When confronted with surprises from the past, our task as writers is to transform personal experience into a narrative with a universal message for present-day readers. In my first memoir, Perfection, I examined the devastating events that followed the sudden death of my husband and the revelations of infidelity. The result was a personal detective story that shed light on relationships and the costs of secrecy. In my second memoir, Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind, I turn my attention to the life of my mother, Eve, who endured a harrowing childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna. After my mother died, I discovered a keepsake book filled with farewell notes from friends and relatives, many of whom did not survive. In this book my mother was called Eva. This revelation was the first clue to the secret pain my mother had carried as a war refugee. As I unearthed more about my mother’s past, I found a new way of understanding our complicated relationship as mother and daughter.
Bestselling memoirist Dani Shapiro writes, “Eva and Eve maps a wide arc, pulling a Jewish family’s past in wartime Vienna into the present era with vivid and dramatic detail. . . . Metz’s journey to recover the past offers a model for connection and self-understanding – as well as a testament to the strengths of an America that is just and fair to all.”
In this discussion, I will talk about writing process and how to assemble a compelling narrative arc that will engage readers who might come to your book with little or no knowledge of its historical context.
My talk will focus on:
- How to research family history
- Gathering stories to create a cohesive narrative, and sifting fact from unreliable narrators
- How to explain history to your readers in a way that will feel vivid and relevant
- the importance of sensory experience in your writing
- writing dialog from your lived experience
- Exploring ideas for memoir structure that will work for your story
- How to push onward when you are struggling with a writing challenge
Julie Metz is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Perfection (Hachette) and Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind (Atria/S&S). She has written for publications including The New York Times, Salon, Dame, Tablet, Glamour, and Next Tribe. Her essays have appeared in the anthologies The Moment and The House That Made Me. You can find out more about Julie’s writing life, including recent interviews and upcoming events at juliemetz.com or Facebook or on Instagram @juliemetzwriter. She visits with book clubs—connect via her website. Larger groups can connect via her Book Yaya page. Julie lives with her family in New York’s Hudson Valley.