” A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”– George Moore
I am very pleased to welcome Sonia Marsh back to Memoir Writer’s Journey for the launch of her memoir, Freeway to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island. She discussed building an author platform in her previous post and started promoting her book months before it was launched, a lesson we can all learn from.
Welcome back, Sonia!
Here is the link to her interview on the OC (Orange County) Register
Text of Interview:
KP : Most people dream about moving to a tropical island, but you, your husband,Duke and three sons actually did. Tell us a little about your story.
SM: In 2004, my husband, Duke, and I were so fed up with life at home, we decided to chuck it all and move to Belize hoping to reconnect our family. We uprooted our three sons— ages sixteen, thirteen and ten—and moved from a materialistic life in Orange County, California, to a hut on stilts in Belize, Central America. Our life was out of balance. Duke worked long hours, then spent additional hours commuting back and forth to Los Angeles each day. I was upset by the entitlement attitude of teens and pre-teens in our neighborhood and wanted my kids to experience life in a less affluent part of the world, just as I had as a child in Nigeria. We decided to sell the house, our cars and everything else we owned to start a new, simple life in a third-world country without TV, gadgets or teenage girlfriends.
KP: How did you find your story?
SM: My story came from my journal. At first I thought I had a story, but it wasn’t until I hired my first editor, that I realized I had a half- story, half- journal, and that it would take a lot more work than I had initially thought. I was naïve and soon realized that I needed feed-back from critique groups. I attended those at various stages of my writing and after a year or so, decided to quit the critique groups and hire a professional story structure editor. The critique groups confused me, as I felt I was being led in the wrong direction. I needed an “expert” who could help me understand where my story should start, and what critical parts are required in memoir. I even had a critical chapter that was missing: the “Family Meeting” as well as certain scenes that needed to be there, and others that I could cut out.
KP : Your memoir is a great example of “showing , not telling”. As I said in my book review, I felt like I was watching a movie I was in when I read it. The story seemed to unfold scene by scene with reflective narrative woven in. How did you make that happen?
SM: It wasn’t until I started a journal in 2003, six months prior to our move to Belize, Central America, that I realized I could turn it into a travel memoir. My friends kept asking me to send them e-mail updates about our life in Belize, and wanted to know how our three sons were adapting to their new simple life.
At the beginning, editors and critique groups reminded me to “show not tell” however, I didn’t really understand what they meant. I found it so difficult in the beginning. One useful tip was to read novels lie Nicholas Sparks, and other memoir writers like Augusten Burroughs, and I remember copying sentences from their books into a small notebook. I was envious of how they could write scenes and make me feel like I was in a movie. This exercise helped me think about becoming more “visual” in my writing.
KP : I have heard you say that journaling helped you to write your memoir. Can you explain how you made this work for you?
SM: What I discovered about keeping a journal is that it forces you to write things down as they happen. This is the best time to write, when your emotions are fresh and come through as honest and authentic. You can write down all the details of your surroundings: the smells, the colors, the landscapes, and let’s not forget the conversations. If your goal is to write a memoir, sometimes described as “a slice of your life,” it’s important to keep vivid details and stay true to life.
If I had to rely on my memory to write about our year in Belize, I could never have captured every detail of what happened to my 13-year-old son, Alec, when he touched a poisonwood tree. Thanks to my daily journal, I had all I needed to bring it back to life.
Here’s an example of how keeping a journal helped :
“I removed a saucepan from the cabinet, tossed a dead cockroach into the trash, and used bottled water instead of our stinky well water to boil the leaves. When the water bubbled, I threw all the leaves in and let them simmer until they turned velvety. Without a blender, I used a fork against the edge of the saucepan, crushing the leaves into a spinach-like mush.
“Alec, take all your clothes off except your boxers,” Duke said.
“Why?” he asked.
“We’re going to try the leaves instead of the bark,” Duke replied.
I placed a towel on Alec’s bed so as not to mess up his sheets. He lay flat on his back, and, with the back of a teaspoon, Duke smeared a thin layer of “spinach” over Alec’s body.
“That looks gross.” Josh wrinkled his nose.
We could have been filming an episode for the Discovery Channel called “Modern-Day Family Experiments with Ancient Tribal Remedies.”
Alec felt worse afterward.”
KP : What advice would you give aspiring memoir writers based upon your experience of writing Freeway to Flip-Flops?
SM: Write what you know- in your own voice- be authentic: At first I was criticized for not having my “own” voice. I got so mad I decided to write the way I speak:
- Entertain your reader: As writers, we always have to think of our audience, especially in today’s society with short attention spans.
- Put the juiciest scenes in the first chapter- hook the reader action, even pose a question right in the beginning so the reader will have a sense of what the story is about: As writers, we want to save the best for later, when in fact it’s important to put it on the first page. That took me a while to understand. But it makes perfect sense. No one has the patience to read 30 pages for something juicy. I don’t so why should my reader. Posing a question like I did on the first page, it’s actually my inner thoughts at the time, makes the reader instantly know where the story is heading and makes them want to find out why indeed, I chose to uproot my kids to a dangerous situation.At first I had a prologue, but I decided to start with a dramatic scene right in the action in Belize, the best decision I made. That way it does feel like you’re watching a movie. The prologue has now become my epilogue
- Maintain a journal to capture the feelings of the moment more accurately: Sometimes it may seem like it’s a burden to keep a journal, but if you only write one page a day, by the end of one year, you’ll have 365 pages which is enough material for one book. In my case, I was able to write 690 pages in my journal over a period of 18 months.My problem wasn’t writing the journal, but how to transform it into the structure of a memoir. After almost seven years of taking classes, attending conferences, working with editors, blogging, volunteering at writers’ groups and libraries, networking and so much more, I can say that keeping a detailed journal finally paid off.
Sonia Marsh Bio:
Sonia Marsh is a “Gutsy” woman who can pack her carry-on and move to another country in one day. She is the founder of the “My Gutsy Story” series, a popular contest on her blog.
She says everyone has a “My Gutsy Story”; some just need a little help to uncover theirs. Her story, told in her travel memoir Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island, is about chucking it all and uprooting her family to reconnect on an island in Belize.
Sonia has lived in many countries – Denmark, Nigeria, France, England, the U.S. and Belize – Sonia Marsh considers herself a citizen of the world. She holds a degree in environmental science from the University of East Anglia, U.K., and now lives in Southern California with her husband, Duke.
How about you? Do you envision your story as a movie? How do you show,not just tell your story?
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
A free copy of Freeway to Flip-Flops will be sent to a random commenter selected in a drawing.
Announcement: Congratulations to Grace Peterson. Your name was selected in a random drawing of commenters to receive Laura Dennis’ memoir, Adopted Reality!
Next Week: Memoir Author and Coach, Susan Weidener, founder of Women’s Writing Circle will discuss ” Helping Women Find Their Voices in Memoir Writing” in a guest post. She will give away a copy of both memoirs-Again in a Heartbeat and its sequel Morning at Wellington Square– to two lucky commenters selected in a random drawing.