Front Range Community College Blog

When a Door Closes, a Window Opens: A Lesson About Writing

After a year of research in Zambia funded by a Fulbright grant, my wife, Heather, and I returned to Colorado in 2006 and settled back into the routine of life in Longmont, raising our daughter, Ellen. While Heather stayed home and did the real work, I taught history as a faculty member at Front Range in Boulder County and supplemented this income as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Colorado.

I began organizing the documents I had photocopied at Zambian archives and drafting the first few chapters of a book manuscript about the history of relations between the United States and Zambia during the long presidency (27 years) of Kenneth Kaunda.

Book contract arrives

Having presented papers at conferences, publishing a few scholarly articles, and receiving positive early feedback, in late 2006 I sought a book contract. A university professor and academic editor for a university press enthusiastically welcomed my proposal. Soon a contract arrived for a book on USA/Zambia relations during the Kaunda era.

Illness is first setback

In the summer of 2007 the project stalled when a rare disease called Guillain-Barre threatened my life. Thanks to support from family and friends and the good doctors at Kaiser Permanente I was quickly back in the classroom with just a cane to show for my illness.

Writing the long story

Other obstacles appeared intermittently, but writing continued slowly and steadily as I worked my way through the long story of Kaunda’s relations with the USA and his cooperation with diplomats such as Henry Kissinger and Andrew Young to facilitate settlements to the conflicts in Angola, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Namibia.

I presented at conferences regularly and published a few more journal articles, encouraged by more positive comments from peers. As the original deadline of 2010 approached, the manuscript was over half done, and Kent State University Press seemed happy with my progress.

The birth of our son, Zeke, combined with a heavy teaching load, slowed down my writing progress, but the last chapter was finally drafted. The manuscript, at over 600 pages, went out to reviewers.

Never assume anything

With a long-standing contract and considerable positive feedback along the way, I assumed this was just a formality, but once again I learned that you should never assume anything. Just a few days before leaving for the holidays in Maine in December 2014, an email appeared from the university press notifying me that my contract had been nullified. It seemed that the Grinch has stolen Christmas.

Writing seminar restores outlook

Fortunately, during that fall 2014 semester I had participated in the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) seminar taught by Michael Barber of the English faculty. He had been very successful in reminding me of the importance of embracing the process of writing for its own sake.

The goal of WAC was to improve how I used writing to teach college students (and it definitely did do that), but it also helped me respond positively to the cancellation of the book contract.

Rather than being discouraged by the turn of events, I decided it was an opportunity to revise my manuscript and find a new publisher.

New contract, better book

Sending out a new proposal for a more concise book quickly yielded good results, and eventually a new contract from Bloomsbury Press was in hand.

The revised manuscript focused much more narrowly on a portion of Kaunda’s 27-year presidency, resulting in a book of just over 300 pages that is more clear and concise than the original manuscript.

We are all lifelong learners

The lessons of this experience were many.

Like so many other FRCC faculty, I had succeeded to some degree in practicing what I preached. I took the challenge of one setback as an opportunity for improvement and more learning. We are all lifelong learners at FRCC, and this was just another example of that concept. When a door closes, a window opens. By embracing the process of writing in my own work, I hope I am now able to be a better instructor.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy DeRoche earned his Ph.D. in the history of American foreign relations from the University of Colorado in 1997. He has taught history full-time at FRCC since 1998. He spent 2005 lecturing at the University of Zambia on a Fulbright Grant. He has published three books and many scholarly articles. Recent essays have examined the role of women in U.S. relations with Africa. His latest book is about U.S./Zambia relations. He lives in Longmont with his wife, Heather, (formerly a journalist in Zambia), their two children, and their niece whom they adopted from Zambia.