“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
I am very pleased to feature Eleanor Vincent in Part Two of this guest post interview about her memoir, Swimming with Maya. Eleanor and I met online in the NAMW Facebook forum. I was so impressed with her memoir of loving and letting go of her beloved daughter, Maya, I asked to interview her in a guest post.
This is Part Two of the interview where Eleanor explores how writing her memoir helped her to heal and reshape her life.
Welcome back , Eleanor!
KP: It seems you have reached a place of healing and peace after such a devastating loss. Do you feel writing about Maya’s death has helped you to heal?
EV: Oh definitely! Writing is the way I process almost everything. Certainly something as traumatic as the death of a child requires a deep re-examination of everything and writing is ideally suited to that process. But I need to emphasize that writing was only one of the many healing modalities I used. I knew I’d need to pull out all the stops to recover. So I sought peer-to-peer support through the Compassionate Friends, individual therapy, and spiritual counseling. In addition, I did tons and tons of self-care: walking, healing touch, swimming, dancing, healthy food, lots of rest and time in nature. Family and friends were also very important to my recovery.
KP: What do you think Maya would have to say about your memoir?
EV: Maya loved being the center of attention, so having a memoir with her name in the title and her picture on the cover would be a big plus for her. I think she would say I tried hard to paint a balanced portrait of her. She might not agree with everything in the book, but I think she would be very proud of “her” book and of my success as a writer. Thinking about Maya still inspires me to do and be my best. She was a classic over achiever and my biggest cheerleader.
KP: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share about memoir writing or publication?
EV: Writing a memoir is difficult – and satisfying – on so many levels. The writer must be both narrator and character and that is not an easy balancing act. The narrator needs to know more than the character does. Getting that perspective requires time, and willingness to dig deep. I highly recommend Vivian Gornick’s book on writing memoir, The Situation and the Story. It helped me to make that separation between the character of the mother in my story and the voice of the narrator.
I also think plot is an important aspect of memoir. You can’t just tell the story exactly as it happened. You have to create turning points in each chapter, and have a major realization or turning point sometime in the last quarter of the book. In that way, it’s much like writing a novel. You have to constantly ask yourself, “What is at stake here?” If there is nothing on the line for your characters, the reader will lose interest quickly.
Publication is a big topic. You have to persist and be willing to do the business of being an author – that is very different from being a writer. Take writing classes, go to workshops, form or join a really good writing group. Take classes on the business aspects such as proposal writing and marketing. Understand the business structure of publishing. Pick the brains of friends who have published and learn what makes agents and editors tick.
When I first published the book in 2004 with Capital Books, social media was not part of the equation. Now, it is essential for any writer to reach and stay connected with readers. My publisher Mike O’ Mary at Dream of Things is very sophisticated in his use of virtual channels to produce and market the new edition. It’s a really good time to be a writer if you are willing to put yourself and your work out there and use these new channels for promotion.
Thank you Eleanor for sharing your story of loss and healing so honestly and bravely. Not only do I feel satisfied that you have found healing after such a loss, but I feel as if I have met Maya through your words. I also appreciate your memoir writing and publishing tips.
Eleanor Vincent is an award-winning writer whose debut memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story was nominated for the Independent Publisher Book Award and was reissued by Dream of Things press early in 2013. She writes about love, loss, and grief recovery with a special focus on the challenges and joys of raising children at any age.
Called “engaging” by Booklist, Swimming with Maya chronicles the life and death of Eleanor’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Maya, who was thrown from a horse and pronounced brain-dead at the hospital. Eleanor donated her daughter’s organs to critically ill patients and poignantly describes her friendship with a middle-aged man who was the recipient of Maya’s heart.
Her essays appear in the anthologies At the End of Life: True Stories about How we Die (edited by Lee Gutkind); This I Believe: On Motherhood; and Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs. They celebrate the unique and complicated bonds between mothers and daughters, making hard decisions as a parent – whether your child is 14 or 40 – and navigating midlife transitions with grace and authenticity.
Eleanor was born in Cleveland, Ohio and attended the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College, where she occasionally teaches writing workshops on creative nonfiction and memoir.
She lives in Oakland, California. Visit her website at www.eleanorvincent.com or connect with her author page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/eleanorvincentauthor
How about you? Has writing through grief helped you to heal?
Eleanor has agreed to give away a copy of her memoir, Swimming with Maya, to a commenter whose name will be selected in a random drawing.
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
Monday, 8/05/13: ” The Magic of Twitter: A Memoir Moment”
Thursday, 8/08/13: ” The Healing Power of Poetry in Memoir: An Interview with Memoir Author Louise Mathewson, author of A Life Interrupted: Living with Brain Injury.