Post #65 – Women’s Memoirs, Author Conversations – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
Children’s Author Melissa Ann Goodwin Talks About Writing Memoir with Her Father
Kendra Bonnet and I are pleased to welcome Melissa Ann Goodwin to Women’s Memoirs. She joins us as part of her blog book tour organized by WOW-Women on Writing. We’re delighted that she has shared with us the story behind her experience of writing memoir with her father.
Melissa’s children’s book, The Christmas Village, was published in October and would be a delightful holiday gift for the young and the young at heart on your gift list.
A Collaborative Effort – My Dad/Daughter Memoir Publishing Experience
by Melissa Ann GoodwinOn December 9, 2004, my dad was a robust 80-year-old man who still worked full-time as an independent land surveyor. On December 10th, he had a stroke that completely paralyzed his right side. Though physically incapacitated, Dad’s mind was sharp. He was fully aware of the tragic change in his circumstances and it broke his heart. He wondered why he should even be here if he could not participate in life or make a contribution.
Hearing Dad say that he wished he had died tore me apart. I longed to find something that would make him want to wake up again each day. But Dad lived in Massachusetts and I lived in Arizona, and it felt like I was too far away to help him.
I had been writing regularly for magazines and had done a few short memoir pieces that ran in my hometown newspaper. So, I decided to try to get Dad interested in life again by having him write a memoir about his time on Cuttyhunk, an island off of Cape Cod. During the 1960’s, Dad had the unique experience of having surveyed the entire island – an experience I knew he cherished.He took to the assignment with gusto. Cuttyhunk was the place of Dad’s heart and he was eager to share what he remembered. Every day, he wheeled himself to the activity room at the long term care center, pecked out his memories with his left hand on the computer, and emailed them to me. Dad was good at getting down the facts, but his writing didn’t have a storytelling feel to it. So I edited each piece to give it more life. After a few months, we had a memoir of which we felt proud. I sent it to the editor of Cape Cod magazine, because it was good fit and because Dad had once given him a map of Cuttyhunk. The man remembered Dad, still had the map hanging over his desk, and he liked the piece. But he declined to use it because he had promised Cuttyhunk residents that he wouldn’t promote the island in his magazine!
I was disappointed but not deterred. I sent it to the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. Then we waited.
While we waited, we started a new project. We wrote companion pieces about Sid White, a prominent character in our town during the 1950’s and 60’s. Dad had known Sid as a land owner and a selectman. I had known him as my first boss. Dad’s memoir focused on changing times and town politics. My piece was a humorous recollection of what it was like to be a fun-loving teenager working for a grumpy old man who didn’t like teenagers. Our hometown newspaper ran our memoirs side by side.
One day, the phone rang, and on the other end was the editor of the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. It had been over a year since I’d sent her the Cuttyhunk piece. The editor said that she loved it, that she had just been waiting to have enough room for it, and that it was running in the July 4th issue.
Dad and I were ecstatic! He saw it as validation that his experiences mattered. I saw it was a triumph of hope over despair. Our collaboration brought us closer than we’d ever been and helped us stay connected daily even though we were far apart. I learned things about Dad that I might never have learned if not for the sad situation in which we’d found ourselves. I feel proud that I succeeded in helping him engage in life again, and the partnership we shared writing these memoirs remains among my fondest memories.
[Kindle Version, available for $3.99]
You may be interested in Melissa’s children’s book so we thought we’d share her book trailer with you.