WRITING A RELATABLE MEMOIR
Author Linda Strader is here to talk with us about writing memoirs and Summers of Fire. Check out her bio below. Oh, the stories Linda must have in her notebooks.
When I initially wrote my memoir, it never occurred to me to publish. After all, I was not a writer. However, once the draft was completed, I toyed with the idea—but didn’t know if what I’d written had potential. Would anyone want to read this? Therefore, I joined a writers group for feedback. An author I met encouraged me to publish, explaining my options. I decided I wanted to go the traditional publishing route, or not at all.
Although I’d been warned about the difficulty of landing an agent and publishing traditionally, the rejection letters that rolled in sure did hurt. Most were form letters: “Not a good fit for our agency.” “Sorry, but memoirs are hard to sell unless you are famous.” I ignored those, especially about the need to be famous. I’d read several New York Times Best Sellers that had nothing to do with fame.
Then there were the ones that puzzled me: “Memoirs need to be universal—they need to resonate with the reader.” “A memoir must read like a novel.”
Universal? Resonate with the reader? A novel? I didn’t know how to write a novel. What does universal mean? Why didn’t my memoir resonate? I decided to do more research. Finally I found answers.
This is what I learned about writing a memoir if you plan on publishing:
- If you want it to read well, you will need to meet what agents and publishers are looking for. They know what sells.
- In order to engage the reader, it’s important that you tell a story. You’ll need a beginning, middle and end. What happened to you is not enough. You’ve probably heard the advice “show don’t tell.” That applies to both fiction and nonfiction memoir.
I walked into the hospital to see my sick mother. She lay in bed, unable to speak. I never did like hospitals, so it was hard for me to be there.
The minute I walked into the hospital, the smell of disinfectant about knocked me over. That odor always made me remember the day my dad died, and now it looked like my mom would follow. When I entered her room, I detected the odor of urine and medicine. Her face was gray, her eyelids closed, but her hair had been carefully combed into her favorite style. A heart monitor bleeped steadily; the oxygen tank whooshed. My mom was leaving me and there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it—and I was angry.
- Your story needs to address what kind of things were at stake. What choices did you have to make? How did those choices change you? That is what makes the story resonate with the reader. That is what makes a memoir universal.
My advice is this: You have a story to tell—write it—but be yourself when you do. If you write from your heart, reveal your true self, your vulnerability, what makes you uncomfortable and expose your fears of being judged—readers will relate.
After discovering all of this, rather than fixing my story, I rewrote it. Did I find it hard to reveal all of those things? Yes, I did. But I knew in order to make my story the very best it could be, one that would resonate with the reader, one with universal appeal, I would have to go there.
UPROOTED: A NEW LIFE IN THE ARIZONA SUN
SUMMERS OF FIRE: A MEMOIR OF ADVENTURE, LOVE, AND COURAGE
Linda is one of the first women hired on a U.S. Forest Service fire crew. A naïve twenty-year-old in the mid 1970s, she had no idea that she was entering a strictly man’s world, and soon discovered fighting wildfires was just one of the challenges she would face. Told with honest emotion, her story goes beyond battling fires and discrimination—it is a vibrant story of unwavering perseverance.
Linda M. Strader
Originally from Syracuse, New York, Ms. Strader moved to Prescott, Arizona with her family in 1972. In 1976, she became one of the first women on a Forest Service fire crew in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. Her publishing history includes many web articles on her expertise of landscaping with desert plants. A local newspaper, the Green Valley News, printed an article about her firefighting adventures, which led the magazine, Wildfire Today, to publish an excerpt. The article generated interestin her speaking on this topic to several clubs, including the American Association of University Women.
In addition to writing, Ms. Strader is a landscape architect, certified arborist, and watercolor artist. She currently lives in the same area where her Forest Service career began.