The Catharsis of Memoir Writing by Beth Ruggiero York

 

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Beth Ruggiero York

 

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The Catharsis of Memoir Writing

by Beth Ruggiero York

Author of Flying Alone: A Memoir 

 

It takes courage to write a memoir. Sort of like going to confession if you are Catholic. If you want absolution, you must admit to all the stupid things you’ve done. Similarly, if you want to sell your story, you must bare your moments of weakness to readers. The difference is that, in a memoir, you also get to tell about your triumphs and how you won in the end. Your life events need to span the full gamut of what life has thrown at you and resonate in the readers’ hearts and minds, and this means going deep into your soul to create the story, your story

 

For me, Flying Alone was not going to be a memoir, even though all the events and characters are real. It was going to be a novel. Actually, it was to be a memoir masquerading as a novel, complete with names changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent. This way, I could fully reveal the events without having to own up to them. Those years in the 1980s when I was climbing and clawing my way up the aviation ladder were filled with risk, dangerous situations and some bad decisions. When I lost my FAA medical certificate in 1990 with the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, my aviation career ended and I knew I had to write about it. Even though I wasn’t ready to expose some of it, I still pushed those thoughts aside and wrote… and wrote. The memories were fresh, and I could record them in the greatest detail. After completing the writing, I put it in a box and set it aside knowing that someday there would be a time to revisit it. Well, the time passed until about two years ago, when I finally knew I was ready. 

 

I read it all the way through for the first time in so very long, reliving the experiences with all the edge-of-my-seat terror and suspense as when it actually happened. 

Even though it was intended to be a novel, written in the third-person to shield myself from what readers might think of my escapades, there was no doubt only halfway through rereading it that it was, in fact, a memoir of a very turbulent time in my life. This posed the greatest difficulty in the editing process—telling it as my personal story in the first person, i.e., baring myself to readers and owning the truth. I had to make peace with all that had happened back then and, ultimately, I shared everything and could forgive myself for old mistakes and regrets. 

At times, the distance of thirty years made it seem unreal, but that separation also helped me to look at those years with the objective compassion that comes with maturity. I remember and love the people who played important roles during that time, from Rod, my employer, mentor and flight examiner, to Melanie, my student, friend and cheerleader, and Peter, my dear friend and fellow risk taker who paid the highest price.

Flying Alone is the result of the cathartic process called memoir writing. But not only is this process cleansing and peace-making, it serves another important purpose—that is, recording history. Whether my history is important or not is not the point. Rather, the point is it is the history of a time and a small slice of life at that time. 

In sharing my story, my hopes are for a variety of reactions from a variety of people. For other women, I hope they can see how it is possible to emerge from life situations and decisions that make you feel as desperate as an airplane in an uncontrollable spin. My relationship with Steve was just that, and even though recovery was never a guarantee, persistence allowed it to happen. 

I equally hope that young women aspiring to careers in aviation and other male-dominated professions will understand that it can be done successfully. Certainly, the circumstances are much more forgiving today than they were in the 1980s, but there still remain obstacles. I hope the ultimate message received is never to give up even when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore. Don’t plant the seeds for later regrets.

Of course, I also want to share it with pilots of all types so they can see my side of the world of civil aviation and perhaps derive amusement, stir their own memories or, in the case of student pilots, learn what not to do. An early reviewer of my book summed it up in this way: “… [Beth’s] book will warm the hearts of grizzled pilots like me or anyone seeking insight into the challenges and rewards of flying.”

As I look back, despite the fact that quite a bit of courage is needed to write a memoir, the memoir is in fact a reward earned for simply living life. Taking the time to look back on years past and contemplate the events that have shaped and changed you as well as others is an act of accepting yourself, but writing about these events to share with others is the reward.

 

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About the Author: 

Beth Ruggiero York is the author of Flying Alone: A Memoir. She is a former airline pilot for Trans World Airlines. She entered the world of civil aviation in 1984 shortly after graduating from college and, for the next five years, climbed the ladder to her ultimate goal of flying for a major airline. Beth originally wrote Flying Alone in the early 1990s, shortly after her career as a pilot ended and the memories were fresh. She is now a Chinese translator and a professional photography instructor for Arizona Highways PhotoScapes. She has published a popular instructional book on night photography, Fun in the Dark: A Guide to Successful Night Photography, which has worldwide sales, and she has co-written a book entitled, Everglades National Park: A Photographic Destination. Beth and her husband live in Fountain Hills, AZ. For more information, please visit https://bethruggieroyork.com and follow Beth on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

 

 

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Show Notes

  • Why write romance novels about rugby?
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  • Changing to a new series to keep the writing interesting for the writer
  • The importance of character development and tone
  • What is it that your books offer readers, other than plot?
  • The importance of knowing your ‘why’

 

Full Transcript

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The Importance of Setting in Historical Fiction

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I had opportunity to interview some great historical mystery writers, asking them about the importance of setting; Denise Domning, Lee Strauss, and Rhys Bowen. Here’s what they said…

 

From Denise Domning author of The Servant of the Crown series.

 

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How important is setting in historical fiction versus the setting in other genres?

I can’t say that setting is any more or less important to historical fiction than any other genre as every genre has its conventions. What makes or breaks a novel is how deft an author is at conveying the expected milieu. In that, historical fiction can be unforgiving. Readers who love this genre already know their history. Beware the author who doesn’t check her facts for she will suffer the slings and arrows of critics who remind her that sycamores are an American tree and potatoes come from the New World. For the record, neither of those were my errors but I have heard from readers protesting facts that in other genres would be deemed unworthy of comment.

In historical fiction it’s not enough to be comfortable with the details of your chosen time period. You also have to get that information from your brain through your fingers and into the book in a way that doesn’t stop the flow. For me that requires writing out all the details I think I’ll need for a particular scene, say a meal in a merchant’s house. How many tables are there and how are they set? What’s on the floor? Where are the windows, if there are windows? Is there a newfangled chimney or is there a central hearth? What colors/designs are painted on the walls? What

furniture might there be besides the tables? Is there crockery? How does it smell? What sounds fill the air from nearby homes or their own workshops? Are they close enough to hear the bells from the nearest church? Are there regraters outside in the street selling goods? Is the neighboring merchant shouting out to passers-by about his wares?

Once I’ve answered those questions, I go back and tighten, tighten, tighten, eliminating this, shortening that, until there are just enough details to describe the scene without slowing the action. This is very hard to do for someone who writes history textbooks disguised as novels to educate unsuspecting readers. I want to share every cool fact I’ve learned. To protect my readers, I employ this mantra: “If I love it, take it out.”

 

 

From Lee Strauss author of the Ginger Gold and Higgins & Hawke mystery series.  

 

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*How important is the setting in historical mysteries?

I would say very. The historical backdrop is almost like a character in itself. Readers love the details and historical trivia. Otherwise, you might as well stick to a contemporary setting.

 

 

From  Rhys Bowen author of the Royal Spyness mystery series.

 

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How important is setting for historical fiction writers?

Rhys: for me setting drives many of my stories. NAUGHTY IN NICE. TIME OF FOG AND FIRE. Etc etc

And it’s important to get every detail right. I read biographies, accounts of battles, diaries, study old maps.

 

Rhys Bowen

Lee Strauss

Denise Domning

 

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Resources mentioned in this episode:

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