Author Archives: Erica

Dipping the Madeleine: How to Find Hidden Memories as You Write Your Memoir

Barbara Donsky

November Roundtable

November 18, 2016

11 AM PDT    12 PM MDT    1 PM CDT   2 PM EDT

We are pleased this month to explore the issue of memory itself, with some inspiration by Marcel Proust and our guest, Barbara Donsky, author of Veronica’s Grave. Her introduction to our November roundtable follows. Remember, it’s National Lifewriting Month, so celebrate by working on your memoir and inviting your memories to play.


And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray … when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane …. and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and garden alike, from my cup of tea.

                                                                  —Marcel Proust

After dipping a madeleine in a cup of verbena-infused tea, Proust’s boyhood memories played out before his very eyes. After a few more sips and a few more dips, he transformed his entire life — all that he knew about history, cultural mores, social privilege, art, science, and human nature—into what is arguably the greatest novel of the 20th century. If not a memoir, it’s an autobiographical treatise in the guise of a novel. Dipping the madeleine proved an antidote to the much-dreaded writer’s block.

What Proust stumbled upon was a way to feed the artist within.  And what about you? Have you tried ‘dipping the madeleine,’ found ways to nourish your artist-soul? As memoirists, we are called upon to revisit our earlier selves. To do so, we need something that will trigger the involuntary memories, many of which have lain dormant for years.

When involuntary memories arise, we see the past as if it were the present, according to Proust. And that’s very much how it felt, when I visited the apartment building on Ryer Avenue in the South Bronx where we had lived until my mother died. It was then I could see in mind’s eye the black-and-white octagonal tiles that had been in the bathroom. Feel the silkiness of the tufts on my mother’s chenille bedspread. Hear the music of the Big Bands coming from the radio. Things that I had not thought about in years.  All of which came together to form the opening segment of Veronica’s Grave.

Neuroscientists tell us that our memories are not lost, but contained within the cells of our body. That said, in order for an involuntary memory to surface—to move out of the hippocampus into the realm of consciousness—requires a trigger.

Fortunately, ‘triggers’ can be found everywhere if we are open to them. A trigger could be something as ordinary as a conversation overheard on a street corner. Or the feel of a starchy linen napkin (as was the case for Proust).  For authors juggling the hurried demands of everyday life, it often feels as if there’s little time to collect one’s thoughts, no less to listen to them.

When doing readings and book signings for my book Veronica’s Grave, one of the questions that has come up regularly has to do with my writing schedule and how I managed to find the voice of a young girl.

I will discuss:

  • Strategies for opening the gates to the sub-conscious, and letting involuntary memories rise into consciousness.
  • Rise and Shine!
  • Recharge the synapses
  • Start the Day with Self-Affirmations
  • Write the Morning Pages
  • The Virtues of Longhand
  • Trust the Voice in Your Head



e_037972_150519Barbara Donsky is a native New Yorker born in the South Bronx, a neighborhood that by the ‘70s and ‘80s had become synonymous with urban dysfunction.

Author of the newly-released Veronica’s Grave: A Daughter’s Memoir, she graduated Hunter College magna cum laude; was elected to three honorary societies—Phi Beta Kappa, Kappa Delta Pi and Sigma Tau Delta; and earned a doctoral degree from Hofstra University. Publications include a dissertation Trends in Written Composition in Elementary Schools in the United States, 1890 -1960. Articles in educational journals including “Writing as Praxis” and “Trends in Elementary Writing Instruction”. And a short story— “The Trouble with Harry”—published in the Naples Review in Florida.

A reading specialist with a private practice for school-age children and an adjunct professor at C.W. Post College on Long Island, Barbara served for many years as a trustee, board president, and capital campaign coordinator of the Boys and Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich.

For work done on behalf of the Club, Barbara was named ‘Woman of the Year’ by the Boys and Girls Club and honored by the Township of Oyster Bay for her ‘public-spirited contributions advancing the general welfare of the community.’

Living in Manhattan with her husband, she blogs at


Listen to the recording below:

Choosing a Book Designer that Fits Your Soul and the Soul of Your Memoir

By Robin Brooks, The Beauty of Books

robin-brooksYou have written your memoir. You have put your heart and soul into it. It is your life. It is your breath. It is who you are. Now it is time to put your memoir out into the world. What is the process for doing this? Who are you going to choose to work with who will take the time to listen to the deepest cadence of your memoir and to you, the one who wrote it?

What are the things to know about the person who will take the words you have written on many pages and give them a form which honors all the time, effort, and heart you put into it?

Practical considerations for choosing the right designer:

  • Always use a book designer, not just a graphic designer. There is specific knowledge that a seasoned book designer has that a regular graphic designer does not.
  • Choose a book designer who knows the ropes in terms of choices for printers, whether traditional offset, short-run digital, or true print-on-demand. After talking with them, see if you feel confident they will be able to act as your guide in this area.
  • Make sure the book designer you hire is excellent at meeting deadlines.
  • Make certain you choose a human being, someone you find easy to communicate with. Producing a book together is an intimate process of back and forth communication and follow-through, and it is not a short collaboration.
  • What are clients saying about working with this designer? What do the testimonials on a designer’s website say? It’s not only important that a book designer be proficient. He or she needs to be a good person to work with, for your soul and for the soul of your memoir.


Practical points for your book’s cover and interior:

  • The title of your memoir should include key words that convey what your book is about. Your cover should include one or more key images that support and in some way personify the title and overall message — or soul — of your memoir.
  • When prospective readers are looking at books on display in bookstores or on Amazon, they are scanning the titles and covers for what jumps out at them and appeals to them in that moment. A cover needs to quickly imply what’s inside so a prospective reader can make an immediate choice, soul to soul, as to whether they want to buy a book right then and there. For a commercial book, you should be able to read the cover from at least six feet away.
  • For the interior, it is imperative that a book designer understands on a gut level who you are and what you are trying to express. Does this person have the ability for subtle sensitivity to fonts, spacing, tone, and white space that will enhance and support your soul’s story, whether it is one of triumph, love, or tragedy, etc.?
  • Be that prospective reader when you look at a designer’s website. Do you respond to what you see? Can you tell that the book designs support the story and the personality of what the books are about?
  • Choose a designer who is capable of working with the right subtleties for YOUR memoir. Choose what feels right to YOU.

What about self-publishing?

Unless you have a large budget and can afford to pay for at least 500 books printed through traditional offset, the best route these days to self-publishing your book is to print-on-demand with both Create Space and Ingram.

With Create Space, you get an instant book page on Amazon with its tremendous accessibility for readers. With Ingram, because returns are easy, all brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries will choose to buy through the Ingram catalogue.

If you purchase your own, you will use the same ISBN and Library of Congress Control Number for both.

What about marketing?

There is social media, direct mail to your target audience, Pinterest, Bublish, IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) which includes so much, book awards, readings, etc., etc., etc. An excellent book marketer to know about is John Kremer at What marketing plan fits your life and who you are?

Which book designer is right for your soul and for the soul of your memoir?

This is a choice that must support you because, when you write your memoir, you are opening your soul to your readers. This is a decision that comes partly from the gut and partly from concrete information. You’ll need both because you will want to work with someone who honors and supports your soul, as they also help you bring into the world the soul of your memoir. I look forward to discussing these issues and more at the National Association of Memoir Writers Telesummit November 11.



Robin Brooks of The Beauty of Books has been a graphic designer for 40 years, designing everything from ads, brochures, newsletters, magazines, corporate identities, packaging, websites, and books, including some for Viking Penguin and the Waldorf Schools of North America. In the last eight years or so, she has focused on books, specializing in memoirs and personal histories and designing books, too, for artists, poets, and those who write about spirituality.

Robin is also a published author who writes about healing, and an artist. She received her MFA in Sculpture from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and her art has shown nationally.

Featured NAMW Member – Cindi Michael

The Sportscaster’s Daughter

SportscastersDaughter_VERSA.inddMillions of people watched sportscaster George Michael each week on the Sports Machine, including sometimes his daughter Cindi. Cindi Michael appears to live a charmed life: she’s happily married, has a successful career, and is a loving mom to two wonderful children. Yet she longs for a father who hasn’t spoken to her in twenty years, and even secretly watches him on TV when the longing becomes unbearable.

When Cindi was eleven, her father fought for sole custody of her and her siblings, raising three children on his own despite being a bachelor and rock ’n’ roll DJ in New York. But with his rising fame as the host of the popular show Sports Machine, his 80-hour-a-week work schedule, and his second marriage, the close relationship Cindi shared with her father began to crack; she did everything to earn his love and attention, but for perfectionist George, it was never enough—and when she was eighteen and a freshman in college, in a burst of anger, he told her never to come home again. As the years went on, Cindi struggled to steel her heart while still remaining hopeful that they would one day reconcile, just as her father did with his own dad, and transcend painful family patterns that span generations. Candid, moving, and ultimately hopeful, The Sportscaster’s Daughter is a family story of forgiveness, faith , and strength.



cindimichaellowresAfter moving from Maryland to Switzerland to Texas to Michigan, Cindi Michael now lives in rural New Jersey, not far from where she spent the golden years of her childhood highlighted in her memoir. She’s happily married to an Englishman and is a die-hard football and swim team mom. Her day job as a technology and big data expert takes her to clients around the world, and she is the author of five business and technology books. She holds a BA in English from the University of Maryland and an MBA from Rice University. She has won two creative writing awards for her short stories.


5 Tips to Help You Write a Gripping Memoir

pamela-janePamela Jane

October Member Teleseminar

October 21, 2016

11 AM PDT    12 PM MDT    1 PM CDT   2 PM EDT

As memoir writers, we know that not only do we have to find the threads of memory and truth, we also must master classic principles of story structure in order to capture and hold the reader’s attention.  It’s a challenge to dig into our memory banks–we run into some surprises that we then have to process. And yet, learning story principles can help us with the healing and writing process in ways that may surprise you.

Pamela Jane’s presentation is designed to help you successfully integrate story principles into a powerful memoir to draw your readers into your story and keep them turning the pages.

What you will learn from the discussion:

  1. How to dig deep to find the bones (structure) of your story
  2. Ways to allow the theme to emerge (Clue:  The big mess you’re trying to get through so you can write you story is the story.)
  3. Techniques to write your way through painful memories
  4. Tips to identify conflict in your story–and what to do about it
  5. Finding your voice (Clue:  put on your mental pajamas!)



pamela-jane-bookPamela Jane is an essayist, writing coach, and author of over thirty books, from board books to memoir.  Story Circle Review called her new memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Odyssey,  “A fine, five-star read.”  You can read an excerpt in The Writer and more reviews here.  She is also the author of Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen’s Classic, which was featured in the NY Times The Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, among other places.  She is an essayist, a columnist for, and blogger for The Huffington Post.


Memoir Book Trailer

Twitter: @austencats


Recent Essays

JUST WAIT!  A Short Story Rejected in Grade School Becomes a Cause of Action






Pamela Jane

Pamela Jane’s Children’s Books

New Memoir: An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story

Memoir Book Trailer

My New Huff Po Blog:

7 Things that Make Me Really Mad Beginning with the Bass Clef

Funniest Rejections of All Time (Huff Po)

Memoir Excerpt in The Writer

JUST WAIT!  A Short Story Rejected in Grade School Becomes a Cause of Action

Pride and Prejudice and Kitties


October Roundtable Discussion – FREE to All

What I Learned from Screenwriters about Structuring a Memoir

Betty Hafner

October 6, 2016



not-exactly-loveYou may have heard the question, “What’s the better training for writers—an MFA or New York?”  Well, neither for me. When I started writing in earnest, I chose to stay put and learn everything I could from books, workshops, writers’ conferences, webinars and wherever Google sent me. This is all to say I’ve had no formal training in writing.

So after two years of writing about my marriage in the ’70s, I was stuck. I had simply a collection of chapters full of drama, because those were the situations I was able to remember most clearly. It didn’t feel like it was becoming a book though. That’s when the screenwriters came in, not literally, of course. I just dug into materials where various film consultants and writers discussed how to shape a story into one that would really mean something to an audience or readers. It was a significant turning point for me, and I’d like to share some of those lessons with you.

Among other things, we’ll discuss:

  • Pulling together a collection of related personal essays into a memoir.
  • Using the classic three-act dramatic structure to help shape your memoir.
  • Seeing the story you’re telling about your life as a journey.
  • The importance of scenes in memoirs.
  • What makes the setup in your story so important.



betty-hafnerBetty Hafner lives outside Washington, DC and has written a popular monthly book review column for twelve years in The Town Courier newspapers in Montgomery County, MD. With a M. S. in counseling she was a teacher and counselor in high schools and colleges for twenty-five years. She continues to lead workshops, give talks and facilitate groups. She wrote two practical career-change books that stemmed from her workshops―Where Do I Go From Here? (Lippincott) and The Nurse’s Guide to Starting a Small Business (Pilot Books). Always ready to converse, she also loves telling stories through her drawings and photographs.


Learn more at





Listen to the recording below:


Myers makes a compelling case for the power of words as a form of healing and growth.

James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D. professor of psychology, The University of Texas at Austin and author, Opening Up and Writing To Heal

...the NAMW memoir classes with Linda Joy Myers are wonderful

Kathy Pooler