A Glimpse at the Making of “Don’t Make Me Cry”

By the Editor

I never imagined that editing this book, Don’t Make Me Cry, would turn out to be one of the most interesting and fulfilling adventures I’ve had.  I would even be tempted to add that it was great fun, working with the author on it – if it didn’t sound so callous, given the subject matter: a horrifying, true story.

But it was amazing how philosophical his own attitude was, and even scrutinizing together some of the more graphic portions of the manuscript, there was rarely any sign of the toll those terrible events had to have taken on him.

My part in the book started a couple of years ago when my sister’s long-time boyfriend, Tom Daly, told me he was writing a book and asked me if I would edit it.  He didn’t have the wherewithal to hire a professional editor, so he was doing what a lot of new writers probably do – ask a literate friend.

My sister had already given me the gist of what had happened to him, earlier in life, and told me this was what he was writing about in his memoir.  Then Tom, in his unassuming way, told me himself – sort of “forewarning” me; he wanted to be sure I knew ahead of time what to expect.  That was just before he brought me the first section of the manuscript, a year or so after he originally asked if I would edit it.  He had actually been working on it for a few years already, in his spare time, and already had most of the remainder in rough form, which he continued finalizing in-between our sessions of editing together whatever he had ready.

I somehow knew from the start that I would enjoy this editing task, in spite of the dire subject matter, and I knew that it was important for Tom, personally.  But I had not really expected to find that he had such an appealing writing style.  It was simple and direct, occasionally playful (though mostly serious, as the subject would require) – and yet it connected.  When I complimented him on it he said he had striven to make the actual telling of the story interesting because he wanted it to be read – for reasons that went beyond just selling books, I would come to learn.

But the thing I really didn’t expect was how I got so engrossed and pulled into the story itself.  Having a general idea of what it was about, as I did at the beginning, wasn’t the same as reading the blow-by-blow account.  It was pretty astonishing.  And my immediate reaction was to wonder if people would even find it believable.  Then I got a few people, my two sons and a couple of friends, to read some of it and give me their feedback.  They all had similar reactions to mine, but all for different reasons, interestingly enough.  And then I thought – of course!

First of all, it shouldn’t be surprising that something that shocking would get an initial reaction of disbelief or denial or something along those lines.  But the other thing I noted was – we all wanted to read more, to see what happened next, and to find out what else happened.  So although we found it hard to believe, it was as if we basically knew that even some very astounding assertions can sometimes be true – and that we should just read on.  Besides, it was hard to put the thing down!

And then I realized something else from the feedback.  Each person had their individual “take” on the overall story as well as on the different facets of it, and these takes were widely varying.  Actually, it got them all talking, and they had quite a bit to say – always from their own particular point of view, and their own individual experiences and reality.

Likewise, I can only imagine the variety of possible commentary from experts in a wide spectrum of fields of the mind, or experts in interpersonal or group dynamics, or what have you.  Each would have a specialized expertise with which to evaluate and draw their conclusions, some in agreement with those of others, some contradictory – maybe even diametrically opposed.

But as for the variety of reactions of the everyday reader, a simple example might be how I, myself, was able to relate to the memory problems Tom had experienced, which in fact is where the story begins and is a critical part of it.  I was having my own memory lapses, caused by certain health issues and the side effects of medication – circumstances far less traumatic than Tom’s.  But even so, I personally knew that this particular affliction could be extremely exasperating, which made that aspect of his experience very real to me.  And, as I’ve said, the responses from the other readers were just as unique to them.

I have to admit, too, that my grasp of this very point was something Tom had been trying to get across to me all along.  I would try to get him to write explanations, or possible explanations, about his own and others’ words and actions, the motivations they had and that sort of thing – to make the story easier to understand so that it wouldn’t all be so incredible.  But he held his ground with me:  he only wanted to write what he had actually seen for himself, or heard or experienced – and let the dialogue begin.  Let it fall where it may.

So because of his persistent stand, along with the comments from these other “sample readers,” I finally understood why he didn’t want to speculate about any of it, or tell the reader what to think by inserting his own personal interpretations or opinions or guesses.  I remember the last time I offered one of my increasingly milder suggestions of this kind; he sincerely considered it for a few moments and then said, “I just don’t want to do that to the reader.”

He wanted to allow readers, experts or not, to participate and add to the understanding, and have their own.  But above all, he simply wanted the bare facts of what happened to be known, to be exposed to the public eye.

There are many questions that one might ask, reading along, and many of them I did ask, just between Tom and me.  He would sometimes offer his own notions, but other times I got the simple answer of “I don’t know.”  In other words, he only knows for sure what he himself saw and heard, or maybe overheard, and what he felt – and, in fact, has questions of his own.  With any luck, and the publication of this book, some answers may yet be revealed.

But getting back to the adventure of working with Tom on the task of smoothing out the rough spots of the manuscript, we would be amused by different things and one of them had to do with my memory lapses.  I would lose my train of thought fairly often and we just had to laugh about how ironic it was for him to have an editor who, herself, mirrored a major aspect of the story.  And just as funny was the fact that he had entrusted the editing of his book to this person!

Amazingly, we also had some good laughs joking about some of the dire things he had written about – things said and done that were so outrageous you had to find humor in them, even though they weren’t really anything to laugh about.  At the same time, there were also some poignant, heart-rending moments in his narration, that literally left me with a loss for words.  And overall, I found it to be a story not only of almost incomprehensible, cold-blooded inhumanity – but a story that truly validated the human spirit as well.

Some of you, like Tom and me, will hope that, with light being shed on this very, very dark corner of what was a typical suburban neighborhood in Concord, California, there are others who may know something about such happenings and that they will come out of the woodwork and speak up.  If actual witnesses to these atrocities learn about the book, they may step forward too.  And if any such things are still going on (incredibly) it could start the ball rolling toward their being exposed and stopped.

But one last note about the adventure of working with Tom on his memoir.  He hadn’t previously done that much writing of any kind, much less attempted a book, and obviously had never collaborated with an editor – one who, herself, was totally new at it, to boot.  And even though his whole heart and intent was poured into those first drafts (and they were already compellingly written) the editing – co-editing, really – to achieve the final product was mostly a matter of learning how to do what we were doing, as we did it.  And I like to think that we made up for our lack of experience and knowhow (and my memory lapses!) with a lot of time, repetition, and old-fashioned hard work.

As we plugged along through many a long afternoon to make it the best we could, I think my heart was in it just about as much as his.  Almost from the beginning, I had taken on his cause as my own.  I too wanted his story to be heard.

And I hope it turns out to be a true-life Cinderella tale, where possibly more people than we now know will end up happy – or at least happier – ever after.

 

Marilyn Abrahamian

 

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