Memoirists write about all kinds of fascinating life events. I must admit, though, that my favorites almost always recount childhood memories. The life stage from birth through adolescence bears heavily on the person we become. That’s why I especially like working with memoir writers who are grappling to put their difficult childhood experiences in perspective and unafraid to share what they discover about themselves.
It took six years to write and find a publisher for my first memoir about childhood, The Other Side of Delinquency, Rutgers University Press, 1983. Lucky for me, the publisher provided a professional editor to show me how to write a good memoir. What I learned in the process inspired my writing, editing and publishing career.
Twenty-six years later, I edited and published a book of foster care memoirs, Growing Up in the Care of Strangers: The Experiences, Insights and Recommendations of Eleven Former Foster Kids, William Gladden Foundation Press, 2009. These revealing memoirs of childhood detail how each of us grew past our placement experiences in foster homes, orphanages and institutions.
Four years after that, I wrote and published Saving the Schizo Kid: Reflections on Divorce, Mental Health and Recovery, William Gladden Foundation Press, 2013. These memories of childhood were especially difficult to write about, as I had to confront long repressed fears and feelings about being placed in a state psychiatric hospital at the tender age of 15 – the most terrifying time of my life.
Obviously, my childhood was a mess, but I matured past it, somehow. Understanding the “somehow” is why I like writing memoirs. I want to put my life in perspective. I need to know why I got lucky while lots of kids like I was don’t. That’s hard to think about, harder to write about and especially tough to expose. Nonetheless, that’s the “soul” of the memoir: the truth of it. An enlightening memoir reveals the author buck naked.
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