Memoirs that Inspire Me: A House in the Sky

When the radiance of the human spirit shines through in a transformative way, I am inspired. That is especially true when the transformation happens in the midst of a journey into darkness.
A House in the Sky
A House in the Sky
Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
Amanda Lindhout’s memoir is an amazing account of transcending one of the most horrific of life experiences. She developed compassion for the Islamic extremist who held her in captivity for fifteen harrowing months.
Amanda Lindhout

Amanda Lindhout


Upon her release, she emerged as a sought after speaker on topics of forgiveness, compassion, and women’s rights. 
Inspired by a woman who tried to help her escape, she founded the Global Enrichment Foundation to provide scholarships to Somali women to attend university. When asked why she did this, she responded, “Because I had something very, very large and very painful to forgive, and by choosing to do that, I was able to put into place my vision, which was making Somalia a better place.” She believes that if her captor’s mothers had such an opportunity for education, they would have treated her differently.

Where do I begin?

More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.
John Irving
For the past six weeks, since attending Antioch Writer’s Workshop (AWW), I’ve been busy rewriting. My first challenge was finding the beginning for my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace.
I learned at the Mad Anthony writer’s workshop in April that I wasn’t beginning in the right place. I needed more backstory.


So, I wrote more backstory in preparation for AWW. In my one-to-one critique with Erin Flanagan, I learned that beginning there didn’t really tell the reader what my memoir is about. Clearly moved by my story, she made a suggestion for a place to begin.

Erin Flanagan teaches English language and literature at Wright State University and taught the afternoon short fiction seminar at AWW. She went above and beyond in trying to help me find a beginning for my memoir, spending extra time and offering kind and supportive feedback. She has written two books that are getting great reviews.

Flanagan not going to kill
Like holographic slivers, her stories contain a breadth and scope usually found in novels, telling whole lifetimes in the span of after-dinner coffee.
Flanagan writes with bleak, searing humor about the survivors of collisions both physical and emotional, and her acute vision is startling, reminding readers that every loss is the beginning of a long, new story of healing and replenishing.
So, when I got home from AWW, I began work immediately on a new beginning. Then I read it to my writing partner, Nita, and she groaned, “No, you don’t want to start there,” giving several good reasons why that didn’t work. Combining the feedback from Nancy Pinard at Mad Anthony and from Erin Flanagan at AWW, we were able to identify a starting place that works. Fortunately, Nita has heard my story in its many rewriting versions several times. We’ve been reading to each other and providing feedback for over two years. I started rewriting again.
I finally have my beginning and am confident now that it is one that works. 
I was so happy when I found John Irving’s quote and to know that I’m in good company. I’ve been aware I’m not a natural when it comes to writing memoir. All those accolades I got in graduate school for the depth of my thinking and the clarity of my writing only go so far when writing creative non-fiction. The craft is very different and I’m learning as I go.  It is clear that I have a compelling story. My challenge is to write it well. Thankfully, like Irving, I have stamina…I call it perseverance. My life is a testament to that.

Andre Dubus III Won My Heart

The second week in July, I attended the Antioch Writer’s Workshop. What an exhausting and exhilarating week. The benefits continue to accrue. Here’s my first installment.
Andre DuBus III

Andre DuBus III

Andre Dubus III gave the keynote address on Saturday evening and then taught the Master Class on Sunday morning. What a ball of energy he is. I would love to take writing classes from him.

Here are some of the gems he shared with us:
“It ain’t talent! It’s curiosity, wonder, mulling and musing about humans. Someone, somewhere, writes better than you. So what? Protect your creativity. Contend with jealousy in your head but don’t let it into your heart.”
Questions storytellers ask: “What’s it like to be in this thing that happened?”
“Listen to the little voice inside you. Work from the inside out. There’s a lot of mystery involved. Make your writing an intimate experience for your readers. Go inside and transfer feelings from one heart to another…empathy and truth.”
“Do that that makes you feel more like yourself than at any other time.”
“Self-consciousness is death to creativity.”
“I never wanted to be a writer. I just loved writing.”
When Andre relayed his process for writing the book he’s best known for, House of Sand and Fog, the whole room was mesmerized.
When he signed his book, Dirty Love, for me, I told him, “I loved your memoir, Townie,especially at the end, the way you wrote about your transformation.”
His eyes sparkled and he leaned toward me with a delighted grin. “You know, I knew I’d changed. But I didn’t know I’d transformed until I wrote it.”
I really get what he meant. As I delve more deeply into my own character and make increasingly deeper connections with my past, I find myself silently exclaiming, “Oh, that’s why that was so important to me,” or “That’s why I acted the way I did,” or “That makes so much sense now.”
After asking what I was writing and if my memoir had a name, he turned to another page and signed,
“For Linda,
Here’s to you &
A Long Awakening to Grace.
Love, Andre.”
That moment of connection with Andre was thrilling for me. His sharing so personably, being interested in me and what I’m doing, his willingness to go the extra mile by signing two pages, the second with a personal inscription won my heart. He’s a real pro. Thank you, Andre, for getting AWW off to a great start for me.