Beryl Singleton Bissell


From the author

If you love to read you might also love to write

October 24, 2007

-- or the Back Story behind becoming an author

My favorite past time as a child was sitting under the ping pong table over which I'd draped a cloth tent, reading. As a teen I sequestered myself in my room, preferring reading about others' lives to living my own. When I entered the cloister my reading was limited to lives of the saints and books on prayer or asceticism but our library also held an astounding collection of Stoddard's Lectures taking me round the world on early 20th century journeys. When I left the monastery, not knowing what to read, I crashed the local library and seized every book the staff recommended.

I didn’t realize that I also loved to write until I returned to college as a single parent and my English 101 professor told me I was a writer. It was around the same time that I overheard my teenage son tell a confidant that he thought he was damned, claiming that God had it in for him because his mother had been a nun and his father a priest.

The story behind the love his father and I shared was complex and harrowing, passionate and tender. I needed to tell him this story and the best way I k new to tell it was to write it. I signed up for a class in memoir writing and began telling of the search for God that led me into a cloister at the age of 18 and of the events that had bound his father and me together fifteen years later. The following year, the chapter I wrote in that class won a national creative nonfiction competition that allowed me to work for a month with acclaimed essayist Scott Russell Sanders. During the next three years I fleshed out that story which grew to a mighty 700 pages plus. In 2000, a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant gave me the funds to hire an editor to help me hone that story which meant cutting over 400 of those pages.

In 2001 sent the manuscript off to an agent. She sent it back. She told me I had a great story and the skill to tell it, but that I hadn't told it yet. It was personal but not intimate. I had touched on huge issues but avoided dealing with them. She was right of course. I'd read too much not to know what separated great writing from less than memorable writing but by that time I was tired of writing and rewriting my story. I put the manuscript away and for two years voraciously read the great memoirs: Russell Baker's Growing Up; Jill Ker Conway's Road From Coorain; West with the Night by Beryl Markham; Vivian Gornick's Fierce Attachments, and the like. Then I took another look at the manuscript, knew what I needed to do, and began the long and painful rewrite of the story beneath the story's events.

In 2005 I sent it out again. This time the first agent to see it loved it and sold it within a week to Counterpoint NY, a highly respected literary publisher of edgy books who made what I now called The Scent of God their lead title for Spring 2006.

The Scent of God was a Book Sense Notable for April 2006 and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the largest newspaper in a state that grows authors as prolifically as its crops, named me “Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors.” In April 2007 the book was released in paperback by Counterpoint Press.

From book lover to published author and during the journey from one to the other, books sustained and nourished and taught me. Who knows where your love of books might take you. Like me, you might find yourself knocked-off-your-feet-surprised by what can happen.

My Work

The collision of human love and faith
An impetuous move to Lake Superior transforms a life
While writing The Scent of God
"Seven Years in Hell"

Quick Links

Find Authors