Monday, November 16, 2020

Pumpkin Pie and Memoirs

November is always a month that stirs a lot of reflection on my part. Thanksgiving is such an important holiday in my family, and always has been since I was a kid when we'd drive from Michigan to West Virginia to celebrate with my father's extended family. 

In all those years that my siblings and I rolled down snowy hillsides to become human snow-people, and went inside to vie for one of the drumsticks, I never thought of what my mother was doing that day while she was alone. 

My parents divorced when I was five, so she never came on those yearly visits to my father's homeplace.

So why am I sharing this here? This year I've been writing a memoir as a follow up to my novel, Evelyn Evolving, which is the story of my mother's life. That book ended when I was about five years old, and readers have asked, "what happened next?" so I thought my story would answer that question. What I didn't realize is how hard it is to write a memoir.

There are so many choices to make:

  • What do I share?
  • What don't I share?
  • Do I have to tell every little private thing?
  • Am I willing to touch those very sensitive places of my life?
Which brings me back to the Thanksgivings of my childhood. I just recently started writing about that, and this realization of not thinking of my mother when I went to West Virginia with my father, was a shocker. It made me stop and really consider the reasons why. Was it just because I was a kid, totally wrapped up in the excitement of the vacation? Or was there more to it?

I haven't been able to answer those questions yet, but I have gained an awareness of how important it is to ask ourselves questions like that when writing a memoir. Maybe not about situations of our early childhood when we rarely thought about anything outside ourselves, but definitely the experiences that shaped us later. Those are the ones that we can probably look into and find the nugget of what makes a memoir significant and meaningful - the values that come out of life experiences. 

Focusing in part on the values is something I learned recently listening to an interview with Matthew McConaughy as part of a virtual book tour for his new book, Greenlights. During the interview, McConaughy also differentiated between what a person should, or shouldn't share, just for the shock value, especially for a celebrity like him because of what the media might decide to focus on. 

I have nothing to be concerned about on either count. :-)

Peter Selgin, who wrote The Inventors  shared this advice: I think the key thing to understand is that – though based on our memories and experiences – unlike an autobiography, a memoir is never about us. Even when we’re the main character of our memoirs, we’re not the subject. The subject is something bigger than ourselves, a theme to which certain experiences we’ve had attach themselves. 

Other good information I found on the internet was in this Reedsy blog, How to Write a Memoir, A few of the points in the article that stood out to me the most are:
  • Don't focus on facts and details
  • What are the moments in my life that stir the strongest emotions? They are the ones readers will connect to.
  • Who does my book appeal to?
That last one is crucial for determining whether one should try for traditional publishing, or do a more limited release. The jury is still out on that one for my story.

Now, back to Thanksgiving, which this year is probably going to be very different for most of us who celebrate the holiday. There may not be trips "over the river and through the woods" to Grandmother's house. There may not be any trips, or gatherings at all, and as the days march along toward November 26, I'm trying to steel myself for the distinct possibility of a one-person celebration. Not my first choice by any means, but also something that may have to be, depending on how our dear friend COVID 19 decides to treat us.

In addition to wrapping my brain around the possibility of being alone, I'm desperately trying to figure out how to make a pumpkin pie for one. When it comes to that traditional dessert, I'm a bit of a snob. I'm really partial to my recipe that has a lot less sugar and isn't cloying with its sweetness. I also don't know how to make less than four pies. It's just the way my tried-and true-recipe rolls. If you'd like to try said recipe, you can find it here on my blog. Feel free to share.

And if you can figure out how to make it work for just one pie, do let me know.

Despite the tumultuous year that 2020 has been, there are still things for which I'm very grateful. My family and friends, who for the most part have been spared the nasty virus. My own health which, though not perfect, is better than many others who are battling life-threatening illnesses. A fairly productive year of writing that included the release of a new book in the Seasons Mystery Series, Desperate Season, progress on my memoir, and progress on another nonfiction book, The Many Faces of Grief. which is based on an older blog I wrote of the same name. 

What about you? What are some of the things you're most grateful for? Has this been a good, or only mediocre, year for writing? Are you just waiting for January 1,2021 to have a fresh start?

Posted by Maryann Miller  Still maintaining social distancing, you can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page, read her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE


  1. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

    Should you be alone, perhaps you could focus on the fact that there are people who would be with you gladly, but for Covit, and that the sacrifice of not being together can be an act of love.

    1. Thanks for the good wishes and good advice, Liz, and I hope you have a good Thanksgiving.

  2. I think anyone who writes memoir is very brave. Every time I get tempted, I back away. As for Thanksgiving, my husband and I are homebodies anyway, so we're not suffering that much. I'll fix the turkey breast and homemade stuffing for two, freeze leftover pie, and watch football. We'll talk to the kids on the phone and count our blessings that so far, no one in the family has caught the virus except one cousin and he recovered just fine. For 2021, I'll keep on hoping the vaccine distribution works like a charm, no matter who's running it.

    1. So glad to hear that your cousin recovered from the COVID virus, Pat. I hope you and your husband have a good Thanksgiving.

      As for writing a memoir, if there ever comes a time for writing yours, you will know. I had no plans to write one until just recently.

  3. This is a fabulous post, Maryann — so much good information tucked into its paragraphs. Now, as for the 4 pumpkin pies. . . You could freeze 3 or 3½ of them (in individual slices), or you could freeze 1½ of them and send 2 to me. I love pumpkin pie —— but I trust you know I'm kidding. :-)

    1. So glad you found the post so helpful, Linda. And regarding the pies, I have a very small freezer. LOL

  4. I'm with Patricia. I'm awed by anyone who writes a memoir. I can't remember enough about my childhood especially. Bits and pieces, usually things I'd rather forget. Bravo to you. I enjoyed Evelyn Evolving. I'm sure the sequel will be as good.

  5. Polly, I'm not sure that a memoir is so much about childhood, especially early childhood, as what shaped us as teens and young adults. Most of the ones I've read and enjoyed have covered those years and experiences.

    I'm so glad you liked Evelyn Evolving. It's still gaining more readers, which thrills me no end.

    Have a great Thanksgiving.


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