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craft of memoir writing

Interview with Author Betty Auchard & Free Giveaway

by Matilda Butler on April 12, 2016

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #231 – Memoir Writing – Matilda Butler



Welcome Back to Betty Auchard, Memoir Author

Interviewed by Matilda Butler

NOTE #1: Betty has generously offered to GIVE TWO COPIES OF HER NEW MEMOIR to our readers. Just leave a comment below. We will post the names of the winners on May 10.

NOTE #2: To find out more about how I know Betty, be sure to read to the end of the interview.

NOTE #3: Betty enhanced her new memoir with illustrations that she drew from photos. (She’s a wonderful artist.) Why the illustrations? Scroll to the bottom to learn more.


WomensMemoirs logoBetty, thanks for joining Women’s Memoirs today. Here’s my first question. Living with Twelve Men: A Mother in Training, is your most recent memoir. Would you tell us a little about it?



Betty Auchard memoir authorBetty Auchard. Thank you Matilda. It’s great to be talking with you again.

My new memoir begins when I met twenty-three-year-old Denny at a wedding when I was barely nineteen. He was the best man and I was the wedding singer. He was mature and quiet, and I was flighty and light-hearted, but we fell in love and got married four months later.

The day after our wedding, he whisked me off to a boys’ dorm on a college campus in Nebraska where we would serve as houseparents and role models to twelve high-spirited boys who lived upstairs. The strict church-based campus was a challenge for me. I came from a down-to-earth family that indulged in much of what was forbidden by the Christian college (including drinking, smoking, cussing and dancing). I felt obligated to smooth out my rough edges while acting as grown-up as possible.

During the two years of living there, I survived endless challenges, and the boys and I sort of grew up together. I also learned lessons as a surrogate mother that helped prepare me for the real thing.

WomensMemoirs logoQuestion #2. Living with Twelve Men is not your first or even your second but your third memoir. I’m sure that many women believe they have multiple stories to tell about their lives but it probably seems daunting just to write one memoir, let alone three. What were lessons that you learned when working through the three memoirs?

Betty Auchard memoir authorBetty Auchard. I’m a late bloomer, having published three books at these ages: 75, 80, and 85. I’m working on book four now and hope to have it organized and readable when I turn 90.

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself and writing:

First, I can’t plan a whole book ahead of time. I like writing about experiences that are touching and funny that happened to me, and I write them in a way that people in my life will like them as much as I do. I don’t think about my stories becoming a book. I just keep writing. But, then there’s a point when I see what these pieces have in common, and that’s when I start to focus.

Second, I always have a book nearby, and I notice my tendency to edit published books as I read. It’s both helpful and distracting, so I usually dump it and start another. If I can’t put the new one down, I ask myself, why am I hooked on this book? It’s a good way to keep myself on top of all that I’ve learned from classes about writing. I do the same with a movie. I love to see how much I learn about the plot in the first fifteen minutes. It’s a fun way to review important tactics when I write.

Third, another thing I’ve learned is that there are only a few people whose feedback I trust. For that reason I don’t ask a herd of friends to tell me what they think of a story I’m working on. I’ve also learned to trust myself more, because I’ve learned more about the craft.

And fourth, I feel it’s important to find a real editor that you pay and not your cousin who majored in literature. I’ve worked with four editors in the last 17 years. Two were okay, one was difficult, and one was perfect for me. Sandi Corbitt-Sears and I have worked together since 1999.

WomensMemoirs logoQuestion #3. Betty, thanks for those lessons. I hope everyone reading this interview will make notes. You’ve given us succinctly stated gold nuggets for thinking about our own writing. Now, my next question focuses on how you think you’ve grown as a writer across the three books?

Betty Auchard memoir authorBetty Auchard. I’ve learned a lot about the craft and I’m still learning. I love reading articles about writing as much as I love a good memoir. I write the way I talk and I write for myself and for a few other people. I don’t write to be published, but being published is fun, because it allows me to share my stories with like-minded people.

I’ve never made a profit and it no longer bothers me. I keep track of all of my sales and expenses for the tax man who knows how much I sell and how much I spend for editing and promotion. He no longer feels I should call it a “hobby.” My reviews on Amazon are high, and that makes me happy enough to keep on writing. If they were low, I would have stopped doing this a long time ago. So, obviously, I want people to like my stories as much as I like them. For me, writing a good story is fulfilling and fun.

WomensMemoirs logoQuestion #4. What is your favorite passage in your memoir? And be sure to tell us why this is your favorite. 





Betty Auchard memoir authorBetty Auchard. I have many favorites, but I’ll choose one that women might enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it. Denny and I had decided to have a baby but I hadn’t gotten pregnant. After visiting a doctor and reading a library book about Basal Body Temperature, my husband announced, “I’ll make a graph.” I’d never seen my husband so eager to make a chart.

A thermometer, pencil, and chart waiting in my husband’s nightstand. As soon as his alarm went off, he tapped my forehead.

“Betty, wake up. I hafta take your temperature.”

“What?”

“Your temperature?”

“Oh, yeah. I hafta go to the toilet first.”

“You’re not supposed to move … or talk. Just open your mouth. Don’t bite down.”

“Okay.”

I held the thing under my tongue for two whole minutes while he watched the clock. When he said, “Ninety-seven point five,” he sounded like an announcer at the Olympics. He marked it on the graph as if it were the most important job in the world. I felt a rush of affection for his commitment. I went to the bathroom before jumping back under the covers, while he ate breakfast and left for school.

For the first week, my temperature hovered near 97.5. That straight, flat line across the graph bored me. I was eager to ovulate as soon as possible. One Sunday, the number rose to 97.7, and our eyes brightened. On Monday it held, rising a bit more on Tuesday. By Wednesday, it reached 97.9 and stayed there on Thursday. Watching him enter a number on the graph every morning had taken on an air of excitement; it became a weird kind of foreplay. When the thermometer read 98.0 on Friday and held for twenty-four hours, we looked at each other, awestruck. With wonder and astonishment in his voice, Denny said, “Tonight’s the night.”

An hour later, my mother called. “Hi Betty. I’m in Greeley visiting friends. Is it okay if I stay at your place tonight?”

Egads! I wanted to say, “No, Mom. We’re making a baby tonight.” Instead, I said, “Sure…that would be nice.”

When Den came home for lunch, I told him about the call. He said, “We’ll put your mother in our bedroom. You can sleep on the couch in the living room, and I’ll sleep on the floor. When she starts snoring as loud as she always does, you can join me on the floor, and we’ll get the job done.” He made it sound like a class assignment.

I felt tense and worried all evening. Soon after Mom went to bed, her snoring vibrated through the wall, assuring us she wouldn’t hear a thing. He got right to work with the first step of placing two sofa pillows under my hips to raise them as described in the book. I nearly fell off the pile. When he tossed one aside, it hit a chair. I held my breath, worried that the noise would wake Mom. I was a nervous wreck. I said, “Honey, forget the foreplay. Just do your thing,” and he did.

He broke the speed record for insemination so we could concentrate on the second step: keeping my hips raised for ten minutes so no baby makers could escape. I dozed off in that position. When I awoke with blood rushing to my head, I turned onto my side and saw him fast asleep on the couch, where I was supposed to be. I pushed the pillows away, curled under the blankets, and imagined how sperm introduced itself to egg. Was it a slow, seductive process, or did sperm just throw himself headlong against egg, causing her to say, “Slow down. What’s the hurry? We got all night.”? We didn’t know it yet, but when the Denny sperm met the Betty egg, they bonded and started going steady.

Why do I like this section? Partly because it still makes me laugh and partly because I never told my mother about what happened that night she stayed with us.

WomensMemoirs logoQuestion #5. Betty that passage is a great one. I’m so glad that you chose it because it shows the humorous and lighthearted way you describe life experiences. I have one more question. Your final chapter is called History Lessons. I don’t believe that was part of an earlier draft I saw. I’d like you to tell us a little about it and how it occurred to you to add it. 

But first, let me give a couple of examples for our readers:

Lesson from Chapter 20: “Making Change”

Dust Bowl: The phenomenon known as the Dust Bowl occurred in the 1930s following a severe drought that arrived in three passes between 1934 and 1940. The farming practices of the time left the soil bare and unanchored, and the prolonged drought turned it to dust. Subsequent dust storms created billows of dirt that traveled long distances and greatly reduced visibility. The effects covered approximately one million acres, primarily in Texas and Oklahoma, but also affecting parts of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Lesson from Chapter 21: “Passing Time”

Frog Test for Pregnancy: From the early 1930s through the 1950s, thousands of African clawed frogs were exported across the world to help confirm human pregnancies. In the sixties, immunological test kits replaced the frog test. By the early seventies, the first over-the-counter test kits were sold in pharmacies. The testing process was complicated but effective. In 1988, simple one-step kits became available.

Betty, since I’m an Okie, I was raised on stories about the Dust Bowl. But my grandchildren just look at me quizzically when I mention that period. I’m guessing they think I’m talking about dusting a favorite porcelain bowl. In other words, so many of our lifestories are bound up in the time in which they occurred. And I thought it so clever of you to turn some of the possible confusion into actual history lessons at the end of your book.

Betty Auchard memoir authorBetty Auchard. My editor and I got this idea while working on my second book, The Home for the Friendless, with stories that took place during the Depression and WW2. The unfamiliar topics about that period needed to be explained, and it wasn’t always possible to insert explanations into the stories and maintain the flow. That’s when our unusual glossary was born that we call History Lessons.

The ages of readers for The Home for the Friendless range from 5th graders to senior citizens. The older readers identify with the stories and it triggers their own tales about growing up during that period. The younger readers, including my 5th grade granddaughter, couldn’t believe it was all true. Her teacher invited me to speak to the class and another 7th grade teacher invited me to do the same.

WomensMemoirs logoBetty, thank you again for the insights you provided during this interview. Best wishes to you on your new memoir. And get back to work on your next one. I can hardly wait to read it.

*Here’s a brief synopsis of Betty’s second memoir, The Home for the Friendless. “Betty’s young parents tie and untie the marital knot three times amidst a string of separations. When relatives become too weary to keep the children, Betty and her siblings are dropped off at an orphanage, The Home for the Friendless, where they enjoy three meals a day, indoor plumbing, a grassy playground, and plenty of holiday parties. When the family reunites two years later, the roller coaster resumes as they move many times across two states, proving that love overcomes all and that normal isn’t always better.”

FROM MATILDA: I am delighted to have had the opportunity to talk with Betty Auchard again and appreciate the thoughts she has shared with you today about memoir writing. I met Betty many years ago at an East of Eden Writers’ Conference in Salinas, California when I moderated a panel of memoir authors. We all had a great time, provided nuggets of wisdom based on our experiences, and enjoyed a lively question and answer session with the audience.

At that time, Betty was discussing her first memoir, Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood. That memoir went on to receive an IPPY Award. There are some parts of that book that I continue to laugh about, even now. And yes, Betty was 75 when this first memoir was published.

Betty and I have stayed in touch. I’ve seen her presentations that always reflect her great sense of humor. So I was excited when at the age of eighty, she published The Home for the Friendless: Finding Hope, Love, and Family. This second memoir won first-place awards for content and book design from the National Independent Publish Awards and is another great read.

This brings us to the present day and my interview. Betty, now 85, has published her third memoir, Living with Twelve Men: A Mother in Training.

A Special Treat of Living with Twelve Men

Several months before completing her third memoir, Betty mentioned to me that she wanted to include family photos. However, she discovered that many of them had been damaged over the years. What to do? Since Betty is an artist, she came up with the brilliant idea of sketching each of the photos and using only these as illustrations. At that time, she attached one of her in-progress drawings. I’m sharing it with you. Then in the memoir, you’ll find the final version on page 180. Her drawings add an incredible charm to the memoir.

Illustration, in progress

Illustration, in progress

To Enter the Giveaway Contest, Leave a Comment Below

Betty would love to know if parts of this interview give you a new perspective or intrigue you. She’d also be interested in knowing why you’d like to receive a free paperback copy of her book. Leave a comment addressing either or both of these points below to enter the contest.

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