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Your Story Matters

Why I Read and Write Memoir

Behind the public-facing (Instagram) joy of landing my book deal, life is, as Glennon Doyle calls it, "Brutiful." Brutal + beautiful!

My 87-year-old mom fell eleven weeks ago and the stress hasn't let up since. Beth, my sister and only sibling, has shouldered most of the load.

ER visits. Hospital stays. Rehab. Managing caregivers and medication. Grocery shopping. Phone calls at all hours from health care professionals and our mother. I've done what I can from long-distance—primarily dealing with insurance companies and being a safe place for my sister to vent.

We've never had to deal with a situation like this before. Our mom was the caregiver for our dad, who died eleven years ago at age 73 after living with Parkinson's disease for 22 years. Now we're the ones on the front lines.

We're exhausted. Angry. Frustrated.

And many days we feel alone—and hopeless.

We're grasping at straws, searching for help, information—something to help us get through this.

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How to Find the Unique Angle for Your Memoir

"We're really excited about your book," the thirty-something editor said to me. "Because we want to publish the plurality of the queer experience."

Maybe that was her nice way of saying that there aren't a lot of books out there by middle-aged white women who discover they are LGBTQ+ in their fifties :)

For a long time LGBTQ+ literature has been largely “L" and “G” and white.

Yes, we needed and need those stories. But we also need a plurality of LGBTQ+ stories to share the plurality of the queer experience.

Stories like IN THE DREAM HOUSE and GENDER QUEER from BIPOC queer writers like Carmen Maria Machado and Maia Kobabe, respectively. From lesbians, gay, trans folx, bisexual, nonbinary, young and old queer folx. From every color in the rainbow.

But what if you're not part of the rainbow? Does the editor's comment have anything to do with you?

Yes. Here's why it matters to ALL writers:

I've never...

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The Truth About Who Needs to Read Your Story

When I ask my book coaching clients WHY they want to write their story, they typically say something like:

"I want to write the book I wish I had when I was going through X."

I get that.

When I was coming out, I was desperate to read stories of other women who came to terms with their sexuality later in life and how they had navigated that life-altering journey.

Did they stay in or leave their marriages? Could they find a way to live with their longings and not act on them? Was there any path to happiness or was their only path full of pain?

What did they do when everything they thought they knew about themselves was upended?

I wanted to feel seen. Understood. Less alone.

I wanted to know that it was possible to get to the other side of the bombshell that had exploded in my marriage.

That is, I believe, why we read memoir. Sure, there's the thrill of reading a page-turner, but there's nothing quite like that moment when you feel an author is inside your head, expressing feelings you...

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Representation Matters

I'm in a conference room at my wife's workplace, Temple University, here to celebrate the investiture of the university's new president and go to the homecoming game.

Every so often, Wendy pops her head into the conference room to introduce me to one of her colleagues. She's proud, I think, of me, and excited that she has a wife to show off. :)

She's finally in a workplace where she doesn't need to hide who she is or who she loves.

That wasn't the case when we first met.

Back then, Wendy was working for a Christian college where it was technically okay for a community member to be gay but only if they didn't act on it.

WTF?

Wendy, on faculty for 20+ years, could have been FIRED for holding my hand in public.

Yep. In 2017, this was the case, and it remains the case today. And firing Wendy would have been completely legal.

I hope someday she'll let me help her write the story of how she ended up being subjected to...

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Celebrate the Milestones in Your Memoir Journey

My heart nearly stopped when I read the subject line of the email:

Readers Reports: Graveyard of Safe Choices

The email from the university press I'd been waiting for all summer was finally here.

Catch up on the previous steps in my publication journey here.

I scanned the email:

Happy news.

Both readers recommend publication.

I put my head in my hands and started to cry. 

After 4+ years and I don't know how many drafts, it looks like my memoir has found a home.

It's not a done deal yet—there's still a couple of approvals left to go and one more semi-substantial revision to address the very helpful comments from the peer reviewers—but I think this thing is going to happen.

I'll shout it from the rooftops once I have a publication date—but I'm not going to wait to celebrate.

This is a big f**ing milestone!

Because there were days—many days—that I wanted to give up.

When I thought no one would care about my story.

When It felt too hard to revisit...

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What Memoir Writers Fear Most

Beck came to me last spring with a vague idea about the story he wanted to write.

Snippets of experiences from my childhood living as a girl and moments of parallel in adulthood, as I re-experience firsts as a man.

Okay.

I knew there was an important story there, and I also knew that "snippets" weren't going to do it justice.

"What are you most afraid of?" I asked. I figured the snippets approach was a way for Beck to protect himself, to guard his heart from further trauma and judgment.

Snippets! So light and breezy!

Because this is a writer who has been abandoned over and over by the people who are supposed to love him most.

"Oh, I'm afraid that people will think my book is a narcissistic journey into nothingness," Beck said.

I chuckled, not because this was funny but because I hear a variation of this fear all the time from writers.

Being afraid that people will think you're a narcissist if you write your story really means you're afraid that no one will...

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The #1 Key to Writing a Memoir That Works

I once heard an editor from one of the Big 5 publishers say: “I’m looking for books that are both completely unique and exactly the same.” And she laughed.

I laughed too.

But now I've come to believe that the intersection of “completely unique” and “exactly the same” IS the key to writing an effective memoir.

Two Ways Your Memoir Needs to Be Exactly the Same

#1: It Belongs in a Clear Category

Agents, editors, and publishers like to put books in categories, in boxes. That’s how they know whether they can sell them or not, whether there are readers for those books.

Here are some common categories for memoir:

Cancer journeys. Addiction. Abuse. Trauma. Grief (I read a lot of these). Travel memoirs. Food memoirs. Coming of age. Spiritual journeys. Coming out memoirs.

When there isn’t a clear category, it makes your book more difficult to sell.

#2: It Communicates a Universal Message

Your memoir can’t just be...

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Don’t Read the Comments

I’ve finally arrived as a writer because now I know why they say “Don’t read the comments.”

Insert sad face.

If you’ve read my latest newsletters or you follow me on social media, you know that I had an essay go viral on today.com.

Haven’t read it yet? Here it is!

What a high that was to have that piece published and to hear that it was one of the site's most viewed posts that week.

And then the comments by members of the general public rolled in…

There were 3 categories of comments.

Some were lovely:

“This is a beautiful story. I applaud her!”

“So brave!”

“Love the Slinky story!”

Some were in the vein of: “I’m not a lesbian and I drive a Subaru.” 

Are there really that many people incapable of understanding irony or taking a joke?

Or as one commenter wrote: “The number of y’all declaring your heterosexuality because of an inside joke in the LGBTQ community is both...

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What's My Story Really About Anyway?

My essay “The Subaru Should Have Been a Sign,” went viral on today.com.

I still can’t freaking believe it.

In case you haven’t read it yet, click on this link.

Barb from Subaru Customer Service reached out to say that her colleagues were in awe of the piece. “It really resonated with us,” Barb said. “Everybody at some point needs to take a big leap and follow their heart.”

My heart took a little leap at that moment, and I may have even gotten a bit choked up. Because isn’t that what we all want as writers? To know that our writing connected with a reader. That we touched someone’s heart. That they felt seen or known or less alone.

And the interesting thing for me—so far—has been that I’ve heard from at least as many straight readers as I have from readers in the queer community.

Because my piece wasn’t about being gay or coming to terms with my sexuality later in life. That was the...

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Writing Out Loud: Is Your Story Worth Sharing?

Is Your Story Worth Sharing?

My new book coaching clients are on fire right now! They have a story or a big idea they are burning to share with the world. We're digging in together to further focus their idea so they can write forward with purpose.

This is the fun part, y'all.

But inevitably there will come a time (or two) when doubt will creep in. When writing feels like a slog. When they will start comparing themselves to more established writers.

When they wonder if it's all worth it. When they wonder if they have anything new to share with the world. When they wonder if anyone will even care.

I get it. I've been there.

Those kinds of doubts creep in when I'm in the messy middle of a draft ... or in the middle of a revision.

Truth be told, those doubts have crept in recently for me.

I thought I'd be further along with my memoir by now.

But instead of getting a book deal, I'm back in the middle of a major revision. I'm tearing my draft apart to write a better book.

And it will be...

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