started high school) … stints at school papers through high school and college … and then a long spell of cowardice and denial about my writing until I finally started a blog about my love life in 2004. The book deal followed a year later.
Why did you write Sexless in the City?
It started as a blog developed from anecdotes I’d been telling some of my friends. Underneath that, though, was a sense of this tension between faith and sexuality that I was constantly struggling to figure out. I think I hoped the blog would help me sort all that out. When it did begin to do that, albeit in unexpected ways, I started thinking there might be a story worth telling—not just a collection of essays, but something with more of a narrative arc.
How did you go about getting it published?
I always say the book happened in spite of me, because I’d been such a coward, such a lazy writer until then. A lot of the book deal was about incredibly favorable circumstances. Basically, I met an editor for Random House at a mutual friend’s stitch-n-bitch party. I didn’t mention my writing, for a few reasons, but our mutual friend did later; and the editor checked out my blog then asked if I’d thought of turning it into a book. Since I actually had—even had a rough book proposal from a previous meeting with a literary agent—I sent that to her. Even in that rough form, she was interested in buying it. Ultimately she helped me refine the proposal. I was introduced to my agent Jane Dystel through another writer friend, and Jane ended up selling the book to the editor.
I should say, there was a bit of discussion, initially, over whether I ought to try to find an agent—which frankly seemed rather unlikely—or just sell it directly to the editor. But the editor was also a writer herself, and very straightforwardly said that while selling it directly to them would be better for them, selling it through an agent would probably be better for me. Looking back at all the contract and media/publicity advice my agent has provided, I’m immensely grateful I decided to get representation.
What was your writing process?
It started very crudely. I printed out every entry from the blog, grouped them together by topics, arranged them in a logical timeline, and started constructing the chapters from those “seed” anecdotes. Once I really got into it, though, I found myself writing far more new material and using less and less of the blog material. In the end, I think only 2 or 3 stories that were first told on the blog made it into the book in close to their original form.
One thing that helped a lot—since we ended up being asked to produce a 95,000-word book, although the original concept was 60,000—was dividing the book into parts. I actually took my cue from an early chapter in Jane Fonda’s memoir, where she talks about these three-act plays whose first and second acts seem completely disconnected but are finally resolved in the third act. I thought that was a really good way to organize my story, so the divisions became “The Innocent,” “The Bawd” and “The Pilgrim.”
Because the book was a memoir, I also ended up giving certain people in it a chance to review what I said about them. Everyone had the protection of a pseudonym, but I didn’t want to tell my story at the expense of relationships, if at all possible. So, mainly with the men who figured significantly in the book, I gave them a chance to respond to my disclosures about them. The nature of the characterizations I considered my prerogative, but I did try hard to be as fair as possible. Plus, if someone asked me not to make certain disclosures, I tried to respect that. For the most part, I think this review was a tremendously good thing for the book. Ultimately, I had three people who committed to read the whole thing, in chunks, and give me honest, even brutal if need be, feedback. The book and I owe them all a great debt.
What was your favorite part of writing it? The greatest challenge?
I think the thing I will always remember most fondly about this book is the last four months of writing, even though that was probably one of the craziest, most-intense times of my life to date. Because I was just on this knife edge between staying on track and completely falling apart, I fell into a routine of taking a walk to pray every night, one mile up Brooklyn’s Sixth Avenue, one mile back. Some nights, things were so crazy I’d take two walks! But what emerged from that discipline was just incredible. By far, those months were the sweetest part of my entire time in New York.
The greatest challenge was probably recovering from setbacks. In some sense, that old song Fred Astaire sings—about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off—is true. Yet, finding the courage and strength to start that process of starting-over or resuming is really hard sometimes, especially when nothing you can do will fix a broken relationship or make someone happy. But, thankfully, I had those prayer-walks to hash it all out, and that got me through. So, in a way, the greatest challenge and my favorite part are really bound up with each other.
How difficult was it to write something so personal?
There were some tricky places, to be sure, but I’m usually a pretty candid person anyway. The hardest sections were those where I felt like some really intimate details raised extremely important issues to get into, but I didn’t want to write about that without losing certain parts of my audience. So, there were various things I learned to do, and in a couple places, I think that challenge actually produced some of the strongest writing. I’m really proud of the section where I talk about my date with Ad Weasel. I somehow fell into using I-80 and the Bay Bridge as a metaphor, and it worked out very, very serendipitously.
How did you decide what to include?
The friend who introduced me to the editor who bought Sexless is a screenwriter. At a few key junctions, she provided tremendous help with the narrative arc. One of the things we talked about was, “what’s the underlying conflict here?” So keeping that in mind, hewing to the narrative trajectory I wanted to follow, really helped a lot. Other than that, I went with my gut, and the advice of my three reviewers. I wouldn’t always say your gut is right, but for the most part, that was an indication of the problem spots and the things that needed to go.
I’m not sure, but hopefully fiction, and, at present, the odd magazine piece. I put together another book proposal that everyone passed on, but I feel like that disappointment has been a chance to think about the longer term. As one mentor has encouraged me to consider, what are the things that really interest and provoke me? What would I care enough about to write that I’d do it even no one paid me for that book? So I’m kind of in a season of resting, reflecting and reading, which has been nice. Between the blog and the book, the period from 2004 to 2008 was pretty intense. It’s great to have a break from that and just live life again.
Advice for writers?
Find people who will read your writing and give you thoughtful feedback—not just tell you that it’s great or whatever you want to hear. And don’t let those “okay,” maybe “clever,” but somehow “weak-enough-that-they-gnaw-at-your-gut” passages fly. Wrestle with them, work at them. It may mean letting yourself—your wit, your “insight,” your cleverness—decrease, but that gives room for the meat, the truth, the ideas, the beauty to increase.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
You have to do so much to market a book, and some of that has to start much sooner than you think. There were a lot of people we could have pitched but didn’t get to because it was too late by the time we thought of them. I also wish I’d known that with a book like mine—which sort of straddles the Christian and secular market—you probably can’t depend on one publicist to reach both markets. I’ve since learned it’s very rare for the same person to do really well with both markets and have all the necessary relationships in each.
Tags: Anna Broadway Author Q&A Debra Eckerling Faith at the Edge Memoir Non-fiction Sexless in the City Write On! Writing