How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir


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What’s your advice for debut authors writing memoirs?

Milwaukee was usually chillier by now, already beginning its slouch toward the interminable Wisconsin winter.

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I felt the sun baking my face and legs, still bronze from dutiful visits to the tanning salon. The bright, hot rays made me squint and squirm. I had just come home from the night before and was suffering the start of a monster hangover. My head throbbed and my itchy skin begged for a shower. In the parking lot below, I spotted empty beer bottles and stray partiers trudging home from after-hours revelry and drunken couplings. Behind me, a couple of my still-drunk college roommates were singing and dancing like banshees before the large open windows in our living room.

The place stank of stale beer and cigarettes from a party we had thrown the first week of our junior year and from the many rowdy weekends that had followed. Although we were only two months into the fall semester, our brand-new apartment complex already bore vomit stains on its hallway rugs and fist-sized holes in its plaster walls—proof of how most of its student tenants spent their weekends. I liked this vantage point, looking down from a distant perch. It made me feel removed from the chaos.


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I always had felt somewhat separate from the campus party scene, even as I indulged in many of its pleasures. I was a scholarship student carrying a near-perfect GPA, on track to land a prestigious summer internship in Washington, DC, and serving as editor-in-chief of the campus magazine. As for the Catholic faith that had dominated my life in elementary and high school, well, that had taken a backseat to other priorities. I still considered myself a better-than-average Catholic.

Since my freshman year, I had been active in all the right social justice organizations, devoting at least one afternoon or evening each week to busing tables at a nearby homeless shelter or feeding vagrants through a campus meals-on-wheels program. I attended Mass every Sunday. When it came to sex, I abided by the letter of the law I had been taught in my Catholic home—no sex outside marriage—though not its spirit.

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My true zeal was reserved for more concrete concerns, like obsessing over my body to make sure I stayed thin and fit. Unlike the other party girls who devoured late-night pizzas and hid their beer guts under loose-fitting flannel, I told myself, I was in control. But lately my pride at compartmentalizing my life so completely—being a good girl on Sunday morning and a wild one on Saturday night—had begun to give way to something new, a dawning realization that I was as immersed in the chaos as anyone.

Maybe I was even worse, because I was leading a double life.


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At least the potbellied partiers down the hall were consistent. They were not spending their lives keeping up appearances and juggling personas, playing the role of perfectionist honor student for one crowd and reckless reveler for another. Looking back over my shoulder into our apartment, I saw my roommates sprawled on the couch, now drowsy and listless after a long night of carousing. I realized that living with them, and living like them, no longer made me happy. Nor did my relationship with the brooding rugby player who routinely rounded up his friends to meet me at whatever bar my friends and I were patronizing that night.

I could not call our random meetings dates, and I could not call him my boyfriend. There were no names for such romantic entanglements, no rules of engagement, and most of the time my friends and I had no idea what to make of the men in our lives. We were unconstrained by customs of courtship or social norms. We could do whatever we wanted. Yet the awkwardness, confusion, and disappointment that marked our encounters with men made me wonder: Was our unfettered freedom just a trap in disguise?

This was not what I had envisioned when I set off for college. I had thought I would spend my Saturday nights discussing Aquinas over coffee and dating the kind of men who send roses, open car doors, and pay for dinner. I ran into a few of those men during my college years, but I had become so inured to the anti-dating ethos of campus life by then that I quickly dropped them and rejoined my friends on the party circuit. Returning my gaze to the bleak scene beneath my window, I realized how much things had changed—how much I had changed—since I first arrived at my freshman dorm that muggy August move-in day.

I had lost something.

The commercial prospects for memoir

I only knew that this aching emptiness in the pit of my stomach had grown unbearable. Suddenly aware that I was shivering, I swung my legs back into the living room. I stood up, slammed the window shut, and strode past my roommates, now sleeping soundly despite the earsplitting music.

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It was time to shower, to eat, to put on something warmer. It was time for a change. This lovely and highly readable book will touch many lives. In the minds of many still, an unlikely combination, at best. It makes an important and unique contribution to the lives of women by giving flesh to the beauty, meaning, and the purposes of human life and human love lived open to the mystery of God.

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Ted Weinstein: Very challenging. Joelle Delbourgo: Memoir is a notoriously tough category. On the one hand, we see so many memoirs getting published. There appears to be an insatiable appetite. I also look for an author platform. Who are you? Have you been previously published, perhaps in literary journals or local publications? Do you have a social media presence? Have you spoken in public on the subject of your memoir? Ted Weinstein: Memoirs have to be about something larger than the author. One technique I often suggest is that an author rewrite their memoir as a novel. That gives them the freedom to combine or omit characters and incidents, shape the narrative, develop different themes, and generally exercise their imagination more fully.

Then, when they return to writing the book as a memoir, they usually have a new, more compelling vision for how to present the story to readers. Joelle Delbourgo: I would market a self-published memoir to a publisher, only if it has sold 5, copies or more. But I have helped quite a few authors to self-publish memoir and advised them on how to promote them aggressively. This can be a good alternate route for certain authors, as long as they understand how hard they need to work to market a self-published book.

Joelle Delbourgo: I do receive plenty of memoir submissions. Ted Weinstein: I receive many memoir submissions. Thomas Graboy with Peter Zheutlin Sterling.

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Do these agents give you hope for your memoir? Or are you considering your indie options instead? I have what I think would be a best seller Memoir. I have gotten in touch with a few publishing companies to see what they thought. They said I should write the book or manuscript than get back in touch with them. I have a story but, I need help to get a ghost writer to help me put this into words. I have a titled picked out. With a brief synopsis.

If anyone is interested that is a literary publisher. Please get in touch with me. Thank you so much. Terri Klein. My memoir relates to my activities, observations and impressions as I, at the age of twenty-one, and a student at the University of Oklahoma, went to Los Angeles to work for a year. Young people considering becoming big city cops would likely be interested in the story, as would students of the present day racial conflicts infecting our society. My memoir is of the six months I spent in the homeless shelter system on Wards Island.

How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir
How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir
How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir
How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir
How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir
How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir
How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir
How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir How to Build Your Own Boat: A Spiritual Memoir

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