Q: Why do you and others write memoirs?
For me, a memoir is one route to making sense of my past. By writing easily accessible vignettes, I evoke concurrent events. Memories close to the surface trigger others that are more deeply buried. A kaleidoscope focuses, enabling me to make peace with youthful recollections, some of which have been accompanied by guilt, shame, or dissatisfaction. In the scheme of my adult accomplishments, writing my stories has allowed negative memories to diminish in importance.
Some people write memoirs from a need to be understood as a complete individual by their children, who might see them as existing on only one plane. Perhaps a few are children of Holocaust survivors, recent immigrants, war veterans, or maybe they had a gift or talent that might have led them in a direction different from the path they took. Whatever the reason, many parents reveal only fragments of their lives to their children, and memoir is a way to share their whole story.
For those who are at the beginning of progressive memory loss, writing their memoir is a way to provide a tangible record of their life before the portal to the past closes. They want to ensure that their children and future generations of grandchildren will know who they were in their prime of life.
Q: You began writing for publication after a long career in education. What caused you to take up the pen?
It’s true that I had other careers before becoming a full-time writer. I began as a teacher first, but for most of my career in education I was a school and district administrator. Mid point in that career I left for a few years to start a business wholesaling educational toys, but eventually I returned to school administration.
During all of that time, I had a yearning to write my stories and to describe the people and experiences in my day-to-day life. That yearning originated, I think, when my freshman high school English teacher, Mrs. Friedman, submitted one of my poems to the local newspaper for publication. It was a maudlin, rhyming piece, but I enjoyed writing it, and Mrs. Friedman encouraged me to keep writing, even after I left her class.
I retired early from the Walnut Creek School District and founded LTR Productions to write personal histories for others. This was my entry to full-time writing as a career.
Q: How much of Beyond the Silk Mills is biographical?
I began writing Beyond the Silk Mills in response to my friends’ urging to write my own memoir after having ghostwritten personal histories for others. At the time, I didn’t think my life was memoir worthy, so I began to delve into my eastern European ancestry. Before the days when lineage records were easily obtained, I didn’t get far beyond what I had learned from my grandmother, Emma, who was my only living grandparent.
Her stories weren’t enough for the book I thought I should write, but the history of the Paterson silk mills where both my grandfathers labored stirred an interest, and I decided to explore my heritage through historical fiction.
The book is loosely based on the persona of my grandmother, but not her actual achievements. Sophie is completely imagined, but in retrospect I see that there is a lot of Sophie in me. Writing the vignettes for Remembering Childhood has sharpened my awareness about how much of a writer’s experience is reflected in their work. When you read both books, you will see the ways I drew on personal memories to craft Beyond the Silk Mills.
Q: What is your next project?
I’m writing the sequel to Beyond the Silk Mills, and I’ve set the working title: When the Lights Go On Again. It will take up in 1930 just after the ending of Beyond the Silk Mills and continue through World War II. Emma, Aaron, and Sophie will grow during this time period, and new people will enter their lives.
I also feel a compulsion to write short, unrelated narrative pieces as they come to mind. They go into my blog or in a file that I access on occasion to trace my thought process.
Q: What is your writing schedule?
I rarely start my writing day before ten o’clock, although I am up at six. After coffee, the newspapers, and solving two crosswords, I go out to walk in the hills. Then breakfast, shower, and I’m ready to sit down and work.
If I don’t have any appointments, I write throughout the day, taking breaks for lunch or seeing friends. You read that writers face the keyboard every day. That’s also true for me, but does not always mean sustained work on one manuscript. I also edit for my students and critique group, a rigor that forces me to look analytically at my own writing.
Q: When you work with clients at LTR Productions, what is your method for helping them to assemble and structure their stories into a published memoir?
When I meet with a new client I want to know the same things that I discussed in my video segment “Considerations Before Writing Your Stories,” which is included in my recent book, Remembering Childhood, An Interactive Memoir. I want to know their purpose, target audience, major events or periods of life to highlight, topics that are taboo, and things they hope the reader will learn.
Before our first meeting, I will have asked the client to complete a biography questionnaire and to assemble photos and memorabilia from the parts of their lives they want to share. The bio provides me with major dates of life cycle events as well as some genealogy. It also includes some of the topics listed above.
From there, I develop interview questions based on their preferences, record and transcribe the interviews, and develop a first person narrative about their lives in an order and style that fits their purpose.
Developing a trust relationship with my clients is the most important thing to me, so that when I interview them for a recording, they feel able to say whatever is on their mind. They know that I will keep confidence and edit out their slips, the comments they prefer not to mention. I give them full approval rights over their manuscripts.