Interview with Memoir Author Grace Peterson Reveals Importance of Taking Care of Yourself as You Write

by Matilda Butler on June 19, 2013

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #104 – Memoir Writing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler



memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: Question 1. Congratulations Grace on the publication of your memoir and welcome to Women’s Memoirs. Kendra and I are delighted to talk with you today. Can you begin by telling us a little about your book, Reaching: A Memoir?

Grace PetersonGRACE PETERSON: Thank you Matilda and Kendra. In short, Reaching is an insider’s look at anxiety and the mind games of cult dependence.

Like all children, I learned early on to adapt to my environment. However, whether it was nature, nurture or a combination of the two, I developed an anxiety disorder around eight years of age. As a young adult, my anxiety morphed into postpartum psychosis and OCD. My husband and I were attending a fundamentalist church that influenced my belief that my mental health issues were demonic. As readers of my memoir will find, seeking help from a modern-day exorcist caused more problems than it solved.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: Question 2. Grace, I can see that your story addresses a universal for many people–people who start on what seems to be the right path and then get tangled up in the implications of these actions. How to get through, how to survive and eventually thrive is important to all of us.

So many memoir writers work on their book for years and years. I wonder what made you decide to write your story and how long it took you to finish it?

Grace PetersonGRACE PETERSON: There was a very distinct moment when I knew it was time to write my story. It was early 2006. I had been distanced from “Brock” (I felt it important to not use his real name) and his cult setting for five years. My husband announced that Brock was planning a reunion and asked me if I wanted to go. Instantly conflicted, it felt as if my five years of diligent effort had just evaporated. I was tormented with the desire to see this person I had been so devoted to, yet terrified of reigniting that hold he’d once had over me. I knew I had to get things settled in my mind, that time alone wasn’t going to be enough. Initially I wrote for myself. Then I wrote for my kids. Then after a bazillion revisions, I wrote a memoir for a more general audience. The process took four years.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: Question 3. I love the description at the top of your website: gracepete.com. It says:

“Each of us journeys through life as protagonist of our own destiny. On the way, there are myriad subplots at various stages of completion.”

Did this concept of subplots drive the way you told your story in Reaching?

Grace PetersonGRACE PETERSON: I think so. As you know, good memoir writing consists of balancing truth-telling with literary artistry, weaving the various threads together to create an appealing fabric. Writing about my childhood wasn’t too difficult factually. There were very definitive subplots that came with each place I lived. Each location seemed to define my world and its challenges. For example, my four and a half years in Hawaii were fraught with the challenges of racial violence. My early adulthood was much the same way, defined by where I was in my life. I think segmenting our years into manageable subplots makes writing about them less overwhelming. Eventually discovering and honing the message I wanted to convey became a natural part of the process and allowed me to weave the subplots together into a cohesive story.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: Question 4. Writing seems to be the all-consumng part of creating a memoir. As you mentioned, you spent four years working on your memoir. Yet, getting a book published is its own journey. What can you share with our readers about finding a publisher for your memoir?


GRACE PETERSON: Although I’m not opposed to self-publishing, I sought a traditional publisher for several reasons. First, when I began shopping my manuscript, I wasn’t nearly as socially adept as I am now. I didn’t belong to a writing group, either online or in person. Because I spent my writing years in isolation, I felt it was very important to enlist an entourage of literary professionals to guide me into the throes of society. Second, I didn’t really trust my judgment. I needed to know that my work was worthy of public consumption. Signing with a publisher who was willing to invest their time and money into my project was the confirmation I needed.

But it took several painful years for this part of my journey. Initially, I wrote my catchy query letter to prospective literary agents and accumulated a massive haul of rejections. The subjectivity of the process made me really mad. After cooling off, I researched independent publishers, wrote a full book proposal and began sending it out. Eventually there were three interested publishers. I went with All Things That Matter Press. It has been a good decision for me.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: Question 5-A. Grace, I have one final question for you but I’d like to separate it into two parts. Looking back on the process of writing and publishing your memoir, what advice would you give to other women who are just now starting to write their memoir?

Grace PetersonGRACE PETERSON: This is a good question and I’m glad you put this into two parts. I’d urge women just starting their memoir to read as many memoirs as you can. This is the best way to get a feel for how it’s done. I learned so much from reading authors such as Frank McCourt, Jennifer Lauck, Mary Karr and Russell Baker. There are so many excellent memoirists out there. Then, serendipity led me to Tristine Rainer’s Your Life as Story, an excellent memoir writing how-to book. At that time, I didn’t know such books existed.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: Question 5-B. And what about to women who have been working on their memoir for several years?

Grace PetersonGRACE PETERSON: I would tell them not to worry about the time. Memoir writing, especially when dealing with painful subjects, is a lengthy process, demanding a lot of introspection. I was in therapy during most of the years I was writing. There is no hurry. Take your time and take care of yourself because it’s to your advantage to be in a good place emotionally when your book is published. Also, remember that doubts are normal. Acknowledge them and then put them aside and write.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: Thank you Grace for sharing your experiences with our readers. We wish you much success with your memoir. We especially hope you enjoy the next part of this journey–the marketing of your book.

Grace PetersonGRACE PETERSON: Thank you Matilda and Kendra for hosting this interview today and for the tremendous encouragement and support you offer memoirists. Memoir is a very important genre.

















Grace Peterson’s memoir is available both as a Kindle book and as a print paperback.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Grace Peterson June 19, 2013 at

Thank you Kendra and Matilda for allotting space for my words. I am extremely grateful. I love how many “friends” I’ve made through the Internet. Hugs to you both.

Matilda Butler June 19, 2013 at

Hi Grace: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with Women’s Memoirs. We also love this community of (mostly) women who are writing (or hope to write) about our lives.

Anna Mullins June 19, 2013 at

Excellent interview and great advice from Grace. Having just finished reading her memoir, I can honestly say she followed her own rules outlined above and her story is fascinating and well written.

I would say taking your time is excellent advice. It took me almost ten years of edits before I felt my memoir was ready to be published and I don’t regret it.

Donna@Gardens Eye View June 19, 2013 at

Nice interview all. I look forward to reading this amazing memoir. Grace is a wonderful writer.

Grace Peterson June 19, 2013 at

Thank you Donna. You’ve been such an encouragement to me. As for my writing, takes one to know one! :)

Grace Peterson June 19, 2013 at

Thank you Anna. You’re a great example to me and your book is so interesting.

Pamela Jane June 30, 2013 at

I’m reading Grace’s book now, and it’s truly absorbing and engaging. Thanks so much, Grace, for sharing your thoughts here today!

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