Last month (June 18th to be exact) author Maria Ross shared her insights about writing her memoir, Rebooting My Brain: How a Freak Aneurysm Reframed My Life. Here is more of this interview:
Q: What was the most challenging part of your memoir to write? Why?
Maria: You would think it would be revealing my innermost thoughts and struggles, but that was surprisingly easy. What I worried most about what depicting real people from my life in a way that was authentic but was still acceptable to them. I had good things to say about everyone in my story, but I was still worried about how they’d feel about my descriptions of them and how I see them. I asked permission to include their real names and everyone agreed – and none of them have unfriended me on Facebook yet!
The other challenging part was figuring out how to tell my story in a way that was not about me. Meaning, someone reading my book could get something out of it and it wouldn’t seem so selfish or ego-centric. I think having your audience in mind as you write is a good check for this – and so is having an editor who will be honest and tell you, “Look, you’re coming off like a prima donna in this chapter. What is the reader supposed to get from this?”
Q: How long did it take you to write your memoir? Did you write every day?
Maria: I actively started sifting through old blogs I’d written and documenting all the stories I’d heard in February or March of 2011 and the book published as an eBook in late January 2012. I had deliriously thought I’d be able to get it published by August 2011, but I had to search for a fantastic developmental editor (cue applause for Kim!) and I interviewed several candidates which took a while. Plus, the writing, research and approvals took way longer than I’d hoped. I did not write every day, but most days. I really just tried to “make progress” each and every day. Whether that was writing or emailing my editor or finding a piece of research, everything was forward progress each day.
Q: What is your favorite memoir, other than your own? Why?
Maria: Oh boy.I really liked Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs by Chery Peck for its vignette style. I had been working on a more comprehensive memoir about growing up Italian American before this aneurysm hit and it was going to be that style. Shockingly, I had not yet read David Sedaris which everyone tells me is exactly what I wanted that other memoir to be. Need to get on that.
I also adored Eat, Pray, Love. While the book is either loved or hated, I just loved the idea of starting over, cleaning the slate and taking off to these exotic locales. It inspired me. I felt I understood Gilbert even though I’ve never been divorced: I understood her longing for something else, even if she wasn’t sure what it was and trying everything she could think of to find it. We’ve all been in relationships or places like that at one time or another. As a travel lover, I guess I just loved the fantasy of running away for a year to these three amazing countries.
Q: Which element do you think is most important in a memoir – setting of time and place; underlying theme or focus; storytelling plot; characterization? Why?
Maria: I think its storytelling and character.
I have read books about subjects I thought I’d have zero interest in or watched biopics on TV of famous people that bore me to death – and still been riveted. I think that has to do with how you tell the story. Is there drama, excitement, humor, emotion? Is it a story that will grab people?
I also think it’s about making sure you see yourself as a character, a protagonist that people like and root for. Just because it’s real doesn’t mean the rules of writing do not apply. I’ve read two memoirs which had rich stories and exciting concepts, yet I hated them. Mostly because I hated the main characters and thought they were spoiled, egocentric and narrow-minded. I’m sure that wasn’t the intent, but that’s what I came away with. I worried very much about making sure I was an overall likeable character in my own story, even when doing unlikeable things. I still had to tell the truth.
Thank you, Maria, for sharing your adventures!