A Guest Post by Memoirist Jonna Ivin on How Writing a Memoir Helped Her to Move From “Will Love for Crumbs” to “No More Crumbs”~

“How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal, and you have to be willing to work for it.”  Jim Valvano

When I started reading Jonna Ivin’s memoir, Will Love for Crumbs, I literally could not put it down. Here’s my Amazon review. I am thrilled to have Jonna describe how her memoir writing helped her to heal and find a positive direction in her life. Jonna is also over at The Heart and Craft of Lifewriting being interviewed by Sharon Lippincott this week so be sure to stop by there for more insights into memoir writing and Will Love for Crumbs.

Welcome Jonna!

Memoirist,Jonna Ivin

No More Crumbs.

When I decided to write my memoir Will Love For Crumbs I didn’t fully know what direction it would take. I knew the events that had occurred in my life that I wanted to write about, but I didn’t know what it all meant. And then one day as I sat at my computer I typed out the line, “I was so ready and willing to hand my life over, just waiting for that hero to come along and make it all better. I might as well have worn a sign around my neck that read: Will Love for Crumbs.” I stopped and stared at the words I had written and two things hit me. One, I’d just found the title of my book, and two, I’d just discovered what had been holding me back in my life. I had been sitting in the backseat of my own life, hoping someone would come along and drive me to where I wanted to be.

It was a rude awakening. The word that I couldn’t shake from my mind was: Will. I wasn’t “forced” to Love for Crumbs. Seeing the word “will” changed everything. It meant that all this time, I wasn’t a helpless victim that bad things happened to. I had been a willing participant in every aspect of my life. “Will” means I made a choice, and I had chosen to accept less than.

I thought about all the times I had submitted my writing for someone else’s consideration and if a rejection letter came in the mail, I shrank and gave up. I didn’t fight back by sending out more queries, writing more stories, or becoming more determined. I quit. I quit because I was willing to let another person dictate my worth. They said no, so I guessed it would be no. I never challenged why their opinion meant more than mine. I just accepted it and stayed stuck.

That afternoon as I sat at my desk reading my own words I felt weak. I felt small and insignificant. But then it dawned on me that if I had lived my life up to this point willing to accept less, then maybe I could spend the rest of my life willing to accept more. It was my choice.  As crazy as it sounds, I had never really thought about having choices in my life. Growing up with an alcoholic mother, I came to believe at a young age that God simply threw bad things my way, and I just had to take it.

But what if I didn’t just take it? What would happen if I was no longer willing to settle for less? What would happen if I decided to make progressive decision about my life instead of passively reacting to it? What if I got out of the backseat, took the wheel and guided myself down the road to my future? Maybe I would get lost. Maybe I would crash and burn or maybe, just maybe, I would go on an adventure I never knew was possible.

Something in me changed that day. I knew then that my memoir would be published. It was entirely up to me when and how it happened as long as I was willing to keep writing, keep working, and keep moving forward. Suddenly, just like that I became the motivating force  behind my own life. During the writing process there were times when reliving certain experiences was uncomfortable even painful, but it was my choice to do so. That made all the difference. I didn’t need to wallow in my own misery. I could either write about it or not write about it. I could push through or I could quit.

It all came down to what I was willing do. And more than anything I was willing to tell my story. Being willing is the first step.

"Will Love for Crumbs" Book Cover

 Raised by an alcoholic mother and without a father, Jonna learned at a young age to put her needs on the back-burner. After her mother dies of cancer, she goes on a spiritual journey looking for enlightenment and a purpose for her life. Eventually, she ends up as a volunteer in the relief effort following Hurricane Ike. There she meets a man that will forever change her life.

In the swamps of Louisiana and the hills of Arkansas, Jonna follows her heart to build a life with an American hero – a 20 year veteran of the Army Special Forces. Only after uprooting her whole life, leaving everything and everyone she knows behind, do the pieces of this fairytale start to unravel. Realizing the man of her dreams is actually the stuff of nightmares; Jonna must once again go within and discover why she is a woman willing to love for crumbs.

About Jonna

Jonna Ivin currently lives in Vancouver, Washington. She is busy working on the film adaptation of Will Love For Crumbs and editing Loving For Crumbs – An Anthology.

Will Love for Crumbs can be ordered on Amazon in paperbook or ebook format

Jonna can be reached at:





Jonna takes charge and works on her truck.

Thank you Jonna for sharing how writing your memoir helped you define a new path for your life~ one that put you in charge of your own choices.

Has writing ever helped you to clarify your life direction? Was there a moment when you decided to ” be the motivating force behind your own life?”

We welcome your thoughts and questions for Jonna. Please join in the conversation by leaving your comments  below~

Next Week: Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia will launch a  three-week series on platform-building and marketing for writers in response to your requests from the self-publishing series with Rebecca Bricker and Boyd Lemon.




Digging for Treasures~Discovering the Gold Nuggets of Your Story

Where you stumble and fall, there you will find gold.” Joseph Campbell, “The Heroes Journey”

We’ve all heard that everyone has a story to tell. And from what I’ve learned over the past two years of studying the art and craft of writing, it needs to be universal so that others can relate while highlighting our own uniqueness so the story only we can tell can be told .

We all have a treasure chest inside of us just waiting to be opened…

Photo Credit: Google Images "Treasure Chest"

Given that we move past that pesky inner critic who tries to convince us that our story is boring, sappy, not believable or whatever else it needs to convince us not to move forward, let’s talk about how we do find our story.

We are on a treasure hunt and those gold nuggets deep within our memories are just waiting to be discovered. In preparing for the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC, I am sifting through my own treasure chest.

Here are some gold nuggets of advice from a sampling of  writers, memoir teachers and Top Ten Bloggers I  have discovered while digging for  my own treasures:

1. Linda Joy Myers talks memoir writing being a “journey into the unknown where we are exploring who we are and where we came from through the use of turning points-important events in your life after which nothing else is the same.”

2. Sharon Lippincott believes that stories are everywhere,“in the very air we breathe” and writing them can soothe our memories. She also urges us to “write like nobody’s watching.”

3. Marion Roach Smith gives tips about storytelling and  “writing what you know” in this interview with NPR.

4. Jennifer Lauch talks about going “vertical” in memoir writing- going deep and high by weaving in sensory details.”

5. Jerry Waxler talks about the difference between fiction and memoir in this interview with Maria Lamba, author of the novel “Over My Head.”

6. Joe Bunting talks about unearthing your story-it’s already there. “you don’t have to create your story.You just have to dig for it .”

7. Amber Starfire talks about “making sense of your life through journaling.”

8. Linda Thomas talks about preserving your stories as a legacy to your grandchildren.

9. Natalie Goldberg says ” In knowing who you are and writing from it, you will help the world by giving it understanding.”(from Writing Down the Bones,p.155)

10. Heather Summerhayes Cariou created The Fireheart Writers Institute in NYC and sponsors writing workshops: “May we open, may we flower, may we deepen our desire,May we walk this world with eyes wide open,May we write with hearts on fire.”

11. Larry Brooks talks about story architecture and the six core competencies.Screenwriter, Art Holcomb guest posted on “The Personal Arc of Your Story- we don’t know who we are until we write about it.”

12. KMWeiland talks about “strengthening our story with proper framing to keep the reader grounded, foreshadowing things to come and leaving the reader with a tidy ending”

13. Alice Orr talks about defining moments and “telling your story in a way that captures the heart-your heart-the reader’s heart- and the hearts of agents and editors as well.”

14. Jeff Goins believes that everyone has a story to tell ” Around every corner there is a great story waiting to be discovered,lived and retold. And people are longing to hear it.”


How is your treasure hunt going? Have you found the gold nuggets of your story?

Come join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Let’s share our treasures~

Photo Credit: Google Images "Treasure Chest 250"


Finding the Story Only I Can Tell: Themes and Threads

“Although nobody’s life makes any sense, if you’re going to make a book out of it you might as well make it into a story.” Columnist Russell Baker on why a memoir needs to tell a story from Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer (p.39)

Storytelling Here from Flickr

How many times have you thought: My life is a novel or there is a book inside me? The truth is, if we have lived,we all have stories to tell and we all have our own meanings attached to these stories.Not everyone feels driven to write a book about their life but for those of us who do feel that passion, we have to learn to structure our life events into a story with a beginning,middle and end, a plot, conflict, climax and transformation. As author Tristine Rainer says in her amazing book Your Life as Story,

” I am a protagonist in a world of unending dilemmas which contain hidden meaning that is up to me to discover. I am the artist of my life who takes the raw materials given,no matter how bizarre,painful or disappointing, and gives them shape and meaning.”(p.18)

Linda Thomas, author of Grandmas Letters from Africa stresses the importance of defining a structure to your story citing “organizing your vignettes according to themes” may help you shape them into a story in her recent Spiritual Memoirs 101 blog post.

Writer Jeff Goins blogged about why he believes in the power of one’s story: “our lives should be tales worth telling” and challenges writers to define”what stories we want to tell” citing that suspense, tension,conflict, surprises and triumphs are all a part of these stories.

Memoir coach and author Jennifer Lauck lists questions that memoir writers need to ask themselves in this post on Fiction Tools for Memoir Writers including:  ‘ defining the protagonist as a character, his/her goals, obstacles faced and changes that occurred. In other words, how will your memoir read like a novel?
So I sit surrounded by 10 notebooks full of vignettes and scenes of various parts of my life written in earnest over the past two years. The story I thought I was going to write has changed, many times over. In fact, the story seems to be revealing itself as I write.

I will be reviewing these vignettes and scenes, looking for any themes and threads that may emerge from the pile.

I trust in the process. All I have to do is be there and be open to where the story will take me. As soon as I get my hands on it , I will shape it,try it on to see if it fits and just keep writing.

How about you? What shape will your story take? What are the threads in      the story that only you can write?

Sewing Basket from Flickr



Match Point~Can it be Achieved in Memoir Writing?


Publishing a memoir is  like achieving a” match point “, the final point needed to win a match, as in tennis. I pondered the question of achieving this after reading this New York Times  critique of memoir as a genre. The critic claimed that “the glut of memoirs needs to be stopped as we don’t have that many trees left.”  OUCH! My writing circles have been abuzz with responses both acknowledging the drawbacks of publishing memoirs  and defending the  legitimacy of them in the current publishing environment .  It’s always good to know the “devil you are dealing with”~ What is very clear to me is that  in writing about our ordinary lives, “platform”(what makes you qualified to write this book?) has to be established and visible and the writing compelling and flawless. Understood.

 But isn’t it really about writing a good story, no matter what the genre is? And isn’t the truth sometimes stranger than or at least as compelling as fiction?

It just so happened that I was in the midst of reading   Andre Agassi’s memoir/autobiography,”Open” when I read the NYT article. I was enticed to read “Open” after seeing  Jerry Waxler’s review , “When is a memoir by a celebrity not a celebrity memoir ? ” on his blog,Memory Writers Network. As soon as I read the first few lines  , I was hooked and  couldn’t wait to get back to the book to find out what was next. If only I didn’t have to go to sleep and get up for work the next day! I became very invested in not only Andre as the main character but in his family, in  the people who surrounded him, his “team” as he described and in his story. It had nothing to do with his celebrity status. It had everything to do with his inner journey. He had a story that flowed like a novel  and literally kept me turning those page until the end. And then I felt disappointed when it was over. I admit , I used to love to play tennis so I felt the suspense of all his matches  through his agonizing detail actually feeling his pain when he lost and his elation when he won. Alexis Grant of The Traveling Writer has a  great blog post on this topic of finding the right” momentum” to sustain the reader’s attention until the end.

So I wonder what I can learn from reading this memoir that will help me in writing my own, a choice I’ve made despite the naysayers and critics:

The main character (protagonist) needs to be believable, ie. , flawed, human

The voice needs to be authentic~ Raw honesty adds to this authenticity

There needs to be a desire to achieve something

There needs to be a conflict and obstacles to that desire~ this should be done without disparaging anyone else.

There needs to be  a “story arc”~ beginning, middle and end”

There needs to be  a resolution  of the conflict and an achievement of that desire by the end of the story

The reader should be intrigued ,  entertained and feel pulled into the scenes throughout the story and  then needs to feel relieved at the end.

Andre Agassi showed me how this is done not only on the tennis court but in his memoir; he showed me as a human not as a celebrity.

I will keep these lessons all in mind as I prepare my logline, synopsis and a few sample chapters for the “Writing For the Soul ” conference I am attending next week in Denver.

How about you? What are some of your thoughts on  achieving “match point” in your writing or in your life?

Volley for serve!



Defining “The High Concept”


Before I can shape my individual scenes and vignettes into a story  structure, I have to be able to identify an overriding story idea, the “high concept” . According to James Bonnett  high concept involves” being able to reduce your story idea into something powerful that the reader will be able to make an emotional connection with~ a logline with a twist”  He goes on to explain that  defining your high concept will “force you to come to terms with what your story is about”.

Distilling the complexities of life into a few words is not something I view as simple and I am realizing through my memoir-writing journey how challenging this simple-sounding task really is. How do I pull all my ideas together and come up with a few sentences that describes my story succinctly?

 What is my” logline with a twist?” 

The essence of my memoir is  the power of hope through faith;  overcoming extraordinary challenges in the midst of my ordinary life;  finding joy,peace and learning to live life on my own terms.

The “twist’?  How does someone from such a secure, happy childhood take so many  self-defeating detours and then how does this person find her way back home again?

Last week, we talked about defining author brand in this post, being  able to define oneself to the world. I defined my brand  as sharing the  power of hope through my memoir. My high concept needs to flow from that.

James Bonnett points out that high concept requires:

* a fascinating Topic~ Is my high concept fascinating enough so far?

* a great Title~ TBA

* an “Inciting Action”~ Lots to choose from~TBA

* a “Hook”~ do you sense any intrigue here?

I am keeping all these components in mind as I move forward writing stories through NAMW Memoir workshop with Linda Joy Myers and preparing for The Christian Writing Guild’s “Writing for the Soul” Conference in Denver in February.

I would love your input and discussion on my story idea so far. You can be honest! Your input will help me refine my message and maybe even pitch to an agent or two at the conference.

Do you think the” high concept” is intriguing enough? 

 Do the few words tell you what my story is about?

Have you defined your own high concept?

Who Am I,Really?


When I think of MartinLuther King,Jr, I think of his overall message of hope. His words, his faith,his message have lived on through the decades since his untimely death. We all know who Martin Luther King is and what he stood for.

Now,at the risk of comparing myself to a legend, I know I need to take my lessons from him . I have to ask myself:  Who Am I , Really? I need to answer this question first before I can promote myself  as an author. It’s called finding your author brand, building your platform and marketing yourself. These have all become necessities in today’s publishing environment.

I take my lead from the experts, experienced writers and authors, who have walked the walk  ,like Copyblogger lists 125 ways to build a  brand..among some of the tips are:





And here is a listing of links from other personal branding experts that I found to be very helpful in understanding why personal branding is important:

Joanna Penn,Author and Publishing Consultant , “How to Discover and Build Your Author Brand”

Dan Blank, Online Media Consultant, “Be Your Own Brand”

Cindy Ratslaff, Author and Social Media Strategist.”5 Secrets of Creating a Brand”

Joel Friedlander, Publishing Consultant and Blogger,”Author Branding the You That is Everywhere”

Dan Schawbel, Personal Branding Expert, “An Introduction Into the World of Personal Branding”

These are all questions I have to answer as I move forward in my memoir journey this year. 2010 was my year to learn as much as I could about writing and publishing; to read, study,experiment and ,oh yes, write. 2011 will be my year to hone in on my message. I’m no Martin Luther King,Jr., but I am a person who has survived a thing or too and has lived to tell about it. It will be a story of my faith in God and the miracles I have experienced as a result of that faith. It will be a  story of hope that I intend will touch those who need to be touched. My brand will be hope. That’s all I know right now. It will be my guiding light through the upcoming year as I unfold the layers of my story. Someday, I will have a memoir and it will help someone out there believe in the power of infinite hope in the midst of finite disappointment.

And Who Am I ,Really? I am an ordinary person who has lived an ordinary life and  feels a calling and a passion to share my faith in God and my hope through my writing. It’s up to me to turn my ordinary lifestory into an extraordinary memoir that will keep my reader turning the pages.

As Lucius Annaeus Seneca said”  If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

My direction is set and I know which port I will be sailing to. The winds that get me there will vary and I promise to keep you posted along the way.

I hope you will keep sailing with me. Your presence on my journey will help me reach that port.

If you were to build your brand, what would it be? Who Are You,Really?

Winter Dreams

Winter Dreams


 When I woke up this morning , I looked out at  our first real  snowfall of the season. The fluffy white snow laced the trees giving them a shape, accentuating each branch while giving an overall picture of a winter wonderland. You might say, they told a story of winter in the Northeast and all that conjures up~ visions of happy children and fluffy dogs romping in the snow, grandsons bobbing on sleds pulled behind the Kubota, cherry-cheeks , giggles and cold noses. Then coming inside to warm up with a cup of cocoa

Grandsons Carter and Ethan sledding behind the Kubota with Max (Happy 1st Birthday,Max!)

and some homemade pasta fagiola.

 The vision of those snow-laced trees provided a structure for the stories that evolved and will remain in our memories.

Now that is what I am dreaming of for this year~to build that structure that I will then fill in with stories that  matter. I spent 2010 learning as much as I could about writing and publishing while collecting stories and memories that now sit around me like a pile of treasures ready to be sifted and sorted through. One of my dreams for 2011 is to shape them all into a story that will be the backbone of my memoir. This excellent post by Larry Brooks of Storyfix really brought it home for me. Rather than writing and letting the story lead the way, he suggests that  developing a structure which the stories eventually fit into needs to happen first. In the words of Carl Sandburg,”Nothing happens unless first a dream”..

But on the other hand , dreams without action are just dreams , like soft flakes of snow landing aimlessly from the sky:

So I have a plan for transforming my dreams into accomplishments:

* Lynne Spreen  has prompted her readers(i.e., me ) to list their dreams for 2011 and plans to check in quarterly to assess our progress on her blog , Any Shiny Thing . Jump in if you want to participate in some lively discussion about Boomer issues and need a nudge to  hold fast to your dreams . After all ,“Goals are dreams with deadlines’ (Diane Scharf Hunt).

 Amber Starfire is conducting an experiment to evaluate the impact of computer -generated vs handwritten journaling which I am participating in. The results will be interesting. I am hopeful that getting back to journaling will help me connect the dots in my story. Check out Amber’s article of writing letters to yourself as a method to stimulate creativity.

* I am looking forward to  participating in another NAMW Memoir Workshop with Linda Joy Myers and in reconnecting with fellow writers from around the country.In sharing  our stories , we discover our own stories as we  learn and grow together.

* I will be attending the Christian Writer’s Guild “Writing For The Soul” Annual Conference in Denver where I am thrilled to be meeting up with several writer friends whom I have met at previous conferences or in NAMW workshops. It is all about fostering community,nurturing connections and sharing our talents with one another.

What are your winter dreams and how do you plan to make them come true?  Where will your wings take you this year?

 I’d love to hear from you~



Winter Garden

Finding the River Running Through Your Story


Sometimes when I sit down to write, I know exactly what I am going to write about but at other times I find myself being led by my story or memory or scene. Memories pop up like plastic balls from a child’s toy until I relent and include them. My point is,it seems like the theme will reveal itself as long as I keep writing and allow myself to be open to the process as it unfolds.

In her blog post “Finding Theme” from How to Plan,Write and Develop a Book , author, artist and teacher Mary Carroll Moore claims that “the theme doesn’t often surface until it is good and ready,often times not until halfway through the revision.” She notes that ” we find theme through the repetitive patterns that eventually can link separate stories. The beauty of theme is that it has the potential to transform the audience.”

I just finished reading Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone which is a perfect example of  how theme and character create a powerful story. It is a riveting fictitious account of  twin brothers whose passion for medicine and strong family bonds bring them to the father who abandoned them at birth. But it is  more than that. It is a story of love, forgiveness,passion,war,loyalty,life and death. The theme is bigger than the sum  of  the individual stories And through his gripping family saga , Verghese transforms the audience. We feel like we know these characters and can experience their conflicts and dilemmas.

In this post by KMWeiland, she talks about character as “the vital key to making your theme come to unforgettable life.” and ” the key to strong theme is character progression.” Abraham Verghese  brings us right into his main character’s experience from his birth through his trip to America and his eventual return to his homeland,Ethiopia. He honors not only the extraordinary,complex work of surgeons and physicians but also the  human side of each character.

So what is the theme of my memoir? So far the  recurring patterns appear to be how my faith in God and strong family ties have  been my anchor through many dark times. It is painful to go back to where I was, but who I am today is a  direct result of where I’ve been. Maybe someone else who is struggling like I did will find some hope and direction in their life. And so I keep writing and taking NAMW workshops with Linda Joy Meyers for I am called to write my story. Right now I am pouring my energies into keeping my boat afloat on the river that runs through my story. I know it’s there. It just has to reveal itself to me through recurring patterns and characters who pop in like uninvited guests.

What is the river running through your story?

The Power of Hope

” There is no better or more blessed bondage than to be a prisoner of hope.” Roy Z. Kemp

Our late summer garden has given way to weeds as tall as small trees and as full as rambling bushes as we search for any remaining signs of new life. At first glance, one would think it  would be time to plow it all under. Change is in the air as oppressive dog days of summer bow to the cool breezes of an impending autumn. But having spent the whole day in the garden, I am surprised at the bounty before me:


Remember, the compost pile from June ?  The small mound of earth and waste has grown and from it a glorious array of sunflowers bloom to remind me that sometimes the most beautiful things can arise from the  ruins and remnants of our lives:


It all reminds me of the power of hope in my life. So many times when I thought all was lost, due to some major life challenge, I was able, through my faith, to find a reason to hope. If I was able to be patient, I came to realize that many gifts arose out of those times of despair- gifts of  self-awareness, knowledge, gratitude, renewed faith, perspective. It seems to me that with every challenge ,my faith became stronger until I was  finally able to reach a place of joy,not dependent upon my life circumstances but on my inner strength and, for me, my relationship with God.

That is the message I want to share in my memoir-how I have been able to reach a place of peace and joy through my faith in God, kind of  like finding the sunflowers in the heaps of dirt. One can climb out of the abyss and see the light.

 And talk about joy, here are my grandsons, Jacob and Ethan, right next to those sunflowers. Life doesn’t get much better than this..


I’d love to hear about the sunflowers in your life…

Unearthing Themes


Currently ,I am participating with an incredible group of women from all over the country in a summer memoir-writing workshop with Linda Joy Myers. I am amazed  at the depth and richness of the connections we are making through our stories. We review and probe into the stories,asking questions Tell me more about what your character looks like, her hair color, what does she hear,feel, smell, what were her gestures, what were the surroundings? All of these questions are meant to prompt each of us to dig deeper. We are fleshing out the details as we discover our “narrative arc” , the framework of our story that is beginning to emerge. And this week we are working on unearthing themes.

In this scene from  his classic memoir,Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt makes us feel the poverty while showing us Frank’s character.  As the eldest son of five children, he has assumed the role of caretaker for his younger siblings in the face of this poverty, an alcoholic,absent father and a helpless mother. He is four years old in this scene:

” The twins are hungry again but I know I can’t give them water and sugar all day and night. I boil sour milk in a pot,mash in some of the stale bread, and try to feed them from a cup,bread and goody. They make faces and run to Mam’s bed,crying. She keeps her face to the wall and they run back to me,still crying. They won’t eat the bread and goody till I kill the taste of the sour milk with sugar. Now they eat and smile and rub goody over their faces.”” (p.36)

Not only do we feel the poverty, we begin to see Frank’s character as his theme becomes clear- despite the poverty and misery, we can achieve love and strength. It is a powerful story.

According to author Larry Brooks of storyfix, “each scene needs to be mission-driven” meaning it has to take us “deeper into the story” and support the theme.

This article in Writer’s Digest addresses getting your character in shape and defining the dimensions of your character by “word choice, attitude, sentence construction, perception, value system”

Lastly,author Sharon Lippincott offered this valuable link  to Wordplay on her blog this week and if you sign up you have access to a free e-book on “Crafting Unforgettable Characters” by K.M. Weiland. It’s a gem.

What can you discover about the character in your lifestory and how does that fit into the themes that seem to emerge  from beneath the surfaces?