Review: Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More

Wednesday, July 11, 2018
I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing a memoir for a few years. I have several book ideas based on time periods of my life; but when I sit down to map one out, it’s intimidating. I write creative nonfiction essays where I’m able to write an essay in one sitting, revise it, and be done with it. Writing a mostly chronological story for the span of 90,000 words is overwhelming to me.

If you’re anything like me, someone who is interested in telling her stories and recording her family history but wants to explore other options besides writing an entire memoir, Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016) is for you. This full-color, glossy coffee-table book not only explores different forms of memoir but also contains some of the BEST MEMOIR WRITING ADVICE I’ve ever read in a condensed format.

Let’s start with that. Chapter 2: Five Simple Steps to Telling a True Story by Joanne Lozar Glenn is my favorite chapter because her memoir writing advice is specific and inspiring. It dissolved all the overwhelming feelings I previously had about writing a memoir. “Once you start creating your memoir, what do you do with all the memories that come flooding in? The answer is be selective, and tell the truest story you can.” Joanne tells you to choose a moment, keeping the focus small, and then walks you through the steps of crafting that moment step-by-step. You see the progression of her work from one sentence to writing it into a scene, revising it, and finally shaping it like Play-Doh into the perfect format. It’s the best example I’ve seen. She also answers common questions about how to deal with holes in memory, how to incorporate facts, deal with dialogue, questions about family secrets, and more.

The Memoir Roundtable—a group of six writers, crafters, and workshop leader—authors this book, each author writing her own chapter or two.

Another favorite is Chapter 3: Around the Table: Food and Cookbook Memoirs by Dianne Hennessy King, public TV producer, cookbook editor, and cultural anthropologist. Dianne shows you how to create a food memoir as a cookbook, an essay, a cooking video, a CD, a quilt, an oral history, and a blog. The part that gave me several ah-ha moments was where she poses questions to trigger your food memories. “Can you remember a ‘first time’ for tasting a specific food or dish that seemed exotic or strange to you?” When I read this question and its examples, I immediately thought back to when I was five-years-old sitting cross-legged on a tatami floor in Okinawa eating grilled sea snails. It may sound gross, but they were actually delicious! Back home in California, I told my four-year-old neighbor about my snail-eating experience and watched her pluck a snail from an ice plant beside her and pop it in her mouth. I screamed, “Nooooo!!” and snatched it out of her mouth before she could crunch down on its shell. I hadn’t remembered that until I read this book. And that’s what this book does, spark amazing memories! Imagine taking those two sentences I just wrote about eating snails and expanding them into a scene; a scene that could be part of a food memoir about my Japanese heritage and my travels to Okinawa.

If you’d rather make something than write something, Chapter 4: Reinvent Your Scrapbook by Katherine Nutt provides a new twist on a traditional scrapbook that combines visual appeal with storytelling. In one section she suggests scrapbooking an emotional memory for healing. I’ve been looking for a way to write about my cat Noodle, who was sixteen when she died from a brain tumor. The veterinarian was so touched by our love for Noodle that the Cat Care Clinic donated $15,000 to brain tumor research in Noodle’s name. I still have the letter. I also have x-rays, documents, and of course, tons of photos. I never thought about creating a scrapbook to commemorate her until I read this book.

Chapter 5: Create Your Graphic Novel by Natasha Peterson provides you with the basic elements you need to create your graphic memoir. And she writes it in comic form! The thing that she said that stuck with me the most is that there are no rules. Combining your memories with illustrations is a powerful and captivating way to tell a story. I’ve created comics before and even received grants for them, so I’m thinking about turning some of my personal essays into graphic memoir pieces.

The idea of making a quilt as a family heirloom has always fascinated me. In Chapter 6: Memory Quilts: A Way to Celebrate Lives, Linda Pool shares ideas for story quilts like celebrations, weddings, pets, hobbies, a college quilt, a sports quilt, travels, and more. Imagine making a quilt out of pockets or dad’s favorite shirts, or even including report cards or old love letters. This is the longest chapter in the book and has practical tips for layouts, printing photos, transferring handwritten words, and so much more. I can’t think of a better gift!

If you are a parent or teacher or auntie or mentor to a child, Chapter 7: Nurturing the Young Storyteller by Nadine Majette James explores memoirs from a younger writer’s point of view, as well as how crafting a memoir can preserve childhood’s most precious times. I especially appreciated the sample projects and activities as well as the questions appropriate for young interviewers. I remember interviewing my mom when I was ten-years-old with an old cassette tape recorder in the bathroom because I thought it had the best sound. I wish I still had that tape; then I’d still be able to hear her voice. These types of projects are so important to preserve history and can help kids build skills and self-esteem.

There is also a chapter on researching your heritage—where to start, where to look, genealogy, and what questions to ask. And finally, another one of my favorite sections is “Appendix A: Getting Over Your Fear of Writing” by Joanne Lozar Glenn. She shares a number of writing prompts including lists, maps, objects, and photographs to get your pen moving!

Writing a memoir does not have to be tedious or overwhelming!

Memoir Your Way is one of the most inspiring writing books I’ve read in a while. It explores the art of memoir in many different formats and gives you the tools to jump right in. Each format has examples, resources, and takeaway. It makes memoir fun, not tedious or overwhelming! “Don’t worry about whether it would win an award. Its value lies in creating it in the first place.” I don’t need to stress out about writing a formal memoir. Instead, I’ll focus on creating. The book is written in a fun, friendly tone, and packed with ah-ha moments. It would make a great gift for the crafty person in your life. I can’t recommend it enough!

Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Though Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More is available in ebook and print at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Check out their page on Facebook, connect with the authors on Twitter @MemoirYourWay, and visit their Pinterest board.


Angela Mackintosh is working on a series of creative nonfiction essays with accompanying illustrations and photo collages. Sort of like a graphic memoir, but totally unique because she's doing it her way.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Angela--Are you tempted to write each section in a different way? Perhaps one section as a graphic novel... one section as a scrapbook... one section as a cookbook, and so on. I, for one, would love to read a memoir like that.

Thanks for this book review. It sounds like one I should invest in.

Renee Roberson said...

This sounds like a great resource! I've always shied away from memoir for similar reasons--I can't imagine staying on track for that many words and trying to stay in some form of chronological order. While I'm not artistic or able to quilt, the idea of sharing family stories through recipes and perhaps scrapbooking intrigues me. I have so many memories of sitting with my Hispanic grandmother watching her make homemade refried beans, salsa and tortillas while she called me "Mija." I still have a deep love of Mexican cuisine and could probably pull some stories together from that. Thanks for sharing, Angela!

Mary Horner said...

This is valuable advice. Writers get so caught up in looking at writing one particular way that getting a different perspective can really help those creative juices begin to flow. Thanks for sharing this. I've also been playing with memoir, and now I have some new ideas about how to accomplish that goal! I need to read this book!

Margo Dill said...

I think the graphic memoir sounds perfect for you, Ang. :) Thanks for sharing this book.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Sioux ~ I AM tempted, and it could be a book for those with ADD like my husband. Except my hubby doesn't read books because he has ADD. ;)

Seriously though, this book is so much fun, and I have several projects in mind. Did you know J. Glenn (the one who suggested the accountability group) is one of the authors? Her sections are phenomenal.

Renee ~ Ahhh... what a wonderful memory. You totally should put some stories together. :) My father-in-law is Mexican, so he calls me Mija. My MIL, who was caucasian, taught me how to make all my FIL's mom's Mexican recipes before she passed away. Enchiladas with hatch chilies, New Mexico style, which is in layers like lasagne, and with a runny egg on top. So delicious. She made everything from scratch and memory, and now that I think about it, it would be really cool to create a cookbook and actually write down her recipes and include family photos, and print some to give as gifts to the family and pass down.

Mary ~ I've actually been reading memoirs in different formats this year... fragmented, connected essays, lyric poems, and more. I didn't realize that it was done since I tend to think of a memoir traditionally, mostly chronological, etc. It's nice to try new formats because they can really help your writing break free and go in a direction you've never considered. :)

Margo ~ Totally! I've created graphic memoir comics before but not an entire book. It's on my list! :)

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top