Fledgling: The birth of a memoir
March 10, 2010: “I have started formulating in my mind an approach to writing a memoir, but haven’t come up with anything concrete yet. I’ve been running a bed and breakfast for 16 years and want the memoir to be about my life there. I do not want it to be focused on my family, but rather on the interactions between me and my guests, employees, and colleagues. At this point, I don’t know the best way to go…”
I wrote the above almost a year ago, when I made the decision to put all my stories and blogs posts about my years as an Innkeeper into memoir form. I had never written a memoir before and had no idea where how to start. But, like most of my new experiences in life, I just jumped right in. I started gathering information and talking to every writer I knew about memoir and what they thought it was. There was a lot of controversy and many were not able to give me a definitive answer. So I went to the dictionaries, online and off. I started formulating definitions and writing about them on my blogs, my writers sites, and all my social networking sites. I got a lot of feedback.
On one of my writer’s sites, I posted regularly about what it was like being an Innkeeper, the challenges, the interaction with guests,and the running of a small business. I began getting lots of comments and interest in what I was writing. Many of my virtual friends suggested that I collect my posts into some kind of book form. at first, I laughed off the idea. Up to that time my thoughts about writing books were that they were too time consuming and required too much from me in the way of commitment and dedication. Never did I think that I couldn’t do it. I just never thought about it at all….until one day, out of the clear blue.
I went to a place on line called Fast Pencil. I registered and started posting my stories as chapters into the program. It was free unless you wanted to self publish. I came up with a bland, working title and starting spending more and more time there. I still wasn’t thinking about publishing; I just wanted to see what all of my stories and events looked like as an organized unit. My writing strategy was to organize the stories and information about the Inn I had already posted into chapters, then write a preface and afterward, I decided that, if I didn’t have enough stories to produce 70,000-90,000 words, I’d dig down into my memories of the past 16 years and add some more. I just wrote whatever came to my mind planning to re-write later. I wrote five to six hours a day…everyday for months.
I changed the title three times, and may not stop there. The first one was: Tales From An Innkeeper’s Crypt. I used this one to post my stories when I first started writing about my inn keeping experiences. After studying the memoir market a while, I discovered there were too many “Innkeeper Tales...” out there and I needed to come up with something more original. Eventually, I adopted A Memorable Time of My life as a working title. The third and present working title came from a line out of the book: Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen, a little off beat and more interesting.
Where am I now in the process?…and it has been a process, from which I’ve learned a lot. I’m over halfway finished with the first writing (approx 60,000. words), I’m working on a query letter for agents, and a proposal. I’ve had several readers look at it, have posted my query and excepts from the manuscript on several writer’s sites for feedback, and have self-edited and re-written parts of it many times. It is now stewing on line, waiting for me to get back to it with fresh eyes, to rewrite again, finish the chapters, have an editor friend look at it then re-read it through for clarity, flow, voice, etc. etc.
The process is complicated, many layered, and at times intensive…but for me, it’s more comfortable than writing fiction. I actually discovered I am truly a non-fiction writer through this process. Few writers cross over very well and I guess I’m one of the one’s who prefers not to. Non-fiction is the category of writing I’ve been drawn to all my life. I prefer reading biography and memoir to fiction as well, and enjoy satire. I don’t like Sci-Fi or Fantasy. I like reality shows and prefer real life stories to made up ones. Since “voice” is an important part of any piece of writing, I have infused my book with humor and good-natured sarcasm, which is characteristic of my particular voice and style.
To anyone who wants to write a memoir, make it honest, authentic, and reflect the real you. You can make it creative, by using techniques from fiction writing, but get to the truth and flush it out. And remember this, it’s not as easy as it seems.
Description: OPERATIC DIVAS AND NAKED IRISHMEN is a humorous and poignant account of how an admittedly asocial retired school teacher with no business sense reinvents herself as an Innkeeper. The reader is taken on a sixteen year journey as the author deftly wields her way around cantankerous contractors, harrowing housekeepers and no shortage of strange and interesting guests. Through her collected stories, the author gives the reader a personal, in-depth, and honest look at what it’s like to be an Innkeeper and not lose one’s sense of humor.
Excerpt from Chapter: …Will The Real Roger Easton Stand Up?
I heard it loud and clear. I was on the third floor of my bed and breakfast sitting at my computer with my shoes off working away on a new article. By the time I finished the last paragraph, it had turned into a steady pounding. I got up and walked to the stairway, shoes in hand.
Sitting on the top stair, I put them on one at a time, while the pounding got louder and louder and took on a sense of urgency. I hurried down the forty stairs to the ground floor, thinking that this must be a worker from the street who has come to tell me they’re turning my water off for a while.
I opened the front door and there he stood, rumpled; his weather-beaten canvas jacket open in the front revealing a denim workshirt. His hair was all askew, and a backpack was thrown over his left shoulder. He looked a little annoyed.
“Sorry,” I apologized, “It’s a big house….over four thousand square feet………takes a while to get to the door……. Can I help you?”
“Yeah, I’m here to check in”
Check-in? Check-in? I thought, my mind racing. Did I have a check-in today? Oh my God, I think I did! But not this dirty construction worker, who was about to turn my water off. Stumbling over the words, I gathered my wits and I spit out
“And you are…..Mister….?”
“…. Evans,” he interrupted, “the business man from Virginia”
Business man…business man…this is a business man? I thought. If this is a business man, where is his brief case?….and his computer?.
“Mr. Evans, of course” I managed to get out “Do come in”
“And you are?” he asked, reeking of tobacco.
“I’m Nancy, the owner and innkeeper,” I replied.
Telling him to put his backpack down in the hall, I took him into the parlor to give him the grand tour, the one I always do for my in-coming overnight guests. As we left the parlor and entered the dining room, I pointed out the snacks and drinks that were available for guests.
“Is it okay if I have some of that liquor over in the corner?” he asked, completely ignoring the fresh baked chocolate chip cookies on the cakeplate nearby.
Hesitating to think that one over for a bit, I answered “Yes” I’m such a trusting soul.
He told me he would be eating breakfast at nine and asked if his friend, the one who had made the reservation Roger I think his name was, could stop by later for a visit.
Then he asked “Is there anyone else here but me?”
I thought seriously about lying, but answered “No”
He went on “Do you live here alone?”
A sharp jab in my stomach alerted me. Do I tell him the truth? Why is he asking that?
“Yes”, I said and sent him up to the third floor, with a key, to find his room.
I hurried to my room on the second floor and double locked the door. Sitting on the bed, I tried to catch my breath, his words whirling around in my head. Later I heard him leave, then return. I quietly went down, to check out what was going on. I entered the parlor and there he was with an already half empty bottle of Vodka, in his right hand, pouring himself a drink. The brown paper sack from the liquor store across the street was lying on the floor.
“Hi,” he said, looking up at me from my favorite winged-back chair, with a crooked but friendly smile on his face. He was now reeking of both tobacco and Vodka.
“Hi” I countered, scurrying past him and heading for the kitchen.
“Like a drink?”
“Oh no, thank you. I don’t drink”. I said, maybe a little too curtly.
I made it to the kitchen, without appearing too rude, happy that I wouldn’t have to answer any personal questions. I retreated up the back stairs to my room, which I immediately locked tight. An hour or so later, the doorbell rang and I could hear him open it and greet his friend. For a while, it was very quiet and then I heard the two of them leave.
I finished watching the evening news and went downstairs to make myself some dinner. I walked into the parlor and was a little taken a back by the empty Vodka bottle plopped down on the antique table next my beautiful winged-back chair. After I recovered and threw out the empty Vodka bottle, I had dinner and retired to my room for the rest of the evening. I talked myself into believing everything would be okay and I wasn’t in any eminent danger. Then I locked both locks, grabbed the phone, and jumped in bed…………
Excerpt from Chapter eight: …I opened the door to a barrage of people., having no idea who they might be. The only person scheduled to check in that night was a single, elderly lady.
“I am Madame Rosalina Capriani!,” the woman announced, “and these are my suitcases”.
I scanned the four men accompanying her and, sure enough, each one was carrying a suitcase…
She extended a long, well rounded arm covered in silky, red, purple and green, part of a flowing cape encircled heavily in dancing Majenta fringe. I stood there in awe, as she flamboyantly glided through the doorway, motioning to her walking suitcases to follow her…
Nancy Hinchliff, Innkeeper at Aleksander House Bed and Breakfast
BIO: Nancy Hinchliff owns and operates a bed and breakfast in Louisville, Kentucky where she also blogs and writes on line at Examiner.com, Eye on Life Magazine, Pink magazine and Hub pages. You can find her blogging at Business and Creative Women’s Forum, Inn Notes, Inn business A Memorable Time of My Life, and Louisville Bed and Breakfast Association In 2008, she co-authored Room at the Table, for The Bed and Breakfast Association of Kentucky for which she won their president’s award for outstanding work. The coffee-table cookbook has recipes from Kentucky Inns throughout the state and beautiful photographs of scenic Kentucky taken by award winning photographer, Robin Goetz. She is currently working on a memoir titled Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen: An Innkeeper’s Tale, a humorous and poignant account of how an admittedly asocial retired school teacher reinvents herself as an Innkeeper. This intimate tale recounts 16 challenging years of self-discovery.