David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: the memoir project

Art of the Memoir: Marion Roach Smith on NPR, Hating Redheads, & Something Larger than Herself

MRS, croppedTo commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I have decided to do a series of interviews with memoirists I admire. Marion Roach Smith not only talks the talk, she walks the walks.  She is a memoirist, journalist, and has now written a book which every memoirist should own and scour. Here’s what she had to say about the Art of the Memoir

David Henry Sterry: Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?

Marion Roach Smith: Ha ha ha. I’ve written and published several, as well as countless radio essays, op-eds and the like from my point of view. My recent book, The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life, contains lots of personal essays.  I write memoir to understand things. My first book was an expansion of a New York Times Magazine piece I wrote about my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. She was 49 when she got sick, and there had never been a piece in the popular press about the disease. Hard to imagine now, I know. Mine was the first, and went on to become one of the most reprinted pieces in the magazine’ history. The first book followed. My reason for writing the piece was to do some advocacy journalism. Same for the book. Change the world. Get funding. Make people care. It worked.

DHS: What were the worst things about writing your memoir?

MRS: There are no worst things. There are consequences, good and bad. On the good side, I’m quite sure that much like in life, success in writing is all about which aspects of your experience you choose to emphasize. In those terms, the worst thing, as you say, can be learning something you were unprepared to learn.

DHS:  What were the best things about writing your memoir?

MRS: The best thing is learning things you were unprepared to learn. Hey, it beats the hell out of watching reruns on TV or surfing the web. Some of my middle-aged friends tell me they would like to feel something again. Write about your life. I promise, you’ll feel something.

DHS:  Did writing your memoir help you make some order out of the chaos we call life?

MRS:  Order. Absolutely.

DHS: How did you make a narrative out of the seemingly random events that happened to you?

MRS: Random? Really? Says who?

DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?

MRS: I have found that all my different pieces of memoir have done fine. The first sold off of a magazine piece, as I said. The second book-length memoir I wrote was tucked inside a book called The Roots of Desire, which is on the history of red hair. I’m a redhead. No one had ever written that rich history, so it was a first, and easy to pitch, tracing the mutation of a gene back to its eruption in the genome and looking at all the art and story, drama, iconography worship and hatred of redheads. It was a first. The individual radio essays I pitch to NPR, one at a time.

It goes fine.

DHS: How did you go about promoting and marketing your memoir?

MRS: I learned a great lesson years ago, which is to not go for reviews, but to go for features. So for book-length pieces, I contact newspaper feature editors, beauty and science editors (for the book on red hair, for instance), seeking feature pieces on the topic. It works well. I blog, I promote other writers, and they promote me; I use social media wisely.

DHS: Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?

MRS:  Not a bit. Successful memoir is not about me. It’s about something larger, and I am the illustration. That is, if you want anyone to read it. The intimacy with the audience becomes about the larger, universal topic. It’s a great experience.

DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to your memoir?

MRS: Family is a pizza, and everyone gets a slice. That being the case, no two family members see or remember a single event the same way, so you are going to get blowback. “That never happened, “ is what you’ll hear. And she’s right, the sister who says that to you. “That’s not the way it happened,” I say to that. “To you. That’s the way it happened to me.”

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?

MRS: Memoir is about territory, and you have to stake yours out, walk its perimeter. When you do, you’ll find that each good story is bordered by your areas of expertise. I’m a woman, a sister, a wife, a mother, a member of my college board of trustees; I live with a fine dog, I sail, garden, play lots of sports. These are individual areas of expertise. Write from one of those at a time and you’ll never be tempted to write one of those turgid tomes that begins with the birth of your great-great grandfather, and ends with what you had for lunch yesterday.

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Marion Roach Smith believes that everyone has a story to tell. The author of four books, all of which contain a large degree of memoir, her most recent book is The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing–And Life, (Grand Central, 2011) an irreverent, quirky, provocative product of the countless memoir classes she has taught for more than a decade. Under the name Marion Roach, she is the author of The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Sexual Power of Red Hair, (Bloomsbury, 2005), a wild blend of memoir and history; the co-author with famed forensic pathologist Michael Baden, M.D., of Dead Reckoning (Simon & Schuster, 2001), a hands-on, behind-the-scenes journey into the world of forensic science; and of Another Name for Madness, (Houghton Mifflin, 1985), the first, first-person account of a family’s dramatic struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. That book was an expansion of a record-breaking reprint of a piece she published in 1983 in The New York Times Magazine. A former staff member of The New York Times, she has written for The New York Times Magazine, Prevention, The Daily News, Vogue, Newsday, Good Housekeeping, Martha Stewart Living, Discover and The Los Angeles Times. A commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, from 2005-2011 she was the author and voice of The Naturalist’s Datebook, heard daily on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius/XM 110.

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/

 

 

Art of the Memoir: Tamim Ansary on Going Viral and the Importance of Not Knowing Where You’re Going

To commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I have decided to do start The Memoir Project.  I’ll be doing a series of interviews with memoirists I admire.  I have known Tamim Ansary for what seems like a lifetime, but isn’t.  He runs the San Francisco Writers Workshop, and in that capacity he demonstrates every Tuesday night how much he knows about writing and books and people.  He’s been a professional writer for a very long time.  I’ve said publicly that he is the wisest men I know, and I stand by that statement.

David Henry Sterry: Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?

ansaryTamim Ansary: Well, that’s a complicated question since I’ve written three. The first one, West of Kabul, East of New York,   I wrote in response to a historical moment. The events of 9/11 had highlighted to rift between the Islamic world and the West, which took most Americans by surprise. I knew all about this issue because I was born in Afghanistan of an Afghan father and an American mother, I had grown up in but grown old in America, and so my whole life had straddled this crack in the culture of the planet. I felt like I was the guy perched on the fence who could see the people on both sides even though they couldn’t see each other. I thought writing about my bicultural life might do some good in the world. The second memoir I wrote was actually someone else’s. I wrote it for an Afghan girl named Farah Ahmadi who  had stepped on a land mine when she was in second grade, had lived the horrors of the long war in Afghanistan, and had confronted them with flabbergasting dignity and courage. The exact circumstances of my writing that memoir are peculiar, but I thought her life was an embodiment of both tragedy and resilience that people should know about.  So these memoirs were attempts to engage with the world of politics and history. But my latest memoir is a very different sort of project. This is a more philosophical examination of “life story,” a phrase we often use without pausing to consider the implications; because the quesiton is, does a life have a story, a narrative arc, in the same way as a novel? A beginning, middle and end that adds up to meaning of some sort?  Several years ago, I was telling someone about a trip I had taken, I happened to tell it all one sitting, and when I was done, it struck me that any journey to any place far away and difficult to reach has a narrative arc if consider it as a whole.  I wondered if I could capture the “story-like arc” of one-whole-life by recounting a selection of iconic journeys. The result is Road Trips. The journeys I chose for this book took place when I was 10,  19,  24,  31,  50, and 52: so the movement is through time as much as space.   This memoir is not hooked to news events or public issues, it tells a private story, and it’s a story I believe all of us have some version of: that odyssey from young to old and the things that happen along the way: falling in love, falling out of love,  breaking up, breaking down, drifting, drowning, searching for solid ground… and finding it…maybe… The details are different for each person but underneath the welter of particulars is, I think, some single story that can be made visible only through the details of a specific life. Mine is the only life I know well enough to use as such a lens, and so I wrote this book. But I’m hoping this book will get readers ruminating on the story-like elements of their own lives even if, as is likely, their lives and mine don’t share a single particular detail. Because my premise here is that the narrative is there in every life; it’s there, you just have to look for it.

DHS: What were the worst things about writing your memoir?

TA: The worst thing, I guess, is getting flak from people whom I mentioned in the memoirs, people whose feelings I hurt, people who didn’t seem themselves the way I portrayed them, people who were disturbed, in some cases, to experience themselves as a side chaaracters in someone else’s life, not as the protagonist which is everybody’s internal identitication of him- or herself.  And there’s another disturbing thing, which is bound to happen when you write a memoir, especially if you’re doing it right, and especially if the focus is on your own life, not on some public event you observed. This is the discovery of narratives you’ve been carrying in your head all your life which are distorted, even false.

DHS: What were the best things about writing your memoir?

TA: I’ll start where my answer to your last question ended.  Gaining discomifting new perspectives on the things you’ve seen, done, and felt is also the good thing about writing a memoir. One can never have too many epiphanies.  And in the case of Road Trips, writing it brought epiphanies not just about my own little life but about the life we’re living on this planet, the implications of permanence and change, culture and identity, memory and time, fiction and reality–I mean writing a memoir, if you share my premise about life as story, does immerse you in the most fundamental issue of them all: everything feels so real when it’s happening, but when you look back, all you see is story. So was any of it real in the first place? And if,like me, you decide it was and you feel a connection to what is real, there is no better feeling.

 

DHS: Did writing your memoir help you make some order out of the chaos we call life?

TA: Asked and answered, your honor? Well, the true answer is yes and no. A memoir helps you make sense of things. Then life keeps happening and it all grows muddy again.  You look back and the meaning of it all changed, even stuff you wrote about earlier and thought you nailed completely. The train never stops moving and the same landscape keeps looking different as you move.

DHS: How did you make a narrative out of the seemingly random events that happened to you?

TA: Well, random is a part of life, but so is intention.  We’re never just knocking about like particles in Brownian motion. We’re always trying to push our story forward, through the random flotsam and jetsom of the world.   Some of that flotsam are obstacles and so they inherently become part of our story; some turn out to be tools but only if we figure out that we can use them, and so those are part of the story too. Some don’t fit into the story either way, so we ignore them, forget them. My premise is that when you write a memoir, you don’t “make a narrative,” you find the narrative. Intentions and obstacles are the indispensable elements of story and those exist in real life at every moment for every person.

DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?

TA: Selling the first one was easie macheesie because I had just written an email in reaction to the events of 9/11 to twenty or thirty of my friends explaining what I, as an Afghan, thought about the horror because I knew they’d all be asking and I thought it would be say it once to all twenty of them.  Those twenty each sent my email to dozens of their friends and by the next day the email had gone viral across the globe and by the weekend had reached tens of milliions–it was, in fact, one of the first examples of the viral phenomenon that the Internet has made possible. That 900 words email took no longer to write than to type. Don’t tell met here is an inherant contradiciton between random events and story: nothing could be as random and accidental as that email and yet it is certainly a story. Anyway, after the email went viral, my agent had no trouble getting publishers interested. The second one, Farah Ahmadi’s The Other Side of the Sky was an odd one. Good Morning America staged a contest for the most inspiring life. Various people sent in one-page descriptions of their life story and the one judged most inspiring got a bunch of cash and a book about them written by a professional writer.  Farah won the contest, and I was part of her prize.  The third one I’ve just completed, so I’m still n the process of selling it. The difficulty here is that memoirs usually sell on their news hook. They promise to take readers to places they have not been and could never go without this memoir. I promise just the opposite: I intend to take readers to places they too have been, not to startle them with how unique my life has been but to startle them with how unique theirs has been.  We’ll see if that concept sells.

DHS: How did you go about promoting and marketing your memoir?

TA: I’m not much of a guy for marketing and promotion much, so I just write ’em and hope the chips fall were they do me some good. The publisher did send me on an extensive book tour for West of Kabul, East of New York, bookstores mostly, and I read from my book and talked.  With Road Trips, I’ve been reading from it at literary events, bars, bookstore reading and whatnot while I’ve been writing it, to enthusiastic response, so perhaps I’ve been building an audience for it even while it has been in progress.

DHS: Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?

TA: I used to have difficulty speaking in public about anything—really, anything. Then 9/11 happened, that email went viral, and suddenly I was yanked onto various stages and in front of cameras and microphones facing crowds clamoring to know the stuff I happened to know about and the crisis was so intense, I had to tell what I knew, pour it out,  no time to remember that I was shy about speaking in public, I was babbling nonstop, scarcely even knowing what I was saying, for months. When it finally slowed down, I found I no longer had any difficulty speaking in public about anything. And that transformation ha endured. Still, I maintain some reserve. Anything I’ve written about, I’ll speak about. Why not? It’s already out there. Anything I’ve held back about in writing, I will maintain some reserve about in public too.   The thing is, I was out to tell my story. People whose paths have crossed mine have shown up in my story, but they have their own stories and  I try not to be the one that’s telling theirs.

DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to your memoir?

TA: After I published West of Kabul, East of New York, my mother said “What do you mean I had brown hair? I was a blond!”  One of my cousins said how could I call a famous ancestor of ours “a landowner and a poet.” He was a saint! Another cousin observed that of the uncles I had mentioned, his father should have been named the most eminent.  An aunt wasmiffed that I had called another aunt Elizabeth-Taylor beautiful.  I have also gotten some pretty severe and wounding blowback from Road Trips. On the other hand, I think the first memoir helped me and my brother reconnect after a long estrangement.  If you’re going to write a memoir, you have to be ready for some flak. You’ll get it even from—perhaps most of all from—people you’ve scarcely mentioned.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?

TA: Well, I’ll say one thing about process: I think it’s a good idea to start without a plan and to do your first rush of remembering while you’re at the keyboard typing away, writing it down. I’d say, let the process of association take you where it will. I’d say, don’t pay attention to what you’re saying or what  you’ve just said, focus only on what you’re about to say.   Don’t push the string,  let yourself be pulled. Later you’ll see what you’ve got and at that point you’ll have to apply other skills to craft your work, but the first skill to cultivate is letting go and not caring or judging.  Association is the mechanism of memory, and memory is itself a narrative-creating machine.   We tend to think of memories as videotapes that we bring out of storage, but neural scientists tell us that memories are constructed in the act of remembering. They also say that more than half of what we think are perceptions are actually reactions to memory. When we reach for a doorknob we only perceive a flash of color and shape, memory supplies the fact that it is a doorknob and what a doorknob is and what we can do with one. Expand that perception and you realize that we’re always living as much in a story as in an immediately present world, in a narrative whose shape depends on what has happened before and what we expect or hope will happen later.S ettle in with this truth and you begin to see what a gigantic thing it is to write a memoir.

Tamim Ansary writes memoir, fiction, history, essays, and blogs. His book West of Kabul, East of New York tell the story of a life straddling Afghanistan and America. He runs the 65-year-old San Francisco Writers Workshop as well intensive memoir workshops in his home.

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/

 

 

Art of the Memoir: Sue William Silverman on Pat Boone, Jews, Incest & Sexual Addiction

To commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I have decided to do start The Memoir Project.  I’ll be doing a series of interviews with memoirists I admire.  Here we have Sue William Silverman, a brave and courageous women who has written about unspeakable personal tragedy with beauty and grace.

Sue_William_Silverman_new_photo_for_web-210David Henry Sterry:  Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?

Sue William Silverman: Not only have I written one memoir, I’ve written two, with a third about to be published this March (2014)! Additionally, I published a craft book on how to write memoir, to help others tell their stories, too.

Here’s why I began to write memoir: Growing up, I lived a double life.  On the face of it, we seemed like a normal, happy family. My father had an important career.  We lived in nice houses, and I wore pretty clothes.  But all this seeming perfection was a veneer, a façade, for the other, hidden life.  It masked the reality that my father sexually molested me, a reality never spoken aloud either at home or in public.

Before I began to write about my childhood, I didn’t fully understand this double life or the devastation it caused.  Instead, for years, the past appeared in my mind’s eye like faded black-and-white photographs, in which no one seemed to be fully alive. Especially me.

Then, I started putting words on the page, examining my past.  It was a relief, finally, to write my life rather than ignore it, a relief to develop a clear focus and vision.

I’ve been asked:  Isn’t it painful to write about the past, all those scary childhood memories? Yes, writing about pain is painful – but it’s also a profound relief.  With every word the pain lessens.  It’s as if I extract it, one word at a time.

To write is to be constantly reborn.  Now, I no longer hide behind a veil of secrets. After writing my secrets, my life feels lighter.  I step into the world more authentically, more honestly alive.

DHS: What were the worst things about writing your memoir?

SWS: Well, even though I love to write, still, writing is just plain tough. It can take years to discover, say, a true voice for a piece, or discover the metaphors of the experience and craft a cohesive structure.

For example, when I was writing Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, it took five long years to “hear” the voices (yes, plural!) that would convey the totality of the experience. I employ an addict voice as well as a more sober voice, so the book is a twining together of the two. But it took a gazillion drafts before I was able to craft these voices in such a way that they seamlessly revealed the addiction – as well as recovering from it.

Even so, as difficult as it is to write, I’d definitely say that the worst or most distressing thing actually happened during the promotion of Love Sick. Some of the radio interviews I gave, conducted by “shock jocks,” were pretty demoralizing. For example, in one, on live radio, I was asked “where was the kinkiest place you ever had sex.” I was mortified. Love Sick does not, in any way, glamorize sex addiction; it shows how I was emotionally and spiritually dying. So to be asked insensitive questions was, truly, the worst part of the process.

DHS: What were the best things about writing your memoir?

SWS: One of the best parts of writing is the discovery of self, ways in which language can lead to self-definition. Finding answers to your own life’s questions is like following a whisper until it becomes a clear and revealing voice. Sure, writing is time consuming and difficult; nevertheless, I also find it to be almost spiritual.

Additionally, in terms of the promotion process, I’m gratified by the hundreds of e-mails I receive from people who thank me for telling my story because it helps them better understand their own lives.

Here is a short quote from one, so you’ll see what I mean: “Sue, I picked up your story because I thought that I didn’t matter. And in your words I am realizing for the first time that I do matter. I’ve been to lots of therapists, but nobody has ever made me know what it means to be strong until you. I want to be brave like you. You make me know that people can make a difference. You have changed my life for the better and so I just wanted to say thank you.”

To receive a response such as this from a reader, well, it doesn’t get any more meaningful.

DHS:  Did writing your memoir help you make some order out of the chaos we call life?

SWS: Yes, absolutely! Memoir writing, gathering words onto pieces of paper, helps me re-visualize dark and confusing episodes into a more enlightened state. By framing arc, theme, and metaphor, I give my life an understandable and clear organization. Writing provides a structure with which to convey experience. Memoir creates a cohesive narrative of a life story. In short, it turns a messy life (and isn’t life always messy?) into art.

DHS: How did you make a narrative out of the seemingly random events that happened to you?

SWS: Well, it’s taken three memoirs to do so!

One way to craft a narrative – or to make sense of one’s life – is to discover the metaphors of any given event. For example, in one section of Love Sick, I write about a maroon scarf that a married man, with whom I had an affair, gave me. The scarf became a metaphor for loss and alienation. Because of the sex addiction, I didn’t know how to hold onto an authentic relationship; ultimately, all I could hold onto was the scarf. By conveying metaphors in this way, experience coalesces into a congruent whole around a common theme. On the surface, Love Sick is about sexual addiction; however, the deeper theme is loss and alienation.

Also, in order to make sense of a life it’s important not to pack too much into any given memoir. A memoir is a facet of a life – not a whole life. By concentrating on specific themes and concerns, I have room to fully explore each. In other words, when writing memoir, it’s more important to develop a theme, rather than a chronology.

For example, in Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You I focus on growing up in my incestuous family. In Love Sick, I focus on the twenty-eight days I spent in rehab recovering from an addiction – a result of the childhood sexual abuse. In my forthcoming memoir, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, I explore, in a series of essays, my ambiguous relationship toward Judaism.

In sum, in order to craft a cohesive narrative it’s important to maintain a congruent theme, conveyed metaphorically, of the story at hand. By doing so, seemingly random events are artistically rendered into a seamless story.

DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?

SWS: I submitted my first memoir to a writing contest sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. It won in the category of creative nonfiction. Part of the prize was publication with the University of Georgia Press. The UGA Press also, subsequently, published my craft book Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir.

With my second book, about sexual addiction, I got an agent who sold it to W. W. Norton. I’d met an editor at Norton, the late Carol Houck Smith, who I felt would be the perfect editor for this book. I’ll always be grateful to her for taking me on.

Now, with the third memoir, I thought it would be a good fit for the University of Nebraska Press’s “American Lives Series.” I’m delighted they accepted it.

I’m very lucky in that the placement of my books was relatively painless.

DHS: How did you go about promoting and marketing your memoir?

Rather than rely solely on book reviews or traditional publicity, I heavily market the books in terms of subject matter. I bill myself as a professional speaker and have traveled around the country giving speeches and readings at conferences that deal with child abuse prevention and sexual addiction. These organizations are comprised mainly of therapists and other professionals who deal with clients struggling to recover from similar traumas. Many of my presentations have also been sponsored by psychology or social work programs at various colleges and universities.

Of course, I also give literary readings and workshops at writers’ conferences and at writing programs.

It’s important to think outside the box and cultivate as many different avenues as possible to market your book.

DHS: Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?

SWS: At first I thought I would crumple in a heap having to present my work in person. But, the more I do it, the less scared I become. And the audiences are incredibly empathetic and caring. I feel very supported. It’s powerful to know that your voice has been heard!

DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to your memoir?

SWS: My parents were dead by the time I wrote and published my first memoir, so I didn’t have to worry about their reaction. My sister was a little scared but, on the whole, was supportive.

What surprised me the most was the reaction of relatives on my father’s side of the family. I thought they’d be angry. They weren’t. In fact, I received many calls and e-mails from cousins, aunts, and uncles telling me that if only they’d known about my father’s abuse, they would have helped me.

At the same time, I know other writers of memoir whose relatives are angry that the family secrets are out in the open. So I know it can be tough to put your story – and your life – out into the world.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?

SWS: This is a good question! I teach writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts and, in addition to focusing on craft, we talk a lot about overcoming the fear of revealing family secrets and intimate details of one’s life.

Mainly, I encourage students to try not to allow this kind of fear to stand in the way of writing. After all, we all own our own truths, and we are free to write them. The job of a writer is not to protect people or to make them feel comfortable. Our job is not to sugar-coat experience. I firmly believe in a writer’s right to tell her/his own story. At the same time, literary memoir is not about revenge! It’s about understanding experience. It’s about enlightenment.

Personally, my only regret would have been if I hadn’t written – if I’d let fear stand in my way.

During the writing process, I encourage my students to stay focused on their words, to ignore the outside world as much as possible. This includes family, friends, and even publishers. The most important thing is to first get your story down on paper. Then, after all the words are written, you can decide the next step, how – or even if – you want to share your story with others.

In short, it’s important to take this process in stages. The most important thing is to write, write, write! If you’re scared, just focus on one word at a time…then one sentence, one paragraph, one page. Soon you’ll have a whole manuscript, and be ready to start on the next one.

Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, is also a Lifetime television movie. Her other books are Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You (winner of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs award); Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir; and The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew (forthcoming March, 2014). As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on such shows as The View and Anderson Cooper 360.  She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. www.SueWilliamSilverman.com.

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/

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