I Wasn’t Dead When I Wrote This: Advice Given in the Nick of Time by Lisa-Marie Calderone-Stewart (Loyola, July) is a kind of Tuesdays with Morrie. Calderone-Stewart, a youth minister for 30 years, died of cancer last year, and wrote the book, a compendium of advice for the young, as she was dying. Loyola executive editor Joseph Durepos explains how he rejected the first book she submitted, a novel, then suggested she write another.
How did this book come about?
Knowing she was within weeks or months of dying, I felt a heavier burden in communicating (rejection). It came to me that the book she hadn’t written would be the one book I’d like to read. I asked her, ‘If you had a few days to tell (teens) everything that would be most important, what would it be?’ On a whim I asked if she would write such a book. To which she said, ‘Are you nuts? I could die tomorrow. I’m on pain medication.’ The next day she sent me a table of contents.
Tell us about the process of working with her.
Upon completion of the manuscript, I realized the next level of editing had to be a little more intensive than we could do over the phone. I suggested to Lisa that I drive up to Milwaukee and read the manuscript aloud to her, to make sure everything worked. We really only had two days to do it, because she was going downhill. I sat at her table and read the book out loud over two days and we edited that text together. She was terrific, but she was in tremendous pain.
What does her family think?
Her sons were immensely supportive; she dedicates the book to them. I think they were pleased that this wasn’t niched at the church-only audience, and it would be a way for other folks to meet their mother. I don’t know any parent who has teenagers who might not find this book a useful inspiration.
And how was this for you?
There was a lot of work, but the whole thing felt like grace. I came in on the last five minutes of a really good soul’s life to hear her talk in her last lucid moment about the spiritual truths she had discovered.