Public Memoir Roundtables

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.

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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

 

Bio

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 https://www.Barbaradonsky.com

 

Listen to the recording below:

October Roundtable Discussion – FREE to All

What I Learned from Screenwriters about Structuring a Memoir

Betty Hafner

October 6, 2016

4 PM PDT  5 PM MDT  6 PM CDT  7 PM EDT

 

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.

 

Biography

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 http://www.bettyhafner.com/book/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bettyhafnerauthor/

Twitter https://twitter.com/BettyHafner

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bettyhafner/

 

Listen to the recording below:

September Roundtable Discussion – FREE to All

Grant FaulknerWhy NaNoWriMo is Important for Memoirists

Presentation by Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month 

September 15, 2016

4 PM PDT  5 PM MDT  6 PM CDT  7 PM EDT

Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, November 1-30, known as NaNoWriMo will join us to talk about how you can join this worldwide writing frenzy and get a first draft done in a month.

It’s a great way to kick off the “school” year to hear from the person who heads up this international effort to celebrate writing. NaNoWriMo has created a phenomena that adds hundreds, even thousands, new writers each year to the annual National Novel Writing Month celebration. Here’s how it works: you sign up on the website and commit to writing 50,000 words during the month of November. Not only does it light a fire under you to get a LOT of writing done, you’re joining thousands people all over the world who are doing the same thing: committing to writing through writer’s block, procrastination, and confusion to get words on the page.

And great news:  you do not have to be a novelist to join NaNoWriMo. Grant and I are going to talk about how it all works and what the benefits are to you as memoirists. Many memoirists join to blow past all the issues that slow them down. When it comes down to it, if you have a word count to fulfill and accountability, you will write more.

We will talk about:

  1. What is NaNoWriMo and how did it get started.
  2. How you can join and how it works.
  3. What memoirists can gain from joining NaNoWriMo and how it can help you write your memoir.
  4. What is the expected outcome at the end; What does “winning” mean?
  5. What happens after it’s over—on your own again.

Writers say that NaNoWriMo was one of the most satisfying writing experiences they have had.

 

Bio

Grant Faulkner likes big stories and small stories. He is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the co-founder of 100 Word Story, and a founding member of San Francisco’s Flash Fiction Collective. His essays on creative writing have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer, and his stories have appeared in dozens of literary journals. He recently published a collection of 100-word stories, Fissures, and is currently writing a book of essays on creativity that will be published by Chronicle Books in the fall of 2017.

National Novel Writing Month

100 Word Story

Learn more about Grant on his website.

You can follow Grant on Twitter here.

 

Listen to the recording below:

August Roundtable Discussion – FREE to All

Meaningful Misery: Why Writing a Memoir is a Worthwhile Struggle

Dr. Virginia Simpson

August 4, 2016

4 PM PDT  5 PM MDT  6 PM CDT 7 PM EDT

I’m pleased to have a conversation with Dr. Virginia Simpson, author of The Space Between- A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life. I learned about her story as she was working on it, and know some of what she went through to gain the insights and ultimately the rewards from all her hard work—as a writer and her emotional journey. I look forward to our conversation!

 

 

This is from Virginia:

If writing a book were easy, most people would be authors. Writing is demanding and I believe nothing requires more of us than writing a memoir. As I wrote my book The Space Between, I was impressed with the emotional challenges that came with excavating and bringing my memories to life. Writing a memoir demanded that I reenter a time in my life when I faced a tough challenge: a life-threatening illness resulted in my mother coming to live with me. This meant that we had to navigate shifts in the balance of power between us, struggle with personality conflicts, and face the anguish of watching her mental and physical decline. During this process, we were healing the wounds between us. It wrote it all down, first in a rough draft and then several revisions. Working with a writing coach, taking classes, and reading memoir, fiction, and craft books, helped me on my journey.

The more I wrote, the more I discovered the deeper meanings and lessons I learned from being with my mother intimately every day. As I witnessed our lives, I gained more clarity about how both earlier events and daily struggles affected our relationship. Eventually, I was able to let go of past hurts.

My mother taught me about courage and the ability of the human heart to expand even at the most challenging time of life. Writing reminded me of some painful times, but there was such a reward as I kept working: I brought a fresh understanding to my relationship with my mother and myself, and discovered the power of love I had never known before.

 

Today, I will talk about the painful, yet rewarding journey of writing a memoir.

 

  • Writing thru pain – jumping past yourself to write your memoir
  • Remembering – how to mine your memories to find a deeper meaning
  • The importance of including events that move the story forward
  • Your lousy first draft – this is not the time to give up
  • Birthing your creation – challenges and rewards of bringing your book out into the world
  • Decisions about publishing, cover design, and building a platform

 

Bio:

Virginia-A.-Simpson-1Virginia A. Simpson, Ph.D., FT has worked in the field of death, dying and bereavement for more than 30 years, and is the Executive Counseling Director for hundreds of funeral homes throughout the United States and Canada. She is also founder of The Mourning Center for grieving children and their families, and author of the memoir The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life (She Writes Press, April 2016) about her journey caring for her ailing mother. Virginia has appeared on numerous television and radio programs and has had articles about end-of-life issues published in The Desert Sun, TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) Magazine, Next Avenue, ThirdAge, and Home Care For You. Virginia holds a Fellowship in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education & Counseling (ADEC) and has been honored for her work by the cities of Indian Wells, Indio, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and Rancho Mirage, California.

www.virginiaasimpson.com

www.drvirginiasimpson.com

 

Listen to the recording below:

July Roundtable Discussion – FREE to All

Sharon and CarolThe Rewards of Private Publication

Sharon Lippincott and Carol Broz

Thursday July 7

4 PM PDT   5 PM MDT 6 PM CDT 7 PM EDT

What do you do when your story seems too personal or controversial to share with the world at large, but you want your family to have the option of ordering copies any time? Do you wonder if it’s worth the effort and whatever expense to publishing a finished volume that you will never promote and few will read? Join us as Sharon Lippincott and Carol Broz talk about how Carol solved puzzles like these before publishing a family history memoir.

Four generations of Carol’s family had lived in the same small community in western Pennsylvania, often at the mercy of progress. Carol heard these stories as she grew up, and noticed quirks of various family members as well as stories of tragedies and triumphs. As she grew older, she became burningly curious to know more facts about historical events and to gain more insight into complex personalities and relationships within the family.

Finally, after holding onto information unearthed by her parents, adding to their research, using compiled notes, and mining memories of family members, a coherent image gradually emerged. She spent years writing stories about family members, obtaining feedback from writing groups along the way. Eventually she compiled a volume of family stories, using accounts of personal experiences to tie them together. She explains:

As I wrote, I determined to tell the family’s story with truth and honesty to the best of my ability. I was determined to help family members understand the forces that helped shape us all into the people we are today, and to do it with love and compassion. My intent was to inform, to make future generations aware that they are descended from tough, strong stock, able to survive hardships and obstacles.

Carol did battle with her inner critic all along, and when a valued family member expressed objections that critic went on steroids. Ultimately that critic was tamed and she distributed finished copies to dozens of family members. Grateful responses continue to pour in.

Sharon and Carol will talk with me about these points:

  • How to decide between public and private publishing.
  • How to make your book available to family without inviting the world to buy it.
  • Working with your inner critic to make an informed choice.
  • Dancing with the elephant when family members disagree.
  • Value to family members of sharing these stories and rewards of doing so.

 

Short bios:

Carol Broz initially chose to mask her identity and keep her book title private for reasons we’ll talk about in the program. She hopes that sharing the story of her writing process and publishing decision will help others with similar dilemmas discover the benefits of publishing small.

Sharon Lippincott, a member of the NAMW Advisory Board, lives in Austin and teaches lifestory and related creative writing classes. As a friend of Carol Broz, she has followed the progress of this book for years. She prepared the book for publication and helped Carol find a publishing strategy that worked.

 

Listen to the recording below:

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

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