Presence: Part 1, an essay from my memoir

The essay below is part one of a three-part series of short essays from my coming-of-age memoir, When Love Sticks Around, which will be out on November 15, 2021. Each of these flash pieces are the last three encounters I had with my biological father. Although writing about these experiences rattled some serious negative emotions, I thought they were necessary to share because my relationship with my father most definitely shaped the person I am today. Thank you for reading. I hope that when my memoir is released, you will consider purchasing a copy. 

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The day I turned eight in 1989, Don knocked on the door at Mom’s house.

“I came to say happy birthday,” he said when I opened it.

I thanked him through the screen door.

“Hard to believe you’re already eight.” He looked away, so I followed his gaze toward his beater car in the driveway, still running. I poked my finger through a hole in the screen the size of a nickel. It had started with a tiny slit I jabbed my pinky into, and over the years—with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, neighbors selling Girl Scout cookies, and Don occasionally stopping by—the hole had gotten bigger.

He wore a faded jean jacket and a trucker cap. His pale skin looked ashen through the screen that separated us.

“I brought your present.” He pulled a cassette from his pocket and waved it at me. That year, Mom had bought me a Walkman to listen to all my cassettes. She and Jim couldn’t afford much else other than that.

I stepped outside the door onto our cement front porch. Green plants with brown tips sprawled from the planters. Soon, they’d die off and sleep for the winter. “Thanks.”

“Is it the right album?” he asked. At that point, our relationship consisted of nothing more than the occasional gift or card. He offered no advice or scolding. He never called to ask what television shows I liked, what food I hated, or the names of my best friends. He didn’t know me well enough to know what I wanted, so I had told him over the phone the week prior.

I looked at the front. The New Kids on the Block band members sat in a sleigh with jolly grins on their faces. “Yeah. It’s the only one I don’t have.”

I looked back to Don. “Will I see you again?”

“I hope so. But not for a while. I’ve been driving trucks down south.”

“Can I come visit you in Tennessee?” I wanted to love him as much as any child loved her father. But I was cautious. I didn’t get too close, because I didn’t want to get hurt by him again. I craned my neck up to see him. Long dark hair, same color as mine, fell almost to his shoulders.

Yes, I looked like him, but I didn’t know him. I only knew that he liked race cars and drove a semi-truck.

“Sure. Listen, I’ve got to get going now.” He scratched his cheek and adjusted his cap.

“Okay. Well, thanks, Dad. Love you.”

“See ya, kid.” He waved and walked away.

Photo by Sergiu Vălenaș on Unsplash

What the Final Stages of Proofing a Book Looks Like

Last week I approved the final proof of my memoir, When Love Sticks Around. It has been a long process getting here, but one that has also been so enjoyable.

My book went through several in-depth edits to improve the story, the details, and the grammar. After that, my project manager and I read through the book three more times to look for typos or layout issues. This whole process has taken more than a year in total. But with each of these edits and proofs, I have come to respect the publishing industry, and my publisher in particular, so much. Brandylane and Belle Isle care so much about their authors. They want them to succeed, and they go above and beyond to make that happen.

I can’t wait for the paper copy of the proof to be in my hands, but I know this, like all other steps in the publishing process, will take time and love and patience.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a few more endorsements for my memoir. The first is from Amy Bayne, a colleague and acquaintance of mine that I met through the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. She published two pieces of mine in the past. FLAR has since gone inactive, but the journal was something I was so proud to be part of. Here is her endorsement:

In When Love Sticks Around, Danielle Dayney instantly transports us to moments throughout her life with relatable cultural touchstones and references, linking us to her young self growing up in a struggling, working-class family in upstate Ohio throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Her story of family, hope, and perseverance opens a space for us to laugh, acknowledge,and remember moments in life that shape us as adults. It is a work of great compassion and great joy.  A.E. Bayne, writer, artist, and publisher of the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review

The second endorsement comes from Betsy Ashton, who I know from The Virginia Writers Club. Over the years of being a member, Betsy has proven to be someone I can reach out to for answers to my questions as well as encouragement when I almost gave up on getting my first book published. Here is her endorsement:

Dayney’s well-written and poignant collection of personal essays makes you laugh, seethe, and cry. In other words, this is life itself. Betsy Ashton, Author of Out of the Desert

Thank you to Amy and Betsy for reading my book and saying such nice things. I truly appreciate your time and kindness.

Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

Another Blurb for my Memoir, WHEN LOVE STICKS AROUND

I received another early endorsement for my memoir, When Love Sticks Around. This time, the endorsement came from my friend, author, and editor, Chelsey Clammer. I found Chelsey online a couple of years ago while hunting for an editor who understood me. She’s edited numerous essays for me in the last four years, and even did the first round of edits on this memoir. She’s amazing to work with, and I was delighted when she agreed to read my finished book and write a blurb. Here is what she wrote:

“Each short essay in When Love Sticks Around is a marvellous example of the struggles we face throughout our lives, how love in all of its various forms presides through it, and ultimately how together we face both the tragedies and the moments of celebration. Whether the topic is growing up poor, struggling to gain a relationship with a parent, dating, having not-the-best jobs, transitioning into being an adult, or navigating racism, Dayney’s mesmerizing narratives and skill at storytelling aid in exploring the complexities of life all told in simple, relatable ways. Through these candid glimpses of experiences, this coming-of-age memoir reaches beyond the life moments of growing up and creates a visceral testament to all that we love and search for.”

Chelsey Clammer (author of Circadian and BodyHome)

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

When Love is Receiving a Blurb for Your Book

My first memoir, When Love Sticks Around, will be out later this year. The publication process has been educational and eye-opening, to say the least. I’ve enjoyed meeting everyone at Brandylane Publishers. In my experience, they truly care for their authors and the books they choose to publish. Part of the process, after one of the last rounds of editing, was reaching out to contacts for book endorsements. My project manager suggested I try to acquire at least three to four.

I have to admit that sending out my book to friends and acquaintances in the writing world was a nail-biting experience. I worried they’d ghost me, or wouldn’t like the work I’d written. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I ended up with six beautifully written endorsements that will appear on my book in some way. This is the first one I received, written by my dear friend from Norfolk, UK, Donna-Louise Bishop:

When Love Sticks Around is an instantly engaging memoir that deals with the highs and lows of coming-of-age and the realities and complexities of adulthood.

Dayney moves seamlessly through her life from birth, right up to the first moment of motherhood, before losing her own to cancer. Her vignettes of life’s journeys instantly transport readers into a world unique to her. It’s the complexities of the relationships within the pages of her debut novel that are both delightful and also heart-breaking. 

From the very first page, she has written a book worth sticking around for.”

Donna-Louise Bishop, Community Life Correspondent for the Eastern Daily Press, Norfolk, UK

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Writing and Editing My First Book

Since 2018 I have blogged very little, but I have been writing! Writing so much, in fact, that I finished my first essay collection. It’s a coming-of-age memoir-in-essays about growing up poor in Ohio, to young adulthood in Detroit and Brooklyn. Through my essays and my experiences, I examine what love looks like, whether it’s from my supportive mother, my absent biological father, my steadfast stepdad, or eventually my husband and first daughter. 

After many beta readers, in 2019 I submitted my collection to an editor friend of mine, Chelsey Clammer, who I admire. She gave me my first round of professional edits, along with homework to develop my stories and characters. I listened to all of her suggestions and advice, honing, toning, paring down, and building up. Then I submitted and submitted (and submitted). 

Many publishers said the book wasn’t a good fit for their current slate, some showed serious interest but went in another direction, and many outright ghosted me. That’s the life of submitting. I kept my chin up and submitted more.

Then in April 2020, during the beginning stages of our pandemic, I received an email from Brandylane Publishers. They wanted to publish my book! I read the email at least ten times. Then I cried. Then I jumped up and down and cried some more. Then I ran outside barefoot and still in my pajamas (even though it was almost dinnertime because pandemic–who wears real clothes anymore?) where my husband was mowing the lawn. I flailed around so much that he turned off the mower and ran over to me, alarmed, checking me for wounds. Then I showed him the email. And then he gave me the biggest hug. 

It was a great day.

Since April, my collection has gone through several more edits to build, cut, and perfect. The team at Brandylane is a wonderful group of people, and I’m not sure any other publisher could have done so much magic with my words. I love each and every person I have “met” there, but especially my project manager. She’s been with me every step of the wild ride, cheering me on. My book is in the final proofing stage now, and soon it will head to design where I will choose my cover and interior font and layout. It’s scheduled to release in late 2021. The collection is titled, When Love Sticks Around, and I hope you’ll consider sticking around to read it.

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash