Saturday, August 24, 2013

Introducing Susan Weidener, memoirist, fiction writer, and teller of life stories

I'm so delighted to have Susan Weidener as a guest on Choices. Her words about writing - Write What Is Relevant to You - are so helpful and true. Please read about the book she is working on now, which she calls true-life fiction, and the ways she advices her group, the Women's Writing Circle, how to hone in their writing.

I certainly can attest to Susan's excellent writing. I read her memoir, Morning at Wellington Square, in about two days. I couldn't put it down. Please click here to read my review.

Please welcome Susan Weidener.

Write What Is Relevant to You
by Susan Weidener

Although I had written two memoirs and contributed to an anthology of short stories in the last three years, another project had long simmered in the back of my mind.  I can’t call it memoir and I can’t call it fiction. So, maybe, “true life fiction” works. 

The story comes from my imagination, but the male character’s story is based on excerpts from a memoir written by my late husband, John Cavalieri.  In the last two years of his life, John, worked tirelessly on his story.  He relived his days as a cadet at the United States Military Academy and explored the fallout from his curtailed Army career, not only how it impacted him as a man, a husband and a father but how the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis right before graduation from West Point would eventually lead to colorectal cancer.  John’s writing was riveting, honest and emotional.  Unfortunately, his manuscript was rejected by several publishers, and sat gathering dust in a bedroom closet. He died in 1994, a month after his 47th birthday. 

Over the years, I kept going back to his book. Reading an excerpt here and there, learning more about the man I loved.  I even wrote about his excitement in writing the story of his life in my memoir, Morning at Wellington Square, as it seemed a testament to the power of memoir as John made sense of his life through writing.  I kept remembering how he wished he could have seen it published.  It left me wondering what I could do to make that happen for him.
Jay, the male character in my book, is much like John.  A man of ideals, he believes in honor.  He doesn’t fit in either in the Army or corporate America. Searching for answers following a life-threatening illness, Jay decides he needs to write his story before it is too late. 

Ava, an author and an editor, is divorced with a son away at college.  At 42, her life has approached contented complacency, if lacking in passion; much of her youthful illusions have fallen away. When Jay approaches Ava to edit his manuscript, the slow “dance” begins  . . . together they are caught up in something larger than themselves.  Yet, Jay knows he may have little time left.

“He could still walk away.  Spare her pain.  Close up the bungalow he had rented near a small lake where time seemed measured in slow ripples of water rolling up against the shore toward wooded paths of elderberry and wild hydrangea. Hop into his black sports car, which he had lovingly kept running with over 120,000 miles; and start driving again back out West. Finish writing his story about honor, duty, and country; all those words that seemed so worn and hackneyed now in a world slowly decaying and crumbling amidst the mindless garble and endless loops of talk shows, cable news, Internet chatter.  Yet, there was something about her, like a melody he once heard playing a long time ago . . . drawing him to her.  Making him believe again.”


As the creator of the Women’s Writing Circle, I advise women to hone in on what they are writing.  Many come to the Circle with the seed or idea for a memoir or a novel, but figuring out what they want to say is the challenge. 

A writer's mantra should be this: “What is my story about?” Keep saying it, keep coming back to it. Write two or three sentences encapsulating the theme of your story; it doesn’t have to be long, in fact, the shorter, and more concise the better.  That way a path is forged to avoid “side trips” that bog down the rhythm of an unfolding story.

Other advice to writers:  Write what is relevant to you.  Draw from your own life experience and make sense of something – and then tell it in a way that is larger than you and engages the reader. 

For me, the answer to life’s often meaningless existence  . . . “What’s it all about?” is found in true love; a love between two souls, a love that “surpasses analysis . . . that is meant to be,” as I write in this new book. This is the theme I have also explored in both my memoirs.  I am forever and always will be a romantic at heart.

Ways to hone your writing:
· Keep it simple and straightforward.
· Find perspective from your characters and your story.
· Tell the story as true as you can.  
· Keep it real. No artifice.  Readers know when a writer is trying to pull one over on them.

Susan's Bio

An author, editor and former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan leads writing workshops and started the Women's Writing Circle, a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia. Susan is the author of two memoirs, Again in aHeartbeat, which is about being widowed at a young age, and its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square, a woman's search for passion and renewal in middle age. Susan is interested in how women can find their voice through writing and storytelling.  Her most recent work appears in an anthology of stories about women's changing and challenging roles in society called Slants of Light.  Susan lives in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. 


Anonymous said...

Susan, I'm of the same mind as you to write about what's relevant in your life - that way you get to bring passion to your story. When I started my w.i.p. novel, I had various ideas for a story, social issues I feel strongly about. Then I decided to stir them all into the same pot and see what comes out - the result was surprising, even to me; it all hangs together as a compelling story about war, rape and intergenerational shame.

madeline40 said...

Congratulations, Belinda. Your w.i.p. sounds wonderful. Can't wait to read it.
Thanks for coming by Choices. Hugs, M.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Belinda, I love how our stories lead to self-discovery, renewal and - as you say - a passion that makes us energized as soon as we get up in the morning and want - no need - to write. It sounds like are in the "groove" with your work-in-progress. How exciting! Love to hear more about how it all came together for you.

kathleen pooler said...

Susan, I didn't even know what my story was until I wrote many vignettes then attempted to string them together. Your sage advice is greatly appreciated about" finding meaning in your life story then make it bigger than you."Your WIP true life novel sounds fascinating. I've come to believe that the story that needs to be told reveals itself in time if we show up, keep writing and stay out of its way. Thank you, as always , for sharing your wisdom and knowledge. They are "pearls" You have kicked off Madeline's guest post series in style!

Susan G. Weidener said...

Dear Kathy, It is true what you say, especially the importance of writing every day, even if it means revising a paragraph or two and thinking about it for the rest of the day. Revision, redrafting, revision . . . but keep it creative, spontaneous and real. I am so happy to hear that your story is leading you into ever richer pastures.

Anonymous said...

Susan, beautifully written post heralding once again the telling of our story. I like the idea of writing what is relevant to me, as in my story is what is relevant. At least for today, until my story changes because life changes, and so on. Thanks for sharing that word relevant as it relates to writing.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Sherrey. As we write we find what compels us to tell our stories - the themes can change and move from grief to the joy of a mountain sunset. Writing is a dynamic process. Good luck in your own writing journey and discovering what is relevant to you and meaningful to your readers.

madeline40 said...

Kathy and Sherrey, Thanks for being here to herald Susan's very wise words about life story writing. We are so lucky to have each other for sharing our expertise.
Thanks again, Susan, for telling your writing life story with us.

Susan G. Weidener said...

It has been my pleasure and honor, Madeline. I am enjoying the posts of other writers during you blog fest! Way to go, bringing us all together like this.