My author guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” is someone who focuses on helping fellow authors to find and harness their positive inner energies and let them shine through, both in their writing and in their lives. She has written memoirs, poetry, written and/or compiled writing resource books, and she offers workshops focused on healing and transformation through memoir writing. Her works have won numerous awards, including Best Book Award, Feathered Quill Book Award, Mom’s Choice Award, Eric Hoffer Award, and Allbooks Review Editor’s Choice Award. Please help me welcome creative nonfiction author, Diana Raab, PhD.
Kaye: You have a PhD in Psychology with a research focus on the healing and transformative powers of memoir writing. Can you explain briefly what those powers are?
Diana: My research examined how pivotal experiences encouraged individuals to write memoirs as a way to transform, grow, and become empowered. I interviewed esteemed writers about the role writing their memoirs had in their lives. Poet Kim Stafford said that writing his memoir transformed him, in that it helped him come to a new understanding about his brother’s suicide. Another writer said that the writing experience relieved him from the pain of his past. And another writer who lost a son said that writing helped her look at life in a much larger context and also helped to keep her son “alive.” Writer Maxine Kingston said that she was transformed by penning her memoir because she was finally able to tell the stories from her past, which for a long time had been a secret. Thus, in most cases, the writers were liberated from the demons of their pasts.
Kaye: How can writing facilitate transformation and empowerment?
Diana: Transformation is a dramatic change in one’s physical or psychological well-being. It’s about becoming more aware of and facing our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Writing down our feelings can lead to self-realization and a sense of empowerment, because we’re moving our feelings from inside of us and onto the page; and like therapy, it can help us work through our challenges. Writing can also be transformative because it helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves. With that understanding comes deeper reflection, and consequently a more profound sense of harmony.
Kaye: What is your biggest challenge of being a writer?
Diana: That’s a great question. In my earlier years, while raising children, my biggest challenge was carving out the time to write. These days, I would say that my biggest challenge as a writer is finding inspiration.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Diana: When I was younger, I used to love writing in the wee hours of the night, but now that I’m older, my preference is to write early in the morning. That’s when my mind and thought processes are most clear. I like writing just after my morning meditation, as sometimes thoughts emerge during this time that can move me into a highly creative and inspirational zone.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Diana: I love being with my adult children (ages 36, 34, and 30) and playing with my grandchildren; and I love hiking and going for beach walks. I meditate every day, and like most writers, I love to read. I also love cooking, especially soups and desserts. I love doing needlepoint, a craft I learned from my maternal grandmother, Regina, who committed suicide when I was ten. She was my caretaker, and this was a huge loss for me. Her story is the basis of my first memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal.
Kaye: How does memoir writing differ from other writing forms? Don’t most forms of writing “unleash the true voice of the inner self”?
Diana: I don’t believe that most forms of writing “unleash the true voice of the inner self.” It might start out that way when writing fiction, but soon the imagination comes into play. Memoir writing is a first-person account chronicling a slice of life, not an entire life. It is a subjective recollection from one’s own perspective. Typically, there is a theme or thread running through a memoir. What sets a memoir apart from other forms of nonfiction is that it weaves the story as it happened, but also includes reflection. It’s much more than a journalistic telling. Compelling memoirs definitely unleash the true inner self.
Kaye: Tell me about your writing workshops. What can I expect to come away with if I take a workshop with you?
Diana: What you will come away with will depend on the nature of the particular workshop. Each one is different, depending on its focus. I usually revise my workshop format accordingly. For example, I’ve taught high-risk youth, bereaved adults, hospice workers, and those battling with drug addiction. My regular workshops are related to memoir writing, where participants of different writing levels come together to work on their personal stories.
I limit these groups to ten individuals so that I can offer individualized coaching. Participants learn by hearing my comments about their memoirs, and we also discuss published memoirs. They’re grateful to hear about all the tidbits of information I’ve gathered during my 40-year writing career. I stress the idea that writing is a process, and like any other process, patience is necessary. Those who take my workshops say that they leave them feeling very inspired to continue their memoir-writing journeys.
Kaye: What lessons do you want readers to walk away with from reading Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life?
Diana: There are many lessons within those pages, as I weave my story into a how-to book on personal writing. I want readers to understand the transformative powers of memoir writing and be aware that writing is a journey. I stress the idea of truly enjoying that journey and not becoming focused on the destination. People have called Writing for Bliss “instructive, inspiring, healing, and a blueprint for writing for healing and transforming your life.”
Kaye: You put together a book project that was quite innovative with Writers and Their Notebooks. I thought it was a really cool idea, and apparently others did too, since it became a Best Books award finalist with USA Book News. In fact, I’d bet there is an abundance of valuable information for aspiring authors. What inspired you to compile an anthology of author essays about the value of an author’s notebook?
Diana: As I mention in the Preface, “As artists have sketchbooks, writers have notebooks.” My inspiration for creating this anthology originated from my own experience and the joy that journaling has brought into my own life. For more than five decades, journaling had helped ground and center me. My passion began with my mother giving me a Kahlil Gibran journal when I was ten to help me cope with my grandmother’s suicide.
This book is a celebration of well-published writers who use their notebooks to inspire, record, and document anything and everything that nurtures or sparks their creative energy. Many of the essays in the collection are confessional in nature. This year celebrates the book’s tenth anniversary. The project is even more meaningful for me now, as many of the writers in the anthology have passed away, such as Sue Grafton and Michael Steinberg.
Kaye: Another valuable anthology which you put together is Writers on the Edge, a collection of 22 authors being brutally honest about their own battles with addiction. Was it difficult to get so many authors to open up?
Diana: Great question. Addiction is defined as the obsession and compulsion to self-destruct. Author James Brown and I co-compiled this anthology because of our passion for the subject. We contacted writers who we thought would be interested in writing about their journaling practices. We were honored when Jerry Stahl agreed to write the foreword. A number of authors said that they didn’t know if they could write so intimately and honestly, but they did. Some had never written nonfiction before, so it was a huge challenge for them, but in the end, they felt a huge sense of satisfaction. As we said in the preface, “These battles are not fought alone, and perhaps these stories will also provide insight and hope to all those and their loved ones struggling with some form of addiction and its inevitable consequences.”
Kaye: You’ve written two memoirs yourself. Why did you choose to share with others your inner thoughts and feelings during a difficult time in your own life, with Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey?
Diana: After my first cancer diagnosis in 2001, I decided, as a gift to myself, to enroll in graduate school for my MFA in writing. My two memoirs were a part of my creative thesis. In actuality, I had no intention of writing a memoir about my cancer journey. I was the type of person who believed that I got breast cancer, had a mastectomy and reconstruction, was healed, and that it was over and I’d be okay. I didn’t want my cancer diagnoses to define me.
During my recovery, I did a lot of journaling, but with no intention to publish a book on the subject. Five years later, to my surprise, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable form of bone marrow cancer. Supposedly, it’s not connected to breast cancer. I was devastated, but the silver lining was being told that I had smoldering myeloma and wouldn’t yet need treatment, just regular blood work.
My friends and colleagues encouraged me to write about my cancer journey because they thought it would help others. To make the book a little different and more universal, I decided to create a self-help memoir where I provided journaling opportunities for readers to share their own cancer journeys.
Kaye: You won the Mom’s choice award for your first memoir was Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. What kind of revelations does it contain?
Diana: During the writing process, I learned a lot about my grandmother. I began writing the book about the time of my first cancer diagnosis. I wanted to study my grandmother’s life to see if she’d committed suicide in 1964 because of cancer, but that wasn’t the case. I learned that at the time of her death, she was very depressed, and her doctor had given her a prescription for Valium, which she eventually overdosed on. By studying my grandmother’s life, I learned that she held on to the demons of her past, such as being orphaned during World War I and marrying an abusive man. All this inner turmoil eventually got to her, so she took her own life.
Kaye: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Diana: I don’t want to think about it. I love writing, whether it’s journaling; or writing poems, articles, letters, or blogs. It’s where I find my peace.
Kaye: What is next for Diana Raab? What can your readers and authors look forward to in the future?
Diana: Last year I turned 65 and felt that there was a huge shift in my vision. While I’ve always practiced mindfulness, I find that I’ve been living more in the moment. Also, in recent years, I’ve lost a number of loved ones, which is another reminder to enjoy the present. Thinking a little farther ahead, I hope to give more workshops and maybe create some short inspirational books. I’m currently working on my fifth book of poetry. I also have an unfinished novel that has been sitting in my drawer. Maybe one day I’ll be inspired to get back into it, or perhaps I’ll become inspired to write a children’s book for my grandchildren. Time will tell!
I want to extend my thanks to Diana Raab for joining us today and sharing with us. I have to agree with her philosophies, as I’ve experienced the healing powers of writing in my own life. I believe many of us have. If you’d like more information about Diana, her books, projects and events at her website: dianaraab.com.
You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2020, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress. Please share content you find interesting or useful.
Missing: Murder Suspected is a true crime trilogy written by Austin Stone, compiled and edited by his son, Edmund J.A. Stone after his father’s death. In his investigative style of writing, similar to that of Truman Capote, Austin Stone has managed to bring the characters of each story to life in the reader’s mind in grisly detail.
A chicken farmer who buries a love struck woman beneath one of his chicken coops. A surgeon prone to fits of rage kills his wife and nanny, dismembering their bodies and concocting elaborate stories to account for their absence from his home. A firefighter kills his abusive wife in the heat of a moment, disposing of her body in a shroud of burlap sacks. These are murders which took place in the early 1900’s, and Stone offers a glimpse into the lives and motivations of the people involved through his telling.
If you like cold case type of stories, you will find these stories intriguing. There was too much telling and not enough showing for my own tastes, but giving the journalistic style, I don’t see how this could have been avoided. I give Missing: Murder Suspected three quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother’s Grief
“The Making of a Memoir” is a bi-monthly blog series which explores the stages of writing a memoir as I write the story of losing my nineteen year old son, Michael, to suicide, through his story and the tale of a life without him and the grief I experience every day, even after he’s been gone for a decade. Some progress has been made toward the actual writing of the book since the last segment. I made a final decision on the title above for the book, and work on the cover is in progress with Art Rosch at Starrts Creative. Although there is still a lot of material still to sort through and compile what I want to include, I managed to work through a considerable amount. The going is slow, as I knew it would be, due to the emotional nature of the material and the memories some of it awakens.
In the last segment, “Stage 1: Prewriting Tasks“, I said I expected this book to be the most difficult story I have ever attempted to write, and that has proven to be true. In fact, it has proven to be difficult in more ways than I had imagined. This segment was supposed to be titled “Stage 2: Selling the Story”, but alas, unexpected “Obstacles and Roadblocks” has become a more appropriate title. Over the past two months, I run into several and I’m still trying to find a way around, over or through one huge one in particular – legalities.
Memoir can and should be a work of creative nonfiction. It is a true story told creatively, so as to capture and hold the readers’ attention. What memoir is not, is a work of fiction, with fictitional characters and places. You are telling a true story, something that actually happened, something in which other real people played different roles, and to tell the story, their parts must be told as well, even if the tale doesn’t portray all of them in a positive light. A good memoir must be told with honesty, from the heart.
As I sorted through the plethora of material I have gathered and saved since my son’s death: his poetry, writings and artwork; my poetry and writings; and oh so many photos, I couldn’t help but think about the other people involved, directly or indirectly with the story of the events leading up to Mike’s death and also the events that came after, and I realized that there were more than a few, people associated with Mike, and law enforcement officers, who might not want this story to come out because of the manner in which they might be viewed for their parts in his death.
It normally wouldn’t be a problem at all. I’m writing the story of events as they happened to the best of my knowledge. Many facts surrounding Mike’s death were suspicious, and for a time I believed that Mike might have been murdered. Things didn’t add up, but the proof to back up what I know to be true was withheld from me by local law enforcement. I no longer entertain the idea that Mike’s death was anything other than suicide, without the proof that the events happened the way I claim they did, I could be open to liable in telling this story.
The individuals involved wouldn’t really be a problem. The obvious solution is to change the names. Even in a true story, real people can have fictitious names, without damaging author credibility. Authors do this all the time; you just state that some names have been changed and readers won’t feel cheated.
The law enforcement agency and certain individual agents present a bigger problem. Do I change the names of the law enforcement agents? Do I change the name of the area they represent? How much can be changed before a true story becomes a work of fiction? The proof I lack wouldn’t portray the local law in a positive way and they know it, so they aren’t likely to have a change of heart about sharing it with me for the book. They play major roles in the events leading up to Mike’s death, and the story really can’t be told without their inclusion.
Although this issue has presented a roadblock that appears it might be unsurpassable, I have a couple of ideas on how I might be able to get around it. I need to let it play out and see. If not, I’ll look for a way to go over, or under if I have to. This is a story that must be told, and I’m determined to tell it. By the next segment, in June, I should be moving forward once more. I’ll let you know how it gets resolved. I do hope you’ll join me then.
Join me in my writing journey through “The Making of a Memoir” the second Monday every other month on Writing to be Read: February, April, June, August, October and December. To be sure not to miss one segment, subscribe to email or follow on WordPress for notification of new content.
Our monthly theme for February on Writing to be Read was, you guessed it – nonfiction. So, what tipped you off? Was it the great interview I did with nature author Susan J. Tweit? Or maybe the nonfiction revues of How to become a Published Author and Letters of May? Or perhaps it was the “Chatting with the Pros” interview of nonfiction author Mark Shaw? Whatever it was that gave it away, I’m here to tell you that these few posts on nonfiction don’t even scratch the surface of what the genre of nonfiction encompasses.
There are many subgenres of nonfiction, just as there are many subgenres under each of the genres of fiction. When someone asks what type of book your fiction novel is, we are quick to catetgorize it as a paranormal mystery, a historical romance, or a science fiction thriller. For some reason, we don’t seem to think about nonfiction the same way we do fiction and when someone asks what type of book your memoir is, or your travel diary, or your self-help book, we tend to lump it in with all the rest in nonfiction. Why this is, I don’t know, but I find that it is the case, time and time again.
The fact is, not all nonfiction books are alike and there are many categories or subgenres that fall within the nonfiction realm. Mark Shaw writes biographies and creative nonfiction tales that are very different from the memoirs, illustrated travel books and nature guides of Susan J. Tweit. Other types of nonfiction that are hard to define are books like Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd’s Wild West Ghosts, which chronicles their ghost hunting experiences and offers advice on how you can be a ghost hunter too. Or Hollywood Game Plan by Carole Kirshner, which is a how-to guide for anyone wanting to break into the screenwriting world. These books are all nonfiction, but they are all very different types of books.
According to wikipedia the genres of nonfiction are biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, commentaries, creative nonfiction, critiques, essays, owners manuals, journalism, personal narratives, reference books, self-help books, speeches, and text books. I would add to that spiritual texts, encyclopedias, documentaries, how-to books, cookbooks, diaries and anthologies such as the one found in Letters of May, which is a collection of writings and artwork illustrating the world of those afflicted with mental illness. I’m sure there are others, but as you can see the list is quite extensive.
Nonfiction books may or may not be aimed to entertain, but the primary purpose, no matter the type of nonfiction book, is to inform. This may account for the fact that my reviews of nonfiction books receive more views in general, than most of my fiction reviews. A fact that I found to be surprising when I uncovered it while looking over the data for this blog. My theory is that readers turn more quickly to books they may find useful than they do to those with entertainment as their sole purpose.
My reasons for interest in nonfiction and all it’s many forms stems from preparation for my journey to write my own memoir, telling the story of my son’s death and my life without him, His Name Was Michael. My bi-monthly blog series which will chronicle that writing process, “The Making of a Memoir“, came out with the first segment in February, too. It was a good month for it to come out, as it also fits in with the nonfiction theme. I hope you’ll join us again next month, when the theme will be science fiction and fantasy.
Be sure to join me next month when we will explore science fiction and fantasy, with guest author Kevin J. Anderson on “Chatting with the Pros” on March 18th, as well as a review of his Selected Stories: Science Fiction Volume 2, and Jordan Elizabeth’s Rogue Crystal.
Update: In Friday’s post I talked about the changes coming for Writing to be Read. One more change that I just recieved confirmation of, and I’m pleased to announce: Art Rosch will also be posting one movie review a month, on the forth Friday of the month, in “Art’s Visual Media Review”.
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September is a month that I’d prefer to skip over if I could. It is not an easy month for me and hasn’t been for the last ten years. My son Michael was born on September ninth, he died on September 21 at the age of nineteen, and he was buried on September twenty-eighth. Had he lived, he would have been 30 years old yesterday. Since his death the Green Day song, Wake Me Up When September Ends, has held a special personal meaning for me, because it would be preferrable to go to sleep and not wake up until September was over each year. But of course, that isn’t possible and so, I plod through the month, struggling with my emotions, and life goes on. I haven’t forgotten, and I don’t miss him any less as time goes on, but I am now able to prevent my loss from consuming my life, as it did at first.
After he died, I felt his story needed to be told, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, even though most of what I wrote during the first two years concerned him in one way or another. The wounds were still too fresh and I couldn’t distance myself from the situation enough to write it. I always knew that it was a tale that needed to be told, and I knew I was the only person who could write it, so I saved all the files and the photos, as well as physical momentos and hand written stories and poems written by my son.
As I mentioned in a recent post, It’s All a Matter of Time, I’ve begun compiling the plethora of journals, stories, poetry and visual images I have accumulated in releation to my son, so tuning out the world and hoping September will go away is not going to work this year. I’ve gathered these materials over the past ten years since his death and they are my works, as well as his, and eventually, it will all be included in my memoir about his life and death, His Name Was Michael: How I Lost My Son to Teen Suicide. After a decade, it is time for his story to be told. The pre-writing preparations have begun and I hope to have it ready for publication by this time next year.
This September will be filled with many tears, as I read through all the materials I’ve gathered and/or written for this book. To put it all together I must read through every piece of writing and go through all the photos of him. I’m not saying that it will be easy for me, because it won’t. In fact, it will probably be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written, but there is no one else who can do it. It’s all up to me and I feel it’s got to be written.
Michael’s story is many stories wrapped up into his tale. His story will tell the tale of an amazingly unique young man in love, who made some poor choices. It will tell who Michael Daniel Lee was and who he might have been one day, had he lived. It will tell of a mother’s grief and attempts at denial. It will tell of the coping mechanisms employed just to make it through each day after the loss of a child. It will tell of a son, who was also my best friend, and a sense of loss that is undescribable, unknowable, unfathomable. It will tell of an epidemic that sweeps through our world taking young people who have their whole lives ahead of them.
Below is the eulogy that I wrote, which I read standing before a mortuary filled with mourners for my son one week after his death. It’s one piece in the tapestry of writing that will be used to illustrate Michael’s brief time on this Earth. I hope it will pique your interest and encourage you to read the book when it comes out, hopefully by this time next year. If you’d be interested in pre-ordering the book, leave a comment letting me know and I’ll put you on the list, making sure you get your copy when the time comes. It would be great to know that someone is interested, and that I will be writing this for someone other than myself.
Michael Daniel Lee Booth
When Mike said, “I love you”, it was forever, and when he called you his friend, you knew you could depend on him to stand by you, no matter what. He loved to try new things, to explore and to learn. He had a love for life and for all that he held sacred. Mike strove for excellence in all that he did, and lived by a code of honor that was extremely tough to uphold. His Christian upbringing was intermixed with Hindu and Buddhist beliefs to make up the tapestry of his own personal belief system that was disciplined and unyielding. When he made mistakes, Mike was harder on himself than anyone else ever could have been.
When he got mixed up with the wrong people and things, he made some poor choices. He did not deny what he had done, but instead stood up and accepted the punishment that was given to him. He tried to make amends for his wrongs and was on his way to accomplishing that goal. He expressed great sorrow for his errors, and inflicted emotional punishment on himself over and above what the law could ever require of him.
He had a strong will and could accomplish anything that he set his mind to, including learning to speak Japanese and perform martial arts skillfully, all on his own. Mike had a love for Japanese culture and he could have lived off of green tea and sushi. His knowledge and skills were gladly shared with those who wished to learn. Mike had a love for nature and enjoyed all kinds of outdoor activities, including skiing, hunting, fishing and hiking. His imagination was endless and he created stories and drawings that reveal a talent far beyond his tender youth.
Mike was so much to so many people; a loving son, a dependable big brother, a doting little brother, a respectful grandson, a loyal friend and a devoted husband. He loved his dog, Zaar, who was a companion and loyal friend to him. Mike was sensitive, and hurt so easily and so deeply, yet he was too strong willed to ever let it show outwardly. Only through his writing, can we glimpse the love that he embraced or the pain that he felt. When he loved, he loved with all of his being. Mike was fun loving and enjoyed spending time with those that were important in his life. He had beautiful curls and the most wonderful smile, which could light up my heart whenever I saw it. Mike turned 19 three weeks ago. He had a whole life ahead of him. He was much too young to be called home to God.
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