Leaving the Hall Light On charts the near-destruction of one middle-class family whose son committed suicide after a seven-year struggle with bipolar disorder. Madeline Sharples, author, poet and web journalist, goes deep into her own well of grief to describe her anger, frustration and guilt. She describes many attempts – some successful, some not – to have her son committed to hospital and to keep him on his medication. The book also charts her and her family’s redemption, how she considered suicide herself, and ultimately, her decision to live and take care of herself as a woman, wife, mother and writer.
A note from the author: I encourage you to read my book if you have been touched by bipolar disorder or suicide. And even if you have not, my book will inspire you to survive your own tragedies. As author Jessica Bell says: Leaving the Hall Light On is “a remarkable book and it SHOULD be read.” – Madeline Sharples
I didn’t set out to write a memoir. I started out with a pile of journal entries and a poetry manuscript.
However, my writing instructors and fellow workshop members urged me to get my story out there, and finally I took them seriously. Luckily I had help organizing my material and a talented editor who guided me in how to put my words into shape. It took me about eight years to turn my raw truths and deepest feelings into a memoir manuscript.
I also took several memoir-writing classes. One lesson I learned early on was that memoir is unreliable truth. I kept reminding myself of that as I struggled with how I would portray the events and the real live people in my story. I knew I was telling my truth, not anyone else’s, and that is what helped get me through.
Once I had what I thought was a viable and strong first draft ready to be seen by others, I began querying. That’s when the trouble began. The very first agent I queried asked to see my entire manuscript. But after three months she sent me a rejection note – the first of many over the next two years. Most agents sent me a form letter with the usual “not for my list” comment. The majority didn’t have the courtesy to answer at all. A few wrote encouraging notes, and others said, ”I don’t want to deal with such pain,” or “our past experience has been that very few books of this nature can make it through a publishing committee unless there is someone famous involved.”
The few small presses I contacted were just as discouraging – one said, “The subject matter is too hard to sell.” Another wrote, “Not a huge chance I’ll want to publish it. I’ve received lots of submissions written by mothers or spouses of deceased people, mostly written to honor the deceased it seems, and they are almost never strong enough to warrant publication.”
Still I persevered. After two years of querying sixty-eight agents and five small presses I finally had a contract with Lucky Press, LLC to publish my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. Lucky Press published a hardback edition in May 2011. Then just about one year later, this small traditional press went out of business, and I was back to querying again. This time in just a few weeks I contracted with Mike O’Mary, owner of Dream of Things, publishing to release paperback and eBook editions of my memoir. It turns out that what I thought was bad luck turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My book is in the best hands now.
Still the major challenge now is marketing. Although my story is specifically about how I lived with my son’s bipolar disorder and survived his suicide, I very much want to get my story read by people touched by any kind of tragic incident. So I work almost full time to let people know my story.