What to Do With a Mosaic Memoir?

(January 19, 2021)

Last month, I promised to write a bit more about my “mosaic memoir” process, but first a quick update about editorial work on Finding Sisters. I’m still inching up the queue, and I’ve learned a lot about the process for the editorial staff at Sunbury Press. The “waiting to be assigned” queue isn’t necessarily a linear progression, as I had first imagined. Each editor works on multiple manuscripts of different lengths at any given time (some being assigned more projects than others, depending on their status as full or part time editors), and while Sunbury has a wide variety of imprints (from young adult fiction to literary and historical fiction to fantasy/horror to self-help books and more) as well as their primary focus on non-fiction manuscripts of all kinds, their editors do not seem to specialize in one genre of book over another. This means that the time needed to edit each manuscript can vary wildly. It’s also possible that occasionally the head of the company might pull a manuscript on a particularly “hot topic” (such as books related to the pandemic) out of the queue and advance it to the head of the line. Though there are still only a handful of books ahead of mine in the “to be assigned” queue, there’s really no way of telling when the editing process might start for me.

I’ll share that process with you when it happens, but it’s hard to know for sure when that might occur. So, in the meantime, I’ll explain more about the essays that make up what I was calling a “mosaic memoir” in my post last month. Due to a really interesting exercise suggested by the facilitator of my writing group, I discovered something surprising about those essays. The directive was to give a working title and subtitle to the projects (mostly memoirs) we were each working on, with the goal of telegraphing to our reading audience the main topic or theme of our manuscript in progress. In other words, “what’s my story about?” Members of the writing group shared our titles at our last Zoom meeting before our holiday hiatus.

The first step for me in preparing for the exercise was to list and characterize each of the 14 essays I’d drafted so far for the mosaic memoir project, and in doing so, I discovered that the essays were evenly split in type and that there was no way to give the current collection of essays a single title. There were actually two books in progress! Not only that, I was able to list several new essays/chapters that I want to write for each project. Exciting stuff.

The first thing I realized was that I had written more than I had realized about my late-in-life second marriage, including my husband’s unexpected death from sudden cardiac arrest just months after being pronounced totally healthy by his doctors. That has now become a different project for me. It will become a much more traditional memoir and, like the story in Finding Sisters, will cover a specific time in my life (2004-present). It will have anecdotal information that anyone on a similar grief journey might find useful, but it will not be a self-help book. Instead, it will be the story of those years in my life, my interactions with my husband, and the people and actions that helped me to survive and eventually even thrive again after his death. I’ve given it a working title of Adventures with the Bartender: Finding and Losing the Love of My Life in Six Short Years. For those who don’t know, my husband owned and ran a small Adirondack hotel for seven years and loved to serve drinks to guests in our house, especially when we had parties, thus earning himself the nickname “The Bartender” among our friends. He earned another nickname, “The Geezer Model,” because of his good-natured indulgence of me and my camera when I wanted to take his picture, which was often, especially when we were traveling.

The Geezer Model on a hillside above the beach in northern California (July 2009)

For those who let me know after last month’s blog about their interest in the concept of the mosaic memoir, I want to reassure you that project is still very much a reality, though likely a lower priority at the moment than the new memoir about my widow journey. One close friend wrote me a note after learning about my mosaic memoir idea telling me she heartily approved and sharing information about an early 20th century Italian poet, Cesare Pavese (1908-1950), who famously said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” A former student who now teaches and performs internationally loved the idea of a mosaic memoir, and he explained to me, “Mosaic is my favorite content-process metaphor. In all my classrooms and performances, I always tell students/audiences: ‘Don’t look for a thread, we’re not following anything, keep your eyes in soft focus, the picture will begin to emerge eventually.’” And that’s exactly the point of this second project with the current working title, Mosaic Memoir: Snapshots of My Life. Though I have seven essays already written about various threads or snapshots that are important in my life, and at least four more I want to write, there’s no obvious narrative through-line. At least, not yet. These essays cover various times and experiences in my life and have current working titles like “Tomboy,” “Like Mother Like Daughter,” “Losing my Voice,” and “Brothers of the Heart” (with “Sisters of the Heart” soon to come), among others.

There’s certainly no lack of writing topics for me, and I’m sure these projects will keep me busy for many months to come. For anyone who worries that they might not have enough to say to write a memoir, I suggest you might try the mosaic approach. It’s amazing what comes up in one’s memory to write about when there’s no pressure to have a specific structural plan for a book!

For my next entry, I hope to be able to report on the start of my editing process for Finding Sisters, but I’m not holding my breath. In any case, I’m sure I’ll find something interesting to share with all of you about my two newest projects.

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