Give the Gift of Memoir

The holidays are upon us, which means that it’s time to scramble to figure out what to get your loved ones for their celebration of choice. Here are five fantastic memoirs/essay collections that would make a thoughtful gift for someone who loves to read. All of these have come out in the past year or so and should be easy to find online or in your local bookstore.


theartofasking_imageThe Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

An insightful and down-to-earth memoir for the writer, musician, or artist in your life. Amanda Palmer chronicles the journey she took to become a successful indie musician, much of which involved letting her guard down and asking others to give her a hand.



Wild by Cheryl Strayed

You’ve probably already heard of the memoir that inspired the newly-released, Reese Witherspoon-starring film. This memoir, while intense, is beautifully written and can serve as a wonderful introduction to the genre if your loved one generally prefers fiction.



cover_bad_feministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay

While technically a collection of essays, this book addresses many issues and concerns relevant to being a woman, a minority, and/or a human being in today’s messy and complicated society. A thought-provoking book that is ideal for intelligent and curious readers.


Book Cover Final threeHyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

A memoir in comics about one young woman’s attempts to navigate this crazy world of ours, based on the popular blog by the same name. A perfect gift for adult and young adult readers in the family (although there may be some cursing).


still-writingStill Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

This book is about one accomplished author’s experiences creating a life for herself as a writer. The memoir is honest, compelling, and encouraging, and would make a great gift for aspiring word smiths.




10 Must-Read Memoirs About Mental Illness, Addiction, and Disorders

Memoirs give us the unique ability to enter the mind and experiences of someone suffering from a mental illness, addiction, or disorder. To truly be immersed in someone’s story is invaluable and necessary in understanding what they’re going through. Here are my top 10, must-read memoirs that deal with these struggles.

loud51wzZR8o3hL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_1. Loud in the House of Myself by Stacy Pershall

A captivating and unflinchingly honest memoir about one young woman’s struggle with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.


9780679746041_p0_v1_s260x4202. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie, but the book is well-worth a read. It focuses on Kaysen’s time spent in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s.


51L90SoGhIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_3. Manic by Terri Cheney

Cheney spares no detail when sharing the exploits of her most manic moments.


51nRtjlO7jL4. Purge: Rehab Diaries by Nicole Johns

The memoir is told in a series of vignettes based on the three months that Johns spent in eating disorder rehabilitation treatment.


51LMIy4MEvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. Monkey Mind by Daniel Smith

A compelling and detailed  memoir about one man’s struggle with anxiety disorder.


51YHs+JVgqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_6. Love Sick by Sue William Silverman

An intimate recounting of the month Silverman spent in a rehab center for sexual addition.


Look_Me_in_the_Eye_(book_cover)7. Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison

Asperger’s is much talked-about, yet little-understood. Robison encounters his own unique set of challenges resulting from this neurological disorder.


Jamison_-_anquite_mind8. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison

Jamison details her experiences with manic depression, as well as the insights she’s gained through her academic study of mental health.


61cctYHga9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_9. I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Kilmer-Purcell tackles the difficult, and often stigmatized, themes of alcohol abuse and addiction. He manages to address addiction in a way that is relatable without being sentimental or stereotypical.


9780439339056_p0_v1_s260x42010. My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel

This young adult memoir tackles the issue of learning disabilities, in addition to the resulting social and clinical anxiety that can manifest as a result.


I Finished My Memoir! Now What?

medium_216516964For years, I’ve dreamed about the moment when I finally finished the first complete draft of my memoir. I imagined confetti falling out of the ceiling, maybe some triumphant trumpet music playing, and a crowd of all the friends and family who have heard me complain, agonize over, and gush about the book for the past five years running into my room, cheering for me and hugging me.

Of course, what really happened is that I stopped typing and stared at the screen in silence for a few minutes.

I’m…done? I thought.

I felt a little flicker of happiness and accomplishment, sure. Throughout the years of angst and writer’s block and a frequent desire to give up, I’d wondered many times whether I’d ever actually finish the book. Just finishing it was a big deal. But then I realized that I’d still need to have a few beta readers look it over, do more edits on it, write a query letter and send it off to agents, then eventually do even more edits if/when it gets picked up by a publisher. I was far from done.

So, instead of feeling all the great feelings I thought I would – instead of confetti, trumpets, and cheers – what I experienced, instead, was panic. Finishing the manuscript, in many ways, is only the beginning of the process. I’d always known that, but for some reason, I thought getting to the next step would feel different.

I started thinking about how tough it was going to be to write the query letter. I worried about the realities of sending the memoir out into the world, wondering what people would think of it if/when someone decided to publish it, afraid of how my friends and family might feel after reading it. This idea, this story, that has been living in my head for so long, can finally take the next step forward into becoming an actual book.

Holy shit.

Am I ready to take the next step? Will I be able to get everything together? Will I have the bravery and strength needed for such a task?

Well, despite the near-paralyzing fears I’ve encountered, I’ve already started writing my query letter, checking in with beta readers, and getting feedback. I’m researching agents and publishers. I keep having to remind myself that I shouldn’t let this publication process negate what I’ve already accomplished. Although the book won’t feel 100% real until I’m holding the finished, printed copy in my hands, I’m so much closer than I’ve ever been. I’ve got the story down, which is truly the hardest part.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the process. All of this is new to me. Even though I’ve been writing for years, this is new territory. It’s terrifying, it’s overwhelming, but it’s exciting too. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can try to feel good about how far I’ve already come, and keep taking steps to move myself, and my memoir, forward.

How to Structure Your Memoir

First of all, the winner of the Publish This Book giveaway is Dawn! Thank you to everyone who commented on my interview with Stephen Markley. I hope to make author interviews a regular feature of this blog. If you’re an author interested in doing an interview, please let me know. I welcome both indie and traditionally published writers. Now, onto today’s overdue blog post:

Structure can be one of the most challenging aspects of writing a memoir. Contrary to popular belief, writing a memoir isn’t simply spilling your life’s story onto the page with no regard to plot or narrative.

While many writers will intuitively be drawn to chronological order, that’s not always the best structure for a memoir. Remember that memoirs are not the same as autobiographies. You don’t have to start the day you were born or even with your childhood. A memoir could cover a single year in your life, or it could follow a common thread or theme in experiences you’ve had throughout your life. It could even jump around in time, starting with when you were 18, flashing back to when you were 7, and going forward to the year you turned 30. You aren’t limited to a linear narrative.

One of my mentors, the fantastic Jennie Nash, told me that your memoir should start with the event in your life that knocked you off course. This is known as the “inciting incident” in fiction writing terms. You could also structure your memoir similarly to a novel in that you have a glimpse of your every day, normal life before it gets thrown off track by a life-altering event.

Just keep in mind, though, that trying to fit the structure of a memoir into the same structure you would use for a novel will likely be difficult and somewhat limiting. Life doesn’t always unfold the way a novel does. However, I do recommend looking at traditional novel structure because it will give you ideas about how you could look at your life as if it were a structured narrative. Most likely you will have an inciting incident, a series of conflicts that comprise the middle section of the memoir, a climax, and some sort of resolution at the end.

I recommend reading up on novel structure and looking at published memoirs to get new ideas about how you could use structure to shape your memoir’s narrative. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and remember that structure can always be added or changed later. The most important thing is to write the events you feel drawn to without getting too caught up in the technical stuff. Structure often reveals itself through the writing.

An Interview with Stephen Markley, Author of “Publish This Book”

I first read Stephen Markley’s memoir, Publish This Book, shortly after graduating college. Stephen’s book chronicles the unique journey that he took in becoming a published author. Stephen was only 26 when he started the project, and has since added himself to the growing list of talented and accomplished young memoir writers.

I found Stephen’s memoir to be incredibly funny, honest, and inspiring. It really spoke to where I was in my experience of being a recent college grad with no real idea of how to navigate the complicated and highly competitive literary world as an aspiring author. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Stephen for this blog. To learn more about Stephen and Publish This Book, please visit Stephen’s website.

1. How did the process of writing Publish This Book, a memoir, compare with your fiction and journalistic writing endeavors?
It was a strange experience because I had to form a narrative as events were happening. The process was on this kind of hyper-drive where I was reflecting and assimilating my conscious and sub-conscious observations–the way you would normally do as a writer–only at this accelerated rate, while also dealing with a whole host of very personal subjects. It was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime idea and experience.


2.  You call Publish This Book a “premature memoir” among other things. In what ways do you feel the memoir was premature? Have people questioned your decision to write a memoir at a young age?
The “premature” was kind of a joke I threw in last-second. Conjuring images of the author disappointing women sexually was great fun, but I also think people have this tendency to go “You’re 26? You can’t write a memoir when you’re 26! You haven’t done anything!” As it turns out, if you’ve got the right juice, you totally can.


3.  A lot of writers feel concerned about the reactions of friends and family if they were to publish a memoir. How have your friends and family reacted to the book now that it’s been published?
I’m sure there are parts that everyone wasn’t 100% thrilled with, but no one’s questioned the book’s honesty or intent, and I certainly haven’t lost any relationships over it. One of things you have to understand when you’re writing and intending to put your soul on the page, in a public forum, is that you can’t please all the people all of the time. If you get hung up on that, you’re finished. You’ll lose your mind. My aim was to be as true to the emotional reality of events as I could be.


4.  In a review, Publisher’s Weekly made a remark about how you may have been better off cutting some of the “more self-indulgent sections” of the book. Do you think memoir is an inherently self-indulgent genre? Where do we draw the line between honest self-expression and unnecessary self-indulgence when it comes to writing a memoir?
Ah, Publisher’s Weekly, those scumbags. No, just kidding. I think the part they objected to was my experience as a columnist in college, but I’ve received many e-mails and Facebook messages from fans who cite that as their favorite chapter. It’s one of those books where the way the reader feels about different sections says almost as much about them as it does about me. I think all art is inherently self-indulgent, which is okay. There is no hard and fast line separating honest self-expression from the rest, but my feeling is that a successful memoir usually has the reader reflecting about themselves and not just following along the bitching of some other guy. I like to think that’s what I achieved, but as I said, everyone’s cup of joe comes differently.


5.  In Publish This Book, you talk a lot about the process of getting the book itself published. After this experience, what do you think about the traditional publication process? Do you have any thoughts on indie/self-publishing as an alternative?
Publishing has changed so much from the time I finished the book to now that I can’t believe it will be the same in the next five years. Technology, the recession, the decline of readers–writers face challenges now that they couldn’t have even imagined a decade ago. I think it’s getting much harder to be successful without some serious luck, connections, or divine intervention. Self-publishing may be practical for some, but you have to understand that for every success story where a self-published author gets big, there are probably 10,000 who sold 36 copies to friends and family. It’s a tricky thing, this “writing”.


6.  What’s next on the horizon for you? Any new projects for us to keep an eye out for?
I’ve finished a novel, which my agent is shopping around to different editors and publishing houses. Also, it seems as though there is a strong possibility that “Publish This Book” will be a movie, which would be so surreal I haven’t even really wrapped my brain around it. I’m kind of at the point where I just want to dispatch any pay-the-bills writing and get to work on full-blown epic projects that will require days and days locked in front of my laptop. I’ve forgotten more books that I want to write than I’ve had hours to sit down and put them into words.


Book Giveaway
You can purchase a copy of Publish This Book on or at your local bookstore. I am giving away one copy of Publish This Book to a random commenter, so please leave your thoughts about the interview in a comment for a chance to win a copy of the book. Trust me, it’s a great read.