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Posts tagged ‘memoir’

Let’s Play Dress Up

February 4, 2015

Susan Marg

Photo by: handmademedia

Photo by: handmademedia

Eighty-six year old Betty Halbreich tells her life story in I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist. From beginning to end, although there’s no end in sight, she fills us in on her upbringing as an only child in a well-to-do home in Chicago during the Great Depression, marrying into a wealthy New York family in which she felt out of touch and all alone, bearing two children who she loved and loved to dress up, divorcing her alcoholic playboy husband, and having a nervous breakdown from which she recovered by going to work.

Betty’s work saved her, just as her fashion advice and general counsel rescued those who found their way to her door, down a long, isolated corridor on the third floor of Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue, where she worked as the original personal shopper. I truly enjoyed getting to know Betty. She’s a name-dropper to be sure, but she filled her book with candid observations of those she has dressed. Since 1976 movie stars, Broadway actresses, and society ladies have sought her guidance, as have fashion designers, such as Geoffrey Beene, Michael Kors, and Isaac Mizrahi.

Betty always loved clothes, the cut of a garment, the feel of the material, and adding just the right brooch or other accessory. As a girl she played dress-up, secluding herself on weekly visits in her grandmother’s closet filled with “slinky, silky things” and her mother’s closets, two enormous walk-ins, when her parents were out for an evening. In her book she related her purchase of her first little black dress when she was nineteen years old and later acquiring a two-piece Givenchy dress in a “deep blue-gray animal-like print that buttoned down the front in a low neck, small-sleeved jacket and tight skirt,” as a young matron.

What details Betty went into, which got me thinking. Clothes might make the man — or woman, but they also reflect on our culture — from poodle skirts and pedal pushers in the fifties, bell bottoms and miniskirts in the sixties, to pantsuits, if you weren’t wearing jeans and boots, in the seventies. You get the idea.

Clothes also tell a story — about growing up, fitting in, or finding your own personal style. If you’re writing your life or family history, be sure to include your memories of a favorite piece of clothing from decades past. Why did you buy it? Where did you wear it? How did it make you feel? Did you have to earn money to pay for it or did your allowance cover it? If you can find a photograph of yourself in a tailored jacket with shoulder pads from the eighties, so much the better.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Mother, May I?

January 29, 2015

Susan Marg

What games did you play growing up? My brother and I had lots of board games – Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Candyland. Outside he shot hoops; I was partial to hopscotch and jacks, always practicing. With other kids in the neighborhood, we played Hide ‘n Seek, Red Light/Green Light, or Mother, May I? With the later, failure to ask permission from “Mother” to advance meant returning to the start and beginning again. Ah, that was the rub.

Stock image from depositphotos.

Stock image: depositphotos.

When writing a memoir or life history, do you first ask permission to write about a loved one or do you skip that step and apologize later? It’s an age-old dilemma. Going back several years to 2007, Slate magazine ran a series of articles by memoirists, including one by Mary Karr, author of Liar’s Club and Cherry. In her essay below, Karr notes she was always upfront and personal with her friends and family.

The Liar’s Club: How I told my friends I was writing about my childhood—and what they said in return. By Mary Karr

As soon as you start to leave things out—to shape a tale—you’re maneuvering the actual. Can I tell about the boy who raped me without investigating who may have raped him as a child (data that would certainly spin the moral compass a few degrees at least)? Not without dismantling history. Hence the innate scorn with which memoirists get treated—it’s a scuzzy business at best, displaying your wounds in the marketplace, making close compatriots into “characters.” How dare I? I did take a few precautions.

Every major character in both memoirs (still alive) was alerted to the project in advance and “warned” about scenes they might find troubling—i.e., I told my mother I intended to recount her psychotic break. I told my best high-school friend (Meredith) that I’d describe her cutting herself, as well as her brother’s stint in jail. My pals who show up in Cherry were alerted as well—Clarice (from grade school), Meredith, John Cleary (the first boy I ever kissed), Doonie (the drug dealer), Stacy (an acid-taking volleyballer), along with two high-school boyfriends and my remaining family. While I didn’t call them for “research” purposes, many told me stories I’d forgotten that wound up in print. Those folks are always thanked up front.

Maybe it’s strange that—given my advanced age—I’ve stayed in touch with all these people through the years. Doonie, Stacey, Clarice, Meredith (until she died a few years back), John Cleary, and I remained (and remain) close. Definition: We continue to celebrate each other’s birthdays, at least by phone call and Hallmark card. We speak at Christmas. Every few years, we visit. Many of these folks joined me at the Texas Book Festival in 2000 when Cherry came out.

Maybe this ongoing closeness made writing about them easier. Or maybe they’re just tolerant individuals, which they’d have to be to associate with me for so long.

Once the manuscript was completed, I sent it to these primary characters for fear I’d misremembered or misrepresented them. The one small complaint I got was from a rock musician (an ex-beau) who worried that I said he’d smoked pot as a teenager—a scene he didn’t deny but now found embarrassing. I offered to take the scene out but refused to change how I remembered it. He preferred it stay in.

The large complaint involved my friend Meredith. She asked that I take out the scene of her cutting herself with a razor. She didn’t mind if I reinserted it in later editions, after her elderly mother died. To write it and blur the identity of the “cutter” seemed a fat lie to the reader—plus, it’s a different kind of betrayal: Watching a stranger taking a razor to herself just differs—morally speaking—from watching a dear pal. So, I’d initially intended to cut the chapter altogether. Then “Stacey,” our volleyball-playing pal, said she’d prefer to claim the cutting acts as her own. Stacey felt the scene was socially relevant and in some way “true” and that the book would suffer from its absence. This is the only intentional falsehood I’ve consciously constructed—other than fake names. It’s the one time I’ve let literature rule over fact. And now that Meredith and her mother are both dead, I correct the score.

Oh, and the Liars’ Club stories in that book (minus one I’d tape recorded) were sheer fiction, but since they deal with frozen farts and the like, I figured their historical accuracy would never be under dispute.

After both books’ publications, several minor neighborhood characters and teachers wrote me or came to hear me speak. It tickled me that a number of the guys I surfed with at Meekham’s Pier showed up at a bookstore in Houston. The oddest character participating was an old pal who’d vanished into the Witness Protection Program back in the late ’70s. The greater complaint has been that I didn’t use real names or the real name of our town. In other words, people preferred to be affiliated with their representations in the book. Some folks were pissed I left them out.

I’m certain that I’ve forgotten, blurred, or misremembered a zillion events, characters, and details large and small. Also, at this point in literary history, it’s understood that memoir is not an act of history but an act of memory, which is innately corrupt. That said, I believe a writer makes a contract with the reader to tell the truth. I try to stick with the stuff that’s stuck hardest with me. And if I don’t recall something I know the reader will wonder about, I announce it’s been forgotten. In the one case when a family member differed not on facts but on their interpretation (my sister remembered a grandmother I found malign as a nice old lady), I told the reader as much (I added—not so slyly!— that the same sister also voted for Ronald Reagan: twice). Maybe I’ve avoided complaints due to my own character—not that it’s stellar, but the converse: If someone’s behaving like an asshole in my book, it most always tends to be me.

Beware Low-Lying Fruit

January 22, 2015

Susan Marg

Have you started writing your memoir, but you’re wondering if you’ve struck the right tone? Take some advice from author Tobias Wolff, known for his memoirs, particularly This Boy’s Life, and short stories.

Reach high. Stock photo from Depositphotos.

“Don’t approach history as something to be shaken for its cautionary fruits. Don’t be afraid of appearing angry, small-minded, obtuse, mean, immoral, amoral, calculating, or anything else. Take no care for your dignity.”

– Tobias Wolff to Mary Karr, before she began writing Liar’s Club

 

I’m So Hooked On Six-word Memoirs

January 17, 2015

Susan Marg

Following through on my last post, I bought the book. I visited the website. I read lots of interviews with Larry Smith.

imagesThe book is It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs. It’s one in a series on life, love, and trying to make sense of it all in six words, no more, no less.

The website is sixwordmemoirs.com, where, after registering, everyone is welcome to share their pithy and concise personal history.

And Larry Smith is the founder of SMITH magazine. He was inspired by Ernest Hemingway, who, when challenged to come up with a six-word story, wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Smith, in turn, challenged writers, even if they had not written anything since leaving school, to develop six-word memoirs. It’s amazing the attitudes, emotions, and humor that pour forth under such constraints. Thousands have found it liberating.

The craze has been going on for quite a while, years even. Schools, churches, politics, tech groups, and senior citizen organizations, such as AARP, have adopted it, but I just discovered it. What does that say about me? And can I say it in six words?

As a personal historian, I thought I should give it a try. I came up with: “Born a Baby Boomer. Still am.” I’m happy with this. It describes me. I believe each generation is different from the preceding one, shaped by social and cultural events that occurred in their lifetime.

Then I wrote six words, let’s call it a biography, for my husband: “Berkeley to Boston. Brrrrr. Back West.” He thought it was amusing. I thought it was spot on. He gets cold watching the winter weather forecast across the country on television.

Smith’s own account is: “Big hair, big heart, big hurry.” One of his others can be purchased on a t-shirt: “Now I obsessively count the words.”

I do, too. I came across a quote from Marilyn Monroe and checked: yep, it’s six words. I think it makes a great six-word memoir: “I am trying to find myself.” Are you?

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Word game. Game time. Time line.

January 12, 2015

Susan Marg

IMG_1741

On a quiet weekend in the new year I went on Amazon to check out memoirs. I wanted to see what was on the list, be it old, new, naughty, nice, or soon to be released.

I scrolled past The Glass Castle and Liar’s Club, both of which I’ve read.

I was familiar with Brighton Beach Memoirs, a semiautobiographical play, and Memoirs of a Geisha, a historical novel. As neither is a memoir, I moved on.

Wild and American Sniper are both showing on the big screen, so I passed on them, too. Why curl up on the sofa with a book, when you can go out and see a movie?

Making my way to the 296th listing on the 25th page, I came across It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure. The title is self-explanatory.

I was not familiar with it or its prequel, Not Quite What I was Planning, by the editors of SMITH magazine, an online site dedicated to storytelling in whatever form it takes. But I was intrigued by the reviews:

“Will thrill minimalists and inspire maximalists.” (Vanity Fair)

“The brilliance is in the brevity.” (New York Post)

“A perfect distraction and inspiration.” (Denver Post)

“Dude’s weird premise yields interesting stories.” (Ira Glass, NPR’s This American Life)

“Six-word memoirs leave book lover speechless.” (Rocky Mountain News)

And there were the quotes, in this case “memoirs,” from renowned, as well as unknown, authors on the back cover:

“Father: ‘Anything but journalism.’ I rebelled.” —Malcolm Gladwell

“Shiny head. Hippie hair. Shiny head.” —Wally Lamb

“Bipolar, no two ways about it.” —Jason Owen

“I still practice my Oscar speech.” —Jennifer Labbienti

“So would you believe me anyway?” —James Frey

“The miserable childhood leads to royalties.” —Frank McCourt

I always want to inspire fellow personal historians, so I bought a copy. I’ll keep you posted.

 

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Resolutions for Personal Historians

January 7, 2015

Susan Marg

You can run, but you cannot hide. Illustration by: fffranzzz

You can run, but you cannot hide. Illustration by: fffranzzz

Remember.

Reflect.

Write.

And re-write.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

‘Tis the Season: Bake a Fruitcake

December 20, 2014

Susan Marg

Jay Leno bestowed Marie Rudisill with the name “The Fruitcake Lady,” when she appeared with him on The Tonight Show.

Having just published her latest cookbook, Fruitcake: Memories of Truman Capote and Sook, Marie was sick and tired of Leno denigrating fruitcakes. His jokes went from bad to worse.

Photo by: sarsmis

Photo by: sarsmis

Q. What do you do with a Christmas fruitcake?

A. Try eating it! Hey! It’s one way to get rid of it!

Then, there was this one:

Q. How many fruitcakes are there in the world?

A. Just one, and it keeps being passed around and around from person to person.

All fired up, like a wood-burning oven on a cold winter morning, Marie wrote Leno a letter. “You’ve got a hell of a nerve,” she lectured. “A good fruitcake is a labor of love, a work of art. You don’t have any idea how good a fruitcake can be.” Well, she caught someone’s attention, and the next thing she knew she was mixing nuts and sifting flour on the fruit in front of a live studio audience.

As funny as the Fruitcake Lady is, she’s serious about fruitcakes, calling them “true ambrosia – the queen of cakes.” In her cookbook, she includes over twenty recipes. Can’t wait to get started? Here’s one Martha Washington is said to have used.

Cream together a 1/2 pound butter and 1-1/2 pounds sugar. Gradually add six beaten egg yolks until creamy; then dissolve one teaspoon of soda in one pint of sour cream and add, alternating with 1-1/2 pounds of flour. Next, add the whites of the six eggs, beaten stiff.

For the final steps, add one pound of raisins, one pound of currants, a 1/2 pound citron dredged with a 1/4 pound of flour. Add the juice of one lemon and the rind of two lemons, one grated nutmeg, and a sprinkling of mace.

Bake in a greased ten-inch tube pan for five hours at a slow, steady heat. Cover with buttered paper while baking.

A fruitcake makes a nice addition to your Christmas table. Or you can always pass it along to a neighbor or friend who’ll pass it along to a neighbor or friend who’ll pass it along to a neighbor or friend…

If you don’t have neighbors or friends who are keen on fruitcakes (I know, it’s hard to believe, but not everyone is), they might enjoy the Fruitcake Lady’s memoir, Ask Me Anything. It’s a special treat.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Award for Ask Me Anything

November 20, 2014

Susan Marg

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:

Linda F. Radke, Five Star Publications, Inc.;

Email: info@FiveStarPublications.com

Susan Marg, Cowgirl Jane Press; Email: suemarg@san.rr.com

ASK ME ANYTHING Wins Coveted Royal Dragonfly Book Award

CHANDLER, AZ (November, 2014) – The judges of the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards contest, which recognizes excellence in literature, have spoken, and ASK ME ANYTHING by Susan Marg and Marie Rudisill placed in the Biography/Memoir category.

“Winning any place in the Royal Dragonfly Contest is a huge honor because in order to maintain the integrity of the Dragonfly Book Awards, a minimum score is required before a First or Second place or Honorable Mention will be awarded to the entrant – even if it is the sole entry in a category,” explains Linda Radke, president of Five Star Publications, the sponsor of the Dragonfly Book Awards. “Competition is steep, too, because there is no publication date limit as long as the book is still in print.”

For a complete list of winners including all first and second place and honorable mention recipients, visit http://www.FiveStarBookAwards.com and click on “Winners.”

To learn more about Five Star Publications, celebrating 29 years of doing business in Chandler, Ariz., access http://www.FiveStarPublications.com, email info@FiveStarPublications.com or call 480-940-8182.

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Marie Cover 5 EAsk Me Anything is the story of the amazing life of Marie Rudisill, also known as the Fruitcake Lady from her appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.   Well into her nineties, she became a television celebrity, going mouth-to-mouth with anyone who asked her a question or sought help with a problem. Susan says, “It was great working with Marie, a lot of fun. She always had an answer on the tip of her tongue.”

Ask Me Anything, ISBN 978-0-578-14318-7, is a 188-page paperback book consisting of nine chapters. Topics cover Marie’s early life in Monroeville, AL, her days in the Big Apple, her careers as a caterer and antique collector, and her experience working with Mr. Leno and his staff. It lists for $14.95. An ebook is also available.

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Susan Marg is the author of other award-winning books, including Las Vegas Weddings: A Brief History, Celebrity Gossip, Everything Elvis, and the Complete Chapel Guide, published by HarperCollins, and Hollywood or Bust: Movie Stars Dish on Following Their Dreams, Making It Big, and Surviving in Tinseltown. She is now working as a personal historian.

For more information, please visit YourBiography2.com or contact Susan per above.

Have You Read a Good Memoir Lately?

November 14, 2014

Susan Marg

UnknownMary Karr’s The Liars’ Club was first published in 1995, and it is often mentioned as kicking off the memoir craze. In her book the author reflects on her turbulent childhood in a small, smelly industrial Texas town in the early sixties. Alcohol-fueled fights and emotional disturbances were everyday occurrences.

In the introduction to an edition published ten years later, Carr commented on the response she received to her book. Liar’s Club was “odd,” she wrote, “not so much in the boatload of mail it generated, but in the length and intensity of letters. At the peak of its selling cycle, when it hovered at number two on The New York Times bestseller list for months, I got four hundred to five hundred letters a week…”

“How many of those letters began. ‘I’ve never told anybody this, but…?’ I didn’t count. A bunch.”

Memoirs resonate with our lives, whether the author addresses growing up, raising a family, dealing with old age, or all of the above in sadness or with humor. If done well they inspire and encourage. They might even motivate us to commit our own memories to paper.

One is never too old or too young to take on a life or family history project. Maya Angelou wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when she was 41 years old. She was 85 years old when she wrote Mom and Me and Mom, the last of her seven autobiographies.

If you do put pen to paper, remember that you’re not competing with anyone else or comparing your life – or your writing — with those of others. You’re doing it for yourself, possibly to see how far you’ve come in life or to leave a legacy for your children and their children.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Ask Me Anything Wins Award

November 4, 2014

Susan Marg

Cowgirl Jane Press

Contact: Susan Marg

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Phone #: 858 792-6860

DATE: November 4, 2014

Email: SusanMargBlog@gmail.com

 

ASK ME ANYTHING WINS AWARD.

Southern California Book Festival Recognizes Excellence.

 

Marie Cover 5 EThe 2014 Southern California Book Festival, organized by JM Northern Media LLC, announced the winners of its annual contest celebrating the best books of the fall on November 3.

A panel of experts judged the books in several categories, including fiction, non-fiction, history and business, for general excellence and the potential to reach a wider audience. Ask Me Anything: A Memoir received Honorable Mention in the Biography/Autobiography category.

Susan Marg co-wrote Ask Me Anything with Marie Rudisill, also known as the Fruitcake Lady from her appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.   Well into her nineties, she became a television celebrity, going mouth-to-mouth with anyone who asked her a question or sought help with a problem. Susan says, “It was great working with Marie, a lot of fun. She always had an answer on the tip of her tongue.”

Ask Me Anything, ISBN 978-0-578-14318-7, is a 188-page paperback book consisting of nine chapters. Topics cover Marie’s early life in Monroeville, AL, her days in the Big Apple, her careers as a caterer and antique collector, and her experience working with Mr. Leno and his staff. It lists for $14.95. An ebook is also available.

###

Susan Marg is the author of other award-winning books, including Las Vegas Weddings: A Brief History, Celebrity Gossip, Everything Elvis, and the Complete Chapel Guide, published by HarperCollins, and Hollywood or Bust: Movie Stars Dish on Following Their Dreams, Making It Big, and Surviving in Tinseltown. She is now working as a personal historian.

For more information, please visit YourBiography2.com or contact Susan per above.