Kathi continues her insightful discussion with memoir expert and two-time New York Times best-selling author Susy Flory about what the seven different types of memoir are 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 last four categories:
- Episodic or Devotional Memoir
- Stunt Memoir
- Prescriptive Memoir
- Public or Professional Memoir
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)
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Transcript of this Episode
Read along with the podcast!
Communicator Academy Podcast #165
The Different Types of Memoir, Part Two
Kathi – Well hey, friends. Welcome to Communicator Academy, where our heart is to equip and encourage men and women to become the communicators God created them to be. Returning today is my friend Susy Flory, memoirist, author of a gajillion books, the founder of Everything Memoir Facebook group, and (really, the pinnacle of your career) teacher at Writing at The Red House. Something really cool. You’re the founder of WCCW, the Christian writers’ conference, West Coast Christian Writers’ Conference. I know you took it over from somebody else, but you are the founder. You run the best writers’ conference in California for Christian communicators. I love it. That’s going to be happening in 2020, as well. What are the dates on that?
Susy – February 27-28. Last weekend in February.
Kathi – So this is for more advanced writers.
Susy – Yeah, we do a lit masterclass every other year. It’s for intermediate to advanced writers. So, if you’ve ever been to a writers’ conference, you’re qualified. We’d love to have you.
Kathi – So, if you are thinking about learning memoir or intrigued by memoir, writing of any kind, get yourself either to Writing at The Red House, WCCW – We have a lot of people who go to both. Let’s not get it twisted. I want to dive back into this fascinating conversation about the different types of memoir. So, I just want to recap the three we talked about last week. We’ve got the Classic Memoir, which is, “Have you had something weird happen to in your life? Is it surprising? Have you had an unusual childhood?” There are some great examples of that. One of our favorite memoirs is Educated, that we’ve seen and just loved. Also, the Polygamist’s Daughter. Lots of good stuff there. Fish out of Water, which did you recommend for that?
Susy – Miracle on Voodoo Mountain, about a young woman moving to Haiti.
Kathi – Yes! I also liked Wild, which is Cheryl Strayed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and ill-equipped, but it’s a powerful memoir of overcoming both a drug addiction and her own demons. Then we talked about a Transformational or Spiritual Journey. For this type of memoir we’re talking about spiritual, but often also an addiction, so Sober Boots. You were talking about Anne Lamott.
Susy – Girl Meets God, Anne Lamott, Mary Karrs is also a good one.
Kathi – Yes, I finally read The Liars’ Club, on your recommendation. I was surprised about how short it was. It was such a quick read. Well, I listened, let’s be honest. Most audiobooks are 12 hours, and this was four.
Susy – She heavily edits herself. You know, she throws out pages and keeps, like, a sentence.
Kathi – That’s so interesting. It was great. It was so impactful, I thought, for such a small book. So, now we want to talk about the four other types of memoir that Susy has pulled together. I understand what Devotional means, I want to know what you mean by Episodic. Who should write this and what should it look like?
Susy – Episodic is tough. You have to be at the top of your writing game, or plan to spend a lot of time crafting this. Basically, each chapter is almost formed like a short story. It can stand alone, but the whole set of stories hangs together. Craft-wise, it’s really hard to do, but if you do it well, it’s memorable. Educated is almost like this. She actually wrote each chapter almost individually. She talks about how she did that. When you read it, you think, “This feels a little choppy, sometimes.” It’s because she’s chosen that form.
Kathi – I wonder if something like Born a Crime would be like that.
Susy – I think so, too. Every chapter is its own thing.
Kathi – I was popping those chapters like candy. He was so skillful. We’re talking about Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. It’s a stunning memoir on his life in South Africa. How he was born during apartheid to a white dad and a black mom and he was, literally, born a crime. His parents could be arrested for what they did.
Susy – Each chapter is an individual story with a high point and as I think about it, I can think of individual chapters that I loved. They’re powerful.
Kathi – Another one, Flash: the Donkey was like that, as well. Very cool. There are also devotional ones like that. Each chapter’s a devotional.
Susy – Right. Jeanette Hanscome wrote a really good one called Suddenly Single Mom. It’s basically her divorce memoir, but it’s not called that. It’s a devotional book, so each chapter has a thought, a verse; a spiritual moment. Each one stands alone. It’s a beautiful book, but it would be sold as a devotional.
Kathi – Okay. Very, very cool. Here’s my other favorite kind of memoir: Stunt Memoir. What is Stunt Memoir and what does it look like?
Susy – I love this, too.
Kathi – You’ve written a great stunt memoir.
Susy – I did write one. One that I love is Rachel Held Evans: The Year of Living Biblically. She took Bible verses about being a biblical woman and tried to live them out. She ends up on her roof.
Kathi – With her head covered.
Susy – Yeah. She ends up carrying a sign praising her husband at the city gates. It’s awesome.
Kathi – Oh my goodness. And yours! It was about women. Okay, so remind me of the title.
Susy – It’s called So Long Status Quo.
Kathi – Yes! Sorry about that. I’m operating on about three hours sleep right now. I’m fine. What I love is, you found all these famous women, historical figures, and you challenged to do yourself to do something that was kind of like an homage to each woman. Because of you, I sold my first wedding ring and built a well in Africa because of that book. What inspired you to write that?
Susy – I wanted to learn about women who change the world. When I went to school, it was all dead white guys that we were learning about. So, I just wanted to learn about them. One was Harriet Tubman, the one you’re talking about. There were so many things about her I loved, but one thing she did was, she sacrificed everything. There’s one quick story about how she was guiding this group of ten slaves to freedom; slave catchers everywhere; price on her head. She shows up at someone’s door and she gave them her extra clothing, literally took it off her back, to pay for them to be able to stay and have some food. I was so challenged by that. I had a little hoard of jewelry; my mom was in the jewelry business. I had a little hoard of gold jewelry, and I went and sold it all and funded some wells in Africa and didn’t tell my mother. So, she didn’t find out until the book came out.
Kathi – Oh no! That’s so funny!
Susy – It wasn’t that funny at the time.
Kathi – I have to tell you. I didn’t tell anybody at the time. I think I may have told you, but I didn’t tell anybody else, except you and Roger, because my kids were like, “I don’t want that to be public knowledge.” It was still a weird time in our divorce and everything. Instead of having this wedding ring sitting around and reminding me of a sad time, it was so great to put it to purpose. It wasn’t quite the sacrifice that Harriet Tubman made, let’s be super-clear, but it got me thinking, “What is my abundance? What could I be doing with it?” Any other stunt memoirs you love?
Susy – There are so many. Abrams, what’s his name? I can’t think of his first name.
Kathi – Yeah, it’s J.J. Isn’t it? No, that’s a producer!
Susy – It’s something Abrams.
Kathi – He did The Year of Living Biblically. Oh! Rachel Held Evans was The Year of Biblical Womanhood.
Susy – A.J. Jacobs!
Kathi – We knew we’d get there!
Susy – It just takes two of us to make one brain.
Kathi – That’s right. So, he also did, and I haven’t read it yet.
Susy – The gratitude one? I love that.
Kathi – Yes! He’s fascinating. He’s the king of stunt memoir.
Susy – He really is. He’s funny and he’s honest. He is trying to really do this, and change himself.
Kathi – It’s just crazy. Okay, so stunt memoir. If I’m going to do a memoir, it’s going to be stunt. By the way, I went a year with buying only one piece of clothing a month. People were like, “Including underwear?” Yeah, including underwear, or jewelry, or shoes or anything. I just wanted to see if I could do it. I did really well for eleven months. That twelfth month was tough.
Susy – You had a lapse? You fell off the wagon.
Kathi – I fell into the mall. You know what? For eleven months, it really got me thinking about it. That’s what a good stunt memoir does. It doesn’t say, “Go do this.” It says, “Think about the choices you’re making.” That’s what I love about them. Okay, so I just said, if I was going to do a memoir, it’d be stunt, but here’s the other one it might be: Prescriptive. I was once in a meeting with my editor and somebody who was thinking about partnering with us on a project, and they said, “Well, what’s Kathi’s genre?” And he said, “Well, it’s prescriptive non-fiction.” When we were done with the meeting, I’m like, “That sounds super-fancy. What does that mean?” He goes, “Yeah, you like to boss people around.”
Susy – We call that Leadership.
Kathi – Leadership! That’s right. For girls, we’re called bossy, but now that we’re women who are coming into our own, we know that is leadership. So, tell us what a Prescriptive Memoir is. That’s not something I’ve not really put together yet.
Susy – If you are a natural-born teacher, a leader, a speaker or an influencer. If you turn around, and you’re already leading people, there are already people following you. You already have a blog. You have a Bible study. This might be for you, because you have the gift of helping people learn what they should be doing. Or, you have the gift of motivating people.
Kathi – The most famous one we would know about right now, is Girl Wash Your Face. She’s saying, “Get up! Go do the things.” It’s very Prescriptive in what you’re doing. It’s very memoir-ish. I think that’s a good example.
Susy – A lot of our big Bible study teachers, like Jen Hatmaker, people like her. People like that. They write books that inspire people, but they’re also telling parts of their story.
Kathi – So, Seven would be Prescriptive, but would also be Stunt. Definitely, Stunt. Very cool. Then, finally, you have one here called, Public or Professional. What are the trademarks? What are the thumbprints on that one?
Susy – So, this one can be the Celebrity memoir that you don’t want to do, so stay away from looking at those as an example or trying to copy a Celebrity memoir. They are their own thing. But, you may be a public person. You may be on staff at a church. You may have started a non-profit. You have some sort of organization behind you, or you have some sort of platform that has been given to you, or that you’ve built. So, you get the privilege of using that and being able to write something that’s going to inspire people. So, you may want to tell the story of your organization. Some people do that. So, if somebody wrote a memoir about MOPS, I think a lot of people would read that. How it was founded; how it has grown; how God did that.
Kathi – So, some of the more famous ones in this are Howard Schultz – the founder of Starbucks, Phil Knight – founder of Nike. There are a couple more that I’ve read that I’ll put in the notes that have been both instructive and inspiring.
Susy – Steve Jobs. Anything about a visionary leader who has built an organization or something that’s changing the world? We want to read that.
Kathi – You know what one of my favorite ones is? I’m trying to remember the name of it. It’s Phil Vischer – the founder and creator of VeggieTales.
Susy – That’s such a good book!
Kathi – It’s such a great book. Now I have to figure out what the name of it is.
Susy – I remember the title. It’s Me, Myself, and Bob.
Kathi – Yes! I had no idea about any of that story. I love that he shares so raw-ly and (is raw-ly a word?)
Susy – We’ll make it one.
Kathi – Okay! And honestly about his failings and what he did wrong. That book just impacted me. He gave a speech at a college, which is basically the finale of the book, that was so impactful. That was one of those books that changed how I lead and what I do.
Susy – Yeah. I want to go back and read it. He was a person, a creative genius, and he built this thing with VeggieTales that took on a life of its own, and he didn’t realize it. He is very honest about the choices that he made, how his ego go out of control, even though he didn’t realize it.
Kathi – Which happens to every great leader I know. It really does. Okay, so let me just go over these seven types of memoir one more time. There’s the Classic. It’s the one that you think of, besides Celebrity, where something unusual or surprising in your life is happening and you tell the story. Fish out of Water, where the scene almost becomes one of the characters in your retelling. Transformational or Spiritual. This is a redemption story, most likely. Something really beautiful and very inspiring for people. Episodic or Devotional, where each chapter stands on its own and can be read on its own. Susy says this is the one that requires the highest skill in writing, so if you’re thinking about doing something like this, it’s not just throwing twelve chapters together and calling it a day. Stunt, this is when you know you’re going to be writing a book, and you are challenging yourself. Maybe it’s by only eating a certain type of food, or maybe it’s not shopping for a year. Or, walking across the United States. I don’t know what it is. There are a lot of different things you could do, but it’s challenging yourself to do something, and writing honestly and vulnerably about the results. Prescriptive. This is where you boss someone around and tell them what to do, because you’ve lived it and it’s helped you. You want to give that help to somebody else. Or Public/Professional: We were just talking about Phil Vischer, Phil Knight (all the Phils!) If you’re writing a book, and your name is Phil, it’s probably Public or Professional. Okay, this is so amazing. I’m so enjoying understanding this a little more deeply, because I really didn’t think there was a prescriptive memoir, so that’s exciting to me. To think about, “Okay, so maybe I could!” I don’t know. I’ve got enough projects right now. I don’t have to go looking for anything, but it’s nice to know I have options. Both Susy and I want to invite you back, because we are going to be talking about all things memoir here at The Red House. So, from Sunday night, January 12th, to Friday morning, January 17th, you will get writing time each morning, which is a beautiful thing. Then you’ll get instruction from Susy and myself. I will talk to you more about the marketing what you’re doing, but Susy is all in on the memoir and getting those techniques finely honed. Whether you’re self-publishing, or traditionally publishing. If you’re self-publishing, it’s something you’re proud to put out there and people want to read. If you’re traditionally publishing, it’s getting past the gatekeepers and showing them that your writing is something that they should invest in. Susy, always so great to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for being here.
Susy – It’s a blast. Thanks for having me. The fall colors are gorgeous right now.
Kathi – I’m so enjoying being up here in the mountains. You guys will love it too. It’s got its own kind of magic in January. We’re excited to have you guys up here. So click on the Find Out More button to find out if there are still spaces left to come and join me and Susy at The Red House in January for Everything Memoir. You’ve been listening to 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