Are You Struggling with Your #Memoir Structure?

When should you start thinking about the structure of your memoir? Will an outline help? What are some tips to help you organize the memories of your lifetime into a coherent story that keeps the reader wanting to turn the page?

How do you start thinking about the structure of your memoir?

You already have all the information for your memoir, after all it’s your life! Now, it’s a matter of structuring and including the pieces that will best tell your story in a logical way. Otherwise you may have a jumble of wonderful chapters and scenes that are disconnected. It comes down to what to leave in and what to leave out.

What’s the Story?

The big question to ask yourself is—what is your memoir about? It’s not enough to know it’s about your life and your memories. How to connect the stories of your lifetime, which may seem unrelated, in a way that keeps the reader wondering what will happen next. Essentially, keep them turning the page.

Find Your Own Method

Everyone has their own writing method. Mine was to write a scene from memory that had to do with the larger story of my memoir—the plane crash and aftermath that changed the course of my life. I didn’t write an outline, but I applaud those who do. It may save you a good deal of time if you know the theme of your memoir, where you want to start and where you intend to end.  Even if you change course later on, this will give you a compass. I might have written Replacement Child in less than the four years it took me if I had more of an idea of where I was headed. That said, I’m not sure it was possible in my case. The writing of the book was such a journey of discovery for me.  When I began, for instance, I had not even heard of the term “replacement child” let alone applied it to myself. So, this is a long way around of telling you that it will be a very personal decision how to tackle the writing of your story.

The Virtues of an Outline

I will tell you that if you are hoping to sell your book, an outline is almost essential. Agents and publishers want to see sample chapters and then an outline of the whole book. If you bite the bullet early on and do an outline, you’ll be saving yourself a good deal of angst when you get that request from an interested agent or publisher that they want an outline tomorrow! Been there!

The Three Act Structure

I have heard it said that you can simplify your story into the three-act structure ala Aristotle. This may work for some of you, but I believe it’s a difficult fit for memoir. I won’t belabor the detail of that structure here—you can find many references to it on the web or various books about story structure. Or, you can simplify it further by just thinking about your memoir in terms of a beginning, a middle and an end.  If you know roughly what will be included in those three parts of your memoir, you’ll have a giant head start.

Visual Aids May Help

To show you just what a struggle it was for me to find my own structure for Replacement Child, take a look at the photos I took when I shuffled the index cards describing my chapters and re-arranged them on bulletin boards that lined my hallways.

Piecing it together
Piecing it together

After this attempt, and feeling that I had to have the ENTIRE chapter at my fingertips to find the story structure, I took over my porch with the full hard copy chapters.

reorderOur house turned into a giant book outline for a time while I obsessed about structure. I realize I could have done this on my computer with various software programs, but I had to have it in my hands for some reason. I’m the same way with proofreading my work, always revising in hard copy before I return to my computer.

I would love to hear about some of your methods of organization as you go about creating your memoir. There may be as many techniques as there are writers!

So meaningful to me

butterfliesYou know, it’s hard to figure out what to share here, and I know self promotion is rampant and I am as tired of it as you are, but sometimes I get emails from people who have found my book, #Replacement Child, and I am so moved I want to tell you all about it. Just this morning, I got this email from a woman in Ireland who found my book referenced online. This kind of email is why I wrote the book, and why I am glad I did.

Hi judy,
I have just ordered your book and can’t wait to read it.
For some reason last night when I lay in bed, I started to get upset about childhood issues. I decided to look up a child that comes after death of a sibling. Wow! One click on google and I realise something at the age of 36! I was a replacement child. I always knew my position in the family in that I came after death of a brother. But now suddenly I have an actual position that is recognised! I felt huge relief is all I can say but also amazement at how I did not realise that’s what I was , a replacement child! Feel a bit stupid too. I ordered your book and I am looking forward to reading it. I don’t feel so alone now.   I am married with kids but have always felt alone and different. Why am I telling you this?! Why email you?! I don’t know. You are a stranger who knows what I am feeling somewhat and after last night revelation I had to tell someone 🙂! Thank you,
B. in Ireland

I wrote back and asked her if I could share this, and she wrote:

Thanks for your reply. Yes of course you may use my mail for your blog. I actually feel found judy. It’s actually the single most exciting thing I feel to have happened for me. Struggling all my life with guilt of being on this earth in place of my brother. I don’t blame anyone, I always said, it’s just life , no ones fault. But the pain and unworthy feeling all my life has been crushing. Grateful to you and others for being there on Google , thank you from the bottom of my heart. When others verbalise another’s secret pain it is so liberating. Happy beyond words. Excited for a new chapter in life . Bless you X 

Off to the #IPPY!

It is actually surreal. Last year at this time I was recovering from major surgery and reading the news of books being awarded the IPPY in New York City just prior to the Book Expo. My book had just come out, and I had missed some opportunities to promote it because of illness. Winning an award was the farthest thing from my mind. But, how cool would it be to be with all those writers in a room celebrating an accomplishment like that?

I can’t help thinking back to when I was deep in the quagmire of finding my way through writing Replacement Child. Struggling with the voice for the story, the structure that would tell it best, the paralyzing responsibility to tell it right. A memoir does that to you. It’s deeper than a story. It’s your story. Often, your family’s story.

I know that all of the writers that I will be meeting tonight at the IPPY celebration have gone through the same angst with their own books, and it will be a little like meeting long lost relatives. I can’t wait!

 

Still Here For Me

I haven’t written for quite awhile due to illness, which is such a waste of time! Right now I am still not sure my writing here will be coherent since I am still on pain meds, but it’s better than imagining the next worst thing that could happen–which I am prone to do. Maybe it’s my writerly self. Give your character an obstacle, they say, then try to imagine the very worst thing that could happen to them after that–then even worse. In the last 7 months my imagination couldn’t have held a candle to reality–but now things are better every day. My trip down this particular rabbit hole has pinholes of light that are getting brighter.

Since this blog pertains to my book Replacement Child, and the story of my family, I’ll tell you how the past several months have made me think differently about that story, and especially about my sister Linda. You may or may not know that a good part of my memoir has to do with my sister Linda’s survival of a plane crash and subsequent fire. She had a surgery each year from the time of the crash, at age 2 1/2, until she stopped at 18. “This is it,” she said. “Take me or leave me as I am.” I was the little sister left safely at home when she went to the hospital each year. Left to imagine and wonder what they were doing to my big sister in those great white halls with the funny smells. She always had a smile and, when possible, a hug for me when I went to see her. “Hey Jude!” She would sing out when I came in holding my mother’s hand.

Now that I am on the other side of having four surgeries in the past seven months, on top of two others a couple of years ago, I know what those visits cost her. And what each surgical procedure stole from her young life. My mother must have planned the timing of my visits precisely so that I wasn’t privy to the worst of my sister’s suffering. Strangely, it seemed to me in this last year that I would go through many of the procedures that Linda had endured, to a much lesser degree. She always warned me that she was prone to adhesions, and I may be as well. And that seems to be a major problem for me. Apparently we both have weak veins, necessitating multiple tries to get an IV started or blood drawn. As she did, I had to have a PICC line put in at one point, then a central line for my last bout.  I wished every day that she were still here in this life to talk to about it all, but sadly she is not.

I prayed she would come to me at several pivotal points in my treatments, but it wasn’t until I wasn’t paying attention, as I lay in the OR before surgery, that I felt her fully there with me. I immediately relaxed, my fear tremors abated. It was a calm I hadn’t felt in a very long time.By the time the anesthesiologist said, “Ok, now I’m giving you something to relax you,” I was already there. I closed my eyes and thanked Linda for her reassurance that this would turn out well. I know many people will not believe that my sister was there with me, and that’s fine. But I know she is the only one that could have calmed me that way.

In a way, I feel closer to my sister than I ever was when she was alive, and I am grateful for the deeper understanding and the knowledge that we are still connected.

Are You Waiting for Someone to Die to Write Your #Memoir?

That’s my topic on my guest blog at The Memoir Project.

Thanks to Marion Roach for hosting me!

 

 

Reading and Discussion of my #Memoir #Replacement Child, November 12 at #JCC New Haven

Come join me tomorrow, November 12 at 11 am at the JCC New Haven for a reading and discussion of Replacement Child – a memoir. Hope you can make it!
JCC New Haven event flyer

#Memoir writing, publishing, essays and interviews over the past month

Image@ The Muffin

blog url: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/
specific url: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2013/04/author-judy-mandel-launches-her-memoir.html

@ Words by Webb
Stop by to find out what Jodi has to say about Replacement Child, a memoir about complicated family dynamics, by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://jodiwebb.com
specific url: http://jodiwebb.com/reviews/replacement-child/

@ CMash Reads
Don’t miss Cheryl’s take on Replacement Child, a memoir about love, loss, and family by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://cmashlovestoread.com/
specific url: http://cmashlovestoread.com/2013/04/10/guest-author-judy-mandel-showcase-giveaway/

@ Choices
Hear from Madeline about her thoughts on Replacement Child, a memoir of growing up as the replacement child by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://madeline40.blogspot.com/
specific url: http://madeline40.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-huge-welcome-to-author-judy-mandel.html

@ Tiffany Talks Books
Don’t miss Tiffany talking about her thoughts after readingReplacement Child by Judy Mandel. This is a great memoir about family and loss.
blog url: http://tiffanytalksbooks.com
specific url: http://tiffanytalksbooks.com/guest-post-replacement-child-by-judy-l-mandel/

@ All Things Audry

Stop by to learn more about Judy Mandel, author of the memoir about family, Replacement Child.
blog url: http://www.allthingsaudry.blogspot.com
specific url: http://allthingsaudry.blogspot.com/2013/04/welcome-judy-l-mandel-and-guest-post.html


@ Books I Think You Should Read
Liz takes a closer look at Replacement Child by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://booksithinkyoushouldread.blogspot.com/
specific url: http://booksithinkyoushouldread.blogspot.com/2013/04/guest-post-judy-mandel-author-of.html

@ Mrs. Mommy Booknerd
Fact or Fiction? That’s the topic today with memoir writer Judy Mandel, author of Replacement Child.
blog url: http://mrsmommybooknerd.blogspot.com/
specific url: http://mrsmommybooknerd.blogspot.com/2013/04/blog-tour-with-wow-women-on-writing.html

@ Kristine Meldrum Denholm
Kristine interviews Judy Mandel, author of Replacement Child, and asks the fabulous question: How do you sell a self-published book to an agent/traditional publisher?
blog url: http://www.kristinemeldrumdenholm.com/
specific url: http://kristinemeldrumdenholm.com/blog/?p=3077

@ White Elephants
Find out what Chynna has to say about Replacement Child by Judy Mandel a memoir about life, loss, and love from a child born into a family that had suffered the loss of a daughter.
blog url: http://www.seethewhiteelephants.com/
specific url: http://www.seethewhiteelephants.com/2013_05_01_archive.html?m=0

@ National Association of Memoir Writers
Stop by to learn more about a riveting memoir, Replacement Child, and its author Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://www.namw.org/
specific url: http://www.namw.org/2013/05/wow-blog-tour-guest-an-interivew-with-judy-mandel-replacement-child/

@ Memory Writers Network
Enjoy an interview with writer Judy Mandel and discover why she felt the need to write her memoir, Replacement Child.
blog url: http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/

Specific url: http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/turning-tragedy-into-memoir/

 

Thanks to @tiffanytalksbooks and @booksIthinkyoushouldread for hosting my guest blog posts #RCmandel

wildflowers 1My thanks to two blog sites for hosting me this week.

Books I Think You Should Read hosted my blog:

How Writing Replacement Child Changed Me: http://tinyurl.com/dxksg2x

 

Tiffany Talks Books hosted my blog:

Club Replacement Childhttp://tinyurl.com/cfq6vnu

masthead

 

Recent updates for Replacement Child – a memoir

First, many thanks to Madeline Sharples, and her Choices blog for hosting me today for a guest post. I hope you’ll check it out!

You may also want to take a look at my ongoing blog on Psychology Today.

And, a couple of articles in Book Marketing Magazine. Check it out on iTunes–it’s a great new pub!

And here are some pics from some recent book happenings::IMG_0800IMG_0799IMG_0798IWWG

Image

Getting the Agent and Book Deal After Self-Publishing my Memoir

RC-final-cover-web-size8.jpgPeople have asked me how it happened. How my memoir, Replacement Child, was picked up by a traditional publisher after being self-published two years earlier. It was released in March from Seal Press/Perseus.

What’s Luck Got to Do With it?

Most authors don’t give any credence to luck, but they lie.  Luck has so much to do with everything. It was luck that I decided to put my book up on Barnes & Noble’s PubIt website in the summer of 2011. It was luck that I had met my incredible agent Rita Rosenkranz at a conference four years earlier. It was luck that I had knowledgeable colleagues to confer with to help me navigate my next steps.

Now for the Work

It was not luck that I attended many writer’s conferences prior to self-publishing, to figure out my best course of action. Those conferences gave me a good deal of valuable information about sending out queries, doing proposals and the ins and outs of approaching agents. I knew I wanted an agent and a traditional publisher, but I also knew that as an unknown memoirist, it would be a tough road. I gave myself a year to query agents, send out chapters when requested, to do my best to procure an agent. I wasn’t getting any younger.

When that year was over I had requests for partials and the entire manuscript from 50 agents. My query was working. About half of them showed interest in the book, but were wary of taking it on in the market at the time in 2008. Not a great year for any beginning endeavor. At that point I started looking at self-publishing and decided to form my own imprint to publish my book. I had been in marketing for twenty years and knew how to project manage any creative project. Although, looking back, I didn’t know exactly all of what I was taking on. I hired an editor, a designer and an online marketer to start.

I did a great deal of marketing for Replacement Child in 2009 and 2010 when I first self-published the book. I went on a nationwide book tour at my own expense, visiting bookstores that would have me in towns where I had friends or family to put me up.  It was a great adventure really, and a chance to see people I normally don’t get to visit.  Some of the stops were great, where I was able to get some advance publicity. And some were terrible where only one person showed up for a reading. C’est la vie.

The online blogging community was very receptive and I am very grateful to them for their support with reviews and guest blogs. Review copies were sent out to blog reviewers before the book was released, to bloggers that had reviewed memoirs in the past.

Local media was receptive, and I had articles in my local papers in my town in Connecticut, and did readings at local libraries.  I had several radio interviews, both for blog radio and traditional stations. I joined organizations and took advantage of opportunities to speak and do readings whenever possible. Replacement Child also garnered several awards for self-published books, including a National Indie Excellence Award and a Writer’s Digest award.

By the summer of 2011 I had sold about 2,000 print books and a few hundred ebooks on Amazon. It’s very hard to say which marketing tactic worked best, but all combined produced this modest success. I decided to list the eBook on the Barnes & Noble site in July and was encouraged to see that they had picked it for a featured book of the month. I credit that pick for bringing more awareness to the book.

Surprise, Surprise

Just after I listed the eBook for that last shot, I wound up in the hospital. My book was the farthest thing from my mind that fall, knowing I had to go back for surgery in a few months. It was Christmas when I noticed some weird deposits in my bank account online.  Again, I absolutely forgot that I had arranged direct deposit for the eBook sales. It turned out I was selling between four to five thousand eBooks a month. I wasn’t Grisham, but I was selling many books.

That’s when I contacted Rita Rosenkranz and we talked about whether it made sense to approach a publisher. I was grateful for her wise counsel that helped me think through the decision. In the end, I felt that that there was still a measure of credibility in having a traditional publisher. Reviews come more easily and you are taken more seriously.  That is changing, but I believe it is still widely the case. After considering the pros and cons, I told her I would like to try if she was up for it. She sold it very quickly to Seal Press.

Find more information about Replacement Child.

This post previously appeared on Jane Friedman’s blog, Writing on the Ether.