SERIES / Themes & Premise

What is the Gist of Your Story? #8

A sound premise and compelling themes are undoubtedly the hallmarks of great writing. In another addition to the SERIES on literary themes and premise, I’d like you to join me in welcoming Susan Weidener. Ways to connect with her are: Facebook, Twitter, and her website: Women’s Writing Circle.

story themesSusan’s bio: A former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan is the author of two memoirs: Again In a Heartbeat and its sequel, Morning at Wellington SquareIn 2009 Susan  started the Women’s Writing Circle, a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia. She organizes and facilitates writing workshops with an emphasis on how writing can lead to healing, self-discovery and empowerment. In that vein, the Women’s Writing Circle is self-publishing in April an anthology called Slants of Light and women will take their message of writing and finding voice to the community. Susan is also working on her first novel about a couple in their mid-50s whose illusions have fallen away, yet find romance and love when they least expect it.

Susan on her memoirs:

I wrote Again in a Heartbeat thirteen years after my husband’s death. Illness impacts an entire family, and I wanted to write about meeting the man of my dreams, as well as what John and I went through before and after the cancer diagnosis; confronting the end of the happy-ever-after dream.

After his death, my life was defined not just by “widowed,” but as single woman and mother. I knew I needed to write about that journey because I felt many people would identify with being on their own and wondering where to go from here. So that’s how Morning at Wellington Square came about. It is about reinvention and renewal following loss.

2110137_coverThe premise of Again in a Heartbeat

When you lose the love of your life, you confront the pain of moving beyond dreams of happily ever-after. For me, it meant the impersonal and often scary world of online dating and being on your own. Along the way, I discovered a lesson I’d like to share with others . . . long after a person you loved dies, his memory lives on in your heart and gives you the strength to carry on. But the strength comes from you, too. It has to or you are lost.

8224129_front coverThe premise of Morning at Wellington Square

After the death of a loved one, you face loss, grief, loneliness and feelings of isolation. These are the seeds of writing our stories in the truest and most personal sense of the word. Often, the result of going through this trauma serves as a catalyst for taking risks and seeking renewal.

Themes:

Love, illness, loss, grief, loneliness, feelings of isolation, taking risks to seek renewal.

Remember, effective book publicity relies on strong promotional messages, which are extracted from the themes contained in your writing that, collectively, make up the premise of the story. 

Promotional opportunities for Susan’s books

50Plus Seniors News, a monthly magazine here in the Philadelphia area geared toward Baby Boomers and women entrepreneurs, is featuring me on their cover in July.  Connecting in new and meaningful ways with the work we love . . . which for me is writing.

Libraries, rotary clubs, and colleges are seeking speakers and authors. My talks center around how memoir is both a healing journey and one of self-discovery, which I find exciting and fulfilling.

Publishing a memoir is like throwing a rock in a pond and experiencing an unending ripple effect. The local library has asked me to join in and help organize a panel discussion of local women authors in the community.

Since I wrote a sequel, people are interested in purchasing both my books.

Look for the unusual venue for book signings.  Recently, I held two signings at our local Curves for women gym and sold dozens of copies of  my memoirs.

I began self-publishing in 2010. I am often asked to speak at libraries and writing groups about the changing nature of publishing, the excitement of being an entrepreneur and how to build an author platform and connect through social media.

I facilitate writing workshops through the Women’s Writing Circle which draws from a diverse audience in suburban Philadelphia.  Bringing in outside speakers and teachers is a way to inspire and educate all of us.

On my blog, I feature writers and authors whose work is honest, caring, brave and strong.  We have close to 3,000 views a month. My blog includes links to ordering my books.

Downside: I have not been successful in connecting with cancer support groups.  This has been disappointing, but I continue to try and make connections here in the community and through social media, not just with wellness and support groups, but widow and widowers groups, as well.  Any help I can receive, suggestions or input would be most appreciated!

Join me as I discuss the need for compelling themes and a sound premise with published and newbie authors over the next few months. If you want to participate as a guest blogger in this series, please do not hesitate to contact me for details. You can also participate by leaving a comment for Susan below.

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34 thoughts on “What is the Gist of Your Story? #8

  1. Susan,

    This is an excellent post with clear and succinct distillations of the themes and premises of both your memoirs (which I loved). It is easy to see how your themes and premises drive your marketing plan. Regarding the lack of response from the cancer support community, my thought is that cancer patients and families need to focus their energies on either fighting the disease day-by-day or preparing for their death. It’s probably a timing issue where families may not be ready to deal with life after loss. There is an organization you may want to contact called Hope for Bereaved-A journey from grief to hope (hopeforbereaved.com). Good Luck! You are already doing so many positives things and I hope it is all starting to pay off for you.

    Belinda, as I keep saying,this series is immensely helpful in reinforcing the importance of clearly defined themes as a foundation for a marketing plan, especially when I have read the books that are being discussed.

    Thank you both!
    Kathy

    • Kathy, thanks for stopping by. I ditto your insight about cancer support groups. I’m delighted that this blog series is helping authors to think through and refine the premise and themes of their books. Even though the writing process is mostly intuitive, sooner or later we have to mix some logic into it as well.

      • I led a series of writing sessions at Gilda’s Club, a national cancer support organization, at their invitation. It didn’t work. Few showed up and fewer came twice. Much as I hated to conclude this, it was not worth my time and travel expense to continue after a year of fanning embers. Sad! I later learned that many other cancer support programs are struggling for survival. Perhaps the people who need these services the most do not have the emotional or physical energy to take advantage of them. My hunch is that the strongest option is to incorporate journaling into traditional support groups, but most groups are led by trained therapists and they have their ways of doing things…

        • This is all very interesting – thanks for sharing, Sharon. My husband works in pharmaceutical advertising for an agency that specializes in oncology. I’ll check if he has any insights, though they deal with pharma to physician communication, not on the consumer end.

  2. Thank you, Kathy. I will definitely check out that group you suggest. Or, maybe, as you brought up in our journaling workshop, narrative medicine is just beginning to catch on. I hope so!

    Marketing my books has been a positive experience because of the many wonderful people I have met through writing my stories. Memoirs truly are the gift that keeps on giving, not just for the author, but for our readers who long for a true story told with heart and soul, which I tried very hard to do. Belinda, thank you for this opportunity to express myself. It was a good exercise for me and made me think hard about how I wanted to convey my message.

    Sabrina, Thank you for the support, encouragement and validation.

  3. Susan .. nicely done … and very true to my sense of what your books were about.
    Re support groups, look up Above and Beyond Cancer … the group I went to Nepal with. While it was founded by an oncologist, his motivation is to provide support to cancer survivors .. not just those who have had cancer, but those who have family that have or have died from cancer. They have members all over the country, and I know would love to have a representative in Philly …. I’ll send you the website in a an email!

  4. I’ve looked at these and think they are books that could be very valuable, not just to those facing or dealing with cancer and all its implications and terrors, but also many other diseases that have terminal prognoses. Understanding what others went through and how they have coped and come out the other side can give a lot of hope in those dark moments. It is great that you have reached a point of healing where you want to offer support to others.
    In UK we have Macmillan Cancer Support which offers wonderful support both to those suffering and to their families. In some areas they have volunteers why, typically, have already made the journey just as you have. I wonder if you have something similar?
    It may give you the opportunity to offer support and later, when people find out that you have written about your experiences, it may also open up an unexpected, but very relevant market, for your books.
    We’ve raised money in our village for cancer research through an annual event in November. We also do something in the summer, so i will put a small poster about your books in our leaflet and hope that someone may find them interesting. I assume they are available on Amazon?

      • Mentioning good books is always a pleasure, so telling people about good books that relate directly to them makes sense to me.

  5. Gilda’s club merged with the Cancer Support Community (formerly The Wellness Community) a couple of years ago. It is a national organizatiion. I recently led a writing workshop at our local chapter – low attendance, but very powerful. I suggest you see if there is one in your neighborhood.

  6. I’m at the beginnings of setting up a group in South Carolina supporting women who are finding their voices and forging an authentic path. Thanks for this post

    • Hi Heather, it’s so nice hearing from you…brings back memories of our MFA days in Charlotte. Is that where you live now? I bet you’ll have a lot of success with a forum like that – good luck, and please keep us in the loop.

  7. I’ve participated in several discussions recently about why people write memoirs. The latest just this morning. We agreed that letting readers know they’re not alone – that others have survived something similar is one really good reason. Thanks for sharing your stories, Susan.

  8. Remember time when the ‘misery’ memoir was one of the most sought-after genres? Now the celebrity memoir is the thing for publishers to ‘support’ because those VIPs (especially journalists) already have a solid social media platform. Considering the state of the industry, I don’t suppose this bias will change quickly, certainly not in the traditional model – what do you think?

    • I, for one, am glad to see the back of ‘misery’ memoirs. I’d love to see the back of ‘celebrity’ ones too as they tend to be no more than vacuous self aggrandisement on the part of the celebs. Susan’s books, however, offer something different. They are about real people in real situations and share a very positive, if painful message. I hope they get lots of attention.
      Later on, perhaps, the world might get round to obscure corners of the memoir field, like mine, but that could take time – I’m still alive!

  9. I think journalists can have an easier time selling their memoirs to traditional publishers because everyone knows how the story ends and as reporters they were right there in the middle of it . . . and the story already resonated in the press and with the public and so has an immediate audience.

    If I can just add, the “uncomfortable” part for me, was that as a journalist all my life, I was trained to stay out of the spotlight. Writing my memoirs about my own personal journey felt very different at first, yet also exhilirating and as a writer gave me a chance to explore a new way of writing. . . incorporating all the elements that go into creative writing.

    • Susan – Your memoir doesn’t have to be just about YOU. It can be about other people and events that all formed part of an experience you shared and remember. Yes, you’ll be there, in the background, but much of the story can be focused elsewhere.
      I faced exactly this dilemma when I started writing my African Memoir series and found that telling other people’s stories, in which I had participated, was a useful way of portraying the events, culture and people I wanted to share with readers without it being all me, me, me. Of course it was all very personal experience for me, but in writing about it I wanted to look outwards at the world around me, not inwards at myself.

      Perhaps this brings us back to Belinda’s original post about central themes. Is the theme of your memoir you or something, else?

      • Thank you, jzart. The power of memoir resides in a broader message than that of one person’s life; rather it must be a story with a universal context that resonates with readers. We often discuss this in our writing workshops and at our Women’s Writing Circle read-arounds. This gets to the craft of writing. It is not enough just to have a good story to tell, but requires the skill to write it in a compelling fashion and then hire an editor to work with you on it. I hope you enjoy my books and I thank you for saying you plan to read them. I would love to hear your thoughts about them.True stories are very powerful and we are living in the midst of a memoir revolution in terms of people writing their stories and publishing them through the ease of the Internet.

  10. Writing one’s memoir is such an amazing healing process and am looking forward to reading these books. As someone else wrote here, it doesn’t sound like they are just for those who have faced cancer in the way Susan has. They would help anyone walk there way through the bumpy road of life.

  11. Susan, I don’t have to tell you how much I enjoyed both books as we’ve discussed that before. What I want to say here is how much I enjoyed hearing from you about the premises and themes you worked toward having complete the foundations for two excellent pieces of work. Also helpful were your comments on publicity options you’ve used. However, I’m sorry to learn that you haven’t been able to break through to cancer patients and/or their families for I believe your story has much to offer in that area.

    Belinda, although I’ve not read each and everyone, I do appreciate and am enjoying your series. Both informative and motivating!

    • Thank you, Sherrey. Your support of my memoirs has been tremendous and validating.

      I value each and every reader – it is always the hope, tho, of every author to reach as broad an audience as possible, which is why I included the “downside” to not reaching families struggling with cancer and, in particular, individuals – who feel they may not have lived up to their own personal set of standards under crisis.

      My late husband, John, called cancer the “enemy.” It is hell to watch someone you love die as it wrecks havoc with your home, your life, your dreams. I have been criticized for writing a story that one reader referred to as “adolescent,” in terms of the desperation I felt in losing the man I loved and therefore “wanting” other men to fill a need in me. I take that criticism as it comes, for this is what memoir writing opens us to . . . because we are writing the truth of our lives and not hiding who we are, warts and all.

      • Susan, I fear your reader lacked intelligence enough to understand the content and theme of a memoir. Yes, we write the truth, and the truth is most often (not always) ugly. No one promised us a rose garden as we traversed life. You did a powerful job of letting us, your readers, experience the depth of your anguish. I appreciate your classy reaction to such criticism; it only proves you are the woman I believed you to be — strong, courageous and gracious.

      • The reader who described your descriptions as ‘adolescent’ has clearly missed the point and not connected with the trauma that afflicted you. Your writing gives a truly raw expression to something that hurts, and is all the more valuable for that. Most writers soften the blow and wrap the bitter pills in something sweet to make it more palatable. You were right to write it as you felt it and those who have walked that road will easily be able to share your pain and your resurrection.

    • Sherrey, Ian and Daron. Thank you for the insightful and beautiful comments. They made my day!

      Part of memoir writing – a large part! – is to understand why we acted as we did; therein, lies in the redemptive quality of memoir. For me, the journey of “Again in a Heartbeat” led to the understanding that my desperation and “lack of maturity” – yelling at John for getting sick and fantasizing about another man – was intrinsically linked to intense grief at losing him. As I wrote my story, I realized John had always understood this about me and never asked for an apology. He knew long before I that my actions were a result of my deep love for him. This is the why writing a memoir is like “living twice.” We go back to that period of time and learn from it, discover and, mostly, forgive ourselves.

      • Isn’t it a shame we have to wait until after great, and usually tragic or dramatic events, to understand truths like this. Which of us can not look back and say “I wish I had handled that differently”? But then it’s not that which delivers the real lesson, it is the recognition that the other party involved accepted out actions and behaviour without complaint and didn’t rub it in because we got something wrong. In their reaction lay trust and love of a very high order. That’s a lesson worth learning.

  12. This has been a great discussion; thank you to Susan for sharing details about her memoirs and to you all for participating in such a supportive way. This series will be interrupted for the month of April as I take part in the A to Z BLOG CHALLENGE.

    I hope you’ll be following my daily posts (except for Sundays) as I explore the concepts of CHANGE and SENSORY AWARENESS and how to implement those in storytelling. This will serve as an introduction to my work-in-progress creative writing guide (title and publication date TBA soon)—a comprehensive guide on CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION in relation to PLOT DEVELOPMENT that is based on a LIFE COACHING MODEL.

    NOTE: My blog series on Themes/Premise will resume in May.

  13. Pingback: The Gist of a Great Blog Series | My Rite of Passage

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