Finding My Way From Memoir to Fiction by Author Doreen Cox

Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler with Doreen Cox /@mothersitting

 

“When in deep water, become a diver.” The Book of Runes, Ralph Blum

 

 

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Photo Credit: Doreen Cox

 

 

I am thrilled to feature author Doreen Cox in this guest post about her experience of writing fiction after writing her memoir. Doreen is the author  a memoir, Adventures in Mothersitting and a novella, Sacred Journey. We initially met through a mutual friend and author Madeline Sharples and began following one another on Twitter. I love it when good friends meet through good friends!  I’ve read and enjoyed both of Doreen’s books so much that I asked her to do a guest post on what it was like to switch to fiction writing after completing her memoir.

My reviews of both her books can be found here:

Adventures in Mothersitting: Amazon and Goodreads

Sacred Journey: Amazon and Goodreads

 

Welcome, Doreen!

 

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Author Doreen Cox

 

Finding My Way From Memoir to Fiction

 

For both the memoir and the fictional story, my writing journey has been a poignant one. Both experiences required me to dive deeply, to move through psychological barriers: layers of grief, self-doubt and impatience – to stay the course until the story felt complete. My journey, though, began long before I became an author.

 

Like champagne under pressure, I tended to bottle up any unwanted emotions. Early in my life, activities gave me just enough of an outlet to keep such emotions in check. At least, until my mid-thirties when my temper began to seep through defenses. I found help in a therapy group and, within the first month, the anger cork in me finally popped. For three months, there were moments in which enraged feelings began to roil; it felt like I was a rocket ship readying for launch.  To assuage those parts of me that I had disowned, I gave them a voice by writing in a journal.

The journaling ceased as my life became more balanced, busy again – that is until, at the age of fifty-nine, I became my mother’s full-time ‘care bear’. Dementia is a most formidable task-master for a caregiver and my bouts with it churned up a humiliating surprise: meltdowns – more eruptions of those powerful, unwanted emotions.

Again, scribbling in a journal saved me. After my mother died, I found a cache of letters I had written her during college and when living out of state. Those letters were perhaps my first bits of journaling for I wrote liberally about my life. It was while rereading those letters that a long-held wish of my mom’s took hold: for me to write a book. So one cold January day, I began to read my journal and scribble an outline.

Writing the memoir was immensely cathartic. The calmest times during mother-sitting were when I did jigsaw puzzles while my mom read out loud, in gibberish, from children’s books. The memoir process started out as a cut-and-paste one, literally, with scissors. It was calming for me, though, piecing together disparate segments from my journal, reading of this final journey I had had with my mom. When raw emotions erupted, I let them flow, grateful to merely feel human. On two occasions when grief hit concurrently with a lack of self-confidence, I threw the entire draft into the garbage. That action was cathartic in itself.

Two different energies played with me while I was writing: an inner critic was incessant in its attempts to force words into the script. The other energy, however, gentled me: a guide who whispered, ‘Take out this section,’ or, ‘Move this piece here,’ or, ‘Use this word.’ When this gentle guide within whispered, “Done,” I let the book be.

 

Adventures in Mothersitting

“Adventures in Mother-Sitting” by Doreen Cox

 

 

My first forays into writing fiction began long ago as snippets of made-up stories on birthday cards for family. After completing the memoir, a strong urge to play, have fun with my imagination, took hold. I wrote fanciful short stories in lieu of birthday cards, each with a transformational theme. I was considering writing another memoir – about my growing-up years with three sisters – when a short story contest was featured on Words Unlimited. Once a book cover was revealed, entrants had 72 hours to write the story. Curious, I took a peek at the cover and my imagination leaped into action, came up with a 5700-word fantasy, Wrapped in an Old-Age Dream; it was a runner-up. Several months later, an author whom I respect, Julia Hughes, suggested I tweak the script with more detail, enliven the story.  Excitedly, I tweaked and Wrapped became 14,000 words with a new title.

 

A Sacred Journey embodies my love for nature, my interest in transformational experiences and my respect for the mystery surrounding a transitional experience from life to death. The result has been soulfully enriching.

 

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A Sacred Journey by Doreen Cox

 

The greater challenge in writing my memoir relates to the onslaught of emotions that often took me under though I would not trade the experience for anything. It was also challenging to remain true to my experience of the events as they unfolded, to script respectfully about those whose views/suggestions, passionately expressed, were different than my own. There are similarities for me in the writing of memoir or fiction. The same forcing-word inner critic and a gentle guide are always present. It’s an ongoing practice, attuning to this dance in my mind between the critic and guide. Both serve a helpful purpose. Yet, whether weaving words into a credible memoir or into a fanciful fictional tale, the experience has nourished me: it has been stimulating, frustrating, insightfully educational, challenging, and humbling.

Mostly, though, the journey towards becoming an author has been intrinsically rewarding.

***

Thank you Doreen for sharing your journey to both memoir and fiction. I appreciate how your “inner critic and gentle guide” have served a good purpose in helping you create  both a credible memoir and a fanciful fictional tale. After reading both your memoir and your novella, I can see the similarities in the stories–one is true to your life , the other is based upon the truth of your life. You show us all the rewards of being “fanciful with fiction” after sharing your truth in memoir.

***

Author’s Bio and Contact Information:

 The author was into her eighth year as a group counselor at an alternative school for at-risk students when her most challenging position of all presented itself. The author’s first book, Adventures in Mother-Sitting, is a memoir of her three years as a full-time caregiver. Because of the downward spiral of her mother’s mental, physical, and developmentally regressed abilities due to dementia, the author’s well-honed communication and listening skills were put to their ultimate test. Her previous career adventures had indeed added more stores of knowledge, fostered the growth of self-confidence and provided assuagement of that restless spirit. The experience as her mother’s caregiver, however, offered the ultimate spiritual adventure, bringing to the author bittersweet lessons related to trust, faith, unconditional love and compassion. The author, wanderlust currently at rest, resides in Florida.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mothersitting

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mothersitter?viewas=100000686899395

Treasured Encounters: http://doreencox.blogspot.com/

 

How about you?  Have you switched from reading or writing memoir to reading or writing fiction? If so, how has the experience been for you?

 

Doreen has graciously agreed to give away one eBook or paperback of her memoir and one eBook copy of her novella to two random commenters whose names will be selected in a random drawing.

 

We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~

 

This Week:

Thursday, 4/3/14 :  I will be a guest  on Miranda Beverly-Whitmore’s FriendStories Series: Girlhood Adventures, 1956-Style” and on Denis Ledoux’s The Memoir Network blog: “8 Lessons Learned on My Memoir Writer’s Journey”.

 

Hope you’ll join me there, too!

 

Next Week is Social Media Week:

Monday 4/7/1o  “Social Media: Friend or Foe? 8 Lessons I’ve Learned About Using Social Media”

Thursday 4/10/14  WOW! Women On Writing Blog Tour with Frances Caballo, author of  Avoid Social Media Time Suck: A Blueprint for Writers to Create Online Buzz For Their Books and Still Have Time to Write:

“Social Media Management : So What Does a Social Media Manager Really Do?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Two things stand out as I read Doreen’s post: her process of creation (The memoir process started out as a cut-and-paste one, literally, with scissors . . . piecing together disparate segments from my journal) and her ability to harness the wisdom of both inner critic and gentle guide.

    Her Adventures in Mother-Sitting struck a chord too as I have both lived with and now observed from a distance the decline of my Aunt Ruthie into Alzheimer’s. When she still lived at home, I remember her trying with limited success to recite from memory poetry she learned as a child.

    Doreen, you are to be commended for your memoir publication credits and now diving into memoir. One of my online author friends, Mary Gottschalk, has made the same transition with her memoir preceding a novel that is due out this spring. I’m sure there are others.

    Thank you too, Kathy, for featuring another author that challenges me to keep the pillow on my writing chair warm today.

    • says

      Marian, I love that Doreen has challenged you (and all of us) to “keep the pillow on our writing chairs”. Your comments about “harnessing the wisdom of both the inner critic and gentle guide” resonate with me as well. And I too commend my fellow memoirists for taking the leap into fiction. Yes, there are several others that are already scheduled here on my blog to share their transitions into fiction. A fascinating topic, indeed!Thank you, as always, for stopping by and sharing your thought-provoking insights.

    • Dody says

      Thank you, Marian, for honoring me with a visit and for sharing a piece of memory about your Aunt Ruth. I’ve discovered that we are never alone in our journeys. How fortuitous, too, that you offered a comment that has triggered me to pull out a story I started before Christmas! May we both have pillows that we keep warm. Take care.

  2. Dody says

    Every week, when I visit your site, Kathy, I am treated to breaths of fresh air – often educationally and each time, assuredly, on a spiritual level. Thank you so very much for hosting me this week, for presenting my post in such a wonderful way.

    • says

      Dody, it is truly my pleasure to feature you and your wonderful work! Your memoir is not only a poignant story of a mother -daughter journey but also an insightful guide to end-of-life care. As I’ve already said,your novella is an extension of your memoir theme about the sacredness of bonds and the beauty of transitions. Both are bittersweet and very satisfying reads. As you can tell from the responses, you have helped pave the way for us to get thinking about taking a leap into fantasy with our own life stories. Thank you for your breath of fresh air!

  3. says

    Once again I am given a new peek into the heart and mind of someone I admire as a friend and author. I am astounded at the clarity and love that shines through each of Dody’s pieces.

    As a fellow care bear, I found Dody’s memoir to be cathartic and memorable and her novella in a different way did the same. They are both among my favorite reads.

    • Dody says

      Thank you, dear friend. Just think of all we would have missed out on if neither of us had decided to write, publish and jump into the stream! My life has been so incredibly nourished by friendships from people such as you, Marta, and you, Kathy.

    • says

      Welcome, Marta! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts about Dody’s inspirational post. I’m happy to join you in the “care bear fan club” :-).Both wonderful reads.

  4. says

    I can readily see how Doreen was able to write successfully in two different genres. Taming that inner critic and listening to the wise guide is a BIGGIE, a challenge we all share. How wonderful, Kathy, that you were able to meet each other through another good friend — that reinforces how special blogging is, huh?!

    • Dody says

      Thanks for visiting, Debbie! By the way, the taming continues on a daily basis. Your collie is gorgeous (or handsome!); reminds me of a childhood collie we had, Pansa. Best wishes for a wonderful kind of week.

    • says

      Yes, Debbie, blogging has been a beautiful gateway into so many heartwarming friendships. You were one of the first. I hope everyone will visit you at http://domermom.com for a refreshing glimpse of your delightful everyday stories. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I’m happy you enjoyed Dody’s post. I agree “taming that inner critic and listening to that wise guide”, as Dody describes so well, are indeed BIGGIES.

  5. Kathy says

    Though my mom suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, I am unable to be with her. Professional caregivers meet her daily needs. Your experience in caring for your mom full time is admirable. I am sure you found wisdom and insight as you labored in love for her. Readers will find your experiences with your mom to be heart-felt, conveying thoughts that made you a more compassionate person.

    • Dody says

      Though our circumstances re: loved ones, caregivers, may be different, Kathy, our emotional journeys run in sync, or so it seems to me. Best wishes to you on the journey, to your mom and family. I consider my care bear experience to be the final gift given me by my mom.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kathy. I appreciate you stopping by. As a reader of Doreen’s memoir and novella, she does convey wisdom, love and courage in caring for her mother. Even if you aren’t able to be the main caregiver for an ailing parent, as in your case with your mother, I think you will find ways to be present to her in a healing way through reading Doreen’s books. Blessings to you as you travel this difficult journey with your mother.

  6. says

    Kathy, thanks so much for hosting my dear friend Dody today. I love her memoir Adventures in Mother-Sitting, and now I look forward to her novel. I am in the same process though not as far along. I started my novel while I was still in revising my memoir , and now I’m well into revising my novel. I’m so glad Dody has paved the way for me and others on a memoir to novel journey.

    • Dody says

      “Birds of a feather, flock together” even when our paths diverge at times along the way. Your memoir, Madeline, resides in my bookshelf of favorites. Your story, resides in my heart. I’m so looking forward to reading your novel!

    • says

      Dear Madeline, It is my pleasure to feature Dody, whom I met through you! I love these connections. And I also welcome you to come and share your journey from memoir to fiction in a guest post when you are ready to launch your novel. Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

  7. says

    Thanks, Kathy, for inviting Dody to your space today. I have seen numerous writers take this path, and I can understand it, although, so far, I’m not drawn to fiction myself.

    The story of caregiving will likely hit our family soon. My mother is 87 and is in relatively good health. But it pains me when she is in pain and we can’t help. I’m grateful that she was able to be part of the celebration around the launch of Blush.

    • says

      Hi Shirley, I too have noticed a trend among fellow memoir writers to turn to fiction . At this point, I’m not drawn to it either but I do find it fascinating. I’m sorry to hear of your sweet mother’s physical decline. It’s something those of us ( of a certain age) who have been blessed to still have a living parent have to face. What a gift it has been to have her be such a prominent part of your launch of BLUSH. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing.
      Blessings, Kathy

      • Dody says

        I do understand what you mean, Shirley, re: ‘it pains me when she is in pain.’ How wonderful that your mother was able to participate in the launch of your book, BLUSH. One of the most emotionally difficult times during my mom’s journey into dementia was when her brain could no longer read an adult book. We always shared a passion for the same stories. Best wishes for a slew of more treasured moments with your mother.

  8. Louise says

    Having gone through being a caregiver for my husband, and now being at a different point with him being in a nursing home, I am able to see how one needs to savor each phase of the downhill journey of dementia, as, once one often irritating or hugely difficult time has passed, you can’t go back and retrieve it, even though you might like to. I wish I’d savored my husband’s oft repeated stories while he was telling them, as now he doesn’t speak at all. What an emotional learning process this is!

    • says

      Thank you for sharing such heartfelt and wise advice, Louise. I know you have been very present to your husband throughout this entire process and I hope you feel the consolation of knowing you’ve given him your all with much grace and love. Blessings to you as you move along on this painful and challenging journey. I appreciate you sharing with us.

    • Dody says

      I hear you, Louise, re: wishing one could go back and retrieve parts of those phases through dementia. At the beginning, I did not realize how difficult it would be for me, especially on an emotional level. Crushing at times, isn’t it? You must have a resilient spirit, though – to able to see the experience as a learning process. Best, best wishes, Louise, that comfort, love and peace are constant visitors.

  9. says

    Dody, as I read your words, “Both experiences required me to dive deeply, to move through psychological barriers: layers of grief, self-doubt and impatience,” I felt my memories rolling quickly like a movie on fast forward. These are the feelings I have when working on my memoir because as a child, I had no voice in the treatment I received so I too bottled up my emotions and feelings. Lately, however, I have had a release from a great many of those tensions and feel more in tune with what I’m putting on the page.

    I also relate to your “mother-sitting” as my husband and I assisted in caregiving for his brother who died with Lewy body dementia, similar to Alzheimer’s. It was a pain full time in our lives as we lost someone who was dear to us, but it was a time of learning so much about life and death and the harmony between the two not only for the patient but for the caregiver. You are to be commended for the gift you shared with your mother those years.

    Kathy, once again you have opened the door on new faces and names for me, and Dody seems to have had some similar experiences to my own which makes reading her post an even richer experience for me tonight.

    Blessings, Sherrey

    • says

      Hi Sherrey, it’s so nice to see you here. I have missed you! As you describe, you have had many similar challenges as Dody and I think both her memoir and her novella will resonate with you.They are both heartwarming and bittersweet. I agree, Dody has given us all a gift through her stories of being present to her mother during her final journey home. Thanks for stopping by. Wishing you many blessings, Kathy

    • Dody says

      So many faces, Sherrey, have crossed my path since I wrote my memoir; some encounters are fleeting though that is enough; as it was meant to be. Each has afforded me a gift: a snippet about their own similar, yet unique, experiences. There is a tapestry being woven in my heart called, ‘I am not alone.’ Thank you for adding to its wealth. Best, best wishes to you, to your memoir and to your journey.

  10. says

    Congratulations, Dody, on taking the plunge & diving in. Your memoir “Adventures in Mothersitting” is a testament to the strength of spirit. I so enjoyed your novella, which blended adventure, mystique and humour, and hope to have the joy of reading more – soon!

    Julia x

    • Dody says

      Thank you, Julia, for crossing my path way back when, for taking the time to validate and enrich my writing experience. Your stories themselves continue to teach me, to greatly enliven my own reading experience. Often, there’s a British lilt to the voice in my head that says, “Sit down and write!” Though I really loved ‘The Bridle Path’ as is, I’m looking forward to reading edition two AND the sequel!

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