What’s Your Favorite “Coming of Age” Story?

Cherry: A Memoir by Mary Karr

Most people who’ve raised children to adulthood would agree with Raymond Duncan who says,”the best substitute for experience is being sixteen.” But, did you know that some of the most popular books today are teenage “Coming of Age” memoirs? While almost every parent I know thinks their own teen is a drama queen/king, most would not consider junior’s life worth mining for art’s sake. Surely we all know by now that most adults are wrong.

As Oscar Wilde says, “The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.”

My own book, Cracking Up, was written with hopes of helping “crack up” my own teen girrrls—six nieces. I’d rather they laugh than go crazy being raised within the nutty walls of our Conservative Roman Catholic schools (the same ones that I’d attended). Though I loved writing every one of my books, my own coming-of-age memoir is not my most cherished one.

What’s your favorite coming of age story? I have so many, I don’t know where to begin. But, I’ll pick just one for now and hope you’ll share yours with the rest of us here. Mine is Cherry written by prizewinning poet and memoirist, Mary Karr. You may remember her bestselling and earliest work called The Liars’ Club.

While I’d never call Mary Karr “scrappy,” the briefest book reviews seem to use that adjective to describe her. See some reviews/summaries here on Powells.com.


“Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath.” ~ Arnold H. Glasow

Mary Karr told the prizewinning tale of her hardscrabble Texas childhood with enough literary verve to spark a renaissance in memoir. The Liars’ Club rode the top of The New York Times bestseller list for more than a year, and publications ranging from The New Yorker to People magazine picked it as one of the best books of the year. But it left people wondering: How’d that scrappy kid make it outa there? Cherry dares to tell that story. Karr picks up the trail and dashes off into her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom.

In this long-awaited sequel, we see Karr ultimately trying to run from the thrills and terrors of her sexual awakening by butting up against authority in all its forms. She lands all too often in the principal’s office and — in one instance — a jail cell. Looking for a lover or heart’s companion who’ll make her feel whole, she hooks up with an outrageous band of surfers and heads, wanna-be yogis and bona fide geniuses.

Karr’s edgy, brilliant prose careens between hilarity and tragedy, and Cherry takes readers to a place never truly explored — deep inside a girl’s stormy, ardent adolescence. Parts will leave you gasping with laughter. But its soaring close proves that from even the smokiest beginnings a solid self can form, one capable of facing down all manner of monsters.


“Readers seduced by Karr’s canny memoir of a childhood spent under the spell of a volatile, defiantly loving family in The Liars’ Club can look forward to more exquisite writing in this sequel focusing on her adolescence in a dusty Texas town…. Moving effortlessly from breathtaking, to heart stabbing, to laugh out loud raucous, the precision and sheer beauty of Karr’s writing remains astounding.” ~ Publishers Weekly


“Karr proves herself as fluent in evoking the common ground of adolescence as she did in limning her anomalous girlhood. As she did in The Liars’ Club, Ms. Karr combines a poet’s lyricism and a Texan’s down-home vernacular with her natural storytelling gift. Some of her stories are nostalgic for a vanished time and place; some are scathing in their evocation of an insular world; some are just plain funny.” ~ Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times


In the long-awaited sequel to The Liars’ Club, Karr picks up the trail of her hardscrabble Texas childhood and dashes off into her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom. The book’s soaring close proves that from even the smokiest beginnings a solid self can form, one capable of facing down all manners of monsters.


From Mary Karr comes this gorgeously written, often hilarious story of her tumultuous teens and sexual coming-of-age. Picking up where the bestselling The Liars’ Club left off, Karr dashes down the trail of her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom. Fleeing the thrills and terrors of adolescence, she clashes against authority in all its forms and hooks up with an unforgettable band of heads and bona-fide geniuses. Parts of Cherry will leave you gasping with laughter. Karr assembles a self from the smokiest beginnings, delivering a long- awaited sequel that is both “bawdy and wise.” ~ San Francisco Chronicle
Karr is also an award-winning poet who claims, “Working on poems is like cheating on your husband; it’s what I really want to do but they won’t pay me for it.”
Want to write a different kind of memoir? Call today to set up a 30″ complimentary sample session to see what we might create together: 206.617-8832 or design your own package.

Why Keep A Journal?

“Keeping a journal is the foundation of creative writing.” ~ Susan Tiberghien

Susan Tiberghien and friends

Why keep a journal? Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • To establish the habit of writing.
  • To find out what’s up with me (emotionally).
  • To capture memories.
  • To discover what I think and feel about what’s going on in and all around me.
  • To find my writer’s voice (i.e., there’s power in authenticity).
  • To take risks and experiment with my writing.
  • To plant seeds for poetry, personal essays, my memoir and memoir coaching.
“Just begin to write. Start with a date and title. Get whatever comes to mind down on paper or on your computer screen. Only buy writing on a regular basis, getting into the habit of writing, will you become a good writer.” ~ Susan Tiberghien

Why do you keep a journal?

Susan Tiberghien is an American-born writer living in Geneva, Switzerland. She holds a BA in Literature and Philosophy (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and did graduate work at the Université de Grenoble and the C.G. Jung Institute of Zurich. She has published three memoirs, Looking for Gold, One Year in Jungian Analysis (Daimon Verlag, 1997, Circling to the Center, A Woman’s Encounter with Silent Prayer (Paulist Press, 2001), and Footsteps, A European Journal, 1955-1990 (Xlibris, 2004) and numerous narrative essays in journals and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic. Her new book, One Year to a Writing Life, Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft, was published in September 2007 (Da Capo, Perseus Books.)

Read more about Tiberghien on Journal Writing from my favorite blogger, Dave Hood, HERE.

One Year to a Writing Life

Looking for Gold

Footsteps on the Path

Want to write a different kind of memoir? Call today to set up a 30″ complimentary sample session to see what we might create together: 206.617-8832 or design your own package.

For Whom Am I Writing A Memoir? Does it Matter?

Think about your reader; she'll thank you.

“Your diary is meant solely for a reader of one.” ~ Margaret Atwood

Writing a memoir can be liberating, perhaps even illuminating for you as well as your loved ones—even if your story is news to them. It can be a poignant way to reflect on your life up until this present moment. But, unless your writing from life is a diary, don’t forget to think about your audience, your future readership. Ask yourself, “For whom am I writing this memoir?

In Faith Born of Seduction, my first published book, though not a formal memoir, I chose to use my life experience as the lens to read the lives of other women—the ones just like me—who had been struggling with weight, food, body image and religion (spiritual issues) after experiencing domestic and sexual violence. These were concerns of mine and after attending so many support groups for one or the other issue (food and religious imagination, abuse and body image, etc.), they all seemed to come together again and again. I had to write about this crystalization AND still, I was afraid of “outing” myself and my upstanding, Roman Catholic family. Like the nine women I interviewed, I decided to remain anonymous. For some of the authors I work with, remaining anonymous feels to be the wisest choice. Why? Whether it’s true or not, some authors choose this kind of protection because of one or more of the following concerns:

1. They’re on the run.

2. The unveiling the truth of their experience makes them feel vulnerable.

3. They’re not ready to deal with the repercussions of their disclosures.

4. They’re ashamed of their past experiences and/or the unskillful choices they’ve made.

I came out of the shadows in my second book, Loving Life As It Is. I published that one myself. Those stories were my own and drew from my experiences within the institution of marriage, my audience was other people like me…people—probably women who peruse those self-help aisles in bookstores—who felt like fools for getting married when anyone in their right mind would not have made the same mistake. In this recollection, I kept in mind an anxious reader who might want spiritual and philosophical support because the only free support groups available to them seemed to be found in churches or 12-step groups—ones fraught with god talk. Because I was a philosophy professor who looked at psychology and gender issues within world traditions, I had ample material to guide women to think outside the cultural traditions that may have led them to make self-abandoning mistakes in partnering.

My third book that held a memoir-like framework is called Cracking Up: A Letter to My Nieces. It was meant to be a sardonic warning to girls raised with strict “good Catholic girl” mandates. That my nieces may never be the actual readers of this book, doesn’t diminish the utility of having them in mind. The majority of girls and women will find themselves in those pages whether they are as “liberated” as Lady GaGa or as conservative as Ann Coulter (sometimes called “Beltway Barbie”).

My fourth book, Polishing the Mirror, was also a book for which I used the lens of my (midlife) life after job loss to support others feeling similar horrors of confusion and existential despair. I I figured cultivating calm, stilling thoughts, dusting off social conditioning, and letting go of worry about the future certainly couldn’t hurt t before “going out there” to trade your talents for pay. It offers about 90 days of techniques and clever questions to help the reader uncover hidden passions, psycho-social temperament and natural talents, which, in turn, give them an increasingly sharp focus for going forward. I continue to find these methods helpful and still share them with my clients. Again, the reader’s benefit has been my priority—of course I like to test the benefits myself first.

I’m fairly sure my readers have been glad to have been considered so important to me. Thinking of my writing as a missive for them continues to guide me when I feel like I’m losing focus or forgetting the purpose of the book that I had in mind originally. I encourage you, memoir writer, to think about them not just for them but for yourself.

Want to write a different kind of memoir? Why don’t you take up my offer to have a complimentary sample session to see what we might create together. Call today to set up a 30-minute appointment: 206.617-8832 or pick a package.

Memoir Writing Contest deadlines and themes for 2011

We announced our 11 memoir writing contests for 2011 in our blog post on January 7. Since many people come directly to this Contest tab on our website, we are repeating the information here. We are quite excited about this year’s contests and look forward to receiving your contest entries. As you’ll see, the themes relate to the months but can be interpreted in many ways. We are always open to creativity.

As we like to say, “You can’t win unless to take the first step to enter.” Sometimes submitting to a contest means moving outside our normal comfort zones. However, we invite you to do just that. Share you stories with others.

By now there’s only a few more contests for memoirists via our site.

Memoir Writing Contest #5 for 2011: Deadline is May 31, 2011. Memoir Writing Contest Theme: Remembering Junes of the Past. Contest entries might focus on celebrating Father’s Day. Did you and your siblings get or make your father a special gift or meal? Did Father’s Day have any special traditions when you were young? What about Father’s Day celebrations as an adult? In most states, June represents the end of school, an occasion marked with joy by children but not necessarily by all adults. All types of memories are welcome here. Father’s Day this year, by the way, is June 19. The winner(s) will be published in June.

Memoir Writing Contest #6 for 2011: Deadline is June 30, 2011. Memoir Writing Contest Theme: Independence Day. You might take this topic literally or figuratively. Let your mind wrap around a special July 4th and tell us about it. Or, you may have your own story of independence from a bad job or a bad marriage. Focus your story on independence. The winner(s) will be published in July.

Memoir Writing Contest #7 for 2011: Deadline is August 31, 2011. Memoir Writing Contest Theme: Labor Day. This topic is meant to expand rather than restrict your creativity. You might have a story for a specific Labor Day. But you can also consider when you were in labor with your first child or when you were first in the labor force or going back to school right after Labor Day. The winner(s) will be published in September.

Memoir Writing Contest #8 for 2011: Deadline is September 30, 2011. Memoir Writing Contest Topic: Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. As you may know by now, Halloween is Kendra’s favorite holiday. Our Rosie the Riveter bandana is always popular to create an easy and inexpensive and EMPOWERED look for a Halloween party or even for handing out treats to the children who ring your doorbell. Send us your story of a Halloween costume or Halloween party. Maybe you’ll recall the excitement of going out trick or treating with your parents or when you first took your child for the candy walk. The winner(s) will be published in October.

Memoir Writing Contest #9 for 2011: Deadline is October 31, 2011. Memoir Writing Contest Theme: Gratitude. This is a special topic. Thanksgiving is a time to consider all that we are grateful in our lives. No matter today’s circumstances, we can still express gratitude for friendships or kindnesses or health or family or co-workers or surroundings or music or … Write to express your gratitude. The winner(s) will be published in November.

Memoir Writing Contest #10 for 2011: Deadline is November 30, 2011. Memoir Writing Contest Topic: December Holidays. Stories of the holiday season are an important part of our experience base from childhood through adulthood. Although we have both sad and happy memories of earlier times in our lives, let’s focus on happy or poignant moments for the November 2011 contest. The winner(s) will be published in December.

Memoir Writing Contest #11 for 2011: Deadline is December 31, 2011. Memoir Writing Contest Topic: Writers’ New Year’s Resolutions. This contest is different. Send us your New Year’s resolutions and we’ll publish a collection of them. Inspire yourself with your resolutions and we’re share them with others. Before December 31, 2011 brings the year to an end, be ready with your writing goals for 2012. If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know if you got there? Resolutions will be published in January 2012.

Tips for Writing Memoir Contest Entries:

1. About 1000 words but we accept fewer and greater.

2. Copy your entry into the text of an email to: Matilda@womensmemoirs.com (WomensMemoirs.com). We can accept .doc files but it is easier for us to take your entry from an email. Do not submit .pdf files.

3. Attach one or more .jpg or .tif images of your photos. We can re-size them if we publish your story so you don’t need to worry about that.

4. Remember that you are submitting a story. This means that there needs to be a turning point or a consequence or a life lesson learned — not just a string of events.

5. Include details from the five senses, when appropriate. They help to involve readers in the story.

Read more about this HERE!

Want to write a different kind of memoir? Why don’t you take up my offer to have a complimentary sample session to see what we might create together. Call today to set up a 30-minute appointment: 206.617-8832 or pick a package.

“When You Come” by Maya Angelou

When you come to me, unbidden,
Beckoning me
To long-ago rooms,
Where memories lie.

Offering me, as to a child, an attic,
Gatherings of days too few.
Baubles of stolen kisses.
Trinkets of borrowed loves.
Trunks of secret words,


Maya Angelou, "America's most visible black female autobiographer" according to scholar Joanne M. Braxton

Maya Angelou, (born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928) is known best for her series of six autobiographical volumes, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first and most highly acclaimed, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her first seventeen years of life growing up economically poor but wealthy in a voracious hunger for literary knowledge.

This work brought her international recognition, and was nominated for a National Book Award. She has been awarded over 30 honorary degrees and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie.

Angelou, a member of The Harlem Writers Guild in the late 1950s, was active in the Civil Rights movement and served as Northern Coordinator of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)a group which played a large role in the success of the Civil Rights Movement.

Since 1991, she has taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she holds the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies.

Since the 1990s she has made around 80 appearances-a-year on the lecture circuit. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem  On the Pulse of Morning at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

In 1995, she was recognized for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List.

With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou was heralded as a new kind of memoirist, one of the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life. She is highly respected as a spokesperson for Black people and women.

Angelou’s work is often characterized as autobiographical fiction. She has, however, made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books, centered on themes such as identity, family, and racism, are often used as set texts in schools and universities internationally. Some of her more controversial work has been challenged or banned in “Red State” conservative US schools and libraries.

Be sure to schedule a 30-minute complimentary phone consultation via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com. If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.

Who Has Guided Your Life As A Writer? Do Writers Need Mentors?

Zen Practitioner and Straight-forward Writer's Guide

“We are here; we are human beings; this is how we lived; how writers must think. Our details are important.” ~ Natalie Goldberg, author and Zen practitioner

Natalie Goldberg (born 1948) is an American author and is best known for a series of books which explore writing as Zen practice. Goldberg lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

See Goldberg’s Downloads and Books:

Chicken and in Love (1979)
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (1986)
Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life (1990)
Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America (1993)
Banana Rose (1995)
Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World (1997)
Thunder and Lightning (2000)
The Essential Writer’s Notebook (2001)
Top of My Lungs (2002)
The Great Failure (2004)
Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir (2009)

A brief video interview HERE on How to Write

P.S. Not everybody loves best-selling author Natalie Goldberg as their writing mentor… some prefer a more traditional role model like Sol Stein’s, Stein on Writing.

Stein says that “In fiction, the supreme function is not to convey emotions but to create them in the reader.”

Sol Stein is considered by many to be a master editor, publisher, novelist, and writing instructor that knows what writers face when they sit down before a blank page. Several of his books offer handy A–Z reference help for common and more complicated questions: writer’s block, writing a difficult scene, preparing a manuscript for publication or submission, plotting, developing a character, and dozens of other topics, listed alphabetically in the table of contents.

Sol Stein, Editor, Author and Writer's Guide

One of his bestselling books is entitled The Magician. As an editor, his authors included James Baldwin, Elia Kazan, Jack Higgins, and many others. Stein has lectured widely on creative writing, and was given the Distinguished Instructor Award by the University of California at Irvine in 1993.

Be sure to schedule a 30-minute complimentary book consultation via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com.  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.

Memoir Creates Art Out of Life

Who knew my favorite 90s lead singer, Kristin Hersh of the Throwing Muses, would write and publish her memoirs at age 45? Some might say, “She’s too young to recall a long life worthy of a reader’s interest!” But, memoir need not be a long life story at all. Rat Girl is a great example of the difference between anthology and memoir. As Gore Vidal writes in his own memoir, Palimpsests, “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.”

Kristin’s Rat Girl focuses on a year in the life of a freakishly-talented and proudly-odd teenage girrrl and successfully escapes the shackles of drudgery that the autobiography can impose – all those dates, and odious facts! Instead, Hersh creates art out of life, art out of the essence of a lived experience. After all, “Art is seduction,” writes Susan Sontag in her essay On Style. “But art cannot seduce without the complicity of the experiencing subject.”

Hersh takes her insights and weaves them in with the craft of the gifted lyricist that she is. According to the reviewer in Booklist, “Song lyrics and diary entries mix with Hersh’s memories, which read more like poetic, sometimes satiric impressions rather than traditional autobiography….Hersh presents a refreshingly raw, insightful, and singular coming-of-age story.”Again, Hersh is a free-wheeling memoirist not an autobiographer of a life viewed from the illusion of objective taxonomist.

I was lucky to first meet Kirstin through her “hippie philosopher” father while conducting research at Brown U (in Providence, RI). Seeing her that spring morning with her brand new baby and then watching her perform late into the night was something she made seem perfectly “normal.” Though the word normal was never used to describe Kristin as a performer her by music critics.  As a kid she eschewed anything normal, considering it a signifier for a notch on a washer/dryer, but today, she welcomes feelings of normal. In her words, “There’s nothing particularly creative about having a mental illness.”

Kristin Hersh is better than a seductive writer/musical artist, she casts a spell without either one of us looking or understanding what just happened.


Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com.  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.

The founder of a cult rock band shares her outrageous tale of growing up much faster than planned.