To commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I’m doing a series of interviews with memoirists I admire. I’ve read lots of great things about the world’s strongest librarian, so I thought I’d track him down and see what he has to say about writing, memoirs, and being strong at the library.
To see piece on Huffington Post click here.
David Henry Sterry: Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?
Josh Hanagarne: I didn’t do it in god’s name, but here’s an answer: I’ve always liked to write, but I wasn’t trying to become a writer. I had started a blog called World’s Strongest Librarian, just for fun. I was writing about Tourette Syndrome, strength training, books, and a few other things, and there were a few readers (friends and family). Two months in, the author Seth Godin wrote me an email and said “You should be writing a book! I’m sending your blog to my agent!” Forty eight hours later, I had a literary agent for no reason, and when she said “So what’s the book?” I said, “What book?” And that’s how it started.
DHS: What were the worst things about writing your memoir?
JH: Spending a lot of time thinking about parts of myself that I don’t like. You really get to know yourself when you write a memoir. When you start turning over those rocks, you don’t get to choose what you find underneath them.
DHS: What were the best things about writing your memoir?
JH: Making myself laugh every time I sat down to write. Paying tribute to things I love. Honoring the people who have helped me have the life I have.
DHS: Did writing your memoir help you make some order out of the chaos we call life?
JH: Nope. If anything, it made me throw up my hands and say “It all really is chaos.”
DHS: How did you make a narrative out of the seemingly random events that happened to you?
JH: A memoir is not a life, it’s an aspect of a life. The stories are the illustrations of themes. Once you decide which themes you’re trying to illustrate, choosing stories becomes much easier.
DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?
JH: Long! It took three proposals. The first two went nowhere and took almost four years. The third proposal was the one that sold and it got picked up immediately. By that time I had figured out what the book would be and it was an easy sell.
DHS: How did you go about promoting and marketing your memoir?
JH: My primary driver is speaking. I still work at the library, but I’m giving over twenty talks in October alone. I blog. I’m on Twitter.
DHS: Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?
JH: No. Speaking is what I enjoy most, and it’s by far what I’m the best at.
DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to your memoir?
JH: With incredible support. Although my mom says that I made her out to be way nicer than she actually is. She’s wrong.
DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?
JH: Yep. Two things.
- Write. No matter what you’re doing, if words aren’t appearing on the page, you’re not writing yet. Don’t worry about people’s reactions during the first draft. Just get it down.
- Read The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith. It was the last book about writing memoir that I’ll ever read. And it’s short, if that tells you anything about Marion’s approach.
Josh Hanagarne believes in curiosity, questions, and strength, and that things are never so bad that they can’t improve. At first glance, Josh seems an improbable librarian. He stands 6’7″, competes in strongman contests, and was diagnosed in high school with Tourette Syndrome. But books were his first love: Josh’s earliest memories involve fantastic adventures between the pages of Gulliver’s Travels and a passionate infatuation with Fern from Charlotte’s Web. Everything in Josh’s life–from his Mormon upbringing to finally finding love to learning to control his tics through lifting–circles back to a close connection to books. His upcoming book, The World’s Strongest Librarian, illuminates the mysteries of Tourette Syndrome as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. Currently, Josh is a librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library and lives with his wife, Janette, and their son, Max, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor. His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages. He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp. He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com. https://davidhenrysterry.com/