Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

Memoir Writing Tips — September 25, 2019

Memoir Writing Tips

Whether you are beginning your memoir or have almost finished with that first draft, I hope the links listed below provide you with useful memoir writing tips. These links appeared on the Internet in recent days.

With autumn in full swing, it feels like a time for starting or restarting our writing projects. After working on a draft of my memoir for the last decade, I found the information tucked behind these links helpful.

Here goes:

 

Regarding links to books, see Disclosures.

Featured image from Pixabay

 

This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis | A Review — September 11, 2019

This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis | A Review

In society today, we celebrate the label “mother” more than any other label given to women. To decide against being a mother seems foreign and strange to many of our culture.
 
This Particular Happiness, memoir, Jackie Shannon Hollis, childlessness, bookBut Jackie Shannon Hollis chose between her husband’s love and childlessness. She writes about her choice in This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. Hollis opens the door on her own feelings and emotions at play in making this decision.
 
When Hollis and her husband attend a family gathering, she is the only woman in the group without a child. Making such a decision doesn’t mean we don’t look back and wonder if it was the right choice. Hollis had moments and days when she wondered this very thing. Past relationships played a role in both Hollis’s feelings and those of the man she married.
 
Over time, Hollis talked with her husband about the possibilities of having children. She felt as if she were missing something, but not with certainty what it was. Yet, their discussions never altered their decisions.
 
Hollis offers her readers an opportunity to experience pressures and tensions from others. A couple’s choices, such as childlessness, bring out family and friends with opinions. This is a suitable book for individuals considering childlessness. It provides an overview of certain issues that may come up in conversation with others.
 
Hollis is authentic in revealing this tender and emotional time in her life. Bringing this book into the public arena took courage on the part of both Hollis and her husband, Bill.
 
This memoir is well written and structured. The story unfolds with each chapter and in a timely fashion. Hollis’s voice is strong and bold. She paints a detailed description of her feelings.

My thanks to Jackie Shannon Hollis and Forest Avenue Press for providing an Advance Reader’s Copy to me in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are solely mine.

This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story will be available on October 1, 2019. Preorder your copy here.

 

 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Writing Memoir — September 4, 2019

Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Writing Memoir

 

As I think about picking up my memoir manuscript and consider what next steps await me, I find myself reflecting over the words of other writers on the subject of writing memoir. The post you are about to read was initially posted on March 13, 2014. Yet, the comments made by Justice Sotomayor during her talk continue to strike me as the foundation we must keep in mind as we write our stories.

On Tuesday evening (March 11, 2014), my husband and I attended a simulcast of a talk presented by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The event, sponsored by Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR, was held as part of the library’s Everybody Reads 2014 program. Justice Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World, was the choice for this year (my review here).

Unfortunately, we were unable to get tickets to the live event (total of 2,776 tickets), but thanks to Literary Arts and the Portland Art Museum the simulcast was arranged to accommodate an overflow of 1,000 attendees.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court, Supreme Court justice, author, memoir
Justice Sonia Sotomayor | Via Penguin Random House Author Bio, © Elena Seibert

Justice Sotomayor’s talk on Tuesday was the culminating event of this year’s Everybody Reads project. Although the thrust of the project is to “[c]elebrate the power of books in creating a stronger community,” Justice Sotomayor’s topic was not announced.

Imagine my thrill when she began with a discussion of the power of words. Her words still resonate in my ears: “Words have power to paint pictures.”

She then went on to share why she wrote her memoir. I want to share those reasons with you here, although they may sound somewhat familiar to you:

  • To not forget self. Justice Sotomayor shared that she never wants to forget her own experiences growing up in the most negative of environments, the self she was at that time or in that place. Nor does she want to lose the ability to picture the place and circumstances where she came from. Her goal in writing My Beloved World was to write a narrative preserving her family’s story as well as her own experiences.
  • To document the community. In her community in the Bronx, Justice Sotomayor explains that living in that most negative of environments, first and foremost there were people with aspirations, desires, dreams, and hopes. People with simple values and yet these aspirations, desires, dreams, and hopes like everyone else.
  • To value the aging. Justice Sotomayor confesses she became afraid to wait too long to write her story of her family and herself. “I was afraid I would not have them around to help recap my family history.” She interviewed family members and in so doing learned from an uncle of the romantic relationship her mother and father shared and how her father had loved her mother. As a child, Justice Sotomayor did not think they were a happy couple; there was so much arguing and fighting. A few days later her uncle died. Her advice? Encourage family members to share stories with you every opportunity you have.
  • To have the chance to tell my story candidly and honestly. According to Justice Sotomayor, and I think we all realize this if we’re writing memoir, readers cannot be fooled. She drove home that telling your own story is far better than having someone else tell it. But above all, in telling your story she urges honesty and genuineness. Be who you are and have been.

As I said, most of these comments we have all heard before. However, to hear them from someone who has lived through a poverty-stricken childhood, struggled to receive the education needed to become who she wanted to be, fought stereotypes and sexism, and now sits on the highest court in our land was inspiring and motivating.

I enjoyed the Q&A, especially because some of the questions came from among many high school students in attendance. One of them asked the Justice for an explanation of the difference between a memoir and an autobiography. Roughly quoting from my shorthand notes, Justice Sotomayor explained that “a memoir is a description, with emotions, cataloging your life from within, not without,” and “an autobiography is told based on fact cataloging your life from without.”

At the end of a long day speaking to high school assemblies and various civic groups, Justice Sotomayor presented her talk with ease and without notes—you felt you were chatting with a friend. She possesses a contagious and spontaneous wit. Her command of the language is awe-inspiring. Justice Sotomayor exhibits a generosity with people that is humbling. Over 100 students wrote her letters before she left Washington and she told them last evening each of them will receive a personal reply.

I came away feeling I had sat at the feet of a woman who has great things yet to do, and she will without fail.

* * *

One last quote from the Justice:

Until we have equality in education, we cannot have equality in society.

 

Featured image attribution: Via Education Week; © Arthur Lien 12/1/2014; Caption reads as follows: “Lawyer John P. Elwood argues the case for the petitioners in Elonis v. United States. In its subsequent ruling, the court reversed the federal conviction of Anthony Elonis, who had made threats on Facebook that included rap-lyric-style musings about shooting up an elementary school. –Art Lien”

Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl by Marian Longenecker Beaman | Review — August 21, 2019

Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl by Marian Longenecker Beaman | Review

Mennonite Daughter, memoir, Mennonite childhood

Marian Longenecker Beaman’s memoir shares heartwarming vignettes of life in Lancaster County, PA. The author paints images with words of the joys and frustrations of growing up as a Mennonite. I visited Lancaster County several years ago. But I was not as aware of the Mennonites and their restrictions as I was of the Amish. So, some of Beaman’s revelations were surprising to me.
 
The author’s use of detail in descriptions of people and places brought them to life. Thus, the reader feels an actual part of what and where Beaman was describing. The inclusion of family photographs allowed the reader to “see” the life Beaman described.
 
Beaman’s family’s devotion to their Mennonite faith was unmistakable in all they did. I have known Beaman from her blog, Plain and Fancy, for several years. I was not surprised at the faith commitment. Yet, reading about Beaman’s baptism at age 10 took me quite by surprise. Everything changed for this young girl. The church’s rigid rules about dress, everyday activities, and schooling controlled her life. The little girl who wore frills and ruffles her Mennonite mother sewed had to put those dresses away. How conflicting this must have felt to her.
 
Beaman also writes of her father’s punishments and abuses. It is not uncommon for an abusive parent to declare his/her faith and to use Scripture as a basis for the punishment. I felt Beaman’s pain and heartbreak as I read her emotional words and desire to know why. Beaman was a strong young woman who stood up to the leaders in the church and to her father. Although she mentioned a fear of her father’s actions, she overcame that fear. What courage this took. 
 
Beaman has taken the opportunity to tell her true story. While telling of punishments and abuse, she reflects on the loving nature of her home life. The author shows respect and admiration for her mother. Yet, she questions the lack of intervention on her mother’s part at times.
 
She also expresses the love felt for her grandmother and Aunt Ruthie. In fact, one might say Beaman had two homes. There was a home filled with parents and siblings. And the home maintained by her grandmother and Aunt Ruthie. This second home was a place of escape where restrictions were a bit looser. Beaman enjoyed many happy days with their grandmother and Aunt Ruthie.
 
I enjoyed reading Beaman’s memoir and taking a trip back in time to Lancaster County, PA. The story is rich in family and one woman’s history with traditions and culture. Her shining moment is in her courage to take a step away to build her own life.
Beaman is a master storyteller and wordsmith. Her writing is fluid, detailed, expressive, and strong. I highly recommend this memoir not only to those who enjoy reading a memoir. But also to those who want to write or are writing a memoir. Beaman does it just right.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover — July 15, 2019

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover


Mother had always said we could go to school if we wanted. We just had to ask Dad, she said. Then we could go. But I didn’t ask. There was something in the hard line of my father’s face, in the quiet sigh of supplication he made every morning before he began family prayer, that made me think my curiosity was an obscenity, an affront to all he’d sacrificed to raise me.

 
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a difficult and emotional story to read. Yet I could not put it down. Westover has a determination and grit about her that made me want to read her story. Many of us have lived a childhood of abuse in varying degrees. I suppose my own experience draws me to the stories of others who have suffered abuse as well.
 
Westover’s family lives off the grid in Idaho. Husband and father believes the government is out to get them. They must protect themselves. He keeps his family so isolated no one could get to them. It is how he ensures the children never learn the truth about their country.
 
Educated: A Memoir, Westover, bookMost of the seven children didn’t have birth certificates because they were born at home. There were no medical records for any of the family because they had never seen a doctor or been in a hospital. The children weren’t allowed to attend public school. Instead, they were “homeschooled” by their mother. They were taught to make survivalist kits and canned many jars of fruits. Exercises were practiced in case of an unexpected siege. Not the kind of education considered normal according to our country’s standards.
 
Westover learned midwifery and herbalism at her mother’s side. She also worked with her siblings in her father’s junkyard salvaging scrap metal. Often she dealt with various injuries resulting from the labor in the junkyard. Her parents didn’t believe in doctors and hospitals. Instead, they believed the power to heal rested in herbal tinctures and the Lord’s power.
 
One of Westover’s brothers leaves to attend Brigham Young University. She begins to see possibilities away from home. She begins to mentally question her father’s preaching against education, healthcare, and more. Despite her lack of education, Westover begins to study for the ACT exam. She also teaches herself math, grammar, and science. Westover hoped to get a score that would qualify her for admittance to BYU.
 
At age 17, Tara Westover begins her education. She has waited a lifetime for this experience. One example that sticks with me is a class in which the lecturer touches on the Holocaust. Westover had no idea what the Holocaust was. No one had ever mentioned it; no one in her family likely knew too much about it. This seems impossible in a country where an education is free for all.
 
Many have questioned the validity of Westover’s story. I believe we shouldn’t question another’s telling of their story. We each have a story to tell, and it is ours to tell as we remember it.
 
Tara Westover has done that. She has told her story of her childhood which left her uneducated and abused. Then she tells of passing the ACT and gaining admittance to BYU, on to Harvard, Cambridge, and beyond. It has taken determination and grit to do what Westover has accomplished.
 
If you enjoy memoir and/or autobiographical works, Educated may be a book you’d enjoy. Be prepared for the difficult portions. Throughout it all, Tara Westover has prepared herself for the woman she has become today.
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro — June 6, 2019

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro

 
 
In my opinion, Dani Shapiro is an excellent writer. By reading her books, nonfiction or fiction, a reader can learn a great deal about writing. Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love is no different. 
 
A random DNA sample returns results which stun Shapiro and her husband. A lower percentage of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage in her background leaves Shapiro suspicious. Considering her parents’ backgrounds, the Ashkenazi percentage should have been higher. With both parents now dead, who could she ask about this possible aberration?
 
Shapiro immediately begins her search for the truth. But what is the truth she keeps asking herself? And who is there to help her? Her Aunt Shirley is one possible source. Although she can’t solve the mystery, Aunt Shirley consoles Shapiro and tells Shapiro that:
 
“confusion about the identity of her biological dad can be a door to discovering who a father really is.” (Emphasis added.)
 
I found the first half of the book difficult to read because of several repetitive portions. Shapiro’s obsession with the question of her “Jewishness” may result in repetitions. Her obsession causes her to worry over her identity within her family and in the larger world. The obsessions and the worrying are understandable, but they become monotonous. These chapters are short and moved along at a quick pace.
 
The second half of the memoir is more engaging. Shapiro shares her attempts to connect with her biological father. Research reveals similarities in appearance, posture, and traits and mannerisms. This story is woven with threads coming from multifaceted situations involving real people. At times, Shapiro belabors her points but she always comes back to the truth and history wrapped up in her story
 
Fans of her other books will enjoy reading how Shapiro coped with this unsettling find. It is clear to me that Inheritance will likely draw others who haven’t read any of her books.