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Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma

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Acclaimed memoirists describe the process of writing their most painful memories In her attempt to write a memoir about her father s death from a secret AIDS infection in 1985, Melanie Brooks was left with some painful questions: What does it take to write an honest memoir? And what happens to us when we embark on that journey? Would she manage it? Brooks sought guidance f Acclaimed memoirists describe the process of writing their most painful memories In her attempt to write a memoir about her father s death from a secret AIDS infection in 1985, Melanie Brooks was left with some painful questions: What does it take to write an honest memoir? And what happens to us when we embark on that journey? Would she manage it? Brooks sought guidance from the memoirists who most moved her including Andre Dubus III, Joan Wickersham, Mark Doty, Marianne Leone, Richard Hoffman, Edwidge Danticat, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Richard Blanco, Abigail Thomas, Sue Silverman, Kate Bornstein, Jerald Walker, and Kyoko Mori to answer these questions. "Writing Hard Stories" encourages all writers as they work through their challenging stories. It features some of the country s most admired writers discussing their treks through dark memories and breakthrough moments, and it demonstrates the healing power of putting words to experience. A unique compilation of authentic stories about the death of a partner, parent, or child; about violence and shunning; and about the process of writing, the book will serve as a tool for teachers of writing and give readers an intimate look into the lives of the authors they love."


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Acclaimed memoirists describe the process of writing their most painful memories In her attempt to write a memoir about her father s death from a secret AIDS infection in 1985, Melanie Brooks was left with some painful questions: What does it take to write an honest memoir? And what happens to us when we embark on that journey? Would she manage it? Brooks sought guidance f Acclaimed memoirists describe the process of writing their most painful memories In her attempt to write a memoir about her father s death from a secret AIDS infection in 1985, Melanie Brooks was left with some painful questions: What does it take to write an honest memoir? And what happens to us when we embark on that journey? Would she manage it? Brooks sought guidance from the memoirists who most moved her including Andre Dubus III, Joan Wickersham, Mark Doty, Marianne Leone, Richard Hoffman, Edwidge Danticat, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Richard Blanco, Abigail Thomas, Sue Silverman, Kate Bornstein, Jerald Walker, and Kyoko Mori to answer these questions. "Writing Hard Stories" encourages all writers as they work through their challenging stories. It features some of the country s most admired writers discussing their treks through dark memories and breakthrough moments, and it demonstrates the healing power of putting words to experience. A unique compilation of authentic stories about the death of a partner, parent, or child; about violence and shunning; and about the process of writing, the book will serve as a tool for teachers of writing and give readers an intimate look into the lives of the authors they love."

30 review for Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    “It’s that shared knowledge that somehow helps us to survive.” This sentence, spoken by poet and memoirist Richard Blanco towards the end of Melanie Brooks’ book about writing memoirs, in some ways sums up the message many of the writers Brooks interviews convey. Memoirs of difficult lives, or difficult parts of lives, help the writers both clarify their experiences for themselves and connect with others. Reading memoirs helps us as human beings to clarify our own “hard stories” and know that we “It’s that shared knowledge that somehow helps us to survive.” This sentence, spoken by poet and memoirist Richard Blanco towards the end of Melanie Brooks’ book about writing memoirs, in some ways sums up the message many of the writers Brooks interviews convey. Memoirs of difficult lives, or difficult parts of lives, help the writers both clarify their experiences for themselves and connect with others. Reading memoirs helps us as human beings to clarify our own “hard stories” and know that we are not alone with them. Writing Hard Stories is a collection of interviews with writers of memoirs who generously share their process (or parts thereof) of writing their stories. It contains a range of writers, including Kate Bornstein, transgender performance artist who writes of her experiences on the road from being a male member of the Scientology Church, Marianne Leone, the actress who wrote of the loss of her son, Mark Doty, the poet who shared the story of his lover’s death from AIDS, and many more. The interviews are fascinating. They provide a look at the stories told-many of losses to death, suicide, illness-as well as equally interesting glimpses of the process the writers used to tell these stories. This book is of interest to all those struggling to tell their stories, if only to themselves, as well as understand them. Whether a story has political resonance, such as Edwidge Danticat’s memoir Brother I’m Dying which tells the story of the death of her uncle while in the custody of immigration or is simply the story of a woman who is the only surviver of three sisters (Jessica Handler), the writers in general are impressed with how the difficulty of writing through their pain found many different rewards. For many, it was a measure of peace with their pain, for some the satisfaction of giving voice to those without voice. At the very least, it helped their authors move to a different place in their life, often releasing them from being completely trapped within the trauma, providing a different relationship with it. The authors share some of the tools they used in writing their stories. Many speak of using the tools of fiction to help them create the structure for their stories and the relief at seeing that these stories had a narrative arc, a beginning, middle, and an end. For others, the stories themselves created the structure. For all of them, writing the stories, despite the often intense emotional pain, seems to have been beneficial, if only in seeing how these stories connected with the people reading them, even when those people did not share the exact details of the story. Over and over, the authors speak of emotional connection, of feeling less alone, and of the gratification of knowing they have helped others. Melanie Brooks wrote this in response to her struggles writing about her own “hard story.” She reached out to these writers to understand how they moved through the emotional pain of facing their stories to actually completing their books. Her insight, emotional presence, and her writing skills, make me look forward to reading her own book when it appears. I found this book compelling as a writer but also just as a human. Some of the memoirs I have already read, I now want to track down the others and read them all. Just reading these interviews made me feel more connected to the rest of humanity and the power of writing to create, connect, and heal, I strongly recommend this book. I want to thank LibraryThing and Melanie Brooks for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    catherine ♡

    Actual Rating: 3.5 I actually really liked this when I started it. It was eye-opening, and as a writer myself, I thought that the advice I learned was so important. It talked about allowing yourself to feel, and coming to terms with the truth - both for yourself and for everyone around you. This book was insightful, but as I read on I felt like it started to become repetitive: every chapter was essentially saying the same thing. I feel like if I had a deeper understanding of each of the interviewe Actual Rating: 3.5 I actually really liked this when I started it. It was eye-opening, and as a writer myself, I thought that the advice I learned was so important. It talked about allowing yourself to feel, and coming to terms with the truth - both for yourself and for everyone around you. This book was insightful, but as I read on I felt like it started to become repetitive: every chapter was essentially saying the same thing. I feel like if I had a deeper understanding of each of the interviewed authors - maybe an excerpt depicting their writing and emotion, each chapter would've felt more personal and more different. We did get a glimpse - several paragraphs describing what each author's memoir was about, but by the time we got to the 'advice' portion, it was just too easy to forget. Other than that, Brooks' writing style itself was engaging, and I actually really loved how she tied together the authors' writing with her own writing, with ours, the readers. It shows just how powerful books can be - how it encourages the sharing of stories, which, is what this book is really all about.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    It isn't hard to write a book about people who wrote hard stories. You just have to travel a bit and interview the authors. "Was it hard to write hard stories?" you ask them all. "Yes, it was hard," they all say. And that is your book. And that is this book. It isn't hard to write a book about people who wrote hard stories. You just have to travel a bit and interview the authors. "Was it hard to write hard stories?" you ask them all. "Yes, it was hard," they all say. And that is your book. And that is this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    In this collection of interviews with writers who have written memoirs about trauma or loss, author Melanie Brooks attempts to better understand her own struggles with writing about her father's death from AIDS. Each chapter highlights an interview with a single author, and includes not only details about the business of writing hard stories but also personal details. (I was particularly interested in the pets of the writers whose homes she was invited into!) Authors address not only why they ne In this collection of interviews with writers who have written memoirs about trauma or loss, author Melanie Brooks attempts to better understand her own struggles with writing about her father's death from AIDS. Each chapter highlights an interview with a single author, and includes not only details about the business of writing hard stories but also personal details. (I was particularly interested in the pets of the writers whose homes she was invited into!) Authors address not only why they needed to tell their stories and what they got out of the telling, but also issues of how they attacked the writing, what they believed their responsibilities were to both the living and the dead were, and what family reactions were to reading the books. Though some of the interviews were more interesting than others--primarily because of my own interest in or knowledge of the writer in question--there is good advice and good company throughout the book. Brooks handles the subject matter as a student (a clever one) who wants to know more, and this makes the subject matter all the more engaging. Writers interviewed: Andre Dubus III, Edwidge Danticat, Monica Wood, Mark Doty, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Richard Blanco, Abigail Thomas, Sue William Silverman, Kyoko Mori, Richard Hoffman, Suzanne Strempek Shea, Joan Wickersham, Marianne Leone, Jerald Walker, Kate Bornstein, Jessica Handler, Alysia Abbott, and Kim Stafford. This book will appeal to: writers of memoir (particularly about stories of loss or trauma), teachers of writing who want to better understand struggles their students might be having and offer sage advice, fans of any of the authors interviewed, and anyone who is interested in how people weave the tragedies of their lives into their own story.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sam Sattler

    As a literary genre, the memoir has seldom received the respect that it deserves. It has not helped, of course, that several memoirists in the relatively recent past have been exposed for deliberately falsifying parts of their stories to make them sensational enough to earn publication and/or higher sales numbers than would have otherwise been the case. That memoirs are sometimes referred to by the easily misconstrued term of "creative nonfiction" may also be part of the respect problem that mem As a literary genre, the memoir has seldom received the respect that it deserves. It has not helped, of course, that several memoirists in the relatively recent past have been exposed for deliberately falsifying parts of their stories to make them sensational enough to earn publication and/or higher sales numbers than would have otherwise been the case. That memoirs are sometimes referred to by the easily misconstrued term of "creative nonfiction" may also be part of the respect problem that memoir writers still sometimes suffer. While, as Melanie Brooks puts it, memoirists "venture to shape hard life into beautiful art," it is the word "creative" that some readers might find misleading. In Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma is the result of Brooks's interviews with eighteen memoir writers over a two-year period who dared to share their personal "hard stories" with the world. Some of their memoirs, like the one Brooks herself is working on, explore the traumatic loss of a parent, some the loss of a child or sibling, and others tell of the impact of surviving difficult childhoods, parents, or environments. Brooks came to each of the interviews wanting to know how the writers handled the emotional impact of writing their books, how they dealt with family and others who might disagree with the revealed "facts" or feel slighted by how they are portrayed in the book, and how the writers felt when they finally (sometimes after more than a decade of work) held the published work in their hands. She was not interested in the craft of memoir writing as such; In Writing Hard Stories is not a writing manual for would-be memoirists. In Writing Hard Stories opens with the author's interview of celebrated writer Andres Dubus III, an interview in which Dubus offers the reader some of the fundamental truths about memoir-writing: "...We can all create a time line for the chronology of events in our stories. It's the figuring out the meaning within that chronology and understanding its impact that make the writing part challenging." (Brooks paraphrasing Dubus) "You've got to paint your story with a deeply subjective brush. The nature of truth is that it's largely subjective." (Dubus) "In memoir, emotional truth can often diverge from the bare facts of what actually happened. [...] The voices of doubt in our heads sometimes makes us second-guess our own experiences, trying to sabotage our processes, but it's important to honor our memories." (Brooks paraphrasing Dubus) "The past is not the past. We all bring every second of our lives to who we are today." (Dubus) Brooks was able to connect with an outstanding group of memoir writers, including Mark Doty, Monica Wood, Edwidge Danticat, Kyoko Mori, Suzanne Strempek Shea, and Kim Stafford. Each of the writers, all eighteen of them, graciously opened their homes or offices to Brooks and seemed to be as interested in her own efforts to put the 1995 loss of her father to AIDS to paper as she was in their already-published work. Despite their varied backgrounds and experiences, Brooks found a common theme in what those writers who have already done "the hard work" had to say about writing memoirs. As Brooks puts it, "carrying around the terrible weight of hard stories without ever seeking a way to transform it into something lighter - even something beautiful - is a whole lot harder." In the end, memoirs are a way for their writers to "come to terms" with the trauma they have experienced, to tear the experience apart and put it back together in a way that will mean something to others suffering similar trauma – even to allowing, or encouraging, their readers to find a way to deal with and understand their own past. Writing Hard Stories is a book that anyone contemplating writing a memoir of their own should read both for the encouragement it offers and for the insights to be gained from those who have already survived the process, those who have done “the hard work.”

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    “Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma” offers information gleaned from eighteen authors. Melanie Brooks conceived the concept for the boo when she became increasingly compelled to write a memoir of a difficult time in her life. She wondered how memoirists experienced the writing itself. How did they withstand reliving heart-breaking events while writing about them? She brought that curiosity to a series of interviews. Each interview comprises a chapter in the bo “Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma” offers information gleaned from eighteen authors. Melanie Brooks conceived the concept for the boo when she became increasingly compelled to write a memoir of a difficult time in her life. She wondered how memoirists experienced the writing itself. How did they withstand reliving heart-breaking events while writing about them? She brought that curiosity to a series of interviews. Each interview comprises a chapter in the book. They all serve the dual purposes of sharing that author's perspective and answering Brooks question to herself, "Will I find the strength to write my own memoir?" The authors share valuable insights for aspiring memoirists. Several suggest their memoir had to be written despite their best efforts to avoid writing it. It took Joan Wickersham a long time to come around to writing "The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order." First, she tried to write a novel that encompassed some of the aspects of her story. She couldn't interest her publisher. When Wickersham finally began writing some of the story as memoir she uncovered a personal truth: "Even though it was incredibly painful, I was feeling this utter excitement. It was joyous. I knew that this writing was expressing what I need to express. I had been flailing and then I was in there." The authors included in the book cover a wide spectrum of humanity. While grief and loss are shared themes in many of the memoirs, there are also memoirists who wrote about gender reassignment, childhood abuse, or overcoming a culture steeped in violence. The chapters follow a similar pattern. They offer a description of the author's memoir or memoirs, a description of the setting of the interview, the ideas covered in the interview, and how Brooks applied another author's insights to her own quandary. About halfway through the book that pattern became tedious requiring me to take a lengthy break. However, I was curious about the remaining authors and returned to read about them all. The chapters are also largely discrete, with only a few minor references to material in other chapters. A reader could dip into the book at random intervals or by reading known authors first. “Writing Hard Stories” provides ample material for an aspiring memoirist to consider. It is also a good book for people looking for memoirs to read. I can attest to this last as I added numerous additional titles to an already lengthy want-to-read list. Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Bravo! This book does so many things: it invites us to spend time with authors whose works we've admired, it gives us an inside look at their processes, and it engages with some of the most difficult questions that memoirists face when confronting difficult material. I recommend it to everyone who writes, and really, anyone who reads, memoir. Bravo! This book does so many things: it invites us to spend time with authors whose works we've admired, it gives us an inside look at their processes, and it engages with some of the most difficult questions that memoirists face when confronting difficult material. I recommend it to everyone who writes, and really, anyone who reads, memoir.

  8. 4 out of 5

    bianca guerrero

    I think this book changed my life — it might be too soon to tell, but it certainly feels like it did. I read it at the right time — during a super reflective period of my life, right when I had started going back to therapy, and after my creative side had come out to play for the year. It pushed me to write about possibly the hardest experience I’ve ever had. It helped me realized how deeply I had buried the lede in a story I wrote months ago and gave some tips as to how to dig what I really wan I think this book changed my life — it might be too soon to tell, but it certainly feels like it did. I read it at the right time — during a super reflective period of my life, right when I had started going back to therapy, and after my creative side had come out to play for the year. It pushed me to write about possibly the hardest experience I’ve ever had. It helped me realized how deeply I had buried the lede in a story I wrote months ago and gave some tips as to how to dig what I really wanted to say out. Having finished this book, I am even more committed to using writing (journaling, essay writing, & whatever else) to explore myself for my own gain and growth. Basically, this book is a bunch of short narrative interviews Brooks held with memoirists she loves. The memoirists all have books on trauma — from their their childhood, families, neighborhoods, religions; due to death, loss, etc. Brooks asks them about what writing their stories what like and what it did for them. The authors are honest and authentic and I came away wanting to read all of their books. Their answers (and Brooks’ questions) are brilliant and moving and thought-provoking. This book makes one thing clear: you have a right to your story. Its yours and no one can take that away from you. You shouldn’t worry about your perspective being only one of many, and you are in charge of how much weight other’s opinions of your perspective have. Writing can set you free — don’t let other people get in the way of that. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes to write or read memoirs, and to anyone who has been afraid, discouraged or not confident enough to write personal essays. It’s short and very easy to read, though it took me a long time to get through because it gave me a lot to think and act on. I plan on writing a letter or email to Brooks thanking her for this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Blythe

    "The worst story we can tell ourselves is that we are alone." Melanie Brooks is trying to write a memoir about her father, who died of HIV due to an infected blood transfusion. Finding it difficult to approach a subject that was so personal and so painful, she began to seek out the wisdom of memoirists who had written about their own painful stories and shared them with the world. These interviews comprise the heart of this book, which unveils the process of juggling hard memories with the craft "The worst story we can tell ourselves is that we are alone." Melanie Brooks is trying to write a memoir about her father, who died of HIV due to an infected blood transfusion. Finding it difficult to approach a subject that was so personal and so painful, she began to seek out the wisdom of memoirists who had written about their own painful stories and shared them with the world. These interviews comprise the heart of this book, which unveils the process of juggling hard memories with the craft of writing a good story, how to tell one's personal truth, how to deal with the reactions afterward, and how sharing one's own specific story can connect with reader remind them and the author that they are not alone in their experiences after all. For those wishing to start or continue writing a memoir, then this book might be a balm, a reminder that it can be done, providing insight into the processes of some masters of the craft. For fans of memoirs, the book provides a backdoor look into how many of these amazing stories were written and the impact it had on the author's lives. For me, this provided both while also increasing my TBR list, because dang if there's not a bunch of these memoirs that I need to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    As a writer and someone who works with adults to tell their stories I found this to be one of the most helpful and educational books on writing I've read. A student forwarded me the Brevity interview. I promptly requested the library acquire the book, and then like everyone else I've told had to go purchase it myself. At my local bookstore the owner had already heard I was on my way, and then just asked, "How many people do you think you'll be sending?" I've been practically evangelical about th As a writer and someone who works with adults to tell their stories I found this to be one of the most helpful and educational books on writing I've read. A student forwarded me the Brevity interview. I promptly requested the library acquire the book, and then like everyone else I've told had to go purchase it myself. At my local bookstore the owner had already heard I was on my way, and then just asked, "How many people do you think you'll be sending?" I've been practically evangelical about the book. I was engaged from the first words. The thread of what was Brooks' personal quest through the writers links them, creating a narrative arc rather than stand alone interviews. I work with people working on hard stories. I found every interview fascinating and something I wanted to underline/share with one student or another in each profile. Plus it made me want to call up Melanie and talk memoir. I recommend this book, not just for those trying to tell their stories but for those who want to learn about how anyone can process their experiences. Extremely valuable and will be "required" reading for all my students.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Barrett

    So you want to write that story—yes that story; the one you’ve carried inside for so long; the one true story about love, loss, grief, and the moment that changed your life. You’ve tried to put pen to paper and stopped. It hurt too much, your family wouldn’t understand, and you don’t want to cause anyone pain or embarrassment: there are so many reasons not to write it, but the memory won’t go away and you know you need to write about it to set it free. Author Melanie Brooks understands those fee So you want to write that story—yes that story; the one you’ve carried inside for so long; the one true story about love, loss, grief, and the moment that changed your life. You’ve tried to put pen to paper and stopped. It hurt too much, your family wouldn’t understand, and you don’t want to cause anyone pain or embarrassment: there are so many reasons not to write it, but the memory won’t go away and you know you need to write about it to set it free. Author Melanie Brooks understands those feelings, all the doubts, and unanswered what ifs; so she sought out and interviewed her favorite Memoirists and let them talk about the process of writing difficult to tell stories. The common experiences of taking this writing journey is a treasure, one I hope every writer of memoir will get a copy of and excavate the gems waiting to be discovered. Having written my own hard story I related to so many things these authors said they experienced and worried about. This is the book that needs to be on your shelf next to Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird. 5 stars.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gayle Pritchard

    I had the pleasure of listening to a reading by the author at Hippocamp 2017, and was moved to purchase her book. I am so glad I did! It’s an inspiration and a series of letters if encouragement all in one place. Melanie’s writing is beautiful, her questions derp, and her method of weaving her own process into the interviews is intriguing and interesting. She takes us on her journey, and we all learn on the way.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nanako Mizushima

    This 200 page paperback book will have a permanent home on my small bookshelf. In addition to introducing me to wonderful memoirs, this book is packed with useful advice from eighteen great writers -- including Andre Dubus III, Kyoko Mori and Richard Blanco. Each of the eighteen chapters is based on an interview with one writer. I'm sure I'll reread parts of this book as I shape my own story. Just when I felt discouraged after thinking about my book for so many years, scribbling many mediocre sh This 200 page paperback book will have a permanent home on my small bookshelf. In addition to introducing me to wonderful memoirs, this book is packed with useful advice from eighteen great writers -- including Andre Dubus III, Kyoko Mori and Richard Blanco. Each of the eighteen chapters is based on an interview with one writer. I'm sure I'll reread parts of this book as I shape my own story. Just when I felt discouraged after thinking about my book for so many years, scribbling many mediocre short stories and essays, and getting lost and confused writing a 300 page manuscript, this book has helped me realize my experience is typical for memoirists who are tackling large subjects. In my case, it's my relatives' experience in Japan during WWII, the internment of Japanese-American relatives, and their immigration to this country before and after the war. The memoirists interviewed in this book wrote about suicide, traumatic childhoods, alienation and personal tragedies almost too hard to bear. It was a relief to learn that many of these professional writers struggled for years to figure out how to tell their stories. Some experimented by writing fiction first. Others wrote poetry or essays. In all cases, the process took many years of writing, rewriting, thinking and rethinking. Creative non-fiction is a huge undertaking. Much more complicated than fiction writing. In a nutshell -- first comes the "child's story" -- this happened, then this happened, then this happened. Next is research and fact-checking. Then finally the "adult's story" must be written and woven into the child's story -- what is the arc of the story? What do all these events mean to me? How does my story relate to these events? Most importantly, all of the memoirists felt the process of writing not only helped them heal and come to terms with their experiences, but they were delighted to find the final draft of their stories, "the art shaped from trauma", helped many others deal with their own life challenges. Writing is a lonely occupation for the most part, but in the end, if the writer succeeds, makes the writer feel she is part of a much larger community, the human family. I'm looking forward to reading many of the memoirs mentioned in this book and taking the next steps in writing my story.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    In this book, Melanie Brooks shares what she has learned from prominent memoirists who had painful stories to tell. She begins by explaining that she is trying to write a memoir about her father, who became infected with HIV from a blood transfusion during surgery in the mid-80s. He died 10 years later and Melanie has carried the pain of her loss ever since. In order to get a better understanding of how writers are capable of writing their stories of personal pain and loss, Melanie interviews 18 In this book, Melanie Brooks shares what she has learned from prominent memoirists who had painful stories to tell. She begins by explaining that she is trying to write a memoir about her father, who became infected with HIV from a blood transfusion during surgery in the mid-80s. He died 10 years later and Melanie has carried the pain of her loss ever since. In order to get a better understanding of how writers are capable of writing their stories of personal pain and loss, Melanie interviews 18 writers, including Abigail Thomas, Andres Dubus III, Mark Doty, Richard Hoffman and Marianne Leone. Each writer offers encouragement and support with generosity and openness about their own grief and struggles. Some writers even invite Melanie into their homes. This books gives us a glimpse into each author's heart break, guilt and fear they faced as they struggled to write what had to be written. Monica Wood wrote about her father's death in a small mill town in Maine. She offered her perspective on the universal appeal of a memoir - "What I've discovered about memoirs and the reason why people love them is that every family story in one way or another is everyone's family story." I appreciate that Melanie has shared this deeply personal chapter of her own life story with us as she comes to terms with her fears. Anyone who reads memoirs, teaches writing or wants to write a memoir will find this book worth reading. Anyone who is dealing with trauma and loss may be able to find comfort in a common theme presented by each author - we are not alone.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Danni Green

    This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. I thought it would be a collection of writings about writing hard stories from the people who wrote them, whereas it turned out to be a collection of post-interview reflections where the interviewees are all memoirists but the stories are all written by the author of the book. It seemed like an odd way to handle the purported topic of this book, to tell 18 other people's stories about how they told their stories. It was actually confusing each time I This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. I thought it would be a collection of writings about writing hard stories from the people who wrote them, whereas it turned out to be a collection of post-interview reflections where the interviewees are all memoirists but the stories are all written by the author of the book. It seemed like an odd way to handle the purported topic of this book, to tell 18 other people's stories about how they told their stories. It was actually confusing each time I started a new chapter and found it written in 3rd person; I kept expecting each chapter to be written by the person it was about, even once I knew that wasn't really what was happening in this book. I was also relly expecting and hoping a book that would help me as the reader think about and reflect on what memoir-writing could be like for someone doing it, and instead because the book was only written by the one author and that author didn't really even talk about her own writing process very much, I felt like that opportunity was really missed. I just didn't feel like filtering all these people's stories through the one writer's lens was effective for what I imagined she was trying to achieve. I would love to read this author's own memoir when she's written it, though! I will say that as a current Bostonian myself, I enjoyed this book more than I might have otherwise, because it focuses so particularly on memoirists from the Boston area since that's where the interviews seemed to take place.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Esme

    This was not the book I was expecting. It was on display at the library, and there could have been a sign pointing to it, "Here! This one is definitely for you." I have been curious about the idea of what it feels like emotionally to write a trauma memoir. Trauma memoir seems to be my genre of choice -- I am drawn to understanding how people survive hardship, process, and cope with what happens in their lives. The book definitely gave me plenty of leads on what to read next, and there were poets This was not the book I was expecting. It was on display at the library, and there could have been a sign pointing to it, "Here! This one is definitely for you." I have been curious about the idea of what it feels like emotionally to write a trauma memoir. Trauma memoir seems to be my genre of choice -- I am drawn to understanding how people survive hardship, process, and cope with what happens in their lives. The book definitely gave me plenty of leads on what to read next, and there were poets mentioned as well with good material to seek out that I would not have discovered otherwise. In this book the author Brooks, an aspiring trauma memoirist herself, interviews well regarded memoirists about their experiences. What I thought I was getting was a series of essays edited or compiled by Brooks. So there were details felt superfluous. I didn't care to hear how well-apportioned the author's house was or how they settled into cozy chairs with mugs of warm tea before they began their talk. The author also makes a point to say how incredibly nice all the people are that consented to be interviewed by her. (Just show us, don't tell us.) We hear repeatedly, I didn't think X person would respond but they did! I'm curious to read Melanie Brook's memoir when it is complete to see if the peccadillos from this are also present in her memoir.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aimee Barnes Pestano

    This is a compelling compilation on the often manic, gut-wrenching process of writing a memoir anchored in the experience of trauma, and explores the myriad ethical dilemmas that authors come up against in writing about the other people involved in their stories. A few takeaways (*spoiler alert*): 1) Most of the memoirs covered in this book took years and years to write due to the emotional toll, various false starts, and the complexities of gathering all the information they needed; 2) Few writer This is a compelling compilation on the often manic, gut-wrenching process of writing a memoir anchored in the experience of trauma, and explores the myriad ethical dilemmas that authors come up against in writing about the other people involved in their stories. A few takeaways (*spoiler alert*): 1) Most of the memoirs covered in this book took years and years to write due to the emotional toll, various false starts, and the complexities of gathering all the information they needed; 2) Few writers felt the need to ask permission from anyone or to run their memoir by loved ones before publishing; 3) A lot of these writers ended up in an MFA program along the way in order to help their process along and find needed support; 4) Many memoir writers wrote several fictionalized accounts of their story before finally biting the bullet and deciding on memoir, often at the behest of professors and other readers. In doing so, some of them learned that they weren't cut out to be novelists in the first place, but rather essayists and memoirists. The book is a useful window into the process or writing, and I recommend it for anyone who is struggling with getting a hard story down on paper, as well as those who love reading narrative non-fiction.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Melanie Brooks' family kept the secret of her father's illness for ten years until he died in 1995 of AIDS, the result of contaminated blood during a surgical transfusion. He was a celebrated general and thoracic surgeon in Canada; in 1985, when he was first diagnosed, the misinformation and panic surrounding AIDS drove the family to secrecy to protect his reputation. Wanting to tell this story, struggling with all its challenges, Brooks set out to interview a number of memoirists who have writt Melanie Brooks' family kept the secret of her father's illness for ten years until he died in 1995 of AIDS, the result of contaminated blood during a surgical transfusion. He was a celebrated general and thoracic surgeon in Canada; in 1985, when he was first diagnosed, the misinformation and panic surrounding AIDS drove the family to secrecy to protect his reputation. Wanting to tell this story, struggling with all its challenges, Brooks set out to interview a number of memoirists who have written "hard stories." These eighteen essays reveal such grace and honesty, a willingness to open their hearts and homes to an earnest and very new writer, making me respect these authors even more, many whose works I have admired for a long time. So many of them simply hoped others would be helped by sharing their stories, knowing that you can reach an understanding of what happened, can survive, can ease the suffering of others by telling your truths; the testimony of readers would prove that has happened. Whether you have a hard story to tell or not, whether you even want to tell your story, this collection is well worth reading about truth and authenticity, living a life with integrity.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Parke

    Melanie Brooks’s Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art From Trauma is the kind of impulse buy destined to become a classic, touchstone text for writers of all kinds. Some have called it a “meta-memoir” because Brooks’s exploration of the challenges of writing her memoir are deftly woven throughout her interviews with some of the most influential memoirists of the past fifty years, tying together many different experiences and perspectives with a reassuring narrative thread. Melanie Brooks’s Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art From Trauma is the kind of impulse buy destined to become a classic, touchstone text for writers of all kinds. Some have called it a “meta-memoir” because Brooks’s exploration of the challenges of writing her memoir are deftly woven throughout her interviews with some of the most influential memoirists of the past fifty years, tying together many different experiences and perspectives with a reassuring narrative thread. Brooks’s crucial question, and the one no one talks about: How were these writers able to survive returning to the most tragic moments of their lives to create such profound art from their pain? I am not a creative non-fiction writer or memoirist, but I’m often drawn to stories based on the triumphs and struggles of real people. I believe we can all learn something--whether its compassion, empathy, or acceptance--from reading about tragedy through the eyes of those who survived it. Writing Hard Stories provides a great “behind the scenes” look at some of the country’s most admired authors and their celebrated books. It is instructive for any writer who wants to learn more about how to find a way into a difficult scene; how to structure their story; how to write about loss in a way that conveys life, humor, and hope; and what to leave out. Some of these essays are poignant, some wry, and one or two made me laugh out loud (thanks Kyoko Mori, Marianne Leone, and Kate Bornstein). As an added bonus, I was exposed to many authors I never would have discovered on my own. The author quotes a lot of wisdom from the writers she interviewed, but Brooks is a sensitive, compelling storyteller in her own right. In her Afterword, Brooks contemplates what she calls “the intersection of grief” in a poignant scene: “The worst story that we can tell ourselves is that we are alone. Human experience is universal though the specifics might vary. On the day I stood watching my friend’s son confront the impossible grief in that moment of losing his father, the grief I’d felt when I lost mine entered that room. My loss connected to his, and I knew that in that intersection, I had comfort to offer.” You could call is a meta-memoir, but I believe Brooks’s search for answers, like memoir itself, speaks to a larger uncertainty that makes us human. And in today’s troubling political and social climates, I’m glad this book exists as a resource to help others learn to tell their hard stories and--hopefully--feel less alone.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    In "Writing Hard Stories..." Melanie Brooks, a writing student working on her own memoir, shares with us her research into writing hard stories, research done by interviewing a number of authors of memoir depicting their own heartbreaks, losses, and experiences which had shaped their lives. Most commonly asked question to each author is, "How did you do it?", how were they able to go through the painful process of re-living their trauma as they were getting it down in print; then, having exposed In "Writing Hard Stories..." Melanie Brooks, a writing student working on her own memoir, shares with us her research into writing hard stories, research done by interviewing a number of authors of memoir depicting their own heartbreaks, losses, and experiences which had shaped their lives. Most commonly asked question to each author is, "How did you do it?", how were they able to go through the painful process of re-living their trauma as they were getting it down in print; then, having exposed it to the light of day, how did they feel in the aftermath? One common thread running through all of their experiences was the satisfaction of hearing from readers who connected with their stories in a way that validates the elements of humanity that we all share. Another thing common to each was their encouragement of Ms Brooks to keep on with the challenging, often painful, but always enlightening, and many times healing work, of writing her own memoir, and in so doing, they encourage the reader as well. They all promised her that the difficult work was worth it, and served to free them from, and make peace with the past. Her interviews made me want to read every one of the subject's memoirs. I've recently become fan of this form of storytelling, and perhaps someday have one or two stories of my own to share. I recommend this book to any writer or one who desires to write about their own trauma, and I look forward someday to reading Ms Brooks' finished story of her own.

  21. 5 out of 5

    D.G. Kaye

    I read this book about Brook’s journey to seek out and learn about some esteemed memoir writers to learn about their journeys to writing memoir. Brooks was seeking the essence of how they go about writing their stories, what are the hurdles for them – the most difficult parts, how they feel their work will be received, and will their stories connect with readers and possibly help readers with their own similar journeys in their lives. As a memoir writer myself, I was absorbed into all the storie I read this book about Brook’s journey to seek out and learn about some esteemed memoir writers to learn about their journeys to writing memoir. Brooks was seeking the essence of how they go about writing their stories, what are the hurdles for them – the most difficult parts, how they feel their work will be received, and will their stories connect with readers and possibly help readers with their own similar journeys in their lives. As a memoir writer myself, I was absorbed into all the stories. There is a commonality with memoir writers – the journaling, the scattered notes and journals splayed around our living spaces, the pain on the pages relived, the coming to terms with how we’ve been abused, injured, slighted, or triumphed in life in some way. Many of us memoir writers start out wanting to fictionalize our stories, sometimes afraid to step up and own them personally, only the brave step up to the plate and write our own truths. Read this book and find out how various writers hone their craft.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rita Ciresi

    This collection of interviews with celebrated memoirists moves away from that overly discussed question of how to tell the truth in creative nonfiction and looks at ways that authors can confront the emotional core of their story and craft it into art. This book would make a great text for introductory creative nonfiction courses and a perfect gift for student writers seeking advice on how to tell their own stories. More experienced writers will welcome the chance to sit down with some of their This collection of interviews with celebrated memoirists moves away from that overly discussed question of how to tell the truth in creative nonfiction and looks at ways that authors can confront the emotional core of their story and craft it into art. This book would make a great text for introductory creative nonfiction courses and a perfect gift for student writers seeking advice on how to tell their own stories. More experienced writers will welcome the chance to sit down with some of their favorite authors and learn more about their process. This collection includes interviews with many well-known memoirists such as Sue William Silverman, Edwidge Danticat, Richard Blanco, and the ever-entertaining Abigail Thomas, and introduces readers to many new and exciting authors. I especially liked that this volume included many female voices.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Ms. Brooks wanted to write a memoir that she knew would be painful to write. She wondered how other memoirists managed to write about difficult subjects and instead of just thinking about it, she emailed writers and asked for interviews with them. I think that was brave of her! The various writers agreed to talk to her. What we end up with are fascinating stories of how each one dealt with writing hard stories and how the public reacted to the books. In each case readers wrote or met with the au Ms. Brooks wanted to write a memoir that she knew would be painful to write. She wondered how other memoirists managed to write about difficult subjects and instead of just thinking about it, she emailed writers and asked for interviews with them. I think that was brave of her! The various writers agreed to talk to her. What we end up with are fascinating stories of how each one dealt with writing hard stories and how the public reacted to the books. In each case readers wrote or met with the authors and said, "That happened to me, too, and your story helped me." If you are thinking of writing a memoir but find the subject difficult to revisit, take a look at Writing Hard Stories. Other writers' struggles and triumphs will help you with yours.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura Hancock

    Brooks interviews memoirists to learn how to write about trauma. I learned a lot: whether to care what other family members think of your story and why; how to structure your story; whether or not it was healing or hurtful to bring up the painful past. Each author’s response was different to an extent. I wanted more advice on how to write when it hurts to put down the words, when your heart is racing and you want to run away from it. How to keep going when it’s so hard. Some authors seemed to ar Brooks interviews memoirists to learn how to write about trauma. I learned a lot: whether to care what other family members think of your story and why; how to structure your story; whether or not it was healing or hurtful to bring up the painful past. Each author’s response was different to an extent. I wanted more advice on how to write when it hurts to put down the words, when your heart is racing and you want to run away from it. How to keep going when it’s so hard. Some authors seemed to arrogantly assume that one HAD to write, otherwise they weren’t a writer. I don’t think that shows any compassion — or understanding — of trauma. I did gain some good insights however. And I found some new memoirs to read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vonetta

    I heard Brooks speak at AWP earlier this year, and I was intrigued by the idea of this book. It wasn't what I was expecting, but I definitely wasn't disappointed. I think I expected more of a guidebook, but it wound up being much more emotionally accessible. The lesson I learned is that, essentially, writers are people, too. We go through hard things and each one us has a journey to even get to the place of writing about what happened to us. I felt encouraged after reading this, knowing that my I heard Brooks speak at AWP earlier this year, and I was intrigued by the idea of this book. It wasn't what I was expecting, but I definitely wasn't disappointed. I think I expected more of a guidebook, but it wound up being much more emotionally accessible. The lesson I learned is that, essentially, writers are people, too. We go through hard things and each one us has a journey to even get to the place of writing about what happened to us. I felt encouraged after reading this, knowing that my story is worth telling and I just have to not give up doing it, no matter how much I feel like an impostor.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    So many of these interviews are about truly terrible life experiences - I constantly wonder at the cruelty of people. Some of these stories are unlucky (Monica Wood, for example) but others are just terrible and make one wonder at the human being's inhumanity to another human being. I think it is fascinating that so many of these authors felt so much better after writing their hard story down (since I am not a writer or an aspiring writer). I will be interested to read Melanie Brooks's memoir wh So many of these interviews are about truly terrible life experiences - I constantly wonder at the cruelty of people. Some of these stories are unlucky (Monica Wood, for example) but others are just terrible and make one wonder at the human being's inhumanity to another human being. I think it is fascinating that so many of these authors felt so much better after writing their hard story down (since I am not a writer or an aspiring writer). I will be interested to read Melanie Brooks's memoir when it comes out. Her story sounds pretty amazing too.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lyn Smith

    I loved reading how each of these memoirists faced the emotional challenges of writing their "hard story". Melanie made it clear that she had interviewed all those involved, either in person, by email etc, so I understood the concept of bringing this particular book to life. I gained valuable insights into writing a difficult story, those ones we sometimes hesitate to write for a variety of reasons, but knowing that others have done, and done it brilliantly, before us, gives us direction and moti I loved reading how each of these memoirists faced the emotional challenges of writing their "hard story". Melanie made it clear that she had interviewed all those involved, either in person, by email etc, so I understood the concept of bringing this particular book to life. I gained valuable insights into writing a difficult story, those ones we sometimes hesitate to write for a variety of reasons, but knowing that others have done, and done it brilliantly, before us, gives us direction and motivation to pick up our pen and just write!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lori Johnstone

    Just what I needed to read, at the perfect time to ignite some writing energy. It gave me hope, from others who know the personal agony involved in getting the story down right, and to survive the emotional impact of the process. I would say that Melanie's book is important, even necessary for would be memoirists. I am so glad that I stumbled across it, and am very thankful to the author for putting this out there into the hands of those who need it. XO Just what I needed to read, at the perfect time to ignite some writing energy. It gave me hope, from others who know the personal agony involved in getting the story down right, and to survive the emotional impact of the process. I would say that Melanie's book is important, even necessary for would be memoirists. I am so glad that I stumbled across it, and am very thankful to the author for putting this out there into the hands of those who need it. XO

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jen Dupree

    With this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Melanie Brooks has written the craft book every writer (memoirist or not) needs. It's more than a how-to, it's a how-to-survive. How to survive digging deep, examining hard truths, telling the most important stories. Brooks gets the answers because she asks the questions with warmth, depth, and intelligence. With this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Melanie Brooks has written the craft book every writer (memoirist or not) needs. It's more than a how-to, it's a how-to-survive. How to survive digging deep, examining hard truths, telling the most important stories. Brooks gets the answers because she asks the questions with warmth, depth, and intelligence.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    I picked up this book and I'm glad I did. Reading the interviews and the information shared by each author of memior was enlightening and informative. I appreciate how Melanie Brokes not only entertained but allowed for much needed lessons on memior writing. I will be reading most of these authors memiors to gain further knowledge on writing the hard stories. Very vuable. I picked up this book and I'm glad I did. Reading the interviews and the information shared by each author of memior was enlightening and informative. I appreciate how Melanie Brokes not only entertained but allowed for much needed lessons on memior writing. I will be reading most of these authors memiors to gain further knowledge on writing the hard stories. Very vuable.

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