My Africa Memoir Hits A Milestone

Celebrate with me, my friends. I’ve just sent the manuscript for my Africa memoir Vaccines & Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War off to the proofreader.

It feels like a triumph. Never mind the months and miles still to go toward publication.

This milestone also coincides with a turning point in my blog. My previous post was the last one I planned to write about fighting smallpox through inoculation. When I continue the smallpox story, I’ll pick it up with the advent of vaccination.

Except, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer about how close our country came to not having a Gettysburg Address. If you’ve been waiting on pins and needles since the previous post, here you go.


Lincoln was not feeling at all well when he delivered his famous words at Gettysburg. Two days later, back in Washington, he developed the rash of smallpox. It was kept hush-hush. He was kept secluded, and all his cabinet meetings and other appointments were cancelled for the next ten days.

His case of smallpox was mild. But sadly, his personal valet contracted smallpox and died.

If Lincoln’s smallpox had appeared just two days earlier, we would not have had the Gettysburg Address.

And if his case had been fatal or severe? We’re left to wonder how much longer slavery would have persisted in this country.



For now, I want to tell you about my memoir writing journey. In future posts I’ll cover what I’m learning about the business side of writing–platform, book proposals, publishing options, marketing, etc.

Turns out it’s true that writing the book is the easy part.


Looking way back at when I began, here’s an excerpt from my second blog post,

I never intended to write a book. But as every page of my archives filled in details of another Africa memory, I developed a passion to tell the story….No time to waste. I broke down and invested in modern technology–and stared at the intimidating black screen of my new iPad. But just so you know, I’m nothing if not persistent. Undaunted, I went to the Apple store to ask how to turn it on.

Four years ago this week, before I’d written a single word, I went to my first creative writing group and told them I’d decided to write my Africa memoir. I said I had thousands of pages of letters, cables and reports, both personal and official, left by my husband. (Carl had passed away three months earlier.)

You know what they told me? Just start writing. Start getting it down.

And so I did. But I had so much to read about how to write creatively. I’d spent my career writing clinical reports.

My mentor, members of writing groups, and writing workshops all encouraged, prodded, improved my writing, and enlarged my circle of friends.

If you’ve read my early blogs you know some details about that writing journey. I’ll do an abbreviated review here.

Then I’m going to ask for your advice. A simple yes/no vote on a question I’ll have for you.



If I was going to write a book, I’d have to organize.

I first wrote tentative chapter titles on cards, one per card. (No wasting money on buying index cards, when I could use the backs of old business cards from my speech pathology career.) I covered my living room floor with them to organize my Africa stories.

For weeks, the cards danced around my floor, changing position with my every flash of brilliance. “Oh, of course. This chapter needs to come before the one about the arrest.” Often the order changed after I finished writing a particularly heavy chapter and realized I needed to give the reader a break with a lighter or more humorous vignette.

One day visitors were expected and I decided I didn’t want guests having to step over and around the cards to navigate the living room. What to do?

Oh. Of course. Tape them on the inside of the hall closet door.



The cards helped me plan the order of chapters. But when I plunged into the stacks of letters, cables, reports, diary notes and cassette tape letters that had convinced me I had to write this book, I was awash in all the tiny bits and pieces of our life in Africa. And the dates when things happened. Oh my.

*Updated photo format as some were unable to view in Slideshow.

I went back and forth and back again among documents that covered overlapping time periods, using dozens of colored tabs. I was resolved to locate events and conversations accurately in my story.

But I was drowning in those details.

Until the day I looked across from my closet-door-gallery to the opposite wall. Ah! A long stretch of empty wall! A blank canvas!

Painter’s tape for a timeline and sticky tabs with dates and details stretches the entire length of my hallway. I can walk down the hall and see two years of my life.

Often, the discovery of a new detail and its place on the timeline resulted in yet another rearrangement of the chapters, aka cards-on-the-closet-door. (Would you believe the scotch tape is still holding on that door?)


So what about those chapter organizing cards? What is your advice? Now that I’ve actually sent the manuscript off to a proofreader, should I take the cards off the closet door? It would be done with appropriate ceremony of course.

Vote “yes” to take down the cards or “no,” don’t take down the cards.

You may put your yes or no in Comments here on the website or on Facebook, or private message me on FB. I’ll tally the results just before the next blog post two weeks from now and will abide by your vote. If the majority of you vote to take down the cards, I’ll do it.

And I’ll take pictures of the ceremony and post them here.

(Sorry, I’m not ready to even think about touching that painter’s tape timeline.)










21 thoughts on “My Africa Memoir Hits A Milestone

  1. I’d say leave it up until it starts annoying you. I know it’s been a truly meaningful journey… and what else are you going to do with that door? 😉

  2. I really like Margarette Cannon’s idea (above) of leaving the cards up until the book is published and then making them into a scrapbook. Think of how much time you’ve spent looking at them, handling them, rearranging them. How could you just throw them out? I vote NO.
    After the book is in your hands, you could invite one friend per card over and each friend could take down one card. Then champagne–brought by your friends, of course!

  3. Congratulations on this manuscript milestone. I know the time and effort and research and love you put into this. You deserve all good things with this wonderful book. Enjoy CA! Ethel

    🌱Ethel Lee-Miller Tucson AZ


  4. Take them down, Bee.Nothing as beautiful as a nice clean door. Will you clean up the hall wall when it’s being published? ; ) Incidentally the information about Lincoln was fascinating and not a known fact in history. Good for you!

  5. I think you should leave them up until your book is published then transfer all of it to a scrapbook to journal this experience. The scrapbook would be a wonderful thing to display and share at your book signings. I am so looking forward to getting a copy of the book.

  6. I’m a sentimental sort, so I would say “No” do not take them down. Particularly if the provide a happy memorial of the hard work you did.

  7. Wow, what an exciting milestone! One step closer to publishing your remarkable book. Congratulations, Bee. No one works harder and smarter than you do. I vote NO on removing your cards from the door for the silly reason that I wouldn’t want anything to sabotage your momentum. Thanks for a fascinating post and ponderings over what our country would look like had Abraham Lincoln died of smallpox.

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