Interview with Memoir Author Pamela Jane…or…How It All Came to Be

by Matilda Butler on February 29, 2016

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #223 – Memoir Writing – Matilda Butler

Interview with Memoir Author Pamela Jane

Welcome Pamela. It’s great fun to turn this around today and have you in the interviewee chair. You are such a strong presence on this website with your regular article contributions and your terrific memoir writing tips that it is a pleasure to get to ask you some questions about your just published memoir — An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Pamela, I’m always in awe of the many books you have published and continue to publish. You are a successful writer of children’s stories and have a book for adults as well. What made you decide to write a memoir?

Pamela JanePamela Jane. First of all, thank you so much for having me as a guest, Matilda. Writing my memoir has been a long and satisfying journey, and I’m thrilled to share it with other writers whose books I hope to read in the future!

In answer to your question, I didn’t so much decide to do a memoir as the memoir decided to “do” me. Years before I discovered the narrative thread and found my voice, the story appeared to me like vivid scenes of a film flashing by. I knew there was a complete dramatic story in there somewhere, but it took me a long time to bring it out in one piece.

Stephen King once said:

“…when I’m working on something, I see books, completed books. And in some fashion that thing is already there. I’m not really making it so much as I am digging it up, the way that you would an artifact, out of the sand. The trick is to get as much of that object as you possibly can, to get the whole thing out, so it’s useable, without breaking it. You always break it somewhat–I mean you never get a complete thing–but if you’re really careful and if you’re really lucky, you can get most of it.”

I hope that’s what I’ve done–dig up my story and get most of it.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: You’ve just given me a great opening to ask you to tell us a little about your memoir. I’ve read An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story and found myself sucked into your story, unable to put it down until I’d finished the last page. As with all good memoirs, it helped me to look back at my own life and evaluate things I’ve done in relation to what you have experienced. So would you tell our readers about it?

Pamela JanePamela Jane. An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story is a personal, psychological, and political adventure, a coming of age story about a young woman (myself) caught up in 60s radicalism who is trying to find her way back to the imaginative and lyrical world of childhood.

Pamela Jane memoir author, memoir writing tipsWhile I, a nineteen-year old newly-wed, dream of a pastoral future in an old country house with children climbing the apple trees, my husband plots to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills. Our fantasies are on a collision course.

The clash of visions turns into an inner war of identities when I embrace radical feminism; my husband and I are comrades in revolution but combatants in marriage; I am a woman warrior who spends her days sewing long silk dresses reminiscent of a Henry James novel. One half of me is not speaking to the other half, which lands me in deep psychological trouble.

And just when it seems that things cannot get more explosive, our wilderness cabin burns down and I’m left with only the clothes on my back. At that point I had no faith that I would ever pick up the tangled threads of my life and weave them into a story.

Here’s my book trailer if you’d like to know more.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Pamela, I’m so glad that you mentioned the burning cabin. It is such a powerful image in the book itself. Reflecting on your experiences, what do you think are some of the writing challenges that you faced and that other women will probably also face?

Pamela JanePamela Jane. I had a long and arduous struggle identifying the theme and developing the voice for my story, which is both humorous and poignant. And once I did complete the book, I had to work hard to find a publisher.

Pamela Jane memoir author, memoir writingAnd here’s a point that many memoir writers overlook–the value of research and how to use it. I did a tremendous amount of research for the book which, like Vivian Leigh’s real lace petticoat in Gone with the Wind, should not show. You don’t want someone to read your book and think, “Wow she worked really hard on this!” You just want it to be a thoroughly engaging and scenic ride.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Knowing now of your challenges of theme, voice, research and publication — clearly issues we all face — I wonder how you handled them.

Pamela JanePamela Jane. Both discovering the theme and the voice, and finding a publisher, required persistence. It’s important to remind yourself that giving up is not an option. Let me repeat that: Giving up is not an option. Send the story out even when you’re feeling tired and hopeless. Who knows, this could be your lucky day!

My years writing children’s books has made rejection an ordinary, only slightly annoying part of life. I joke that you have to become a masochist and tell yourself that rejections feel good and you want more! The truth is you may have to collect many rejections before you get an acceptance. And if you persevere, that will happen.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Pamela, thanks for your response about perseverance. That’s one we all need to take seriously. Maybe we should put “persistence” or “perseverance” on a big piece of paper and tape it above our writing stations! Knowing what you know now about memoir writing (and researching and publishing) what would you do differently if you were starting over and had been given the gift of this hindsight right at the beginning?

Pamela JanePamela Jane. I wish I could have written the book faster (it took me over twenty years, in between writing and publishing children’s books and Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic for adults). The truth is though, I don’t think I could have written it any faster; the book required the magic elixir of time, as well as work, to mature.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: I know you are a memoir coach and editor as well as writer. I wonder if you used any editors while working on your memoir? And if so, what have you found is the value of an editor?

Pamela JanePamela Jane. I hired several freelance editors along the way, most of whom were extremely helpful. You can read about my experience and what I learned from it in my post entitled 5 Tips for Hiring a Memoir Coach.

While I agree with Virginia Woolf’s advice that a woman needs a “room of her own”, writing a book alone in a room for twenty years can be difficult. You begin to wonder if you’re really doing anything because there is little or no response from the outside world. An editor or writing coach can accompany you on your journey, and provide that response and encouragement. Also, a fresh eye can bring a new perspective to your story.

For instance, when I was working with memoirist and writing coach, Tristine Rainer, Founder of the Center for Autobiographic Studies, she likened my memoir to Jane Eyre – “the story of a woman who has no home, no security to go back to, and the places where she finds herself, she doesn’t really belong, a scary story that gets scarier when she nearly loses her sanity.” I’m strictly an Austen fan when it comes to nineteenth century literature, and would not have seen that angle of the story.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Pamela, I appreciate your openness with us today. You’ve certainly given me much to think about and I’m sure our readers will feel the same. But before we end this interview, I wonder if you’d share what you think is the best writing advice that you ever received?

Pamela JanePamela Jane. Sure, Matilda, although this may not be what you expect. The best writing advice didn’t come from a book or a famous author but came from observing other writers struggling through bad drafts to publish successful books. When you see other writers go through this, you understand that it’s part of the writing process, and not unique to you.

During the years that I worked alone or with editors on my memoir, and studied all aspects of writing, including screenwriting, I learned a tremendous amount about writing and editing, an experience I enjoy bringing to other writers as an editor and coach. I understand how lonely and challenging the journey can be. Things such as pace, consistency of voice, identifying the theme and keeping the narrative thread taut, can help shape memories into a compelling and publishable book. This process is very satisfying for both writers and readers of memoirs.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Pamela, again let me thank you for today’s interview. It’s exciting that your memoir An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story has just been published by Open Books Press.

Since I asked Pamela Jane about her experiences with editors and coaches, she asked me if I’d like to offer a special 50% off an edit of the first 10 pages of your memoir. I said, “That would be perfect.” Below are the details along with a link so that you can read more about this.

A SPECIAL OFFER ON EDITING FROM PAMELA JANE. You may not have completed your memoir. You may be struggling with it, wondering if you are headed in the right direction. If you’ve been thinking that you’d like some feedback on your writing, Pamela Jane is offering an edit of your first 10 pages (of your memoir or of any chapter) at 50% off. The regular price is $199 for 10 pages. But for the FIRST 10 PEOPLE to take advantage of this offer, the price is just $99. For FULL DETAILS, just click here.

If you are interested, be sure to contact Pamela Jane immediately and make your payment as this offer is only available to the first 10 people to reach her.

Don’t have your pages ready but want to get this special price? You can just click here, pay the $99 fee and email to let her know that you aren’t quite ready yet. She’ll be glad to save a time for you.

Pamela’s email is: PamelaJane (at) PamelaJane (dot) com


1. Here’s an except from Pamela’s memoir, published recently in “The Writer”:

JUST WAIT! A Short Story in Grade School Becomes a Course of Action

2. The Ambivalent Agnostic: An Adoption Story (Literary Mama)

3. Help! I Can’t Press the Send Button!

4. 5 Tips For Getting Published in 2016

5. 5 Outstanding – and Surprising – Books for Memoir Writers

“I Can’t Talk Now; I’m Peeling Carrots!” A Reflection on Multitasking, Mindfulness and Healing

Pamela Jane’s Websites:

Pamela Jane’s Children’s Books
Pamela Jane’s Memoir Coaching Information
Pride and Prejudice and Kitties

Pamela Jane has published over twenty-five children’s books with Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Penguin-Putnam, and Harper. Her books include Noelle of the Nutcracker illustrated by Jan Brett, Little Goblins Ten illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning, and Little Elfie One (Harper 2015).

Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen’s Classic (Skyhorse) was featured in The Wall Street Journal, BBC America, The Huffington Post, The New York Times Sunday Book Review and The Daily Dot, and has just come out in paper. She has published short stories and essays with The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Antigonish Review, Literary Mama, and The Writer.

Pamela Jane is a writer and editor for, and her memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story has just been published by Open Books Press.

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