Kathi starts a fascinating discussion with memoir expert and two-time New York Times best-selling author Susy Flory about what the seven different types of memoir and which type fits you, as an author, best. If you’ve ever wondered what type of memoir you should be writing, you won’t want to miss this chat about the first three categories:
- Fish Out of Water
- Transformational or Spiritual
Be sure to download our takeaways and take notes.
In today’s episode, you will know:
- What memoir-style is right for you
- The best examples of each type of memoir
- How your story can best be told as a memoir writer
Join Susy and Kathi for Writing at the Red House Everything Memoir Retreat
Do you have a true story to write? If so, “Everything Memoir” Writing at the Red House Retreat is for you. Learn from industry experts and featured writers in residence, Susy Flory and Kathi Lipp, as they take you through the ins and outs of crafting your unique true story and how to best share you and your story with the world.
Resources, mentions, and books to check out:
Everything Memoir FB group
Sober Mercies (Kathi called it Sober Boots in the podcast)
To share your thoughts:
To help out the show:
- Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.
- Subscribe on iTunes or subscribe to our list now and never miss an episode or blog.
Join us for next week’s episode (Part 2) when we talk about the other kinds of memoir and Susy’s best practices.
Transcript of this Episode
Read along with the podcast!
Communicator Academy Podcast #164
The Different Types of Memoir, Part One
Kathi – Welcome to Communicator Academy, where our heart is to equip and encourage men and women to become the communicators God created them to be. I am recording here from Writing at the Red House, in Omo Ranch, California, and I’m super-excited. I bet you’re our most frequent guest here on Communicator Academy.
Susy – I’m a frequent flyer!
Kathi – You are a frequent flyer! You and I have been doing this for a while.
Susy – We have. It’s been awhile.
Kathi – First of all, this is Susy Flory, let me backtrack. It’s just like we’re having a conversation. How many books have you written?
Susy – I think fifteen or sixteen.
Kathi – And you’ve got three in the pipeline right now?
Susy – Yes.
Kathi – A minimum of.
Susy – Yes.
Kathi – So, you have such an unusual niche, but so many people can learn from it. So, tell people what kind of book project you normally are doing.
Susy – I do a lot of collaborative writing, which is helping people write their stories, and being part of the development. My specialty has become, over time, memoir, which I love, because it’s somewhere between fiction and non-fiction.
Kathi – Right, because it’s not like you can kind of lie about what happened, but you’re using beautiful fiction techniques to tell a true story.
Susy – Right. You’re trying to write a great story that people can’t put down.
Kathi – I know, we’ve talked a few times about who your favorite memoirists are and which are your favorite books. I’m hoping you’re going to share some of those with us as we go along. I’ve never written memoir, but I use memoir techniques in my non-fiction writing. It’s really interesting, I end up having to explain to people a lot what different types of memoir are, because people really think there is just one memoir. You tell the story of when you were born and when you die. I’m like, “Well, that would be hard, because you’re probably not writing it after you’re dead.” If you are, you have a story to tell, let me just say that. Memoir is as nuanced as fiction, in many ways, or in non-fiction. When I talk to people and say I write non-fiction, I say “I write prescriptive non-fiction.” I didn’t even know what that meant five years ago. I basically boss people around. There are different types of memoir. So, today, what I want to do, I want to talk about three types of memoir, and then bring you back. You’ve categorized seven in your group, Everything Memoir, which is on Facebook. We’re going to put the link in there. If you are interested in writing memoir, you probably already are a part of this group, but you need to go and be a part, because that’s what they’re talking about in there. How hard is memoir to write, on a difficulty scale do you think?
Susy – I want to say it’s pretty hard. You’re dealing with material, stories that you have, from your life or someone else’s, that could fill a bookshelf, or a bookcase. So, you have to then pick from that, then, almost like a jigsaw puzzle, put something together that makes a great story that’s true, and that people won’t get bored by.
Kathi – That’s the thing. In some ways, it’s cooking. You want to have really great ingredients, but you have to know when to stop, because you can muddle something pretty quickly, so you want to have these great, rich ingredients that you can taste, but that also go together, but don’t overwhelm. It’s a fine balance. Okay, so I want to start with Classic Memoir. So, just what is Classic Memoir? Who should be writing it? Who shouldn’t? How do you know if you should or shouldn’t? After that, I’d love to hear a couple of your favorite examples. What is Classic Memoir?
Susy – So, before I answer that, I want to get one thing out of the way. Probably the most popular, or well-known are Celebrity Memoirs. So, famous people, a politician, the guy who started Nike, or somebody who has a reality TV show, or a famous movie star. That’s what we think of as memoir, and that’s what people feel like they have to write, and no one will read your story. No one wants your celebrity memoir because you’re not a celebrity.
Kathi – You’re not a celebrity, and if you are, contact us, because we would really love to meet you. You know, we all have these tiny brushes of fame, many of us do. We actually have somebody who’s sitting downstairs, right now, at The Red House, who was on Worst Cooks in America. Isn’t that fun? If you remember, pink-haired Dorothy, she did the vanilla chicken. That’s how she qualified to get on. She was busted for doing vanilla chicken. Even her, who a lot of people recognize on the streets, she would not be writing a memoir. You need to be Amy Poehler or Tina Fey, or Phil Knight, who’s the founder of Nike. For a celebrity, you have to be known.
Susy – And they can write whatever they want to write and people are going to read it.
Kathi – ‘Cause we just want to know about celebrities.
Susy – Right. So cross that off your list. You cannot write that kind of memoir.
Kathi – You’re not allowed to do that. Nobody cares what you ate for breakfast. Let’s just be super-clear.
Susy – Yeah, so a Classic Memoir is kind of a classic story of your life. You’re going to major on a portion of your life, but typically, you’re going to talk, probably, at some point, about your childhood; about your parents; about things that happened to you in your adult life. I think the key to Classic Memoir is, you have to either have a very unusual story, so something really unique, or you have to have a memorable voice in your writing that no one will ever forget. You just express yourself in a really interesting, unique, engaging way, which is really hard to do.
Kathi – Okay, so I’d love to hear a couple of examples of Classic Memoir that you feel are a really good representative of the genre.
Susy – Two that come to mind, that I just read very recently are Educated by Tara Westover, because she had the weirdest childhood ever. We don’t want to give it away, but her dad and her mom and her brother were so weird, and she was able to invoke them and make them come to life. You would never want to meet these people, or be raised by them, but you’re fascinated by how she survived that childhood. That’s a big one. The other is The Polygamist’s Daughter.
Kathi – I was just going to say, as you’re talking about this, “I have another one!” Right now, at The Red House with Anna LeBaron, who is The Polygamist’s Daughter, who has written the book.
Susy – Yeah. She has fifty brothers and sisters. Her father was in a Mormon cult, or created a Mormon cult. She was raised in this. She only met her father three times in her life, and he turned out to be a murder.
Kathi – Yeah, he’s known as The Mormon Manson because he put contracts out on twenty five people who were killed.
Susy – There’s another famous book about her whole family, called Prophet of Blood, written by a major journalist, so this is a real deal, unusual, one-of-a-kind story.
Kathi – I found out another little interesting thing while I was here.
Susy – Do tell.
Kathi – She’s cousins with somebody on The Sister Wives show.
Susy – I bet she has a lot of cousins.
Kathi – She has a lot of cousins. Her 23andMe would explode. I’m so excited that you and she are in the same house. You haven’t met yet, ‘cause we had to get up here and record, but it’s such a great book. I’ll put links to both of these books. I’ve read both of them. They’re heart-pounding. They’re very inspirational. If this person can survive this, what can I survive in my day? That’s what good memoir does. Okay, so that’s our first kind of memoir: Classic. There are people who have come to The Red House that are writing classic memoir because they have lived such an unusual life, or they’ve had such an unusual thing happen. The second one, I have two favorite kinds of memoir, and this is one of them. It’s called Fish out of Water. Would you explain a little bit about who should be writing this and how you can tell if this is something you should be writing?
Susy – Yeah, so Fish out of Water. I love these, too. All of us have had experiences where you’re somehow dropped into an environment that is very foreign; even if it’s just going to kindergarten when you’re five years old. All of a sudden, you’re not at home anymore, you’re in a whole new place. People love to read about that. I love to read about people going to other countries. One of my favorite books, and I did help write this one, is called Miracle on Voodoo Mountain, and this 27-year old moved to Haiti with no money, no job, no nothing, she just felt God just calling her to go. She had this mystical dream. All of a sudden she’s in this incredible, unique, unbelievable environment. That’s Fish out of Water.
Kathi – One of my favorite ones, and I think you could consider this Fish out of Water, is Wild by Cheryl Strayed. What she has done, without a lot of prep, let’s just be really honest. This is not the way.
Susy – She didn’t even have shoes to wear.
Kathi – Right, at part of it. Just hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I also love A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. It’s not stunt, which we will talk about, because they didn’t do it for the book, but they said, “I’ve lived my everyday life and now I’m going someplace completely different.”
Susy – And it’s like the environment, the place, is a character and they’re interacting with that character, and they come out a different person.
Kathi – Right! Yes. Just love it. Okay, we’re going to talk about three today, and we’re going to hold off and talk about four next week. I want to talk about the Transformational, or Spiritual Memoir. Tell us a little bit about that. Who should be writing those? How should we know if we should be writing if we should be writing them?
Susy – This could be a person who becomes sober. This could be a person who finds the Lord, or the Lord finds them. This could be a person who is rescued out of a very difficult, dark situation. There is a turning point at which everything changes in their life, and they become a different person. That can be spiritual, but it can also be other factors involved.
Kathi – Okay, one that’s coming to mind is Heather Nopp.
Susy – Is it Heather Kopp?
Kathi – Kopp? You’re right, I’m sorry. We’ll make sure it’s spelled right. Sober Boots.
Susy – I haven’t read it.
Kathi – Oh, it’s really good. The reason for the title is, when she was drinking, what she would do, is she would put those little bottles of alcohol that you get in a hotel? She would wear boots so she could slide those down her boots so that when she was at book club, or something like that, she could drink without anyone knowing. She’s just had an incredible life, and God’s redemption in a huge way. What’s a couple of your favorite Spiritual Memoirs?
Susy – You know, I love a book called Girl Meets God, by Lauren Winner. She was an Orthodox Jew, and intellectual, a really smart girl, and she had a dream about Jesus. He came to her in a dream.
Kathi – Wow.
Susy – It’s all about her process of transformation. Anne Lamott is another one that involves alcohol, addiction and same thing. She was dreaming about Jesus. She felt like He was physically sitting in the room with her. He just pursued her and she became a different person.
Kathi – Some of my favorites. Guys, I know we want to keep talking about this, because it’s amazing. Susy, thank you so much for being on Communicator Academy today. Can I just mention just a couple of my favorite memoir things? One of them is one of the books you wrote. It’s called Thunder Dog. We can talk a little bit about that. Would that be a classic memoir?
Susy – It’s a classic, ‘cause it’s a very unusual situation. Not all of us were in the World Trade Center on 9-11. Very unusual.
Kathi – Also, a very unusual perspective on life, being legally blind. Michael Hingson. It’s a wonderful, wonderful memoir. I’ll put the link for that as well, ‘cause that’s one of my favorites. We’re also going to put the link for Susy’s Everything Memoir Facebook group in here. You can get the whole chart for the types of memoir all laid out. This is going to make such a difference if you are considering memoir, you want to know what you’re writing. Each of these have different hallmarks and things you need to be hitting if this is what you’re creating. So we want to make sure that resource is in there for you, and that you can get access to all the discussions that have been in Everything Memoir. Here’s even better news: By popular demand, Susy is coming back. You taught Everything Memoir here in 2019 and it was so popular, and sold out, so we’re so excited to offer another full retreat. Five days here at The Red House, with the best food you’ve ever had in your life, and training every single day with Susy Flory. It’s going to be an amazing time together. January 12-17, 2020. Click below to find out more information and see if there is still a spot left for you. Well friends, thank you so much for joining us here at Communicator Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp. You’ve been given the best message in the world. Now, go live it.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned items
Meet Our Guest
Speaker and New York Time Best Seller
Susy Flory is the New York Times bestselling author or co-author of eleven books. Her newest book, out in 2017, is an astronaut memoir with the only man ever to fly in space and climb Mount Everest. Susy directs the West Coast Christian Writers Conference, in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find out more about Susy at www.susyflory.com.
Meet Your Hosts
Author, Speaker, Communicator Academy Creator and CEO
Author, Speaker, Mastermind Coach