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Posts tagged ‘writing’

Word game. Game time. Time line.

January 12, 2015

Susan Marg


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




And re-write.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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


Phone #: 858 792-6860

DATE: November 4, 2014




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 or contact Susan per above.

What Do You Remember?

October 29, 2014

Susan Marg

Are you thinking of writing your life history, but you’re not sure where to begin? For inspiration, pick up a copy of I Remember by Joe Brainard. First published in 1970 the book has become a cult classic.

I Remember coverBrainard, a poet and prolific artist as well as a nice guy, so say his friends, recalls growing up in Oklahoma and then his life in the 1960s and 1970s in New York City. His concept was simple, but brilliant. He wrote down his memories as they came to him, each prefaced by the phrase “I remember.”

And Brainard remembers a lot: thinking of sex, his first crush, his first dance, his first blue ribbon at a county fair. His observations are personal and universal, emotional and thought-provoking.

With Halloween soon here, here are some examples of his commemorating the holiday:

I remember orange icing on cupcakes at school Halloween parties.

I remember usually getting dressed up as a hobo or a ghost. One year I was a skeleton.

I remember one house that always gave you a dime and several houses that gave you five-cent candy bars.

I remember after Halloween my brother and me spreading all our loot out and doing some trading.

I remember always at the bottom of the bag lots of dirty pieces of candy corn.

I remember the smell (not very good) of burning pumpkin meat inside jack-o’-lanterns.

What do you remember? Now write it down!

Who Ya Gonna Call?

October 10, 2014

Susan Marg

Have you lost control of your schedule? Engage a personal assistant to get you to the church – or the meeting or the hairdresser – on time.

Photo by: Fingle

Photo by: Fingle

Do you want to get rid of clutter? Employ a personal organizer to create space in your closet, if not your mind.

Are you lacking motivation to get in shape? Sign up with a personal trainer, and go for the burn.

Were you hurt in an accident?   Hire a personal injury lawyer.

Are you baffled by the stock market? Ask a personal financial advisor.

Are you undecided on how best to start your memoir, life history, or family story? Call me: I’m a personal historian. I can help.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Gold Nuggets Can Be Found in the Details

September 24, 2014

Susan Marg

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I watched Busby Berkley’s Gold Diggers of 1933. We thoroughly enjoyed the depression-era story: rich boy meets poor girl and saves the play. And then there’s the singing and dancing. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, who play the rich boy and poor girl, respectively, sing “Pettin’ in the Park.” Ginger Rogers sings “We’re in the Money,” while showgirls dance on gold coins.

Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in Gold Diggers of 1933

Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in Gold Diggers of 1933

It’s a rather buoyant affair, except that no one has any money, apart from the playboy/songwriter and his relatives who want to keep him from marrying an actress. Like any other thirties musical, it’s somewhat frothy and madcap. Love trumps all, until the end.

The mournful ballad, “Remember My Forgotten Man,” carries the finale. From a close-up of Joan Blondell singing the blues, the scene dissolves first to soldiers, some carrying the wounded, marching in the rain and then to men waiting in a bread line for some soup and coffee. The lyrics tell the story: “You put a rifle in his hand; You sent him far away; You shouted: ‘Hip-hooray;’ But look at him today.”

The scene is visually moving and dramatic, but rather startling to anyone watching the movie today. World War I ended fifteen years before Gold Diggers takes place. The war is not mentioned in the movie until that point. Veterans, despite what they had done for their country, were unemployed, just like everyone else.

Knowledge of history makes the ending more fitting, by providing a perspective similar to that of a thirties movie audience. Here are some facts.

The tragedy of the Bonus Army March was top-of-mind. In the spring and summer of 1932, 43,000 veterans and their families marched on Washington, D.C. for the much needed immediate cash payment of bonuses they had been promised. Although payment wasn’t due until 1945, who could wait? With little sympathy, the Hoover Administration ordered the protestors removed from all government property and their campsite burned. Several veterans were shot and later died.

A second, smaller march early in 1933 at the start of the Roosevelt Administration was more quietly resolved with an offer of jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corp. Transportation home was given to those who chose not to work. As the depression dragged on, by the way, Congress voted in 1936 to pay the veterans their bonus then, rather than later.

Gold Diggers of 1933 was one of the top grossing films of the year. To audiences of the era it offered escape from the glum reality of the Great Depression, yet it was still topical. To modern movie-goers it is emotionally satisfying, as well as entertaining, once the details are filled in. The same is true if you’re writing a life or family history.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Research Puts Leaves on Family Tree

September 19, 2014

Susan Marg


A family portrait from Time Tales.

In an interview with John Wilkens of the San Diego Union-Tribune, author David Laskin talks about his book The Family: A Journey Through the Heart of the Twentieth Century. As a historian he traced several branches of his family tree, through tragedy and triumph, from the Holocaust to the modern state of Israel. A third branch formed Maidenform Brands here in the U.S. Laskin’s comments about his undertaking are relevant to everyone with an interest in the lives of their ancestors. I quote some of them here.

Why he writes historical non-fiction:

“To me, it’s the most vivid and exciting and accessible doorway into the past. When you read, let’s say, a history of immigration to the U.S. through Ellis Island or an account of the settlement of Israel, you get the facts, you get the atmosphere, you get the economic basis. When you read about people’s lives and their struggles and their dreams and their heartbreak, you really live the past.”

What he learned about himself:

“I learned that I have a lot more in common with my family than I ever thought… It’s funny in some ways that I’ve done this book because I was never very family-minded growing up. I found many family occasions quite excruciating.”

“I feel in many ways I am carrying on some of the family traditions… writing, recording, keeping the written word, keeping the family annals going.”

Why he admires his ancestors:

“I think everybody says this who looks back at their immigrant ancestors or their pioneer ancestors or their war hero or war grunt ancestors – my God, the courage, the stamina, the ability to withstand hardship.”

How he hopes to inspire others:

“My dream is that when people close my book, the next thing they do is go on or and start looking for their own family stories. Beyond that, to plumb and to research and to analyze their family ties to history.   To connect the dots for themselves.”

And if you’re a “mad, crazy researcher” like Laskin, “you can find out a lot.”

For more of David Laskin’s perspective, the complete interview is here.

For the book itself, described as beautifully written, densely textured, and at times heartbreaking, visit

Not Too Small, But Just Right

September 12, 2014

Susan Marg

Getting started on your life history can be daunting. It’s potentially a big undertaking, but who has time and what about the expense?

One way to overcome this stumbling block is to think small.

“Think Small” was the advertising campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle when introduced to the U.S. in 1959. Print ads displayed an image of the car on a blank background with very little copy. It was so successful in its simplicity that many credit it with changing the nature of advertising.ThinkSmall_Banner_Nov13b

In 1973, a book titled “Small is Beautiful” took hold of our global imagination. The phrase always stuck with me, and I think you can apply it to writing your life history. Here are a small number of suggestions:

Instead of covering your entire life, choose a decade that is particularly meaningful to you. Perhaps it was the 1950s because you had a favorite poodle skirt or the 1980s, as you were a fan of the punk rock band The Ramones. Maybe it was your twenties, when you struck out on your own, or your forties, after starting your own company.

Concentrate on a few experiences that changed your life or accomplishments you’ve achieved. Do you believe good luck or hard work played a role in the outcome?

Limit your topics to your hobbies or interests. If you’re an avid reader, write about the books that had the greatest impact on you. Are you a master chef in the kitchen? Talk about some of your favorite recipes. Whether you’re a sports buff or film buff, who inspires you?

Write about your friends, the places you’ve gone together, the laughs you’ve shared.

Focus on your family, be it sibling relationships or a family feud that’s lasted a lifetime.

I was having lunch with my mother the other day, and she, reminiscing, told me a story I had never heard before. “Do you know what a radiator is?” “Yes,” I responded. A radiator heated my first college apartment. “Well, when I was a little girl,” she continued, “I once burned myself so badly by leaning against a hot radiator I couldn’t sit down for weeks.” Thinking about the incident, she concluded, “That’s what life is, I guess, all those little moments.”

I agree. Now start writing them down!

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved