Today I have invited back Patti M. Hall to speak with us about memoir and her experiences with writing, coaching, and finding representation. For each of us there are differences and similarities in our journeys but regardless of how we move forward with what we offer to the writing/reading community, we are bound to learn from each other.
Memoir – The Telling of a Deep Truth
My passion for memoir—writing it, coaching others interested in writing about their life, and voraciously reading memoir comes from a belief that we all have a story to tell. Memoir is a leap of faith, to put the story out into the world, but in every case our courage is rewarded with a connection to others who share something of our experience.
Humans are storytellers and despite our ongoing attempts to live as islands, to test our mettle by doing everything we can, NOT to lean on one another, we are inevitably brought back to learn from one another’s experience. That learning happens through story.
What can you tell us about your experiences with the non-fiction writing industry?
I have written two memoirs, both of which are ready for finding an agent who really believes in them. The business of the writing world, in non-fiction especially relies heavily on the proposal. While not always necessary with fiction, and certainly with different requirements than with fiction—the non-fiction book proposal is how you get an agent, and how an agent pitches you to a publisher and also, how your future publisher will market you and your book to the world.
My proposals are well over 125 pages long and in addition to a pitch, a substantive Overview, an About the Author section and reams of details on who the Audiences and potential Markets are for my book, there are synopses, excerpts and sample chapters. I’ve learned that proposal writing is not for the faint of heart! Again, it’s a little different for non-fiction where a manuscript does not need to be in its final polished state before you send out a proposal. The idea is, or at least was, that when a publisher buys your book based on the proposal, a nice signing bonus (the highly sought after advance) pays you to finish the research, writing, and first round of edits. This isn’t always the way it works anymore. In fact there are a lot of realities that I’ve learned about traditional publishing in the non-fiction genres.
Can you tell us about your book My Own Forever? How you started writing about your experience and the impact it had on you, your family and friends?
People in my life have been more accepting of my choice to write about our journey since my son’s diagnosis because I am a full time writer, in part. Those close to us knew that what my family and I went through was extraordinary but at the same time typical for any family hit by the diagnosis of ultra-rare disease. Knowing that how we coped might offer hope and support to others has made the potential violation of our privacy much easier to live with for everyone. I have decided to give my son a pseudonym because it seemed important to him that he not be easy to find. However he has agreed to being part of the public promotion of the book and our photos together appear in many places on the web, including my own blog.
The decision for the current working title, My Own Forever was a suggestion of my editor’s. In one scene in the book, the impact of rate design in effectively severing your Before from your After diagnosis, life was summed up in the words of my teenaged son. This is the scene, which I think captures what happens to people who must life differently, more aware of the harshness of life, the fragility of life, but also somehow manage by redefining everything for themselves.
“I saw this sign today,” he said.
“It read, ‘I’m going to live forever— it’s going pretty well so far.’ I thought that was a cool one.”
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed.
“I can say the same thing,” he said, running his hand along the back of his dog’s neck. “Except I make up my own version– ‘I’m going to live forever, my own forever.’ It’s true, after all,” he said. I smiled and nodded, choking on the taste of the acid he must swallow every instant. I pinched back tears and sucked in my lower lip.
This amazing story had an early chance at publication. Could you describe for us the highs and lows?
My Own Forever: a mother, a son and the unthinkable is the memoir formerly known as Giants Among Us. I was honoured to be given an opportunity (a trial run) last year, arranged by one of my writing mentors, to have my proposal reviewed by a few big name acquiring editors for feedback. Following the submission, I sat back and decided to rework the proposal, and the manuscript to be a memoir of my journey to save my son, and less a book to raise awareness for his ultra rare disease, gigantism.
This has been another entire year’s work, but the new approach is closer to what memoir is really about—bleeding on the page. For all writers, the ability to mine for content requires resilience and tenacity we didn’t know we had, but something about memoir takes the writer into a place of precariousness that cannot be described. To do memoir well—you need to take steps out on the highwire, with no net, no harness and no help.
The generous feedback from editors reassured me the writing was good, but asked me to go deeper and tell more truths. That’s what I’ve spent this year doing.
How are you moving forward? What does ‘finding the right agent’ look like?
Now my focus is on finding the right agent to champion my work. Because I do a lot of ghostwriting, and write proposals for others, I’ve gotten really close to agent negotiations. What I’ve learned is what I learned the hard way about the medical system—you need to hold out for the best fit. Ruth Reichl, the memoirist and cookbook author, food expert and former editor of Gourmet put it to me this way over lunch—“Would you marry a person after the first date?—No! So don’t sign with the first agent. Wait for the fit, for your cheerleader, for your champion.”
I’m moving forward preparing to have more than half of my query letters go unanswered and a small percentage of agents consider my proposal. I promise myself that I will not be so excited by the first agent who wants to represent me, that I will not sign for someone who doesn’t understand my work, my style or me. This will be the greatest challenge I’ve faced as a writer. I have no doubt.
What advice do you have for writers, in general, and other memoirists, specifically?
Advice—write like no one will ever see it. Deeper than your journal. Richer than you would tell your best friend and get yourself a coach. Memoirs, like all writing, but I believe more so, get stuck. Writing about our lives, we get stalled by the voices of self-criticism, or the judgment of those we dare to tell what we are writing. Get yourself a coach, who will neither judge nor allow you to get too mired in the muck of self-doubt. It was the best thing I ever did for my work. My coach is my Sherpa—she carries the load to the next place for me until I can carry it myself.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Patti. I wish you the best of luck as you move forward with your search for representation and, ultimately, publication.
Patti M Hall is an author, writer and highly sought-after non-fiction ghostwriter who has collaborated with numerous memoir and business writers. As a writing coach, proposal editor, and mentor for aspiring writers, she has shepherded numerous projects on to publication. Praise from colleagues and clients are available on her web site, www.pattimhall.com, where she blogs weekly, offers daily #inspiringmoment writing cues and a monthly newsletter for a growing community of subscribers and social media followers, and offers online courses including “Inspiring Moments in Memoir.”
A graduate of the University of Toronto with a Master’s degree from York University, Hall has been a full-time writer, instructor, editor and coach for more than a decade. She has taught writing privately, at events hosted by schools and libraries and developed and taught writing programs for the York Region District School Board Continuing Education program north of Toronto, Ontario. Among the introductory, intermediate and advanced creative and memoir writing courses she has developed are:
o Write Your Own Life (personal history and memoir focus)
o Healing Words (guided writing for critically ill patients and caregivers)
o Speaking So Everyone will Listen (public speaking for young adults)
Hall is active in the awareness and advocacy community. She is the Director of Communications for the Rare Disease United Foundation, the largest American non-disease-specific awareness and advocacy charity, with more than 20,000 followers and subscribers. As a feature blogger, Hall crafts blog posts on topics of relevance to the parents and caregivers of rare disease children, such as http://rarediseaseunited.org/blog/at-what-cost.
A lover of forests and oceans, a wannabe photographer, compulsive reader, and sometime traveller, Patti M Hall lives north of Toronto with her two very tall sons and a house full of golden retrievers.
Categories: Author Spotlight