The Book Inside of You

I was on a debut author’s panel over the weekend at the fabulous Hippocamp to discuss my memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny.  If you haven’t heard of Hippocampus Magazine, I suggest you check them out, it is a brilliant pub and the conference they hold each year is wonderfully inspiring. Anyway, the panel I was on was one in which myself and four other authors each described our road to publication.

The audience was eagerly awaiting our answers. They asked great questions and I hope we satisfied them with our responses. However, now that I have a few days distance and more than ten seconds to respond, I’d like to answer two of the questions I was asked a bit more thoroughly.

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Here I am (left) with two amazing authors: Jamie Brickhouse (Dangerous When Wet) and Laurie Jean Cannady (Crave: Sojourn of a Soul) 

First, I was asked how I knew I had a book in me. The answer I gave was truthful. I had always written poetry, and when asked to write a short creative nonfiction piece for one of my graduate classes, I fell in love. My poetry has always been so confessional that expanding that same voice out to a longer narrative felt good actually. It was like allowing my memory to stretch its legs. I also liked writing with a dash of humor. I tend to be the person always looking to make a joke in real life, so again, putting that on the page felt natural.

But on a more serious note, I didn’t know I had a book in me for a long time. You see, I was married young and it didn’t go well. I married into comfort because I was fat and ashamed and my self-confidence was in the toilet. I married the boy who accepted me, instead of a boy who loved me. When the marriage finally disintegrated, as we knew it would, I knew I had to do something about my weight or I would fall back into the same bad habits. So, I joined Weight Watchers, lost some weight, and started to feel good about myself and the life I began to shape. That’s it. I never thought that story was anything extraordinary, I mean, this happens to a lot of us right? My friends and I call it the divorce diet. I just started writing about it, and decided to be grossly honest. And that, is where my story sprung from: truth.

Writing a memoir doesn’t always take an extraordinary story. It takes extraordinary honesty. People don’t always read memoir to discover the great feats you’ve accomplished, they read memoir because they’re looking for some part of themselves in your story. They look for that recognition, the universal truth that connects the memoirist and their reader. I didn’t know I had a story in me until I started to read my pieces in front of people, until I met men and women who approached me after readings to say “That happened to me,” or “I’ve struggled with weight my whole life, I can relate.” It wasn’t until I started realizing the universality of my seemingly ordinary story, that I realized its power lay in accessibility. Which brings me to the second question.

I was also asked about feedback I’ve received. I talked a little bit about the feedback I find most rewarding, and that is from young men and women who have shared with me their weight-related stories. But I wanted to share an example with you. This came in late last night, and it brought me to tears when I read it.

From an Amazon reader:

I would recommend this book to anyone who’s struggled with their weight, or an addiction. I think this is a story that so many people can relate to on multiple levels.

I went from anorexia, to bulimia in my life. I would read stories of eating disorders, and instead of marveling at how they recovered, I’d wonder if I could make what they used to get so emaciated, would work for me. This is the first book, having to do with eating disorders, that made me want to work for the weight loss, instead of doing something extreme and dangerous while hoping for immediate results.

I can’t praise this book enough, nor Amye, for laying it all out there for us, allowing the rest of us to have hope.

This review means the world to me. To think that my story, my vulnerabilities, may have helped someone is overwhelming. This is the feedback that keeps me writing, that makes every rejection (and there were A LOT of them), every edit, every revision, and every tear shed, worth it. It’s comments like this that remind me of one simple truth: everyone has a story to be told, because everyone has a life they’ve lived. It doesn’t have to be exciting, it has to be true.

Thank you to those reviewers who let authors know that a book has moved you. And thank you to everyone at Hippocamp, especially Donna Talarico-Beerman, Hippocampus Magazine’s creator. You’ve created a culture of acceptance and inspiration that I’m confident will grow and nurture writers for many years to come.

 

 

New Craft Essay

I’m so pleased to have a new craft essay in this month’s Brevity. Brevity is one of my all time favorite publications, so to be included in an issue is amazing!!!

Anyway, I wrote about perspective and emotional distance in memoir. Here it is if you’d like to check it out!

RIGHT HERE!!!

Cigarettes, Lipstick, and Cobain

I fell in love with you on a kitchen floor after my junior prom. You wore a loose tie with your red chucks. I wore a size 12 black and white dress that hour-glassed my expanding body into something more desirable. You couldn’t keep your hands off of me. That night became the night against which my beauty would always be measured. Remember how beautiful you looked in that dress on that night? You would ask me when you remembered it. It was as if that version of me-young, beautiful, thin, and sexy-was an island I could never again reach, not by swim, by boat, by rocketship.

We went with another couple, rented a limousine, sat at a table, ate a meal, and danced, just like we were supposed to. We had been dating only three months at that point, and if you were panicked or anxious, you didn’t show it. You wore a steady smile that crushed the world. We spent the night at a friend’s house. My mother called several times to verify our location, she even called and spoke to the mother of the house before granting permission. Your mother would have let you do anything.

The theme of our prom had to do with that Elton John song from the Lion King soundtrack. It was a weird choice because Kurt Cobain had just died, and I remember thinking we should have had a Nirvana-inspired prom. But I wasn’t popular enough to suggest it. You and I slow danced, and I should have remembered this more clearly-your hand against the sateen of my dress, your rough palm catching on the fibers, your breath against my ear-but I don’t remember dancing at all. I don’t remember the limo, the clumsy game of pool at a local bowling alley, I just remember you: how you looked, how you smelled, how you electrified me with your touch. I had never been so in love with anyone before, it was as if you eclipsed any reason I may have had.

I slept on a water bed with two other girls, not a water mattress, but an actual water bed with plush leather sides for steadying yourself. You woke me in the middle of th23111_lge night with a gentle touch. Come with me, you whispered into the darkness.

We sat on the kitchen floor and talked about Cobain, the cigarette they found in the ashtray with lipstick on the filter. I assumed Courtney had been there, that she had pushed him somehow into killing himself. She had to be involved, had to wear that responsibility. If only she had been better, cleaner, sober, softer. You disagreed. The lipstick may have been his, or maybe hers from long ago. It boggled my mind that someone so talented could hate themselves so deeply. Life is hard, you said between drags of a Newport, death is easy.

It was dark in that kitchen except for a distant porch light. We sat cross-legged on the linoleum, our backs against a slip of yellow wallpaper. Then, you said it. Casual and quiet.

I love you.

I love you too.

Your blue eyes lit the air around us and your kisses tasted like menthol, but I didn’t care. You loved me, and that was all that mattered in the world. Life is hard, this was easy.

 

**Learn more about Amye Archer here.

Everything I Wanted to Know About My Grandmother I Learned From Her Palm.

 

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My grandmother as a young woman.

Everything I wanted to know about my grandmother I learned from her palm. A strong, deep life line with little attachment meant she was fiercely independent. She held two jobs down when most women didn’t work. She ran away from home, married a Catholic, lost babies, disowned siblings, and lived the last thirty-two years of her life alone. She loved to work in her home, rarely ventured out, liked order, and respected routine. Still, there was so much I didn’t know. I never knew the cut of her love line, still like a river across her hand, until it was cold in my palms the day we lost her. I could never imagine the woman who wouldn’t answer her door in anything less than full dress as a honeymooner rolling around in the backseat of my grandfather’s Lincoln. I never knew her as young. She was an old lady my whole life.

In the first section of my memoir, I have sex with two different men in three different places. In the second section, there’s two more. In the third, yet another. And when I write these scenes, I hold nothing back. My book is about divorce and body image. It’s about feeling insecure and using men to feel better about myself. I write myself the fool for sure. I write about myself as a young woman, as a divorcee, as someone who is so woefully unsure of herself that I cringe even now as I read the words. Because of my writing, this is the version of me that my children and my grandchildren will know. They will not wonder, they will not question, they will have an insight into my heart and mind that I would have given anything to have with my grandmother, or the mothers who came before her.

It’s not easy to write about our lives, especially if you’re accustomed to writing fiction.  Many of us worry about ex-husbands, parents, children, etc. We worry about splitting open our lives on a page and allowing the world a front seat. And as a memoirist, let me assure you, it never gets easier. That vulnerability is always there. But, the gift we give the generations that will come after us by allowing them access to the inner workings of our lives is invaluable.

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This makes me slightly nervous…

At first, the thought of my twin daughters-now nine-reading the perils of my life someday was terrifying. I imagined them pouring over the chapters in which I fumble, give myself over too easily to love, make the wrong choices, and laughing, losing respect for me faster than I can rewrite my past. Then I realized something. Someday, they will be me: a middle-aged woman with a cobbled-together sense of confidence, doing the best she can to raise her kids with love, hope, and strength. Then, their babies will have babies, and so on. What a beautiful heritage we can help create as mothers when we write down our stories?

You don’t have to write a memoir to leave a written record of your life. You can write a journal, write essays, poetry, or thinly-veiled fiction. The day my girls were born, I started a journal. I don’t write as much as I should because I’ve been busy with other projects, but I try to write once a month or so. I write a lot about what’s happening in the world around us and how I react to these events. I wrote about the sun bursting in my heart as I watched our country elect the first black president. I wrote about the absolute anguish I felt after the Sandy Hook shooting. But I also wrote a detailed description of every home and apartment in which I lived, stories of the men I’ve loved, and tender memories of my relationship with their father. I plan on giving them this journal when they become mothers.

I can’t help but wonder how different my life would have been had I been gifted a written record of my grandparents or their parents as young, hot-blooded men and women. How fascinating would it have been to read the secrets locked inside my grandmother’s heart? To know what she was afraid of, what made her cry, what she thought about life and love? Instead, what I know is highlights and recycled memories handed down through the generations. Lines on a palm with no stories attached.

As a writer, I can do more for my children. As a mother, I should. When you’re given the gift of being able to write, you should ask yourself what responsibilities come with that gift. I never knew where my writing was born from. I have artists in my family, sure, but mostly musicians and visual artists.  So, I’m the writer. I’m the record-keeper, the storyteller, and the one who should be taking it all down. I don’t question this, I welcome it. I refuse to be a stale story, someone remembered vaguely by a distant grandson. Someday, my grandchildren will be able to say that everything they learned about their grandmother, they learned from her own words.