Saturday, December 3, 2011

Meandering With Memoir: Guest Post by Deanna Hershiser

        My guest today is Deanna Hershiser who can be found at her blogs deanna hershiser on the unexpected avenue and From the Third Story awakened again.  In this post she tells us about her experiences in writing memoir and offers some helpful advice about getting memoir writing published.

        I want to thank Lee for hosting me today at Wrote by Rote. He's got a great blog thing going here; we who are interested in memoir writing need more places to go to be inspired.

       Since before I could read and write, I've been presenting stories. I'm grateful to parents, teachers, and friends who encouraged me. Editors, too, helped guide my process, as I contributed to their projects in collaborative ways. Especially I appreciate my husband, who exhorted me to work toward publication, and who has listened to many rough drafts involving himself as a character. He's quite a guy.

       While I love print publications, writing online gives me good ways to practice and experiment. Five years ago I started blogging, and I keep up fairly well at my main site, which you can sample here. Lately I also blog, here, about my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. I've spent valuable time in a nonfiction group at The Internet Writing Workshop, a helpful space for those willing to receive feedback from various other writers.

Meandering with Memoir

       I first wrote about a friend, another young mother, who died when we were both in our thirties. My initial story sold to a national Christian magazine. The friend's death, my reaction to it, and the reaction of the Christian community I was then part of affected my life, my faith, and my writing. Years later I completely rewrote the story, revealing questions that, in my forties, I felt freer to ask. This piece, "An Overture's Turn," received an editor's choice award from Relief: A Christian Literary Expression and was my launch into creative nonfiction (CNF).

       Next I worked on a book-length memoir about my marriage of 32 years. Like most couples, Tim and I've had our ups and downs. Unlike many wife-writers, I feel compelled to relate through essays our failures. The reasons for this, perhaps a psychologist could fully untangle; I only know they involve God's gift of compassion toward me, and how our marriage journey has made me grateful for this mercy.



      With Tim's blessing, then, I wrote. As it turned out, the first third of my marriage-book manuscript became another essay for Relief, titled "Memorial Day." Later I resold the essay to Mike O'Mary at Dream of Things. Mike's people regularly put out calls for CNF submissions. I was fortunate to be part of the Dream of Things' anthology, Saying Goodbye. My marriage's turn-around story fit their theme of "Saying goodbye to the people, places, and things in our lives." The book has received good reviews and is available here and here.

     




   After my parents retired, I began interviewing my dad. He and Mom returned to his hometown, Eugene, Oregon, where Tim and I live. With gusto, Dad took up his favorite pastime, fishing. He invited me along. This brought back childhood memories -- early mornings out at first light to join Dad in his element. The fish never mattered; I just loved being with Dad. He used to speak sometimes about his fishing friend, Richard Brautigan. The two of them parted ways in the mid-50s, before my birth. Brautigan went to San Francisco and became famous for his weird, whimsical novel, Trout Fishing in America.







      My most recent essay, "From A Damselfly's Notebook," is based on Dad's stories about fishing with Brautigan. It landed in the print journal Rosebud (Issue 51), one of a few publications I used to buy from Barnes & Noble and study. Dad has kindly welcomed other published memoir pieces involving himself, such as a brief essay you can read online at Camroc Press Review and another at The Shine.





       Web journals like these offer submission guidelines. I recommend studying what they publish, giving their guidelines an attentive read, and sending them your own shorter memoir offerings. While they pay only in recognition, such a thing can be quite a boost. You can even link on Facebook to your published essay and wow your friends.


Why Memoir?

       People craft narratives from their lives in different ways. The diversity is great. I loved Frank McCourt's three memoirs, even though I wouldn't write the same way regarding most anything -- religion, sex, etc. He found a poetic voice for what meant most to him. Like music, his prose remained in my mind and drew me back to his pages. Other favorite memoirists of mine include Philip LopateAbigail ThomasGary PresleyTim Elhajj, and a fellow Oregonian, Lisa Ohlen Harris. Very different authors, but each captivated by real grit and beauty from their life stories.

      Connections between myself and the lives of others -- my people, my characters -- fascinate me. Fiction would be one way to explore such connections. Some people naturally make it all up to find the truth. Other folks, though, those of us engaged in our dances with memoir, are compelled to begin with stark reality and weave from it meaningful tales.


      The places and the ways I have been with people reveal much to me. Remembering is a sensory experience. It can involve adventures, such as sharing a leaky rowboat with my dad. It involves another sort of effort some days, returning in my thoughts to books that shaped my childhood, to music I clung to during dark seasons. However recollections happen, working with them is one of my most valued efforts. Finding the next ways to do so (assuming my hubby remains patient) will occupy me for years to come.





        I want to thank Deanna for providing us this wonderful look into her writing life and her tips on life writing.  Please be sure to visit Deanna at her memoir blog and see what else she has to say about the topic.






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18 comments:

Journaling Woman said...

Deanna, I think an important feature of memoir writing is that it always helps another. When we relate to anothers grief or hard times we feel better. Nothing feels better than to know we are not alone. On the otherside of it, we also like to read about others that share our interests and beliefs. It's all validating and sometimes fun.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

I LOVE this post, especially since I write memoir as well :0)

I agree about writing online--it's wonderful getting feedback from other bloggers, writers and readers.

deanna said...

Journaling Woman, that's such a good point. No matter how different someone else's experience, I can almost always relate to good memoir. Fun, yes, it is.

Elisabeth, it's good to know you're out there, too. I'm on my way up the road today, but I look forward in the coming days to checking what readers here are doing in their online spaces. Hope we can connect further.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A wonderful post and very interesting to read, I would love to write about my life......well I do but in poetry form, but as for writing non poetic I wouldn't know where to start. Thank you for a good read.

Yvonne.

Tanya Reimer said...

I just love getting inside the minds of other writers! Once upon a time I researched my grandma's life to write a memoir. It turned into a magical piece of fiction, but I loved the research and the getting to know my grandma in a new light. It was inspiring.

Wonderful meeting you and learning about your journey.

Talli Roland said...

Thank you, Deanna and Lee. I'm a big fan of memoirs, and I always love hearing how authors come to write them.

jodi said...

I don't think I'd be able to write like Frank McCourt either. :) A wonderful article, Deanna.

It gave me story bunnies I had to shove back under the bed, although now you've got me thinking.

deanna said...

Isn't it something, Yvonne, how one way or another will usually appeal more to a writer (some want to do many types, but I'm not one of those). I'd rather read poetry than compose it.

Tanya, I had two amazing grandmas, and I wish to write about each of them at some point. Getting to know them continues for me, even though they're gone. Good for you, finding the best way to include your grandma in your work.

Talli, yes, the process behind these stories can be as interesting as the finished product.

Jodi, thanks for reading. Love the picture of story bunnies appearing. I guess we just have to vacuum sometimes...but I think I hide some of them for later, too. :o)

Lynda R Young said...

It's always best not to delve too deeply into why we feel so compelled to write ;)

Deanna, it sounds like God has gifted you with a real talent and blessing.

Old Kitty said...

Hello Arlee Bird, hello Deanna! Thank you for a most enlightening interview. Memoir writing is one of my weakest genres to write - I had to create a short piece for my last writing course and felt extremely self conscious and so my writing felt very contrived! It's definitely a skill to pull off so thank you for laying bare some of your inspirations and journey into memoir writing!

Take care
x

Kelly Robinson said...

I had planned some nice, cool things to say about your lovely post, but ended up dazzled that you have one degree of separation from Richard Brautigan! Nifty!

Dee Ready said...

Dear Deanna,
Your essay today gave me such an insight into why writers write memoirs and how novelists and memoirists differ.

For years, friends have encouraged me to write a memoir, saying that I had an interesting life, especially as I was in the convent for several years.

I always resisted as going back and reviewing my past life seemed somewhat tedious besides being labor-intensive. Then I got the idea to do an on-line memoir. I would tell stories in no specific order. That seemed doable to me. I'm loving doing this on my blog.

I'm going to visit your blogs today to learn more about you and your writing. Thank you for sharing with us your writing life.

Peace.

deanna said...

Thank you, Lynda. It is best, I'm sure, to leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals. :o)

Old Kitty, I've always liked the quote by somebody who said you should write what you can't not write. If you can keep from writing memoir, it's likely best to stick with what you love to do.

Kelly, I do thank my dad for being Richard's friend and for encouraging his writing. Thanks.

Dee, I'll be visiting your blog, too. What a benefit of these guest post events - meeting more writers and discovering their processes.

kimberlyloomis said...

This was wonderful. I've never before considered pursuing memoir writing, not in practice nor in reading material, but this has me intrigued. Rest assured I'll be clicking on those links. Thank you, Deanna and to you Lee for hosting.

deanna said...

Thanks, Kimberly. I hope the links are helpful.

Arlee Bird said...

My sincerest thank you to Deanna for giving us wonderful look at a bit of her life and her thoughts on writing memoir.

And thank you to all who stopped to read and especially those of you who left comments.

Lee

Ann Best said...

I am SO happy to meet Deanna. Thank you, Lee, for hosting her. This was a beautifully written and very informative essay on memoir writing. There are many links here, Deanna, that I want to follow. And I'm now heading over to your place to find out more about you.
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deanna - interesting read .. what I like is everyone's take on things - how they start, where they go .. and what support they get, as well as those stumbling blocks ..

Wonderful you are able to tap into your parents' stories and have noted down many of them.

Your experiences certainly open many doors for you - fascinating to read about ..

Cheers Deanna .. and another great guest memoir writer Lee -- have good Christmases .. Hilary