by Jerry Waxler
Note: Read my book about the cultural passion for memoirs, and reasons you should write your own “Memoir Revolution: A Social Shift that Uses Your Story to Heal, Connect, and Inspire.”
Use this index to find articles about memoirs and memoir writing throughout the Memory Writers Network blog. This list is in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent posting and working back to earlier ones.
Grieving Memoirs: A Different Slant. Review of Banged-up Heart by Shirley Melis
Grieving a loss is one of the most emotionally wrenching experiences any of us must go through, and memoirs are a perfect medium in which to share that journey. In this memoir, Banged-up Heart by Shirley Melis, the author turns grieving into a tribute.
Best Ever “Launching” Memoir: Dorit Sasson’s Accidental Soldier
As a young woman, Dorit Sasson’s fears surrounded her like fog. To grow into an adult she entered the Israeli army where she faced and won the war in her own mind.
Interview with Dorit Sasson: How she turned memories into a memoir
Dorit Sasson turned a chaotic, confusing time in her life into a well-structured memoir, Accidental Soldier, with a compelling story arc. In this interview, I ask how she did it.
Interview With Memoir Editor Brooke Warner, Part 1
Published memoirs are a collaboration between author and editor. In this interview, memoir editor and coach Brooke Warner shares insights into the process.
Two Fools at a Party: Serious Side of Humor
This essay traces the journey from laughing at the memoir to seeing the important role humor plays, in these books and in our cultural heritage. About Two Fools on a Camel by Victoria Twead.
Memoirs Helped Her Conquer Midlife
Victoria Twead did not let a little thing like age stop her from her next great adventure. She joins a growing trend to view midlife as a time of renewal. About Chickens, Mules, and Two Old Fools by Victoria Twead.
In many cases, a second memoir is essentially a sequel to the first. For example, Frank McCourt’s first memoir Angela’s Ashes tells the story of how a child grew old enough to flee Ireland and move to New York. His second memoir, ‘Tis, tells how the immigrant finds adult life in his new country. David Berner’s second memoir Any Road Will Take You There works quite differently, not sequential but layered, providing a new angle of vision on his midlife, as he tries to sort out his roles as writer, teacher and father.
In this interview with Linda Appleman Shapiro, author of She’s Not Herself, we delve into the way her mother’s traumatic childhood influenced succeeding generations. When facing the mysteries built up in one’s psyche, memoir writing offers a method to go deep into the journey.
Launching Memoirs Chronicle Main Tasks to Grow to Adulthood
In the old days, child development was an area of professional study. Now, in the Memoir Revolution, we all have the opportunity to watch each other grow.
Launching from child to adult marches us through the uncharted territory of sexuality. Good memoirs embed these awkward moments in compelling stories.
Launching into Adulthood – Find a Job
Figuring out your career is part of launching into adulthood. This article looks at the way writing a memoir reviews the transition and in some cases aids it.
Launching into Adulthood – Search for Beliefs
When attempting to grow from child to adult, certain basics must be in place. One of these is to figure out what we believe. This post, inspired by Elna Baker’s memoir New York Mormon Regional Singles Halloween Dance, reviews the transition
Understand Self by Looking Back: Memoir of an Examined Life
After retiring, Kathy Pooler chose to look back, exploring her life in the memoir Ever Faithful to His Lead, demonstrating that storytelling reveals the seeds of wisdom hidden within ordinary life.
Memoir of a Nervous Breakdown: Her Mind Betrayed Her
By turning her nervous breakdown into a memoir, Stress Fracture, Tara Meissner elevates her break from reality into a valuable contribution to mutual understanding.
These Memoirs Are Similar to Biographies
How much focus should your memoir place on other characters? In this post, I consider memoirs that move the other character in the limelight.
Memoir Structure: Beginning Doesn’t Always Point to the End
If you are not quite sure of the ending of your memoir, consider the example of Rachel Pruchno’s Surrounded by Madness. By the end, her goals were different than they were at the beginning. When envisioning your own memoir, consider how your goals change during the course of the story.
Writing Your Messy Teen Memories Could Save the World
Naturally we hide embarrassing memories. But by voicing the scenes and attitudes of rebellious youth, we increase wisdom and compassion about this period. In this essay, I review the memoir Surrounded by Madness by Rachel Pruchno and consider the importance of learning how kids grow up.
The Story-of-self Matures in the Memoir Revolution
When an adopted child discovers her biological family, she must make important adjustments to her story of self. Take the journey with her in this memoir, Akin to the Truth by Paige Strickland.
Wisdom Born in One Memoir Inspires a Second
After reading Lorraine Ash’s recent wisdom book, Self and Soul, I went back to the author’s first memoir, Life Touches Life, published ten years later and review them as a series.
A Ticking Clock Lesson for Memoir Writers
Writing a good memoir requires more than telling what happened. Learn storytelling techniques that compel readers to stay inside your world to the end. In this essay, I explore the suspense created in Rachel Pruchno’s memoir Surrounded by Madness.
Memoirs Popularize Important Psychology Lessons
From my series inspired by Rachel Pruchno’s Surrounded by Madness, here are six psychology lessons available from this memoir.
Psychology Lesson #1: Developmental Psychology: A well organized mind is a prerequisite for adulthood
Psychology Lesson #2: First Person Writing Offers a Window into Being Human
Six Psychology Lessons In This Memoir (continued)
More lessons from Rachel Pruchno’s Surrounded by Madness
Psychology Lesson #3: Adolescent mental health care
Psychology Lesson #4: Inadequate response to broken minds. Unlimited response to broken laws.
Psychology Lesson #5: Health of the family versus the identified patient
Psychology Lesson #6: Nature versus Nurture: Unless Otherwise Demonstrated, It’s Probably Mom’s Fault
What Lessons Can You Learn by Reading Memoirs
Memoirs set my mind on fire with three benefits every bit as pleasing as a powerful literary experience. They teach me how to relate to the unique experience of someone different from me. They teach me the lessons that person learned. And they give me insights into how to turn life into story.
The Story-of-self Matures in the Memoir Revolution
In Paige Strickland’s memoir, Akin to the Truth, after an adopted child discovers her biological family, she must make important adjustments to her story of self. Take the journey with her in this memoir and learn, not just about, but about a new era of interest in the story-of-self.
Wisdom Born in One Memoir Inspires a Second
After reading Lorraine Ash’s recent wisdom book, Self and Soul, I went back to the author’s memoir, Life Touches Life published ten years later. The second book is a continuation of the first, not in chronological time but in the maturing of her ideas about spirituality.
When Does a Memoir Writer Choose Fiction Based on Life?
Inspired by David Kalish’s novel The Opposite of Everything, I consider how other authors have chosen between the two media, and the implications of steering one way or the other.
What Happens When a Memoir Author Chooses Fiction?
In this interview with David Kalish, author of the novel The Opposite of Everything, I ask why he made the decision to switch from memoir to fiction. His answers provide fascinating insight into this complex choice.
Getting to Know Memoir Author Sue William Silverman
After reading Sue William Silverman’s memoirs as well as her book about writing memoirs, she is no longer a stranger, which is one of the magical effects of memoirs. By reading about each other, we make friends in a modern way, through media and words.
Courageous Memoir Author Explains Stylistic Choices
Sue William Silverman has made a career of sharing things that most of us would keep hidden. Her willingness to publicize her secrets is one part of her courage. The other part is her willingness to stretch the boundaries of the medium in order to provide a fresh, unique approach.
Stylistic Choices in Creative Nonfiction, Interview Pt 2
In this second part of my interview with Sue William Silverman, she explains some of the stylistic choices that create the unique voice in her memoir Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White, Anglo-Saxon Jew
Conflicted about American Melting-Pot: Cultural Identity in Memoir
After reading Sue William Silverman’s memoir Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White, Anglo-Saxon Jew, I asked her questions about growing up in the melting pot, and trying to feel part of a blended culture.
Memoirs Chronicle Search for Identity in the Melting Pot, Pt 1
In the first part of my review of the memoir In My Father’s Gardens by author Karen Levy, I draw universal conclusions about search for identity and need to belong.
A Memoir of a Girl’s Urgent Need to Find Identity
Most of us take our identity for granted. This is “who I am” – but what happens when we have a hard time sorting out that identity? Many of us face severe obstacles, for example because of confusing messages at home or mixed up cultural identity. This essay, inspired by Karen Levy’s In My Father’s Gardens delves into the serch for identity in memoirs.
Memoirs about Search for Cultural Identity in Modernity
When I read Karen Levy’s memoir In My Father’s Gardens, I was struck by her need for one place to call home. This need to fit in becomes a central passion for the memoir, and reminds me of some of the desires of my own childhood.
Lost Memories: A Daughter’s Memoir about her Demented Mom
This begins a five part essay about the powerful journey of turning care for her demented mother into a story that can help and heal. Martha Stettinius Inside the Dementia Epidemic is an ode to a mother and an ode to the human willingness to love and to care for others.
Caregiver on a Hero’s Journey – a model for your memoir
This ends the five part series with a suggestion for how to structure a memoir by following the hero’s journey.
Writing a Memoir Penetrates the Fog of Memory
Before I started writing a memoir, my childhood seemed distant and vague. The more I write, the clearer it becomes. In this essay, I show how my apparently remote fater was closer to me than met the eye.
Your Memoir Teaches Recent Cultural History to Kids
When you read old books, you are influenced by the culture of the time and place. When you write a memoir, your readers will be influenced by your time and place. In this essay, I comment on Karen Prior’s lesson about the cultural history of literature.
Interview with Memoir Author Sonia Marsh, Pt1
Interview with Memoir Author Sonia Marsh, Pt2
After reading the memoir Freeways to Flipflops, I asked the author about the thoughts that went into writing and publishing the book.
Memoirs Connect Us by Sharing Our Hidden Worlds
Reading a memoir anthology loaded with powerful moments, I focus on the intimate, healing power of revealing hidden worlds.
A Book of Short Stories Expands My Memoir Collection
Memoirs ought to be long. At least that’s the way I’ve always thought of them. This book of short stories expands my horizons.
Interview with Editors of 60s Memoir Anthology “Times They Were A’Changing”
An interview with the editors of an anthology of stories about the 60s helps explain why the collection was such a compelling page-turner.
The Sixties Had Many Struggles. Here’s One I Missed.
Despite my immersion in the colorful sixties, I knew nothing about the gender revolution. Finally, in this collection of stories I learn how it worked.
How Boys Become Men – or – Can Memoirs Stop the Violence?
What does a Muslim fundamentalist have in common with a Jewish war protestor? We grew from boys to men. Now how do we pass our lessons to the next generation?
Interview with Venerable Memoir Teacher, Denis Ledoux Pt1
Interview with Venerable Memoir Teacher, Denis Ledoux Pt2
When I first heard Denis Ledoux speak, I had flashbacks to the first book I I found on writing memoirs. In this two-part interview, he brings me up to date.
Immersed in a Memoir about Life, Love and Loss
The powerful memoir Swimming With Maya, by Eleanor Vincent, about loss of a college-age daughter, raises fascinating challenges of love, life, death and memoir writing.
This Memoir Teaches How To Grow up with Books
Books have always been important to me. In this essay, I review a memoir, Booked! Literature in the Soul of Me by a literature professor, Karen Prior, who shows how books guided her from child to adult.
Sexual Coming of Age in Memoirs
Part 2 of my review of Karen Prior’s memoir, Booked! Literature in the Soul of Me. When attempting to write about the messy, conflicted subject of sexuality, take advantage of the way other memoir authors have tackled the subject.
How Can an Adult Learn to Write Stories?
When I was younger, I assumed to maintain privacy I must be silent. Learning to write stories gave me the freedom to share my voice.
List of Memoirs that Show Various Aspects of Family
Your life story involves many characters. Some of the most important ones are related to you. This list shows how families figure into memoirs.
Memoir Summit at the Birthplace of the Revolution
Hosted by Rosemont College’s MFA Program outside Philadelphia, four lovers of memoir writing get together in the birthplace of the revolution to share perspectives on the wave of memoir writing sweeping our culture.
The Many Roles of Family In Your Memoir
Continuing to learn lessons about how memoirs work, I focus on the relationship between family and individual, including surprises about extended families.
Family Psychology Lessons in Memoirs
Here’s another in my series inspired by Sonia Marsh’s Freeways to Flipflops. Families are so important, but where is the instruction manual? Just as memoirs are teaching us about individuals, they are also teaching about families.
Show Don’t Tell: Difference Between Fiction and Memoir
To write a memoir, ask fiction writers for storytelling advice. However, to find your strongest memoir voice consider these differences between the two forms.
Show versus Tell in a Memoir’s Internal Voice
When I started writing my memoir, I tried to obey “show don’t tell.” It took years to learn the importance of bending that rule to suit the memoir genre. This essay explains what I learned about using self-talk in your memoir.
The Memoir Writer as an Entrepreneur – Sonia Marsh Series
It’s harder to sell your memoir when you feel like a “used car salesman.” Sonia Marsh’s memoir offers a more noble image of the writer-entrepreneur.
Memoir as a Hero’s Journey: Character Arc and Homecoming – Sonia Marsh Series
To turn life into a story, you need to understand how stories are structured. By reading lots of memoirs, you find patterns you can apply to your own. Inspired by Sonia Marsh’s homecoming at the end of Freeways to Flipflops I look at the way homecoming and the hero’s journey is applied to memoirs.
Hero’s Journey as a Model for a Memoir, Part 2
When I dive into the structure of a memoir, the Hero’s Journey often jumps out. Here are some examples and suggestions to help you apply this model to your own life story.
How to Pick the Best Title for Your Memoir
To help you find a title for your memoir, I pick apart all the tasks performed by the title, and offer examples of some that I like.
Should this Memoir be Called: Courage of Motherhood? – Sonia Marsh Series
When trying to understand how titles work, play around with alternatives for the memoirs you love. Here I brainstorm about the themes in Freeways to Flipflops.
What is the Theme of Your Memoir? – Sonia Marsh Series
When searching for the title for your memoir, must you really limit it just one theme? And what is a theme, anyway? In this post I define and explore.
From Complex Memories to the Compelling Title of Your Memoir – Sonia Marsh Series
Boiling a lifetime into a few words for the title of your memoir might seem daunting. In this essay, I break it down, using Freeways to Flipflops as an example.
How to Start Writing Your Memoir
This “let’s get started” article shows you how to reap the many rewards of memoir writing.
Interview with a Memoir Writer – Childhood with Traumatized Parents – Judy Mandel Series
After writing her memoir about growing up in a post-traumatic household, Judy Mandel offers insights to other aspiring memoir writers.
Turning a Tragedy into a Memoir of Becoming – Judy Mandel Series
Replacement Child by Judy Mandel tells of her family traumatic accident before she was born that set in motion the events of her own life. Her life story moves beyond the tragedy and then to look back and understand it.
Memoir Revolution: What It Is and Where It’s Heading
Using the familiar system of Story, memoir writers convert memories into a narrative. Thanks to current trends, many of us are taking that healing journey.
Interview with Linda Joy Myers, Memoir Activist and Founder of National Association of Memoir Writers
Many memoir writers look on the internet for help from memoir activists. In this interview I ask Linda Joy Myers why she became such an activist.
Memoir About Growing Up Leads to Surprise Ending – Slash Coleman Series
The memoir Bohemian Love Diaries offers lessons about growing up and finding love. Like yoga for my storytelling mind, the book stretches my limits. By the time he reaches the end, he has spun a fascinating yarn that satisfies with an unexpected twist.
Memoir About A Crazy Artist Helps me Understand the World! – Slash Coleman Series
This memoir provides pleasure as well as insight. By expanding my knowledge of mythology it exponentially increases my ability to understand life. I have been studying the Hero’s Journey myth for years. But this memoir, Slash Coleman’s Bohemian Love Diaries awakens images of a very different mythology, called the Trickster.
Compelling Chapters Knit Small Stories into Powerful Memoirs – Slash Coleman Series
Before writing a memoir, memories are bits and pieces. Inspired by Slash Coleman’s Bohemian Love Diaries, this essay shows how to knit them together into a series of compelling stories.
A Seven Part Essay about How to Structure Your Memoir
How Should I Begin My Memoir?
One of the most puzzling questions about how to structure a memoir is “Where do I begin?”
How Much Childhood Should I Include in My Memoir?
Since memoirs are a psychologically oriented genre, we want to include enough background to show how it all began. But how much is the right amount?
Should You Use Flashbacks in Your Memoir?
Flashbacks provide important background information, but you need to use them carefully so you don’t confuse your reader.
More Tips about Constructing the Timeline of a Memoir
The timeline of a memoir contains the forward momentum, and the laying out of cause and effect, so it’s important to learn the best techniques for laying it out.
Beware of Casual Flashforwards in Your Memoir
In real life, we can’t know the future, so to keep your memoir authentic, try to avoid sounding like a prophet.
How a Wrapper Story Helps You Structure Your Memoir
When you try to tell your own unique story, you might find that you need an additional layer of narration to make it work. Here are a few examples of writers who used wrapper stories.
Telling a Memoir’s Backstory by Seesawing in Time
If you want to tell about the childhood roots of your adult dilemmas, you could follow the example of these authors who wove the two timeframes together.
What Do Readers Expect From Your Memoir?
Before they read the first page, readers will form some idea of what to expect from your memoir.
A Memoir About her Father’s Secret Pain
In this memoir, Karen Fisher Alaniz attempts to penetrate secrets of world War II that her father has been guarding for 60 years. It’s a story of secrets and love.
Memoir Interview: Breaking into Her Father’s Secrets Pt 1
Karen Fisher Alaniz attempted to learn her father’s secrets and after she published the book, Breaking the Code, found that many veterans needed to reveal their own.
Birth of a Memoir: Turning Her Father’s Secrets Into a Story
Karen Alaniz wanted to turn her dad’s WWII trauma into a story. In this part of our interview, she talks about the transformation from talking to writing.
Turning Dad’s WWII Secrets Into a Memoir, Pt 3
To go from memories to memoirs, I read lots of them and search for lessons. In this interview, I go one step further and ask the author for help. Part 3 of 4
Interview: On Publishing the Memoir Breaking the Code
In the 4th part of our interview, Karen Fisher Alaniz offers insights into publishing choices that could help other memoir authors steer through the maze.
If Not Conflict, What Fierce Determination Drives a Memoir?
To understand why a memoir about a trip to Turkey (Anatolian Days and Nights by Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner) satisfied my need for a good story, I went on a search for the true meaning of life.
In Memoirs, Misery is Simply a Step toward Hope
In Here I Stand by Jillian Bullock, the author travels a dark road to grow up. Her hardship provides a platform from which she offers hope.
Jillian Bullock About Writing Her Long Journey to Adulthood (interview)
In this interview with Jillian Bullock I ask her about the pain of writing about a painful past, and the generosity of sharing it with others.
Why Boomers Should Write Memoirs about the 60s
Making sense of the 60s can be a fascinating challenge for boomers. Writing a memoir turns scenes into a coherent story for deeper understanding and legacy.
George Orwell and Memoirs: How Literature Changes Lives
I interview Andrea Chalupa to learn the background of her ebook which weaves history, memoir, and literature. She tells a fascinating story about the story
Memoirs Extend History a Little and Wisdom a Lot
I read a small ebook about a bit of literary history and found it linked my memory 40 years
ago with events 20 years earlier, a sip from the river of time.
How eBooks Revolutionize Your Memoir Options
Will your memoir sell to a large enough audience? Here’s why that conversation has shifted radically in the last few years, revolutionizing your options.
What Is the Nonfiction Bonus in your Memoir?
Nonfiction readers often want some facts with their story. But how much? The dilemma may force you to grow into the next chapter of your writing skill.
Gender Sensitivity and Wisdom in Memoirs
To prepare for an online discussion about gender in memoirs, I reviewed my bookshelf and found a wealth of views on the subject through each author’s eyes.
In Memoirs, Literature Helps Explain Life
Memoirs take place at the intersection between real life and literature, where they reveal dazzling insights into the link between these two realities.
Ten Things to Learn From a Combat Memoir, Part 1
Ten Things to Learn from a Combat Memoir, Part 2
The memoir House to House by David Bellavia takes you deep into the moment by moment experience of the author’s participation in battle in Iraq. In this two part essay, I explore 10 lessons that I learned from the book, and I include writing prompts to help you apply the lessons to your own memoir in progress.
Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing Up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe (links below)
Dawn Novotny’s Ragdoll Redeemed inspired a series of essays about the memoir writer’s search for truth. In fact, in musing about this short memoir, I did some of the most focused musing about issues facing all memoir writers. The series covers issues about shame, fame, wisdom, life review, and the craft of memoir writing.
A Memoir That Relieves the Lifelong Burden of Shame
If This Memoir Author is Famous, Maybe You Are Too
In Memoirs, Changing Thoughts Reveal the Wisdom of a Lifetime
Will the Examined Life Become a Memoir Subgenre?
How Excellent Must Your Memoir Be?
Why veterans should write memoirs (a two part series)
When veterans return from service, they have much to consider. Certainly if they have seen combat, they have experiences that lie outside the ordinary realm of civilian life. And in their social patterns, their life style is substantially different. In this two part series, I discuss some of the benefits veterans could derive from this attempt to turn their experience into story.
Why Write Memoirs After Combat or Other Trauma
More Reasons Veterans Should Write Memoirs
Nine Reasons to Read Memoirs (and some recommendations)
I have found so many benefits of reading memoirs, I list them here, and include examples of each benefit.
Tim Elhajj’s memoir, Dope Fiend
This memoir inspired two essays, followed by a three part interview with the author. Dope Fiend is the story of how a heroin addict turned his life around. The transformation from junkie to citizen turns out to be a passion play, crossing the bridge between the dark side and the light.
Coming of Age Never Ends
8 Lessons and Prompts from Tim Elhajj’s Recovery Memoir
Tim Elhajj Memoir Interviews
Shame, Addiction and Anonymity
A Fresh, Personal Look at Twelve Steps
Tim Elhajj about Writing and Publishing His Memoir
Interview with Memoir Author Susan Weidener
Author Susan Weidener talks about her memoir about the journey of falling in love, then losing her husband to cancer, and continuing to grow and rebuild a life without him. In this four-part interview, Susan Weidener, who also teaches memoir writing, tells about writing and publishing the memoir, and teaching others to do the same.
Interview with Susan Weidener About Writing Her Memoir Pt 1
Interview with Susan Weidener About Writing Her Memoir Pt 2
Interview with Susan Weidener About Writing Her Memoir Pt 3
Interview with Susan Weidener About Memoir Workshops Pt 4
Jon Reiner’s Crohn’s Disease ripped open his intestine, and during the year of his recovery from this life-threatening emergency, he had to develop a new relationship not only with food, but with himself and the people in his life. This two part essay explains in more detail why I like the memoir so much.
In this essay, I encourage you to consider the benefits of writing about your parents, and the penalties of procrastinating.This is the first of a three part essay that will offer ideas and insights into the process.
Answering Parents’ Objections to Writing Their Memoir
When you decide to learn more about your parents’ lives, you might have to overcome their objections. “I can’t remember” or “Who wants to remember all of that?” In this essay, I focus on these reasons to avoid memory, and provide answers to their questions.
Parent’s Memoir Part 3a, Guiding a Ghost Writer’s Interview
Parent’s Memoir Part 3b, Guide for Ghost Writer’s Interview
In these two posts, I describe strategies for interviewing your parents.
Parent’s Memoir: Finding Roots Across Generations
Linda Austin grew up in the American Midwest, the daughter of a Japanese mother and an American soldier. The couple met in Japan during the occupation after World War II. This account of her mother’s life is written in first person, essentially a ghost written memoir about Linda’s mother’s early life. In this blog, I review the book “Cherry Blossoms in Twilight” and then conduct an interview with the author.
Click here for Part 2 of my interview with Linda Austin
Click here for Part 3 of my interview with Linda Austin
Million Dollar Challenge: YA fiction is Coming of Age
The memoir wave exploded at the end of the 1990s with a series of Coming of Age memoirs such as Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes” and Jeannette Walls’ “Glass Castle” – around the same time, Harry Potter skyrocketed to becoming of the best selling book of all time. Coincidentally, Harry Potter was also about young people trying to grow up. In this essay I explore the connection between Young Adult fiction and Coming of Age memoirs.
Interview: Young Adult Fiction versus Coming of Age Memoirs
In this interview, I talk to Young Adult author Marie Lamba about her book “Over My Head” – and ask her how real life impacts her fiction.
Here is part two of the interview with Marie Lamba: Relationship between Fiction and Memoir, Interview Pt2
Short Story and Six Writing Prompts: Locate Love in Space
I came across a short story about a love affair in India, in which the lovely town and culture played as important a role as the characters. In this essay I describe my delight of this short story. In addition, I interviewed the author, Bhaswati Ghosh.
Cultural Crossroads: Memoir of An American Princess In Japan
In this first part of a three part essay, I review the memoir, Japan Took the JAP Out of Me by Lisa Fineberg Cook, about a Jewish American Princess or “JAP” marries and flies to Japan where she must shift gears from girl to woman.
Multi-part Interview with Lisa Fineberg Cook about her memoir “Japan Took the JAP Out of Me”
Multi-part Interview with Tracy Seeley author of the memoir My Ruby Slippers
My Ruby Slippers, Finding yourself through place
Another way to write about childhood, memoir review Part 1
I Left my Heart In… Kansas? Memoir Review Part 2
In My Ruby Slippers, The Road Back to Kansas, Tracy Seeley searches for her self by returning to her roots. In the process, she discovered the truth of that saying “You can take the girl out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.” In a generous sweeping denouement, Tracy Seeley generalizes this observation to include all of us.
Accidental Lessons, a memoir about finding meaning in the second part of life
Leaving a job or marriage doesn’t mean the end of life. In this memoir, “Accidental Lessons” David W. Berner starts over and finds deeper meaning than he had the first time.
Three Part Interview with Author David W. Berner
Interview Part 1
Interview Part 2
Interview Part 3
The author of the memoir Accidental Lessons answers questions about the craft and experience of writing the book.
Make sense of loss: Grieving in Memoirs
Loss sends us on an emotional journey. Memoirs both describe that journey and facilitate it by helping us knit together before and after into a narrative. In this essay, I describe the grieving process and offer examples of authors who share this journey.
Dani Shapiro Seeks Spiritual Meaning through Memoirs
Dani Shapiro’s second memoir, “Devotion” is about a search for spiritual meaning, in traditional and eastern teachings. It highlights the many ways we humans search for wisdom.
Revealing Death and Other Courageous Acts of Life
Two Waxlers, Robert Waxler, English professor at University of Massachusetts, and Jerry Waxler, author of this blog, share their passion for literature, revealing a few things about their own lives and encouraging the audience to do the same.
An agent teaches writers to face their hopes and fears
I’m a writer, not a sales person, so how do I convince a publisher to buy my work? This workshop, led by literary agent Sheree Bykofsky, helps me understand the road ahead.
Mom of Troubled Teens Tells Her Side of the Story
Naturally parents have a few arguments with their teenage kids, but what happens when the kids completely square off against mom and take to the streets? In this harrowing memoir, Debra Gwartney tells of a parent’s worst nightmare.
Character Development of a Novel’s Hero
Part 4 of my interview with novelist Judi Hendricks is about the development of her protagonist.
Explore Painful Memories by Writing Fiction
Part 3 of my interview with novelist Judi Hendricks, we explore how writing fiction can help explore painful parts of life.
A Novelist Plays at the Border of Fact and Fiction
How a Novelist Strives for Authentic Reality
In this series of interviews with novelist Judi Hendricks, we explore the fertile boundary between fact and fiction in her novel Bread Alone.
Interview With Rick Skwiot: A mid-life search for spiritual and literary truth
Rick Skwiot dropped out of corporate life to find himself in Mexico. Years later he wrote the memoir. In this multi-part interview, I ask him to talk about the process and experience of writing it.
When is a memoir by a celebrity not a celebrity memoir?
Andre Agassi’s memoir “Open” is one of my all-time favorite despite the fame factor. So what is a serious student of memoir doing reading a celebrity memoir? In this first of a multi-part review, I dig in and show why. In future parts, I will go into more detail, exploring its structure and techniques.
In your memoir, how does your character grow?
An overview of character arc, in other words the deepening of the protagonist, as exemplified in Andre Agassi’s “Open.”
Conflict with Parent Fleshes in Authentic Character
Many aspiring memoir writers are concerned about their portrayal of their parents. Consider the way Andre Agassi portrayed his own father. The flaws and tension created an impressive, believable inner story.
This celebrity has flaws. How about you?
Flaws in a memoir create powerful dramatic tension. Far from pushing readers away, it draws them in, hoping to see how the character copes and grows.
The Protagonist of a Memoir Must have a Goal and Obstacles
The motivating force that propels the story forward is the desire of the protagonist. Because memoir tends to be a psychological genre, the goal is often driven by emotions like the longing for pride or meaning.
What Creative Nonfiction (CNF) Means to Memoir Writers
I was asked to speak about the Creative Nonfiction Craze, but first I had to learn what it was. It turned out memoirs are a form of Creative Nonfiction, and by studying one, you can learn all sorts of interesting things about the other.
Use this memoir as a study guide, Lessons 1 to 3
I learned so much from this one memoir, Slant of Sun by Beth Kephart, I have drawn 20 lessons from it that you can use to help you write your own. This post is about authentic voice, messy emotions, and vivid images.
Interview and seven part blog about Beth Kephart’s “Slant of Sun” (links below)
After reading this memoir about a mother trying to understand how to raise her special-needs child, I went deeper and found 20 lessons for memoir writers. The writing is excellent and the story engaging. She started writing memoirs early in her writing career, and then branched out to Young Adult fiction, so hers is an interesting trajectory for any memoir writer who wants to keep going from memoir into other forms of writing. Here are the links to all seven entries:
Frequently Asked Questions about Why and How to Publish
Once you write your memoir, you are ready to find readers. That means creating a book, and letting potential readers know why they should read it. Here are some answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the ins and outs of taking that next step.
Interview with Memoir Author Diana Raab About Cancer and Writing
Breast cancer compels deep levels of courage and community support. In this interview I ask memoir author Diana Raab about her memoir “Healing with Words” and how she used writing to help her share and cope.
Healing With Words, Hers and Yours
When Diana Raab was diagnosed with breast cancer, her surgeon told her to keep writing. In her memoir, “Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey” she passes on encouragement, inviting you to write in your own journal.
Who Am I? 10 ways memoir reading and writing helps clarify identity
To write a memoir, we discover the story of self. In this first of 10 parts, I consider how Coming of Age is our first version of self-concept, from nothing to young adult.
Self-Concept and memoir: launching and identifying with a group
Launching from child to adult, you press your story of self into service. If it doesn’t achieve satisfaction, you must try again. Perhaps your group will help. These aspects of self-concept seem abstract, but when you write your memoir, you discover all sorts of things about your own character flowing onto the page.
Recovering Self-concept after Trauma
In my series of articles about how memoirs help develop self-concept, this one focuses on the recovery of self-concept after trauma.
Self-concept and memoirs: The power of purpose
When trying to answer the question, “Who am I?” one of the most important places to look is to your own purpose. In this article, I focus on the aspect of self which is determined by where you want to go.
Frequently expressed fears about publishing a memoir
Public speaking frightens more people than death. Perhaps with all its potential for revealing secrets, memoir writing might be even scarier. Here are answers to some common fears about revealing private life.
How Boys Become Men (Hint: Memoirs Help)
I’ve made many turns on my way from boy to man. Now that I’m writing a memoir and reading others, I’m gaining new insights into some of the gender issues of my journey. This essay, inspired by Ed Husain’s “The Islamist” has helped me open new lines of thinking about coming of age as a male.
Memoirs Show Two Sides of the Islamic Revolution
By reading two memoirs, Ed Husain’s “The Islamist” and Azira Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita in Tehran” I gained an education in crucial global trends. The Islamist is about a boy in Britain, coming of age in a group of guys who think Muslims should take over the world. Azira Nafisi is a Muslim in Iran who lives under the type of rule Ed Husain advocates. Reading the two books together, you can see how the ideas become expressed in reality. It’s a fascinating pair.
5 More Memoir Book Reviews
Plowing through the bottomless pile of memoirs, I offer brief reviews of five more: Strange things happen, Reading Lolita, Match dot bomb, Tis, and the Tender Bar.
Stephen Markley Interview Part 1: Launching from College to Career
When struggling from college to career, I had few role models. In this author interview, I wonder if Stephen Markley would have inspired me to do better.
Stephen Markley Interview Part 2: Humor and Politics in his Memoir
Publish This Book: The Unbelievable True Story of How I Wrote, Sold and Published This Very Book by Stephen Markley
After college, Markley, 24, hit on an unlikely topic for a memoir – The True Story of Publishing This Very Book. It sold, I bought and loved it. It’s funny and insightful.
How to write a profile
When you write your memoir, benefits accumulate and multiply. In this essay, I explain how writing my memoir gave me insights about how to write a profile.
When Robert Waxler (no relation) found his son paralyzed on the floor it set him on a journey for help, and a journey within himself. My blog entry is about the Robert Waxler’s memoir, “Courage to Walk” in which the father meditates on his son’s danger and seeks the wisdom to balance his load of worry and love.
Interview about the relationship between literature and life
In this Part 2 of a three part interview, English Literature professor Robert Waxler and author of two memoirs talks about the relationship between literature and life.
A memoir of mourning helps make sense of loss
Robert Waxler, an English professor and his wife Linda, were forced on a journey of grief they wished they never had taken. In this memoir “Losing Jonathan” they tell of their terror for their son, and then after he died, their journey to reclaim their balance. The book “Losing Jonathan” is a loving tribute to their son and a guidebook to help others in similar situations.
What is the difference between journaling and memoir writing?
When I wrote in a journal, I felt whole and clear, but I could never reread what I wrote, and I was tired of writing just for me. Here’s how I switched while continuing to take advantages of the lessons I had learned during my journal writing years.
Too shy to publish your memoir? Ten more tips to reach towards strangers
This is part 2 of a two part series offering tips and strategies for overcoming the anxiety of turning your writing over to the public.
Too shy to publish your memoir? Try these ten tips to reach towards strangers
Offering your life story to strangers may seem daunting. If you feel shy, try these ten tips to overcome social anxiety and reach towards the world.
Learn the inner and outer dimensions of memoir writing
Linda Joy Myers, PhD, founder of National Association of Memoir Writers offers insights into the psychological and literary journey of memoir writing.
A leader of memoir writers tells her own story
Linda Joy Myers, founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, discusses her latest book as well as her journey of teaching and writing life stories.
Author and creative writing teacher helps me steer between fact and fiction
In a covert attempt to understand how fiction informs memoirs, I ask creative writing teacher Susan Muaddi Darraj to help me understand how reality informs her fiction.
Answers to Frequently asked questions about “How to write a memoir”
When teaching or speaking about memoir writing, certain questions come up over and over. In this entry, I answer ones about how to write a memoir.
Lord of the Flies in Los Angeles: The terrible logic of uncivilized boys
In a creative writing program in Los Angeles, Mark Salzman taught imprisoned kids how to write, and in the process revealed their humanity to each other and to me. Reading the book showed me more sides of the human heart than I was expecting, revealing profound truths in surprising places.
Why Coming of Age Memoirs ought to be a genre
In memoir after memoir, growing from child to adult turns out to be a fascinating story, rich with drama and insight. In this essay, I list some of their main characteristics, especially praising their value in understanding the journey of life.
Answers to frequently asked questions about “Should I write a memoir?”
This entry lists answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the many reasons to start writing your memoir today.
Let us now praise those who serve – a new way to earn fame
Must we only worship eye-candy? In this essay I offer the suggestion that memoir authors would make more deserving celebrities, first as intrepid storytellers. And another round of applause for those emerge from the page and serve a cause.
Frequently asked questions about published memoirs
This is the first in a series of questions and answers that summarize my multi-year research project to understand this fascinating literary trend. In this section, I consider questions about the books on the shelf, including definition, and which are my favorites.
10 More Brief Book Reviews for Memoir Readers and Writers
I continue to expand my understanding of people and their stories by reading a variety of memoirs. Here are 10 I recently completed, along with brief reviews.
Memoir Interview with Mattew Polly Author of “American Shaolin”
In this interview, memoir author Matthew Polly shares insights into what it was like to write and publish his book “American Shaolin” about his journey to a monastery in China to study Kung Fu.
Author Interview: Curtis Smith talks about publishing in Literary Journals
Author Curtis Smith loves the writing life so much, I asked him to share his observations of the literary marketplace. Our interview offers a number of introductory tips to help you understand how literary journals work and how you can break in.
A diary for social change. A young girl’s terrible experience of war.
Typically, diaries are very different than memoirs. This one crosses the border, offering insights into a war torn life through the eyes of a little girl, Zlata Filopovic, who grew up normally until the age of 10, when her life was shattered by artillery shells.
Seeking Truth in a far off land, “American Shaolin” Part 3
While seeking Truth is an ancient tradition, people who do it now must discover their own rules. Matt Polly, author of “American Shaolin” sought his Truth in China, surrounded by blossoming modernity. In this essay, the third of three about this book, I talk more about seeking in foreign lands.
Looking for the onramp at Philadelphia “Push To Publish” writer’s conference
Writing well is only the first part of a writer’s task. The second part is finding readers which requires the daunting challenge of convincing someone to publish our work. I explore that challenge by attending the Philadelphia Stories Writer’s Conference.
Catch-up grief: how visiting my brother helped me grow
Of the many benefits of writing memoirs, catching up on grief is one of the most sublime. In this essay I describe my reconnection with my older brother.
On Matthew Polly’s journey to study Kung Fu, he bumped against the dark side. In the memoir “American Shaolin” he tells a story about coping with this side of himself, making it easier for other memoir writers to understand their own.
Example Memoirs that Demonstrate Emerging Into Adulthood
For almost all of us, the transition from child to adult contains dramatic tension. These memoirs demonstrate the crucial story-impact of this time of life.
Failure to Launch Generates Dramatic Tension
When trying to turn a complicated life into a readable story, I look back to my own attempt to emerge from child to adult and find a rich vein of drama in the failures and the long term struggle for success.
Princeton Student transfers to the School of Hard Knocks or Learning Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple
Matthew Polly dropped out of Princeton to attend the school of hard knocks, taking a vow of celibacy and learning Kung Fu at the ancient Shaolin Temple in post-Mao China.
Philadelphia Push To Publish, Lessons in Courage from a Writing Conference
My second year at Philadelphia Story’s writing conference turned out to provide many lessons and networking opportunities. Read the first part of this year’s story, here, focusing mainly on the courage to write a memoir.
Annotated List of Memoirs
Many people ask me “what memoir should I read?” This blog entry provides a list of the ones I have read, with a short note to help you decide if it’s right for you.
Memoir author speaks of spirituality, religion, and cancer
In this interview, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, author of “The Sky Begins at Your Feet” speaks of the journey of breast cancer, including support from friends, spirituality, religion, her husband, and her doctors. This is Part 1 of a 2 part interview.
Teaching Memoirs, Meeting Locals, Making Memories
When my wife’s sister asked us to visit her quaint town, we stalled. When she asked us to come and teach memoirs, we jumped on the plane and rode the Rockies.
10 Ways Writing Helps Develop the New You
Writing looks lonely, but over the years I continue to find more reasons why this isolated activity will help me grow individually and socially.
Is memoir a genre? Consider these matched pairs.
Is the memoir genre dead or is it just picking up steam? I look at similar memoirs and see a trend towards an increasingly popular and nuanced genre.
Color of Water, a memoir of race, family and fabulous writing
This bestselling memoir, “Color of Water,” spans James McBride’s mothers lifetime, making it a memoir and biography, a worthwhile read about a boy’s search for identity.
Freedom Writers Diary Turns Journaling Into Activism
A bunch of gang-infested high school kids wrote about their horrible lives, turning themselves into courageous social activists, trading in hatred for harmony. It turns out that even diaries of private life can become important public statements when published in a readable format. Stories move mountains.
Author Sue William Silverman Talks About Confessions, Memoirs, and the Craft of Writing
Writing a memoir requires both courage and craft. Sue William Silverman has both. In this author interview I ask her about the craft of writing, and the fearless confessions of memoir writing.
If you’re lucky, you can avoid dark memories, but when they consume you, try turning them into a story, using your words to shine light into private hells. In this essay, I talk about Sue William Silverman’s book “Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You” which transforms the disturbing memories of childhood sexual abuse into a story she shares with strangers.
The first time I tried to write my memoir, it came out as an autobiography. It was too long and too complete to submit it to readers, let alone publish it as a memoir. Then I discovered that it was a first step, and that contained within the pages of the autobiography are contained the raw material for a variety of stories that will be more appropriate reading for strangers.
John Grogan’s Marley: A dog made famous by an expert storyteller
Marley and Me is so simple it seems like ordinary life and yet so well told it made a dog famous. Here are lessons you can use for your own memoir, such as foreshadowing , suspense, and a few insights into portraying pets.
Joan Rivers’ Celebrity Memoir Offers More Lessons for Aspiring Writers
Joan Rivers worked hard to please audiences. Her tenacity and honesty offer insights for memoir writers looking for their own authentic voice.
Paying back the tragedy of mistaken identification, a memoir of injustice and redemption
When Jennifer Thompson identified her rapist in court, she felt vindicated. Ronald Cotton was sentenced to life in prison and Thompson tried to put that ugly chapter behind her. Eleven years later, he was released. New DNA evidence plus a full confession from the real rapist proved that Ronald Cotton had been falsely imprisoned. This is a story about the friendship between accuser and accused, and their efforts to warn the world about the tragedy of wrongful imprisonment.
Joan Rivers’ Celebrity Memoir Offers More Lessons for Aspiring Writers
Joan Rivers worked hard to please audiences. Her memoir “Enter Talking” shares inspiring lessons about her tenacity and honesty. In this essay I draw insights from her memoir that can help other writers find for their own authentic voice.
Celebrity Lessons for Writers
I overcame my fear of shallow celebrity memoirs, and found this one by Steve Martin to be lovely. “Born Standing” offers an inspiring look at his climb to fame, from which I draw a few lessons for memoir writers.
Turn economic hardships into stories of strength
To gain perspective on economic hardship, turn your life experience into a story. In this essay, I offer suggestions for developing the story of yourself, and a couple of suggestions about where to post the story online in order to develop community and insight.
One Man’s Battle with Sexuality Changed the World
When Frank Schaeffer was a teenager he thought he ought to have all the sex he wanted, until his teenage girl friend became pregant, starting him on a lifelong odyssey of strong beliefs about sexuality that he preached to the world. The intersection of Frank Schaeffer’s beliefs about sex and religion read like a passion play of Biblical proportions.
Interviewing is an Act of Love, Even After Memory Starts to Fail
When memory starts to fail is it too late to gather history? Surprisingly the answer appears to be “no.” Early memories are still there for the asking. Thanks to organizations like StoryCorps who popularizes these amazing stories from our parents’ youth, more of us are trying to put together their story even when it looks like it may be too late.
At first I didn’t see why travel books were memoirs. After research here’s what I found.
Sharing the Wisdom of the Ages
As I look for the wisdom of growing older, I turn for answers to the elders in my memoir writing workshops, and find wisdom in the stories.
Life with a famous parrot, Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg
This African Gray parrot was cute and smart and captured his owner’s heart. His owner was Irene Pepperberg, a researcher into animal intelligence and communication. Together they broke through scientific barriers to find genuine friendship and added to the world’s and the reader’s understanding of animal-human relationships.
Writing for Community – or – When Going Public Can Save Dignity and Lives
I attended an unusual book signing – collected testimonials written by a domestic violence support group. The writing and publishing of the book revealed yet another powerful aspect that life story can be used – to help connect isolated people together with their community.
The Birth of an Adult Storyteller
When I was young, I didn’t know how to explain my life, and so I remained hidden. Later, I realized that storytelling could be learned, and gradually overcame the fears and gathered skills.
Reading error teaches a writing lesson – or – A good character is hard to define
By thinking about a mistake I made while reading a collection of short stories I stumbled upon a powerful insight to help me communicate authentic characters in my memoir.
Yin and Yang of Storytelling – Dramatic Tension of Opposites
Looking for techniques for writing life stories, I was richly rewarded by reading a collection of fiction, Inheritance of Exile by writing professor Susan Muaddi Darraj, where I discovered a secret hidden in plane sight. Opposites create a wealth of tension that can be tapped by the storyteller.
Fiction Built on a Foundation of Real Life
To understand the skill of telling a good story about life, I read fiction stories, and try to divine the relationship between truth and art. In this esssay, I explore the real-world portrayed in Susan Muaddi Darraj’s book of short fiction, called “Inheritance of Exile.”
Read banned memoirs: Criminal or Social Activist?
Bill Ayers, target of a 2008 smear campaign against Barack Obama, wrote a memoir of his war protest days. This essay reviews the book, offering some fascinating perspectives on the responsibilities of a citizen.
I thought the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig was deep, but obscure. This memoir “Zen and Now” by Mark Richardson reprises the original, with terrific research and great writing.
When I read Linda Wisniewski’s memoir, I was curious about the word “Scoliosis” in her title. It made me wonder about the way posture affected her, and how it is used as a symbol of the human condition.
The Powerful Story of an Ordinary Woman
With the author’s mother growing older, and needing a care facility, Linda must face her own past, and find out how to transform an edgy legacy into the most constructive possible outcome. It’s another great memoir for the adult children of aging parents. See also the essay on Carol O’Dell’s Mothering Mother.
The Nine Best Attitudes for Memoir Writers
Writing classes teach the craft and business of writing, but to learn good attitudes we’re on our own. This essay lists the attitudes you need to succeed.
A Healthy Community Needs a Healthy Writer’s Group
After years in writing groups, I have come to see them as an important contribution to the community. In this essay, that I originally wrote as a portion of a grant application, I list my reasons.
Clown Story Inspires Six Writing Prompts
A short story is a remarkable feat. In a few pages, a writer shares a window into his world. How does he do it? In this essay, I dig into Sean Toner’s story “Head Clown” and pull out six writing prompts that could help you write your memoir.
Stylistic innovation in Sean Toner’s clown story
Sean Toner’s story about his summer job as a clown awakened memories of my own summers, not because I ever dressed as a clown, but because his brash stylistic writing reminded me of my younger years when I reveled in the luxuriant outpouring of excellent writing. I loved to read then, and Toner’s writing reminded me why.
Link isolated anecdotes into a story with the power of your beliefs
Anecdotes pop into mind as you tell your past to a family or strangers. But if you want to create a story with beginning, middle, and end, you need to find the glue that binds the anecdotes together. One way to investigate your collection of anecdotes is to look for beliefs. What did you think? How did your ideas carry you from one event to another? In this essay, I explore the way my ideas about people and crowds, and my image of my self, shaped my Coming of Age.
His relationship to girls changed in this scene
After I read Henry Louis Gates’ memoir “Colored People” one scene kept coming back to me. So I looked more closely at it and realized how it worked, and why it was so important for the book. In this essay I pick apart the lessons and offer suggestions about finding the power in one scene.
Are Memoirs True?
When we read a memoir, or try to write our own, the issue of Truth arises. The difference between Truth and Illusion has been challenging philosophers for millennia, and continues to challenge us today. In this essay I offer my perspective on this fundamental issue, to try to make more sense of memoirs, as well as of life.
User’s Guide to the Brain by a Writer Who Lost Half of Hers
Jill Bolte Taylor woke up half out of her body. It turned that a blood vessel burst in her brain, leaving her functioning almost entirely with the right half. During her 8 year rehabilitation, she learned lessons about the nature of the split brain, and in her memoir “My Stroke of Insight” tells her story and offers tips for how to become whole.
Gary Presley’s Memoir Defangs the Horror of Aging and Disability
I admired one of the moderators on a writing forum, and then found out he is a quadriplegic. What that means, when I think of it with brutal clarity, is that if I passed him on the street, I would probably have averted my eyes. But through the written word, I bonded with him, first on the internet and then through his memoir. This experience shifted forever my view of people in wheelchairs, and did exactly what I find memoirs do over and over — expand my appreciation for the human condition and make me a richer person for the experience.
Thanksgiving for Family Stories
Family gatherings ought to be a time of celebration, but they often lead to tension. In this essay, I offer a way to use storytelling and listening to reclaim the high ground, and turn the holiday into an opportunity to increase understanding and intimacy.
Harry Bernstein’s Second Memoir, Still Writing at 98!
Harry Bernstein’s second memoir, The Dream, published when he was 98 (!) is about his family’s immigration from England to Chicago, just before the Great Depression. It’s a good read, and inspiring to see someone of his age continuing to create and share.
Style, humor, and other tips from Doreen Orion’s Travel Memoir
I enjoyed reading this memoir about mid-life crisis by Doreen Orion, a writer whose work I had read before. But when I tried writing about the book “Queen of the Road” I kept finding more and more tips and insights for memoir writers. This is the fourth in the series of essays I wrote on the subject.
Matched pair of memoirs show both sides of addiction
A young boy going through adolescence explores what it ought to feel like to be an adult. Most of us outgrow our experiments, but when addiction takes hold, especially hard drugs like heroin and crystal meth, the journey to adulthood can be arduous or deadly.
Let Memoirs Take you to the Fourth Step
The Twelve Step injunction to take a fearless moral inventory often seems daunting to addicts. This essay explores the relationship between memoir writing and the Fourth Step.
My Day at a Writer’s Conference – or – The Benefits of Showing Up
Regional writing conferences are a great way to network, learn, and enjoy the ambiance of cultural community. This essay is about a day I spent at the Philadelphia Stories conference.
Afraid to write your memoir? Read this book!
Fear of the public is extremely common considering “most people would rather die than speak to an audience.” This article reviews a person who overcame terrible social anxiety. My essay offers ways you might be able to take advantage of his experience.
Mothers and Daughters Don’t Always Mix
Linda Joy Myers, now president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, started in life as an abandoned girl raised by an abusive grandmother. The journey from child to adult is made especially poignant by these two facts, first the lack of effective caregiving and second a deep commitment to helping people tell their story. The combination makes this an excellent memoir for aspiring memoir writers.
Who protects the children? Memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
Ashley Rhodes-Courter was 2 when her mother was declared incompetent by the courts. Then begins her long journey through the foster care system. In the end she finds happiness with a lovely caring family, but on the way makes a case that perhaps the system was at least as incompetent as her mother. Now an adult, Ashley Rhodes-Courter is an advocate for foster kids and an activist for improving the system.
See History Through The Eyes of One Man
When Ji Chaozhu’s family fled the invading Japanese army, they were welcomed as war refugees by the United States. Ji grew up American, went to Harvard, and then responded to the call of his homeland. Returning to China he lived a hard, yet fascinating life, as a translator at the very pinnacle of the Chinese government. This memoir tells the story, providing an amazing glimpse into the workings of one of the most powerful political enclaves of the twentieth century.
Identity Moves Too in Travel Memoir by Doreen Orion
To learn how a memoir works, look for both the outer story and the inner one. What changes inside the character. In Doreen Orion’s seemingly simple memoir, the motion of character is rich and rewarding.
Lessons Memoir Writers Can Learn from Zombies
After a writing lesson from thriller writer Jonathan Maberry I went on my own internal journey, looking for ways to apply his fiction writing lessons to the challenges of memoir writing. I came up with a couple of interesting suggestions and writing prompts that might help bring your memoir to life.
Awakening bad memories helps shape your new life
Many writers would rather avoid painful memories. In this essay I show how you can benefit from evaluating the memory, and crafting the story of it.
Pets, motion, and other tips from a travel memoir
In this second part of a multi-part article about Doreen Orion’s memoir Queen of the Road, I look at the way she uses some of the elements of travel to engage the reader, and some prompts to help you do the same.
Doreen Orion’s brilliant memoir about last year’s midlife crisis
If you have ever fantasized about what it’s like to stop working for a year, read this book, and go for a ride wtih Doreen Orion and her husband, driving around the United States in a fully equipped RV, complete with dishwasher and satellite television. It’s not as superficial as it sounds. It’s a good, fun read, and has some interesting lessons for everyone, especially aspiring memoir writers.
Author Interview: Vietnam Vet Jim McGarrah
I asked Jim McGarrah, author of the memoir Temporary Sort of Peace about his experience writing and publishing the book, and generally exploring what it feels like pouring such traumatic memories into a story.
Find meaning through service or Making peace with the peasants of Pakistan
The memoir “Three Cups of Tea” traces Greg Mortenson’s journey from climbing the mountains of Pakistan to an even higher goal, bringing peace and education to the peasant villagers. His story about building schools for poor Muslim children translates into one of the most inspiring and peacemaking memoirs I have read.
Interview with Jim McGarrah, author of the Vietnam Vet memoir A Temporary Sort of Peace
In a previous essay, I wrote about the memoir “Temporary Sort of Peace” by Vietnam Vet James McGarrah. The current entry contains an interview with the author in which he shares what it was like to write, publish, and speak about a book of the intimate horror of one man’s personal experience of war.
Be Here Now by Writing a Memoir
When I first heard the phrase “Be Here Now” I thought it was silly. “Of course, I’m here now.” Over the years I have discovered being here now is more valuable and harder than it looks. As I look for better tools to be here now, I have discovered that memoir writing is one of the best.
Memoirs as a journey from blindness to sight
When David Sheff first realized his son was using substances to get high, he was terrified, ordered the boy to stop, consulted therapists and thought he had beaten the problem. He had not. His son had merely figured out how to lie better. This is a story about a parent’s nightmare. And my essay is about how memoirs recount the journey to wisdom, even though that journey takes us through darkness.
Escaping the prison of what might have been
From Tony Cohan’s memoir, Native State, I discover a new strategy for converting regrets into valuable choices that took me towards the life I actually lived.
Steve at Work – Life Lessons from Conflict
As I look back through my memories, I find a situation that was painful while I was going through it, but in retrospect was offering me important lessons about life, and about life story.
Reach Deep Into Memory to Build a Scene
Important parts of our lives seem lost in the hazy past. And yet, readers need vivid scenes in order to relate to those experiences. In this essay, I offer some ideas and an example of how to poke and prod until you gain more insight into the details of your memory.
6 Life Story Writing Prompts Inspired by a Book of Short Stories
After reading Xujun Eberlein’s book of short stories based on her childhood in China, I felt so pulled by her story telling skill. My wheels kept turning, looking for ways that real life interacts with authentic story telling, and I teased out 6 writing prompts that could help a memoir writer find authentic story power within their own lives.
What does Dani Shapiro, or any of us, really want?
In the memoir “Slow Motion” a girl who has everything wants more, and her desire to be admired almost destroys her. To understand what I can learn from the memoir, I pick apart her desire, using Maslow’s Hierarchy as a template.
Self-image changes in step with society
When Henry Louis Gates was trying to figure out what sort of life he was going to leada, millions of people were asking the same questions he was. What is the role of black people in an apparently white society? As I pondered his relationship between life and society, I look for ways anyone can use this relationship to add power to their memoir.
Hair in the Melting Pot
Hair is more important for acceptance in the broader group than I realized until I read the memoir “Colored People” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. about growing up black in the segregated south.
Storytellers Shed Light on the Horrors of War
When looking back through life, painful moments scare us away. To find the courage to look more deeply within your own memory, consider the suffering that combat veterans experience through their memories, and the courage required to peer into those memories and grow.
Exclusive Interview with Xujun Eberlein, Author of Apologies Forthcoming, Part 1
Exclusive Interview with Xujun Eberlein, Author of Apologies Forthcoming, Part 2
After reading the book of short stories, Apologies Forthcoming, and a literary essay, Swimming with Mao, I wanted to know more about how this author steered between truth and fiction in her writing. In this generous two part interview, she offers many fascinating insights into how she writes. Just as her writing is enjoyable, so is her interview.
Fact and fiction of a girl in the Chinese Cultural Revolution
When Xujun Eberlein grew up, her society was turning upside down. The proud old culture of China had moved into a great experiment to destroy the past. In her book of short fiction stories she recounts her childhood, and I consider the question of the relationship between story and history.
Collapsed Lives that Turned into Memoirs
When growing up, we don’t necessarily travel the trajectory we expected. Sometimes life crashes during take off. It takes longer to get back on track, but once we make it, these memories seem like they happened to someone else. This essay offers ideas about telling the story of such a life course.
Bookstores Provide Valuable Insights for Memoir Writers
While so much of the book buying world has shifted attention to the internet, discover the information that lurks in the bookstore, waiting to be found and bought to help your memoir writing research.
Follow That Car! How Drama Reveals Inner Story
When you scan your past, strange, intense episodes jump up. What can you do with such vignettes? In this essay I give an example of such an experience of my own and offer ideas about how to work dramatic moments into the scheme of your journey.
Kate Braestrup’s Memoir Transforms Grief Into Love
When Kate Braestrup’s husband was killed instantly in an auto accident, it ripped her life in half. To recover she studied to become a minister and then worked as a chaplain with the Maine Game Wardens, helping comfort and support others in similar situations. Her memoir brings a spiritual, religious, and personal wisdom to grieving, and its beauty and simplicity offer lessons for memoir writers.
Veterans seek healing by cycling through Vietnam
Many people resist going back into their past because it will cause too much pain. Others go back for precisely the same reason, because the pain of the present continues to be unbearable, and they look for wisdom and healing to help them move forward. This documentary shows one such effort.
To reach readers, learn from writers
We write about our lives in private, but eventually we want to offer ourselves to readers. That requires a type of outreach most writers find daunting and unfamiliar. Since this issue affects all writers, you can learn about it by attending a writing conference.
Keeping memoirs in touch with changing gender roles
As I review my life I stumble upon the profound changes in gender roles, in the world and in the books I have been reading. From this realization, I see how cultural changes affect the way I look at people and how people look at each other. It’s a glimpse into the change across decades and the living breathing conversation between society and the books that we read.
Rediscovering why I read books throughout my lifetime
By reviewing the books I’ve read through my lifetime, I learn more about the relationship between writers and readers.
Lessons for Memory Writers from my First Year of Blogging
I’ve been writing this blog about memoir writing for more than a year, and am not only getting the hang of it. I’m also learning a lot about how blogging works, and watching a number of interesting benefits pile up. In this essay I offer ideas about how you can use blogging to help you develop skills and connections to help your writing.
John Robison’s Asperger’s Gave Me Permission to Write About Myself
Who would have thought I would find so many lessons about writing my own memoir in this New York Times bestselling memoir about a man with a mental condition called Asperger’s. In fact, this book has helped me find a richer language that I can use to describe my own life and lessons.
How does John Robison end his memoir of lifelong learning
In John Robison’s memoir “Look me in the eye” he keeps growing his whole life. Then how can he ever end? Read this essay to see how he used “homecoming” to return full circle and pass along his wisdom to succeeding generations… like a hero.
Author Interview, Bill Strickland talks about writing his memoir Ten Points
If you want to write your own memoir, consider these insights from someone who has already done, Bill Strickland. You can read the first part of the interview here, or read my review of the book.
Jancee Dunn’s Pop Culture Memoir Rocks
Memoirs that make it into the stores are often younger and hip than where I typically live. That’s okay. It’s all food for my appetite for lifestories, and so when I saw Jancee Dunn’s memoir “But enough about me” about interviewing celebrities, it caught my eye. In this review, I explain why I like it so much and identify lessons that you can explore when writing your own memoir.
Writing a story untangles distortion from truth
Sometimes my memory of the past is dished up whole, an automatic story that comes along with youthful thinking, and distorted logic. As I try to translate these memories into stories, I go deeper and see the truth more clearly than ever before.
My niece reminded me I’m getting old.
Reading something my niece wrote, I realize there are things about my life that are almost invisible just one generation away. This revelation provides ideas for find the stories that will inform your audience.
Iranian in America Makes Love and Laughter
Reading the memoir Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas I discover fascinating lessons about the use of culture and cultural differences in storytelling, and of course, memoirs.
Story extends my optimism to infinity
Since I have to live anyway, I might as well figure out how to charge into the future with energy and optimism. It turns out that I can learn a lot about optimism by reviewing my relationship to it through the course of my lifetime. I include a few charts to make my observations easier to understand.
Memoir of Redemption: Author Shares His Writing Experience
Bill Strickland, author of the memoir Ten Points, shares his observations about writing the memoir in this first part of a two part interview.
Memoir writing is a step along my spiritual journey
Memoir writing has many benefits, to organize, to share, and to make sense of my journey. I am beginning to notice as I grow older that finding the meaning within my life is a spiritual mission. Memory writing is helping me find my way.
Help my aging dad tell his story
A blog reader asks: How do I help my father tell his story? I answer with a few ideas to encourage and support her desire to help.
Good shame improves memory
After hearing a lecture by shame expert John Bradshaw, I discovered an important idea that helps me remember my past.
Memoir writing lessons from the heart
Everyone who has a life, has a story. If you want to tell yours, consider learning lessons not just from the pros, but also from the amateurs who have organized events and thoughts of many years into a readable story. I’ve drawn writing lessons from one of my favorite, Perry Foster’s Hands Upon My Heart.
Too many secrets hide my spark (about self disclosure in my memoir)
I have struggled throughout my life with a tendency to hide. Now the challenge becomes even more pronounced in my memoir. This essay sheds light on this common challenge for memoir writers.
Book Review of Toby Young’s Sound of No Hands Clapping
If you are writing a memoir, you might not be a writer by trade, but there is much to be learned from writers. This memoir by a working writer trying to succeed at his trade contains lessons about writing life, married life, and growing up, all contained within a clever, funny story.
Three memoir writing prompts
Writing prompts help you turn loose the flow of ideas onto paper. I offer three that can help you turn memories into a story.
Unbearable Courage of Living
Other than landing in the hospital myself I have few chances to learn about the emotional rollercoaster of actually facing a life threatening illness. This blog is a review of a book about someone who goes through such an experience, and then shares with the rest of us what it was like, increasing my appreciation for how much courage it requires to be a human being.
Character evolves through time – a memoir prompt
At any given moment, we think we know who we are and what we are doing. But throughout the course of a lifetime, we have been through many stages. The only way to appreciate the evolution of those stages is by reviewing the whole picture, and the best way to do that is by writing your memoir.
Listening is an act of love
The StoryCorps project is the fastest growing nonprofit organization in the country, according to founder Dave Isay, author of the book of personal oral stories, “Listening is an act of love.”
Boomervision panel in Philly – lets think this through together
To figure out what is going in, come together with like minded people and talk about it. In this boomer panel, I learn more about creativity and aging, and about my own life in the bargain.
StoryCorps – a national initiative to gather oral memoirs
When I went to Philly last week to attend the Boomervision panel, I took out a few minutes to interview the facilitator at the StoryCorps van about the initiative to record life stories.
Five Memoir Starters for Beginners
If you’re not sure where to start your memoir, consider these ways you may have already started.
Tell stories for more thankful holiday gatherings
When you gather together for a family feast, so many memories and mixing of lives can create more emotions than you know what to do with. In this essay, I offer several ways you can use listening and story writing as a way to sort it out and have more fun.
Memoir interview with 60’s celebrity Dee Dee Phelps,of singing duo Dick and Dee
In this two part blog, I interview Dee Dee Phelps, author of Vinyl Highway, in which she shares insights and tips into converting her memories of a decade of fame into a highly enjoyable memoir of her life during that period.
While on this surface this is a book about bicycle riding, the real energy that drives it is a tale of redemption as the author struggles to overcome his past by striving to be fully in the present.
I interviewed Bram Stokes award winning horror writer Jonathan Maberry about the relationship between real life and horror fiction. In this article I share his observations and some of my own.
What was grandmom really like?
When I first remember my grandmother I remember those awkward scenes when I was small and she was pressing me with advice. As I dig deeper, and write my memories, she takes on more depth. what-was-grandmom-really-like/
Fame and Story Structure in Dee Dee’s 60’s memoir
I’ve often wondered about what it’s like to be famous. The memoir of Dee Dee Phelps offers some insights, based on her rise to fame, and then her return to ordinary life. This is the second part of my book review about Vinyl Highway, Singing with Dick and Dee Dee.
Writing tips from reading Vinyl Highway, singing with “Dick and Dee Dee” by Dee Dee Phelps
After reading this memoir about a famous singing duo from the 60’s, I offer tips that anyone could apply to writing their own memoir.
Read like a writer, finding the purpose of a scene in your memoir
To learn to write a memoir, first learn to read memoirs like a writer. This essay is about my attempt to interpret the purpose of a passage in a well-written memoir, Expecting Adam by Martha Beck.
Acting your past to help you remember it
When I saw the movie Pursuit of Happyness, and then saw the interview at the end, it got me thinking about how acting can help any memoir writer sort out the facts and emotions of the past. relive-your-memoir-by-acting-pursuit-of-happyness/
Memoir of an American Yogi
I read the memoir The Path by Don Walters, disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, and drew lessons from it to help me understand how a memoir works, particularly one of spiritual unfolding.
Is it narcissistic to write your memoir?
One of the reasons people give for not writing a memoir is that it’s self-involved. I offer a different perspective.
Is writing a memoir therapeutic?
There are many benefits of writing a memoir, and I believe one of the most interesting is the potential for healing, letting go of old pain, and becoming more integrated and energized.
Two memoirs that teach
While the central goal of the memoir is to let the reader see a story through our eyes, there is infinite latitude in what story we choose to share. In this essay I look at two memoirs whose main story is about what the authors learned. By reading their story we learn in one about stalkers and in the other about the birth of modern China.
Two memoirs that teach
Ten ways memoir writing helps you now
The idea that writing a memoir is mainly for your kids is fine, if you have kids and telling them your story really keeps you at your desk day after day. However, there are many reasons for writing a memoir that benefit you in the present. Some of them start from the first minute you attempt this project.
Ten ways memoir writing helps you now
Wisdom evolves as you live your memoir
While writing about your life seems to capture the past, it’s not a static past. It’s a living, evolving story that grows along with your insights. The past that first presents itself in automatic memory is only a tiny fraction of the story. As you look more closely you see the birth of wisdom.
Wisdom evolves as you live your memoir
Memoir Reclaims Fading Memories
This is an essay about how memoir writing helps organize the fading, blurring, tangled memories that build up over a long life.
Author Interview with Carol O’Dell
This is a two part interview with memoir author Carol O’Dell, author of the memoir Mothering Mother, in which she shares her experience writing about being a caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s.
Money is a good reason to write a memoir
This is a motivational piece to help you organize your reasons for writing a memoir.
Ten reasons you’re not too old to write your memoir
If you’re wondering if you’re too old to write a memoir, review this list of reasons why it isn’t so.
Caregiving memoir for mother offers lessons for life
A book review about Mothering Mother by Carol O’Dell, who cared for her mother with Alzheimer’s.
Memoir Writing Prompt: Your Rocky Story
About how to find your story the way thousands of people every year find it at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as told in a book by Michael Vitez called Rocky Stories.
Write to Celebrate Midlife Crisis
If you’re looking for the best way to cope with the fact that life goes on, try writing your memoir.
Instant Regional Memoir as I was saying goodbye at a bed and breakfast in Southwest Pennsylvania
Memoirs are everywhere. You just need to grab them and write them down.
It’s a wonderful life for every memoir writer
In tribute to the movie with Jimmy Stewart, I offer a reason to look more carefully at your life story in order to find meaning in it, then and now.
Write your memoir when you get a Round Tuit
Why is it that you want to write a memoir, but you can’t get around to it? This essay tries to explain the phenomenon, and encourages you to find a way around.
Cut through 14 reasons not to write your memoir
People offer all sorts of reasons not to write memoirs. In this blog, I offer ways to refute each one.
Your story works like your skin
Trauma breaks the protective barrier, by disrupting your story of life. Once you recognize the damage is to your story, you can set to work to repair it.
Today is the first day of the rest of your memoir
Your memoir doesn’t stop today. It keeps going.
Writing your memoir grows neurons
Brain gym for healthy neurons. It’s a new wave.
What to do with regrets in your memoir
Some advice about how to handle unpleasant memories as you construct your memoir. what-to-do-with-regrets-in-your-memoir/
Anne Lamott’s Memoir, Traveling Mercies
A book review of Anne Lamott’s spiritual journey.
Memoir as an expression of Free Will
“Just Do It” is a slogan implying you have the freedom to do anything you want. So what’s stopping you? This entry explores the peculiar and important issue of how to get yourself to do something that you want. memoir-as-an-expression-of-free-will/
Brooke Shields teaches mommies and memoir writers
Not just a celebrity memoir, in this book Brooke uses her fame as an opportunity to help mothers cope with postpartum depression. It’s a decent read. And it does give insight into the private life of a public person.
Alice Sebold’s “Lucky,” a searing memoir of trauma
A college girl walking across campus had her innocence violently ripped away. This memoir tells of her journey to reclaim as much of it as possible. In this essay about Alice Sebold’s Lucky I explore her views of PTSD and also the presence of horror in literature.
Beatles and other loaded words in your memoir
If you tell a story with loaded words, people will hear what they already know, rather than learning something new.
To improve your memoir, break down the code
Family stories often sound entertaining to people who know the story already and boring and remote to everyone else. This article explains how to convert insider stories to stories anyone can appreciate.
Storytelling lessons for memoir writers
Writing a memoir is essentially the job of becoming a storyteller. That’s a knack in its own right, and so, on your writing journey, learn skills from storytellers.
Life and Death in Memoir
This essay examines the reasons death is so important in stories.
Boomer memoir is a step towards social activism
As boomers reach that certain age, we wonder what was the point, and what comes next. In this essay, I offer reasons why writing memoirs answer both questions.
Fog of memoir, fog of war
Should I write a memoir after I’m retired?
Many people figure they will begin writing after they retire, because they will have more time. In this essay, I propose there is no time like the present.
Bill Novelli, CEO of AARP, transforms life for boom
Publish! How to share your memoir with readers
In this overview, I share some of the methods you can use to publish or publicize your life story writing.
Why so many memoirs of dysfunctional childhood?
When perusing the bookshelves and bestseller lists, you may wonder if all memoirs are about troubled kids. This essay offers some insight into why it may seem that way
Memoir writing as a tool for introspection
If you are curious about what is going on “in there” try memoir writing. By developing a story to tell others you are investigating the story of your self.
Why I am reading Barack Obama’s Memoir
After reading about a third of Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams from my Father, I ponder all the thoughts and feelings it has stirred up about life, memoirs, and culture. His experience helps me understand my own.
Barack Obama’s Memoir Ends with A Homecoming
Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father exemplifies some universal elements of storytelling. The attempt to go home, and the attempt to find his true identity are combined in this compassionate tale.
One reason it feels good to write your memoir
When you are looking for reasons to write a memoir, consider what Frank McCourt achieved with Angela’s Ashes (in addition to money and fame). The whole thing is a confession, and we are tied to him as his confessors.
Truth, Lies, and Memoirs
When you remember your childhood, is it “true?” Many memoir writers become confused by this topic, which I believe is answerable more as a philosophical point than a factual one. In this essay, I offer suggestions for how to look at truth and memory, and how to stay energized to write your best story however you choose to answer the question.