Interview with Memoir Author Julie Freed

by Jerry Waxler

Author of Memoir Revolution: Write Your Story, Change the World and How to Become a Heroic Writer

Reading memoirs at night often helps me drift off to sleep. This was not the case with Naked: Stripped by a Man and Hurricane Katrina by Julie Freed. The book kept me wide awake, as Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast with a fury reminiscent of the Twin Towers bombings, but perpetrated by nature instead of by terrorists. Just as awful for Julie Freed was the email she received from her husband announcing he was finished with their marriage. The two events together kept me frantically turning pages, seeking relief.

Julie Freed has used the magic of Story to transform these outrageous events into an uplifting piece of literature, leading us through upheaval and disruption back to rebuilding and hope. How did Julie Freed, a mathematics researcher and professor, learn to write such a compelling memoir? To find out, I asked her to share her secrets.

Jerry Waxler: You write so well. I’d love to know how you learned.

Julie Freed: There was no magic formula – I wrote a bit, thought a bit, cried a lot, edited, read out loud to capture pace, would recall pieces, plug in a related scene. It was like a puzzle assembling the pieces to make it intriguing and most important I hoped to make it meaningful.. The goal of writing was to help “me” and publishing to help others.

When I felt I had an almost finished product, I sent the manuscript to an English professor for feedback. She had some suggestions and questions I addressed. She laughed because I was such a good “little student” doing everything she asked. I also sent the manuscript to a friend and former high school English teacher to make sure my commas and such were behaving.

I read for pleasure, mostly non-fiction. But I most enjoy a read that makes a difference in the way I think or feel – one that resonates. Time is my commodity. I want what I read to be important for my own trajectory. And I wanted to give the same value to readers.

Jerry: This is incredible. The only example that comes to mind is from the legend of King Arthur. Legions of young warriors tried to pull the sword out of the stone and young Arthur walked up, pulled it out and said “what’s the big deal?”

I’m fascinated by your success. Your situation offers hope to others who question whether or not they have the ability to learn how to write their stories.

By publishing your memoir, you achieved a variety of goals. You left a legacy to help your child understand what happened. You showed people that courage can carry you through the most outrageous situations. You created a story to help you convert the whole chaotic situation into a good story.

But in my experience, when someone first starts to write, they don’t yet appreciate all the benefits they will achieve. When you started writing, what did you intend to achieve?

Julie Freed: Initially, I wrote to get the story, the dialogue, the memories out of my head. Replaying conversations – “I should have said…” “I can’t believe he …” It was a great purging at the initial writing. I had hoped it would be healing and indeed it was, allowing me to live more in the moment without distractions from my immediate past. My daughter needed my attention and I wanted to be able to give that to her fully.

When I completed a first draft I was actually surprised at the product – it was almost a little poetic. I found myself enjoying the writing process beyond the mental health exercise intended.

I had never before viewed my writing as “creative.” I always wrote in a technical, factual, organized, concise style for an academic audience only. I’ve always loved reading memoirs – true stories by people who are true. But I had not anticipated a product for public consumption. However, what appeared late nights at the keyboard with wine or tea in hand – needed to be shared with those who had encouraged me to “write a book!”

I’d written academic book chapters, journal articles, reviewed dissertations, edited journal publications, but few had any “creative” bits. The feedback on my manuscript from family and friends was completely shocking. Some were high school and college English professors, others just heavy readers. Bottom line, I respected their opinions and encouragement. I decided I should dedicate some time to the manuscript between life, job, single motherhood, and prepare the work for publication.

Jerry: In my article about Naked I already shared what the memoir did for me. But what did publishing it do for you? Did you get out of it what you wanted? Did you have any surprises about how it felt after you finished? Any expected or unexpected rewards or results?

Julie Freed: I certainly never dreamed of holding a memoir I’d written. An incredible thrill to see my love, my heart, my tears, my dreams all assembled with the hope that others might enjoy and learn from my journey. As a young memoirist – still close to my experiences – some of the most tender moments have come post publication. Readers from all over the world write and connect. My heart bursts. They know me. They find themselves in my story, my struggles. To touch people like this was completely unexpected and indescribable. This does not happen with academic journal articles! I’ve made the mistake of checking email in the produce section over the asparagus and found myself weepy – a note about the real tears a stranger had reading my book, another empowered to make changes in her marriage, one woman struggling with an alcoholic husband. It’s been the ultimate gift. I’ve been able to touch others I will never meet. We are never alone! And I want every woman and man to feel that way too.

Jerry: What’s Next

Julie: I didn’t have any plans to write more. But since the publication of Naked and the feedback from writers and readers I respect – I’ve sketched a few ideas, written a few scenes. It’s a hobby for me now but perhaps I should dedicate more time – that part that remains unclear.

Notes

Click here for Julie Freed’s website

Click here to read my article about Julie Freed’s memoir, Naked

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.

To order my self-help workbook for developing habits, overcoming self-doubts, and reaching readers, read my book How to Become a Heroic Writer.

A Memoir About Not Falling Apart

by Jerry Waxler

Author of Memoir Revolution: Write Your Story, Change the World and How to Become a Heroic Writer

Because fiction writers can invent any situation they want, our favorite novels involve larger-than-life, perfectly orchestrated events. Many aspiring memoir writers are afraid that by comparison, their lives aren’t structured well enough to make a good story. However, before you decide if your life is memoir-worthy, take into account the fact that memoir readers acquire a taste for real life. As a result, memoir readers expect authentic, psychologically-driven events that provide insights into the human condition.

Occasionally, though, real-life setbacks smash into authors’ lives with the degree of intensity usually found in fiction. Julie Freed’s memoir Naked: Stripped by a Man and by Hurricane Katrina recounts just such an extreme situation. A seemingly happily married young woman keeps in touch with her husband, whose military assignment has taken him away from home. Then, without warning, he sends her an email asking for a divorce. The life they built together, including their new home and infant daughter, are suddenly abandoned. His break off surges like a violent storm, threatening to tear her apart. At the same time, Hurricane Katrina is barreling down on her home in Mississippi.

Even though Julie Freed’s memoir takes us on a ride through two simultaneous life-shattering tragedies, for memoir readers, the events are just the backdrop. The real story is about her courage to cope with her circumstances. Naked is a memoir about NOT falling apart. From that point of view, this story offers hope on every page. By the end, the author reaches a place of safety from which she can look back across the rubble and bravely share her experience with us.

The memoir provides an extreme example of what courage-expert Susan Jeffers recommends in her self-help book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. According to Jeffers, the fear of failure causes many of us to shrink away from enriching activities. She suggests that to live life to its fullest, we need to trust that we can gracefully survive unwanted experiences. Whether we are facing an annoying traffic jam, or a life-threatening hospitalization of a loved one, we must find ways to move forward with as much poise as we can muster.

To increase our resiliency, we practice self-help strategies such as using encouraging self-talk. We center ourselves through relaxed breathing and other meditative strategies of “being here now.” We reach out for support from others. We pray. And we read inspiring memoirs like Julie Freed’s Naked.

The Memoir Revolution has made available a wide variety of such stories about real people who have suffered setbacks, and yet who can “handle it.” By reading about their experiences, we have the opportunity to vicariously practice courage. When we close the book, we feel we have survived, or in Susan Jeffers’ terminology, we have discovered we can handle it.

Inside Julie Freed’s story, we feel the collapse of all the good things in life. Despite that collapse, she carries on, clinging to hope, to the support of her parents and friends, and to the love she feels for her baby. After she survives her larger-than-life setback, she continues to grow. Eventually she feels strong enough to return to these violently disruptive memories and write the story.

By writing, she sorts out the horrible events, earning for herself the higher perspective gained from the author’s vantage point. And by giving the story to us, she helps us experience her strategies. We learn how she reached out for help, how she headed for shelter, how she wove her own brand of assertive pride and humiliated horror, and we join her as she passes through the trauma and onto the next stage in her life.

Writing Prompt
What is your story of NOT falling apart? Write a scene from one of the most disturbing periods in your life. After writing it, step away from it, and breathe. Now, think of a later scene. In this next scene, show how you hung on to peace and sanity, attempting to ride out the challenge.

Notes

Click here for Julie Freed’s website

Click here to read an interview with Julie Freed about writing her memoir.

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.

To order my self-help workbook for developing habits, overcoming self-doubts, and reaching readers, read my book How to Become a Heroic Writer.