Sometime between setting down the first tentative paragraph of her first book and juggling dates for signings at bookstores around Ventura County, author Winnie Hirsch of Ojai has picked up a few pointers.
But it hasn't been a smooth passage, getting from that first paragraph to anticipating her first royalty check for "Searching for My Husband's Mind."
"In fact," Hirsch said last week, "I made a vow to myself that if I didn't sell the book by my 80th birthday, I was going to chuck the whole thing.
"Before this book, I never seriously thought of being a writer," said Hirsch, who turns 81 later this month. "I didn't think I had a message. But with this material, I had a message."
It's a message Hirsch would have preferred not to have learned. The subject of her book is the drawn-out, confusing cancer death of her husband, Monroe, exacerbated, she says, by indifference from the medical profession.
Publisher's Weekly said of the book, which was published by Ventura-based Pathfinder Publishing, "Hirsch tells a tale of grievous errors, deceptions and cover-ups by the institutions she trusted most. Her husband, Monroe, was dean of the School of Optometry at UC Berkeley. . . . Readers will be moved and even enraged by this cautionary tale."
Hirsch had previously written for an Ojai newspaper. When her husband became ill, "I began writing what I call 'little stories,' " she said. "It was a long dying, six years."
After his death, she took a senior-citizen writing class in Ojai and an extension course with the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference, courses that helped her put together her book.
"I tried to peddle it on my own," Hirsch said from her cottage in Ojai's Grey Gables retirement community.
"That's discouraging in a small town. I didn't want to go vanity press, I didn't want to self-publish. I needed someone to push it.
"So I took it to Pathfinder and signed with them at the end of January, just before my 80th birthday on March 21."
The book was published late in 1997 and is available at several local bookstores.
Hirsch will sign books Saturday at the Ventura Barnes & Noble local authors' night, then again March 27 at the Ventura Bookstore.