I’m always pleased to welcome the marvelous Marian Beaman on the blog. She’s here to talk about her latest memoir, My Checkered Life: A Marriage Memoir, which released on April 5.
Note from Marian about the cover: The cupid on the cover is a cutout from an actual Valentine card Cliff sent me long ago. The quilt border is an image from an actual quilt I still have on a closet shelf. I’m not sure whether it came from my mother’s or my father’s side of the family. My best guess is that it’s made by Grandma Fannie Longenecker.
El Space: Why a marriage memoir as a follow-up to your first book?
Marian: I never intended to write a marriage memoir. Who in their right mind would do that—revealing our secrets, admitting struggles?
Writing this memoir has been a process which began more than a year ago and has evolved in three stages. In January 2022, I remembered that I had five of my Aunt Ruthie’s diaries, which I found in a painted chest when we cleared out her house before she died in 2017. Why not find out what she was thinking as a teenager and then as a young teacher? However, I discovered that the diaries, written in pencil, were hard to read. Deciphering the lines required me to make a transcription line by line, a tedious process. I spent three months in early 2022 with this project. Then I lost interest.
Next, I thought that it would be a good idea to explore stories in my ten years of blog posting. What if the pixels on WordPress disintegrate, and I lose all of my carefully wrought stories? I began blogging ten years ago and reasoned that I could organize many of the posts by themes—maybe collect pieces about my early life as a Mennonite girl in Pennsylvania, or posts that relate to our travels, or ones about the writing process. My faithful blog followers totally nixed the idea.
“That would be boring,” they said.
“I wouldn’t want to read stuff I’ve read before.”
“Why not write about your marriage? I’d read a book about your husband Cliff and you.”
Finally, I was convinced to go with the marriage memoir concept because of blog friends’ enthusiasm. What author doesn’t want a book that will sell?
El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of writing a marriage memoir? How did Cliff react when you told him you were writing it?
Marian: Readers will soon find that Cliff, as an artist and storyteller himself, doesn’t mind revealing the truth about our lives together, even if it results in showing vulnerability. Early on, though, he was worried that I wouldn’t include enough about his life before we met. Even though he knew his art work would figure large in the content, he wasn’t sure that he would be equally represented in the book.
As it turned out, he wrote a few pieces for the “Heritage” section in the book and added detail to other chapters, sometimes with his own journal entries. He also volunteered to take on the arduous task of organizing text, photos, and artwork with InDesign, a highly sophisticated software program.
Thus, from October 2022 through March 2023, we worked toward the common goal of birthing our book baby, My Checkered Life: A Marriage Memoir, a sequel to my first book. This mission has obviously been accomplished but not without some meltdowns and marital spats over creative differences. In fact, while writing the book, we seemed to re-enact some of the clashes we survived early in our marriage: provincial Mennonite girl from the East clashing with risk-taking pioneer-type from the West coast.
Cliff and Marian
El Space: In a blog post about writing a marriage memoir, memoir coach and author, Marion Roach Smith, stated: “There are two questions a husband should never ask his wife. Both begin with the words, ‘how many?’” One of the questions was, “How many pairs of shoes are in [your closet]?” Would you agree that there are questions that should not be asked of a spouse? Why or why not?
Marian: I come from a German-Swiss culture that has practiced thrift and frugality. My husband never has to worry about my busting our budget. My buying too many shoes is the least of his worries! We’d phrase your question differently though. When I showed Cliff this question, he responded with a query to me: “How is it that when you put dirty dishes in the dishwasher you never seem to get the plates and saucers lined up right? Your haphazard stacking makes it harder for me to fit other items into the racks.”
My counter to his question: “How is it that you can’t keep your vanity sink in the bathroom as clean as mine?”
Do I see an addendum to our story—a chapter about another flare-up?
El Space: What books about marriage, if any, helped inspire you to start writing your memoir or complete the writing? What other books (or people) inspired you?
Marian: Quilts and quilting serve as a metaphor for my storytelling. I found Whitney Otto’s book, How to Make an American Quilt, very helpful. Other sources included Ada Calhoun’s Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, and Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North, along with excerpts from poets Mary Oliver and Carl Sandburg.
This memoir contains a bibliography simply because I like to glean wisdom from other authors—and I relish the research process. My English teacher background pops out in my writing. I simply can’t help it!
El Space: What advice would you offer someone writing a memoir like this?
Marian: Memoir writing always taps into one’s physical and emotional reserves. I felt like a ragdoll when I finished the whole project, but I remember feeling the same way when I wrote Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl.
Memoir writing is not for the fainthearted. Yet, if you have a story to tell, by all means write it. Even if you don’t intend to publish it, it serves as a way to preserve the facts and articulate your true feelings. Writing evolves—you never know quite what will happen—you may become your family’s historian, preserving a legacy as you progress.
Marian with Bobby Oliver, her ideal reader. Click here for why.
El Space: What will you work on next?
Marian: I have sworn off ever writing another book. Friends remind me that I said that after writing my first memoir. However, I may be open to coauthoring a book with another established author, especially if the topic sounds appealing.
Thank you, Marian, for being my guest.
Looking for Marian? Look for her on her website, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook
Looking for My Checkered Life: A Marriage Memoir? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Target
One of you will be given a copy of My Checkered Life: A Marriage Memoir simply because you commented below. Please feel free to comment on memoirs or other nonfiction that inspired you. Winner to be announced sometime next week.
Author photo by Cliff Beaman. Cover design and graphics by Cliff Beaman. Photos of the author and Cliff and the author with Bobby Oliver by Joel Beaman. Wedding rings from Marriage Wallpaper website.