Radio interview (MP3 format) of Boyd about his new book, Retirement: A Memoir and Guide:
Another recent interview: Abscondo Podcast – 47 – Chasing Dreams with Boyd Lemon
Boyd Lemon is the author of the recently published memoir, Digging Deep. His memoir is unusual in many respects: the depth and candor of the material, his organizing structure and his decision to self-publish and promote it like crazy. In this post Boyd answers questions about his general writing process.
SL: Early in the book you mention that you’d been writing short fiction and decided to write about your marriages. What gave you that idea?
BL: My young writing mentor, whom I call Kate in the book, suggested it. I yearned to write a novel, after having written about 15 short stories, and when I mentioned it to her, she told me she thought I wasn’t ready yet to write a novel and suggested that I write a memoir about my three marriages. “There’s gold there,” she said. After thinking about it, I decided she was right.
SL: When did your idea of writing about your marriages evolve into a commitment to publish a memoir?
BL: After I finished the third draft, I thought about publishing it. I sent it to a beta reader who was a best-selling author. He read it and told me I should publish it. That encouraged me, and I hired a professional editor, who came up with the idea of putting the material about my writing the memoir in the present tense to make it less confusing. I did and thought that made a world of difference. At that point, I decided to publish it, although it went through several more drafts after that.
SL: Your editor was inspired. I especially admired the way you alternate present tense reflections and an ongoing account of your writing experience with memory flashbacks. Many readers may find inspiration in this structure. Did you give yourself a deadline for finishing the project?
BL: Not a time deadline, but I gave myself a limit on the number of drafts, because I am the type of person who could go on making revisions forever. My arbitrary limit was 10 drafts, which I never reached, surprisingly. I decided it was finished after seven drafts, except for correcting typographical and grammatical errors.
SL: You’ve mentioned that you are working on a second memoir. Will it be structured the same way as Digging Deep?
BL: I don’t think so, although I haven’t settled on a structure yet. So far I have just been writing whatever comes into my head, and I’m only about half way through the first draft as best I can tell, but don’t think the present tense looking back to the past will fit this one.
SL: What is your uber-agenda as you write your second book?
BL: It is about retirement, how I planned it, what issues I faced, what went right, what went wrong, what surprised me and how it changed me as a human being. I hope to finish the first draft by the end of October, complete the book by next summer and go on a cross country tour promoting both books next summer. However, if it doesn’t work out, I am not going to rush the second book. I’ll just go on tour with Digging Deep.
SL: What advice do you have for memoir writers?
BL: I think a lot of memoir writers have difficulty finishing their memoirs, probably because many memoirs are emotionally wrenching combined with fear of what others will think. However, I think that most of us who have finished a memoir have found them healing in the end. So I encourage memoir writers to keep at it and finish. Whether you publish it is another issue, but you don’t have to decide that before you finish it. The other advice I have is, above all, be honest. If you try to sugarcoat it, your readers will know.
SL: As I read the aptly named Digging Deep, I’m deeply curious how you handled things with your ex-wives regarding the disclosures in your book. Did you show them what you’d written before the book was published?
BL: I told each of them that I was writing it and intended to publish it. I received a response from only my third wife, who said she was not looking forward to it. I asked them each for input on several specific things related to their perception of specific incidents. My first and third wives both responded constructively. My second wife did not respond to either me or our adult children.
I decided I would not show it to my ex-wives before publication, because I knew that would result in endless requests to make changes to comply with their perceptions of events. Their perceptions, in my view, were not relevant to my memoir. The memoir is about my perceptions. To the extent my perceptions were wrong or inaccurate, they were still my honest perceptions, and that is what is important to the book, as opposed to objective truth, assuming one could ever achieve that.
SL: The material is intensely intimate. How did you make decisions about what to disclose?
BL: That was a question on my mind throughout the writing of the book. The first decision I made was that I was going to write the relevant truth as I perceived it, without regard to my ex-wives. The word “relevant” is crucial here. The memoir was about my role in the destruction of my marriages and how I discovered it. I vowed not to disclose anything about my ex-wives that was not relevant to that theme. Unfortunately, there was a lot relevant to that theme that included intimate details of my ex-wives’ conduct so that my own conduct would make sense. But if I censored myself, it wouldn’t have been much of a book. I just couldn’t do that. I decided if I was going to write it and publish it, I would not hold back on what I felt was relevant. I knew my ex-wives would see it differently, and I was prepared to incur their wrath. Otherwise, why write and publish the book?
SL: How did your wives react to the book after it was published?
BL: Wife No. 1 said it was an excellent book, that she enjoyed very much and she read it twice. Wife No. 2 said nothing to me, but told our children that she was very upset. That is all I know. Wife No. 3 told me that she would not read it at all, because it would upset her too much.
SL: Have your children read the book?
BL: Yes, they have.
SL: How have the disclosures you made about their mothers affected your relationship with them?
BL: They are in their 30’s and 40’s and know their mothers pretty well. There were some details that surprised them (especially the sexual details, of course), but generally they were not shocked, and as far as I can tell it has not affected my relationships with them.
SL: Do you think you would have persisted in solving the puzzle of your marriages if you hadn’t made the commitment to finish the book?
BL: No, it was too painful for me. I would have stopped if I did not have the carrot of finishing the book, which is something I always wanted to do.
SL: What difference has it made in your life to have this self-exploration finished and out there for the world to read?
BL: Finishing the memoir brought me a peace and closure regarding the failure of my marriages that I had not known before. I had been unaware of how it weighed on me. I forgave my wives for their part and myself for mine. We are, after all, each flawed human beings. I think we each did the best we could under the circumstances. Some acquaintances have criticized me for disclosing such intimate details. In effect, they have said they really didn’t want to know that much about me. My feeling is that if honest disclosure causes some people to dislike me, I don’t care. I am who I am, and I accept that not everyone will like me. I am not comfortable hiding things or distorting them just so people will like me. Mostly, though, people have complemented me, feeling that what I did was courageous. That makes me feel good. Courage is something I have always wanted to have and have never been sure that I had it. I am sorry that my ex-wives ( or, at least two of them) are upset about the publication of the book, but, frankly, I think it is a good book.
SL: And so do I.
Welcome to the thirty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found at http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/blog-interviews.
MB: Hello Boyd. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
BL: After a 40-year career as a nationally recognized attorney in my field (legal ethics and malpractice) and writing a book on my specialty, I was encouraged by a mentor to write fiction. I wrote more than a dozen short stories and recognized a deep calling to re-invent myself as an artist as I neared retirement from the law. Following my heart led me to face a painful past, which became the subject of my memoir. The journey as an artist began in the idyllic coastal town of Ventura, California, then on to the venerable literary, music and art scenes of Boston, and finally to living the dream life of many an artist, aBohemian year on the Left Bank in Paris, with a final few months in the hills of Tuscany before returning to California. Once I started writing, my passion, combined with years of discipline as a professional, gained the notice of world-renowned writer and teacher, Natalie Goldberg, who invited me to her prestigious year-long workshop for writers in Taos. In a way, my life began at 67.
MB: I like that. Mine began then in my late 30s. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
BL: So far I have written short fiction, personal essays, a little poetry and a memoir. I am currently working on another memoir. I long to write a novel, and I wouldn’t rule out any genre.
MB: Me neither, although I’m not sure I could do sci-fi/fantasy justice. What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
BL: My memoir, Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages (2011); a collection of short stories, Unexpected Love and Other Stories (2011); four short stories in print (2007-2010) and several more on line (2009 and 2010); two personal essays on line (2010); a poem that appears on a calendar (2008); and the book on legal malpractice, Evaluating A Malpractice Case Against A Lawyer (2006). I did no marketing until I finished my memoir. Since then I have done virtually all of it.
MB: I’m guessing that the answer to my next question will be “no”, but do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
BL: No, I don’t, and I don’t think they are vital to an author’s success, but they are helpful to authors who are well-known or who can garner an agent’s interest in his or her work.
MB: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
BL: I think eBooks are the greatest thing that has ever happened to the unknown writer because it is a medium in which work can be published at no or little cost without need for an agent or a publisher. All three of my books are available as eBooks. I can sell them inexpensively that way and still make a small profit. I haven’t had a long enough experience yet to know how it will work out. I read eBooks on my computer for the first time when I lived in Europe in 2010 because it was awkward to carry a bunch of books around on my travels, and I read a lot. I finally bought a Kindle about a month ago. I still enjoy print books, but I also like reading books on my Kindle, especially when I travel.
MB: A ‘win win’ situation. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
BL: A short story that was accepted for publication in a relatively obscure literary magazine was the first. After dozens of rejections, it was a tremendous thrill. And yes, it is still a thrill. Getting these works ready for possible publication seems analogous to giving birth to a baby (though, of course, I haven’t had that experience). The pain is of a different sort, but pain there is; and it seems like a miracle to see it in print.
MB: I haven’t had that experience either but I know which I’d rather go through (my dog is sprawled on my lap, like a baby, as I type this). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
BL: Many, and I learned early on, thankfully even before I received the first, that it is just part of the process. My first one was disappointing, but now I can’t even feel disappointment. The thrill of acceptance is still there though.
MB: Very wise. I was a bit like that; disappointment with the first couple but after that I was just pleased that someone was reading my work and if it wasn’t for them, that was fine. What are you working on at the moment / next?
BL: Another memoir, this one on something to do with my retirement, but I haven’t settled on a theme. I’m just writing whatever comes into my head right now.
MB: Sounds like a good plan to me. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
BL: I write almost every day. I wrote about 6,000 words one day (and night), but that has only happened once. A few hundred words is typical. Much of it never sees the light of day, however.
MB: Even if that’s the case (which would perhaps be a shame), it’s all good practice; honing your craft. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
BL: I have never suffered from writer’s block. I make sure I write something every day, no matter what. I often write whatever comes into my head, sometimes just looking around the room I am in, or wherever I am, and describing what I see. Usually, when I do that, something more active comes to mind, but not always.
MB: And do you plot your stories, Boyd, or do you just get an idea and run with it?
BL: I usually have a general idea of a plot, but then I run with it, and it almost always changes as I write, especially with the second draft.
MB: I think most people would agree with that (and no doubt later drafts). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
MB: Ah yes, you did say earlier. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
BL: Proofreading is my least favourite; the first draft, the really creative part, is my favorite.
MB: Again, I think that would be the general consensus. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
BL: Oh, there is so much. I’ll select two points. Write something every day no matter what, and finish what you start, no matter what. I have observed that the majority of people who start to write something, especially a book length work, never finish it. Maybe it is better to start with shorter works. That is what I did, and it served me well. Writing my memoir as my first work would have been too overwhelming for me.
MB: Shorter works (fiction) are my first love. What do you like to read?
BL: Memoir, novels, history, personal essays, biography and short stories. I think though that I’m going to expand my horizons into fantasy and horror—just for fun.
MB: Some reading this may not class ‘horror’ fun but I’m a former Stephen King (still respect, but don’t read, him) fan so I’m with you. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
BL: http://www.writersdigest.com. Poets and Writers Magazine. For books, any book on writing by Natalie Goldberg, and On Writing by Stephen King.
MB: If I had a pound (or dollar, I’m not fussy) for every time someone mentioned ‘On writing’… In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
BL: The United States for now, and since that is my native country, I think it helps. I can only write in English. Also, memoir is more popular in the United States than in any other English-speaking country, and that is what I am writing now.
MB: It is popular here too (especially misery memoirs) although a lot of ‘celebrities’ have jumped on that bandwagon. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
BL: I am, and I think they are invaluable for promoting writing, if used properly, but very time consuming. They are also wonderful for receiving support from other writers.
MB: Where can we find out about you and your work?
BL: The best place is my website, where my books are described and excerpted. Two chapters and an excerpt of another chapter of my memoir, Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages, about my journey to understand my role in the destruction of my three marriages, are on my website. http://www.BoydLemon-Writer.com. I also write three blogs, one on travel,http://www.boomertravelblog.com; one on divorce recovery,http://www.DivorceRecoveryResources.com; and one on lawyer’s malpractice, http://www.legalmalpracticeadvice.com. Finally, I write a weekly column for an online magazine, titled Amigos 805,http://www.amigos805.com.
MB: And you have time to write? Finally, what has been your biggest surprise about the writing life?
BL: How helpful and supportive other writers are and how necessary it is to reach out to other writers and feel that support.
MB: Here, here. Thank you so much Boyd. All the best with everything from here on.
In this program, show host Sylvia Massara features author, Boyd Lemon, and his book “Digging Deep”. Boyd started out trying to find a life for himself after retiring from a successful law practice and through his many activities and his writing, not only did he write a book that would help millions of people going through the pain of a marriage break up, but he also found healing by facing his own demons.
Q: What makes you proud to be a writer from the United States?
A: I feel that communication with other human beings is vital to mankind and the world in which we live, and I am proud that other people in the various English speaking countries are interested in reading what I write.
Q: What, or who, inspired you to become a writer?
A: A little girl (a few weeks old when I first met her) that I took care of twice a week as a favor for a friend who couldn’t afford daycare for the baby. I was 63 and nearing retirement. My first short story was inspired by my experiences taking care of her.
Q: When did you begin writing with the intention of being published?
Q: Did your environment or upbringing play a major role in your writing and why?
A: No, not really, except that I was brought up to finish what I start.
Q: Do you come up with your title(s) before or after you write the manuscript(s)?
Q: Why do you write in the genre(s) that you’ve chosen?
A: I enjoy it, and I feel that I have something to say that can help others.
Q: What has been your most rewarding experience while in the writing process?
A: Digging up what I had buried deep within myself.
Q: What has been your most negative experience while in the writing process?
Q: What has been your most rewarding experience in your publishing journey?
A: Seeing my book in print, including the cover, because I drew the image on the cover.
Q: What has been your most negative experience in your publishing journey?
Q: What one positive piece of advice would you give to other authors?
A: Keep writing.
Q: Who is your favorite author and why?
Marilyn Robinson. She takes the ordinary stories of life and extracts great truths from them in beautiful writing.
Q: Please tell us the title(s) of your current book(s):
A: Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages
Unexpected Love and Other Stories
Evaluating a Malpractice Case Against a Lawyer
Q: What format(s) are your books in: Print Only – E-Book Only – or Both?
Q: What special projects are you working on now and what books do we have to look forward to in the future?
A: I continue to write short stories, and I am currently working on another memoir—about retirement.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
A: Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages is a memoir about my journey to understand my role in the destruction of my three marriages. I believe that my journey will guide others toward resolving issues in their own marriages and relationships in these times when many couples and individuals are struggling with the new order in relationships and facing their own pasts.
Q: Please List Your Website (s):
Q: Please share with us any blogs that you might have:
A: http://www.DivorceRecovery Resources.com.