Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Name’s Not Madonna

By Velda Brotherton

Each time I write something about the wild and crazy things that I became involved in while working for a weekly rural newspaper, people ask me why I don’t write my memoirs.

Over the years I’ve met a lot of ordinary people just like me, their names unknown to anyone outside their circle of friends and family, who are working diligently on what they refer to as their life stories. Some even published or had them printed themselves and now have a garage filled with a thousand copies they can’t sell.

Of course in today’s publishing world, we can publish our work for next to nothing without having to order thousands of copies like back in the day. Still, I hesitate. It’s hard enough in today’s market to sell novels and well-researched local nonfiction, let alone trying to talk strangers into caring what happened to me when I was a reporter in an unknown county in the Arkansas Ozarks.

Granted I met some well-known people, a couple even famous. I well remember that young governor I met in the middle of a pasture on our way to attend a pioneer festival. He shook my hand, introduced himself and we talked for quite a while. I did not know that day, nor for several years to come, that I was talking to a future President of the United States, Bill Clinton. Didn’t even get my picture taken with him because…who knew? We were just visiting, and a lot of people in Arkansas spent time with Governor Clinton cause he was a hands-on fella. Absolutely no pun intended. He was gracious, outgoing and pleasant.

Nor did I guess when the editor sent me to interview an Apache who had started translating and making audio tapes of endangered American Indian tribal languages, that the man who opened the door to me would be Al Houser, not only the first baby born to Geronimo’s Fort Sill Apaches after they were set free from bondage in Florida, but a man who flew a B24 bomber on secret night raids into Nazi Germany and they were so secret that he said it was still difficult to locate records of The Lone Wolf Raider attacks. An honest to God hero who fought for the country that had imprisoned his parents and grandparents.

Thinking back on some of my adventures now, they seem dreamlike, for who could ever believe they could be paid for some of the stories I covered.

Here are some reasons not to write your memoirs:

·        You want to be famous

·        You want to be rich

·        Your mother has always said you’re a great writer

·        You only know twenty people who will buy and you’re never going to promote or market your work

Here are some reasons to write your memoirs:

·        You wish to share your life story with all family members

·        You have a huge mailing list of followers begging for your story

·        You’ve done something for which you are well known

·        Your story is humorous, educational and adventuresome

You can see why I’m weighing the advisability of spending six months to a year dragging out all my old stories, formulating a slant for my story, writing, rewriting, editing, and getting published. Especially when I can continue to write stories I make up in my head for a couple of publishers who are eager for my work.

For one of the best examples of memoirs by a person virtually unknown but with an amazing story to tell are My Life With a Wounded Warrior and Clueless Gringos in Paradise by Pamela Foster. Here’s a link to her page. http://www.amazon.com/Pamela-Foster/e/B006NAX5MG/ If you seriously want to write your memoirs, then you owe it to yourself to read these two books. I was not paid for this recommendation.

If you are now writing your memoirs or seriously contemplating doing so, why not comment. I’d be interested in hearing your plans.


Charles Gramlich said...

I ended up doing my Arkansas Memoirs, "Adventures of an Arkansawyer" through Create space. I've sold maybe 15 copies in print, a few more in ebook. So yeah, not going to get rich from it. I've gotten some good reviews from folks who appreciated the humor. I guess I'll have to be content with that.

Unknown said...

Oh, Velda! Do write your memoirs! You're experiences and the wisdom you've gained from them would be so much fun to read. I'm thinking of the James Herriot books about a British veterinarian--All Creatures Great and Small and several others--which gave such insight into the region, the culture, and the job of being a vet while also renewing your faith in humanity. I bet you can do the same thing in your own classy style. Looking forward to giving your memoirs as Christmas presents--maybe not this year, but certainly the next.

Liane Spicer said...

I'm reading Charles' Adventures of an Arkansawyer right now. I'm just finishing the beer section and I've had several laugh out loud moments. It's fascinating to me to read about real lives that are so different from mine.

Velda, I've already written a memoir. I started in the 1990s when my son was in his teens because I didn't want to forget all the little joys of those golden years spent raising him in a lovely little valley in the Northern Range of Trinidad where I live. Part of my motivation was capturing a way of life that is fast disappearing--when children could wander the hills with their friends and dogs, cook mac and cheese on an open fire they built themselves, and return home to describe the strange fauna they had encountered. Playing football in thunderstorms, watching temporary waterfalls form on the hillsides and diving into mountain pools where mini-waterfalls splashed on hot days were all par for the course. No one ever tried to break into the house and everyone felt safe.

That was just a decade and a half ago and things are different now. Nowadays I'd never let a child go exploring the hills alone because of the weed fields and trap guns, not to mention the children who disappear on a semi-regular basis. The epidemic of violence in the society has destroyed any sense of safety.

I finished the memoir in 2006 and haven't tried to get it published, haven't even sent it to my agent. If no one but my son and my family ever read it I'll never regret writing it.

James R. Callan said...

Good post, Velda. I especially liked your reasons to write a memoir and reasons not to write a memoir. We "older people need to preserve some of the history that we know - and frequently don't think we know.

Sunny Frazier said...

People hammer at me to write my experiences as a WAVE in the '70's. It was a ground-breaking time. I was recently asked to speak on the subject to the local Daughters of the American Revolution. I've always been reluctant to put it all down on paper because I'm not sure if it's relevant and the Navy might blush at some of the things we ladies did! If I did write it, the title would be "Making WAVES."