by Jerry Waxler
In the previous sections of my interview with Tracy Seeley about her memoir “My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas” I asked her about conforming to the structure and style of memoirs. In this last part of the interview, I ask a few closing questions.
Click here for Part 1 of my essay on “Ruby Slippers”.
Anecdote that works like a Grace Note
Jerry Waxler: While living in a small community in Kansas, you became infatuated with a run-down home, a fixer-upper a thousand miles away from where you live. If you bought it, affordably, for not much more than you would pay for a doghouse in San Francisco, you could have a second home and return to stay in it anytime. It felt so real at the time, until reality set in. Naturally you used the scene to explore some lovely observations about visiting Kansas, and the choices between San Francisco and this pastoral setting. That scene stuck with me, and I kept thinking about it. It seemed an intimate part of the story and yet somehow incidental, like a grace note.
This anecdote resonates with me because my wife and I often have similar fantasies on vacations, wondering if we could buy a home wherever we happen to be. We laugh at ourselves and let the impulse go. So it is with interest and curiosity that I see you doing the same thing. There must be some psychological intuition to settle in the new place. Surely that instinct has been driving wanderers from place to place throughout history. “Let’s settle here.” Condominium sales people make a living out of this instinct. And perhaps that is what your father felt when he went on to the next home.
Do you have any thoughts or comments about the value of “grace notes,” that is, seemingly loosely related anecdotes in memoirs? Do you have a favorite one in your book or in your reading that appears to be out of place, and yet resonates perfectly?
Tracy Seeley: I think that’s part of the magic of a book. What strikes a writer as a grace note, or momentary aside, will resonate powerfully with a reader, while something the writer thinks is monumental will just slide by someone else. I love anecdotes that momentarily seem out of the main line of the story because they remind us that the world is a richly interconnected place, thick with story and meaning even over there in the margins.
I don’t know if I have a favorite anecdote, though I’m awfully fond of the encounter I had with the man who lived in Matfield Green, the one who brought his aerial photo over for me to see. I really treasured that moment at the time, and it helped me understand what having such a deep love for a little place could look like.
Self confidence as a writing professor
Jerry Waxler: One of the standard fears that most memoir writers face is “My writing isn’t good enough.” I wonder if that fear ever occurred to you, especially considering you are a university professor. Do you worry that as a professor, you are exposing yourself to being less than perfect? What sort of discussion did you have with yourself about the vulnerability of exposing your writing?
Tracy Seeley: I’ve never met a writer who thought his or her writing was good enough! So yes, the thought crossed my mind once or twice. But I also recognize it as just that: only a fear. It’s only a story I tell myself. When I hear it, I shoo it away. If I change the wording a little, I can easily say, “my writing is good enough.” It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough.
And I think that being willing to expose my writing to public scrutiny is a good model for students. I sometimes even take passages of my own writing into class to explain why something doesn’t work, or how I revised something from bad to better to best. It’s important for student writers, or any aspiring writer, to see that every work is flawed, and every finished book began as a big jumbly mess. It’s part of the process.
Does that mean it’s easy to make that leap from private writer to published author? No—but it’s part of the deal, so I took a deep breath and jumped.
What else of yours can I read?
Jerry Waxler: Now that I’m a Tracy Seeley fan, what’s next or what else of yours can I read?
Tracy Seeley: After this summer book tour ends, I’ll be eager to get on to the next book. I’m just starting to think about it, so don’t want to say too much, though I know it won’t be a memoir, and I can promise it will also be essay-like in interweaving different kinds of stories and moving across time. How’s that for cryptic?
Meanwhile, I have two essays you might enjoy: “Cartographies of Change” in Prairie Schooner (Summer 2010); and “Monument Rocks” in The Florida Review (Winter 2008). Both grew out of material I cut out of My Ruby Slippers.
You can also subscribe to my blogs! (addresses below) The Tracy Seeley one is on hiatus at the moment, but there’s a lot of good, fun material there about slow reading and slow living. The My Ruby Slippers blog is about the summer tour and will also delve further into the book once I’m not on the road and have more time for it.
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.
To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.