Author Archives: Erica

Featured NAMW Member – Joan Z. Rough

SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go

SCATTERING-ASHES-dragged-663x1024Feeling responsible for her mother’s care as her health declines, Joan invites her mother to move in with her. While facing continued ailments and eventually her mother’s stage four lung cancer, they struggle to maintain their own privacy and independence. Though Joan longs to be the “good daughter,” helping her narcissistic mother face the reality of her coming death, her mother, sure she will live forever, does everything she can to remain in control of her life. When repressed memories of being abused by her mother when she was a child arise, Joan fills with deep resentment and hatred toward the woman who birthed her. When her mother dies almost seven years later, Joan is left with a diagnosis of PTSD, intense bitterness, and a bag of her mother’s ashes. Five years and four different “Letting Go” rituals later, Joan discovers her own true identity, finds forgiveness for her mother and herself, as she reassembles the broken pieces of her life.

This story is for adult children left with the emptiness of investing themselves in a loving yet hateful relationship with an aging parent and the challenge of renewal when their loved one is gone. It’s loaded with themes of love, guilt, condemnation, heroism, hatred, dedication, perseverance, loneliness, regrets, PTSD, substance abuse, forgiveness, healing, and humor.



DSC_2620Joan Z. Rough is a visual artist and writer. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals, and is included in Mariflo Stephens’ anthology, Some Say Tomato. At one time, a fiber artist and raiser of sheep and angora goats, Joan’s first book, AUSTRALIAN LOCKER HOOKING: A New Approach to a Traditional Craft, was published in 1980. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband, Bill, her two dogs, Sam and Max, and crazy cat Lilliput. When she’s not making art or writing, she can be found taking long walks, tending her garden, and enjoying the natural world.


How I Dared Tell My Story: Navigating Family and Community

Leah Lax
June Member Teleseminar
June 17
11 AM PDT  12 PM MDT  1 PM CDT  2 PM EDT

Leah Lax bookUncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home, by Leah Lax, is about how she left an insular religious society and came out as a lesbian. This will be the first time she speaks about the impact of publishing her book on her relationships with family and community—and about what she has learned.


Leah says this about her journey:

The conundrum of writing memoir is that although memoir seems to imply a solo journey, we’re societal creatures, family creatures, and to write well we have to show ourselves within our worlds. Other people on the page have to be active and vivid even though we often don’t have permission to tell their stories. I will share my experience trying to navigate that tangle, both the successes and the fallout.


The Hasidic society has, informally, banned my book. Those of my seven children who remained in the fold were rocked by the publication, and the one who lives at the center of the movement has cut all contact—this in spite of my commitment from the outset to write a loving personal journey and not an expose or diatribe. But for those who actually agreed to read it, the experience of reading was course-changing.


Here’s what members may gain from participating in this discussion:

  • I’ll share how I tried to prepare my family before my book was published. You’ll hear what worked…and what didn’t. You’ll hear the varieties of reactions among them, including the unexpected outcomes.
  • You’ll see one memoirist’s use of craft as a tool to navigate through the web of stories; we’ll talk about point of view above all, but also theme, and finding a through line through the stories that surrounded us—which can be particularly challenging for wives and mothers.
  • Most important, I think, is the opportunity to discuss this topic that so deeply affects us among other memoirists. Writers, by our very existence, are fundamentally opposed to censorship, but how do we negotiate that when it comes to loved ones?



Lax bio photo(1)Leah Lax has written award-winning fiction and nonfiction as well as an opera for the Houston Grand Opera. Her work has appeared in many places, including Salon, Dame, Lilith, and in anthologies by Seal Press and North Atlantic, but her memoir, Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home, by She Writes Press, is her first book. Among its many accolades, Uncovered was finalist for four different literary prizes, and was featured on NPR and at the Library of Congress. Leah is now working with composer Lori Laitman creating an opera based on her memoir.




Here’s my book:


And here’s an excerpt of Uncovered on the Advocate that shows an important piece of my story set squarely within the tangle of family:



June Roundtable Discussion – FREE to All

Inventing the Memoir: Truth Can Be Stronger Than Fiction

Amye ArcherAmye Archer

June 9


When I first started writing my memoir, I was nervous that it wasn’t interesting enough. After all, I was only 33. What life experience could I possibly cobble together to create a memoir? Mine was a story about being unhappily married and divorced and fat, and nothing else really.  There’s no big plot twist, no tragic deaths. So when a publisher showed interest and asked me to change my story to fiction, I didn’t hesitate. I rewrote the book four times as fiction. I killed my best friend, let my ex back into my bed, and essentially undid all of the progress I had made in real life during that year. What I realized was this: people stopped relating to the material as strongly as they did when it was memoir. As memoir, when I would read excerpts, I would have women and men approach me afterwards and tell me that they too have felt the heft of Fat Girl, Skinnyweight on their chest, the worm of self-loathing in their brains. What’s interesting about my memoir, is that it’s true. As memoir, I was embracing the reader. As fiction, I was holding the reader at arms length.

*You are never too young to write a memoir; everyone has a story buried somewhere inside.
*The strength of memoir lies in our ability to tap into the universal truth that connects us.
*Tips for writing that universal truth, finding truth in identity.
*Why memoir is different than fiction.



Amye Archer holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University, and currently teaches at The University of Scranton. Amye’s full-length poetry collection, Bangs, was released in 2014. She has also published two chapbooks: A Shotgun Life and No One Ever Looks Up.  Amye’s work has appeared in Nailed Magazine, PMS: Poem Memoir Story, PANK, and various journals. She currently lives in Northeast, PA, with her husband, Tim, and their twin daughters Samantha and Penelope.



Listen to the recording below:

Featured NAMW Member – Leslie Johansen Nack

Leslie-2015finalLeslie’s memoir starts in a broken home in the 1970s and moves into a coming-of-age adventure when, at the age of 14, she and her two sisters have to batten down the hatches on their 45-foot sailboat to navigate the Pacific Ocean, as well as the stormy temper of their larger-than-life Norwegian father.

It is the story of how a young girl comes into her own power and strength against all odds in a dysfunctional family having the adventure of a lifetime. Young Leslie embraces the sailing experience and turns it into a growth and maturation process, finding both beauty and spiritual solace in the natural world.

After her mother and father divorce at age seven, and full custody is given to her father, Leslie quickly learns the hard lessons of being Dad’s favorite. The abuse begins at age nine and doesn’t end until she begins to fight back at fourteen.

9781631529412At twelve, the family moved from their 63-acre rustic ranch in Northern California to a 45-foot sailboat in Southern California where they spent two-and-a-half years living aboard their boat preparing for the trip of their father’s dream.

On February 5, 1975, they left everybody they knew, including their mother and began the journey, landing first in French Polynesia. Fourteen is the first of two books in a story of courage and hope, and of one girl’s fight against an overbearing, abusive and sometimes irrational father who demanded the best, while sometimes doing less than the best himself. You will be inspired by Leslie’s courage and fight and be amazed at all she encounters and overcomes.”



Leslie Johansen Nack graduated UCLA with a BA in English literature. She is a member of the National Association of Memoir Writers and San Diego Writers Ink. She lives in San Diego and has two children with her husband of twenty-six years.

Who’s the Author? What are the Rules? Writing Stories from the Point of View of Another

Denis Ledoux

May Member Teleseminar

May 13

11 am PDT   12 pm MDT   1 pm CDT  2 PM EDT

Denis Ledoux is going to join us for our May 13 Member Teleseminar to talk about the idea of co-authoring his memoir A Sugary Frosting, —which is composed both  of stories from his late wife Martha and of stories he ghostwrote. In order to preserve her legacy, he “wrote” the book based on her own stories which were mostly beginnings and fragments of stories she had begun. When I asked Denis to join us to talk about the idea of authoring someone else’s voice, I did so because so many people now are wanting to present the stories of their loved ones. They’re not so much writing their own memoir, but capturing the voice and stories from the point of view of someone else, usually a close family member. Is this still a memoir? What are the rules? The world of memoir is shifting and evolving, and we’ll explore that during this discussion.

Here is what Denis has to say about this presentation.

When you are both a story teller and a story keeper, in thirty-one years of being in relationship with someone who is verbal—very verbal, you get to know many of her stories. A number of them you have heard not only because they are told directly to you as you went about your day—perhaps driving together into town or as you sat in the morning facing the woodstove sipping your coffee—but also because she told them to others in your presence. Often, details are added in this retelling or an emphasis changed for the benefit of the new auditor—and, unexpectedly, you understand an angle to the story that had eluded you earlier.

Martha wrote a number of her stories—always in segments. She intended to write a memoir, but her life was cut short by breast cancer before she could realize this goal.

Wanting to compile her memoir, A Sugary Frosting, I collected her compositions into a manuscript and soon realized there were details missing—details that I knew were necessary to create meaning in her story. I found myself adding her words that lived within me and my memory into the narrative. Eventually, more of the stories originated in my recall than from her original composition.

What to do with this? I wondered if it was all right for me to write so extensively in the first person.

Because I have been a ghostwriter for many years, entering into someone’s sensibility is a facility that I’ve long practiced. A good ghostwriter is always writing in the subject’s voice. He uses the vocabulary of the subject and he enters into the sensibility of the person whose story is being preserved.

This writing as if one were part of the sensibility of the subject has always been an energizing challenge of ghostwriting. When I found myself writing something that fit the drama of Martha’s story as I saw it but about which I was not certain, I would feel a tug toward what felt like The Story, toward something that demanded to be told.

I’m comfortable with calling A Sugary Frosting a fictionalized memoir but to me it’s a co-authored memoir.

In this teleconference I’ll share the process of writing A Sugary Frosting.

You will learn about:

  • How to compile and gather the legacy stories
  • Seeing through the eyes of someone else as you write
  • Preserving the voice of the original author
  • Finding the arc of your story



Denis-Ledoux (1)Denis Ledoux is the founder, director, and editor-in-chief of The Memoir Network, and its predecessor, The Soleil Lifestory Network, and the author of the classic  Turning Memories Into Memoirs, A Handbook for Writing Lifestories, and originator of the Turning Memories® Workshops.

He has worked with thousands of first-time and experienced writers through his workshops, as a writing editor, coach, and ghostwriter.

Denis holds a master’s degree in education and, in another life, taught English, creative writing, French, and Latin at both the high school and university levels. He especially enjoys the challenges of working with writers of all levels of accomplishment to craft insightful and well-written memoir out of  personal and family histories.

He was twice chosen for a Maine Individual Writing Fellowship and his collection of short stories, Mountain Dance, was selected for a Maine Fiction Award.

Denis Ledoux lives and works in his native Maine.




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