Category Archives: Memoir

From Email to a Published Memoir: The Story of Graduates in Wonderland

Posted by March 20th, 2014

Graduates in Wonderland

Photo Credit: Ian Cook

It’s not unheard of for writers to turn their personal journals into a memoir — but what about emails? Two friends vowed to write honest accounts of their lives once a week as a way to keep in touch after graduation. Over the next few years, Jess and Rachel exchanged detailed emails about their trials and tribulations — jobs, men, the whole gamut of life in your twenties — while moving from country to country. Now their joint account will be published in May by Gotham as GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND

We asked Jess and Rachel to share their unique publication story — of how a casual email chain between friends turned into an inspiring memoir about being twenty and finding your way in the world. 

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Rachel: Do you remember the night of our graduation from Brown?

Jess: Uh, yes. Obviously. I wasn’t that drunk and we’ve only just turned 29.

Rachel: Okay, prove it. What do you remember about the pact we made that night?

Jess: We were sitting on the back steps of the house we lived in with our friends in Providence on Governor St. I think it was raining and it was really late – everyone else had already gone to bed or they were still out. And you and I were sitting outside under the awning and discussing how since we’d been through the past four years together, we felt so close to each other and to our other college friends. But we also knew how easy it is to let friendships fade away after graduation, no matter how close people are.

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Member Spotlight: Meet Memoir Writer Joshua Henderson

Posted by March 17th, 2014

Joshua Henderson author photoOne of things we’re talking about on Book Country lately is how to write about the hard stuff: real life pain and hardship. We featured Joshua Henderson‘s memoir RARE AND SPECIAL ANGELS in the Book Country Bookstore this month because it is an example of a writer bravely crafting a story from his family’s struggle–namely, Joshua and his wife’s daughter being diagnosed with Trisomy 17p, a rare and fatal disorder. We talked to Joshua about what it took to write RARE AND SPECIAL ANGELS (which he posted in Peer Review on Book Country prior to publishing), and what he’s doing now that his book is out in the world.

LS: What brought you and your story to Book Country?

JH: I have always been interested in publishing my book and one of the other publishing websites in fact published my other book. I left them because there wasn’t much assistance with the publishing and the prices of the books were too much based on how many pages the book was. I like eBooks, but I would also like to check into other publishing companies that can publish a hard copy of my book that I can sell. I don’t need all of the help trying to get the book sold. I just need someone to print it off that makes it look professional.

LS: How long have you been writing, and is Memoir the genre you write in most often?

JH: I have been writing on and off for a few years, nothing that has been published. I have always thought about publishing a book. The first book that I tried having published was a book about me and my military experiences. After reading it in the eBook version I had to take it offline because I had found somethings that needed to be corrected. I haven’t completely corrected everything, so I haven’t tried to republish it again. The two books that I have written have been memoirs, but I am currently working on writing a fictional book.  Continue reading

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For the Love of Friends: Author Interview with Memoirist Julie Klam

Posted by February 6th, 2014

Julie Klam author photoAuthor Julie Klam is well-known for writing about her love of dogs: not one but two of her books chronicle her experiences rescuing Boston terriers in New York City. However, Julie’s newest book, FRIENDKEEPING, explores her relationships with her friends, many of whom who are also writers. I went to her to find out more about how to support friends who write, and how to write memoir about those you love most.

LS: So, do you consider yourself a memoir writer? How is the memoir genre changing?

JK: I definitely consider myself a memoirist. Even when I’m not telling about an event in my life, I still manage to insert my big butt into whatever I’m writing. I think the genre has exploded in the past several years. People realize it’s a way to tell a personal story, but it doesn’t have to be a whole life. When I wrote my first memoir (PLEASE EXCUSE MY DAUGHTER) in 2008, a lot of people said, “Aren’t you a little young to write a memoir?” Now people seem to get it more. It’s not an autobiography, it’s a certain aspect of a life and can take place over one year or 30 years. Of course, no one thinks I’m too young to do anything anymore, because, you know, I’m old.

LS: You write about your loved ones with affectionate candor. How do they react? Continue reading

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Member Spotlight: Meet Memoir Writer Elena Kirby

Posted by January 27th, 2014

elena kirbyPlease welcome Elena Kirby to this week’s Book Country Member Spotlight. Almost the moment she posted her book THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID for peer review, it started getting a lot of attention. Below she explains how she’s writing and revising her Memoir, her approach toward truth-telling in creative nonfiction, and what she reads to inspire herself to work on her writing.

LS: Tell us about THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID, and tell us why you think it was immediately read and reviewed by so many members!

EK: The book is essentially about me re-entering the dating world and learning about the online dating culture as a thirty-something single mom, although the term ‘re-entering’ might be a stretch because I didn’t exactly date all that much in my twenties (or teens for that matter).  So a lot of wild oats are being sown in my story as well.  Any kind of dating situation can be awkward, so I’m trying to find the humor in it all to cope with all the strangeness that comes along with going out on a date with a complete stranger.  There’s a nice release of tension and anxiety when I can make the stories funny.  Maybe the humor is partly why some people have chosen to read it.  Also, there is something universal about the experience of dating and meeting someone for the first time who could be “the one” (the anticipation, the nerves twitching, the excitement and disappointment).  We’ve all been there and can relate.  When someone takes the time to read my story and tells me they know exactly what I mean, I feel a little less lonely knowing other people have gone through or are going through the same thing.  Continue reading

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Meet Literary Agent Lucy Childs Baker

Posted by January 15th, 2014

Lucy Childs BakerFull disclosure: Literary agent Lucy Childs Baker and I don’t just share the same first name. We also share . . . a family! Lucy, an agent at the Aaron M. Priest Agency, is my cousin. She’s actually the person for whom I was named! Since I started working in publishing, I’ve relied on her analysis, her advice, and her good taste in books. Lucy is looking for new writers to represent in several literary categories workshopped here on Book Country. Read on to find out more about Lucy’s literary tastes and how to query her with your manuscript.

LS: Tell us how you got into the business of agenting.

LC: I was an actress in a previous life (for 25 years).  I wanted to change careers for a variety of reasons and my cousin suggested agenting since I’ve always been a voracious reader with eclectic taste.  I had to start somewhere, so I began managing the office at the Aaron Priest Agency.  After learning everything I could about publishing – a completely different world from the theater! – I became an agent after four years.

LS: What kind of books do you really connect with as a reader?

LC: Mostly literary fiction, and although it’s a cliché, really anything that’s well written with a juicy story.  Just finished THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt which I loved. Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING is also a recent favorite.

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Family Histories: Writing Memoir with Marianne Szegedy-Maszak

Posted by December 5th, 2013

December is when writers are surrounded by rhetoric about family. For our Book Country Author Q&A this week, I wanted to talk to Spiegel & Grau author Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, whose book I KISS YOUR HANDS MANY TIMES is one of the best books I’ve read this year. A stunning blend of political intrigue, intimate romance, and drily funny commentary on the central European upper classes of a bygone era, Szegedy-Maszak’s book delves into her own family’s rich history. The author is a descendant of an important and wealthy Jewish aristocratic family who’d traded their lives for safe passage into neutral Portugal during World War II. Her father, who served in the Hungarian foreign ministry, was interned as a political prisoner at Dachau, where he very nearly died of typhus. With painstaking journalistic skill, Szegedy-Maszak pieces together an incredible true story of survival, ultimately revealing the truth of how her own quiet childhood in America, with Sunday mass and Girl Scout camping trips, was the result of extraordinary twists of fate.I KISS YOUR HANDS MANY TIMES

As an aspirational memoirist myself, I was blown away by the elegance of Szegedy-Maszak’s prose, as well as her ability to weave historical detail and idiosyncratic family lore into her narrative so smoothly. Below, I asked her to fill us in on how she brought this writing project to life.

LS: It seems like the amount of detail in this book would be difficult to pull off in such an engaging way, but you did it with effortless warmth. Do you have any tips for other writers contending with such a large amount of facts, dates, and names?

MSK: Of course my first response is one of gratitude for both noticing the historical heft and appreciating the way it was integrated into the more personal story. As compelling as I found my family’s story, I also realized that it couldn’t be really understood without the broader context of the world they inhabited and the history they took for granted, the history that shaped them. I suppose that this is where the journalist in me stepped in and took charge. I needed to report this story as I would any big magazine piece and marshal the history, the documents, newspaper clippings from the time, the interviews with others who were either experts or eyewitnesses, and of course the mass of secondary sources dealing with this period. I would like to say that I had a sophisticated computer system in which each bit of information was at my fingertips, but I am still stuck with the need to look at paper. So I had a very unsophisticated but extremely practical system of dividing everything chronologically, putting whatever I had in file folders labeled with each month. When I was ready to write, each file folder contained a great combination of the history and the letters my parents wrote, and the letters that were written to them. Somehow the integration of the personal and the historical had already happened within that file in a rudimentary way.

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Writing Fearlessly with Author Patty Chang Anker

Posted by October 17th, 2013

Patty Chang Anker author photoHalloween season is officially here, and on Book Country we’re spending the last few weeks of October writing about things that scare us: Ghosts. Werewolves. Being chased. Evil. Realizing your reality is not quite like everyone else’s. Fear, in general, is a writer’s treasure trove: Who doesn’t love a scary story?

As soon as I picked up SOME NERVE by Patty Chang Anker, I started thinking about the other ways fear relates to writing. SOME NERVE is a hybrid between a Memoir and a smart self-help book about overcoming fears in everyday life. (Below Patty dubs the genre of her book an “immersion memoir.”) Patty shared her thoughts on the experience of writing a book about fear, and some fantastic tips for some of the fears writers face most: throwing out their work, reading in front of an audience, having the world read their innermost thoughts. Writing fearlessly–read on to find out how.SOME NERVE - Cover

In writing SOME NERVE, how did you work through the fear of baring so much to your readers?

The very first chapter I wrote was about my struggle with clutter which was hugely personal because your stuff tells the story of where you’ve been and what matters to you. The emotional fears of letting go were at the heart of why I was afraid to take new steps in my life.  When we cleared the clutter, we started with the hardest thing to part with – a box of my work triumphs from a decade earlier. That was excruciating! But once that was gone, everything else was easier to let go of, and it made room to envision a new future. It was the same with writing the book – by getting at something very personal first, the rest was easier to tell, I felt free to be myself. 

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Memoir Writing: Find The Past – Advice from Beth Kephart

Posted by October 10th, 2013

handling_the_truthFINALThis is a guest post by HANDLING THE TRUTH: ON THE WRITING OF MEMOIR author Beth Kephart. ~LS

Earlier today my niece, Julia, and I opened the door to my father’s attic, where a single box among many boxes bears my name. I had agreed to help Julia with a school photography project—to search, with her, for elements from my past that would somehow explain who I am.

Letters were there—old boyfriends, a marriage proposal, a key-sized envelope containing the dust of some prom flowers. A postcard upon which each hand-inked letter was no larger than a sugar ant. Names: Tanya, Steven, Pierre, Rob. An evaluation from the library where I’d worked as a University of Pennsylvania student; the supervisor noted, in square boxes, that I’d been “excellent” in all things. I also read, however: Although Beth chats to her friends at the checkout desk for long periods of time, she seems to be able to continue working and be accurate.

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Memoir Writing Like You Are Already Dead: Author Interview with Domenica Ruta

Posted by September 17th, 2013

If you’ve spent any time on Book Country’s Memoir writing genre page or on the Discussion Boards, you’ll know that I am mad about memoir. Domenica Ruta’s Spiegel & Grau debut, WITH OR WITHOUT YOU, is billed as a “darkly hilarious chronicle of a misfit ’90s youth,” but don’t be fooled into thinking this isn’t serious work by a serious new writer. Ruta writes with disarming candor about life growing up with her vivacious, drug-addicted mother, Kathi, and also of her own struggles with alcohol and her subsequent recovery. WITH OR WITHOUT YOU is nothing less than the story of a writer claiming the truth of her own life, however subjective that might be.

Domenica RutaLS: It seems to me that the very thing a memoir writer needs to make their work successful—bare-bones honesty—also make the prospect of publishing a memoir terrifying. WITH OR WITHOUT YOU is particularly candid: No one is safe from your gaze, from your mom to your dad to your high school boyfriend to yourself. How did you maintain that level of fearless disclosure as you wrote? Did you ever have doubts about making so much of your life public, and if so, how did you overcome them?

DR: The advice I gave not too long ago to a friend dabbling in memoir was to write the first draft as though you were already dead. What would you say if you never had to hear any criticism from anyone ever? This is a good point of departure for writing the first draft of anything, even fiction, but it is especially helpful with memoir. You cannot censor yourself in the early drafts or you will destroy the integrity of the work. In the process of rewriting the drafts that followed, however, I totally considered audience, both personally–like my family–and the larger public. Through the process of rewriting it became clearer to me what was necessary to say, what was bitterness I needed to let go of, what was harmful to others, what was an essential truth I couldn’t hold back. These are not decisions I could make up front; it’s a process of discovery. Then, when it was all done, I told myself any fire that comes my way as a result of what I’ve written is a fire I’ve earned honestly.

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