Tag Archives: Sue William Silverman

Interview with Sue William Silverman For National Association of Memoir Writers

Sue Silverman
We want to welcome Sue William Silverman to another stop on the WOW–Women on Writing Blog Tour. This time, she has graciously written answers to questions by me, Linda Joy Myers, president of the National Association of Memoir Writers.

LJM: Sue, you have written two memoirs that had serious themes: sexual abuse and love addiction. What a surprise to see the humor and playfulness in this book! Can you talk about the different voices for each book, and a bit about how you thought about your voice, the process of finding voice—a challenging question for most memoir writers.

Thank you for noticing the humor! Well, I think if an atheist, Jewish, Democrat (me) has a life-long crush on a conservative Christian member of the Tea Party (Pat Boone), that’s just asking to be written ironically and with a sense of humor, albeit, in places, black humor. Pat Boone and me: It’s such an unlikely pairing. So even though my feelings for him are heartfelt, there’s still a surreal element to the relationship and, in particular, to the three separate encounters I had with him.

Generally speaking, each book we write needs to “find” its own voice. It’s not really a matter of an author finding her/his voice; it’s more a matter of finding the right voice for any given piece – at least that’s true for me.

In this way, each of my memoirs “sounds” different. In the first, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, I employ the scared, confused voice of a girl living with a dangerous father. The narrator in Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction sounds like a dark, edgy addict. Then, in The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, I rely on irony and humor. Actually, it’s even a bit more complicated: this new book is a series of linked essays, so I’m free to explore an even wider variety of voices. Sometimes I use a second-person point of view. Another essay is crafted like a screenplay, and so on.

In my experience, there’s no easy way to find or “hear” a voice for any given piece. It’s a matter of revising and revising until, finally, the right voice presents itself. In short, I just keep writing until an authentic sound and tone are revealed.

LJM: What was the process of finding the “angle” for your new memoir—with the theme of having a crush on Pat Boone when you were young—and later too! How would you define that “angle of view” in this book? How did you come up with it?

The fact that this book even exists is quite serendipitous. Here’s how it all started back in 2003: While glancing through a local newspaper (one I’d never read before), I happened to see that Pat Boone would be performing at the Calvary Reformed Church as part of Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan, near where I live.

Three thoughts hit me simultaneously:

1)      I happened to be scouting about for a new writing project.

2)      I always believed writers should write their obsessions.

3)      Pat Boone is one of mine!

Of course I attended the concert. I also barged backstage afterward to tell Pat Boone what he’d meant to me growing up: how he’d represented hope, safety, purity – an antidote for my scary father.

Subsequently, I wrote an essay about this encounter and published it in a magazine. At that time, though, I did not envision a book whatsoever.

Silverman, The Pat Boone Fan Club, for webInstead, I continued to write other stand-alone essays. I explored a wide variety of obsessions: a homeless tramp in the West Indies where I once lived; a high school boyfriend who resembled Pat Boone. I wrote about a trip to Yugoslavia with (as it turns out) an anti-Semitic boyfriend. I wrote about picking apricots in Israel where I became enamored with a paratrooper and his cute red paratrooper’s cap, and so on.

Then, when I was about three years into this essay-writing business, I realized that all the pieces revolved around a search for identity. Generally speaking, I grew up in a 1960s WASPy culture, and I wanted to escape my Russian Jewish heritage. I wanted to look like one of Pat Boone’s daughters. I wanted to fit in.

A-ha, I thought, maybe the essays could be formed into a book!

To ensure that all the elements cohered more emphatically around this theme of identity and belonging, I had to revise some sections. I also wrote brand new chapters in order for the parts to form a whole.

In short, the angle for this book only presented itself because of that fortuitous encounter with Pat Boone. Otherwise, this book wouldn’t exist! So I went with what real life gave me. And, in this instance, it gave me Pat Boone!

LJM: Clearly you have a great sense of humor and irony—and because of the serious nature of your first books, it did not come forward. Were you in different “moods” for each book, for instance? Did the general mood of the topic of your memoir affect how you wrote your books, the state of mind you were in, for instance?

Yes, I think I was in a different frame of mind while writing each book. I was about mid-therapy when I began Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You – my first memoir. And I began writing it, literally, about two weeks after my parents died (within six days of each other). So the darkness and intensity of this book certainly reflect my own emotional state at that time.

I began the second memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, relatively soon after I stopped acting out this addiction. So the experience, of course, was emotionally close to me. I was still, at times, struggling between choosing a life of safety over a life of danger. This conflict, I think, is evident in the voice of the narrator.

After these two books, I left much of this darkness behind. So, I probably was in a more ironic, lighter state of mind. And then, as I say, the material lent itself to ways I could be more playful with the language and the voice.

At the same time, I doubt if I could have even envisioned this new book if I hadn’t written the other two first.

LJM Did you have an outline for this book—or did you write sketches and follow an organic exploration of the topic?

I’ve never used an outline. I can’t even imagine how I would be able to come up with one. I barely know what I think until I write it. Writing, for me, is like following a whisper to see where I am led. It’s really how one word leads to another word. How one image suggests the next image…and how each word, each image then reveals a metaphor…as I go deeper and deeper into the heart of an essay or book.

This book is a great example of how imagination and creativity offered hope to a young girl who was suffering. Can you speak about that—for instance, how psychologically it helped you to have this crush on Pat Boone given that your father was abusing you, and had abused you for years. (Sue: Say whatever is comfortable for you about this—I’m kind of wearing my therapy hat here. I feel that creativity and imagination are a great help to people suffering, and would like to know your take on this.)

 I’m a firm believer that imagination and creativity are lifesavers. It offers one the ability to see other options or ways of living. For example, growing up, if I lacked imagination, I would only have seen the world as a dark, scary place.

But because (and who knows why) I was a creative kid, I was able to envision other lives. In the instance of Pat Boone, for example, the fact that I could imagine him as my father certainly helped me survive my own real father – never mind that this desire was pure fantasy!

And then, yes, when all is said and done, I found writing. And once I found writing, I was able to access the creativity in more positive ways. In short, I found authentic and creative ways to evolve into me.

Sue SilvermanSue William Silverman, author bio:

Sue William Silverman’s new memoir is The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew. Her two other memoirs are Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, which is also a Lifetime TV movie, and Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, which won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs award in creative nonfiction. Her craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir.  As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and more.  She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.



Amazon link to The Pat Boone Fan Club: http://www.amazon.com/Pat-Boone-Fan-Club-Anglo-Saxon/dp/0803264852/ref=la_B000APU4YM_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383753234&sr=1-4



Two Ingredients You need to Write a Prize Winning Book: Determination and Community

Linda Joy, Sue William Silverman and Sheila BenderWhat a journey it is to write a book! All of you who are reading this newsletter know this already, but it can’t be said enough. I just received an infusion of enthusiasm and inspiration just getting back from the AWP conference in Seattle where I got to meet in person many people whom I’ve had a guests here at NAMW. Sue William Silverman and Sheila Bender have presented their fabulous workshops with us several times–Sue will be with us for our May 9 Telesummit this year–stay tuned for that announcement soon.
We all need a writing community to help support and reflect our efforts–that our words mean something, that we are connecting to others with our words. After all, we write first for the joy of our own self-expression and by sharing, we create a community. I got to see how BIG that community can be at the AWP conference where 13,000–yes, you read that right–writers gathered to learn, connect, hug, kiss, read, and cry together. The panel discussions included poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and memoir. The memoir panels were all overflowing I think because the topics were so pithy: Breaking Silence, Family Trouble, Writing about Relationships–and there were many others.
Linda LBRThis week our Roundtable guest is Linda Bello Ruiz, who was a new writer when I met her a couple of years ago, but she already had gritty determination to write a book that showed the arc of her life, from being a lost young girl in San Francisco whose life had started to turn dark, to someone who rescued other lost children in Costa Rica through programs she started.  Linda had to learn how to write in a literary way and how to write a book all at once, but she is one determined person. She writes in her blog post this week what she had to go through, and we’ll talk more about what it takes to write a book.  You will learn about the community building she did, as well as the layers of the writing and editing process that she and I did together to bring her book into the world. It won the Gold Medal Award in the 2013 Illuminations Book Awards, Memoir Division.
Please sign up to you can get the free audio download–or join us live so you can ask questions during our Roundtable Discussion. What do you need to know about writing your memoir? Do you want to be a prize-winner? Or perhaps you would like to listen to a “regular” person, who was a beginning writer, tell you how she became published and won a prize.
Event Details
Name: Linda Bello Ruiz
Topic: 5 Things You Need to Know to Become and Award Winning Author
Date: March 6, 2014
Time: 4PM PST     5PM MST     6PM CST     7PM EST    
Sign up here for this event.

National Association of Memoir Writers Book Review: Fearless Confessions, by Sue William Silverman

February Featured Book Review

by Linda Joy Myers  President, National Association of Memoir Writers

Sue Silverman is the NAMW Member-only Teleseminar presenter for February!  Be sure to join us on this call, Friday February 19, 2010.

Sue Silverman sent me her book Fearless Confessions, after we “met” on a phone call. Chatting quickly back and forth, we discovered that we are both passionate about the subject of memoir writing, especially writing the deep truths that are part of a healing journey. As I spoke with Sue, I had the feeling that we were fellow travelers on a path I’ve been on for so long, someone whose bravery and steel of purpose leaps out from all her books. I had to confess to Sue that I hadn’t yet read her memoirs Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, or Love Sick, telling her that my therapy work often delved into those dark corridors, and sometimes I was not able to read about the tough subjects that I’d dealt with in the therapy office. She was very kind in her response, saying that others had told her that too. After we spoke, I bought her books and read them, devoured is a better term, swept along by the beauty of her language, the strength of her voice and prose in each book, and her willingness to go through the darkness on the page eager to read her secrets and her path to finding her healed self. Her prose held me in its balance and beauty while making it possible for me to stay with her revealing and painful stories. Anyone who can do that is a consummately skilled writer.

When I began Fearless Confessions, I felt that I was well acquainted with Sue, I knew her history and secrets, I knew about her fear and dissociation, and could feel how hard she’d worked to heal herself of her childhood traumas. But more than that, I’d encountered a sturdy, fearless narrator, at least it seemed that she was fearless! Brilliantly, she begins this book, which is meant to be a book about writing, in scene—giving us an example from the very first paragraph of how to draw a reader in. Immediately we know that she, like the rest of us, was terrified, shy, and afraid to “tell the truth.”

There is so much wonderful material in this book, it’s hard to know where to begin. Some of the most important chapters have to do with the kind of narrator that we find in a memoir—a memoir about truth, a memoir that digs deeply into experience of now and the past, which Sue calls “The Voice of Innocence,”  and “the Voice of Experience.” She points out that the younger self will have a voice much different from the older, reflective, wiser self. The younger person we once were naturally sees the world through different eyes than someone with experience.

Another important technique for memoir writers is the idea of the horizontal and vertical plot. The horizontal plot conveys action and the external world; the vertical plot represents the emotional journey of life. These two threads weave back and forth, creating a grounded story that shows great depth, drawing upon the significant details of our experience. This kind of thinking about plot is important for memoir writers who tend to be overwhelmed by the many details in their lives, and about the emotional depths they encounter in their writing.

Sue explains the importance of metaphor as a means of crafting “truth” into art, using the example of a red scarf in her Love Sick memoir as a signifier of her longing of her love—and reminding her of the danger such a connection poses. The scarf appears in various scenes, carrying transparencies of meaning when it appears, layering feelings throughout the piece.

Fearless Confessions touches upon craft issues important for memoirists; style—which includes sentence structure and word choices, dialogue, tone, and voice. She teaches the reader about the world of publishing—essays, books, literary journals, and presents example of how to build a story out of an idea. This rich book belongs at your side to inspire, delight, and instruct you on all the levels of memoir writing.

The book ends in a tour de force discussion about the power of telling the truth, and the important of writing confessional stories.

Some important quotes from the chapter on confessional stories:

“Memoir is not journalism…my interpretation of events forms a reality that is uniquely mine.”

“Memoir relies on twining objective facts with subjective truth.”

“I am proud to call myself a writer of confessional literature—fearless literature…When we learn more about the human heart in all its complexity, we better understand the world.”

Fearless Confessions will help you take the fear out of writing your memoir and suffuse your writing life with intentionality, passion, and most of all support for your writing journey. I highly recommend this book to anyone embarking on the brave and courageous path of memoir writing.

NAMW interviews Sue William Silverman

Sue William Silverman

Sue William Silverman

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP TO PARTICIPATE via telephone  IN THE FREE NAMW Conversational Q&A with Memoirist Sue Silverman–Live! 

Interview by Linda Joy Myers
National Association of Memoir Writers

LINDA: You begin Fearless Confessions with a scene in your therapist’s office. In your book Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, you bring in your therapist as well as in your first book, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You. Many writers shy away from this kind of revealing, and I know writers who have been advised not to include therapy information—“it will be boring,” or “who wants to hear about that?” How was it that you decided to include therapy scenes and conversations in your books?

SUE:  Good question! I began Fearless Confessions (FC) with that scene in my therapist’s office because he is the one who suggested I write nonfiction in the first place! And since FC—in addition to being a craft book—is also a memoir about my journey as a writer of memoirs, it seemed fitting. In other words, I began FC by detailing how I overcame fear in order to write my first memoir.

In Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, I felt it important to introduce my therapist right up front so the reader would know, while subsequently reading about my dangerous childhood (which comprises most of the book), that, ultimately, I found safety.

Love Sick pretty much has to include my therapist since the book takes place during 28 days I spent in rehab.

All this said, yes, I agree with you that there are artistic risks when including material that sounds like a therapy session! My challenge, then, as a writer, was to weave these scenes into the narrative as dynamically as possible. Writing memoir, of course, is crafting a life into art. I try to do that with all the scenes—including those with my therapist.

Fearless Confessions by Sue William Silverman

Fearless Confessions by Sue William Silverman

LINDA: As you know, my interest is in the healing power inherent in writing the truth, revealing secrets, and seeking transformation through writing. How would you say that writing has changed you? What has it been like to confront these issues in your writing?

SUE:  For me, writing memoir is a journey of discovery—and this discovery is transformative. I never quite know what any event means until I write it! It’s a way to organize life, discover connections, and come to understand my metaphors. Mainly, it is in this discovery of metaphor that most affords me insight and understanding.

For example, in Love Sick, I write about this older, married man with whom I have an affair while I’m a freshman in college. He wore this maroon scarf that I liked, and he gave it to me. Now, all I knew at that time, in college, was that I wanted the scarf. It was only years later, while writing the memoir, that I came to understand what the scarf really meant to me—that it was a metaphor for comfort. I loved the scarf because, as an addict, I didn’t know how to love the man—and, more importantly, myself.

It is only through writing that I understand the meaning of events such as these. And these discoveries are transformative, in that this knowledge makes me feel more alive.

LINDA:  Can you talk about how writing very personal things about yourself, your body, and sexuality has affected you or your family? Was there any reaction by family members about such exposure?

SUE: In terms of my family, there’s been no reaction! Of course, my parents are dead. My sister hasn’t read my books.

Has it affected me? When Love Sick was first published, I was kind of thrown for a loop when I had some very unpleasant radio interviews with male “shock jocks.” Oh, one asked me where was the kinkiest place I ever had sex. Yikes!

Now, however, I don’t much worry about these negative reactions. Much more important is the fact that I receive hundreds of e-mails from women (and some men) thanking me for sharing my story—letting me know that my book helped them better understand their own struggles…that my book helped them feel not so alone. That’s incredibly empowering, and helps me feel not so alone, too!

LINDA: Did you remember consciously the childhood scenes in your first book, or did you gradually become more aware of memoires as you wrote.? Did you have what is called body memories?

SUE: Both. I remembered many scenes, but the writing process itself helped me recall others. Mainly, submerging myself in sensory detail facilitates this process. For example, let’s say I vaguely recall a birthday party in fifth grade. So, I begin by just getting down the general outline of the party, the broad brushstrokes. Then, I ask myself: what did that moment taste like, smell like, sound like, look like, feel like? By re-creating the sensory moments, whole scenes can blossom onto the page.

LINDA: Did you feel that writing your childhood story was healing? In what way did it help you to heal, and can you please talk about the process of healing. (If this is long, we can do this on the audio if you prefer.)

SUE: There is an important kind of healing that takes place through writing. For me, it works like this: by setting the experiences down on paper, I, in effect, “remove” them from inside me. I put the experiences “out there,” on pieces of paper or on a computer screen. This process lessens the intensity (the pain) as I place the experience outside of myself.

Additionally, when all is said and done, I can hold all those pages in my hands, pages containing all my words, and look at them. Reading my own story, from the outside looking in, as it were, helps me understand—make sense of—the experience. That’s a powerful part of the healing process.

LINDA: How was it to write your adult story in Love Sick—harder, easier, different from writing the book about your childhood molestation in Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You.

SUE:  Love Sick was more difficult to write—and it took me longer to write, as well. Two reasons: One, it was difficult for me to discover the “sober voice” in Love Sick, and make that voice interesting. In other words, I didn’t want the voice to sound like a “how to” book: “Let me tell you how to recover from sexual addiction.” Ultimately, through a lot of trial and error, I discovered the literary voice to best convey my story, but, as I say, it took a few years.

Second: it was more difficult to make myself (my persona) sympathetic in Love Sick. After all, I was writing about myself as an adult woman cheating on my husband and having affairs with married men.

In the first book, sympathy was kind of a given, because I was a little girl whose father was hurting her. Not so with Love Sick.

Of course each piece of writing has its own challenges! But that’s also what makes writing interesting. Each book or essay we write is kind of like solving a mystery: How can I best convey this experience artistically? I love that process of unraveling the mysteries of creativity.

LINDA:  Why do you think that writing in memoir form worked better for you than the fiction you were using at first as you began writing?

SUE:  In fiction, I was trying to tell my true story—but not. So the voice sounded emotionally unauthentic. As soon as I switched to nonfiction, the voice—my true voice (albeit artistically rendered!)—was right there.

LINDA:  Do you have any advice for memoirists struggling with writing the truth?

SUE:  To know that you own your own truth, your own story. Our stories are ours, so are ours to tell. That’s our job as memoirists: to tell our stories. Trust your memories. Trust the importance of getting your story down on paper. Believe in yourself as a writer. No one else can tell your story, so if you don’t tell it, it will be lost for all time.

Sue William Silverman

Sue William Silverman

Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (Norton), is also a Lifetime television movie. Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP award in creative nonfiction. She teaches in the low-residency MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writers Guide to Memoir. Please visit www.suewilliamsilverman.com.


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