We are thrilled to be able to publish this interview with West Coast Christian Writers Conference Director & Inspire member, Susy Flory, in which she discusses (one of) her latest project(s), “Everything Memoir.”
Susy is a New York Times bestselling author or co-author of 12 memoirs, and she’s written with celebrities, heroes of the faith, athletes, explorers, and the girl (and boy) next door.
Hi Susy, and thank you for doing this interview.
Hi, Ian. I’m happy to be here!
Could you give us a brief insight into how you came to be a memoirist?
It happened because of a dog! I wrote a memoir early on called “So Long Status Quo: What I Learned From Women Who Changed the World.” This became my second book and I thought I was done with memoir. Most people only write one, right? But in the process of writing a book of true dog stories, I came across a story that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go—the story of a blind man and his guide dog, Roselle, who survived being on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center on 9/11. That became my second memoir, and I loved getting to know Mike and Roselle and getting to tell their story. So, I blame Roselle for all of this!
I was excited and interested to see your new “Everything Memoir” page/group on Facebook. How did “Everything Memoir” come about? Were there any specific events that caused you to start this new project?
Because I’ve now written over a dozen memoirs, including a couple of bestsellers, I’ve had many people get in contact with me for help with memoir, or to ask me to write their story. For a couple of years, I felt very overwhelmed because I couldn’t help most people. But now, with Everything Memoir, I can offer more help. I think everyone should write a memoir and I’m excited to shine some light on how to actually write and complete one!
What are your hopes for “Everything Memoir?”
To become a community of encouragement, practical help, and inspiration for ordinary people working on a memoir or personal story. You can’t do this stuff alone. I know because I tried and got stuck!
Do you have any additional plans under the “Everything Memoir” name beyond the Facebook initiative?
I always have too many ideas, but yes! There are plans in the works for resources, such as a podcast, and more connection points, including live and online workshops. In May, I’m launching a private Facebook group where we can get more in depth and feel safe doing so. I’ll be doing some Facebook Live teaching in that group.
What would you consider to be the single most important piece of advice you can give to someone thinking about (or who has just started) writing a memoir?
Have a solid plan for your memoir, and yet be open to that plan growing and changing through the process. I’d suggest a big piece of cardboard or a whiteboard and Post-its to help plan out the structure of the book. Once you have a plan, it’s much easier to write the book. (Notice I didn’t say “easy,” because writing a memoir is anything but. But I promise, a plan helps!)
And what do you think is the most common mistake writers make when tackling a memoir for the first time?
The biggest mistake I see is not reading enough memoirs to see how the good ones are done. You have to give the reader a powerful emotional experience (or PEE–a great acronym created by a great writer, Lynn Vincent), and to even begin to approach that with your own memoir, you need to see how other great memoirists have done that.
Apart from joining your Facebook group, do you have any other tips for where people can go to get good advice on memoir writing? Any recommended books, for example?
My favorite how-to books on memoir are Mary Karr’s “The Art of Memoir;” Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird;” “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg; and, “The Courage to Write” by Ralph Keyes. Two great podcasts that sometimes touch on memoir are The Art of Semi-fiction and Communicator Academy.
Have you considered writing a book about memoir writing in addition to your actual memoirs? (Perhaps you should if you haven’t!)
I talked to someone in the industry recently who suggested it, so it’s something I’m percolating on. Thanks for the suggestion, Ian! There are some areas around faith-based memoir that need to be talked about, and often aren’t in other how-to books, such as how to write about faith, miracles, and God in your memoir.
If someone wants to join your “Everything Memoir” group on Facebook, what do they need to do?
Everyone is invited and you can find us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/everythingmemoir/
Any final thoughts on memoir writing?
When you get started, don’t worry too much about publishing options. Instead, focus on the reader. And if only one reader ever reads it, and what you have written changes their life for the better or makes them feel understood, that is a win. Leaving a legacy with a memoir is taking the joys and challenges of this life and redeeming it through story, and letting your reader know that most precious of messages: You are not alone. I’ve been there, too.
Thank you so much, Susy. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this new project develop and grow and to learn from you.
Thanks, Ian! It’s always a pleasure chatting with you. And I can’t wait to read YOUR memoir!