Please join me in welcoming Eleanor Vincent back to Choices

It’s wonderful to have Eleanor Vincent back on Choices on the last day of her WOW Women on Writing blog tour. I’m delighted to share about her memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story with you. (See my review at Goodreads.)

Eleanor’s work hugely inspired me to write my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. Swimming with Maya had been released a few years before, and I felt if she can do it so can I as hard as writing about the death of a child is. As soon as we met in December 1999 I felt we were soul mates the deaths of our eldest children bound us together, and we have been friends and writing buddies ever since. Just last weekend my husband and I visited with her in northern California. It was such a treat to meet her two grandchildren for the first time. I wrote a blog piece about how we met earlier this year you can find it here.

Swimming With Maya Cover

About Swimming With Maya; A Mother’s Story

Swimming With Maya; A Mother’s Story is a memoir that has been called “heartbreaking and heart-healing,” Eleanor Vincent shares an inspiring true story of courage, creativity, faith, and sheer tenacity as she seeks to find balance after unthinkable tragedy.

Previously available only in hardcover, Swimming with Maya (now published in paperback and e-book by Dream of Things publishers) demonstrates the remarkable process of healing after the traumatic death of a loved one. Eleanor Vincent raised her two daughters, Maya and Meghan, virtually as a single-parent. Maya, the eldest, was a high-spirited and gifted young woman. As a toddler, Maya was an angelic tow-head, full of life and curiosity. As a teenager, Maya was energetic and independent – and often butted heads with her mother. But Eleanor and Maya were always close and connected, like best friends or sisters, but always also mother and daughter.

Then at age 19, Maya mounts a horse bareback as a dare and, in a crushing cantilever fall, is left in a coma from which she will never recover. Eleanor’s life is turned upside down as she struggles to make the painful decision about Maya’s fate.

Maya as a teen

Maya TeenUltimately Eleanor chooses to donate Maya’s organs. Years later, in one of the most poignant moments you will ever read about, Eleanor has the opportunity to hear her daughter’s heart beat in the chest of the heart recipient. Along the way, Eleanor re-examines her relationship with her daughter, as well as the experiences that shaped Eleanor as a woman and as a mother to Maya.

An inspirational/motivational true story recommended for anyone who has experienced tragedy, who is grappling with traumatic experiences of the past, or who wants to better understand the strength and healing power of the human spirit.

Paperback:  340 Pages

Publisher:  Dream of Things (March 26, 2013)

ISBN-10:  0988439042

Twitter hashtag: #SWMaya

Swimming with Maya; A Mother’s Story is available as a print and e- book at Amazon.

Now I’m happy to present Eleanor as she shares with you: “What Every Memoir Writer Should Know” and offers a giveaway of her touching memoir about loss, love, and moving forward: Swimming with Maya. Please leave your comments for your chance to win. I’ll announce the winner, picked randomly, next Friday, November 22, 2013.

What Every Memoir Writer Should Know

Whenever someone says she is writing a memoir I smile and think, You poor deluded creature!  Please allow me to explain.

I was that poor deluded creature myself when I set out to write a book about the life and death of my 19-year-old daughter back in 1993. Ten years later, my illusions in tatters, I handed in the manuscript of Swimming with Maya.

I literally felt I had experienced ten years of hard labor yes, the birth pangs kind the day I put the book in the mail to my editor. My mentor Ellen Bass had warned, You will work yourself down to dust. She was right.

I had poured my life, my grief, my love for my children, many of my most intimate secrets and worst mistakes as a parent and a human being onto the page for all to see.  I’ve never done anything I loved or dreaded more.

Writing memoir is like the repetitive bad dream of going to an important business meeting naked. You have to strip yourself bare and do it so artfully no one can sense your fear.

What every memoir writer should know? Only write one if you absolutely, positively have to and keep these points in mind:

Never, ever do it for glory or money This goes for all writing, but especially memoir. To make money writing memoir you either have to be Bill Clinton or a celebrity who’s been to the Betty Ford Center. Everyone says memoir is hot. Translation: the market is flooded and your heartfelt pages will be up against thousands of other books. If, however, you have a compelling story and you tell it really well, you will have the satisfaction of bringing inspiration to readers.

Read great memoirs If you don’t read memoirs, why would you write one? Read the greats, not just the current crop of writers. Read Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments and Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty, throw in Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama and The Color of Water by James McBride, and don’t forget Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. In other words, read the classics by the writers who have blazed the trail for the rest of us. And don’t neglect great novels and poetry.

Take at least three classes in creative nonfiction Lots of people can tell you how to leverage Facebook or Twitter to create a platform; far fewer can teach the art of writing narrative nonfiction. Seek them out. Hopefully, they’ve published at least one memoir and are possibly teaching at a school with a great writing program. Some excellent teachers offer classes privately. Creative Nonfiction, the leading journal of narrative nonfiction, offers a mentoring program at

Start or join a writing group Writers need readers. As John Rember writes in MFA in a Box, writing is like personal archeology. You must keep digger deeper, find the nuggets, and refine them. Having supportive yet critical readers will help you do this. Two-thirds of what ultimately became Swimming with Maya would never have been written without the feedback and support of my writing group.

Learn about the business of writing I took courses in proposal writing and marketing and went to hear agents and publishers speak at conferences. Go talk to your local bookstore owner about what is selling and why. Remaining naive or uninformed about the business of being an author will come back to bite you.

Let go Once you’ve written and rewritten countless times, and had your book professionally designed, edited, and copyedited, and, if you are very lucky and persistent, it will be published. At that point, you must let go. You won’t be able to control how readers or critics respond to those words you sweated over for years. You must toughen up and learn not to take the maniac on Amazon who tells the world you are a selfish person, a bad mother, and a terrible writer personally. She is having a very bad day.

Please enter to win a copy of Swimming with Maya. Thank you, Madeline, for hosting me on Choices!

And thank you, Eleanor, for being my guest on Choices. Please come visit again very soon.

Author Bio and Contact Information

Eleanor Vincent Head ShotEleanor Vincent is an award-winning writer whose debut memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story, was nominated for the Independent Publisher Book Award and was reissued by Dream of Things press early in 2013. She writes about love, loss, and grief recovery with a special focus on the challenges and joys of raising children at any age.

Called engaging by Booklist, Swimming with Maya chronicles the life and death of Eleanor’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Maya, who was thrown from a horse and pronounced brain-dead at the hospital. Eleanor donated her daughter’s organs to critically ill patients and poignantly describes her friendship with a middle-aged man who was the recipient of Maya’s heart.

Since the initial publication of Swimming with Maya in 2004, Eleanor has been a national spokesperson on grief recovery and organ donation, appearing on CNN and San Francisco’s Evening Magazine. She has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, and been interviewed on radio and television programs around the country.

She was born in Cleveland, Ohio and attended the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College, where she occasionally teaches writing workshops on creative nonfiction and memoir.

Her essays appear in the anthologies At the End of Life: True Stories about How we Die (edited by Lee Gutkind); This I Believe: On Motherhood; and Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs. They celebrate the unique and complicated bonds between mothers and daughters, making hard decisions as a parent whether your child is 14 or 40 and navigating midlife transitions with grace and authenticity. She lives in Oakland, California.

Find out more about Eleanor by visiting her online:

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Eleanor’s ˜About Me’:




  1. Dear Eleanor,
    This is a marvelous (and very accurate) explanation of memoir writing. I found myself nodding “yes” throughout the whole post. “You will work yourself down to the dust” via your mentor resonates. Thank you and Madeline for begin such a source of inspiration through your brave stories and through sharing the lessons learned from writing them.
    Blessings to you both,

  2. Madeline Sharples says:

    Thanks for coming by Kathy. Doesn’t Eleanor always have the right answers about the craft of memoir? I’m thrilled to have her back here today. 🙂

  3. Eleanor … your book sounds very moving … and your perspective on memoir writing was spot on. As a long time writer in a business context, I had no idea how different creative writing would be. It took many classes, and a lot of critiquing from writer and reader friends to get the job done. But it was a wonderful learning process.

  4. Eleanor, thank you for this guided tour of memoir writing. So often people who want to write memoir have no idea where to begin and how to let go at the end. You have given them the essentials in a very well written post.

    And thank you, Madeline, for hosting Eleanor today. Please don’t enter me in the drawing a I have a copy of Eleanor’s book, which I found incredibly poignant and moving. (BTW, the site looks awesome!)

  5. Madeline Sharples says:

    Thank you Mary and Sherrey for coming by. I hope you’ll read Swimming with Maya. It is a wonderful and moving book.
    And Sherrey, thanks so much for your compliment on the site. I’m still getting my feet wet here.
    Love to you both.

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