The Reality Show Version of Writing a Book


Tonight, I was in the mood for some humor.  If you can pull yourself away from your favorite reality show–you might enjoy this metaphoric piece I wrote shortly after the publication of my zoo history book.   

Book: Oklahoma City Zoo; 1902-1959

“Ding dong the book is put to bed!” That’s the song I’m singing right now, since my manuscript, The Oklahoma City Zoo; 1902-1959, is resting peacefully at the publishing house in Chicago.  It began its life four long years ago, whining and nagging to be researched—throwing guilt trips in my path that if I didn’t do it, no one else would. It was up to me to drag fifty years of forgotten zoo history out of the attic and begin a trip down the Antiques Roadshow lane. 

 Five-hundred hours later the scraps of information began to take on a personality; a strong storyline full of animal whimsy, with an occasional outburst of history. Once it was written, however, the ungrateful brat demanded a break and sat on the shelf for a year, wallowing in rejection. I finally had to force it to overcome its Fear Factor. I had put way too much effort into raising it for it not to be a Survivor. So, I reintroduced it back into society, sending out letters on its behalf to three reputable publishers. All three pursued the manuscript to a degree, but at the end of The Amazing Race, I had to tell the biggest Contender, “You’re fired!” and Apprentice it over to a smaller press.

 This meant my precious brainchild had to undergo an Extreme Make-over. Another 500 hours of Overhaulin’ was required. At first, cutting unnecessary words was painful. It resisted going on the diet, complaining that it was unfair to be The Biggest Loser. After firming itself into tight, concise little captions, however, its inner beauty began to show. It decided it might be America’s Next Top Model yet. The facelift included a city-wide search for over 200 Candid Camera photos to fit the manuscript’s pretty little text. Being confined to only 128 pages, the photos kept Trading Spaces, and in some cases, were cut altogether.

 Next came agonizing weeks of deciding What Not to Wear on the book’s cover. It needed Bachelor appeal if it was going to attract bookstore customers. Even after the final deadline, the editor and I were still searching, a bit desperately then, for the right photo. I scoured the options one last time, when suddenly, I yelled out, “I Want That! one.” Somehow we had both missed the best choice—two children looking at a leopard.

 Finally, my labor of love has become comfortable with its new image. No more tweaking or rearranging, no Starting Over. I’ve instilled as much historical integrity into it as possible, and it is ready to face the readers of the world with confidence.

 I, too, have changed through this process. I’ve learned to sacrifice words, interpret nearly-obliterated newspaper text on a microfiche machine, and harass companies for photo licensing. I’ve freed up space in my head where fifty years of history had been rattling around.

 In “reality” though, the best thing about raising this non-fiction book was knowing that it would spark good memories and conversations. I keep imagining a grandma saying, “I remember when Judy the Elephant came to the zoo. Let me tell you about it.” From the beginning, I knew that this book would not make me a Joe Millionaire, but Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I’ll cash my small royalty check and take comfort in knowing that the next historian who gets a bug to write about the Oklahoma City Zoo’s past will actually have a resource to use. Just think how much less work they will have to do!

 Now that my manuscript is grown and gone, things are much more peaceful around This Old House. I’m living The Simple Life. I come home in the evenings and have time to piddle around with my new hobby—no, not watching reality television—writing. Writing glorious, creative, non-factual, no-photographs-needed fiction!


Filed under My Philosophy on Writing, Some Writing Humor, Zoo

20 responses to “The Reality Show Version of Writing a Book

  1. Welcome to the world of blogging, Amy! I think you’ll enjoy it. You are certainly an inspiration to me. Your writing seems to get better and better every time I read something you’ve written.

  2. What a clever twist to share the story of your publishing process!
    Also, I never thought of Candid Camera as a reality show, but you are absolutely right. I wonder if it was the first….
    Congratulations on entering the blogosphere. It looks fabulous and I’m eager to see what else you have to say.

  3. Bob Smith

    Amy –

    Thanks for sharing the story. I look forward to our visit to learn even more about your adventure.


  4. Indeed, “the best thing about raising this non-fiction book was knowing that it would spark good memories and conversations.”
    Your writer parenting has raised a responsible, yet whimsical child who is ready to greet the world fully armed with great childhood memories. I look forward to reading more of your “parenting” adventures in raising books. Thank you for sharing this great blog!

    • Jewel,
      Thank you! As you well know, raising books is an agonizing, yet rewarding undertaking. It’s nice to have a support group out there.

      Amy Dee Stephens
      “Words carry time and culture.”

  5. Amy, great blog. You really started with a bang, and I’m sure you’ll keep right on going with you writing flare.

    Congratulations on the book.


  6. Pam Wedel

    Amy! I really enjoyed this blog entry! Keep ’em coming.

  7. Hi Amy! So good to hear from you and see your blog! Way to go, girl! I hope to hear more from you and see more of your published books! You are an inspiration to all of us….we need you so keep up the great work! Hang that sign that you got at the SCBWI Christmas party over your desk to remind you to “Simplify”–that’s what all us writers need to do. It was my sweet 88-year old friend who brought that gift! I have a similar sign myself. Darleen

    • Darleen,
      Yes, and to “simplify” is so hard to do, too! Thank you for the encouragement–especially from someone who has walked the writer’s walk for so long. You have been one of my role models for a long time.

      Amy Dee Stephens
      “Words carry time and culture.”

  8. Jim Kelley

    The blog looks great, and I want to know more about your new hobby, fiction! Thanks for the blog.


    • Jim,
      Well thank you! I have a zoo mystery and a young adult novel called The Wedding Thief finished—just trying to get an agent now. I’ve sent about 20 agent queries this winter and had a few manuscript requests–but nothing yet. Are you a writer?

      Amy Dee Stephens
      “Words carry time and culture.”

      • Jim Kelley


        I think so, but not published yet. You’d judged the ’09 novel entries for the OKC Writers, and gave me some great advice on my entry.


  9. What kind of fiction, Amy? I’m interesting in hearing more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s