Memoir Author Offers Writing and Story Insights

by Jerry Waxler

In previous posts, I reviewed the memoir “Japan Took the JAP Out of Me.” In this second part of a three part interview, I ask author Lisa Fineberg Cook to share observations about writing the memoir. Her answers included several surprises that proved how each of us has our own system, and even as we try to learn from each other, we also need to do what works best for us.

(To read the first of my three part review of her memoir, click here.)

Audience and Voice

Jerry Waxler: I’m guessing from your writing voice that you are accustomed to writing for a hip, young pop-culture magazine reading audience. That’s my assumption. What’s your reality?

Lisa Fineberg Cook: LOL! Oh, no. I don’t consider myself young or hip.  I think once you’re over forty it can be dangerous to call yourself young and hip – you’re more inclined to wear thong underwear and four inch platform heels – either of which would cause me great discomfort.  No, seriously, as I stated in an earlier answer, I wrote this particular book for an audience of ‘girlfriends.’  I think life can be so challenging, as well as mundane – laundry – though I do like doing it now – is one of the most redundant, mundane activities we perform in our lives – most days I’m thinking ‘I just washed this!’ or ‘wait a minute, the laundry basket was empty two seconds ago!’

My female friendships are such an integral part of my life and my sanity.  They are my ‘other husbands’ and they are the ones I call when the laundry basket gets too full and the fridge is empty and my hair is a mess and my kids are driving me crazy.  I can literally call them and just give a good primal scream and they say ‘I get it. Say no more.’ So I wrote this book for them – the ones I know personally and the ones who I imagine would be my friends if I knew them.  They would get the humor, the ridiculousness, the self-effacing attitude.  Some of those girlfriends might be in their twenties, others in their forties and some might even be in their fifties or sixties and I think if they don’t flinch at the ‘f’ words and they laugh out loud a few times then that’s as young and hip as I need to be.

Jerry Waxler: Considering my age and gender, I’m a bit bewildered at how much I enjoyed reading the memoir. The language was simple and engaging, and yet there was a lot of emotional depth. So were you on some level writing to me too? In other words, do you have a conscious creative goal to present deep emotional realism in a straightforward, breezy package? (The way Shakespeare could aim his jokes at different members of his audience.)

Lisa Fineberg Cook: One thing that did surprise me was the amount of seniors and men who enjoyed the book. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was that reached across gender lines or age gaps and I cringe a little when I think of some of the sweet women who live in my building and are in their eighties who said they loved the book; because there’s a fair amount of expletives and some racy scenes, but my guess is, anyone who does like it, must be responding to the humor and the honesty and has found something relatable in it.  I can’t think too much about the ‘why’ though or it will get in the way of the writing. You never want to catch yourself thinking ‘how can I please everyone with this book?’

Writing Insights

Jerry Waxler: Did you keep a journal or writer’s notebook during your trip to Japan? If so, what was your process?

Lisa Fineberg Cook: I never wrote a single word in Japan.  It never even occurred to me while I was there that this could be a book.  I actually didn’t start writing the book until four years later.  I am blessed (or cursed depending on how you look at it) with a memory that won’t let me forget anything.  I can remember passages in books that I read when I was ten, I can remember the most  random information like a street that I was on once twenty years ago.  I came up with the title for JAP while I was living in rural Maine (from 2001-2004) and I wrote entire passages in my head without ever putting it down on paper.  I started writing the book in 2005.

Jerry Waxler: Can you offer any writing tips that can help me and my readers understand and possibly emulate your good-natured, breezy style? Do you have some sort of image, or sentence structure technique or some other advice to offer an author in search of a stronger or signature voice?

Lisa Fineberg Cook: I am a very visceral writer.  I write quickly and instinctively and I do very little editing when I write something that I think is good.  If I like it, I leave it alone, if I’m trying too hard to fix it then I take it out completely.  One thing my mother had always said to me was to write the truth and I try to stick to that, even if I’m working on fiction. I write from a place of truth and if I’m trying too hard to make something work and if it’s not working, chances are it’s because it’s not an authentic idea and that I’m ‘borrowing’ from others.  The other thing that seems to help me in writing is based around my life and my work schedule –  I commit to fifteen minutes a day.  Sometimes all I do is reread what I wrote the day before, but usually I can get something done in fifteen minutes. Obviously the goal is to write for longer but if I try to schedule a two-hour writing block I tend to get anxious and stressed about finding the two hours, so the fifteen minute rule allows me to relax and usually I do end up writing for much longer.  The other fact is that I own and operate a seasonal business and I do very little writing during the summer months so when I come back to my work after a three month hiatus, I am able to be even more objective about my own material and I can ruthlessly eliminate anything that isn’t working.

Jerry Waxler:  Good writing is usually a result of impeccable, high energy editing. Considering how much I enjoyed reading your memoir, I imagine there was considerable attention paid to that aspect of the final product. Tell me about how you edited your book.

Lisa Fineberg Cook: My personal editing would take place after the summer hiatus.  It took three years to write the book because I only wrote from September to February or March.  Towards the end of the summer I would begin to think about the book and then I would sit down and simply reread all that I had written – sometimes I did this for days before I even wrote another word.  I can’t stress enough what a great tool this turned out to be as it gave me just enough time off to approach the text from a fresh perspective and allowed me to be even more objective about my work. Frankly, I think it’s a potential death knell to good writing to be too protective of your own work. I was able to be quite ruthless about my own material, thinking ‘that stinks and it’s gone!’

Jerry Waxler: Alright, then. (Laughing).  Instead of editing, you throw away and rewrite. I have to think about that. I sometimes suspect that this continuous flow method of rewriting makes a book easier to read. It certainly seems to have had that effect in your case. What sort of help did you have from critique groups, writing buddies, or paid coaches and classes?

Lisa Fineberg Cook: I only allowed two people to read my book as I was writing it – my girlfriend (the one who is the Stacey character in the book) and my husband who writes as well and has an excellent editing eye.  I would give ‘Stacey’ large sections of the book to read and then listen to how many times she laughed out loud.  If too many page turns went by without at least a chuckle I would make a mental note to look that section over again.  My husband was helpful if I was stuck on how to make a transition or bogged down in too many details.  In that he lived the story with me, he would often throw out ideas about other anecdotes that worked better.

Jerry Waxler: Fascinating. In fact, “common wisdom” suggests not even letting family members read the memoir while its being written. Another demonstration that there is no such thing as a rule, and that each memoir author is as unique in their writing style as they are in their life experience. I can only recall one other interview in which an author’s husband was her main editor, Doreen Orion, author of “Queen of the Road” and by coincidence, her book was about a one year voyage.

Click here to read part one of my interview with Lisa Fineberg Cook.

Lisa Fineberg Cook’s Home Page

Amazon Link to “Japan Took the JAP Out of Me”


Click here to read my interview with author Doreen Orion about writing her travel memoir, Queen of the Road.

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.

Clown story inspires six writing prompts

by Jerry Waxler

Reading gives me pleasure in a variety of ways, from humor, imagery, story impact, and the lessons I learn about life and about writing. Consider Sean Toner’s award-winning “Head Clown,” a story about a summer when he decided to earn extra money by selling balloons. This piece, fashioned from ordinary events, is clever, engaging, and warm. I looked more closely trying to decipher how he transformed a few memories into a tale that offered so much value. From my inquiry I found six writing prompts that could help any writer find a story-worthy anecdote in their own memory.

To read the whole story, click Webdelsol’s site.

To read my essay about what I learned from Sean Toner’s style click here.

1) Micro-recounting – slow time down and dig in

If you take a panoramic view of a savannah, you see wildebeests, giraffes, prairies, and trees. Then kneel down and look at the soil. It is teeming with tiny ants, spiders, and roots so small you only see them by staring carefully. Observations at both scales can help you understand your world.

This is one of Toner’s most interesting knacks. He focuses on human interaction at a microscopic level. By applying his stylistic writing, Toner expands, explores, and playfully develops the psychological sensation embedded in each moment.

Writing Prompt
Pick an experience you are willing to micro-observe. Play around with the variety of details in that instant. What look crossed a person’s face? What noise did you hear across the street? What observation could you make about the room, the sounds and smells, the people. Then insert some of these observations in your narrative.

2) Allow the location to generate drama

“Head Clown” is set in a resort town, a location I have always found intriguing. I try to imagine the locals who wake up to go to work, surrounded by people who are sleeping in and then heading to the beach. Toner paints other sites with an intriguing flair, cranking up my interest in the bookstore where he works and the house where the clowns meet to replenish their supply of balloons. Mystery writer P.D. James says in her memoir “Time to Be in Earnest” that a good location creates a wonderful image and mood for a story. Sean Toner’s passionate, detailed description of place provides just such a rich backdrop.

Writing prompt
Read one of your anecdotes, and look for an opportunity to insert a sentence or two that adds a haunting or interesting touch to the location.

3) Periods when you were in-between

Sean had recently graduated college. That period of life was finished but he didn’t know what to do next. He was between college and career, between decision and indecision. The story takes place during summer, a notoriously unstructured period for kids.  Each day heads in no particular direction, full of freedom and possibility, that is just as likely to lead to boredom as to excitement. The contrast between freedom and lack of direction pervades “Head Clown,” conveying a not-knowing that cries out for resolution.

Writing Prompt
What periods in your life were “in between?” Like Head Clown, consider your summers, as well as the period before you settled in to routine adulthood, or any other period when you felt an absence of direction. Search within those periods for the makings of a story.

4) Lonely and looking

Toner is lonely, and his ineffectual attempts at romance raise another opportunity for tension. He superbly portrays his unique struggle, an awkwardness that awakens my empathy and reminds me of my own shy, clumsy beginnings.

Writing Prompt

Write about a time or anecdote when you felt disconnected and lonely, unsure of romantic contact.

5) Masquerading as a search for identity

By dressing in a costume, Toner was literally clowning around with his identity. The big shoes, big nose, and wig create a comical image of his search for himself. Masquerading seems like a specialized feature of this story. But it pervades our world so thoroughly we forget what we’re seeing. In movies and on television shows, actors talk to us through their make up and costumes. Look at Shakespeare’s plays. The characters bend and twist their identity, caught in the tension between internal and external truth.

All of us have dressed for a role, whether we suited up for a first date, a job interview, or to impress the future in-laws. At times we may have changed hair styles, glasses or contact lenses, or surgically adjusted our face. Most of us donned costumes to beg for candy at Halloween or to attend a party. Dressing up is powerful because external experiments let us explore the way people see us and the way we see ourselves.

Writing Prompt
How have variations in your appearance affected you? (Clothing, hair, glasses, shape.) What changed in the way you felt about yourself? What did you imagine about the way other people saw you? Do blonds have more fun? Do clothes make the man? What worked? What didn’t? Generate a few anecdotes from your memory about times when you made such changes, and how it changed your inner or outer world.

6) Authentic sharing generates reader empathy

Sean Toner’s klutziness, uncertainty, and vulnerability all add to the intimacy of his character. His flaws make me feel connected with him. When I try to understand why flaws should be attractive, I realize the flaws themselves are not the reason for my empathy. What draws me closer to him is his heroic struggle to describe himself and his world.

Even if everything is going wrong in his life, his effort has created an exquisite relationship between teller and listener. Sharing the story sets both of us on high ground, as we look across the events and see how it all played out. Sean Toner has provided a sort of safe place from which to view the messiness of life.

So even though you’re telling about a time when you looked bad, the act of telling about it makes you look good, counterbalancing or neutralizing the pettiness, embarrassment or “wrongness” of the original event.

Writing Prompt
Choose a weakness you want to report about yourself. Experiment with revealing stories about this aspect of yourself. Imagine what your readers might think of your anecdote, or better still, ask critiquers to tell you. Do they think less or more of you?

Click to visit Sean Toner’s Home Page

Stylistic innovation in Sean Toner’s clown story

by Jerry Waxler

While most of the memoirs I review are book length, I recently read an award winning short story “The Head Clown” by Sean Toner, published in a wonderful online literary collaboration called “”

“Head Clown” is about Toner’s summer by the ocean, where he worked in a bookstore, and to earn a few extra dollars he took a job dressing up as a clown and selling balloons on the boardwalk. From this mundane situation, the author has crafted a brash, luxurious tale that worked the magic all good stories are supposed to do. It opened a window into the author’s world, his people, his attitudes, his sweaty palms. By focusing tightly on each moment he brought me into his world, endowing scenes with color and character, creating depth of emotion and variety of insight. Toner’s exquisite attention on small details provided me with so much pleasure I was sorry to see it end.

One of the writer’s noblest jobs is to offer his or her self-awareness to the reader. In fact, when I was younger I received much of my appreciation for the nuances of life through the eyes of authors like Samuel Beckett and Charles Dickens. Their wordplay revealed the creative power within each moment, providing some of my most intellectually stimulating sensations.

Nuance versus clarity
Despite my passion for rich writing, I had no idea how to emulate it myself. Writing in a journal for years, words flowed freely, but without an audience, my style never grew. Then to earn a living, I wrote technical manuals. When I finally turned my attention to a broader audience, I focused entirely on clarity. I achieved simplicity, but my “just-the-facts” style lacked the verbal pleasure my favorite authors had given me.

Sean Toner’s story awakened memories of sitting with a book and enjoying the words rolling around in my mind, making strange connections, sending shivers of activity through my brain, setting off other recollections too distant to even identify, like the rumbling of thunder that seemed to rattle the substrate of reality itself.

“Head Clown” comes to me at a perfect moment in my journey as a writer. I recently listened to an audio course from the Teaching Company called “Building Great Sentences, Exploring the Writer’s Craft” by Professor Brooks Landon of the University of Iowa. In it he regrets the loss of style in modern prose. His observations started me pondering.

As a hippie in the 1960’s, I lived in Spartan rooms, sleeping on the floor. Piles of books fed my mind, but no decorations or knick-knacks personalized my space. Professor Landon and Sean Toner, like participants in a literary intervention, helped me see I had done the same disservice to my writing style as I had done to my life style. With their help, I gained the courage to fling off my literary hair shirt and open up to the joys of excellent sentences. Here are a few tips I took away from Sean Toner’s “Head Clown” and Professor Landon’s Teaching Company lectures.

Short is not the goal
One of the measures of effective writing, according to many modern systems, is to reduce the length of sentences. Software programs even use sentence length as a measure of “good” writing. Landon warned against judging a sentence by its length. Some long sentences are horrible, and others are beautiful, clear, and uplifting. He showed the difference, and offered suggestions for long sentences that inform and entertain.

One plus one equals three?
When I edit, I often try to simplify my descriptions, following Sol Stein’s famous advice, “one plus one equals a half.” In his book “On Writing,” Stein said it’s punchier to use one adjective than two. While his idea enhances simplicity, it risks stripping away nuance.

Brooks Landon offers an alternative. He observes that if the first word that comes to mind is insufficient, you naturally want to say it again a slightly different way to express the truth. By adding a couple of different approaches to an idea, you can offer the reader several slants that elaborate on your view.

While Sol Stein’s advice often leads to tighter writing, I appreciate Brooks Landon’s permission to say something in more than one way. His perspective expands my options to give more to my readers.

When writing a scene, we are taught to look to the senses, what we see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. But this formula misses the additional vein of material running behind our eyes and between our ears. Our thoughts provide the reader an additional way to relate to our viewpoint. For Landon, this is the hallmark of good writing: “Bring your unique self to your reader.”

Sean Toner offers an excellent example. He looks out the window at a woman crossing the back yard. She stops and talks to some children. He can’t see what they are looking at, so he offers several possibilities. His speculation intensifies my curiosity, drawing me into the external scene and also providing a glimpse into Toner’s mind.

Landon loves metaphors, but he has a hard time convincing his writing students to use them. I know why his students are reluctant to follow his advice. Metaphors are as risky as crossing a pit of alligators by crawling along a slimy log. A bad metaphor sounds weird, and so the writer must work harder and take more chances. It’s easier just to walk around. Sean Tone is not shy about metaphors. For example he compares a tall fair-skinned man to a golden sycamore, allowing me to see the sun shining through the canopy of a forest. The image deepens my connection with both Sean’s imagination and this aspiring clown’s appearance.

When Toner looks out the window and tries to understand what the woman and children might be pointing to, he speculates that they may be looking at a dirty magazine or a man buried up to his shoulders in dirt. The resulting laugh creates an extraordinarily sophisticated psychological sensation. By pulling me so far into his own mental process, Toner has created a moment of intimacy, like brushing up against a stranger at a party, a thrill of forbidden contact. The laugh provides an abrupt and pleasurable discharge of that tension.

This interplay between intimacy and distance is one of the purposes of memoir. We tell about our life experience, which brings us all closer. At the same time, we turn the events into a story, which allows us to take a step back. Whether your memoir is as short as a man buried up to his shoulders, or as tall as a golden sycamore, you too can use word play, speculation, metaphor, and humor to contribute to the multi-dimensional power of your story.

Writing Prompt
Follow each of these strategies from “Head Clown” to add style to your anecdote.

For more about Sean Toner, see his home page.
For more about the Teaching Company lecture series, by Brooks Landon, University of Iowa, click here.

Lessons memoir writers can learn from Zombies

By Jerry Waxler

(You can listen to the podcast version by clicking the player control at the bottom of this post or download it from iTunes.)

Brad Pitt recently bought the movie rights to “World War Z,” a thriller by Max Brooks. Once Pitts star-powered name became attached to the project, everyone wanted to write books or shoot movies about creatures who looked human but have no soul. Thriller writer Jonathan Maberry jumped in with “Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead.” To research the book, he interviewed over 250 experts, including the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control, and his local police rapid response team. He even interviewed me, asking for a therapist’s point of view about the fear and mass trauma that might result from a Zombie outbreak.

Even though I have no interest in writing about Zombies, I regularly take writing classes from Maberry, finding his instruction helpful in unpredictable ways. In this lesson he was making the point that fiction writers can use research to create a more compelling world. I pondered how to apply the principle to memoirs. As I look through my bookshelf, I discover many examples in which factual reporting adds clarity and depth to a memoir writer’s story.

David Sheff’s “Beautiful Boy” reports the background of his son’s addiction to Crystal Meth. Doreen Orion’s first memoir, “I know you really love me,” recounts her experience of being stalked by a patient. During this extended intrusion, she became an expert in the psychological as well as the legal problems of stalking.

When Linda Joy Myers wrote her memoir “Don’t Call Me Mother” she visited the wheat fields and train stations that played such an important role in her childhood in the Great Plains. She rode the trains to awaken vivid memories. And she studied the history of Iowa and Oklahoma, and visited cemeteries and courthouses to track down records of her genealogy.

Kate Braestrup’s memoir “Here If You Need Me” describes exquisite details of the natural habitat of Maine. Foster Winans went to the library to find out the weather in New York on key days in his memoir, “Trading Secrets.” (His advice: “weather ought to be considered another character.”)

Memoir writers even toss in facts for entertainment. For example, in Doreen Orion’s second memoir, “Queen of the Road,” she was at a club listening to a local country music band, when a little girl got up on stage and did a clog dance. Just for fun, Orion inserted a brief explanation of the history of clog dancing.

When I dig back into my own past, many facts seem hazy. Research helps fill them in. For example, to help me remember the riot in 1967 that changed my life, I found two documentary movies, “The War at Home” and “Two Days in October” both covering the Dow Chemical protest riot in Madison Wisconsin. In one of them, an interview with a young man reminded me how much we truly believed that protests could eradicate injustice and create world peace. We even threw poverty into the mix of problems we were going to solve. To help organize my memories about high school, I signed up for and have corresponded with a couple of guys I have not seen in decades.

My goal is remarkably similar to Jonathan Maberry’s. We both want to tell a good story. So I keep listening and keep learning lessons about the relationship between life and story. For example, in a previous discussion he told me that flaws in real people prepare him to write deeper characterization in his novels, a discussion I reported in another essay.

I wonder what else I can learn from Jonathan’s lesson about Zombie folklore. Their current popularity is simply the latest chapter in a centuries-old fascination. In the middle ages, there was the Golem, a Jewish myth about a person who had no soul. In the nineteenth century Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein was created from inanimate body parts. And  in the Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man and Scarecrow wanted to inject human qualities into their inanimate bodies. Looking at my own life through the metaphor, I see the lesson I was looking for.

When I was a young man, I was fascinated by math and science, and bent my entire will into interpreting the universe as a sort of machine. I became obsessed with finding all the physical rules, and the longer I followed this path, the more depressed I became. By the time I was 23, I had lost my will to live.

Finally, from sheer desperation I dipped into the spiritual ideas that were permeating the culture in 1970. Those ideas restored my hope. Ever since, I have invested at least part of my attention to finding the spirit in every day life. Until recently, I thought this interior journey was a private one that couldn’t possibly concern readers. But now that Jonathan has pointed out the vast numbers of people who want to know more about Zombies, I wonder if their curiosity would extend to the true story of a guy who spent his life trying not to be one. It looks like the Zombie wave could add more spirit to my life story than I first realized.

Writing Prompt
List some research that can contribute to your story. For example, list specific examples of people you could interview, points in history you could learn more about, or health and medical details that would help explain what you were going through.

Writing Prompt
What puts the soul or deeper humanity in your story? List specific instances of some of the more sublime aspects of your life, such as spirituality, service to others, creativity, and desire to see others succeed?

Note – Turning Nonfiction into Fiction
Maberry’s research was creating a modern folklore to help him understand what makes Zombies tick and what the rest of the world thinks about it. He’s already used this technique. Author of one of the most successful and authoritative books about Vampire Folklore, Maberry wrote a thriller trilogy, starting with Ghost Road Blues, based on that creature. Now he’s doing it again.

Maberry’s extensive research into Zombie lore is turning into a novel. “While researching plagues and epidemics ZOMBIE CSU, I began speculating on how this info could form the backbone of a novel.  The concept blossomed from there: a plague that reduces people to a state that simulates death while creating uncontrollably violent behavior.  That idea became PATIENT ZERO, which will be my first mainstream thriller, set for release in March by St. Martins Press.”

Many fiction writers start with facts. For example, Jason Goodwin studied the Ottoman Empire as an historian. Later he turned his knowledge into a setting for fiction, having recently published the murder mystery, “The Snake Stone,” set in the city Istanbul that he had come to know so well.

To listen to the podcast version click the player control below: [display_podcast]

Interview with 60’s Celeb Dee Dee Phelps, Part 2

by Jerry Waxler

This is part two of an interview with Dee Dee Phelps, singer in the sixties duo, Dick and Dee Dee and author of the memoir Vinyl Highway, Singing with Dick and Dee Dee. To see my earlier post, click here. I also posted a two part book review that starts here. For more information about Dee Dee’s history, book, and appearances, visit her website.

Jerry: You had a variety of picturesque experiences on stage and with other 60’s celebrities. How did you decide what to keep in the book and what to leave out?

Dee Dee: From the memoir classes and my own reading of literally hundreds of memoirs, I discovered that, for me, the most interesting ones were written like fiction, in other words, narrative non-fiction. I learned the principals of how to do this in the memoir classes. So I had to pull memories that would move the story along. I had no idea what length was required and before the book was complete, I’d written 130,000 words. I was told by an editor that I had to cut the word count down to 100,000, or the book would be too thick and the paper to print it so expensive, the book would be priced at $45.00 for a paperback!

In shock, I appeared incapable to choose what 30,000 words to cut. Fortunately, a script editor for Warner Brothers took the project on and eliminated a number of entire chapters, as well as references to anything that went on in those chapters. It worked. I refined it and found we were just under 100,000 words. When I started a recent blog, I was able to stick in a few of the eliminated stories, like the brief story of Roy Orbison.

Jerry: Was it obvious to you when you first thought about writing the book where you would start the story and where you would stop it, or did you have to go through soul searching to find the book’s structure?

Dee Dee: It was obvious to me to start the story at the beginning of the Sixties when Dick and I recorded our first record and to continue until the act broke up, at the decades end. What was interesting to me was to discover that what I thought was a linear process (start at the beginning and write on through to the end) turned out to be a collage. I often thought of incidents and scenes I wanted to include and just inserted them into the middle of things. The story had a rough structure, but I kept adding to it at random.

Jerry: When delving back into your memories, what sort of emotional stuff did you churn up?

Dee Dee: Since singing with Dick occurred when I was a teenager and continued into my early twenties, and I’m now middle aged, I can look at that time with a certain emotional detachment. Although some of it was difficult, none of it was traumatic. Now I look back and see how funny much of it was. I tried to write the book to relay the humor of it all, to make people happy and to bring some fond memories back. We have enough bad news in the press and world at large. In the Sixties we knew how to have a good time (as the Beach Boys said, “Fun, Fun, Fun.”). I tried to remember what those times were really like and to offer a portrait for the reader.

Jerry: Were there things too hot to handle that you felt in the end weren’t appropriate for the book?

Dee Dee: I remembered that “perception equals reality.” In other words, what is true for one person may not be true for the person standing next to them. We had a great discussion in one of the memoir classes about how much trouble we could get into (lawsuits, or anger) by using the real names of people. Basically, we were encouraged to tell what happened from our hearts, and not worry about the response from some people who might not like the way they are portrayed. I worried about this, as I was not always portraying my singing partner, Dick, in a positive light. But I was truthful with what really happened. Knowing Dick’s nature, I feared what the consequences might be for me in writing this book. But strangely enough, Dick passed away in the middle of the process, so he never had a chance to read it.

I have a sense of honor about the reputations of others and left out a number of negative incidents about certain entertainers that they wouldn’t want revealed. Since I had no agenda, I just wanted to tell the amazing story of what it was like to travel the country on rock and roll tours in the Sixties, a time of racial segregation, before computers and cell phones. Nowhere does it say that you have to drag every negative thing you witnessed about another person onto the written page. I feel a book is a reflection of the writer’s consciousness and each person will chose what to include and what to leave out according to their own dictates and conscience.

Jerry: One of my favorite things about memoirs is that writers often report that writing about the past helps them understand it better than when they lived through it. What was your experience? Were there insights that helped you understand more about who you are as a person?

Dee Dee: Through writing out all the various incidents and noting which ones I chose to write about and which to leave out, I saw a pattern emerging. My “ah-ha” moment came when I realized how powerless I felt at the time, how I allowed Dick St. John to convince me that he had all the talent and I was lucky to be along for the ride. I realized, with great joy, that all the happy and sad experiences in life are just a learning curve. Now I’m a powerful woman who speaks up when I feel that something isn’t right. But I had to learn that over time.

Jerry: When the book went public, were there any surprises about people’s reactions, or surprising feelings about raising those old images?

Dee Dee: When the book went public, I got several phone calls from singers I’d performed with as Dick and Dee Dee. They were glad I set the record straight. Releasing the book has brought wonderful experiences into my life. I’ve learned and grown as both a writer and book promoter (you have to be both) and have traveled to promote the book to Washington, DC and New York City. I’m now doing book readings and getting out to meet the public. It brings me the greatest joy to try to help others who are struggling with writing their own books.

So many new people have helped me, both in providing vintage videos and photos of the act, to helping promote the book. I am so grateful and aware of how much the internet has played a part in this wonderful experience, creating a huge network of new friends and renewing old acquaintances. We are, indeed, a world community.

Jerry: What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write about their life story?

Dee Dee: If anyone wants to write their life story I’d only say, “Go for It.” It’s such a tremendous experience to be “in the flow,” creating something from nothing. I remember advice from Aram Saroyan, one of my memoir teachers. He said, “Mind is shapely.” In other words, if you just show up (90% of writing is showing up and 10% is hard work and talent) your mind will create story from all the various images it holds. Trust the process.

The other thing he used to say was, “First thought, best thought.” We tend to edit what we write immediately after writing it, which is the left brain critic trying to decide if we can do better, or write the story in another way. Forget analyzing. Write, just write. The time for true editing will come later.

Plan the same time every day and make a firm commitment to write for whatever time you decide, anywhere from half an hour to four hours. Then keep that commitment. You will find that during the rest of the day, when many duties take your attention, the subconscious mind is working on the writing process and the next day you know exactly what to write next. If you stay in the flow with consistent effort, it’s very difficult to get “writers block.”

Jerry: What’s next?

Dee Dee: I have a second memoir in mind, the story of the Seventies which I spent going back to the land in Big Sur. Some amazing experiences took place there. I’d also like to write a book about the process of writing a memoir and also about prosperity groups. Please visit my blog: to continue a relationship with me. Also, the website ( is great fun. We keep posting new videos as they come up and tell what is going on with book promotion.

I think memoirs are becoming more and more popular because they are about real people and real events, just as reality TV is taking over from scripted shows. Thank you for your wonderful website and the chance to chat with other potential memoir writers.