Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Is there an easy way to turn non-memoir into memoir?

I’ve been telling you of new discoveries I made while reflecting on an old photo from my family’s years in South America.

In a thousand ways, that time was a most wonderful adventure—even though I confessed last week that I refused to unpack and plotted ways to run away. By Christmas, I was begging my husband to agree to stay another year. And we did. And another year after that.

The mission center was a paradise for kids: collecting butterflies and insects, chasing bulls, hunting alligators, mud sliding, fishing for piranhas that could rip out an apple-size piece of flesh in a split second, eating grubs, swimming with stingrays—what’s not for a kid to love?

And the tropical vegetation! This Seattle gal lived surrounded by plants I knew from only florist shops back home: hibiscus, orchids, gardenias. Before moving to South America, a gardenia, to me, was a very special corsage for a very special date, but down there, I had a gardenia hedge! An entire hedge of gardenias—gardenias by the hundreds, gardenias by the thousands! Heavenly.

And the people we worked alongside—courageous, funny, tenacious, brilliant, friendly, creative, fun-loving, and the most dedicated you could ever find. We made life-long friends there.

For my kids, I’ve already assembled, in three-ring binders, a couple hundred pages of letters I wrote home—but that photo I ran across recently.…

That old photo of Matt, Karen, Glenny, and Ray made me lurch. It shook the earth under my feet.

That snapshot is begging me not to be content with just the historical facts. It’s urging me to tell a bigger, broader story, one I had previously overlooked like an elephant in the room

That photo pointed out a theme (an important part of memoir) that was there all along—it was a given in the back of my mind all these years—but I had not put it in writing.

Remember the definition of memoir—it includes reflection and inspection and digging for deeper meaning: What was the big picture? What was happening on a larger scale, and on a smaller scale? What was God doing? How did it make us who we are today?

Now I need—and want—to turn those pages of non-memoir into memoir.

But how much time and effort do I want to put into the project? That question has been nagging me for the past couple of weeks.

Do I want to start again from scratch?

No. No I don’t.

So I’ve been asking myself: Is there an easy way to turn non-memoir into memoir?

Yes, perhaps.

What if I included that new info in an Introduction and an Epilogue?

In the Intro, I could foreshadow our family’s and colleagues’ theme (guerrilla threats and attacks). I could write about receiving a telex, just as we were ready to fly out of the States, telling us to delay our arrival by ten days because our facility had been bombed. And I could tell about the next bomb threat a few days later, and additional threats—bombings and more—received after that. 

The Epilogue could include Chet’s, Ray’s, and Norm’s stories and the closure of the mission center (since they all occurred after we returned to the States). (If you missed earlier blog posts, click on Sometimes you think a story is completed and all wrapped up. But then.… and Sometimes you think a story is completed, Part 2.)  

The Epilogue, however, could do more. I want it to do more.

The Epilogue could emphasize the bigger victory: that the guerrillas did not win even though they took Chet’s life.

The guerrillas had intended to oust the [Bible] translators; instead they entrenched them. Almost a decade of negative press gave way to supportive editorials,” wrote author Steve Estes in Called to Die. After Chet’s death, Estes said, the Bible translators “basked in the effusive support that followed from President Turbay on down.”

The work of Bible translation flourished in jaw-dropping ways no one could have anticipated. Across the U.S., people signed up to fill the gap created by Chet’s death: Wycliffe Bible Translators saw applications double for overseas work.

I want my kids to know about the uncommon faith of their neighbors and their classmates’ parents and about the God they served. I want my grandkids to know, too.

I want both the Intro and the Epilogue, and everything between, to be celebrations of God

So, what do you think? Could I accomplish all that by adding an Introduction and Epilogue?

And what about you? Look over your photos. Re-read your vignettes and your chapters. Don’t settle for mere historical facts.

Maybe you, too, “think a story is completed and all wrapped up. But then, decades later, something happens and you realize that it’s not done yet, it’s still in process” (Rabbi Lawrence Kushner).  

If so, I have a message for you from Sharon Lippincott: “You don’t have to write an entire memoir. Vignettes and essays are enough to answer questions in years to come.” 

Give it a try. See if it works.


  1. I think the addition of an introduction and an epilogue will help accomplish what you need and want to accomplish. You may need some slight edits to certain chapters too. You will know more when you start to undertake the work. God bless as you move forward.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Penny. I'm glad you mentioned slight edits to some chapters--I'll keep that in mind. Another thought: since the letters are in three-ring binders, I could insert stories/vignettes between them. Thanks so much, Penny.


  2. Linda, I think the message coming through in these last few posts is that you must turn non-memoir into memoir. Your concept of using the initroduction and epilogue to fill in certain details and show the importance of the two sections. But I believe firmly that God is calling you to do this . . . and I extend His blessings on you as you consider, pray and perhaps start your new project!

    1. Hi, Sherrey. Thanks for your wisdom and encouragement, and for your words of blessing. That means a great deal to me. I've started rough drafts of both intro and epilogue. Wheee!


  3. Awesome. That's all I've got to say. This whole thing is awesome in the actual awe-inspiring way.

    1. Hi, Lia, your words make me smile. :) Glad you find all this awesome. YOU have awesome stories to tell, too! Keep up the good work!


  4. Hmmmm.... I just realized that several of the links in this post disappeared. Sorry, friends. I think most of them just sent you back to the previous post and the one before that.


  5. Linda, When I read this, I get the sense that a picture is developing right before my eyes like a photo in a dark room coming to light and life. I can feel your energy and passion for your story and it gives me renewed energy and passion for my own story. I agree with Lia, "awesome in an awe-inspiring way" how our story comes alive when we connect it with God's presence and calling in our lives. Wow!