Writing Memoir [Expert Interview]

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Everyone is unique and has a story to tell.  Observing other people on the street, in the mall or on the beach, I often wonder what fascinating tale they carry, a story waiting to be written. Let’s look into writing memoir, a literary bloggers genre.

What is your story? Most of us have given thought to one day writing our memoirs or assisting a parent or grandparent to write their story. Therefore, I am excited to have a guest today who has just published her fifth book in the literary genre of Memoirs.

Note: This post has been updated with a short review below of the 2017 sixth book by Debby Gies

Writing Memoirs

Writing Memoir with author Debby Gies

Debby Gies is an accomplished nonfiction memoir author, writing under the name of D.G. Kaye. She writes about life, matters of the heart and women’s issues. I have read her first book entitled Conflicted Hearts. Any good book will keep your interest; a great book feels like you are right there feeling what the characters are experiencing. Conflicted Hearts is such a book, and that is why I read it cover to cover in one day. The sequel to this book has just been published.

Debby Writing Memoir
D.G. Kaye Author

Debby lives in Toronto Canada with her husband.

She self-medicates with a daily dose of humor and is an optimist with a drive to succeed. She loves to cook, travel and play poker.

Her generous and warm personality is evident in her writing.  She writes about lessons from her very colorful and eventful life to empower and inspire others.


Debby we are so honored to have you here to talk and share your knowledge with us.

Thank you, Kathleen, for taking interest in my work and inviting me here to your blog to talk about my writing and for the opportunity to offer some pointers about memoir writing.

Breaking Free

Debby, you were born in Toronto Canada, and describe your childhood as being emotionally neglected, leaving you with a severely deflated self-esteem.

You could have remained a prisoner of your past influences. However, it is evident that you have overcome and broken free from these invisible shackles.

Was there a trigger where you realized that you could break the mold and effect positive changes in your life? Is this what set you on the pathway of writing your memoirs?

I was quite a precocious little girl, wise beyond my years. As a child, my curiosity had me needing to stay on top of the state of things in my home. My mother was a narcissist, but I wasn’t aware of that when I was young. When I was a child, I adored her, as did everyone else, but as I grew into my teens I realized how she manipulated people, including her children. I knew by my mid-teens I needed to break free from her clutches, but not realizing that her hold on me followed wherever I went.

I began writing thoughts and journaling about my dysfunctional life from my observations when I was 10 years old. When I moved away from home at 18, I began my own journey of learning to overcome my sorry state of self-esteem. I read many self-help and psychology books, and made some wonderful friendships which helped me grow and build self-confidence.

My writing became a great emotional release. I had always wanted to write books someday, wanting to share my stories in hopes that they may help others with encouragement and inspiration from what I endured.

Back in those earlier decades, self-publishing wasn’t an option and I had zero confidence to make me want to send anything to a publisher. Then life got busy, and through the years, my relationship with my mother grew more difficult. I began to re-evaluate our relationship and began writing Conflicted Hearts, even though I was afraid to publish it because she was still living. But I decided to publish it about 10 months before she died, albeit with much apprehension, but with lots of encouragement from my siblings.

Emotions of Writing Memoir

Reading old journals and delving into the past can be an emotional rollercoaster. Do you have advice on how to use these emotions positively and not be swamped by them?

It’s hard to escape the emotions arising when we re-visit painful past hurts. Writing memoir is different from writing fiction because it’s hard to separate our feelings from our words. I like to dissect my memories and look at the reasoning behind the emotion.

I’m a truth-teller, always looking to resolve conflict. The way I process my thoughts about hurts that I harbor within is to find a release for them, usually through my writing. For me, writing helps analyze things and put them in a perspective. My writing isn’t to convict anyone, rather to expose the problem and share how I dealt with my problems; solving my own anxieties from my situations and hopefully leaving a message for others.I forgive you, Writing Memoir

This was why I wrote my newest book, the sequel to Conflicted Hearts, PS. I Forgive You, because I knew I had to find resolution and peace within myself for closure from the decision I made to finally abandon my narcissistic mother, and live with that decision after she died. I couldn’t write about it until I experienced the feelings I would go through.

Consulting Family Members

Do you consult with other family or friends to clarify your recollections of past events?

Yes I do. It’s funny though, writing in memoir is writing our truth, the truth as WE know it and remember it. I remember much more than my siblings do because I was the eldest and I took the brunt of my mother’s wraths for years.

I’m also an empath, very in-tune to other’s feelings. I was aware of the discord I grew up in while my siblings chose to tune out. I often spoke about incidents with my siblings and friends who were witness to situations I encountered in my younger life. In my newest book, I did many interviews with various family members.

Permissions and Disguising Identities

As a memoir writer do you need permission to name others mentioned in the story? Do you ever disguise people or place names to protect identities?

It’s advisable to get written permissions from the people we write about in our memoirs. If we’re writing about someone in particular, not shedding good light on them, we should have permissions to avoid repercussions. This can be uncomfortable, but necessary. I discuss my book’s material with my family. But in my mother’s case, I was in shaky waters by publishing Conflicted Hearts, although knowing she was incapacitated and financially incapable of taking me to court, I was still unnerved.

I also always change the names of people in my books, even with permissions. I feel it’s a courtesy to them. Changing names doesn’t take away from the truth of the story, merely protects identities. But don’t be fooled, if we’re writing about a person who has done wrong, sometimes changing their name and occupation, or even distinguishing characteristics may not be enough and can still lead to lawsuits.

I would highly recommend that anyone writing nonfiction, including real people in their stories, do their due diligence in learning the laws of slander, libel, defamation of character and invasion of privacy. It is for all these possible legal issues I chose to take out media insurance.

Fiction in Writing Memoir

Some authors including the popular Mitch Albom very effectively integrate fact and fiction. Is there a place for fiction in memoir writing?

Not really. Memoir writing is truth as we know and remember it with the exception of being able to change names and identities, but not altering the truth. By interjecting fiction, the stories become classed under creative nonfiction. I think everyone remembers the big ‘James Frey’ controversy when he was called out for his fictional stories in his huge bestseller, A Million Little Pieces.

Memoir writing is truth as we know and remember it - learn more in the interview. Click To Tweet

Overcoming Depressing Influences

The challenges inherent in writing books may engender some dark moments of self-doubt. What are some of the things that you tell yourself to break free and return to creative thinking?

Indeed memoir writing about painful events can bring on some dark and emotional

Debby enjoying a day off Writing Memoir
Debby enjoying a day off

moments. I encountered this many times while writing my recent book. There were a few depressing moments while I was writing my story, but even more so while I was in revisions and edits as I had to read and re-read my story over many times. I found that I had to step away from the book several times, whether for a day or two to get me back into a positive mode.

Importance of Editors

Do you always use professional editors/proofreaders as a preparatory step for publishing?

Absolutely! I use author friends as beta readers for feedback when my books are in early drafts. Once my drafts are cleaned up, I send to the editor, then more rewrites before my books are ready for proofreading.

While I’m in the editing stage, I’m already working with a cover artist with a theme in mind from my story that I ask her to create a cover from. Then after proofing, I send my manuscript out to be formatted. Self-published authors have a host of duties to contend with that severely eats into writing time. Many authors format themselves these days, but I don’t have the inclination to learn how so I farm it out.


Have you found publishing your books to be financially profitable?

That’s a loaded question. Most Indie authors aren’t able to make a living off their books for quite some time. The reward is gaining readership for our books, and hopefully from there, word will spread to gain new readers and eventually build a stable royalty income. I would say that if you want to write books you should love the craft of writing and don’t think that it’s a method of getting rich, because most authors don’t.

That is wise advice for writers to have the right attitude and expectations.  What is it that makes memoirs saleable? Is there a magic ingredient that makes a writer’s memoirs engage the general public?

I don’t think there’s a magic formula to writing a great memoir. Yes, there are guidelines to writing in memoir, but it’s the subject matter we choose to write about that will be the deciding factor if it interests a reader. No book is going to please every reader, but if we put out good books, eventually we will attract those types of readers who enjoy reading memoirs and biographies; those are the genres I enjoy reading, so naturally, I write in the same genre.

Portraying Unlovely Characters

Before we take a look at your new book; do you have any tips for readers who may be considering writing their memoirs?

My advice to those who wish to delve into the memoir-writing genre is to remember that writing about someone in their story who behaved badly isn’t about demeaning and bashing that person, or writing for revenge. It also isn’t about writing to acquire sympathy and seem like a victim.

Yes, a non-desirable character in a story should be portrayed as they were (or are), but without malice. In essence, the reason we describe these characters and their flaws in our stories is to portray their personalities to the reader so they can understand where the problems regarding them relate. We shouldn’t write to convince readers to ‘be on our side’ and ‘hate’ the antagonist, but rather let the readers decide their own emotions from the descript of the story itself.

Memoir writing - how to portray unsavory personalities Click To Tweet

P.S I Forgive You

Could you tell us a little about this book?

P.S. I Forgive You is a sequel to Conflicted Hearts, a memoir about my narcissistic mother, and the psychological hold she had on me by instilling guilt and fear when her demands weren’t complied with, and the heartache she bestowed on her loved ones.

This sequel is a stand-alone in its own right. It’s a new journey about discovering and overcoming the narcissists inflictions, and ultimately, learning forgiveness, both for myself and my mother. The story is a completion of a life cycle, the cutting of the cord with all its frayed ends.

I hurt for her. She wasn’t much of a mother, but she was still my mother.

 “I forgive you, Writing MemoirsConfronted with resurfacing feelings of guilt, D.G. Kaye is tormented by her decision to remain estranged from her dying emotionally abusive mother after resolving to banish her years ago, an event she has shared in her book Conflicted Hearts. In P.S. I Forgive You, Kaye takes us on a compelling heartfelt journey as she seeks to understand the roots of her mother’s narcissism, let go of past hurts, and find forgiveness for both her mother and herself.

After struggling for decades to break free, Kaye has severed the unhealthy ties that bound her to her dominating mother—but now Kaye battles new confliction, as the guilt she harbors over her decision only increases as the end of her mother’s life draws near. Kaye once again struggles with her conscience and her feelings of being obligated to return to a painful past she thought she left behind.”

Debby thank you so much for giving us a look into your newly published memoir writing. It appears to be a book with lessons that will relate to many readers.

We appreciate your generosity in sharing with our blog readers valuable tips for those wishing to embark into nonfiction writing memoir.

Update: Debby has now published another book in the genre of Memoir. 

Twenty Years: After “I Do”: Reflections on Love and Changes Through Aging

“In this personal accounting, D.G. Kaye shares the insights and wisdom she has accrued through twenty years of keeping her marriage strong and thriving despite the everyday changes and challenges of aging. Kaye reveals how a little creative planning, acceptance, and unconditional love can create a bond no obstacle will break. Kaye’s stories are informative, inspiring, and a testament to love eclipsing all when two people understand, respect, and honor their vows. She adds that a daily sprinkling of laughter is a staple in nourishing a healthy marriage.

Twenty years began with a promise. As Kaye recounts what transpired within that time, she shows that true love has no limits, even when one spouse ages ahead of the other.”

For those who have enjoyed learning more about memoir writing and meeting Debby Gies in our interview, I will add a number of links to her and her books.

Use the comment section below if you would like to make comments or ask more questions.

Writing Memoirs words-thumbnail100x150_72dpi I forgive you, Writing Memoirs menowhat-thumbnail-100x150_72dpi have-bags-thumbnail




Click on the images to buy or read reviews.

Put your comments and questions below. I trust you have thoroughly enjoyed this interview as much as I have.

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