Finding My Way From Memoir to Fiction by Author Doreen Cox
“When in deep water, become a diver.” The Book of Runes, Ralph Blum
I am thrilled to feature author Doreen Cox in this guest post about her experience of writing fiction after writing her memoir. Doreen is the author a memoir, Adventures in Mothersitting and a novella, Sacred Journey. We initially met through a mutual friend and author Madeline Sharples and began following one another on Twitter. I love it when good friends meet through good friends! I’ve read and enjoyed both of Doreen’s books so much that I asked her to do a guest post on what it was like to switch to fiction writing after completing her memoir.
My reviews of both her books can be found here:
Finding My Way From Memoir to Fiction
For both the memoir and the fictional story, my writing journey has been a poignant one. Both experiences required me to dive deeply, to move through psychological barriers: layers of grief, self-doubt and impatience – to stay the course until the story felt complete. My journey, though, began long before I became an author.
Like champagne under pressure, I tended to bottle up any unwanted emotions. Early in my life, activities gave me just enough of an outlet to keep such emotions in check. At least, until my mid-thirties when my temper began to seep through defenses. I found help in a therapy group and, within the first month, the anger cork in me finally popped. For three months, there were moments in which enraged feelings began to roil; it felt like I was a rocket ship readying for launch. To assuage those parts of me that I had disowned, I gave them a voice by writing in a journal.
The journaling ceased as my life became more balanced, busy again – that is until, at the age of fifty-nine, I became my mother’s full-time ‘care bear’. Dementia is a most formidable task-master for a caregiver and my bouts with it churned up a humiliating surprise: meltdowns – more eruptions of those powerful, unwanted emotions.
Again, scribbling in a journal saved me. After my mother died, I found a cache of letters I had written her during college and when living out of state. Those letters were perhaps my first bits of journaling for I wrote liberally about my life. It was while rereading those letters that a long-held wish of my mom’s took hold: for me to write a book. So one cold January day, I began to read my journal and scribble an outline.
Writing the memoir was immensely cathartic. The calmest times during mother-sitting were when I did jigsaw puzzles while my mom read out loud, in gibberish, from children’s books. The memoir process started out as a cut-and-paste one, literally, with scissors. It was calming for me, though, piecing together disparate segments from my journal, reading of this final journey I had had with my mom. When raw emotions erupted, I let them flow, grateful to merely feel human. On two occasions when grief hit concurrently with a lack of self-confidence, I threw the entire draft into the garbage. That action was cathartic in itself.
Two different energies played with me while I was writing: an inner critic was incessant in its attempts to force words into the script. The other energy, however, gentled me: a guide who whispered, ‘Take out this section,’ or, ‘Move this piece here,’ or, ‘Use this word.’ When this gentle guide within whispered, “Done,” I let the book be.
My first forays into writing fiction began long ago as snippets of made-up stories on birthday cards for family. After completing the memoir, a strong urge to play, have fun with my imagination, took hold. I wrote fanciful short stories in lieu of birthday cards, each with a transformational theme. I was considering writing another memoir – about my growing-up years with three sisters – when a short story contest was featured on Words Unlimited. Once a book cover was revealed, entrants had 72 hours to write the story. Curious, I took a peek at the cover and my imagination leaped into action, came up with a 5700-word fantasy, Wrapped in an Old-Age Dream; it was a runner-up. Several months later, an author whom I respect, Julia Hughes, suggested I tweak the script with more detail, enliven the story. Excitedly, I tweaked and Wrapped became 14,000 words with a new title.
A Sacred Journey embodies my love for nature, my interest in transformational experiences and my respect for the mystery surrounding a transitional experience from life to death. The result has been soulfully enriching.
The greater challenge in writing my memoir relates to the onslaught of emotions that often took me under though I would not trade the experience for anything. It was also challenging to remain true to my experience of the events as they unfolded, to script respectfully about those whose views/suggestions, passionately expressed, were different than my own. There are similarities for me in the writing of memoir or fiction. The same forcing-word inner critic and a gentle guide are always present. It’s an ongoing practice, attuning to this dance in my mind between the critic and guide. Both serve a helpful purpose. Yet, whether weaving words into a credible memoir or into a fanciful fictional tale, the experience has nourished me: it has been stimulating, frustrating, insightfully educational, challenging, and humbling.
Mostly, though, the journey towards becoming an author has been intrinsically rewarding.
Thank you Doreen for sharing your journey to both memoir and fiction. I appreciate how your “inner critic and gentle guide” have served a good purpose in helping you create both a credible memoir and a fanciful fictional tale. After reading both your memoir and your novella, I can see the similarities in the stories–one is true to your life , the other is based upon the truth of your life. You show us all the rewards of being “fanciful with fiction” after sharing your truth in memoir.
Author’s Bio and Contact Information:
The author was into her eighth year as a group counselor at an alternative school for at-risk students when her most challenging position of all presented itself. The author’s first book, Adventures in Mother-Sitting, is a memoir of her three years as a full-time caregiver. Because of the downward spiral of her mother’s mental, physical, and developmentally regressed abilities due to dementia, the author’s well-honed communication and listening skills were put to their ultimate test. Her previous career adventures had indeed added more stores of knowledge, fostered the growth of self-confidence and provided assuagement of that restless spirit. The experience as her mother’s caregiver, however, offered the ultimate spiritual adventure, bringing to the author bittersweet lessons related to trust, faith, unconditional love and compassion. The author, wanderlust currently at rest, resides in Florida.
Treasured Encounters: http://doreencox.blogspot.com/
How about you? Have you switched from reading or writing memoir to reading or writing fiction? If so, how has the experience been for you?
Doreen has graciously agreed to give away one eBook or paperback of her memoir and one eBook copy of her novella to two random commenters whose names will be selected in a random drawing.
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
Thursday, 4/3/14 : I will be a guest on Miranda Beverly-Whitmore’s FriendStories Series: “Girlhood Adventures, 1956-Style” and on Denis Ledoux’s The Memoir Network blog: “8 Lessons Learned on My Memoir Writer’s Journey”.
Hope you’ll join me there, too!
Next Week is Social Media Week:
Monday 4/7/1o “Social Media: Friend or Foe? 8 Lessons I’ve Learned About Using Social Media”
Thursday 4/10/14 WOW! Women On Writing Blog Tour with Frances Caballo, author of Avoid Social Media Time Suck: A Blueprint for Writers to Create Online Buzz For Their Books and Still Have Time to Write:
“Social Media Management : So What Does a Social Media Manager Really Do?”