Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Interview with Author Mary DeMuth

It's my pleasure to interview Mary DeMuth, critically acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction, teacher, and freelance writer on the blog today. It's a long one, but full of great information for those of us who write autobiographical fiction. So, pour yourself a cup of something strong, and enjoy!

Marilyn: First, thank you for stopping by my blog. Congratulations on the attention given your novel Watching the Tree Limbs by reaching Christian Fiction Review's top ten books of 2006!

Mary: Thanks so much; it’s great to be here. And the top ten thing was a huge surprise!

Marilyn: You've said that this book is somewhat autobiographical. Knowing that many writers write "what we know," I'd like to talk with you about creating fiction from personal experience.

Mary: Great. I’m all ears.

Marilyn: Okay! First, what do we mean when we say "autobiographical"? Does it mean what we have experienced first-hand, or can it include stories or incidents we hear or see that happen to other people? In other words, how many layers of separation must occur before it's no longer an autobiographical--or our--story?

Mary: Both. Autobiographical simply means that some of the characters experience some of the things the author has either experienced or watched others experience. You can’t write a book and call it a novel if it’s completely autobiographical, though. Then, it’s a memoir. A novel has to have plot, characters, etc.

Marilyn: Do you think it's possible for a writer not to write autobiographically to some extent? In other words, do you believe that everything we write holds some element of personal experience?

Mary: Yes, most everything we write has hints and pieces of ourselves. That’s why writers should also be impeccable observers. I watch and record everything. You just never know when you’ll use it. Yesterday I learned about an amazing southern name. You can bet I’ll use that in my next novel.

Marilyn: In your opinion, what are some reasons people write fiction from personal experience?

Mary: They’re usually afraid to write a memoir because the people they may write about might not like what they have to say. To insulate themselves, they fictionalize instead. A word of caution: I wrote both. In Building the Christian Family You Never Had, I told the painful story of my upbringing. In Watching the Tree Limbs, I used elements of my story in the storyline. Guess which one was harder to have out there? It was the novel. It actually felt far more personal to me than the nonfiction.

Marilyn: Then, how can a writer fictionalize personal experience?

Mary: Take a feeling you had from an experience and build upon it. In my first novel, I took my own personal struggle to connect deeply with my children and use that as fodder to flesh out a young widow.

Marilyn: When you began writing Watching the Tree Limbs, did you set out to write from personal experience, or did it emerge from a story idea? Or did some other process take place?

Mary: It started first from story. I saw a little girl on the sweltering pavement of East Texas with a boy approaching her. I sat down and wrote the book in four months.

Marilyn: So, once you knew it was going to be--or was--a book based on your experience, did you take measures to hide the identities of real people? If so, what were they? And what else did you consider as you developed the story?

Mary: The story is such that nothing would seem like I named people. The characters took over (as they should), showing no resemblance to real life characters.

Marilyn: Mary, what advice, suggestions, or cautions can you give people who are writing stories based on something that happened to them?

Mary: First, write a story. Be sure there’s enough tension and conflict. If you find you’re writing snippets of little stories strung together loosely, you may as well write a memoir. Be sure you’ve written an inciting incident, rising action, climax and denouement.

Marilyn: Sounds like great advice. As you can tell from my blog, it's all about writing your life story. Do you keep a diary or journal? If you do, how much of your writing comes from what you journal? Have you ever gotten a seed of an idea from something you journaled? Have you ever used family documents or family stories in your books or other writing?

Mary: I do keep a journal. I’ve done it for years and years. A lot of my nonfiction comes from my journal entries or my blog ramblings. My first novel, yet unpublished, deals with a widow who lost her husband during the Great Depression. She is based on my great grandmother. I had oodles of research to flesh out that book, all from her estate, a local historical society, etc. It is my sincere hope that Crushing Stone (working title) finds a publishing home someday.

Marilyn: Finally, do you have any advice for writers about diary-keeping or journaling?

Mary: Don’t make rules. Just write when you feel the urge. And consider keeping an art journal. I’ve learned so much and gained so much from my illustration of the Bible. For a great resource, go to

Marilyn: Thanks so much, Mary! I've learned a lot here, and I'm sure our readers have, too.

To find out more about Mary and her writing and teaching, visit

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Diary Challenge: A New Beginning

How did your month of diary-keeping go? Did you poop out after the first week? First two weeks? First two days?

If you finished out the month with all or most of your days filled in—congratulations! You have established a new habit. If your energy, interest, or will ended after the first week, take heart—you have eleven more chances this year to start again!

As I noted earlier, our house began the new year as a diary-keeping family. My three children were all given new diaries—each embellished with the new year and their name on the front—so that they, too, could start a diary habit.

The news isn't so good. Out of three children, only one wrote regularly this month. Not coincidentally, she's our oldest, at 12. She also has strong self-discipline and an inherent need (sometimes we call it an obsession) to finish whatever she starts. So, 1 out of 3 ain't bad.

And me? I confess that I skipped about 7 percent of my days, because of illness, fatigue, or forgetfulness. But I filled them in quickly, before I forgot what had happened.

In our house, then, one child will be rewarded for meeting the challenge. The rest will be gently urged to try again starting
February 1. It's a short month.

And you? If you filled 90 percent of your pages, leave me a comment, and I'll send you a reward, too.

And for everyone else, February 1 is only a day away. A day to take a deep breath, stretch your fingers, roll your shoulders, and make a pledge to try again.

And remember, February is a short month.

© 2007 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Up next: Be a sleuth: Finding clues in your photographs!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Diary Diary: Checking In

Dear Diary Challengers,

How was your first week of keeping a diary? Did you find a diary that will work for you? Did you write every day? Did you write just one page a day? How do you feel about this—eager to continue, or having second thoughts?

I hope you were able to keep up with the challenge and write every day. It's a great habit to get into. If, however, you skipped a day (or two), don't be discouraged. Days are long and hard, we get sick, we forget, or we just don't feel like it. Believe me, I know.

If you skip a day, don't worry: you can recover the next day by recounting the skipped day's events. And it's OK to write "I'm writing this on ." You will be forgiven.

In our house, my kids' diary-keeping efforts had mixed results. It seems that there is a direct correlation between age and dedication. My oldest child, who's 12, wrote faithfully every night without my prodding. My second, 10, needed to be reminded. And my "baby," 8, rebelled and decided this just wasn't for him. He and I need to recalibrate our expectations and commitments.

Whether you wrote seven days or three days, the purpose of this month of writing is to form a habit. As with all new goals, we're going to trip once in awhile. We're even gonna tumble. What's important is that we get back on our feet and keep moving toward our goal.

If you wrote every day, give yourself a huge pat on the back--you wrote every day for a week! If you skipped a few days, give yourself a pat on the back, too. You wrote x more times than you did the week before. And that, my friends, is progress!

Book drawing: We have a winner of the drawing for Real Women Scrap. Congratulations MaryLu! And thanks to everyone who entered.

© 2007 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Monday, January 01, 2007

Starting a New Page in 2007: A Review of Real Women Scrap

Happy New Year! While we are making resolutions and setting goals for the new year, we also remember the past and wonder where all the time went—and how did it go so fast? A great way to solve this problem is by creating scrapbooks.

Are you a scrapper? Do you have one or two scrapbooks tucked into a bookcase, a memory box, or on a closet shelf? Have you tried scrapbooking and failed?
Those of you who are die-hard scrappers, those who have done it in the past, and those who have tried and failed all understand the rewards and the challenges that scrapbooking pose. Carving out time, creating a space, overcoming the insecurities of being “artistically challenged,” and the uneasy and debilitating sense that your pages aren’t as good as those of more experienced scrappers are only some of those challenges.

Author, speaker, and scrap coach Tasra Dawson’s new book, Real Women Scrap, addresses these challenges and fears one-by-one with the wisdom and experience of professional scrapper, and the heart and voice of a girlfriend. Presenting new insights into this age-old and boomingly resurgent craft, Real Women Scrap will guide one-time scrappers, would-be scrappers, and even experienced scrappers through the process of creating a scrapbook—from planning and organizing, to journaling, to removing doubts and insecurities, and finally forming a sisterhood of scrappers. Checklists, quizzes, and how-to’s help readers get organized and stay on track. Visually, this book is a delight, with illustrations, embellishments, and details that create the feel of pages in a scrapbook.

Scrapbooking, as Dawson reveals, is a metaphor for life. In each chapter, Real Women Scrap shows parallels between elements of scrapbooking—such as laying out pages, cropping photos, creating balanced page composition, and quelling comparisons with others’ pages—and areas of our lives—such as making a plan, keeping a healthy balance, telling stories to create legacies, and not comparing our lives with others’. As you plan, create, and finish a scrapbook, you also develop insight into how to create a life that leaves a legacy of joy and love.

Even if you’re just an armchair scrapbooker, Real Women Scrap’s deeper insights and advice for creating the life you’ve always wanted make this one book you’ll want to add to your library in 2007.

Real Women Scrap is available now from and Dare Dreamer Press

Book Giveaway! I'm giving away one copy of Real Women Scrap, signed by the author. To add your name to the drawing, just leave a comment. I'll announce the winner next Monday.

© 2007 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Diary Challenge, Day 1: I’m so pleased to see that many of you are taking the diary challenge! I’ll be checking in with you throughout the month and will give updates on my kids’ progress. (We had our training session today at the kitchen table. After lots of questions, like “Mom, why are we doing this, again?” and much nodding of heads, I think we’re off to a great start.)