A warm blog welcome to author Sue William Silverman. She lets me shine the lamp on her and find out her innermost secrets. Okay, I'm no Bob Woodward. More like Larry King in my interview style here. Let's get to the interview.
You can buy her book here.
How did you pick the genre you write in?
Actually, I began as a fiction writer. Scared to reveal my true story, I kept trying to tell it in a fictional voice. All my unpublished novels are, on some level, about incest or sexual addiction.
But the novels didn’t work. For me, to fictionalize my story (trying to tell the truth—but not), made the voice sound emotionally inauthentic. After about ten or so years of this, I finally, at the urging of my therapist, switched to memoir, or creative nonfiction.
What do you know now that you are published that you didn’t know pre-published that you wish you knew?
That writing is more important than publishing.
Initially, I just assumed that publishing a book would solve all of my problems…in all areas of my life! What was I thinking?!
What I came to understand, however, is that it’s in the writing itself where the real spirituality of artistic endeavor resides. Only when writing do I feel centered and engaged. The publishing is nice, of course, but writing is ultimately more fulfilling.
How many rejections have you received?
Hundreds! I long ago lost count. I still get rejected. But that’s part of the process, especially given how subjective art is. For example, I’ve had an essay rejected in one journal that later won a contest in another!
Oh, I remember one short story that was rejected by a gazillion journals—some so low-budget they basically stapled the pages together. Ultimately, the story was published by a magazine that actually paid me $100—the first money I ever earned as a writer.
What was the best writing advice someone gave you?
That voice is everything. Let’s say you have kind of a shaky plot—or anything like that—still, if the voice of the piece engages me, then I’ll keep reading. I’ll go almost anywhere with an author if her voice is urgent, compelling, inviting.
Why did you pick the publisher that ultimately published your book?
My first book, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs award in creative nonfiction, and part of the prize was publication with the University of Georgia Press! So, in a sense, they chose me, which was very nice!
But I initially chose to enter that particular literary contest because it’s one that has a good reputation. From the outset, I wanted my memoir to be considered literature.
Tell me one thing about yourself that very few people know?
I downloaded all of Adam Lambert’s songs from “American Idol.” See, I must be a creative nonfiction writer: I don’t know how to keep secrets.
Describe your book.
Fearless Confessions is really a memoir about writing memoir. Rather than write an academic textbook (which would have put me to sleep during the writing of it—and you to sleep during the reading of it!), I invite the reader along on my own writing journey.
I teach by example: this is what I struggled with as a writer; this is what I ultimately learned; let me share it with you.
So while I address important craft issues such as theme, plot, character development, metaphor, etc., the voice, itself, of Fearless Confessions is intimate and friendly, not dry or academic. I wanted the book to be informal and inviting. In this way, then, it could be called a memoir about what I learned through the writing and publishing of two memoirs.
I should add that there are also sections on publishing, as well as the more emotional concerns of writing memoir, such as the struggle to reveal family secrets, what truth in memoir means—issues such as those.
What authors do you admire?
My favorite contemporary poet is Lynda Hull. Unfortunately, she died very young. But you might want to check out her collected poems. They are stunning.
What is your favorite word?
“Paraselene.” It means a mock moon, or that bright luminous ring you sometimes see surrounding the moon. I wrote a poem called “Paraselene Blue.” If you’d like to read it, it’s here: http://tinyurl.com/lfbosx.
What would you like to learn to do that you haven’t?
I’d really like to learn how to write a non-autobiographical novel! Maybe one of these days!
Sue William Silverman’s new book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir http://tinyurl.com/d2wmuo . She is a faculty advisor at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and associate editor of the journal Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. Her first book, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, received the AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction. She is also the author of Love Sick: One Woman's Journey Through Sexual Addiction (made into a Lifetime TV movie) and Hieroglyphics in Neon, a poetry collection. She has appeared on such TV shows as The View and Anderson Cooper-360. Please visit http://www.suewilliamsilverman.com/ .
"Fearless Confessions is such a dynamic guide to memoir writing it has inspired me to completely refine and retool the memoir I’m working on. Sue William Silverman, a faculty advisor at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, is an amazing master of the language. Her prose is as enjoyable as it is instructive. This should be an essential textbook of any creative writing course. She gives examples of memoir pieces and analyzes each one, showing how they work, why they’re powerful, and even why some fail to impress.” From 15-Minutes Magazine