Book Blog Tour: Sue Silverman, author of “Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir”


SueSilverman_headshotToday, I have the honor of hosting author, Sue Silverman, who will share her journey of writing a nonfiction book for writers on how to uncover our true stories in memoir form.

Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (W. W. Norton), is also a Lifetime Television original movie.  Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP award in creative nonfiction.  She teaches in the low-residency MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her most recent book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, published with the University of Georgia Press (see video book trailer at http://tinyurl.com/csekan).  As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Headline News.  For more about Sue, please visit www.suewilliamsilverman.com.

FearlessConfessions_cover

Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper. Enhanced with illustrative examples from many different writers as well as writing exercises, this guide helps writers navigate a range of issues from craft to ethics to marketing and will be useful to both beginners and more accomplished writers.

The rise of interest in memoir recognizes the power of the genre to move and affect not just individual readers, but society at large. Sue Silverman covers traditional writing topics such as metaphor, theme, plot, and voice, but also includes chapters on trusting memory and cultivating the courage to tell one’s truth in the face of forces–from family members to the media–who would prefer that people with inconvenient pasts and views remain silent.

Silverman draws upon her own personal and professional experience to provide an essential resource for transforming life into words that matter. Fearless Confessions is an atlas that contains maps to the remarkable places in each person’s life that have yet to be explored.

Please enjoy this exclusive interview with Sue Silverman.  Feel free to post your comments and questions for Sue, as she will be popping in throughout the day to reply!

(Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell)

MJC: Obviously, a memoirist needs to recall their past from memory or recorded documentation (diaries, letters, etc.)  But, how beneficial is journaling in the life of all writers: memoirist or non-memoirist?

Sue: Journaling can certainly be beneficial in terms of recalling dates, specific facts and details. However, it is not a prerequisite!

I’ve never kept a journal.  I figure I’ll recall enough about the most important events.  And, for me, the best way to recollect the details of these events is to submerge myself in sensory imagery.

For example, say I want to write about a birthday party in sixth grade.  Maybe I remember some broad brushstrokes of the party but can’t recall as many details as I’d like.  In order to do so, I begin by asking myself the following: what did the birthday party sound like, taste like, feel like, look like, smell like?

By focusing on the five senses, it’s amazing how many seemingly “lost” details we remember!  In other words, by concentrating, I try to “re-enter” scenes, submerge myself in any given past experience, and see where that leads me.

MJC: When writing a memoir, beginners (as well as experienced writers) may become caught up in getting every detail correct. How important is this, especially in the aftermath of James Frey’s “memoir” becoming reclassified as fiction?

SUE: There is no way you can get every detail correct!  That isn’t even the aim or goal of a memoir.  A memoir is based on one’s (always faulty) memory.  Readers know memory is imperfect.

In short, a memoir is not an academic treatise.  It’s not journalism.  It’s not supposed to be.  The only requirement is not to break the contract with the reader—as James Frey did by deliberately misleading through invention.  What he did is not acceptable.  If, however, you’re recalling events to the best of your ability, then the reader knows this, understands this, and accepts it.

MJC: Can your book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir be a reference for non-memoirists, as well?  If so, how can creative non-fiction and fiction writers benefit from the information you provide?

SUE: Yes, I think Fearless Confessions can also be helpful to fiction writers, as well as to writers of other forms of creative nonfiction—such as personal essays, etc.

In all these forms, to varying degrees, a writer implements plot, scene, sensory description, metaphor, voice, character development.  My book explores all of these craft issues.  And, in both fiction and creative nonfiction, the characters (or personas) need to be fully realized and something has to happen!

But the book also deals with issues mainly relevant only to creative nonfiction writers—such as the use of reflection or how to craft your everyday voice into a literary voice, even as you tell your own story.

MJC: As a teacher to young adult writing students, I’m always encouraging them to dig deeper in their narratives, as well as their fiction.  What advice can you offer to teachers of creative writing and the students?

SUE: I would emphasize that writing is a process, usually a slow process.  If you’re taking piano lessons, you don’t sit down the first month or even the first year and play Mozart.

Likewise, with writing, be patient with yourself.  Everything I write needs a gazillion drafts.  It is only through these drafts that I discover the depth of any given work.  Writing is really all about revision.  Here is where the depth of any given narrative is discovered.  It took me five years to write Love Sick, six months to write a 16-page essay!

MJC: Teaching memoir in a classroom must be sacred.  How do you as an instructor establish the safe haven needed for students to develop and share their stories with their peers?

SUE: I teach at the low-residency MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I hope I establish a level of trust more by example than anything else.  Teachers need to learn to listen as well as speak.  For me, I try to listen to what any given student needs from me.  I also let students know that all their stories are important.

I don’t try to impose my will on a student.  Art is subjective; I hardly have all the answers.  We’re all writers—students and teachers—all still learning a lot about the process, the craft.

My job as a teacher is to guide—not to judge.  How can I best help a student find his or her voice or story?  What can I do to help a student fully realize any particular work?  If students know I care, then I think they feel safe.

MJC: In a culture of personal information becoming mainstream via social medias such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Reality TV, how do you see the memoir genre growing?  Do you think publicizing “all for the world to see” makes us more empathetic towards each other or just creates a Pandora’s box to be malicious?

SUE: Both! Some critics love to attack memoirists and call us, for example, navel gazers.  Others fully recognize the importance of the personal narrative and understand how it can make us more empathetic.

Even though the naysayers can make me angry (and I write about this in chapter 9 of Fearless Confessions), my sense is that the public can’t get enough of memoir.  Readers find our stories useful—in a really good way.  I receive hundreds of emails from people thanking me for telling their stories, too.

So let’s keep writing. After all, everyone has a story to tell.  And all our stories are important.

MJC: What’s next for Sue Silverman? Please tell us about your upcoming appearances and projects.

SUE: For a list of my blog tour and other events, please check out my website at www.suewilliamsilverman.com.

I am close to finishing another work of creative nonfiction—related essays—called The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White, Anglo-Saxon Jew. And that’s pretty much what it’s about!

Thank you, Sue, for a wonderful interview!

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14 Comments

Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, emotion, Non Fiction, Voice

14 responses to “Book Blog Tour: Sue Silverman, author of “Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir”

  1. Sue William Silverman

    Hi! Just want to let you know that I’ll be checking for comments during the day and looking forward to answering your questions! Thank you. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to visit this blog. Sue

  2. Fascinating interview. I especially enjoyed reading about Sue’s approach of listening to the student and what they need. Wonderful!

    Sue: Do you find the editing process more difficult in a memoir than fiction? If yes, how so?

    Best wishes for your continued success.

    Regards,
    Donna
    Children’s Author
    Write What Inspires You Blog
    Donna M. McDine’s Website

  3. Sue William Silverman

    Hi, thanks for the welcome and the interesting question. For me, the editing process is different. In fiction, it’s like beginning with an empty canvas and trying to figure what to add: what do you need in terms of fully developing plot, character, etc.

    In memoir, on the other hand, it’s like starting with a full canvas–all sorts of images, events, people from a whole life painted all over it. So, in this instance, then, it’s a matter of figuring out what to remove in order to have a thematically unified memoir. In other words, a memoir is a slice of a life, not a whole life. So in the editing process, it’s a matter of figuring out what stays and what goes, as you narrowly define the work. Does this answer your question? Thanks!! Sue

  4. Sue William Silverman

    Donna–I meant to add that I’m very appreciative about what you said about my teaching philosophy! I love to teach–and teach at the low-residency mfa in writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Thank you!! Sue

  5. Hi Sue:

    Your answer explains it perfectly. Thanks!

    Regards,
    Donna
    Children’s Author
    Write What Inspires You Blog
    Donna M. McDine’s Website

  6. Liz

    Thanks for the interivew. I also enjoyed your guest post at Gaijin Mama a few weeks ago. What you say about telling other people’s stories, too, is helpful to me. Sometimes when I’m writing personal essays I worry about them not being universal enough. Do you feel that the universal is in the details? I look forward to reading your book!

    • Sue William Silverman

      Hi, Liz, thanks so much for your supportive comments–and the good question! Yes, exactly, the universal absolutely in the details. The more specific (and less abstract) I am–the more I can bring you inside my very specific story–the more it will resonate with others. I know that can sound a bit counter-intuitive, but that is the way it works. The key is to slant details in such a way to give them a kind of attitude. Describe details in any given scene in such a way that they reflect your feelings or state or mind in that scene. So, in this way, the reader is easily able to identify with those common feelings that we all share. Is that clear? Please let me know if it’s not!! And, again, thank you so much for your support! Sue

      • Sue William Silverman

        P. S. Sorry, I left out the word “is” in my second sentence above! The sentence should read: “Yes, exactly, the universal absolutely IS in the details.”

  7. Sarah Joyce Bryant

    I am so excited that I had the chance to read this interview. I just started reading Fearless Confessions. I am just beginning to write memoir and have found it to be quite difficult. Like you mentioned in one of the comments, you start with a full canvas and you have to determine what to remove. It is hard, when talking about personal experiences, to edit something out because in my mind it is essential to the story. I have found that leaving a piece to sit for several months and then going back to it allows me to see what is unnecessary and can be edited out. Thank you so much for writing this book.

    • Hi, Sarah Joyce,
      Thank you so much for reading this interview. And, I’m delighted that “Fearless Confessions” is helping you as you pursue your own memoir. Yes, I hear what you’re saying–that writing is a process, that it can be difficult at times, and that sometimes you have to set a piece aside before returning to it, to see it more clearly. The same is true for me, too. I wish you all the very best with your writing–and am thrilled to learn that you are writing, that you exploring your life narrative. That’s so important.

  8. Sarah Joyce Bryant

    Thank you so much! Thanks to you my writing process is getting more manageable and better 🙂

  9. Hi Mary Jo

    Hope you are having a good summer.

    Been impressed by your interviews and writing projects.

    Samson

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