Sarah Potter Writes

Pursued by the Muses of prose, poetry, and music.

Guest Blogger, Jennifer B Graham, talks about the birth of her memoir

Jennifer B. Graham My memoir, An Immoral Proposal, started out as a novel. Its conception began in South Africa, as a forbidden, illegal love story played out against the backdrop of apartheid in 1974.

I approached my story as a novel because it was emotionally the safest mode to go. I felt I, the narrator, could be invisible. I thought all I needed was a vivid imagination and it would be like playing with the paper dolls I created as a child – over a hundred of them – each with its own personality and history. I’d breathe life into them and simply take off from there.

Trouble is, my story is not fantasy and facing the truth was simply too painful. So, in my re-ordered world, I set my family in a Pollyanna world with nice, clean characters.  But I wasn’t making any progress. It was like pushing a wheelbarrow of rocks uphill. The plot was garbled and the characters static and lifeless. Having no compass and not thinking clearly about what it is I really wanted to say, I was more focused on what I wanted to name the “baby”  – On the Other Side of the Fence.

I came to the realization my own story wasn’t one-dimensional but had multiple themes and working those out in a novel was a struggle. Along the way I changed the title to “Ham’s Daughter” but that still did nothing for the book. The whole project limped along in fits and starts leaving me highly frustrated and dejected.

Emotionally, I wrestled with sensitive subject matters in parts of my story, leaving me quite exhausted and depressed. Over the years, I kept putting the project on the back-burner while working through these emotions.  Just like you can’t force a butterfly from its chrysalis before it’s ready to hatch, you can’t rush the healing process.

I carried this ‘baby’ with me from country to country – England first, then Canada and the United States – all places I had lived. From the US, I took it to the ends of the earth – New Zealand!

In ‘The Land of the Long Cloud’, I made another last ditch effort to get this thing going. I asked a publisher friend to cast a critical eye over my novel. We spent a weekend at fabulous Hanmer Springs, a spa town near Christchurch.  Her response was, “Do you have a thick skin?”  She put it to me as diplomatically and gently as she could. It stank!  Looking back, I’m embarrassed to have even given her the material.

I refer to her as my literary mid-wife who told me the ‘baby’ was breech. She turned it around by suggesting that I tell my story as a memoir. “But I thought memoirs were for important public figures,” I replied. Anyway, I took her advice and once I began writing in this genre, the words simply began to flow as I tapped into my wellspring of memories and experiences.

Some were extremely painful and embarrassing to drudge up, but it forced me to confront my fears against which I had well insulated myself with layers of protective walls. Breaking them down was excruciatingly painful at times.

Three winters ago, I took my manuscript on vacation with me to the Dominican Republic where I made huge strides with it. It was there in the dreamy atmosphere of the Caribbean that the present title jumped off the page. After a twenty-five-year “pregnancy”, An Immoral Proposal was birthed on 9 November, 2013 and I’m pleased to say that, although the mother is going nuts with marketing minutia, the “baby” is growing quite well. tree pose Jennifer B. Graham is a self-proclaimed global nomad who began life in South Africa, left when she was 19 and since hasn’t looked back. She’s also lived in England, Canada, USA and New Zealand.

After earning her degree in communication/print journalism from the University of Mobile, Alabama, USA in 2001, she wrote freelance feature articles on topics such as food, health, travel and profiles for miscellaneous publications that include Destinations, Connections, The Press, The Citizen, The Fairhope Courier as well as Triond.com.

Jennifer is a member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. An Immoral Proposal is her first book. She lives with her husband near Toronto, Canada. Her five grandchildren split between Wilmington, Delaware and Regina, Saskatchewan, keep her wandering.

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Sarah says: Thank you so much, Jennifer, for guest posting on my blog, and telling us about your fascinating and often painful journey on the way to writing your memoir. I’m sure that some of my blog’s followers who are working on their memoirs just now, will be greatly inspired by what you’ve achieved.

Wishing you all the best with your book and any future projects you have in mind.

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28 thoughts on “Guest Blogger, Jennifer B Graham, talks about the birth of her memoir

  1. I too, have written my story and tried to manipulate it to be fiction. It didn’t work. The best way to write it is to leave it as a memoir. I am in the process of rewriting and editing. Best of luck to you!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some fiction authors don’t dare publish their memoirs, often for fear of causing offense to the living. So instead they re-live and explore their experiences through fictional characters: often composite ones. But well done, mamalisa, for having the courage to write a memoir, and wishing you all the best with your project.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, courage indeed. So many times while I read what I have written, I have to ask myself, “What if everyone could read this? Am I okay with that?” Ultimately I have a message to send, so by serving that purpose I can sigh and always answer, “Yes!”

        Liked by 1 person

      • My memoir rang truer than if I had fictionalized it. Emotionally and psychologically it was my quest to find and express my voice. It was breaking free from the chains of secrets and pretenses that stunted my growth. Yes, it has caused offense to some as we all view history and experiences from different perspectives. I needed to be true to myself and no longer live my life through someone else’s eyes.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I spent many decades seeing myself through a particular person’s eyes and it was all so negative. Then one day, I woke up and thought that person is actually wrong about lots of things, not just about me but other people, too. It was such a freeing moment. It is such a waste of life if one can’t be true to myself.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on the book Jennifer and thanks for sharing your journey with us – a difficult birth maybe but hopefully all the better for it 🙂 And thanks Sarah, for introducing us to Jennifer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Sarah for the great introduction. It sounds like a wonderful story and a courageous one- and painful. I can’t begin to think what that must be like to write. I have added this to my list of reads and hope I can get to it soon!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A wonderful and inspiring post!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing your journey with your “baby” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How wonderful to read your guest post over here Jennifer, and thank you Sarah for featuring Jennifer as your guest blogger! I am greatly inspired by your story Jennifer, as you know, I too am writing my memoir and yes, it is extremely challenging, painful and quite depressing at times. I am desperate to get it written but I have to walk away from it and explore other things in the meantime. To know you at last found your ‘voice’, your true and fearless way of telling what is obviously a very powerful story, is so encouraging to other memoir writers. It is like a birth process. I am still in the pangs of ‘hard labour’ and I just want this baby out!! You have shown me that it is possible, no matter how long the labour. Thank you Jennifer, and I wish you every success with your book.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That “hard labour” of yours, Sherri, doesn’t half sound painful. Take some deep calming breaths and relax into it, then all will be well 🙂 I’m glad you have Jennifer, who has delivered their “baby” successfully, to inspire you!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you dear Sherri. You can’t birth the baby till it’s ready to be born, just like you can’t rush a chrysalis before it’s ready to become a butterfly. Hang in there, and as Sarah says, take those deep calming breaths. Look forward to the day when we all can rejoice in your “blessed event.” 🙂

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