Pam: Shirley, What is critical for your readers to know about you and your life before they pick up your book?
Shirley: I'm a farm girl who grew up "plain" and has had a love-hate relationship with required plainness while admiring genuine humility all my life. My ideal reader has an interest in Mennonites (and probably Amish also). She wants to know what a Mennonite farm childhood is like. She might be attracted to the black and white picture with rosy cheeks and be curious about why the title is "Blush."
Pam: There is something about memoir that puts us at double-jeopardy. We not only reveal ourselves through our craft, we put our lives and deepest joys and fears on display. Why did you do it?
Shirley: Why write memoir? I am doing it for the same reason I spent most of my career as an educator. To know myself better and to help others do the same. Blushing comes from having a gap between our outward image and our inward feelings. I want to explore when and how that gap arose in my life and how it closed. My second reason for writing is to leave a legacy of reflection on values for the sake of my grandchildren and others who come after. I also want to inspire others to write their own memoir, whether or not they publish it.
Pam: Tell us about the sorting process: identifying the pivotal memories. How
did you know when you had found yours? What distinguished them?
Shiley: This is a great question, Pam. For me, a pivotal memory is one that changed me and/or others. It also has touched me deeply at a feeling level, whether that feeling is fear, love, loneliness, determination, or sadness. For this reason, a pivotal memory is also a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Pam: A memoir has within it a "little book" of our life memories, and a "larger book" of our life themes. Can you discuss how you use the little book of memories to support the larger themes of your work?
Shirley: I like this description. Thomas Larson speaks of the me-then and the me-now. This is another way in which a good memoir layers meaning, time, and perspective. One of the hardest things for me to do right now is to move between these two. It's hard enough to establish a chronological chronicle of pivotal stories as accurately as possible. Then one has to read the whole chronicle through the lens of theme, purpose, higher and more universal values. It helps to make note of possible themes as you go. For me, choosing a title commits me to finding a way to unfold meaning about my rosy cheeks, my propensity to blush, my desire to be loved and recognized, and my heritage as a Mennonite farm girl.
Siirley: Thanks for inviting me to be your guest, Pam
Pam: You're most welcome, Shirley. I aplogize for the delay in posting your blog entry. I have just been discharged the hospital following a stroke. I promise never to do it again, if I can help it!
You can have the pleasure of following Shirley's progress writing and publishing her book on her website at: www.shirleyshowalter.com . She also shares vast stores of useful information about writing memoirs on her blog.