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Memoir: The polished and published kind depends on measured honesty

We at Hawthorne have put out many memoirs of well-known Hoosiers.

We’ve helped these people put together their memories and achievements and get them published: Lorene Burkhart, Lawrence (Bo) Connor of the Indianapolis Star; World’s Tallest Woman Sandy Allen; Congressman Andy Jacobs;  Scott Walker of Hughes Aircraft; and more.

Then there were relatives or others who wrote the memoirs of people usually no longer here: Senator William Jenner’s son writing his father’s life story; the daughter of Herb and Dee Sweet who began the first day camp in America, Acorn Camp; Kurt Vonnegut’s good friend Majie Failey who told the story of Kurt as a boy and teenager in Indianapolis. We let legendary philanthropist Gene Glick tell his own story and buffed it up for him. No editor could improve much on the Glickstory, told in rich and colorful style, of rags to riches in Indianapolis real estate and the subsequent giving to his city of Indianapolis.

These books are all available either as e-books from this website or on Amazon.

There would have been twenty or thirty other Hoosier memoirs done in our earlier incarnation as a company: Guild Press of Indiana. These personal stories have seemed worthy to us both as interesting reading of the lives of good and contributive people and also fulfilling our mission to help preserve the history of our state. There are no better ways of doing that than having leading citizens, and everyday people for that matter, describe in detail their own lives and set the personal stories against a background of the times.

That’s what makes a good memoir: detailed, vivid recollections of life set against a carefully reconstructed background of the times themselves.

The very best memoirs are the most honest. And yet, that can be a problem. Most people plunging into autobiography face inner challenges about the way they will tell the story: (1) how honest should I get? Will I offend those from my family? (2) Do I have their permission to talk about my experiences involving them? (3) Should I leave out unpleasant sides of what happened, show myself as an ungrateful child or spouse or parent by telling the real truth?

There are several answers to these questions and most of the details depend on the individual situation. Honesty is here, as always, the best policy. Most of us don’t have the courage to tell the truth bluntly and fully about our family, business or personal relationships. And yet, if they play upon the story in a vital way, that is just what needs honest storytelling.

The best memoir we ever published among the many is obviously a judgment call and I’ll take the opportunity to make that call. The story Marilyn Glick wrote of her own dramatically interesting life was a story told with remarkable candor and detailed examination of behavior both of herself and those of her circle.

The name of the book is Once Upon a Lifetime: Marilyn’s Story. It the tale of a child whose mother had died in childbirth and whose father had fled, abandoning baby Marilyn to a New York orphanage. When adopted, little Marilyn lived with a doting father and a distant, often troubled mother. The story continues after the father’s death as Marilyn and her widowed mother decided to settle in the home of the mother’s family, Indianapolis. Without bragging, Marilyn conveys how with an appealing personality she found friends and stability at Shortridge High School while yet dealing with her often carping and overly protective mother.

She found her “Prince Charming” in the young Eugene Glick, recently returned from World War II where he served in the army immediately following the Normandy invasion. Together they built the contracting business which he later grew with shrewdness and excellent management into one of the leading apartment building companies in the United States.

All of the history is treated with respect and detailed description when needed: background of Detroit in the 1930s, Jewish community life and custom in a different time from today, motherhood of four girls with an especially honest look at their interactions and personalities and the clashes those family squabbles sometimes engendered. The gathering of her outstanding glass art collection, now in the Indianapolis Museum of Art is interesting because it takes Marilyn into the larger world of the arts in America.

The result is an endearing and enlightening story which is truly the Cinderella tale she deeply believed her life story was. Of course, the point must be made that this is her version of the events and others connected to it would have their own versions. That’s the story of autobiography anyway.

No doubt a good deal of her story—what would be too much honesty—was left out, but her own selection of anecdotes and a skilled writing style, telling her own story, made the book outstanding.

Probably this book exemplifies the two most fundamental rules of doing a good memoir: measured and carefully selected honesty and skilled telling of stories with vivid details. Your book can achieve this also. Go for it!

 

Nancy Niblack Baxter, Senior Editor at Hawthorne Publishing. Nancy’s own books can be ordered by clicking back to the website.

Posted in Marilyn Glick |

DORIS DAY NETWORKING! By Mary Anne Barothy, Doris Day’s Former Secretary

As we approach the holidays, starting with THANKSGIVING, I just want to look back and thank some of the people in my life who made a big difference.

First, I need to thank my parents, Rose and Charles Barothy.  They had to put up with me as a committed fan of Doris Day from a young age. They lived through all the Day Dreams  I went through in the late 1960s. It had all started with my seeing Doris in Calamity Jane. From then on it was Doris for me!  I discovered there were others just as rabidly supportive as I was. Our home phone bills were high because I was phoning other Doris Day fans I began to know across the country. We seemed to want to talk about our idol and to be together if we could. Now I realize I was networking  before I even knew what networking was. That term might not have been in use then but we were finding each other and supporting and publicizing the movie star of our choice.

Earlier I had learned about the only official Doris Day Fan Club at that time. It was in  London, England.  Needless to say, I eagerly awaited the quarterly journals they sent out to fans around the world.  There were members of this fan club all over the world. That proved Doris Day’s universal appeal to people from sea to shining sea!  I became pen-pals with fans from England to Australia. One fan in particular I grew attached to was Eileen from Canton, Ohio.  I invited Eileen to stay overnight at my home in Indianapolis on one of her many trips to Los Angeles to be in Doris’s neighborhood. Over a few years we became good friends and Eileen, once she finally decided to move to LA, invited me to come for a visit sometime.  It wasn’t until a few years later on August 15, 1965 that I made my maiden voyage to Los Angeles.  I had written to Doris’s secretary requesting a meeting with Doris, but that was not to be on this first trip.  Despite the ominous headline in the Indianapolis STAR “They are Shooting at Planes landing at LAX”….guess where I was headed? All the contacting with other fans was going to have concrete results.

I was going to the home area of my favorite star! Eagerly I boarded the TWA jet for LA not knowing what to expect once I landed in the Golden State. The fans were going to be the answer, making me welcome.  Eileen and her roommate, Hilda, and another DD fan, Mary Kay, met me at the airport.  We became fast friends and on the way to their apartment, we made a trip to drive by Doris Day’s Beverly Hills home, hoping to see her.  No sighting, but thanks to her secretary, Phyllis, whom I had contacted before I left Indianapolis, we enjoyed a private studio tour of the MGM studios where Doris was filming GLASS BOTTOM BOAT. However, on the day we were “fanning” through MGM, Doris was filming in Catalina Island.  The next day we planned to go to Catalina Island in the hope of seeing Doris.  Just our luck, Doris was back on the set at MGM that day. Fans will go anywhere, do anything to see the hero, heroine of their choice.

The old saying, “Third time’s the charm” worked for me.  On my third trip to LA in 1967, I had the pleasure of meeting my idol.  Doris had written me saying she would join us at Bailey’s, bakery/eatery but no date or time was mentioned. The miniature fan club of that day, Eileen, Hilda, Mary Kay and I camped out every morning hoping to see “The Girl Next Door” enter the bakery.  Finally on my last day we were all sitting in Bailey’s enjoying some coffee and sweets. I purposely sat with my back to the door knowing I would probably pass out if I saw her.  The minutes passed quickly.  Finally, the girls saw a bike outside and then in came my idol.  I was in awe and just so thrilled to finally meet the beautiful lady I had admired since I was 9 years old.  Thanks to Eileen,  Hilda and Mary Kay I had the pleasure of finally meeting Doris Day. The power of fans together is strong indeed!

At the time I had no idea about networking.  All I knew was I wanted to meet and get to know the Lady I had admired since age 9 despite driving my parents and some teachers crazy with my “dream.” I did what I could to get to know her and contact with fellow admirers played a strong role in what happened.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think the BEST was yet to come when I finally moved to LA and Doris asked me to be her private secretary.   Now, when I give talks about my time with DORIS DAY, I encourage young people to follow their dream. Then, que sera, sera.

And while I am thanking people, I need to thank the fans who helped me realize my own dream. My photo, shown in this blog, was taken at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where I was kneeling to see the hand and footprints of Doris.

Click back and order Mary Anne’s book Day at a Time: An Indiana Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond

Posted in Cultural History, Doris Day |

A “Launch” for a New Book: Lots of People and Cookies Shaped Like a Book By Lou Ellen Watts, author of Sleeping in Dixie’s Feather Bed: Growing Up White in the Segregated South

My book took just one year to be born. It was conceived at Eugene and Marilyn Glick Author Day at the Indianapolis Public Library, just a year ago, in a workshop I attended. There I got encouragement from the memoir workshop leader Lyn Jones and met the editor of the regional publisher Hawthorne Publishing. She became intrigued with the story I felt I had to tell: how a girl who grew up in working class neighborhoods all over the south slept comfortably on a racially stratified bed in southern states—and how she (I)  finally woke up to the Civil Rights movement. The editor agreed to help me develop the book.  Several drafts happened.

The memoir was born but now it had to be nurtured, cuddled, educated, and sent off to college!  Hawthorne Publishing decided yes, to release the book as part of its line, a departure from their usual Indiana Civil War books or biographies. Lots of refining and editing details followed. Then—the book was here! It was almost exactly a year from the time I sat around a table at Glick Author Day and discussed how my idea could possibly find publication.

A catalogue and flyer sent word around to Indiana libraries, Amazon.com and newspapers in my area.

Then my own touches could be added to the release. I was told that it was the duty of a regional book author to do her own publicity—with guidance and advice and publicity materials from the publisher. I had to find a place to have a “book launch,” so I contacted the Johnson County Museum of History in my town of Franklin, Indiana. After they read a copy of the flyer and spoke to me a bit,  they readily agreed. It was to be in October, but each Saturday was filled with other activities. We finally agreed on a date but my book was to come immediately after another speaker. Instead of 1:30 -3:00 we had to settle for 4:00-5:30, not the most desirable time for a Saturday afternoon speech. Still, we would make it work.

I now had from Hawthorne that synopsis of the book and a picture of the cover which I had printed as an attractive flyer. I placed these flyers in any store front that would accept them. I passed them out to all of the organizations that I belonged to in addition to the local libraries. I made “You are invited to” postcards and sent them to organizations in the community and about a week before the event I passed out “You are invited to” reminder cards to my own organizations and friends. I contacted the local newspapers and had announcements printed, set up dates to sign at local bookstores and the library. Notices were also sent to my college sororities and alumnae magazines.

All of that was taken care of, so now I had to think about the setting of the facility where the book was to be presented. Was there a podium? How was the mic set up? Were there enough chairs? Where would the signing table be? Where were the tables for the refreshments?

Then what would the refreshments be? I contacted the local bakery/designer for cookies a month in advance, since I knew how busy this excellent local baker was. The question was, “How many?” I just guessed, “Four dozen.” I would buy some already made cookies just in case.  We decided on a simple punch served from a regular punch bowl.  I made notes to remind myself to take ice, table clothes, napkins, cups and serving platters.

I read that props always add to the setting, so I made a little bed covered with feathers to place on the serving table along with one of the flyers propped up on a display stand. The signing table was covered with a black tablecloth. There my husband would sit on one end to take money, with me sitting at the other end to sign books. One of the major purposes of these book launches, of course,  is to sell the books you are introducing. The South?  I put some cotton bolls on stems with some magnolia leaves in a container in the middle of the table as a reminder of what people think of the typical South. Another poster was propped up next to the cotton bolls with my business cards in a little display case next to it.

Finally, it was 3:30 and I roamed the hall greeting each attendee personally. At 4:00 the curator of the museum stepped behind the podium and read the introduction that I wrote for her which gave some history of my past life.

Of course in my lecture I talked about life in the south, but I also tried to paint a picture of my Louisiana Cajun grandparents on my father’s side and my rural Arkansas relatives on my mother’s side. It was in their home that I actually slept on a feather bed in the 1940s. I also told the audience that it was at my aunt’s house in Arkansas that I was “introduced to the outhouse.” That description got a laugh. In another part of my lecture I put my hand over my heart and sang part of “Dixie”, “Oh, I wish I were in the land of cotton,” and told the audience that for along time I thought that was the National Anthem. I got a laugh from that too.

I closed with “This memoir tells about a journey in which I discovered a new view of equality that I want for my own life and for America.” Often, I believe, we grow up with views we absorb from our culture. It may be time to examine that process of “growing-up values” and think for ourselves in some cases.

As people came by to get a book signed I heard them say, “I never even knew there were black people nearby where I lived.” Or “I saw a Mammy when I visited my aunt in North Carolina.” Or “I played with a black girl who lived down the street.” It seemed like so many people had stories to tell and they were not intimidated to tell them. It was as if they were eager to tell their experiences or lack of experiences. Perhaps a few doors had been opened, and if that is the case the book is a success on that front.

It was such a rewarding night where I felt renewed to keep spreading each day my book message of equality and kindness. And, as my editor insists, “a truly good story.”

Lou Ellen Watts

Posted in Book Publishing, Writing Non Fiction |

Is your memoir publishable? How? Nancy Baxter discusses the possibilities of putting pen to paper and letting your life flow out. . .

We have talked about some of the essentials of memoir writing: first, including some scenery and history or chronology to set the stage of your memory story(ies). Then, focusing on a few key scenes in the life you are writing about which awaken in the reader experiences of the five senses: dwelling, in other words, at a few key moments on re-creating a scene or two you recall.

We’ve also said little moments can be important if they are treated with a writer’s skills and a view “through the keyhole.” Photos can be helpful in this visual age.

But what will you do with your memoir once it is completed? There are several routes for you, and you’ve probably already considered what you will do with your memoir from the first moment you decided you wanted to record memories. Here are some options:

  1. You are writing only for your own family and possibly friends. This means you can prepare the story, attach any photos you wish, and take it to UPS to duplicate either for stapling or putting in an attractive spiral binding.
  2. Even if it is a private printing, you may wish to consider having it edited and bound as a paperback (or hardcover?) book. Printers now have special departments to handle your manuscript completion process, providing final copy editing and doing digital printing quickly and for a small number of books. Price? About $5 to $10 a book depending on pages and how complicated your book will be. One suggestion: Thomson Shore Printers in Dexter Michigan. They are employee owned, helpful and reputable.
  3. Some memoirs can be published for a wider audience. If your subject would be of state or national interest or the figure you are writing about is known or should be known, you may interest a small press to pick up your book —or a larger one. You can consult Jeff Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents, Editors and Publishers in America, which guides would-be authors on the paths to book publishing companies. If you capture a publisher’s interest, they may offer you a royalty contract and put the book out to sell to their part of the book market.
  4. If you are writing about a certain area, town, county or city or state and have some writing experience, for instance if you have written for the local newspaper or believe those in your community will be interested in the memoir, nostalgic or personal, you can also put it out yourself for sales through your own author appearances and talks on the subject at clubs and organizations and libraries and church groups. Develop your own little book-selling business! Get it reviewed and generate interest!

Are there any pitfalls? Yes. Beware of self-publishing companies who offer too many services  for sale that you don’t need and don’t provide quality control. Read the blogs about them and investigate.

Be sure in all cases to think about the people you are writing about in your memoir. Are these relatives who will be startled or unhappy or even hurt by what you are telling? Better avoid that. Is anyone treated with a frankness that could get you into trouble? Keep the writing positive if it involves those still alive. And beware of the true difficulties in involving a process of creative non-fiction in your memoir. That is a yawning cave of troubles for you to fall into, I say and have seen the difficulties. Just tell the truth and write it well.

Nancy Niblack Baxter Senior Editor Hawthorne Publishing. Her books are featured on this website.

Posted in Writing Memoirs |