The summer of 2013, I had the second draft of my memoir, The Sportscaster's Daughter, completed. It felt like I had all the right ingredients lined up, but didn't know how to put that memoir cake together or add the most important finish—the frosting!
For the previous ten years, I had mainly been doing technical writing and had already published five business books. My creative writing muscles were out of shape, so I turned to Gotham Writers Workshop to reawaken those dormant skills. At first, I thought it would be impossible for me to make the two and half-hour commute into the city each week. My day job was demanding, with occasional travel, and my children were at the busy carpool stage of swim team and football. And yet, crafting this story for publication was more than a hobby; it was my soul. My family supported me in my determination to make this workshop—and my memoir—happen.
My father was George Michael, known to some as a rock ‘n roll disc jockey and to others as the nationally syndicated sportscaster and host of The Sports Machine. To me, he was always just my dad, larger than life, with or without his fame. We had always had a traumatic family life, starting with my parents’ ugly divorce, followed by a custody battle in which my dad was awarded sole custody of me and my siblings, then later, when my father disowned me.
My first Gotham class was a difficult one, and it was hard for me to get through the initial introductions without letting a tear slip down my cheek.
Our instructor, Cullen Thomas, author of Brother One Cell, got our creativity flowing with a weekly writing exercise. Homework!? He also asked each of us to give a book report on a memoir we had recently read, and in this way, I discovered new authors and new writing techniques. We workshopped each other’s materials, and while I appreciated the direct feedback on my writing, I learned as much by workshopping others’ writing; there was a high caliber of writing in our group.
The most important skill Cullen taught me was the concept of "then and now" in memoir. In fiction, there is the story, but memoir is more than a story; it is a telling of a story and how events of the past influence the present person. Not all agree on this technique. Some best-selling memoirs are not the least bit reflective, but in comparing works for writers that are, the ones that include this "then and now" packs more emotional punch. Cullen also taught us how to wrap up a chapter to build suspense for the scene. When a reader tells me they couldn't put my memoir down, I owe the credit to what I learned in the workshop.
It took me another two years after the workshop to revise, revise, revise and find the right publisher. The Sportscaster's Daughter was published in August by She Writes Press and is available in both paperback and e-readers.