Should this Memoir be Called: Courage of Motherhood?

by Jerry Waxler

Write your memoir! Read Memoir Revolution to learn why now is the perfect time.

When Sonia Marsh needs to save her family from potential harm-from-within, she instigates a move from Los Angeles to Belize. Her memoir, Freeways to Flipflops describes the move. To adapt and survive in a foreign land, she must learn a new set of rules. Take a water-taxi into town to shop for food, enroll her kids in a school that will prepare them for college, and find a dentist. At home such decisions were part of the humdrum routine of life. In this place they are difficult and even scary.

As I look back across the family’s journey, powerful character arcs emerge. Adapting to the foreign environment forces each character to grow along important dimensions. They start their journey with one set of beliefs about themselves and each other, and then, step by step, replace these beliefs with more empowering, complex and sophisticated ones that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

As I continue to poke and prod, trying to learn why this memoir holds together so tightly, another theme jumps out at me, hidden in plain sight. Sonia Marsh saves her family from disaster with as much story-worthy heroism as James Bond demonstrates when saving the world.

Her heroism should have been obvious but I am so accustomed to mothers playing their role in real life, and so unaccustomed to seeing them do it in literature. Now, with more careful thought I realize the Memoir Revolution is giving mothers a voice in our culture. Sonia Marsh’s From Freeways to Flipflops is a powerful example.

By shaping her year in Belize into a memoir, Sonia Marsh guides us through what on the surface looks like a zany adventure and then, page by page turns into a rich, complex story arc about a family moving into and beyond a crisis. The story casts her as one of the least typecast heroes I would expect.

Based on this theme, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the book titled “Courage of Motherhood.” I can see other slants in the book that she could have highlighted in the title. It could have been titled “Escape from LA” or “How to Save a Son” or “How Choosing One Nightmare Resolved a Worse One” or “Resolving the Midlife Crisis of a Family.” (I’ll comment more about the lifecycle of Sonia Marsh’s family in a followup posting.) Instead, Sonia Marsh called her memoir, Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island. At least the word “family” is in the subtitle.

By reviewing her title, and the variety of other possibilities, you begin to see that it requires real imagination and lots of trial and error to come up with a good one that captures your imagination at the beginning and sustains it through to the end.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the many jobs of a title and more ideas about how to find one.

Sonia Marsh’s Home Page
Freeways to Flipflops (Kindle Version)


Another look through the eyes of a courageous mother is Madeline Sharples Leaving the Hall Light On, that allows us to see through a mother’s eyes as her son falls under the horrific weight of bipolar disorder to his suicide, and then her attempt to hang on to her sanity and dignity.

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

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

To order my how-to-get-started guide to write your memoir, click here.

4 thoughts on “Should this Memoir be Called: Courage of Motherhood?

  1. Jerry,

    I never thought about the “courage of motherhood” aspect of my story, and thank you for bringing this up. In my case this is part of my upbringing. I moved from country to country as a child, so taking action by moving to Belize didn’t seem like such a big deal. I believe if you don’t like what’s happening to your kids, take action. If you don’t like your environment, or if you value something different in your life, take action to change that situation. I do like being compared to James Bond as I’m a huge fan of the Bond movies. You’re right Jerry, It would be great for movies to be made with mothers as heroes, and now you have me thinking of another topic.

    I spoke recently at a book club event with retired men, no women, and was surprised by one comment I received. A German man asked me why I had “culture shock” in Belize, considering I had lived in Nigeria. I agreed with him, and thought, “Sonia, you should have adapted to life in Belize more easily than you did.” I thought about it and replied, “I lived in Nigeria as a child, not as a mother.”

    Yes, Madeline Sharples is a courageous mother who has written an amazing memoir.

    Thanks again Jerry, for in depth analysis of my story.

  2. Hi Sonia,

    In addition to celebrating the great work you did for your family, and thanking you for the wonderful work you did for your readers by sharing your story, I wanted to make a point for aspiring memoir writers — powerful dramatic themes lurk within a wide variety of life-situations, many of them unexpected.

    The series of articles on my blog tackles the question, “Which one of the many aspects of your story should be brought to center stage?”


  3. This is a great read, Jerry. And a great reminder that there is rarely “one perfect way.” As I finish the memoir I’ve been crafting, I am often challenged by the thought that “now, THAT would have made a better story.” If it were just one THAT, I’d probably go with it. But the THAT changes with the days of the week. So many themes, but only 300 pages!

    Your take on it helped move From Freeways to Flipflops higher up on my MUST READ pile.

    I’m also intrigued by your phrase, “giving mothers a voice in our culture.” Chewing a bit on that one. Thinking of the many venues I’ve had over the last generation or two, to hear about mothers: comedienes mostly, politicians, policy analysts… usually men. Hadn’t thought about “mothers” as an under-represented population without a voice. Good to chew on. (as a mother and otherwise)

    Again, many thanks for providing a thoughtful, informative resource.

  4. Hi Janet,

    One of the reasons I am so passionate about reading memoirs is precisely because the author does all this work to find out the essence of their lives. As a reader, I grow deeper in my understanding of human nature because I am enjoying the fruits of the author’s labor, after hundreds or thousands of hours trying to sort out puzzles like this. However, since there are always (in my experience) many themes, (for example “coming of age,” or “coming of age again” is frequently one of the subtexts), don’t spend too much effort stripping out themes in order to purify the main one.

    Sometimes I think memoir authors get too caught up in the fear that someone will say “it sounds too much like an autobiography” – this is one of those fine lines we memoir writers struggle to stay on – if too many details it could sound like “autobiography” – but how many are too many? Like the famous line in Amadeus when accused of using too many notes, Mozart asked which notes he should cut out.

    If you are artful, passionate, and spend many hours polishing and integrating your scenes in a progressive dramatic arc, you end up with a Story – a true memoir, even if it contains the complexity of your multi-dimensional life. Wonderful, polished attention to writing solves many of these problems.

    Best wishes,

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