Interview with Memoir Author Susan Weidener About Honesty

by Jerry Waxler

Author of Memoir Revolution: Write Your Story, Change the World.

In her memoir, “Again in a Heartbeat,” author Susan Weidener tells with breathtaking clarity the entire lifespan of her relationship with John, from their first date, to falling love, getting married, having children, and then sinking into despair during her husband’s slow untimely death. I love the memoir because of its simplicity and power, and the ruthless honesty of her emotions, which were far from politically correct. After he is gone, the story continues, as Susan turns toward grieving and reclaiming her hold on life. The memoir does a wonderful job portraying this huge emotional journey. In addition to being a writer, Susan Weidener encourages and nurtures others to tell their story. In this part of the interview, I ask her about the experience of writing the memoir.

Jerry Waxler: One of the unique things about your memoir is its span of time, covering the period from when you first met your future husband, and ending as you attempt to recover your life and find a new beginning. So many aspiring memoir writers struggle to decide on the appropriate span for their stories. What can you share about the way this particular scope of time appeared right for you?

Susan Weidener: When I started the project, my thought was to write about being widowed and dating again as a middle-aged woman with two young sons. As the memoir progressed and I began to write about my husband, the women who critiqued my book said, “We want more about John.” I realized they were right. The real story was meeting John, falling in love and our ordeal with cancer.  I wanted to write about myself as a young woman living the life she had always dreamed.  Then the illness enters, shatters our lives. What happens when Prince Charming makes a dramatic and tragic exit?  Does true love only come once and, if so, is that enough? I included the three years after my husband’s death to describe the loss, the fear of being alone. There are no fairy tale endings, but you find the strength within yourself to be on your own.

Jerry Waxler: At the beginning of the memoir, I loved your portrayal of falling in love — These are compelling, detailed scenes that let us accompany you on your emotional journey. As a reader, I found them pleasurable and romantic. What was that like for you as a writer, to remember to a time before the loss, all the way back to the beginning of your relationship?

Susan Weidener:  Thank you. Writing memoir is living twice, which is painful and elating.  There were moments as I wrote about our first trip together as husband and wife to West Point when I felt John in the room with me again.  Writing about the day he and I stood under Kissing Rock, the place along the Hudson River where cadets would take their dates, and John told me about some of the girls he had brought there . . . it brought back memories of John’s inimitable sense of humor.  When I wrote the scene where John and I dance at our wedding to “As Time Goes By,” and John says to me, “Here’s looking at you kid,” I cried for all we once had and all we lost. Memoir, as you know, is not for the faint of heart.

Jerry Waxler: You did not portray yourself as an easy person to fall in love with, nor were you infinitely graceful and patient about your husband’s failing health. I think this aspect of your memoir represents one of the best things about where culture is heading in the 21st century. We’re dropping the pretense that we are perfect and trying to make peace with our own and each other’s unique quirks, and flaws. And by showing our flaws, we also show our strength in continuing to grow and to carry on despite setbacks. I felt inspired and consoled by your edgy imperfect behavior. But how did it feel to write about yourself in this exposed way? Wasn’t it strange to let people see those aspects of yourself? What prompted you to be so open about your own humanity?

Susan Weidener:  I agree with you.  Writing honestly is healthy, a way of moving forward and coming to terms. And what good is a memoir if it is not honest?  Then it is fiction.  Of course, we want to appear heroic, but that isn’t always the case.  Our fragility, our imperfections are what make us human.  It resonates with readers.  It makes a story engaging. By accepting my flaws, I found a place of healing.  Why wasn’t I kinder to him at the end of his life?  That question haunted me for years.  As I wrote my memoir, I began to see how almost anyone would have reacted much like I did when confronting the loss of their dreams, the person they loved more than any other.  Chronic illness affects an entire family, not just the person going through it.  Our society has a very difficult time dealing with death.  One of my hopes with Again in a Heartbeat is that showing my imperfections and what I went through as John’s illness progressed and he pulled away from me, helps others in similar situations be kinder and more forgiving to themselves.

Jerry Waxler: How has it worked out to be so open? Have you found that people think less of you for having been flawed?

Susan Weidener:  Quite the opposite.  People approach me and often say: “You were so honest!”  They tell me they admire my candor and my courage.  One woman said my book “touched her heart and her life.”  It doesn’t get much better than that. When people read my story, they want to share their own experience with marriage, cancer, being single. The conversations are amazing!

Click here for Part 2, in which I ask questions about writing the memoir

Click here for a link to the Amazon page for Again in a Heartbeat
Click here for Susan Weidener’s Home Page.

For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my book Memoir Revolution about the powerful trend to create, connect, and learn, see the Amazon page for eBook or Paperback.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

8 thoughts on “Interview with Memoir Author Susan Weidener About Honesty

  1. I love and admire Susan’s honesty. Her story, her memoir is one I’ll read for sure!.
    I’m also writing memoir. What I struggle with most feels like pushing a 2-ton weight up a slippery mountain. I’m trying to connect the way I was raised by my father with what I did in spite of that over protective rearing. In broad strokes I cover the first 22 years of my life. Then, to how I turned myself around from that smothering. My two issues: #1–I’m afraid I’m covering too much territory–I don’t want it to be autobiographical. #2–I don’t want it to be chronological. Want to “mix it up” a bit to make it more interesting and inviting. These issues are getting in the way. Majority of story is written. Just don’t know where/how to place the puzzle/life pieces. Any suggestions or ideas?

  2. Thanks for this great comment and question, Judy. I love your description of writing a memoir as moving a slippery boulder up a mountain. It’s a difficult challenge with an equally profound reward, making better sense of the complexities of your life. I encourage you to keep going, although I have a quibble with your two main goals. #1 I understand from a literary standpoint that you “shouldn’t” cover too much of your life for fear of it sounding like an autobiography. However, an autobiography is a powerful way to sort it all out. Tell the story as you know it, through the course of your life. Even though it’s a lot of extra work, that autobiography becomes the block of granite from which you can sculpt your compelling story. #2 is one of my most important tenets. Life takes place in chronological order. Since we are developing an artistic representation of life, it makes most sense to write it chronologically. I think the reason many people are afraid chronology will be boring is because of the massive, chaotic mixing up of memory. Memory is a horribly disorganized container for life, and story is an almost magically improved container. If you have read hundreds of memoirs that are written out of order and love them, then I would agree with trying to follow their model. But the 100s of memoirs I’ve read are almost entirely chronological. The problem with trying to create a memoir that is out of chronological order is that you have only established a rule about what it is not. You still need a rule about what it is. I’d say many of your problems will go away if you remove your restriction about chronology. There is a point #3 embedded in your comment. You are trying to make a point about the way you grew past your father’s overprotection. Try to let the story make the point. There is only one author I’ve found so far that has done this search for self, Tracy Seeley’s Ruby Slippers. Maybe that’s what you’re trying to achieve. But even she uses the chronology of her search in order to hold the reader’s attention. I hope this helps. I wish you well on your writing journey.

  3. I found Susan’s strength and felt the power of her sharing her story in very real words that resonate with the human heart. Not many writers have the courage to connect with their readers like this. We need more writers like Susan.
    It doesn’t surprise me that many have found healing in her words. They connect with her with their emotions and their feelings, and they no longer feel that they are alone.

  4. Jerry, in addition to being an excellent writer, I commend you for your superb interviewing skills. Your questions get help the reader understand what the author is trying to accomplish in her book. You also teach readers important points about memoir writing (such as your remarks about chronology) in your comments to Judy. Great interview, Jerry. I’m looking forward to the second part.

  5. Pingback: Interview with Susan Weidener About Writing Her Memoir Pt 2 | Memory Writers Network

  6. Pingback: Interview with Susan Weidener About Writing Her Memoir Pt 3 | Memory Writers Network

  7. Pingback: Interview with Susan Weidener About Memoir Workshops Pt 4 | Memory Writers Network

  8. Great interview! I so agree about being honest. It’s scary and makes you feel like you’re standing naked at your high school reunion, but it’s absolutely necessary. Readers are smart. They can spot untruth a mile away. I’m anxious to read the rest of the interview! ~Karen

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