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The Summer of ’72

Back in 2017 it was hubris that got me thinking I could write a book. My blog was popular… I got a lot of shares and comments. So why not write a memoir? What could be so hard?

A year and one hundred thousand plus words later, I *thought* I had done it, I had written my memoir.
A few trusted friends read it. No one was blown away.
Confused, I hired a big time writing expert — someone who had worked with big time writers — to do something called a “developmental evaluation.”
Big time writing expert read my manuscript and her very expensive advice was, “don’t leave your day job and maybe don’t keep trying to write a memoir either.”
Still, I kept writing. (Because, hubris, and a voice in my head that whispered, “just keep going.”)
In those days I lived in NE Portland and found myself stopped at the corner of NE Sandy and 41st at least once a day. Often while I idled at that traffic light, my three small children in tow, I would study a sandwich board. “Blackbird, a Studio for Writers,” it read.
Despite all the hubris, I didn’t consider myself a “writer.” Still, day in and day out, I would drive by that sign.
Not long later, I started reading a memoir by some woman called Jennifer Lauck titled Blackbird: A Story of Childhood Lost and Found. I opened it in the bathtub and by the time I came out, the water had gone luke warm and my toes had pruned. I finished it the next day.
A few weeks later, stopped at that same light at Sandy and 41st, I studied the sign again but this time the painting of a blackbird on the sign held my eye and I let my gaze linger to the contact info.
The email was “JLauck”.
The woman who had written Blackbird: A Story of Childhood Lost and Found, the book I had just devoured and that had been haunting me ever since, was the owner of this studio that happened to be down the street from my house?
“Just keep going,” the voice in my head whispered.
I emailed Jennifer using the contact info on the sandwich board. Sent her my manuscript. Paid her for a developmental review.
A few weeks later, her advice was also “don’t quit your day job,” AND I can show you how to write in scene, AND once you learn that I will show you how to structure a story, AND after you can do those things we will talk about your manuscript again.
Writing is a craft, she patiently explained to me. It is not about churning books out conveyer belt style.
I have been a part of Blackbird studio ever since, learning how to write with Jennifer. You don’t hear much about my book because I have been fastidiously learning to write a damn scene and am now FINALLY learning how to structure my story.
All in honor of making meaning out of lived experience in a way, so cinematic that you can’t help but live the experience along with the writer, you can’t help but feel the experience in a way that opens your heart and makes you see from a perspective that is otherwise unaccessible.
It’s not a style of writing memoir that comes easy. It is a not a style of writing that comes fast. It is not a form one sees often. It’s the kind of writing that requires you to face the depths of yourself and put it on a page in a way that takes the seemingly random bits and fragments of a life and turns it into a story that not only holds the attention of a reader but captivates, transports and transforms.
“Just keep going,” the voice keeps whispering in my ear.
I will “keep going” with Forgiving Amy and, thanks to Jennifer, it will be something beautiful and authentic and brave.
And here’s the BIG NEWS:
Jennifer has recently decided to forgo the usual publishing route and make the first three chapters of her latest memoir available on Substack for free (you can subscribe to read the rest). I have read this book and it is beautiful, authentic, heart breaking, courageous and also somehow manages to be so so so heartwarmingly funny.
(Please. You must. Go!)
Here’s what Jennifer has to say about this project:
“When I started this book almost ten years ago, my goal was to write a memoir that could hold up next to a classic novel to include adherence to a dramatic structure and alignment with a classic plot line for the simple reason that I was told by a colleague who specialized (and taught) fiction, “It could not be done.”
He was wrong.
Memoir can be written in the same form as the best novels. Yes, it takes longer and requires the writer to have enough emotional distance from their material to think in these structural ways, but it’s possible. The reporting of events typical in memoir, the habit of “this happened, that happened” construction is tiresome.
This is a genre that can, if we are up to the task, challenge the writer in important ways. We can transcend our personal bias, cauterize wounds and offer them to our art, and think in the ways of histories best storytellers. We can. But too often, we don’t.
The path is littered with the broken bones of those who got stuck in their own pain, in their own version of events, and in their own agenda. When that happens, well, the final product isn’t very good or memorable.
I’m not claiming this is a great or even memorable book. I am claiming that I tried to make it so, or at least shove the genre forward an inch or two. We’ll see.”
Summer of ’72 is a GREAT and MEMORABLE book. It will break your heart and open it wide. I am proud and honored to call Jennifer Lauck my mentor and teacher and I’m grateful she saw a writer in me even when I couldn’t see one myself.

Go and read it here.

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