Our Choices guest today, David Berner, shares with us the essence of memoir writing. He tells us what it is not – a series of diary entries that relate every detail of a life – and what it is – a story that begins with a moment rounded out with the details related to that moment. My memoir Leaving the Hall Light On, begins with the moment of my son’s suicide. The rest of the book details the events leading up to that moment and its aftermath. David Berner’s memoir, Any Road Will Take You There, starts with a five-thousand mile road trip that enables him to find peace and fulfillment in being a dad after a series of heartbreaking and life-changing personal events.
Please welcome David Berner.
Making the Choice to Write About Your Life
by David Berner
A woman came up to me after a workshop I conducted several years ago about writing memoir. She held in her hand a thick manuscript and told me she was writing about her life, one full of adventures, one she wanted to share. “I’ve started from the very beginning,” she said. “When and where I was born, growing up, all of it, on and on.” It was a story about her life with her abusive, alcoholic minister father, all the moving and travel to exotic places as a missionary, and the awful secrets she and her family had to endure for years. A tough, but compelling story to tell, I thought. But when she said she “started from the beginning” she really meant she started from the beginning.
The very first sentence was about her birth and each chapter was a chronological story that never mentioned her father until several chapters in. The manuscript was not a manuscript at all; it was a detailed series of diary entries.
“Your life is not about dates and diary notes. It is a series of events along an incredible journey,” I said. “Somewhere in those first chapters is a moment, a scene, an interesting exchange. Begin with a telling moment in time about living with your father.”
Think about the movies you’ve seen, the good ones. They start with a specific scene that kicks off the story and moves it toward a place of reflection. Writing memoir is the same thing. Think of your story as a little film with the narrative flow of a screenplay, with scenes that are unique to your life. Don’t be concerned about sticking to a strict chronological timeline. In fact, fight that urge. You can fill in backstory information as you move through the story. Get to the meat.
And what about those individual scenes, those specific events? How do you know which ones to choose, which ones to write about?
The final manuscript for my memoir, Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons (Dream of Things, 2014) did not start out as a book-length story. It began as a series of small, short essays about being a father. Some of which, in their early forms, had been published in small literary journals. Essentially what I had was a collection of scenes, depicting memorable and poignant moments for me as a father and a son. Each was a distinctive, stand-alone story with detail and dialogue, and most importantly relevance to the bigger story about being a dad.
One of the essays (scenes) was about a five thousand mile road trip I had taken with my two teenage sons. The journey followed the death of my father, a personal change in careers, a divorce, and revelations about my grandfather’s affair with a neighbor’s wife, an incident that rocked my family so deeply that no one ever discussed it. In fact I was in my 40s before the full story was revealed to me. This, and all those other life changes sparked the cross-country trip and compelled me to reflect on my life as a man and a father, and to reinvent the next chapters in my life. The essay about that journey became the thread of Any Road Will Take You There and each one of essays in that collection became reflective moment in the manuscript. Those individual scenes were the essence of the memoir. They were the elements that brought the bigger story to fruition.
When you tell your story, consider your own personal moments, the scenes in your life that reveal something of the bigger narrative you’re trying to tell. Think about the stories you share with your friends or the ones repeated at family gatherings. Look through old photo albums to help spark a memory. Consider the details of those memories and how you felt when they happened. Try to evoke the senses. What did you hear or smell? The senses can hold lasting memories. Then consider which of these memories, which scenes advance your bigger story. Which ones demand reflection? Which ones tell a deeper tale? Reflect on those moments like you’ve never done before. What was it about the day your father taught you how to ride a bike that still resonates so strongly so many years later? That’s the story you want to tell. That’s the scene you want to reveal. This event and your unique reflection on it is what should be uncovered in the stories of your life.
However, while discovering those particular scenes don’t forget about the big idea of your story. What is the message or thread of the narrative? What is it that you want your reader to be left with? If you can identify that then you can decide which memories, events, scenes will best be told in the larger narrative. Not every memory or event will further the bigger story. Chose only the ones that serve the overall theme.
Explore your life. Dig into those memories. And stay away from simply presenting diary entries. Think small (the individual scenes) and big (the larger theme) at the same time. And remember your life is like a movie. Give the reader memorable, vivid scenes that will reveal truths about the human condition and the distinctive adventure that is your life.
Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story told with humor and grace, revealing the generational struggles and triumphs of being a dad, and the beautiful but imperfect ties that connect all of us. Recipient of a Book of the Year Award from the Chicago Writers Association, Any Road Will Take You There is honest, unflinching, and tender.
In the tradition of the Great American Memoir, a middle-age father takes the reader on a five-thousand-mile road trip — the one he always wished he’d taken as a young man. Recently divorced and uncertain of the future, he rereads the iconic road story — Jack Kerouac’s On the Road — and along with his two sons and his best friend, heads for the highway to rekindle his spirit. However, a family secret turns the cross-country journey into an unexpected examination of his role as a father, and compels him to look to the past and the fathers who came before him to find contentment and clarity, and celebrate the struggles and triumphs of being a dad.
Paperback: 300 Pages
Publisher: Dream of Things (September 23, 2014)
Twitter hashtag: # AnyRoadBook
Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon.
About the Author:
David W. Berner,the award-winning author of Accidental Lessons and Any Road Will Take You There, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he began his work as a broadcast journalist and writer. He moved to Chicago to work as a radio reporter and news anchor for CBS Radio and later pursue a career as a writer and educator. His book Accidental Lessons is about his year teaching in one of the Chicago area’s most troubled school districts. The book won the Golden Dragonfly Grand Prize for Literature and has been called a “beautiful, elegantly written book” by award-winning author Thomas E. Kennedy, and “a terrific memoir” by Rick Kogan (Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio). Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons is the author’s story of a 5000-mile road trip with his sons and the revelations of fatherhood. The memoir has been called “heartwarming and heartbreaking” and “a five-star wonderful read.”
David can be found online at:
Thanks so much, David, for visiting Choices today. Your words about writing life stories are spot on. We wish you huge success with your wonderful memoir.
David’s WOW! Blog Tour Dates
Monday, November 17 @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway! http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/
Tuesday, November 18 @ Choices
Join David Berner as he offers insight into writing about your life and choosing what to write about. David shares his thoughts with Madeline Sharples and readers of Choices. Learn more about Berner and his memoir, Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons http://madelinesharples.com/
Wednesday, November 19 @ Jerry Waxler
Join memoirist Jerry Waxler as he reviews David W. Berner’s memoir titled Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons http://www.jerrywaxler.com/
Thursday, November 20 @ All Things Audry
Today is the day to catch up with David W Berner and his WOW! tour as he stops by All Things Audry with the guest post topic of “The Allure and Redemptive Nature of Road Trips”. Read this post and find out more about Berner’s memoir Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons http://allthingsaudry.blogspot.com/
Friday, November 21 @ National Association of Memoir Writers
David W Berner shares his thoughts in a guest post at National Association of Memoir Writers and shares “How to balance the story with what can be the sometimes intrusive nature of writing about family”. Hear from David W. Berner about this and find out more about his memoir Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons http://namw.org/blog/
Tuesday, November 25 @ Create Write Now
David W Berner stops at Create Write Now as he shares a guest post with Mari McCarthy and her readers. Learn more about Berner’s book Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons and read his insightful post about “How to incorporate reflective moments in memoir or creative nonfiction” http://www.createwritenow.com/
Wednesday, November 26 @ Lauren Scharhag
David W. Berner and his memoir, Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons make a stop to share thoughts about being a writer in residence with Lauren Scharhag and her readers. This is a blog stop you won’t want to miss. http://www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, November 26 @ Lisa Haselton
Join Lisa Haselton as she interviews David W. Berner about Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons. David has also offered an ebook copy of his book for a giveaway; so don’t miss this great blog stop!http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/
Friday, November 28 @ Words by Webb
Jodi Webb interviews David W. Berner about his memoir Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons http://jodiwebb.com/
Monday, December 1 @ Renee’s Pages
David W. Berner writes today’s guest post at Renee’s Pages where h talks about “What Broadcast Journalism Taught Me About Parenting”. Learn more about David W. Berner and his memoir Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons http://reneespages.blogspot.com/
Tuesday, December 2 @ Chynna Laird
David W. Berner shares his thoughts as he writes today’s guest post at Chynna Laird Author Blog. Hear about “How Accidental Lessons Changed My Life” and learn more about David W. Berner and his popular memoir Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons http://www.chynna-laird-author.com/
Thursday, December 4 @ Romance Junkies
David W Berner is interviewed by Romance Junkies. Find out more about Berner and his memoir Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons http://www.romancejunkies.com/rjblog/
Monday, December 8 @ CMash Reads
David W. Berner writes today’s post at CMash Reads as he writes about how to be disciplined with writing – – writing like you workout. Don’t miss this guest post as you find out more about his memoir Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons and register for a giveaway so you can read your own copy David’s book! http://cmashlovestoread.com/
Tuesday, December 9 @Sioux’s Page
David W. Berner stops by Sioux’s Page to talk more about his memoir Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons and also provide some insight into his experience publishing with Dream of Things and how he came to choose this publisher. http://siouxspage.blogspot.com/
Friday, December 12 @ Sherrey Meyer
David W. Berner takes his WOW! blog tour to Sherrey Meyer’s blog with a guest post topic “Writing about the living and writing about the dead. How to be true to both. ” Hear what David has to say as you learn more about his memoir Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons http://sherreymeyer.com/blog/
Monday, December 15 @ Kathleen Pooler
Stop by Kathleen Pooler’s blog, Memoir Writer’s Journey today to learn more about David W. Berner and his memoir titled: Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons and read David’s guest post about ” The unique connection between fathers and sons” http://krpooler.com/
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