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What if You Weren’t There? | Memoir Writing in Absentia–Free Roundtable with Judy Mandel

Judy MandelMay 9  / Free Memoir Roundtable Discussion 


For a large part of the story of Replacement Child, I was not present, or even alive yet. A crucial portion of the story, including the plane crash that took my sister’s life, happened two years before I was born.

This posed an immediate problem for me as I began to write, as I know it does for other memoir writers who struggle with how to convey parts of their story that they did not witness or participate in personally.

Join me for our Roundtable Discussion of how to handle this inherent issue for many memoir writers, including:

  • When is it okay to re-create a scene for your memoir, and still have it considered as memoir?
  • How can you develop dialogue for scenes you did not witness?
  • How can research play a role in truthfully re-creating pivotal information, even if you were not there?
  • What is the line between fiction and truth in memoir writing?What about “fictional memoir?”(Ala, Jeannette Walls, Half Broke Horses)Discussion of the classic memoir, Mary Karr’s, The Liars’ Club, as it pertains to strict truth telling in memoir.

We expect, and look forward to, more questions along these lines that we can discuss further.

About Judy L. Mandel

Judy L. Mandel made her living as a marketing professional for over 20 years before writing her first book, Replacement Child. She grew up in New Jersey, but when she went to college in Connecticut, she knew she had found her home.

Her writing life began as a newspaper reporter. She later worked in public relations and advertising and somehow found herself in corporate communications at various insurance companies. Her memoir grew out of early essays and the promise she made to her family to tell their story.

Judy now balances her business writing for clients with writing fiction, nonfiction and articles. She writes an ongoing blog on PsychologyToday.com.


Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/judymandel

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/replacementchild

Blog: http://www.judymandel.com/blog

Replacement Child

About Replacement Child

Judy Mandel is the replacement child for her sister who was killed in a tragic accident. It would be years before she would understand how the event, that happened before she was born, shaped her life.

A plane crashes into a family’s home. A two-year-old girl is critically burned and a mother is forced to make an impossible choice. The death of a child leaves a hole in the family that threatens to tear it apart.

In a great act of hope, the parents give birth to a “replacement child,” born to heal wounds and provide a “salve for the burns.” The child unwittingly plays her role throughout childhood, riding the deep and hidden currents of the family tragedy.

In this powerful story of love and lies, hope and forgiveness, Judy Mandel discovers the truth that changes her life forever and forces her to confront the complex layers of her relationships with her father, mother, and sister. When she has her own child, her epiphany comes full circle.



May 9, 2013 FREE Roundtable Event with Judy Mandel

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Congratulations to November 2010 Memoir Writing Member of the Month, Judy Mandel

An Interview with Judy About Her Memoir, Replacement Child as Well as Some Advice for Writers

NAMW:  Tell us about your memoir.

Judy: Replacement Child, which came out in 2009, was the memoir I always knew I would write. It just didn’t come out the way I thought it would, or the way my parents may have envisioned it when they put aside news articles and their notes about the plane crash that killed my older sister.  That accident happened before I was born, and I always thought I was the one who escaped the tragedy.  As it turns out, and as I discovered by writing Replacement Child, that accident was a significant formative element in my life.

NAMW:  How did you come up with the title?

Judy: The title came about while I was researching the kind of grief my parents must have gone through after losing their 7-year-old in that crash.  The term “replacement child”—applied to children born after parents lose a child—seemed to apply to me in many ways.  I identified with much of what I read about these children, who are sometimes conceived to help parents through their grief. In may case, as a “salve on the burns.”

NAMW:  What tips do you have to give other writers?

Judy: A writing schedule was the only way I got the book completed. That and an invaluable writer’s workshop that I attended every week for four years.  The members of that workshop helped me see outside of myself, and gave me the confidence to go on.

NAMW:  What are some of the books that influence

Judy: Books that influenced my writing are:

Sophie’s Choice;  William Styron

The Year of Magical Thinking; Joan Didion

The Liar’s Club; Mary Karr

NAMW:  What do you think your parents would think of the book?

Judy: I imagine my parents, who are deceased, may not have liked the direction this book took.  Certainly not the title. My mother would have hated that. But, it doesn’t change what the truth is, and that’s what I wanted to write—my truth.

NAMW:  Who is the primary audience for your book?

Judy: It has turned out that parents are my primary audience for Replacement Child, whether they have had tragedy strike their children or not.  All parents can relate to the story.

About Judy Mandel:

Judy was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but her family quickly moved to the more suburban Cranford. The town she lives in now in Connecticut is nearly a duplicate of her childhood hometown.

In college, she tried several different majors over the course of finding her way. First communications, then theater, then she developed a major in playwriting. Finally, she settled on English and Journalism. Having taken a break after her sophomore year to get married, getting her degree part-time took a while. She worked her way through those last college years singing and playing guitar in coffee shops and clubs.

Her writing life began as a reporter, which she actually loved. Then, she added a public relations stint at a hospital, a short time in advertising and somehow found herself in corporate communications at various insurance companies–where she earned a living for 20 years. She had only meant to stay for a few paychecks. More recently, she provides marketing writing for corporate clients in addition to continuing her own writing.

She is blessed with a wonderful son, an equally wonderful husband who brought three fantastic stepsons into her life, and a very large orange cat that sometimes types long lines of zzzzzz’s by laying across her computer keyboard.

Reach Judy Online:

Judy’s Blog & Website:







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