Fiction isn't memoir and memoir isn't fiction.~ Arthur Phillips
Today I am pleased to welcome Carol Bodensteiner, memoir writer and author of Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl. Today Carol and I will be talking about her transition from memoir to historical fiction for her next project.
Please join me in welcoming Carol to Healing by Writing!
SM: Carol, in reading your bio, it is clear that most of your professional life has involved some form of writing. Did you always want to write, or did it just happen spontaneously while in college or a specific job?
CB: In grade school, I wrote an essay I was particularly proud of. When I got a “C” on that essay (probably because of my atrocious handwriting), I was totally deflated. That early experience stuck with me and I managed to make it through high school and most of college without any real sense that I had any writing skill. I came to understand not only that I liked to write but also that I was pretty good at it when I took an editorial position at an association and subsequently moved into public relations.
SM: You have published your memoir, Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl. What was the catalyst behind writing down these cherished memories?
CB: I blame my mother. She believed in my writing before I did. She said to me so many times, “You’re a writer. You can write our family stories.” Finally I listened. My original intent was to write about my parents, and it took years to get to my memoir. I’m grateful Mom never quit pushing me on this.
SM: Currently, you are working on a historical novel set in WWI. What draws you to write about this time period and specifically WWI?
CB: My maternal grandfather died of the Spanish flu in 1918, and I’ve always been intrigued by my link to that huge world event. My grandmother never remarried. She was a stern woman who didn’t talk about the past, but then I never asked her, either. So, my upcoming novel – Go Away Home – is fictional, but in a way it gives a life to the grandfather I never knew and to the grandmother I only knew as a taciturn old woman.
SM: Historical fiction necessarily requires research on the part of the writer. Have you done an extensive amount of research for this work?
CB:I love research, and I’ve done a lot for this novel. This era is rich with social and technological change: cameras become available to the average person; cars are more prevalent but in Iowa at least, the roads didn’t support them; women are fighting for suffrage. One of my characters is a professional photographer, so I’ve had to learn how photography studios were set up and how film was developed and printed – in a time when electricity was not available everywhere. Though the novel is set during WWI, it’s not about the war per se. Nonetheless, I’ve had to research the politics of the era and understand how the war affected Americans before and after the U.S. got involved.
SM: Would you speak to the differences and/or similarities you see between writing memoir and historical fiction?
CB:With memoir, of course, I was working with the actual events of my life and the greatest challenge was to decide what to include and what to leave out. Since my novel began with a few known events from my grandparents’ lives, the biggest challenge was to let go of reality and create a story arc that worked. Both genres are similar in that they need to be good stories, well written.
SM: At this point, can you say whether you are enjoying working in memoir or historical fiction more? And why?
CB:There are so many similarities in good creative writing that I can say I like both and find each form rewarding in its own way. I do like working with events I’ve lived myself, even though writing about them can sometimes be painful. At the same time, I’m fascinated by the rush of energy I feel when my fictional characters do the most unexpected things.
SM: Are there are other book projects on the horizon for you?
CB: I can only think of one project at a time, but as my novel gets closer to publication, I’ve begun to think about what’s next. On the non-fiction front, I’m fascinated by the Orphan Trains (an Orphan Train plays in my novel) that brought a quarter million orphans from the streets of east coast cities and put them in homes across the U.S. I’ve also thought about personal essays and memoir-based short stories. On the fiction front, some of my beta readers have clamored to know what happens next for the characters in my novel. What I’ve learned is to trust that what needs to be written, will be written. So I will be as curious as anyone to see what comes out when I put my fingers over the keys!
SM: Lastly, do you have any advice you’d like to share with other writers?
CB: Keep writing. Don’t worry about what it will look like and how long it will be or if anyone will buy it. All that can be sorted out later. For now: Keep writing.
* * *
Thank you, Carol, for sharing your thoughts on transitioning between two genre in your writing, specifically from memoir to historical fiction. Good luck with your new book!
Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing. She blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment at www.carolbodensteiner.com She published her memoir GROWING UP COUNTRY in 2008 as a paperback and as an ebook in 2011. She has had essays published in several anthologies. Her debut novel, historical fiction set during World War I, will be published in 2014.
Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl is available in paperback and ebook forms from:
* * *
Please join us below for discussion and comments about writing memoir and historical fiction. We'd love to hear from you!