Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Tenacity Interviews - Lorraine Williams

Lorraine Williams is here today to share her tenacity story in writing her memoir.

1) How did you know you were going to be a writer?
I think I first consciously realised I wanted to be a writer when I was in university. I joined the writers group at St. Michael's College where I was taking a four-year honour course in philosophy and English. I was also doing some writing for our college paper called The Mike. In my graduating year I had a casual encounter with Marshall McLuhan, one of my professors. It forms an intro to one of the chapters in my memoirs. He said to me, "Oh, somehow I thought you might be taking off for the Left Bank of the Seine to write stories”. His eyebrow arched a bit as he looked me over. He was serious!

2) How long did it take you to write your memoir book? Tell us how writing a memoir takes tenacity.
I didn’t start out to write a memoir. I just started out writing a piece of literary non-fiction for a summer writing class I was taking at Queen’s University in the 1980’s. The writing of the actual memoir came much later. In the early ‘90’s I purchased a town house in The Beach district of Toronto for a daughter who was returning from Sydney Australia after spending seven years there as principal of a Montessori school. I asked her if I could use the third floor level to put a computer so that I could come down during weekdays when she was at work. It would become my little “studio” where I would write a historical novel I had in mind. As I sat down to write and looked out the window facing south and saw the lake, I realized that this townhouse was about 200 yards from the apartment building where I had lived with my parents for the first four years of my life.
Memories began to flood me, and first thing I knew I was writing about growing up at The Beach. The memories just poured out, and because of my writing experience in other genres, I was able to put them down in a readable form.
It didn’t take too much tenacity to continue with the memoirs. Somehow I knew that this project would just go up to the end of high school, because that was the period when I absorbed the real “essence” of The Beach. The only thing that would slow me up was deadlines for other articles or the fact that I often couldn’t get down to the townhouse more than once a week usually to continue with the narrative. Finally I was able to make the mental jump that I could write the memoir at home as well as at the town house. The townhouse locale had provided a “jump start” but it was no longer necessary to be there in order to write.
The tenacity was to be tested in trying to get the memoir published.

3) What has being tenacious taught you about yourself?
It’s taught me that I must have a lot of my father’s patience and determination as he supported his family in depression and war times. He was a super-salesman, who eventually founded his own business and hired other salesmen across Canada to do what he had done single-handedly for years. He proved you have to stick with your dreams and I learned I have that quality in me. I also learned one has to be careful to not go overboard with tenacity or else it can come out looking like conceit, or “bugging people” . You also have to develop a sense of knowing when to speak up or lobby for yourself. Maybe this is something I learned for all my years as a political life with a husband who was an elected municipal councilor, deputy mayor and MPP in the Ontario legislature and Cabinet.

4) What does your support system look like? Friends, family, pastor, etc.
My support system is so wonderful! My family, friends and even acquaintances are behind me 100% and sometimes it is for them, as much as for me, that I have been so tenacious.

5) What were the top three obstacles you encountered on the road to being published?
I will speak about that with regard to the memoirs, because I really haven’t had any trouble getting published in other projects.
First obstacle: most publishers want memoirs to be written by well-known authors or personalities, or authors who depict historical or interesting places and events. So my memoir was about a very ordinary person (me) who was brought up in an interesting but not sensational era in a unique setting (THE BEACH district) but a setting that wasn’t going to attract worldwide attention to a large reading public.
Second obstacle: I had to be fair to those real people depicted in my memoir and not do them any injury. Everyone I write about is recognizable by himself or herself and so I had to decide what chapters to edit out so some wouldn’t be offended. In addition to those obvious omissions, I had to be severe with myself as to what parts, that were not injurious, should be left out for the sake of the general quality of a book of a decent length.
Third Obstacle: the mechanics of making copies of the manuscript to send out to various publishers at various times, the frustration of waiting for responses, the necessity to fight periods of discouragement and the temptation to just go ahead and self-publish a limited quantity of copies for my circle of family and friends who might be interested.
A fourth obstacle: my publisher originally wanted me to change it into a History of the Beach district with some memoir added. I finally convinced him this would be unwieldy, that my voice would be lost in the confusion, and that it would better be a memoir (as originally written) with small bits of history incorporated where appropriate. Getting to that settlement with the publisher was a long process and very stressful, but finally in the interests of the quality of the work, it was settled to my satisfaction.

6) Has your dream changed at all? Grown bigger? Smaller?
I don’t think my dream has changed, because the dream for that book is now fulfilled. However, with the conclusion of that dream, many have come into my mind to take its place? Perhaps Book 2 or Book 3 of memoirs? Perhaps get back on track with my historical novel? Perhaps make more short stories out of some other periods of my life (in fact I’ve started that already)? Lots of dreams, if only I have time to work on all of them.

7) What advice do you have for a writer who attempting to write a memoir?
Be patient. Don’t get sentimental. Decide what “voice” you’re going to write it in – i.e. are you the adult looking back on what was happening and interpreting it now; are you the child recalling the experience according to what it was like and not reflecting on it; be sure to use fictional writing techniques – scenes, dialogue etc – to make your writing come alive; read lots of books of memoirs to see how different authors go about it.


Great advice, Lorraine! I think memoirs are so difficult to write (and get "right") but so rewarding for so many when they are done well. Much success to you in the future, Lorraine! Thanks for sharing your tenacity story with us today.

I bid you good writing.

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