Check This Out: Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl

I’m very pleased to welcome to the blog the amazing Marian Beaman, who is here to discuss her memoir, Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl, which launched on September 14.

   

You probably know Marian from her blog, which you can find here. After I talk to Marian, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Marian: 1. I met my first husband on a blind date. (He is my only husband!)


2. I flunked my driver’s test twice.
3. On Sunday mornings, I like to play with two-year-olds, making abstract art with tennis balls and paint on cardboard, blowing bubbles.
4. I watch my Fitbit like a hawk. Gotta get those step in!

El Space: What made you decide to write a memoir?
Marian: My blog readers helped make the decision for me. I wrote stories about my parents, grandparents, and other relatives on my blog. Readers wanted more, and suggested, “Write a book about it!” Though for many years I have wanted to leave a legacy of stories for my children and grandchildren, these readers pushed me toward actually doing it!

Granddaughter Jenna at guest book with hostesses Judy and Carolyn at Marian’s book signing at the Deerwood Country Club

El Space: How did you decide how much to include and what sections of your life to leave out? What was your process as you wrote? Did you write an outline of events? Talk with family members along the way?
Marian: My life as a Mennonite was dramatically different from my life now, so I decided to make the first 24-year slice of my life the focus of my memoir.

A memoir is not a biography. Memoirs need a focus. My focus was the imprint of two forces upon my life: the boundaries of my life as a Mennonite and the blessings of two homes (my parents’ and my grandmother’s house close by).

The collage on the easel is a composite of various snaps of Marian’s family with Bossler Mennonite Church in the background (done by artist Cliff Beaman).

I agree with May Sarton who said that she has “never written a book that wasn’t born out of question I needed to answer for myself.” For me, that question was this: “What was the source of my father’s anger?” My memoir explores possible answers.

To learn the craft of storytelling, I took a memoir-writing course from Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner: “Writing Your Story in Six Months.” And to get me started, I wrote topics I could remember on colored sticky notes I pasted to ply-board. Some of the topics became scenes that made it into the memoir; others did not.

El Space: How did growing up in a Mennonite background shape you into the writer you are today? What did you appreciate most about your upbringing?
Marian: I grew up loving my faith traditions and my family. Also the Swiss/German stock from which I am descended has imprinted on me a strong work ethic, which gave me the strength and discipline to persevere through the five years it took to write my story.

El Space: After you described your baptism [chapter 28], I was struck by this quote from page 157: “I had to find a way to reconcile pleasing God with expressing my love for beautiful things, hairdos and clothes included.” Such a turning point in your life. What was one step you took as you were “beginning to ‘kick against the pricks’”?
Marian: My mother, aunt, and grandmother expressed their love of beauty by planting flower gardens in a riot of colors. They, along with women in my church, also made exquisite quilt designs. I wanted to look pretty like a flower, wearing bright colors and shiny shoes. My desire to buck the strict dress code enforced by my church at that time caused friction with authorities at the Mennonite School, where I was employed in my early twenties. My reaction to these restrictions is told in two chapters which bookend my memoir.

These are the most cheerful looking flowers I have seen in years. They remind me of Marian. 😊

El Space: What books or authors inspired you as you worked on your memoir?
Marian: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life—Sassy, sometimes sarcastic, but always instructive.

Jordan Rosenfeld’s Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time—A good one to read early in the writing game.

Dani Shapiro: Still Writing—If you like Shapiro’s novels and memoirs, you’d like her take on the craft of writing.

Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing—A breath of fresh air, especially if you are tied up in a wad about your story and the writing process.

Dinty W. Moore’s The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir—Book Doctor Dinty provides cures and checkups in his manual embellished with case studies. Humorous and practical!

El Space: What advice do you have for memoir writers?
Marian: 1. Write every day, even if you don’t feel like it. Inspiration comes to those who sit in the writing chair. But don’t go nuts over it; take walks, go shopping, chat with friends. 2. Don’t impose a strict Get-Done-By deadline on yourself. I hoped to finish in three years, but it took me five years. 3. Life goes on! In those five years, my mother and my aunt died, and we had to clear out two houses with scads of stuff. Last year my brother died. Three years ago we also moved from a house we had lived in for 37 years to our current address; lots of sorting, recycling, and tossing out.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Marian: When people ask that question, I say, “Give me a break! I need a vacation or at least time to relax.” 😃 However, two ideas are playing tag in my brain right now: 1. A children’s book based on the oak tree my children and their cousins planted in the Grandma Longenecker’s back yard after she died. I have an in-house illustrator—ha! 2. My year and half in the 36-foot trailer with two babies while my artist/performer husband did art and music performances all over the Southeast. The object was to keep our family together; the reality of the itinerant life wreaked havoc on my sanity!

Thanks, Marian, for being my guest!
Looking for Marian? Click on the icons below:

                    

Looking to buy Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl? Head to Amazon or to your mailbox, since
one of you will receive a copy of this memoir just for commenting! Winner to be announced sometime next week!

The book club, after reading and loving Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl, unanimously decided to shop for red shoes.

Author photo by Joel Beaman, courtesy of Marian Beaman. Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl cover designed by Cliff Beaman, courtesy of Marian Beaman. Other covers from Goodreads. Book signing photos courtesy of Marian Beaman. Book club and flowers photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Check This Out—Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time

Howdy! Yes, I know that this is Children’s Book Week. I will happily address the theme of this special week at length later. In the meantime, it’s fitting that on the blog today is the child of Roy and Linda Watkins—the always gracious Andra Watkins.

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You probably know Andra from her blog and from her books: Not Without My Father, a memoir of her historic Natchez Trace walk (click here for the interview post) and her novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, both published by Word Hermit Press. She’s here to answer a few questions about Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time, the photo book of her Natchez Trace walk (March 1 to April 3, 2014). This book was published on March 15 (Word Hermit Press).

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As you undoubtedly recall, Andra’s goal was to be the first living person to walk the Natchez Trace—from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee—to promote her novel about Meriwether Lewis. Her father Roy served as her wingman. After I talk to Andra, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time, which debuted March 15.

El Space: What made you decide to release a separate photo book of your Natchez Trace journey?
Andra: I finished my walk with hundreds of pictures. I took them to pass five-hour days, and I planned to share them online with readers. As I posted them, readers kept telling me I needed to publish them as a complete book. It makes the perfect companion to both my novel and my memoir. While I don’t plan to publish additional books of photography, it is a quality stand-alone collection for anyone who loves the outdoors. I’m really proud of it.

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El Space: You’ve been talking about making memories for some time now. (Click here for one of Andra’s blog posts on making memories.) When you look back at the photos in this book, which memory stands out to you most vividly? Why?
Andra: My last day walking alone. People do solitary things, and so much of the time, we wish it away. I streaked through fifteen-mile days to finish, and I missed the magic of a solo highway trek. Midway, I lay in a daffodil field and realized I was wasting the lessons of my Natchez Trace walk. On my last singular day, rain splotched my face. I realized I was spending my last five hours alone. The Trace saw my thoughts, because at that moment, I came around a bend and encountered a muddy field spangled with thousands of daffodils. I squished into that field, oblivious to mud and thunder. I snapped a selfie with what’s become my favorite reminder to slow down, to experience Life, to notice minutiae: the daffodil.

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Photo copyright © Andra Watkins

El Space: Your photos always have so much life in them. What do you look for in a good photo op?
Andra: I learned from my architect husband. My best pictures happen when I look up, even if that means I’m lying flat on the ground to get the shot. I also like juxtapositions of light and shadow. Clouds versus blue sky. I have no professional training, and I don’t know how to use Photoshop. My pictures are minimally worked with filters and capture the truth of what I saw. I don’t look for perfection. I’ll leave that to people who know what they’re doing.

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El Space: Any advice for people who want to record their journeys through photographs?
Andra: Photographs are shorthand. Even when I decided to pen a memoir about my Natchez Trace walk, I used pictures to journal. I couldn’t stop to record conversations or deep thoughts, but I could snap photos. When I scrolled through them, I recalled the way my pinky toes turned into pulpy stubs. I remembered the hay fragrance that wafted from a field when a bull chased me. I felt the wind transmogrify my body into a funnel cloud. I don’t think people should experience the world by looking through screens, but they can capture memories they don’t want to forget. The key to the best shots, for me, is really seeing what’s happening around me, without first experiencing it through a screen.

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Thanks for stopping by, Andra!

If you’re looking for Andra, she can be found at her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time can be found at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. I’m giving away a copy of Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time to a commenter. So, you know what to do. . . .

Winner to be announced on May 7.

Author photo courtesy of Andra Watkins. Natchez Trace cover from her website. Other book covers from Goodreads. Daffodils from brokenbullhorn.wordpress.com. Camera image from freepik.com. Sky photo from publicdomainpictures.net.

Check This Out: Not Without My Father

Hello! You’re just in time to help me welcome to the blog the fabulous Andra Watkins, who is here to talk about her memoir, Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace (Word Hermit Press), which debuts today!

Not Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez andra-milan

This awesome photo of Andra was taken on the roof of the Duomo in Milan by Michael T. Maher.

After I talk to Andra, I’ll tell you how you can have your very own copy of this memoir. So let’s get started!

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andra: (1) I’m married to the most patient man alive. I’ve been willing to write/say/announce that everywhere, something he’ll be able to hold over my head for all time. (2) I’m afraid of heights. Yet, I climb as many mountains as I can find. Life is empty if we avoid things we fear. (3) I don’t wear underwear, a fact that doesn’t need an explanation. (4) Writing books and flinging them out there is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever done. It’s sometimes hard to see what comes of that effort or what doesn’t.

El Space: What made you decide to walk the Natchez Trace?
Andra: During my research for my debut novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, I discovered that no one had walked the Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. A 10,000-year-old footpath was paved over by the federal government in the 1930’s to make way for the automobile. No provisions were made for walkers along the Trace.

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I thought walking 15 miles a day for 34 days would be a fun way to launch a novel . . . which shows how stupid I am. I trained, but I never considered the toll pavement would take on my joints and tendons. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

El Space: How have people responded to your novel as a result of this grueling walk?
Andra: More people read my novel because I walked the Trace. Not as many as I hoped, but does that ever really happen for an author? We always want a few more and a few more and a few more. I think walking the Trace helped readers connect with the story in a deeper, more powerful way, because through my own self-torture, I immersed them in an ancient place. The Natchez Trace is one of our great treasures as Americans. I’m proud of how many people I’ve taught about a place we should all revere and cherish.

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of working on this book, besides the frustrating audiobook recording sessions?
Andra: The most challenging aspect continues to be finding new ways to promote my work and find a broader audience. My publicist queried over 600 outlets. It’s daunting to look at the return on that and see how few people actually open and read emails from strangers these days. Several national and international publications requested the book, but we’ve struggled to convert those connections into stories. There’s still time. But the competition for space is the Mount Everest of this business. I still haven’t cracked it.

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El Space: I loved your memoir, especially how you wove your dad’s story throughout it. How has this walk been a game changer for both of you?
Andra: I have a functional connection to both my parents as a result of this experience. For readers who struggle with dysfunctional family relationships, Not Without My Father is a roadmap to clarity. Readers won’t walk almost 500 miles on asphalt to find that epiphany. Instead, they’ll read the story and see how they can take an hour, an afternoon, a weekend or a week to Make a Memory with someone who matters. Through making this story, I realized the memories I make with my loved ones are what I’ll have when they’re gone. We all need a reminder to stop, to think, to embrace the moments that will matter, because life is finite. Tomorrow isn’t a guarantee for anyone. I wove a collection of experiences with my parents that I’ll have for as long as I breathe. I turned “I wish I had” into “I’m glad I did” before I lost that opportunity. I hope Not Without My Father inspires readers everywhere to be the game changer, to embrace the messy glory of the relationships in their own lives.

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Andra and her dad, Roy

El Space: What nonfiction books, if any, inspire you?
Andra: I’ve never been a big reader on nonfiction, and I never, ever intended to write a memoir. Still, the nonfiction books that most inspired me are these: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose and Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach.

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I read Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose’s Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and it changed the way I viewed history. In history class, we memorize facts, an exercise that turns historical figures into black-and-white non-entities or people we imagine as the color of money. I viewed history as a living, breathing thing for the first time, and it transformed how I saw everything. I experienced places by imagining how real people saw them. I read words and conjured the voices who wrote them.

I found Without Reservations at a time of transition in my own life. Alice Steinbach found herself divorced at mid-life, struggling to give meaning to her existence. She took a break from her life to find herself, and her experiences were profound. When I believed I might be single until I died, I embraced that book and started forging my own reality. Traveling on my own. Discovering what mattered. She probably helped me become the person my husband fell in love with. I really should reach out and thank her.

El Space: What are you working on now? Do you think you’ll write another nonfiction book anytime soon? Why or why not?
Andra: My book Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time will be available February 1, 2015. It’s a collection of pictures from my Natchez Trace walk, the perfect accompaniment to both To Live Forever and Not Without My Father. It will be available as an 8 x 8 paperback everywhere books are sold. I’m really proud of how it’s come together. People will be able to walk the Natchez Trace by turning pages. I hope the images are a tribute to an ancient, incredible place. And I guess it qualifies as a nonfiction book. So yes! I’ve written another nonfiction work.

I also have a short story coming in the spring. Hard To Die is a short prequel to To Live Forever. It’s set in New Orleans and Mexico City, and it follows characters from To Live Forever. I enjoyed a trip to Mexico City recently for research, and I hope it makes the story pop.

Your True Love Lives will be available Summer 2015. It’s a full-length paranormal romance. Set in England, it follows a group of Americans as they volunteer in a sailing-for-the-disabled program. I hope the book will shine a light on programs that enable disabled people to achieve mobility around the country. Several years ago, I was lucky to volunteer in such a program, and I met precious people who came out to sail, day after day, to feel like they could walk again, to experience memories they couldn’t grasp any other way, or to escape a bed.

And I Am Number Thirteen, the sequel to To Live Forever, will be available November 2015. Surprising readers is a tall order, but I’m excited about the drafts I’ve produced. The book will follow Emmaline Cagney into her life with her father, an achievement that didn’t quite turn out the way she hoped.

El Space: Woo hoo! Glad to hear there will be more books from you.
Andra: I guess I really avoided your question about writing another nonfiction work, though. At this point, I don’t say never. If I find another true story that might inspire readers to change their own lives, to embrace people who matter, to Make a Memory, I would absolutely write it. I’m happy to use my own stupidity as a means to inspire others to avoid the same mistakes.

Thanks, Andra, for being my guest today! And thanks also to those of you who stopped by. You can find Andra at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Not Without My Father is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the Garden District Bookshop in New Orleans where Andra will appear on January 21. But one of you will win a print copy of Not Without My Father. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on January 20.

Author photo and photo of Andra and Roy courtesy of Andra Watkins. Natchez Trace map from touringdepot.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Book birthday image from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com.