Interview with Lynn Cook Henriksen, Author of “TellTale Souls: Writing the Mother Memoir”
1. Where are you from?
I was born in Oregon, lived there until I was eight-years-old. Figure that’s why I love the rain. Then the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota was home until I was 20. I grew up surrounded by good, hard-working people whose hand-shakes were more trustworthy than a written contract is today. But I’ve learned I can do without so much snow. For the past 30 years, I’ve claimed the San Francisco Bay area as my paradise, and I see no reason to ever leave.
2. Tell us your latest news?
The 2012 San Francisco Book Festival honored TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir: How to Tap Memory and Write Your Story Capturing Character & Spirit as a winner in the “Best Books of Spring,” in the how-to category. I take that as a great tribute to “Keeping Spirits Alive.”
3. What inspired you to write your first book?
Truth be told, I never intended to write a book, much less two, but life has a way of steering us in directions that open wonderful, often surprising, new vistas. Over a decade ago I became enthralled with short, true stories people will spontaneously tell about their mothers. Since I recently posted an article on my “The Story Woman” blog that answers your question as succinctly as possible, I’ll recount it here:
The inspiration for my guidebook came about this way: The gathering of Mother Memoir stories started after my mother’s death 15 years ago. At that time, for reasons soon to be apparent, I sent a note to close friends and relatives asking them to send memories in story form about “mother figures.” Below is the letter I sent back then, which precipitated the release that was just the beginning of the remarkable chorus of voices. Voices that came pouring forth from all kinds of people whom I call TellTale Souls.
My mother’s death last fall prompted a plethora of remembrances. Through the tears of sorrow, bright rays of sunlight streaked as my sister and I talked of things recalled—great memories we enjoyed and hope to keep alive within our family.
Invariably, when I spoke to friends or relatives at that time, their memories too were jogged. And they’d tell little stories. Sometimes about my mother, but more often than not, their stories were about their mothers.
I found each story interesting. They ran the gamut from hilarious, passionate, bitter-sweet or sad, to amazing. Some were educational, others full of wisdom. These were stories to remember, but I soon forgot most of them.
So I’m hoping to coax these stories out of you now. Tell me a story. A tidbit. A trifle. What unique anecdote do you want remembered about your mother (aunt, godmother, grandmother, sister)?
A vignette—a lesson, superstition, some wisdom, recipes for life (or the stomach), witchcraft, poetry, letters, instructions, ancient feminine echoes, a family ritual, herbs for what ails, maybe something you take for granted that would delight me. It doesn’t need to be profound or lengthy, just an original tale of a page or two. Thank you, and have fun remembering…”
I asked people to answer one pertinent question in just a couple of written pages. It was a provocative question that immediately registered thoughtfulness on every face or a contemplative pause in conversation in those instances where we were face-to-face. The question went something like this, “If you could tell just one small story that would capture your mother’s character and keep her spirit alive what would it be?” Soon I received answers in the form of short, true stories that I call bio-vignettes. I planned to put a good number of them together in a book, which I considered titling, TellTale Souls: Keeping Spirits Alive One Story at Time.
I did write my first book back then after teaching memoir writing classes where the participants persisted in asking me to put my method down in writing. I needed something to do while I was collecting stories, after all, and I thought the process of writing memoir needed to be demystified, and, what’s more, the practice of any sort of writing should always start with mom.
That first book was a small guidebook, Give the Gift of Story: TellTale Souls Essential Guide to Tap Memory and Write Memoir (now out of print). It was a good little book, but not nearly as powerful as TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir: How to Tap Memory and Write Your Story Capturing Character & Spirit, published 3-31-12.
Why is this one better? For two reasons. First of all, I now had a decade of experience behind me. Secondly, in this new book I’ve brought together 40 bio-vignettes from my collection of stories now encompassing a wide variety of people depicting the very different ways mothers mother. The bio-vignettes are interwoven throughout the book as inspired examples to lend credence to my creative writing method, which includes unique instruction, mindful prompts, and deep-thinking exercises. The wonderful result is that now these TellTale Souls have their stories published in volume I. I couldn’t be more thrilled for them. A choir of voices emerged from those interesting souls intent on “Keeping Spirits Alive.”
4. How did you come up with the title?
As I mentioned, TellTale Souls is what I call the writers of the Mother Memoir—those women and men who write stories in answer to my seminal question, “If you could tell just one small story that would capture your mother’s character and keep her spirit alive into the future, what would it be?” (“Mother” is meant expansively, to encompass anyone to whom you felt like a daughter or a son in some way.) The title, TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir tells part of the story, and the subtitle, How to Tap Memory and Write Your Story Capturing Character & Spirit lets people know there’s a journey of discovery awaiting them.
5. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, while journeying through the guidebook, the importance of writing the Mother Memoir hits you dead center. And answers to significant questions await: Who is she, your mother, deep down inside? How will she be remembered? Why does it matter? You know it does matter, and you know you do have a story you want remembered. Take the time now to write a true tale about her—don’t put it off.
6. How much of the book is realistic?
This book is nonfiction, so it’s credibility is genuine. Readers find realism oozing from the intimate stories told by over 40 TellTale Souls who have taken the time to look at their mothers from the inside out, and, in so doing, they’ve found one theme that in the telling makes mom uniquely memorable. Oh, those mothers—some are saints, others sinners, but we wouldn’t be here without them. Their truths make a difference and connect us in an uncommon way.
7. What books have influenced your life most?
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez and The Bone People, by Keri Hulme, because their powerful writing styles, although completely different from one another, transported me into unusual worlds while introducing me to people and ways of life I will never forget. Reading The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka, overwhelmed me with a treasure of souls. I could not put it down, and I realized it corroborated my contention that there are buddhas in many an attic waiting to be discovered.
8. What book are you reading now?
I’m reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, which I wholeheartedly recommend. Throughout this marvelously written book, Sendker asks, through the actions of his extraordinary characters, are life’s occurrences preordained or fated? As Sender’s characters attempt to answer this question, time and again, the ground is set for philosophical thought. The heartbeat reveals. Love trumps. Death is not calamity.
9. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
There’s a psychological impact implicit in writing the Mother Memoir that I took great care with each of the Five Acts (steps to success) making up the book. I know, from my experience working with hundreds of daughters and sons, that digging down through life’s layers looking for what makes mom tick can be difficult, although it is always rewarding. This is true whether the process is heartwarming or heartwrenching. Then choosing which stories, from the TellTale Souls collection, to weave throughout the guided lessons, prompts, and exercises to add just the right touches, wasn’t an easy task. The result was well worth every trying minute of it.
10. Do you have any advice for other writers?
I have more than advice, I have secrets to share that will help anyone become a better writer. There are 10 Secrets at The Soul of Writing ready and waiting for them on my blog by simply clicking the link.
You can find more informatoin about Lynn at http://www.telltalesouls.com
TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir: How to Tap Memory and Write Your Story Capturing Character & Spirit is now on sale on Amazon or ask your favorite bookstore to order it for you.
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