Tag Archives: memoir writing

Interview & Book Giveaway: Tracy Seeley: My Ruby Slippers, The Road Back to Kansas

Win this Book!!

  A special treat today! Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas, answers my questions on reliving her childhood, positioning a new memoir and creating a writing community. Plus! A chance to win a copy of her book! See details at end of the interview…

Watch the book trailer now >> The My Ruby Slippers book trailer 


Tracy Seeley

About the Author: A bout with breast cancer and a betrayal by a loved one encouraged Tracy Seeley to search for her past in what she had believed to be a long forgotten childhood in Kansas. A plan for just one trip back to the past evolved into several trips to the Midwest that revealed her hidden feelings about the meaning of family.

Along with beautiful descriptions of a state most of us know little about and associate with…flatness and cornfields, Seeley paints for us an inner map. The map from the interactions of her childhood family to her present day relationships with the men in her life. Seeley has put away her wandering shoes long enough to join us for a WOW Blog Tour featuring her memoir My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas.

What inspired the idea to write My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas?

My first inspiration came from a list of 13 addresses my mother had written in my baby book—all the places I’d lived by the time I was 9.  I was curious.  I didn’t remember the first 7 places, and had long thought I’d go back and follow my family’s wanderings and just see what turned up.  It took me a long time to finally make that trip.  When I did, my parents had recently died, I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the man I’d lived with for a long time had left me for someone else.  So inspiration also came from those events.  The childhood moving and the more recent dramatic changes in my life all uprooted me in different ways.  In my books, I wanted to explore rootlessness and change and my own desire for a deep-rooted sense of place.  I’d never had one before.

With all the memoirs out there, especially from big-name rock stars, how did you angle your memoir to get it picked up by an agent/publisher?

I actually couldn’t find an agent—and I think you’ve put your finger on the challenge there.  I had a signing event at a Barnes & Noble recently, and while I sat at my little signing table chatting quietly with customers and signing a few books, across the lobby from me was a huge rack filled with Steve Tyler’s new memoir, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?  It cracked me up.  Me and Steve Tyler at the bookstore together.

But it also reminded me of how tough it is to get an agent or big publishing house interested in a memoir if you’re not already well-known or your memoir doesn’t touch on a controversial, dramatic or currently newsworthy subject.  It’s very, very tough out there. 

So after the agent search didn’t work, I started looking for small presses that supported literary nonfiction.  I knew about the University of Nebraska Press and their trade list, which includes a lot of strong, literary nonfiction, including their ‘American Lives’ series.  They also publish books with Midwestern connections.  All of that made them a good fit for my particular book. 

So I pitched My Ruby Slippers to them as a memoir of place, a genre with a long and revered tradition.  Writers I admire, like Wallace Stegner, Joan Didion, Gretel Erhlich, Kathleen Norris and Terry Tempest Williams have all published memoirs about place.  At the same time, as I’m sure you know, the trick is to fit a genre with a track record, and yet add a new and different voice.  So my pitch focused on what was old and familiar as well as new and different about My Ruby Slippers

Ultimately, the writing had to be good, too.  But getting the pitch in the door was my first victory.

What was the most interesting discovery you made on your trip back to your childhood “homes?”

My most interesting discovery was how much I didn’t know! I learned so many interesting things about Kansas that I’d never learned growing up—like the story of Nicodemus, the farming town that was settled by African-Americans after the Civil War.  It’s a dying small town now, like so many in rural America.  But I visited there during their annual Homecoming celebration, talked to people who’d grown up there, and really loved the deep loyalty so many people felt for the town.  A lot of them have moved away but still come back every year for Homecoming.  There’s a nice little museum there—so if you’re anywhere near Nicodemus, go!

I also discovered the story of Sadie, a Pawnee girl whose parents died in the 19th century.  It really resonated with me because it’s a story of family loss and having to leave a place you love—so I tell her story alongside mine in My Ruby Slippers.

Did the research conjure up any strong emotions, good or bad, and how did you decide what to include and what to exclude during the drafting phase?

Writing about my childhood and family stirred up a lot of feelings—both good and bad.  The many times we moved created a lot of emotional havoc, and coming to terms with what that rootlessness and family chaos had cost us all was hard.  At the same time, writing is an art.  It’s about taking raw material and raw emotion and creating something new.  It helps give a meaning and shape to experience, which finally  helped me let a lot of the past go.    

Deciding what to include and what to exclude was always a balancing act.  What memories and stories had the strongest pull on me?  What parts of the story really fit the book and its preoccupations as it took shape?  Those are two different kinds of questions.  One is emotional or psychological, the other is aesthetic.  So I began writing about the material that just wouldn’t let me go.  I knew it was important for some reason.  The more I wrote, the more I understood what fit the book’s shape and focus would be.  And then decisions became more about the art of the book. 

A lot of pages ended up in a drawer.  Not because I didn’t feel strongly about them, but because in the end, they didn’t really fit the book.  But as you know, those excluded bits are never lost.  Some will emerge in other forms, others will be valuable because they got me where I wanted to go.

It seems your childhood relocating inspired many more travels throughout your life. Are you thinking of writing another travel memoir? If not, what else is in your writing well?

I’ve just started in on a new long-term project, and it’s not a travel memoir.  I don’t think.  It will do some of the same things that My Ruby Slippers does, like interweave personal stories with other, bigger stories.  This one’s rooted in 1918, so it entails earlier generations of my family, but also includes stories from around the world.  That’s all I want to say for now.  It’s just beginning to take shape and I want it to build up some steam before I say more.  Though I know the general subject, I’m not sure what kind of book it will be.  So we’ll all be surprised when the time comes.

I hear you teach writing courses to faculty as well as encourage more writing in the community. Tell us more about your teaching projects! (I also teach creative writing workshops independently in my community and always welcome new ideas to grow!)

I actually don’t teach writing to faculty, though that would be fun!  And several have asked.  Instead, I started a college Faculty Writing Initiative program.  The aim is to build a writing community that supports faculty writing, including mine.  The great thing is, what we do there would work for any kind of writing.

Our first activity is a once-a-month salon where we socialize, have wine and cheese, and hear other faculty talk about and read from their newly-published work.   We also have monthly all-day writing retreats, which give us a big block of time to make real progress on whatever projects we’ve got going. 

But the centerpiece of the Faculty Writing Initiative is writing groups, and I’d encourage everyone out there to create one.  We don’t share and critique work, because everyone’s working in a different discipline.  But writers sign up for a block of hours at the same time and day every week.  We have a beautiful writing room with a long, antique writing table in the middle and work stations around the edges.  When it’s someone’s scheduled time, they join their group in the writing room—and away they go. 

During the writing blocks, we write for 45 minutes then take a 15 minute break.  That seems like a lot of break time, but it really works.  No one enters or leaves the room during that 45 minutes, so it’s focused, concentrated time.  During the breaks, we relax, talk about our work, and get to know each other.  And because of the breaks, we’re actually more productive.  People get enormous amounts of writing done, even if they can only come to a group two hours a week. 

The process creates real community—and because we feel obligated to show up at our appointed time to support other writers, we show up for ourselves, too. 

As all writers know, it’s hard to make writing time when you have a full-time job doing other things.  Teaching and service work at my university can crowd out everything else.  Any job can.  As head cheerleader for the Writing Initiative, I encourage everyone to put their writing time into their calendars just as they would a dentist appointment.  Then if some possible conflict comes up, they can say, “Oh, I have something else at that time—and I can’t miss it.”

We have groups meeting during all work hours, five days a week.  Depending on the day and time, groups range from two writers to twelve.  Fridays are jammed.  As many as 25 people come then, and many spend the entire day.  Fridays are exciting!

I wrote most of My Ruby Slippers in my Friday writing group, so I know that writing in groups works for me.  It’s also given me some close friends and relationships with colleagues I wouldn’t know otherwise.  I really encourage writers of all kinds to create a work group.  It’s the best combination of carrot and stick I know.  And it’s fun.

To learn more about Tracy and My Ruby Slippers, visit:

website :  www.tracyseeley.com

twitter: @tracy_seeley

Facebook page:  My Ruby Slippers: the Road Back to Kansas

 OK, interested in getting your own FREE! copy of My Ruby Slippers? Just leave a comment and/or question for our guest author by midnight tonight, July 19, and be entered in a random drawing. US residents, only, please!  Winner will be announced Wed., July 20  

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Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Linda Joy Myers

Linda Joy Myers, PhD

Today, we welcome Linda Joy Myers, PhD, author of the newly released: The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story.

Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. is the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and the author of the prize-winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother Daughter Abandonment. Her new book The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story was released in January 2010 through Jossey-Bass publishers.

Linda has been a therapist in Berkeley for the last thirty years, and received her MFA at Mills College.

Through her workshops, online coaching, and speaking engagements, Linda integrates the principles of healing and creativity in presenting the powerful healing process of writing true stories. Her first book Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story was used as a text by therapists, ministers, and writing coaches, and was a finalist in the ForeWord magazine’s 2008 Book of the Year Award. Linda’s prize-winning nonfiction and poetry has been published in various literary journals. Her novel excerpt, Secret Music, a novel about the Kindertransport, music, and redemption was a finalist in the San Francisco Writing Conference contest.

Linda is past-president of The California Writers Club, Marin branch, and former Vice-President of the Women’s National Book Association, and has served on the board of Story Circle Network.

Do you want to win this book?

Please leave a comment or question for a chance to win a copy of her book: The Power of Memoir. (winner announced tomorrow!)

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

MJC: Thank you for visiting today, Linda Joy! Can you tell us about your experience as a writer and how it relates to your background as a therapist?

LJM: For awhile, I trained therapists to use writing with clients, and in those all day workshops, I discovered how quickly “non-writers” produced interesting and meaningful stories. I saw that anyone could find the stories within if they had the time and support. I became quite passionate about spreading the word about writing—that anyone could learn to do it if they wished, and that it was a powerful tool for change and transformation. Therapists, after all, are always in the middle of people’s stories—finding out how they experienced the world, how they became who they are, the same territory that memoirists encounter. But as it turns out, writing is different than telling. We create a relationship with ourselves as we become both the narrator of the story and the character—the “I” voice in the story. This dual consciousness is part of the healing process, as the narrator helps us to develop a perspective on what happened, and the character I gets close to and inside who we were then. When we write in scene, we take a small hypnotic trip to the past and live in our own skin for a while, then come back out to “now.” The process of writing and telling stories, especially if they are shared helps to heal and to change our perceptions of who we were and who we are now.

MJC: Someone’s embarrassing moment can be captured on an iphone, uploaded to youtube with comments posted on Facebook and Twitter before the victim’s face even turns to blush. Our culture is fascinated with “real life.”  Do you think today’s technology helps or hinders memoir writers, and why?

LJM: Exposure might help memoirists because the fact that because memoirists reveal secrets an inner life that otherwise would be unknown is not as shocking an idea as it used to be. But on the other hand, if you are out in the open, people can judge more harshly the willingness to reveal personal details in a memoir as mere narcissism, or the need to “air the dirty laundry.”

One way that technology might be helping memoir writers is to see social network posts as tiny memoirs, or slices of life. Some are real stories, and we can all feel more connected when we read them.

Also writers are now encouraged to “blog their book.” This means that a writer can try out the ideas for the book on an audience and get feedback that will help in the publishing process. And agents and editors are out there looking for new exciting content and ideas.

We know that it won’t go away, so we need to figure out how it can help us.

MJC: “Exposing all” in memoirs can be tricky, especially if you plan to visit home for the holidays. What tips can you offer us who feel the need to write the truth, even if the truth is ugly?

LJM: The best advice I can give is to create a safe, sacred space where you can write without worrying about being judged or silenced—even by your inner critic. Be sure to keep your early drafts private—or at least protect them the way you would a tender young plant in spring. This means: don’t tell anyone you are writing a memoir!

It takes emotional effort to write the truth, especially if it is ugly, frightening, or traumatic, but it has been proven to be healing, allowing you to get to another stage of your life. Most of us have emotional issues that plague us, but we intuitively know with whom we can share these issues safely. If you are angry at someone, it’s fine to write an unsent letter, for instance, to clarify your feelings and come to another place with the person. Each person has a certain capacity for bearing witness to the various truths in a family, and it’s important to know where your limits are to protect yourself. The voices that chime in your head about who you will hurt or who will roll over in their grave if you write that piece are not helpful to getting your work done.

After you have finished your first draft, you can think then about what you want to do. By then, you will have gone through layers of emotional healing, and see if you have a story you want or need to share. Perhaps by writing it for yourself, you are complete.

If you decide to publish, that is the time to think about vetting the book with others, changing names or locations, or contacting a literary attorney to help you with any thorny problems you may have with what you revealed about others. Every author has to decide how to handle the living and the dead that are written about in their book. It is often an ethical decision more than legal.

MJC: Can you explain the difference between personal narratives or essays and the memoir? How does a writer narrow the focus and pick a theme?

LJM: The terms personal essay, personal narrative, and memoir are often used interchangeably. Personal essay focuses on a universal theme, but of course in a memoir and personal narrative, the themes become woven throughout as the personal story begins to reveal deeper universal truths. I think it’s more the idea that a memoir is written in ever revealing layers, moving from the inside out whereas a personal essay might begin with a theme and move inward toward the details that support it. There is no one way to approach any kind of writing, but most memoir stories are focused on the very personal, and sometimes they should move toward the universal. This will happen if the person keeps writing and exploring metaphor and layers of meaning. Pure reminiscence is pleasant to read, and many times the reader will identify with the time, place, and memories if they are of that same era, but others will not connect necessarily unless the theme becomes universal and can apply to others.

MJC: What tips can you offer teachers who introduce memoir writing in the classroom?

LJM: Make storytelling and writing fun. Allow free writes to develop voice, role plays to demonstrate dialogue and characters, dressing up in different costumes to show color and description. Researching the day they were born on Google can bring together history, news, and their personal lives in surprising and interesting ways. Allow writing that is non-standard for early drafts, and have them keep reading books about young people that make them want to share their own story. The Freedom Writer movie and book are very inspiring about the work that young people can do and what a difference it can make.

MJC: Tell us what’s next in your writing and promotion projects!

LJM: In my therapy life, I used to work with youth at risk, and learned how important it was for young people to be listened to and taken seriously. My next project is to focus on the YA—the Young Adult audience. Young people are writing and expressing themselves in amazing and refreshing ways, but as with everyone else, writing personal material means having to deal with the same family issues of guilt, shame, and silence as adults. My hope is that a book focused on their particular ways of thinking and self-expression can free them from fear and silence, and help them to move forward in their lives in a powerful way.

Author’s Websites:

Website: http://thepowerofmemoir.com
Blog:
http://lindajoymyersphd.com/
National Association of Memoir Writers: http://www.namw.org/

Leave a comment or question today, March9, for a chance at winning a copy of Linda Joy’s book!

Want to learn more about Memoir Writing or Linda Joy Myers, PhD? Follow her book blog tour with WOW! Women on Writing

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