Memoir: “Be intimate, or it’s nothing”

George Hodgson, author of Bettyville, came to town. I didn’t reserve a seat but came early enough to grab one of the few chairs left against the back wall of the library auditorium. Mr. Hodgson likes St. Louis and thinks he might move here (yay). Coming from a New Yorker, that’s impressive, but in truth he grew up around here and feels sentimental. Bettyville, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award (voted on by librarians), is a memoir of this “cultured gay man leaving New York City to care for his aging mother” in a very small town in Missouri. At the library talk, he told us a lot about writing.

BettyvilleMr. Hodgson, an editor and article writer with an impressive resume, said he always wanted to write a book. He kept a “little box of treasures,” which were his thoughts that popped up as he went about his life of what would be good in a book. (Note: Many writers keep a writer’s notebook to capture thoughts and ideas and interesting phrases that might be used later.) He began taking notes while caregiving—his mother was quite a character. He said other memoirs he had read were about “saintly mothers and saintly daughters, and we weren’t saintly. Maybe we could be a quirky comedy team.” (Note: If you want to write a memoir, you should read well-written memoirs to see how they are done and to figure out how yours could stand out from the pack.)

Reader reviews mostly praise Bettyville, and George read some beautiful passages of quirky comedy full of love, but many reviewers weren’t happy when Hodgson veered away from mom stories to focus on his own thoughts and experiences. Well, memoirs don’t have to be all about one person. When someone else is hugely involved in your life story, your story can become about relationship, about both of you and your pasts and presents that make you each who you are and that have formed your life together. I thought it so sweet that George said he didn’t end the book with his mother’s death because then he could feel she was still alive—at least in the pages. Of course, some readers weren’t happy with that kind of non ending, but if they only knew the reason. . .

Other interesting memoir-writing tidbits George told us, prompted by audience questions, included that he wrote one character who is a composite of three others in order to protect those others. He was in a small town, after all. He asked permission from someone to write about a tragedy in their life, and he carefully wrote negative things about someone and found they have no clue a character in the book is them (usually a good thing). “I tried not to violate important privacies and I did not want to embarrass my mother.” Several in the audience commented how much love is in this memoir. George read some sections that brought tears of understanding laughter to my eyes, as a former caregiver, but his love and respect for his mother was always evident. George is rather quirky himself, and his dry humor zinged himself as well as others. (Note: You are not perfect, so don’t fake it or readers will find you uninteresting and unrelatable.)

Finally, George said, “Be intimate, or it’s nothing . . . You have to make friends with your readers—tell secrets.” He is a private person, and while he was writing the drafts he thought he could later cut out the parts he didn’t want to tell, but somehow “I seem to have sent the book off. . .” (Note: If you are ghostwriting for a family member or friend, you cannot force them to remember or tell you their inner thoughts and feelings. But ask, see what you can get out of them. Tell them it’s important. People want to know and understand.)

I will read Bettyville with a tissue in hand, to wipe away tears of laughter and pain.


If George Hodgman comes to your town, go early to get a seat

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“Stories lessen the distance between us”

That’s what our church’s youth leader said this morning during his testimony about his time as a Marine in Iraq and how we can learn that others that seem so different are so much alike. During January we were learning about Christianity and Islam—half brothers who don’t understand each other so well. Jess’s statement is a great inspiration for telling stories—and for writing and reading memoir. I have an online friend serving in the south of Africa now, in the Peace Corps, and her friends in the US are horrified at her stories yet feel compassion for the people she is living among. Their culture and their lives in poverty are so different than ours, yet they smile and they love and need love like everyone does. Now we want to send them care packages.

Jess’s statement is also an inspiration for writing family stories. He also said that “we are a continuation of our mothers’ stories.” Not that father’s aren’t important, but our mothers carried us for nine months and gave birth to us, and then raised us. Arguably and for various reasons, mothers can be much closer to their children. Who our mothers were and who they became affect us deeply, forming us. For adoptees, the loss of their birth mother is deeply affecting, and their adoption parents have their backgrounds and experiences to shape lives. Our parents weren’t born parents, they have back stories. What we like or don’t like about them is mostly created from those back stories. Don’t you want to know what those stories are?

Grandma's Hands

Cherry Blossoms Twilight


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Lightning Source and Ingram Spark cost increase

Those who have published with Lightning Source or Ingram Spark should have received an email notifying of cost increase in printing and in handling fee as of February 8. We can change the prices of our books, though, to adjust for this increase. If the price shows on the back cover (perhaps in the bar code?), for a limited time there’s no need to upload a new cover and pay that $40 cost—hurray! This is a good time to re-evaluate the list prices and discount percentages of our books.

Instead of raising the list price of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight to make up for the increased Lightning Source cost, I took advantage of this freebie moment (its price is in the bar code) to finally lower the list price from $12.95 to $9.95. This book, after all, is about ten years old. But, I also lowered the discount rate for book buyers from standard 55% to only 40%. My compensation per sale will be only 9 cents less. Most of my sales these days are for e-books through Kindle Direct, with some print copies sold mainly through Amazon (not book stores), so the 40% discount should not be an issue. What remains to be seen is whether Amazon will now notice this book is through LSI and not their CreateSpace and punish me by showing Cherry Blossoms is not in stock. That’s another reason I resisted changing the price for years. I decided not to change anything for my latest publication, Battlefield Doc: Memoir of a Korean War Combat Medic (Nov 2015).


Lightning Source and Ingram Spark have publisher compensation calculators on their websites, so you can fiddle with your book list price and discount percentage to see what makes sense for you before submitting a change. For now, the calculators will figure compensation for both current pricing and the new pricing, so you can see the difference. These companies process pricing structure changes once a month with the following upcoming cut-off dates:

January 26 – for February start
February 22 – for March start

After February 22, if your book price is showing on the back cover or in the bar code, you will have to pay, as usual, to upload a new cover to make pricing changes. It can be the same cover, just with new price, or choose to have no price showing in the bar code.

See my website Resource page for more information about using Lightning Source/Ingram Spark.

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