E13 – Interview with Valerie Ihsan (video, show notes, transcript)
In this episode, Miss Catherine M.H. and V.E. Griffith discuss writing and editing memoir with Three Story Method Certified Editor Valerie Ihsan.
Books and Websites
Fast Draft Your Memoir by Rachael Herron
The Story Hypothesis by J.P. Reindfleisch IX at http://www.jprindfleischix.com/storyhypothesis/
Etymology of the word memoir: From the late 15th century French mémoire (masculine), a special use of the word mémoire (feminine), meaning memory.
Support us on Patreon at https://patreon.com/revisionwizards
Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2108
Support us on Patreon at https://patreon.com/revisionwizards
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Miss Catherine MH and I’m joined by my soothsaying co-host, V.E. Griffith. This is episode 13, and today we’re talking with Free Story method editor Valerie Ihsan about memoirs. This episode is sponsored by our amazing patrons who help us to build our podcast so we can help you make your editing and revision process so much better.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:26
This week, we want to give shout outs to our three incredible new patrons. Kim Lark, author of Touch of Death, Mia Harlan, who writespranormal shapeshifter romances, and today’s guest, Valerie Ihsan have all recently joined the Revision Wizards community and family. If you’d like to support the show for as little as a buck an episode, we have a bunch of neat benefits you can take advantage of, including a special podcast feed with extra content and personal updates, early access to scene analysis slots, the opportunity to ask questions for Ask the Editor episodes, professional editing, and more. You can find out everything you need to know at patreon. Comrevisionwizards. And with that, here we go with Valerie.
Valerie Ihsan 00:01:09
V.E. Griffith 00:01:10
Hi. Welcome to Revision Wizards. How are you today?
Valerie Ihsan 00:01:14
V.E. Griffith 00:01:15
All right, would you start by telling us your name and your pronouns?
Valerie Ihsan 00:01:18
I am Valerie Ihsan, and I use she.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:23
Valerie Ihsan 00:01:23
Pronouns. She, her. There we go.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:26
There we go. Okay, tell us a little bit about yourself. I know that you write and edit memoir, is that right?
Valerie Ihsan 00:01:32
Yes, I write memoir and women’s fiction as well, and books for writers also on the imminent horizon. And, yeah, I edit all those things. I also have a soft spot for paranormal women’s fiction. I really dig reading that. So if anybody has jobs to edit that, I really love that. That’s fun. But I like helping people write memoirs. I think that’s engaging and meaningful and everybody has a story to tell and they have a hard time getting it out, I think, sometimes, and don’t know where to start and kind of get frustrated or self just blanked on the word. They just don’t know what to say that will make them look good, not knowing that that isn’t really the purpose of memoir. So there’s a little bit of education that happens with memoir clients, but it’s usually a lot of fun.
V.E. Griffith 00:02:36
Okay, let’s go there. What is a memoir and what’s it for? Why would I want to write one? Why would I want to read one?
Valerie Ihsan 00:02:44
I love reading memoir because I want to know how they did it, whatever it is that they have accomplished that I have yet to accomplish. I want to know the steps they went through, the process they went through, so that I can imagine myself doing the same thing. Those are the memoirs that touch me the most if it has something to do with my current lifestyle situation. I also enjoy reading memoir just for the genre’s sake, because it’s usually about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And that brings me joy to read and inspires me to be extraordinary in my own ways. The reason I write it is because, well, the first thing that popped in my head was, I have a story to tell. But that’s kind of a trite answer. So my first memoir I wrote to connect to other women that had been widowed young, because that happened to me prior to 9/11, so there weren’t any grief memoirs. All of the widows I knew were old, so I wrote to find those other women that were young and widowed and make connections. This one that I’m writing now, that will be out next month, this one was more, it didn’t lead me as much as the first memoir did at first. So in the process of editing and revising this memoir, I learned more about myself. And so I guess that’s why I write memoir. So I read memoir to learn how they do it, and I write memoir to learn more about me.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:04:55
Valerie Ihsan 00:04:58
I did not practice that ahead of time. That’s an on the fly comment.
V.E. Griffith 00:05:06
Well, it’s way more self aware and self reflective than I am most of the time. Since you’ve done both, how is the writing process different for memoir versus fiction?
Valerie Ihsan 00:05:19
I think we all have a knee jerk reaction of but that’s how it happened. And so your first rough draft tends to be very exact, and this is exactly the way it happened and in this order. And that tends to be more of a boring read. You’ve got to give it some finesse and some literary art to make it more palatable for a reader. So losing that knee jerk reaction of it happened this way. So there’s that piece. Writing fiction. I mean, sometimes I think memoir is easier because you’ve got the story already, you’re just finessing it on the page. But then there comes the time when you’re trying to, because you want to show and not tell, sometimes when you are trying to say something about your life in a memoir and you’re trying to mine your memories of a scene that would show that, and you can’t find one, you know, you can’t make it up because then that wouldn’t be fiction. So that’s harder. Obviously, you can recreate something and tweak it so that it fits that scene that you’re trying to or that point that you’re trying to make. And so I think it’s easier in fiction because you can just make it up. I guess that would be the biggest difference for me personally.
V.E. Griffith 00:07:03
We’re all actually Three Story Method Certified Editors. I am, Miss Catherine is, you are. Do you find the Three Story Method helpful for writing and editing memoir as opposed to fiction?
Valerie Ihsan 00:07:16
Not as opposed to fiction. I mean, I think it works for both because a lot of memoir that you read has that narrative arc anyway. There’s a beginning, middle, and end. It reads just like a novel most of the time. There are other types of memoir that are more like linked essays or there’s some other structure that they’re using instead of that narrative arc, but it still would have that global conflict at the beginning of the story and a global choice at the end of the book. And otherwise, like, why would you write it then? You know, there has to be a reason for writing it. And I think that that’s actually more important. Personally, I think it’s more important in memoir than in other genres to come up with that, to have that story hypothesis, to have that theme that’s really strong through the whole book. Because in fiction, you can not deviate, but there are other ways to engage a reader. Maybe your pacing is really awesome, or maybe you’ve got great dialogue, or there’s some other thing that entertains the reader and pulls them through the book. And in memoir, there’s more, like you said, like that deep dive, that self reflection. So it’s not as ritzy sometimes as fiction. That’s why I like that genre. But also, I think I really need to have a takeaway after reading genre excuse me, reading memoir, because I want to know that I learned something from the book.
V.E. Griffith 00:09:07
Where in the process of writing a memoir, do you find your story hypothesis? Is it something you come up with before you start drafting? Is it an editing thing? Is it somewhere in between? Does it come to you in the middle of the draft as you try and find the story?
Valerie Ihsan 00:09:25
A little bit of all of those things. I’m a plotter, so I like having a plan before I go into drafting. And so I think it’s great if you can form a story hypothesis before you draft. And I really like JP’s. If you go to Storyhypothesis.com, he’s got that set up there, you can check out what that means. And I really like the process of picking out you need to know what your characters needs are. So when you’re writing memoir, that’s just you. What was it that you needed through this slice of life that you’re writing about and come up with that thematic statement that you prove or disprove throughout the course of writing the book. And I think it helps prevent some of that. Some people call it navel gazing, some people call it the ones that just spin you off into like, this doesn’t really have anything to do with the story. But I’m telling you this little side note, so it helps you weed those out. So I like having it at the beginning. Now, I came across JP story hypothesis after I had written the book, so I had to do it retroactively and come up with it later and then go through and make sure that, so it helps in the editing process and the revising process, because I would go through all my chapters and say, yeah, now this one really doesn’t have anything to do with the story hypothesis. And I check it. And so it gave me a little bit of a non-emotional way to look at, does this fit in this book or not? If it didn’t have anything to do with the story hypothesis, then no. And it was easy to take it out. Did I answer your question? I feel like I went on a tangent. Yeah.
V.E. Griffith 00:11:13
Yeah, you did. Okay. Now that Miss Catherine is back.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:11:18
So since we’ve been talking about memoirs, what exactly is a memoir? Because I used to think they were the same thing as a biography.
Valerie Ihsan 00:11:27
So a biography is a person writing about another person. So if I wrote the biography of Mark Twain or something like that, I’m writing about another person. An autobiography is telling your life story. It’s a biography of yourself, but a memoir is a shortened version of that. The autobiography starts with, you know, where you were living when you were born and goes all the way up, not until your death, because you’re writing it, but till the end of however old you are then. But a memoir has a slice. It’s a snapshot. It’s like the year after your husband died. It’s the two years you were in the military. It’s the time that you went to Alaska and got stranded on a fishing boat. It’s a slice of life. It’s something that people are more apt, they’re going to be more interested in reading about that than where you were born. Rachael Herron writes a really great book called Fast Draft Your Memoir. And she talks about the dinner guests. Like if you’re at a big old table and you’ve got somebody on your left and somebody on your right, and back in the day, you had to talk to somebody, and then there would be, like, not a bell, but there would be some indication that you had to turn now and switch and talk to the next person. It was just the etiquette of the table. So if on one side you’re talking to the guy who says he was born in Missouri and his parents were immigrants and whatever, he just starts talking about from the very beginning. And then the other person has this fascinating story about the time she was on an Alaskan fishing boat or something like that, that’s the person you want to be stuck with talking to at dinner all night long, not this other guy. So that’s a memoir versus autobiography.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:13:23
Got you. So are they called memoirs because they’re like a memory and you’re doing a memory, or maybe memoir actually means memory.
Valerie Ihsan 00:13:32
I don’t know.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:13:33
But I’ve always been curious if you.
Valerie Ihsan 00:13:35
I don’t actually know the etymology of that word. It’s French, but I don’t know exactly what it means, actually.
V.E. Griffith 00:13:44
That’s when we could send the Grammar Girl.
Valerie Ihsan 00:13:47
There you go. I could look it up really quick on Wikipedia if you want me to.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:13:54
You know, I could have too, but I guess we’ll leave it in the comment section. This is what it means. We found out after.
V.E. Griffith 00:14:03
So how do you find that you did or how do you detach from a story enough to tell it? Your first memoir was probably not the most comfortable story to tell at all.
Valerie Ihsan 00:14:18
No. And it took me like eight years to write it. Okay, so if you are trying to decide whether or not it’s time to write your memoir, if you are in the head space where I’m trying to be prescriptive but not, let’s see, how do I say this? Writing memoir can be really messy and uncomfortable and triggering. So if what you’re writing is going to hurt you, then it’s not time to write it yet. Maybe some other therapy needs to happen or just some journaling, something that you’re writing that’s not intended for publication. Both times that I wrote my memoir, it was long enough. Like the one I just finished has 15 years since the events. So I had enough physical distance that I was able to be more objective about what I was writing. And I think the story hypothesis/theme helps because you know what it is that you’re writing about. And then if you do start wallowing in something, rightly so, then you can easily edit that out after the fact. I think you should write everything or not put it all out there and get it on the page. And then you can be strategic in what stays in and what doesn’t. Another resource that I really liked that helped me finish this particular book was Michelle no, Melissa Phebos. She wrote a book called Bodywork the radical something of personal narrative. I forget the subtitle, but she said to be sure that you’re not just writing the story that you’ve told yourself about it. So getting a little bit deeper, going underneath some of those things that you’ve glossed over and actually telling the story, not just telling the story you’ve told yourself, if that makes any sense. The way she wrote it was like really eye opening. I was like, oh my God, this told me what I’m doing. So I had to go back through and mine old journals and get more raw material to put in there and make it go to a different depth.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:16:57
Now we say to kill your darlings in like fiction writing and stuff, but when it’s you, so you’re killing technically you. How do you, I guess, detach when trying to edit that too?
Valerie Ihsan 00:17:14
It becomes the story. You’re a storyteller. Yes, you’re telling a story that happened to you. But if you can distance yourself by tricks that I’ve used, are just using when I’m referencing it, I don’t say I say she the character when I’m talking to other writers about it. That way it creates a little bit of distance and yeah, it’s all things in service to the story. So if it doesn’t fit, then it doesn’t fit. I’m not cutting pieces of my memory out. I’m just not putting it in this particular book because it doesn’t flow.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:18:00
Got you. So how would you recommend for those who like, maybe you’re editing their novel and they are attached to it? I’m sure that some people don’t wait like you do for an amount of time before they start writing a memoir. How do you deal with that while editing their work and working with them.
Valerie Ihsan 00:18:25
I think uncovering what it is that they’re trying to say by including this snippet, this scene, the story, by including this piece, what are they trying to prove? What are they trying to say to the reader? How are they wanting the reader to feel at that point? Again, it’s a detaching. It’s looking at somebody else’s reaction to it. And if it’s not going to create the emotion that you want in the reader, then it needs to be reworked. So it might not need to come out. It can stay in, but maybe it just needs to be fleshed out a little bit more or I mean, usually at that stage of revision, you’re not picking word choice at that point. That’s a little too micro, and you’re still maybe in macro, but yeah, I think figuring out what you’re trying to say about suchandsuch and then making sure that that comes through in the scene, and if it doesn’t, then, yeah, you would have to cut it, but you can still use it. You can send it to your mailing list if it’s meaningful to you. You can create an essay and turn that into submit it to a magazine or give it to your mailing list or put it on your website as a free download to get people on the mailing list, something like that. So you can still use it. It doesn’t have to go away, but it just doesn’t belong. Maybe in this story.
V.E. Griffith 00:20:05
I’ve listened to part of Rachael’s book, Fast Draft Your Memoir, and one of the things that she talks about is in terms of being in the right headspace to do your memoir, if you’re in the place where you want to tell it like it is and hurt other people, that that’s not the right time. Have you seen or been able to help people in that space, or is that an issue that you’ve run across?
Valerie Ihsan 00:20:39
I’ve run across it in conversations with other writers, but they’ve never been my clients, so I haven’t had to deal with it that way, with the exception of I don’t have a specific scene in mind. But I do remember working with a client that had a lot of opinions, and I didn’t feel like that was interesting. What was interesting was the way he grew up, the family stories. And so I encouraged him in talking with him to put those in there and that those were super interesting. And I would get really excited about reading those and editing those and the other pieces. I’d be like, oh, maybe this will be an amendment or something. Maybe this can go after the book because it really interrupts the flow here or something like that. I don’t know if that answers your question or not.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:21:40
So would you say that writing the memoir or editing the memoir for you is easier?
Valerie Ihsan 00:21:49
I don’t know the answer to that. I think probably the writing of it is, but I don’t know that for sure because the first one just came out and fits and starts. You know, I would have this vision of what I wanted it to be, and I would write it and it would not fit the structure and was coming out totally not expected. And I kept scrapping it and starting over. So that was really frustrating. And I was just learning how to write. So my critique group would say something and I chuck it and start over or, you know, whatever. Not the way I write now. And then this one that I just finished, it started years and years ago, pre-pandemic, and I dropped it, I put it down and started writing another project. And then, so there were a couple of other things that got in the way. So I didn’t write that straight through either. But I think that probably that writing it through would be easier because editing it is hard. And after a while, you keep reading the same chapter over and over again, trying to make it better, and I just can’t see it anymore. That’s when you have to turn it over to an editor, somebody else that can look at it and say, this is wrong, this could be better here.
V.E. Griffith 00:23:14
So what have we missed about writing or about editing memoir that you’ve learned in your is it now two, or are there more?
Valerie Ihsan 00:23:24
I’ve written two memoirs.
V.E. Griffith 00:23:26
You written two. Okay. What have you learned from that that you’re taking into your next project?
Valerie Ihsan 00:23:34
People readers want, they want the dirt. So writing memoir especially, and even fiction too, because that goes some dark places too. But writing memoir, one of the hardest parts, I think, is telling it like it is and looking shitty on the page and feeling shame about who you are at the beginning of this book. And you go on a character arc and you get better, and you’re not that person anymore, and now you’re a new, improved person, or you’ve learned whatever your character arc is. So I think that’s the hardest part for me, I think. And so going into the next project, despite the difficulty of doing that, I think that’s really what readers resonate with. They want to see themselves in the character, whoever that is, and so making them real on the page is where it’s at. So I think that’s what I’m going to focus on is not just telling a story, but living the story whether it’s fiction or not, and putting that on the page so that somebody else can live it too.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:24:58
That’s an awesome response.
Valerie Ihsan 00:25:05
Thank you. Another on the fly answer.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:25:09
We’ll put them on quotes for something for you.
V.E. Griffith 00:25:13
So what is your new book called? Where can we find it? Where can we find you?
Valerie Ihsan 00:25:18
I’m at valerieihsan.com and the title is You Can’t Dance a Lie. Oh, valerieihsan.com is my authorservices. valerieihsanauthor.com is my author page.
V.E. Griffith 00:25:31
Valerie Ihsan 00:25:32
And I’m on Instagram and all of the socials, but Instagram is my favorite one.
V.E. Griffith 00:25:37
What’s your handle there?
Valerie Ihsan 00:25:39
V.E. Griffith 00:25:40
All right, we’ll put those in the show notes so people can find you.
Valerie Ihsan 00:25:43
All right, on. It’s been awesome talking to you guys.
V.E. Griffith 00:25:46
Well, it has been awesome talking to you. Thank you so much for joining us.
Valerie Ihsan 00:25:49
Thank you. Bye.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:25:52
Thank you so much for joining us. For today’s episode, you can find every episode on your favorite podcast player and on YouTube. For transcripts, please visit our website revisionwizards.com. They go live the same day as our episodes.
V.E. Griffith 00:26:07
If you’d like to reach out to us separately, you can find me vegriffith.com and Miss Catherine at scribes-pen.com
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:26:07