I work with many memoir writers (and am one myself) and I know that we have things to say that may help other aspiring memoirists. Every month I feature excerpts from my interviews with those who have written and published a memoir. This month here’s the 2nd installment of my interview with Teresa Rhyne, author of The Dog Lived (and So Will I) to be published this month, October 2012. You can buy this book online at Teresa’s website, www.teresarhyne.com or Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com.
The Dog Lived (and so Will I) is an uplifting, charming and often mischievous story of the relationship between the author and her dog Seamus, including his diagnosis of cancer and her dedication to healing him, followed by her own cancer diagnosis. Teresa’s story shows how dogs come into our lives for a reason, how they steal our hearts, show us how to live, and teach us how to love.
Q: How did/do you make use of sensory details (smell, touch, sight, sound, taste) in describing the people, places and events in your memoir?
Teresa: Many scenes in my memoir take place in doctor’s offices, exam rooms and hospitals…so there’s an abundance of sensory details. Also, because chemotherapy affects your senses (taste is gone; smell is heightened) much of that was included. Finally, because one of the main characters is a beagle, there is much about his sense of smell, food, and the many sensory ways a dog communicates and receives communication.
Q: How did you handle sensitive subjects with the other “characters” in your memoir? Did you preserve their anonymity? Disguise them in any way?
Teresa: With the exception of the main characters and the good doctors in the book, most names were changed; locations and identifying characteristics were also changed. I felt “better safe than sorry” was a good rule of thumb. Anybody in the book who is an antagonist is disguised and has a made-up name.
Q: Were your family members happy or upset that you were writing your memoir? If they were unhappy, why? Were they afraid you would tell things that should remain hidden?
Teresa: I was mostly concerned with my boyfriend’s family (they did not accept me at first and we had quite a personal battle, some of which is detailed in the book). I have told them that the story is told in the book and they’ve said they are fine with it because, and it’s true, it all works out fine in the end. I was careful to present the story as my point of view and I believe I made it clear I was bringing an awful lot of baggage and skewed perceptions of my own into play in that situation. My own family seems happy I wrote the memoir, though I suspect they’re mildly nervous about what might be in it. Ask me again after the book is out!
Q: What publishing options did you consider for your memoir, and what were their pros and cons? How did you eventually publish your memoir?
Teresa: I only ever considered the traditional publishing route. Had I not had any luck finding an agent and a publisher, I might have then considered independent publishing, but I was lucky quickly and actually had a choice of agents. I signed with Sourcebooks, Inc. and have been delighted with them. They’ve been very supportive and I love my editor, marketing manager and publicist—they’re all “dog people” and great fun. Obviously those are important “pros” to a traditional publisher—the team behind your book and the connections. I haven’t seen any cons yet and I’m not expecting to.
Q: How did/do you promote your memoir?
Teresa: I’m looking forward to attending BEA in June for my first promotional event. I’ll be at the Sourcebooks booth signing ARCs. Shortly after that I’ll be at the American Librarians Association annual conference doing the same thing. My publicist is handling the national media pitches, and I’ll be doing a West Coast book tour. I’m also putting together a series of events called “Words, Wine and Wags” where we’ll combine a wine tasting (my boyfriend’s in the business) and book signing/ reading with pet adoption events as fundraisers for animal rescue and canine cancer organizations. We’ll be doing similar events, called “Words, Wine & Women” for breast cancer organizations, particularly during the book’s launch month of October, which is, of course, breast cancer awareness month. I’m looking forward to many enjoyable animal rescue and breast cancer organizations events in my immediate future!
Q: What do you wish you knew before you wrote your memoir, that you know now? What advice would you give someone who wants to write the story of their life?
Teresa: I never considered non-fiction writing before this experience and I really wish I had. I wish I’d tried this earlier as I think I may have found my true writing niche. I can’t imagine writing the entire story of my life though (huge chunks of it just aren’t that interesting and the concept overwhelms me) so I think my advice would be to focus on a few themes or a specific time period or incident. And just write. And write. And write more. Then start over again. Eventually your own story becomes clear and that’s part of the joy of writing memoir. I was surprised how much I learned about myself while writing this memoir.