Monday, September 16, 2013

An Interview with the Story Circle Network's 2012 Sarton Memoir Winner, Monica Wood

Lisa: Your memoir, When We Were the Kennedys,  tells the story of your father’s sudden and unexpected death of a heart attack and how your family experienced that staggering event. How were able to write about such a painful time?
Monica:  Oh, but the writing was the opposite of painful! I loved being “back home,” even in the fraught year I was revisiting. I have such wonderful memories of my childhood, and my family at that time. Being with them again was a balm to my soul.

Lisa: Who were you thinking of as you wrote?

Monica: My audience for this book, for the first time in forever, was me. Just me. I’d hit a rough patch, both professionally and personally, and I was writing for comfort and consolation, not for publication. It was the most joyful writing I’d done in years.

Lisa: Your memoir is full of your early experiences with the love of words and books and stories. You describe in great detail the reams of beautiful paper that your father brought home from his job at the paper mill and the hours and hours you and your siblings spent filling the pages with drawings and stories.

Monica: Well, I come from Irish stock, and a love of words is in the DNA. Everyone in my family tells a great story. I do wonder, though, if being from a paper-mill town might have nudged me along the writing path. I love paper: I love its smell, its feel, its possibilities. Unlike a lot of writers, a blank page fills me with joy, not dread.

Lisa: Let’s talk a bit about those great family stories. What makes them so powerful?

Monica: I teach memoir writing now, and I don't think I'll ever go back to teaching fiction. I've seen first hand the power of speaking stories aloud, of simply putting on paper the tragic or ordinary or quirky or mundane. I teach in a women's prison and I see every week how their stories not only make them reflect on who they are, but how their stories connect them to one another in a place where human connection can be really risky.

Lisa: What else did you learn from doing the book?

Monica:  I learned that I have one memoir in me. I learned that voice is the key element in memoir. I learned that my skills as a novelist served me well in writing nonfiction.  And I learned that every particular family story is universal.

You can learn more about Monica Wood on her website:

“The Catholic tradition of my childhood—which I recall with affection, some awe, and a measure of yearning—did not allow for randomness. Every word and deed, every sorrow and triumph, every birth and death belonged to a Divine Plan. If at times you thought this Plan unreasonable, senseless, or just plain mean, you were asked to trust that even the most extreme sorrow had to be a blessing in disguise. Almost everything essential came to you in disguise.” P. 160

“We listen, all three, absorbing the sound as children from the coast might absorb the tidal sighing of a nearby sea, an ebb and flow so enduring that after a time the sound appears to be coming from within your own unsuspecting self. It’s been a long seven months, April to November, a tender time bracketed by death. A father, a president; the one grieved only by us, the other by a whole spacious-sky, purple-mountains-majesty, grain-waving country. I listen, with my sisters, in a kind of stupefied surrender, as the mill’s enduring breath smoothes over us, inhale, exhale.” P. 198


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