Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Interview with a Memoir Writer: Vickie Newman

                                                                                                          (Vickie Newman)

Many people talk about writing their memoirs while others just do it.

It takes great courage to write about one's life and then share it with the world.

I greatly admire writers who do that, including a new friend as well a new blogger, Vickie Newman of Western Massachusetts.

Her blog is Musings, Tea and Me.

Vickie is a very delightful woman with a warm and engaging personality.

Her memoir, "Water's Edge: Growing Up  in the Heart of a New England Village,"  is an easy read.  She draws the reader into her life experiences with finesse and holds their attention as they read about many aspects of her life.

I read the book in snippets before bedtime and found my self hurrying to get upstairs earlier than usual so I could pick up that book and read!

In addition, I was sorry when it ended.

Vickie graciously agreed to answer some questions I presented to her on writing her memoir.

Without further adieu, here are her answers:

1. Vickie, have you always loved to write?
If writing letters counts, then yes! You see, I loved getting mail and knew I’d have to write some to receive some. I wrote to my cousins in other towns; I treasure one particular letter that was returned to me a few years ago. My first letter was to the “Do Bee” character on the Romper Room; later I wrote to Betty Crocker (that’s mentioned in my book) and other pen pals whom I met on vacation as well as to some I’d never met.
Also, I spent a lot of time in the woods observing and drawing plants. For whatever reason, I found it exciting to make little quiz booklets about my lessons from Nature! It’s no surprise that that I became a biologist, but I never planned to spend so much of my career writing and editing instructional and descriptive media for a large aerospace company! 

2. When and how did you decide to write a memoir?
A few years before I retired in 2011, I started writing brief stories for my own amusement. One concept from Gail Sheehy’s seminal book, “Passages,” (1976), motivated my urge to write: she described that we all reach an age where we look back over our lives and either drown in regret or continue to grow by setting new goals for ourselves. The thought of drowning has always terrified me, so, you could say that terror is what motivated me to begin the writing journey that led to my memoir!
After I wrote dozens of stories, something changed for me. I’d dabbled at recollecting my past for so long that eventually it seemed each time I sat down to write, I easily shifted into my childhood persona, perhaps as an actor does to portray an assigned character. Once I realized I could access my memory banks with enough focus, I began to think about writing more than just good stories: my heart would settle for no less than a memoir, though my urge to publish came later. 

3. How long did it take you to write it?
I wrote the stories over a stretch of four or five years, because I wrote intermittently at first, without any plan to write a book. 

4. Did you have a regular writing schedule, such as a specific time each day to write?
Once I realized I wanted to create a book of my stories, I tried to write each morning. If I couldn’t think of anything new, I’d pick something to edit. Some days, though, I’d work for hours on end.
Naturally, a lot of what I wrote didn’t make it into my memoir (thank heavens!).

5. Where did you write? At a table? Desk? In the office? In the kitchen? In bed?
Mostly I wrote at a desk in our office, but I often took my laptop to other comfy spots to write, sometimes outdoors, and even to bed on occasion! 

6. Did you use a keyboard exclusively?
Not exclusively, although most of the time. Ideas often popped up when I was most relaxed, such as during my reading time before sleep, or sometimes in the middle of the night! In order to capture them, I kept a notebook and pen handy there. And of course I found it easiest to edit a hard copy, so I re-read my printed stories instead of a bedtime book and red lined like crazy, always retyping them the next morning. 

7. How did you organize your thoughts about what you wanted to be in the book?
That’s the 64-thousand-dollar question! There are many approaches to ensure your book is cohesive. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t start writing my stories with the idea of writing a memoir, and therefore didn’t begin with an outline, but rather with a collection of stories that I enjoyed writing. When I began compiling them, I had to first find a theme; next came finding the best progression or flow of my stories and eliminating any redundancies or gaps.
In fact, I’ve prepared a whole talk around memoir writing and deal with that exact aspect of my experience. It’s in a section I call “Unifying your stories.” Even if you know up front you want to write your memoir and believe your outlined chapters are in the best order, this exercise can strengthen your flow through examining your theme. 

8. What is the most difficult aspect of writing one's memoir?
In general, I think one of the biggest hurdles is a commitment to finish writing one’s memoir. I say this because when you consider the abundance of help available for this writing genre, such as “how to” books, workshops, and writers’ groups, you have to wonder if the biggest difficulty most writers face has mostly to do with courage: courage to look at their life experiences—even if they think their lives are ordinary.
I’ll give you a recent example. I have a dear friend who is 83. He’s very intelligent and had an interesting career. He’s lucid, and can write exquisitely; he also can type 100 words per minute!
After reading my memoir, he declared he would begin writing his. A couple of weeks later I asked him how it was going. “It’s not,” he reported. His reason? “Too depressing,” he said.
For me, everything hinged on identifying the purpose for writing my memoir: that was not clear at all to me in the beginning. But once I figured that out, I actually became excited. In fact, that’s when I wrote my “introduction,” a section I titled “To the Reader.” I’m hoping to convince my friend to take this tack because the clearer you are about why you want to write your memoir, the more forceful it will be, and the more motivation you will have to finish it. 

                                                           (Vickie and her fur baby, Caesar. Hubby is to the far left.)

 9. How do you deal with the challenge of marketing your book? Do you plan talks at libraries, book stores, etc.?
When my husband told me I should really publish my book, a quiet panic set in. I envisioned years of sending query letters or book proposals to agents and publishing houses. However, since independent publishing offers so many options and benefits (like retaining full rights to your book), that’s what I chose. My husband cared more about me fulfilling my dream than about sales, so we skipped the market aspect entirely. Big mistake!
What choice did I have but to accept an email invitation to take a free 30-day online book marketing challenge? I highly recommend it to anyone planning to write or already writing a memoir. Feel free to check my blog article for my highlights of the course ( [NOTE: It’s from June 6: “One Author's Eye Opener: How D’vorah’s Book Marketing Challenge Changed my Vision”] I even sold some books to participants of the challenge, and am working to increase my visibility as an author based on what I learned.

10. If someone asked you for advice about writing one's memoir, what would you tell them?
Don’t wait!
A couple of weeks ago, a friend and former co-worker asked me if I thought he should write his memoir, and went on to list a few reasons why he hasn’t yet started. It just so happened I had created a one-page checklist only days before, which I shared with him. It’s titled: A Dozen Reasons to Write your Memoir—Starting Now! He loved it and admitted that all 12 reasons apply to him! Without realizing it, his email reply included the story behind his writing phobia, a story so touching and well-written that I assured him it is the exact sort of memory that makes a memoir vivid!
If someone lacks courage, we encourage them, don’t we? Just like you did with my blogging phobia, or should I call it my “e-jungle” phobia?!
Maybe I’ll have to turn my library talk into a mini-workshop—I am that passionate about the art and craft of memoir-writing. 

P.S.  Vickie is offering a giveaway of her book to all followers of her blog!  

If you are interested, let her know in a comment on her blog today or Thursday that you would like to be entered in the book giveaway. 

On Friday, July 4, Vickie's husband will pick the winner's name out of the hat.

Here's the link to her post: Now that is one firecracker of a giveaway!


Terra said...

Nice interview and as the author of two books, I agree that marketing is a huge and important part of writing a book.

BECKY said...

Love the interview with Vickie! She and I do have a lot in common, too. I always loved to write letters, even as a child, and had quite a few pen pals. I think writing letters was the beginning of my "writing training!" And it makes sense that I write personal essays and memoir...because isn't that what our letters are about? I'd love to win Vickie's book! I'm heading right on over there! Thanks so much for introducing us to Vickie, too, Susan!

Musings, Tea, and Me said...

Susan, What a lovely write-up! Thanks so much for featuring my book and me today. I love your daily blog!

And yes, I'm looking forward to your blog visitors stopping by! Hope you have a lovely day.

DeniseinVA said...

Hi Susan, I followed Vickie's link over to your blog today and thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thank you :)

Karen Lange said...

Susan, thanks so much for the intro to and interview with Vickie. It's great to meet and get to know other writers. I too, am a letter writer, have been since I was a girl. I never connected it with being a writer until someone mentioned it to me a few years ago. :)

Wishing Vickie all the best with her book! Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend!

Bookie said...

Very interesting! I also find it easier to edit a hard copy.

Dee said...

Nice interview....her book sounds interesting.

Merlesworld said...

I admire anyone who writes, I think amazing stories but to put it into words is beyound me and to do yours life that's just too hard.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

What a wonderful interview. I admire her and would love to read her book. What an accomplishment! Enjoy your week! Hugs, Diane

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