This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Southern mystique, ghosts, family feuds, fetishes, accidents, murder and suicides, Kate Mayfield’s compelling memoir, The Undertaker’s Daughter, is a vivid and stranger-than-fiction account of a now grown little girl who made a funeral home her playground. For over a decade, Kate lived in a place synonymous with death. She joins us now to talk about her inspirations while offering a few tips for aspiring memoirists.
Most things inspire me. From the couple on the tube who are clearly annoyed with each other, to a mull around in an antique store, I never know what might set my imagination twirling.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I’m really happy to shut the door of my office and not emerge all day, but that’s impossible. I often get annoyed at inanimate objects that need attention, like the laundry, or a grocery list. There are times though when I can’t sit still and I really must make that cup of tea immediately, which works out well, because that’s when problem solving happens.
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
In the case of fiction, no I don’t. But of course in my memoir almost everyone I ever knew from my childhood inspired it.
What female writer has inspired you?
This is sneakily similar to the question above. I think there are many brave female authors from the 19th and early 20th centuries who stand out, like Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf, Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson. The female authors from the American South, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty are gold.
Can you give us three book recommendations?
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna ClarkeThe Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I plan by writing an outline, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. I won’t adhere to it religiously, but I need a framework. It will change, and there will always be surprises. I don’t count drafts after the second. Each book is different. The book evolves during the process, as do I, so I don’t think about numbers of drafts as much as the evolving story.
What was your journey to being a published author?
It was an unconventional journey. I co-wrote the first two books, which was an unusual, but good experience. My husband had been profiled in The New Yorker, was subsequently scouted, and was asked to write the first book. I boldly raised my hand and roared, “I think I can do this.”
I don’t know if it’s a myth, more of a misconception that writers shut themselves away from the world when they embark upon a new book; that they instantly go into a quiet room and don’t see the light of day for years. There is research to do that takes you places you’ve never been; real, physical places. Not only various libraries, but to odd locations, to strangers who will talk about carving puppets, or performing magic, and all sorts of things that a writer may need to know more about. Depending on the topic and circumstances, a writer may leave their safe little room for a year or more, to then return to sorting it all out.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a memoir of their own?
Persevere. Be willing to write as many drafts as needed.
What are you working on at the moment?
A novel set in London.
Can you share your top five writing tips for aspiring memoir writers?
1. Read memoirs!
2. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with others. Be patient with the process and business of publication.
3. It’s been said many times, but it is vital to take breaks from your writing to allow the material to settle, and to enable you to approach it again with a fresh sensibility.
4. Find your own routine. We’re each of us different; we have our own working rhythms, our own way of achieving the final draft. I’m wary of people who claim to have a formula for how to write a book.
5. Be courageous. If you feel you’re playing it safe, stop and re-access.