Don’t Go Crazy Without Me
May 5, 2022
4 PM PDT | 5 PM MDT | 6 PM CDT | 7 PM EDT
I began my memoir, as many of us probably do, in the form of individual short pieces. I wrote about the moments and events from my childhood that felt most formative, that haunted me, that I still struggled to understand. When I began to think of turning those pieces into a book, it took a lot of self-searching to formulate the central conflict: how did I form my own identity after having grown up torn between two polar opposite parents? My father was self-dramatizing, loved to be the center of attention, and often went to excess in the pursuit of pleasure. He was also beset by multiple anxieties that I inherited or absorbed, fears of illness, food, germs, contamination, even other people’s intentions. My mother was emotionally reticent, shy, craved normalcy, just wanted our family to fit into our isolated suburban neighborhood of churchgoers and baseball game players. We didn’t.
When my grandmother died, my father lost his shaky grip on reality and descended into psychosis. I nearly followed him. What did it take to pull myself out and find my own way? After writing a series of short pieces and publishing them in literary journals, I worked to turn them into a more coherent narrative. That required a timeline, looking for lines of causality, asking myself many more questions, and having to throw out some material I loved, in order to stay with the emotional heart of the story. Late in the process, I added current day interludes to the main coming-of-age narrative. I’d realized the story wasn’t complete without them: I was as interested in the way our childhoods continue to reverberate in our adult lives as in just telling my coming-of-age story. That to me, is one of the main draws of memoir, reading not just about people’s memories, but about the impact of those memories on our ongoing lives, the meaning that we make of them.
From my presentation, members will learn:
- How to identity the central questions around which to shape a memoir
- How to decide which material is essential and which is digressive
- Ways of identifying and amplifying metaphors and themes
- How to bear the re-experiencing that can come with writing about traumatic events
- How to capture the consciousness of childhood
- How to find the right tone for conveying your material
Deborah A. Lott is the author of two books, IN SESSION: THE BOND BETWEEN WOMEN AND THEIR THERAPISTS and the recently published tragicomic memoir, DON’T GO CRAZY WITHOUT ME. Her creative nonfiction and reportage have been published in the Los Angeles Times, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, Black Warrior Review, Cimarron Review, the Huffington Post, Salon, Tin House online, The Rumpus, Scoundrel Time, Psychology Today, the Writing Disorder, and many other places. “The Daddy-Cure” which was published in StoryQuarterly garnered Lott’s third Pushcart Prize nomination. Her work has also been thrice named as notables by Best American Essays. She teaches literature and creative writing at Antioch University, Los Angeles, where she also serves as faculty adviser to Two Hawks Quarterly.com.