Creating a Memoir

One of my favorite genres in the book world is the Memoir. We all experience the contrasts of heartbreak and joy. I find it comforting to read about someone who’s suffered and managed to rise above it to create a good life for themselves. Memoirs help us feel connected. We can feel hopeful—we aren’t alone in our pain and pain can be overcome.

I’ve had the privilege of editing, rewriting and even co-writing 15 memoirs, at last count. Each one was an emotional, meaningful journey for the author and for me. All the authors were amateurs. All felt they had an important story to tell. “Here I am, World, see how I survived,” they seemed to be saying. I feel my sympathetic/empathetic nature helped me nurture these authors in writing a book they were proud of.

In general, the authors had a general outline of their book in their heads or a rough draft of a book. It took a good partnering relationship with me, their editor, to coax out and create the full story. I felt it was like a cleansing for them.

I believe most of these books are currently available on Amazon. William McCloud recently alerted me that his book, Setbacks Create Comebacks, with a new cover, was for sale on Amazon. As Bill proclaims: “It matters not what happens to you; it only matters how you react to what happens to you.”

Bill’s mother Fannie, who was dark-skinned, gave birth to five children by four different fathers. When Bill was born, Fannie told the nurse he was too white to be her child and to take him back! In a sense he was “taken back” because his tough, no-nonsense grandmother raised him and his other siblings. She could be mean: she believed in whipping, but she made him a proud survivor. Every time life knocked him down, Bill stood up and managed to laugh about his misadventures. Bill tells his story with lots of humor, and I still chuckle about many of the incidents, especially those concerning his inimitable grandmother.  In 1985 Bill won an Emmy for his work as a cameraman on The Benson Show, starring Robert Guillaume. It had been a long journey from a small Ohio town to Los Angeles and work in the entertainment industry.

I had a wonderful experience co-writing Wendy Wong’s memoir, When the Phoenix Rises. To help me with the project, she sent me all sorts of photos, newspaper articles and other mementoes from her home in Honolulu. I had a privileged view of her life growing up in poverty in Hong Kong and her struggles to make something of herself. Although her family was a loving one, they didn’t think females really needed much of an education, and when she did get a college degree, they assumed she would teach and then marry. She surprised them all with her skills in the real estate business, a talent nurtured by a very affluent Hawaiian businessman/developer known as the Hawaiian Rockefeller,  who had been her lover. Wealth, success and marriage, however, don’t insure a carefree life. Wendy has weathered various financial depressions in Hong Kong and Hawaii, and she’s endured the heartbreak of a mentally challenged daughter. Her son, however, is a graduate of Yale and is training to be a doctor.

A Survivor’s Closet by Debra Luptak and Andy Walks With Me by Ralph Heidler and his co-author wife, Twila Lopez, were both horrific memoirs of childhood abuse. It was amazing to me how these individuals survived their physical and emotional torment. Humans manage to live through some incredible challenges. My own heartbreaks seemed so minor in comparison.

Ralph’s father was a psychotic tyrant, who fancied himself a preacher when he was truly an avenging devil. During the frequent beatings he suffered from his father, Ralph would have an out-of-body experience. His consciousness traveled to a garden where “Andy” walked with him. His child’s mind had taken the old hymn “I Walk in the Garden Alone” with the line “and he walks with me and he talks with me” and changed it into his own interpretation. Hence, “Andy walks with me.” Andy (Jesus) gave him moments of peace and joy. When Ralph’s mother, a very passive woman, would appear to doctor his wounds, Ralph would awaken in his beaten and bloody body.

Although grown and married with children at the time, this extreme childhood caused Ralph to one day disassociate from his past and disappear from his home in Pennsylvania. During the next 20 years, totally unaware of his former life, he married twice more. Ralph was living in Hawaii when his children found him, and he discovered the missing horror of his past.

Last time I heard from Ralph, a few years back, he had happily connected with his children, and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Johnstown was using his book in a psychology class.

Debra Luptak’s strength of spirit and determination kept her alive despite the murderous attempts of her profoundly mentally ill mother, who claimed her daughter was part of the devil. Among other things, she was tied up, placed in a straitjacket, burned with cigarettes, hidden in a dark closet and fed sedatives, all before the age of five. There was no magic rescue or instant healing: A Survivor’s Closet tells the gruesome years-long tale of Debra’s survival. When she was an adult, it took years of therapy, hospitals, family and friends to come to peace and self-love. Happily married now and the mother of grown sons, Debra’s used her book and her talent as a speaker to help others deal with traumatic childhoods.

222 Comments

  1. Why don’t you get in touch by Email, Elinor. Tell me more at [email protected]

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  3. Erika, Thanks for the compliment! I write every Wednesday and Sunday.
    Victoria

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