Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons

Any Road Will Take You There Cover - NEW

Any Road Will Take You There Cover - NEW

Here at NAMW, we are pleased to present a blog post for the WOW blog tour about David Berner’s book Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons. This  is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story told with humor and grace, revealing the generational struggles and triumphs of being a dad, and the beautiful but imperfect ties that connect all of us. Recipient of a Book of the Year Award from the Chicago Writers Association, Any Road Will Take You There is honest, unflinching, and tender. In the tradition of the Great American Memoir, a middle-age father takes the reader on a five-thousand-mile road trip — the one he always wished he’d taken as a young man. Recently divorced and uncertain of the future, he rereads the iconic road story — Jack Kerouac’s On the Road — and along with his two sons and his best friend, heads for the highway to rekindle his spirit.

However, a family secret turns the cross-country journey into an unexpected examination of his role as a father, and compels him to look to the past and the fathers who came before him to find contentment and clarity, and celebrate the struggles and triumphs of being a dad.

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There’s a particular response I give whenever I get a certain question at a reading or at a workshop about writing creative nonfiction or personal essays.

“So how did your family feel about what you wrote about them?”

My standard answer: “Depends on who you ask.”

It’s meant to be a joke, and I’m aware it’s not terribly funny, but it is absolutely true. If you write good things about people, they rarely have an issue. In fact, they generally love that you’ve written about them, and many times feel privileged to be in your story. But if you touch on a subject close to them that reveals something unpleasant, or turns the rock over on a sensitive matter, you must be prepared for the consequences. I’ll give you an example. My first memoir, Accidental Lessons, includes several scenes with my ex-wife. First, I must tell you, the two of us are good friends. It is far from the stereotypical friction laden relationship of former spouses. Despite this, my publisher insisted on signed releases from everyone mentioned in the book. When I presented the release to my former wife, this is what she said: I’ll agree with one condition. When it’s made into a movie, Susan Sarandon plays me. So, I got that going for me. And just for the record, no movie deal yet and nothing in writing from Susan.

In general, I believed everything I wrote about my ex-wife in Accidental Lessons was quite flattering. It wasn’t that I necessarily set out to write all great things about her, it’s just that what was needed for the narrative, her part of it, did not need to be about the times of our lives that were entangled in disagreement. So, when she read the manuscript, she had little problem with any of it. Was it true? Yes. I needed to reveal only what was needed. But what do you do when someone you write about is absolutely appalled by what you plan to publish or is outright angry about your words? Maybe their version of the same incident is much different in their eyes, and this creates serious tension, risking the relationship with that individual. How do you handle this?

I believe there are at least three things to consider.

First, you must be 100% true to the story. You must write what is real, authentic to you without compromise. There is no other way to create a meaningful personal story. I truly believe the reader will know when you are not being honest. Preserve integrity. Write from the heart, the gut.

Second, if it’s possible, let all those who are main subjects in the story read your manuscript. Prepare them for what you have written; let them know it may not be easy to read and that you are writing about difficult matters. Then, allow them to tell you exactly what they think, to point out errors, minor or major, and permit them to suggest changes. And if possible, ask them to write down their version of the scene or incident in question. Our truths are completely our own. They are no one else’s, and you must be true to your story. But permitting input from others can help you understand their truth, and some version of their story might actually be very good material to add to a redraft. It could, and many times will make your story better. This also applies to those who have died. Allow others who remember the deceased to offer their impressions and memories. This can inform your narrative in a positive way. However, in the end, it is always your story and you alone should decide whether or not to include their suggestions, thoughts, or versions. In the end, no matter what, the story you have written is yours. Keep it yours.

Third, be ready to take the heat. You are not going to please everyone. Some will remember differently; others will want to you remove certain aspects of the story, take out the dirty laundry, and there will be those who simply do not like your “tone.” It may lead to disagreements that will last for a very long time. You, and only you, can decide whether you can live with that possibility. Is your story worth it? Is your particular truth faithfully adding to the narrative? Remember, as a writer what you choose to reveal is as important as what you decide not to reveal.

In my most recent memoir, Any Road Will Take You There, I again had to have releases signed by as many people as I could, including my own two adult children, my good friend Brad, and again my ex-wife. For the most part, my former wife was satisfied with the manuscript. However, there was one scene where she believed I had not told the entire story. Not that I had lied, but that I had highlighted my involvement in a particular matter of parental disciplining and had almost entirely left her out of the story. She was right. But Any Road Will Take You There was about my relationship with my sons, about fatherhood, and in the scene in question what she had done or how she had responded did not necessarily further my story. She still believed I had taken far too much credit for how that parental moment played out and that I had given little credit to her. She had every right to question this. I would not deny her the chance to state her opinion. Still, I believed I had told the story truthfully. We just had a disagreement about the version I had chosen to tell.

What we are essentially writing about when we write memoir, creative nonfiction, or personal essays are memories. And they are our memories, the writer’s memories. But always remember, you are writing about other people’s memories, too. I recently attended a reading by author Chuck Klosterman speaking about one of his nonfiction works, a very personal story. He said he would never write another book like that again because one of the women he wrote about, although she believed he had portrayed her and their shared experiences quite truthfully, felt he had overshadowed her memories. Just the act of writing about what had happened between the two of them and then publishing it, trumped her personal recollections and essentially made her memories less important.

That’s a lot of power. So, be honest, but remember what you write about might be your story, but you don’t necessary own every piece of it.

 

Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons  is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon

David Berner Head ShotAbout the AuthorDavid W. Berner-the award winning author of ACCIDENTAL LESSONS and ANY ROAD WILL TAKE YOU THERE-was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he began his work as a broadcast journalist and writer. He moved to Chicago to work as a radio reporter and news anchor for CBS Radio and later pursue a career as a writer and educator. His book ACCIDENTAL LESSONS is about his year teaching in one of the Chicago area’s most troubled school districts. The book won the Golden Dragonfly Grand Prize for Literature and has been called a “beautiful, elegantly written book” by award-winning author Thomas E. Kennedy, and “a terrific memoir” by Rick Kogan (Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio). ANY ROAD WILL TAKE YOU THERE is the author’s story of a 5000-mile road trip with his sons and the revelations of fatherhood. The memoir has been called “heartwarming and heartbreaking” and “a five-star wonderful read.”

Publisher: Dream of Things (September 23, 2014)
ISBN-13: 978-0988439092

Twitter hashtag: # AnyRoadBook

Website: www.davidwberner.com

Twitter:  @davidwberner

 

 

 

Memoir Tribes Clubs and Communities–All Part of the Memoir Revolution

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jerry_9-12-14We are happy to introduce NAMW’s own Jerry Waxler on his WOW blog tour!

Memoir Revolution is Jerry Waxler’s beautifully written story as he integrates it with his deep and abiding knowledge and passion for story. In the 1960s, Jerry Waxler, along with millions of his peers, attempted to find truth by rebelling against everything. After a lifetime of learning about himself and the world, he now finds himself in the middle of another social revolution. In the twenty-first century, increasing numbers of us are searching for truth by finding our stories. In Memoir Revolution, Waxler shows how memoirs link us to the ancient, pervasive system of thought called The Story. By translating our lives into this form, we reveal the meaning and purpose that eludes us when we view ourselves through the lens of memory. And when we share these stories, we create mutual understanding, as well. By exploring the cultural roots of this literary trend, based on an extensive list of memoirs and other book, Waxler makes the Memoir Revolution seem like an inevitable answer to questions about our psychological, social and spiritual well-being.

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When I first imagined writing my memoir, I assumed I would be doing it alone, so to learn how to start, I took a workshop. Sitting in a circle with fellow writers, I listened to the instructions and then jotted down an anecdote about falling in love with my first girlfriend. I couldn’t remember ever telling anyone about the incident. As I shared my writing with these strangers later in the workshop, I saw my secret reflected in their kind eyes. By exposing my memories, I had created a room full of comforting friends.

When they read their pieces aloud, we reversed roles. In written form, their embarrassing, painful, private events became interesting. Then it was my turn to give support. Our shared goals and mutual trust showed me that memoir writing was going to be a social activity. I’ve been eager to associate with fellow writers ever since. I attended several monthly writing meetings each month, and a couple of annual conferences. As soon as I realized their importance in my life, I volunteered to help run them. By volunteering to help these organizations, I increased my connections even more. Although the majority of members were fiction writers, we few nonfiction writers stuck together in small critique groups.

As the Internet grew, I began to venture into long distance relationships. My first foray was the Absolute Write forum, teeming with writers in all genres, including a small subset of memoir writers. To find writers specializing in memoirs, I had to work harder. My breakthrough came when I began to blog about the subject. At first, I thought blogging might be lonely. Who would ever read my posts? I soon discovered that by searching for and visiting memoir blogs, I could bond with other writers who were attempting to follow the same path.

My blog network led me to Linda Joy Myers, who runs the National Association of Memoir Writers, a hub of memoir writing energy. Thanks to the critical mass of a national membership organization, Linda Joy attracts aspiring writers and experts into a virtual community. I became a member, enjoying the connections and the many resources the group made available.

Gradually my online acquaintances have blossomed into tribes — loosely bound collections of writers who see that banding together is more fun and more supportive than doing it alone. And while I miss some of the pleasures of face to face groups, I have grown increasingly comfortable “hanging out” with people I’ve never seen in person. Because writers communicate through written words anyway, long-distance relationships with fellow writers provide a training ground where we can develop the same skills we need for reaching readers.

I have reaped an unexpected bonus from all this distant mutual support. Even though this clan of boosters is spread all over the country and a sprinkling around the globe, their friendship has fostered a new, invigorating way to improve my writing. Now, when I write, I visualize these friendly strangers. This visualization has done more for my enthusiasm than many years of attempting to wrestle with the inner critic. Instead of shushing my inner critic, I have fun imagining my extended tribes of curious energetic fellow writers who want to read what I say.

Taking advantage of all these opportunities comes with a price. I have to pour energy out in order to receive energy in return, but over the years, my participation has created a vigorous, energizing social experience that has helped me grow as a writer and a person.

The tribes are dynamic, with people coming and going. Since my first blog post in 2007, I have accrued wisdom, just as I have watched other long-term members grow in their understanding of memoirs. In this era of the Memoir Revolution, with increasing numbers of us learning the power of finding our own narrative, these tenacious elders perform an important service for the virtual community. By sticking around, studying, and growing, the older ones have the responsibility and pleasure of leadership, passing our understanding along to others who have joined the journey more recently.

When I first heard the word “memoir” the task seemed to emphasize an introspective search for interior facts and truths. However, once I became engaged in the actual process of writing a memoir, I discovered that introspection was only half of the journey. The Memoir Revolution can best be understood and enjoyed by recognizing its two sides. In addition to offering a better understanding of one’s self, turning memories into a story offers a valuable tool for mutual understanding and support.

Memoir Revolution is Jerry Waxler’s beautifully written story as he integrates it with his deep and abiding knowledge and passion for story. In the 1960s, Jerry Waxler, along with millions of his peers, attempted to find truth by rebelling against everything. After a lifetime of learning about himself and the world, he now finds himself in the middle of another social revolution. In the twenty-first century, increasing numbers of us are searching for truth by finding our stories. In Memoir Revolution, Waxler shows how memoirs link us to the ancient, pervasive system of thought called The Story. By translating our lives into this form, we reveal the meaning and purpose that eludes us when we view ourselves through the lens of memory. And when we share these stories, we create mutual understanding, as well. By exploring the cultural roots of this literary trend, based on an extensive list of memoirs and other book, Waxler makes the Memoir Revolution seem like an inevitable answer to questions about our psychological, social and spiritual well-being.

Paperback: 190Pages
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Neuralcoach Press; 1 edition (April 9, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0977189538
Twitter hashtag: #MRevolutionWaxler

Memoir Revolution is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon.

How to Write a Memoir without my Psychotherapist’s Voice

Shes Not Herself Cover

Linda Appleman Shapiro Head ShotWe want to welcome Linda Appleman Shapiro on her WOW–Women on Writing–blog tour to celebrate the publication of her book She’s Not Herself.  Being a therapist myself, I value the insights and the tips that Linda offers about using her own voice to write her memoir–not the distant and analytical voice of the therapist self. All of us need to find the voice that best suits the story we want to tell, the voice that invites the reader to share our world.  Welcome, Linda!

 

Had I wanted to write an academic paper on my experiences as a psychotherapist working with patients who suffered from depression or any one of the diagnoses that fall under the umbrella of neuroses, psychoses, and/or mental illness, in general, that actually would have been far easier for me to accomplish. It would have been a combination of academic research and vignettes for a Psychological Journal. However, I had no passion to write such a paper. There were and continue to be many gifted psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and therapists of various schools of thought who write about their areas of expertise. I didn’t have a calling to do so.

In the ah-ha moment many years ago when I realized I had a story to tell, I was already in my late fifties. My life flashed in front of me in a way that words cannot explain, and I found myself in the middle of a summer’s night – with others in the house long since asleep – getting up and going directly down the hall to my office. Call it stream of consciousness or a compulsion, but once I began, the writing seemed to write itself. Having never written a book before, I had the outline for it all within weeks, perhaps even days. Yet, what I didn’t have were the tools to best help me show my story without telling it, without analyzing all the events and people I would be writing about. Analyzing came naturally. I had written critical papers throughout my years in college and graduate school, and had written process notes about my patients for years. No, I knew from the start that there were many ways to teach and I was not choosing an academic paper or a how-to manual.

To write a memoir, to share my family’s story, however, I had to learn how to create scenes and dialogue, describe where our family lived – our apartment, our neighborhood, our neighbors, and each of us. My mother, my father, my brother and me. My goal was to personalize it all, bring the reader inside with all of us as we lived, as we spoke or didn’t speak, and to witness my mother’s many break-downs and how each of us struggled to survive her mental illness. But I needed not to do so as a psychotherapist.

In short, it’s what I later learned every teacher of first time writers tells students: SHOW but DON’T TELL. And while showing was a real challenge, story-telling –once I really got into it – came more easily. I now think it’s probably a part of my DNA. My father – a brilliant young student had his studies end abruptly once WWI broke out in Russia. After the war and after immigrating to America, he was only able to complete high school, attending night classes while working during the day. Though he tried a handful of trades, he wound up spending the majority of his adult life as a salesman distributing paper and twine to what he proudly called “cleaning establishments.” Yet, even to succeed as a salesman, he needed to feel that he could fit into American society and learned that telling a good joke or sharing an anecdotal story took the customer’s mind away from what was his goal, which was to make the sale. With his habit of laughing as he told each joke, his laughter was contagious, his stories were amusing, and he succeeded in supporting our family by “making the sale.” Mother’s stories were always of a more personal nature and usually about the horrifying war years in Russia, arriving in America an orphan (along with her brothers and sisters), each one unwanted and un-nurtured by any of their distant relatives who separated them, housed them, and had them work to clean their homes and help with their own children until they were old enough to live as a boarder in a stranger’s house and join New York’s work force once in their teens,

As I write in SHE’S NOT HERSELF, “I wished that Mother’s stories were just that – tales, not a part of anyone’s real life, least of all hers. ‘What’s the use to look back?’ she would say. Yet, looking back was what she was compelled to do, especially when she was not herself. Her mind would transport her to where she was most determined not to go. In the telling, she was taken from us . . . . . . . Yet, I remained at her side, a silent witness, wondering where she was when her eyes lost their focus. All I experienced was her distance and transformation into an unpredictable, frightening creature, but one whom I could not let out of my sight.”

I listened to Mother’s stories and father’s jokes and anecdotes from as far back as I can remember and learned, if only by osmosis, the healing power of telling stories.
Also, since I don’t believe in coincidences, as I began to answer your question today, my husband just forwarded me a note from someone whom I’ve never met. She’s a professional trumpet player who became a fan of his years ago (as she listened to his many audio book narrations) and she said exactly what I’m trying to say, but better. She wrote: “I just finished reading Linda’s book last night. What a great story! It was so compelling, and what struck me about it, especially, was where it was coming from… her desire to help others by example, rather than instruction. It was, and is, a beautiful story about an amazing, and quietly heroic woman!”

 

Shes Not Herself Cover
I certainly don’t consider myself to be heroic, but I do feel so grateful that she got my objective: “to help by example rather than instruction.” It is a gift to know that just one person experienced my story as I intended it to be experienced. I’d also like to believe that I am not only telling my family’s story but that of so many immigrants attempting to adjust to a new world, learning a new language, and struggling to be American in an America that often does not understand their plight or their pain. . . and to all the families that lived with unanswered questions about a family member’s illness and saw a sibling or a parent as I saw my mother when I wasn’t even of school age: “Her face would change beyond recognition and all that Father would say was, ‘Your Mother, she’s not herself these days.’ Perhaps he had no words to explain her illness to himself, let alone a child of five. Yet, if she wasn’t herself, who was she?”

As I poked at and peeled away the layers of my memory cells, I recalled images and incidents long since buried. Writing about them was not cathartic, as many think it must have been. It was extraordinarily painful. But, it taught me so much about myself, about how each of us learned to cope with whatever reality we had to face. In the end, I had far greater love for each of my parents as I fleshed out the details of their lives, and I also gained a deeper understanding of how children develop coping skills necessary for their survival. In sharing our family’s story, my hope is that readers who suffered and those who are still suffering – living in families where they are being robbed of the freedom to thrive due to whatever dysfunction they are living amidst – will find some degree of hope and believe in the possibility of moving forward as they witness my family’s survival. To suffer alone and without explanations is no way to live, and yet that is how we lived in the 1940s and 50s when the medical community offered no explanations to patients or their families, and everyone was a victim.

Scientific discoveries and treatments for mental illness have advanced in numerous ways since those years, but there are still families and religious communities that refuse to expose illnesses of any kind and live, instead, with shame, which helps no one, neither the patient nor themselves. If, by chance, my story lands in their hands, my hope is that they will find the courage to reach out for help, gain the knowledge and determination to find professionals who can guide them to work through the fears and vulnerable places that inevitably take hold as traumas always do.

As I did, I hope that they will then move toward taking secrets out of their closet, getting in touch with their demons as well as their strengths, and learn to move beyond the darkness of trauma and into the light of forgiveness without forgetting.

So, What? The Reflective Voice in Memoir & Why It Matters | Public Roundtable

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mb desk croppedDecember 4, 2014

4 PM PST   5 PM MST   6 PM CST   7 PM EST

Guest: Marilyn Bousquin

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Writing a memoir of substance requires more than a one-dimensional recounting of events. As Vivian Gornick puts it, “What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense that the writer is able to make of what happened.” No matter how interesting a story, without a deeper, underlying meaning our readers are left asking, “So, what?” The memoirist’s job is to cull meaning from experience. This is where the reflective voice comes in. The reflective narrator not only speaks the truth but also interprets experience and arrives at insight; indeed, the author’s insight becomes an integral part of the story and imbues it with universal appeal.

In this roundtable discussion we will:

  • Identify the reflective voice and how it distinguishes memoir as a genre
  • Explore the differences between the reflective voice and the narrative voice in memoir and the necessity of both
  • Understand the relationship between the reflective voice and the emotional arc of a memoir and how the reflective voice drives a memoir story
  • Realize the power of reflection to lead to discovery both on the page and off the page and how reflection can help you gain the emotional distance necessary to shape your material
  • Learn reading and writing practices that will help you to cultivate the reflective voice in your own writing

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Bio

Marilyn Bousquin, founder of Writing Women’s Lives™ (www.writingwomenslives.com), specializes in teaching both the craft of writing memoir and the consciousness work that leads to recovering one’s voice and claiming one’s truth both on the page and off the page. A certified Amherst Writers and Artists group writing coach, Marilyn holds an MFA in creative nonfiction. Her work appears in River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, in Kate Hopper’s Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, and is forthcoming in Under the Gum Tree. You can read her book reviews in Literary Mama and River Teeth. Her essay “Against Memory” was named a finalist for AROHO’s Orlando Prize for Creative Nonfiction 2013. In addition to teaching classes and mentoring women writers at Writing Women’s Lives™, Marilyn teaches writing at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is currently at work on a memoir titled Searching for Salt.

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professor of psychology, The University of Texas at Austin and author, Opening Up and Writing To Heal