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Family Memoir

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #217 – Memoir Writing – Matilda Butler

Welcome Denis Ledoux

I am delighted to welcome Denis Ledoux, founder of The Memoir Network. Denis is widely known in the memoir community and I am pleased that he is sharing a special story with us today. It is a story that Denis and I hope will inspire you to both write your own memoir (don’t leave it for your children to do; get it written the way you want) and to consider writing your mother’s and/or father’s memoir as well.

I hope you’ll also note his thoughts on including the context of time and place. This element pair help to explain a life as well as to extend its meaning for the next generation.

And be sure to read to the end. Denis has graciously offered to give you a gift — to send you a complimentary copy of his mother’s memoir to honor this date — the day his mother would have celebrated her 94th birthday.

Denis we are sure that you are missing your mother and her special spark today. Thank you for sharing with us on this important occasion.


We Were Not Spoiled: A Memoir for the Family and for the World

By Denis Ledoux

Today would have been my mother’s 94th birthday. She died on May 5, 2015. This is the first July 21st of my life that I spend without my mother.

Let me celebrate her life by writing about her memoir We Were Not Spoiled—which I will offer you as a gift at the end of this post.

Denis Ledoux memoirBetween 2009 and 2013, I interviewed my mother for her memoir for which I was to serve as ghostwriter. I have written about the process elsewhere, so here I would like to talk about how the writing of this book was an integrating experience for me.

The human mind—at least, this is true of mine—seems to want to make sense of things. My mother’s life, as I knew it prior to writing We Were Not Spoiled, was a mishmash of dates and events that I was not sorting out in a way that led to cause and effect relationships. Parts of my mother’s life remained inaccessible—not because they were too private or inconsequential but because they were lost in lack of relationship with one another and to the larger world. I failed to understand—and appreciate—some of her life choices.

A legacy memoir? Yes, and more.

I think of a legacy memoir as a family book. We Were Not Spoiled certainly fits the bill—and more as I will show later.

When I see the book in its place of honor at home, I am always soothed by the realization that her story is written. It is a successful legacy memoir. The book contains many details of my father’s life, but it is truly my mother’s memoir. (I do not have a memoir of my father who died when I was still young.)

  • At our July 4th family get together, two months after my mother passed, one of my nieces referred to how my mother had inspected parachutes during the World War II. That story is in the book preserved for generations of family members. Perhaps my niece knew the story separately from the book, but now she knows the facts as my mother narrated them.

  • Coming from another more privileged generation than my mother’s, I made many choices that she seemed to have passed up. Until I worked with her, I was not really sure why she had done so. I now have more sympathy for how she missed out on things—and also understand the nature of making your best decision and having it be a wrong decision. I feel more accepting, more forgiving.

  • What is striking to me is how both my mother and father approached adulthood with the strong feeling that one married at a certain time. I would say they had a good marriage but I would also say that neither of them explored an alternative—marrying later, staying single, going out in the wider world to have more choice for a spouse.

Surprises along the way

Two surprises spring from the writing—revelations that I could not have guessed.

  • My mother was resentful of her parents having called on her to help with her siblings. They had had 12 children. “I was made to babysit at too young an age. I was made responsible for the younger children. I did not ask to have those children.” My mother did have 6 children of her own. My grandfather always said we were spoiled but I don’t think we were. I think my mother wanted us to be young when we were young.

  • My mother was also resentful of the authoritarian tone of her father’s discipline. (This was also a source of his believing my siblings and I who were not subject to authoritarian discipline were spoiled.)

Difficult to write?

Denis LedouxWas it difficult to write my mother’s memoir?

  • On a technical level, no. I have written dozens and dozens of memoirs for clients.
  • Writing however was time consuming. (Is any memoir not?) I had my memoir business to maintain and sometimes found myself putting off writing We Were Not Spoiled in favor of billable time for other memoirs. Her story remained in the back of my mind always beckoning me not to delay too long. I remembered so many clients who had ‘waited too long.’

  • When I serve as a ghostwriter, I listen carefully to pick up to the subject/author’s vocabulary and point of view and incorporate that into the story. Since I wanted to offer the memoir to a public that was beyond family and friends, there was, for me, a great challenge in writing my mother’s version—it remains an account of her life—and also offering historical interpretation which ultimately is my version.

A broad historical view: a memoir for the wider world

I have been a life-long student of my ethnic group [francophone North American] and of my region [Maine, New England]. I can frankly say that I know a lot about both so integrating the personal and the historical and social was not difficult.

  • One of my goals was to set my mother’s life in an historical context so that future generations—my niece who told the parachute story, for instance, as well as readers anywhere who want to read a well-written memoir about an ordinary life—would have a sense that my mother’s life was not like theirs only there were no cell phones! Her life in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s was fundamentally different from life today—where can you find the similarities between a girl who gave her paycheck over to her family every week and a girl whose parents pay her cell phone charges?

  • Before I wrote the memoir, I had a clear sense that I wanted the book to appeal to any one who was interested in any of the following: working-class life in the first part of the twentieth century; Maine life as lived in its industrial cities; the Franco-American experience; the Canadian emigrant experience; women’s lives in the first half of the twentieth century; World War II. If any of these memoir topics interests a reader, s/he will find in We Were Not Spoiled an account that will “bring to life” what the experience of one girl/woman was like in those years. My mother’s life was written as a microcosm of the larger experience. She is an every girl/woman. (The book portrays her life from birth to her 30th year.) As I selected vignettes and facts for the memoir, I kept these larger goals in mind.


My mother is gone now, but her book lives. I encourage you to write a memoir of your mother and/or father before it is too late. If your parents are already gone, write from memory. Get the story down before you, too, forget—and if you can do it, write in the larger context. The larger context will help to interpret so much.

My Gift to You to Celebrate My Mother’s Birthday

In honor of my mother’s memoir on this her birthday, I am offering you a free PDF version of the book. The PDF has many photos, but if you prefer the e-reader version, I can send that. The e-reader version has no photos. If you would like a copy, click to contact me. The hard copy is also available, but for purchase.

About Denis Ledoux:

Denis Ledoux is the author of the classic Turning Memories Into Memoirs / A Handbook for Writing Lifestories. His Memoir Network offers a free membership—My Memoir Education—which provides you multiple free memoir writing e-books, MP3s and e-courses.


Writing Tips: Perspective on Family Storytelling

by Matilda ButlerJanuary 16, 2012
Writing Tips: Perspective on Family Storytelling

In this short video, Women’s Memoirs shares five reasons why siblings often don’t see eye to eye on family history. Soon we’ll announce a new ebook on Family Storytelling: Sibling v. Sibling.

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ScrapMoir How-To #32: Create Your Family Tree Scrapbook or Memoir

by Bettyann SchmidtJune 9, 2011
ScrapMoir How-To #32: Create Your Family Tree Scrapbook or Memoir

Bettyann Schmidt shares her insights on creating a family tree.

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ScrapMoir How To #28: Scraps of Life for Scrapbooking and Writing Memoir

by Bettyann SchmidtApril 7, 2011
ScrapMoir How To #28: Scraps of Life for Scrapbooking and Writing Memoir

Bettyann Schmidt, in another of her informative how-to posts, shares her insights on the value of simple layouts combined with family stories. Be sure to read this as you’ll see how to make the most of those life stories you want to share.

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Author Conversation with Linda Joy Myers, Part 5

by Matilda ButlerMarch 13, 2010
Author Conversation with Linda Joy Myers, Part 5

Interview: Today Linda Joy Myers addresses the important factors for staying motivated in your memoir writing as well as discusses the rising use of audio books as an additional distribution approach.

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Author Conversation with Linda Joy Myers, Part 4

by Matilda ButlerMarch 12, 2010
Author Conversation with Linda Joy Myers, Part 4

Interview: Linda Joy Myers gives her perspective on the differences between personal essay and memoir. Join the conversation by adding your thoughts in the Comments section of the blog.

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Author Conversation with Linda Joy Myers, Part 2

by Matilda ButlerMarch 9, 2010
Author Conversation with Linda Joy Myers, Part 2

Post #43 – Women’s Memoirs, Author Conversations – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler Yesterday’s blog introduced our author conversation with Linda Joy Myers. She answered the question about handling the dark moments in our memoir writing. If you check the comments section of that Women’s Memoirs blog, you’ll find a good discussion of the issue. […]

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