February Featured Book Review

by Linda Joy Myers  President, National Association of Memoir Writers

Sue Silverman is the NAMW Member-only Teleseminar presenter for February!  Be sure to join us on this call, Friday February 19, 2010.

Sue Silverman sent me her book Fearless Confessions, after we “met” on a phone call. Chatting quickly back and forth, we discovered that we are both passionate about the subject of memoir writing, especially writing the deep truths that are part of a healing journey. As I spoke with Sue, I had the feeling that we were fellow travelers on a path I’ve been on for so long, someone whose bravery and steel of purpose leaps out from all her books. I had to confess to Sue that I hadn’t yet read her memoirs Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, or Love Sick, telling her that my therapy work often delved into those dark corridors, and sometimes I was not able to read about the tough subjects that I’d dealt with in the therapy office. She was very kind in her response, saying that others had told her that too. After we spoke, I bought her books and read them, devoured is a better term, swept along by the beauty of her language, the strength of her voice and prose in each book, and her willingness to go through the darkness on the page eager to read her secrets and her path to finding her healed self. Her prose held me in its balance and beauty while making it possible for me to stay with her revealing and painful stories. Anyone who can do that is a consummately skilled writer.

When I began Fearless Confessions, I felt that I was well acquainted with Sue, I knew her history and secrets, I knew about her fear and dissociation, and could feel how hard she’d worked to heal herself of her childhood traumas. But more than that, I’d encountered a sturdy, fearless narrator, at least it seemed that she was fearless! Brilliantly, she begins this book, which is meant to be a book about writing, in scene—giving us an example from the very first paragraph of how to draw a reader in. Immediately we know that she, like the rest of us, was terrified, shy, and afraid to “tell the truth.”

There is so much wonderful material in this book, it’s hard to know where to begin. Some of the most important chapters have to do with the kind of narrator that we find in a memoir—a memoir about truth, a memoir that digs deeply into experience of now and the past, which Sue calls “The Voice of Innocence,”  and “the Voice of Experience.” She points out that the younger self will have a voice much different from the older, reflective, wiser self. The younger person we once were naturally sees the world through different eyes than someone with experience.

Another important technique for memoir writers is the idea of the horizontal and vertical plot. The horizontal plot conveys action and the external world; the vertical plot represents the emotional journey of life. These two threads weave back and forth, creating a grounded story that shows great depth, drawing upon the significant details of our experience. This kind of thinking about plot is important for memoir writers who tend to be overwhelmed by the many details in their lives, and about the emotional depths they encounter in their writing.

Sue explains the importance of metaphor as a means of crafting “truth” into art, using the example of a red scarf in her Love Sick memoir as a signifier of her longing of her love—and reminding her of the danger such a connection poses. The scarf appears in various scenes, carrying transparencies of meaning when it appears, layering feelings throughout the piece.

Fearless Confessions touches upon craft issues important for memoirists; style—which includes sentence structure and word choices, dialogue, tone, and voice. She teaches the reader about the world of publishing—essays, books, literary journals, and presents example of how to build a story out of an idea. This rich book belongs at your side to inspire, delight, and instruct you on all the levels of memoir writing.

The book ends in a tour de force discussion about the power of telling the truth, and the important of writing confessional stories.

Some important quotes from the chapter on confessional stories:

“Memoir is not journalism…my interpretation of events forms a reality that is uniquely mine.”

“Memoir relies on twining objective facts with subjective truth.”

“I am proud to call myself a writer of confessional literature—fearless literature…When we learn more about the human heart in all its complexity, we better understand the world.”

Fearless Confessions will help you take the fear out of writing your memoir and suffuse your writing life with intentionality, passion, and most of all support for your writing journey. I highly recommend this book to anyone embarking on the brave and courageous path of memoir writing.