Memoir: ‘Find the Interesting in the Ordinary’

Karen Swallow Prior.
Karen Swallow Prior.

I have not attempted to write a memoir, nor do I plan to any time soon, but I did sit in on an enjoyable memoir class at the 2014 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference taught by Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, an English professor at Liberty University.

Prior is an author of two books and a contributing writer for Christianity Today and The Atlantic.

Following are some tidbits from my notes. If, like me, you’re not knowledgeable about this genre, then maybe these tidbits will be interesting and helpful. Of course, you’re invited to chime in. The comments section is wide open.

Prior addressed a key question: What’s the difference between autobiography and memoir?

An autobiography is about an entire life.

A memoir is about an aspect of life. “A window into life,” said Prior.

A memoir is also nonfiction, a story with conflict and a narrative arc. It’s not a diary, but a literary text. A memoir is not therapy, she emphasized.

Prior added that a memoir is about the meaning of life. Think of your life as interesting but not extraordinary. “We need to find the interesting in the ordinary,” she said.


Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Begins Jan. 24

Neil speaking about book proposals.

The 2014 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference kicks off on Friday evening at Hollins University. On Saturday, more than two dozen Virginia writers and authors will speak and teach classes on a range of topics. This is the seventh edition of the popular writers conference. All except the first one (which had no attendance limit) have sold out.

This will be my third consecutive trip to the conference, a little more than an hour from my home in Floyd. Last year I taught on writing and refining book proposals aimed at major publishers. This year I will be a student, soaking up the teaching, the inspiration and the networking with my regional writing community.

Here’s the lineup of classes on Saturday:

8:30 – 9:30 a.m.

Beth Macy, nonfiction author, journalist
“From Article to Book”

Judy Light Ayyildiz, author
“Oral History/Memoir: Unlocking the Words”

Doug Cumming, Washington & Lee professor, author
“Writing for Magazines”

Dan Casey, journalist, columnist, storyteller
“Telling Stories: The Greyhound Bus, the Swedish Gal, and the Flophouse in Seattle”

9:45 – 10:45 a.m.

Sheri Reynolds, author, writing/literature professor, Old Dominion University
“Dreamwork for Writers: Using Your Dreams to Deepen Your Stories”

Karen Swallow Prior, Liberty University professor, author
“Memories Worthy of Your Memoir”

Bonnie Cranmer, Sarah Beth Jones, small business owners, writers, bloggers
“Channeling Voices: Ghostwriting for Profit”

Rod Belcher, author, freelance journalist
“Getting Your Book to Print With a Major Publisher”

11:00 – noon

Karen Chase, author, graphic designer, business owner
“Doing It Yourself”

Alice de Sturler, cold case consultant and true crime blogger, former college professor
“Using Social Media to Promote Your Writing”

Mary Crockett Hill, author, poet, college professor
“What Makes a Young Adult Novel Work?”

Bill Kovarik, author, Radford University professor
“Who Killed the American Newspaper and Where Do We Go from Here?”

12:15 p.m. 

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Roland Lazenby, author, ESPN Radio executive
“Finding the Story”

Tiffany Trent, author, college professor
“Science Fiction and Fantasy in YA”

Keith Finch, lawyer, Creekmore Law Firm
“Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities”

Keith Ferrell, author, journalist
“Finding the Few Remaining Good Writing Jobs”

2:15 – 3:15 p.m.

Terri Leidich, publisher, author
“Take Charge of Your Marketing No Matter How Your Book is Published”

Rob Jones, photographer, small business owner
“The No BS Guide to Photography for Freelance Writers”

Liz Long, author, social media guru
“Using Social Media”

Cara Ellen Modisett, journalist, author
“The Rebellious Essay”

3:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Brooke McGlothlin, author
“How To Build a Platform and Market Your Self-Published Book”

Greg Trafidlo, musician
“Writing Funny Song Lyrics”

Carrie Brown, novelist, short-story writer, Hollins professor
“Something Big This Way Comes: Building Dramatic Momentum in Fiction Through the Power of Image”

4:40 – 5:30 p.m.

Panel discussion
“Chasing Down the Right Literary Agent”

Find out more about the speakers/teachers here.

As of a day or two ago, there were still a few spots available.

The conference costs $65 and includes a wine reception, about two dozen classes, coffee, lunch and more. Register online or call 540-556-8510 for more information.