Date Published: November 12, 2021
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Seven-year-old Leslie has a serious problem: someone is trying to kill her.
She must fight to save herself and her little brother from the stark realities of living with their mother’s raging psychosis. To evade the evil Russian spies her mother believes are after them, they forgo sleep, speak in whispers, and live on the run. Her mother searches for hidden listening devices, writes rambling manifestos about the impending Communist takeover, and attempts to kill herself and her children to protect them from rape, torture, and murder at the hands of the government. Controlling the chaos seems impossible—Leslie rebels, which only angers her mother, but when she obeys, terrible consequences follow.
Eventually, the police place Leslie and her brother in foster care. Freedom from her mother’s paranoia and violent tendencies offers the young girl a glimmer of hope, but she plummets into despair under the oppressive weight of abusive, alienating homes. All seems lost until a teacher intervenes, risking everything to bring Leslie to safety, to show her the redemptive power of trust and patience, and to prove unconditional love is possible, even without the bond of blood.
When I Was Her Daughter is a raw, honest account of one girl’s terrifying childhood journey through madness, loss, and a broken foster care system, where only the lucky and most resilient survive.
Can you tell us a little about the process of getting this book published? How did you come up with the idea and how did you start?
Over the years, I firmly believed I wanted to publish traditionally. I researched that publishing path and agents, and I queried a couple dozen or so--all rejections. I heard again and again that memoir is notoriously difficult to sell to publishers unless the author is well-known and has a massive social media presence. I kept thinking, my memoir will be the one that breaks through these barriers and blows agents and publishers away. I also became increasingly aware of the fact that landing an agent and a publisher is a time and numbers game. I very well may have landed an agent for my memoir, but would it be a year from now? Two? Five? So I researched other paths, and the hybrid model attracted me for many reasons, the main reason being that, if I were offered a contract, I could potentially see my book in print in less than a year’s time.
As someone who has already spent two decades getting this book ready for publication, I did not want to spend any more time waiting, especially not if my book were good enough to publish right now. I might have had a different opinion on this if my book were still in the early stages of development and I thought I could write, edit, and polish it very quickly. Then, my writing journey and the path to publishing would not have seemed so laborious. I might have had the patience for that. However, traditional publishing is not what it used to be. It is more common than not that authors are doing much of their own marketing and social media management. And traditional publishers take a huge cut of the royalties earned--and an agent takes a cut, too. The more I learned, the more I realized that I didn’t like any of the drawbacks--and the perks didn’t make the drawbacks worthwhile.
When I learned more about Acorn Publishing and about Holly Kammier and Jessica Therrien, Acorn’s owners, I felt certain that Acorn would be the best place for me and my memoir. When I finally signed my contract, a huge weight lifted from me. I was no longer in limbo, wondering, deciding, ruminating over what would become of my memoir, this manuscript I’d been pouring so much sweat and tears into for so many years. The months leading up to publication were challenging, but Acorn’s hybrid model includes guidance about every aspect of publishing, from cover design to formatting, from social media and platform-building to book launch planning. Now that my book is published, I cannot believe I spent so much time agonizing over what to do. Of course, I had to put in the time and do the work to understand where I wanted to go in this industry, but I would make the same decision again in a heartbeat.
What surprised you most about getting your book published?
The thing that surprised me the most about getting my book published was knowing I could actually regard my book as complete enough and good enough for publication...that meant I needed to allow myself to stop working on it. I think a part of me was afraid to stop because I’d been working on the book for the better part of two decades. If I couldn’t work on it anymore, what did that mean for me? Did it mean I would no longer have any direction or purpose in my life? Did it mean I wouldn’t know myself anymore--who am I if I’m not writing my memoir? I think when we shift gears in life, we inevitably experience a sense of loss. To stop working on this memoir meant I would no longer be forced to confront my past. It also meant I wouldn’t be spending time remembering or thinking about my childhood and my biological mom. I was afraid to say goodbye to my childhood because I am perpetually locked in a state of nostalgia and saudade. Even though my biological mom and I haven’t had a relationship since I was ten, writing this book was a way of keeping her alive, keeping her with me. Completing this book meant I had to be brave enough to let her, and my childhood, go. This was a pivotal moment for me.
Tell us a little about what you do when you aren’t writing
When I’m not writing, I love to read and to watch movies and drama series. I particularly like anything dark, haunting, or character-driven, including coming-of-age stories that take me back to a time in my own life when anything seemed possible. I also enjoy taking walks. I used to love doing yoga and working out at the gym, but for now, my knees and COVID are making things difficult.
As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?
The most pivotal point of my writing life was my divorce from my first husband in 2005. That major change gave me the perspective I needed to rediscover who I am. I started traveling more, listening to music again and attending concerts. Also, thanks to the encouragement and compassion of a very spiritual and emotionally tuned-in guru, I began drafting my memoir. Essentially, this is when I started doing the deeper work of healing from the trauma of my childhood.
Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?
I get my best ideas when I’m sleeping (dreaming) or in the moments right before I fall asleep. I think these ideas come to me because I am returning to a vulnerable state as the rest of the world and its stressors fall away from me, allowing my creativity space to breathe. I also get some great ideas when I listen to music and while I walk. The lyrics of some of my favorite songs spark creativity in me, and walking in nature seems to oxygenate my body and brain and put me on a higher plane of existence.
What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
One of the toughest pieces of criticism I’ve ever received was from someone in a new writers group who blatantly said, “I don’t even know who your audience is. I mean, I would never read this book.” It stung in the moment, but it forced me to clean things up (after a few wrong directions) and continue learning about the art of memoir. Once I felt confident that I could write my memoir for myself and for the reader in me, I knew I was on the right track, and I never looked back. I’ve tried to do that--take every bit of hard feedback and use it to be introspective and objective in the interest of telling better stories.
What has been your best accomplishment as a writer?
Completing and publishing my memoir has been the writing accomplishment of which I am most proud. There is something so exhilarating about reaching a major writing deadline, and the fact that my story now belongs to readers restores my faith in myself--in my ability to see important and difficult things through to the end.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Haha! This is a good question! I have an unpublished poetry chapbook, which is easily part of a longer compilation of poems. I have two novels in progress and two memoirs dancing around in my head. I also have two short stories that have been workshopped and are just about finished. And I have about a zillion short stories, essays, and poems that seem more like dead ends than new beginnings.
About the Author
Leslie Ferguson is an accomplished educator, editor, and writing coach. As a youth in foster care, she dreamed about becoming a teacher. She earned her credential at the University of Redlands and returned to her alma mater to teach advanced English before obtaining a master’s degree in English literature and an MFA in creative writing from Chapman University. Her work has been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. A member of the San Diego Memoir Writers Association and the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild, Leslie is a repeat performer at So Say We All’s VAMP! and Poets Underground. She lives in the greater San Diego area with her husband, where she binge-watches coming-of-age character dramas and reminisces about her glory days as an All-American basketball player and collegiate Hall-of-Fame athlete. When I Was Her Daughter is her first book.
Visit the author online at LeslieFergusonAuthor.com.
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