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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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Blog Tour: Author, George Singleton

singleton_george

As Irish luck would have it, today Writers Inspired is hosting author, George Singleton,  when on St. Paddy’s Day, anything can happen, especially from this man who is filled with wit and wisdom.

George Singleton‘s the author of four collections of short stories and two novels: These People Are Us (2001), The Half-Mammals of Dixie (2002), Why Dogs Chase Cars (2004), Novel (2005), Drowning in Gruel (2006), and Work Shirts for Madmen (2007).  He has published one book of advice: Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds (2008).  His stories have appeared in magazines such at The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, Book, Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Ninth Letter, and North American Review, among others.  He’s had work anthologized in nine editions of New Stories from the South, plus Writers Harvest 2, A Dixie Christmas, They Write Among Us, 20 Over 40, Must Be This Tall to Ride, Love Is a Four-Letter Word, and Behind the Short Story: from First to Final Draft.    His nonfiction has appeared in the Oxford American, Best Food Writing 2005, Dog Is My Co-Pilot, and Paste.

Singleton lives in Dacusville, South Carolina. peptalkswarningsscreeds-742251

In Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers acclaimed Southern story writer and novelist George Singleton serves up everything you ever need to know to become a real writer (meaning one who actually writes), in bite-sized aphorisms. It’s Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil meets Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s cough syrup that tastes like chocolate cake. In other words, don’t expect to get better unless you get a good dose of it, maybe two.

Accompanied by more than fifty original full-color illustrations by novelist Daniel Wallace, these laugh-out-loud funny, candid, and surprisingly useful lessons will help you find your own writerly balance so you can continue to move forward.

Published by Writers Digest Books., $17.99
Publication Date: October 22, 2008
Non-Fiction, Writer’s Advice, Hardcover
ISBN# 9781582975658

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So, lads and lassies, pull up a stool, grab a stein and ask away. George will respond to your questions and comments on novel writing, short story collections and especially, his newest book PepTalks, Warnings, & Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers. One lucky winner will be chosen to receive a free copy of George’s latest book! (You must post before midnight on March 17 to win and have a US mailing address.)

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

MJC: In your fiction writing, do you work from an idea and just go with it, or do you use outlines? How does either method lend to your creative freedom and to your revision time?

GS: If I’m in between stories–if I finish up a story and mail it off on a Tuesday, and sit down to start another on Wednesday morning–I usually think, “Two characters, uncomfortable situation.”  Woman runs into her brother-in-law at the free clinic.  Boy is forced to take something to Show and Tell that he knows is a made-up story by his father.  Teenager is buying condoms at the local drugstore, and his girlfriend’s mother gets in line behind him.  And then I go with it.  More often than not I’ll have a first sentence roaming around in my skull, or a title.  I don’t work from outlines, because–just like in high school when a teacher said I needed an outline, so I wrote one out after writing the essay–it doesn’t seem fun, and takes away some spontaneity, and I wouldn’t stick to it in the first place.

Now, in the past, I have written stories where I kind of thought I saw the ending first, and worked toward it.  But that’s rare for me.  And of course there’s no right answer, but I would think that if someone writes a hundred stories and five novels using an outline and has had no luck publishing, she might want to ditch that approach.

MJC: You’ve been published is a wide variety of publications, from The Georgia Review to Playboy. I’m curious about your writing and marketing approach: do you write a short story and look for the appropriate market, or do you research what is needed and write to fit that need?  Do you feel that one approach is more limiting than the other?

GS: Good question.  When I started writing short stories about eight years into writing three unpublishable novels, I didn’t have a clue how to send them off.  No one taught me, and by this point I had a goofball MFA.  (I have a funny feeling my professors said, “Don’t tell George how to send off manuscripts–he’ll get rejected and go on a two decade drunk…)

Anyway, I wrote a story and sent it off to The New Yorker.  While that sat up there for a couple years, I wrote another story and sent it to Esquire.  While that sat up there for a year I wrote another story and sent it to The Atlantic Monthly, and I got a rejection within about 24 hours.  On and on.  The thing I did correctly, I think, was that I didn’t wait around to hear from one magazine before I sent to another.  Finally, Playboy, the Georgia Review, the Quarterly, and so on, started sending personal rejections with “Please send more.”

Well I sent more, by goodness.  And I finally wore those editors down.

Now, I do study up on magazines and journals.  And I understand that my fiction isn’t going to be a lot of people’s idea of a good time.  That’s all right.  Every editor should know his or her target audience, and what they want.  No sweat.  There are plenty of other journals out there.

Now, I do get frustrated.  Sometimes I think, Hasn’t the New Yorker published enough eastern Indian writers this year?  How many eastern Indians are subscribing to the New Yorker?  Where are the southern writers in this magazine?  Maybe the editors up there haven’t heard, but the American South kind of has a rich tradition of writers.

But that’s their choice, and it’s okay.  The house of fiction has many windows, as Henry James said.  I move onward.

MJC: How was writing Pep Talks (non-fiction) different from writing your short stories and novels?

GS:  Pep Talks was fun to write, and came to me in odd chunks.  I wrote down everything that I thought I knew, and it came to about three single-spaced pages.  I thought, I’ve been teaching this long and that’s all I have?  Good grief.  And then I got bombarded with anecdotes and aphorisms.  I kind of wrote that book at all hours of the day and night, whereas in fiction it’s pretty much from four-thirty or five in the morning until I have to go teach.

MJC: As a creative writing teacher, myself (middle school students), I’m always trying to find that balance of teaching skill and optimism while making these young writers aware of the competition and rejection they will face.  How do you balance the Pep Talks, Warnings and Screeds in your own classrooms? And what message (s) do you hope writers and teachers will take away from this book?

GS: I don’t know of anyone who talks about it–or thinks about it–but half of getting the students writing hard and taking criticism well, I think, is getting them to have a feeling of not wanting to disappoint their instructor and classmates.  Also, they can’t get caught up in petty jealousies.  When one of my students wins a national award, or gets published, everyone (at least outwardly) shows a Way to Go attitude.  In a way, if the piece has been through peer critique, then everyone in the room had success.  This might be in the Land of Optimistic No Ego, but it seems to happen more often than not.

What I want writing readers to get out of my books is this: If one writes pretty much daily, she will not get worse.  She will only get better as the years go by.  If I ran distance for a couple years, then took a few years off, then started back up, I won’t be at the same point I was at the end of the first two years.  If I run continually, even thorugh bad days of tendonitis, I will get better.  Same with writing.

MJC: You’ve written short fiction, novels, essays (Why Obama posted on Largehearted boy.com in 2008) and now a nonfiction book. Do you have any plans for screenplays, poetry or songwriting?  What are you working on now?

GS: I think one of those signs of the apocalypse has to do with my writing poetry.  Frogs and snakes falling out of the sky, and George Singleton writing poetry.  That ain’t going to happen.  I got in trouble in an interview one time for saying I’d never go back to writing novels, so maybe I shouldn’t say I’d never do screenplays or songwriting, but Las Vegas oddsmakers might give such a chance something like a million to one.

Right now I’m about a hundred pages into a novel called Side Notes for a New Grudge, about a third-rate comedian named Grudge Wright.  And I pretty much have a collection of linked stories about a guy named Stet Looper (who’s getting a low residency MA in Southern Culture Studies from a made-up college called Ole Miss-Taylor) ready–24 have been published–but with this economy, I’m going to wait it out.  Plus, last I heard, my fiction publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) isn’t acquiring new books.  Imagine that.  “Hey, I have a hotdog stand, but I’m not going to buy any buns or weiners for a while…”)

George’s Upcoming events:

Reading at Clemson University’s Literary Festival, April 2, time TBA

Reading at  Editors conference at UNC-Greensboro, April 23, 7 PM, with Claudia Emerson

Teaching/Reading at writers@work conference, Park city Utah, June 22-26

Learn more about George Singleton: www.georgesingleton.com




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Filed under Advice, books, contests, Fiction, Give Aways, Inspiration, Non Fiction