Sunday, August 23, 2009

Meeting Authors Part Two: Amy Waeschle's Memoir, Chasing Waves

What makes a memoir good?

I recently met Amy Waeschle at the Pacific Northwest Writers' Conference. Like many authors at the book selling part of the event, she looked out from her table a bit eagerly and seemingly a bit nervously. The photo on the cover drew me in immediately. I love outdoor adventure and surfing was something that I had an interest in pursuing before I went to college up north in Seattle. I never did pursue it, but I thought that I might learn some interesting things about surfing. There was one other thing that drew me. The cover hinted at the importance of landscape and one's place in the environment. That made me curious.

So, I picked up the book and talked with Amy for a bit. Whereas Boyd Morrison (the thriller writer that I blogged on last week) could be described as having an intense personality, Amy struck me as friendly and talkative.

I read a few pages and I could immediately tell that this would be a good book for me. So, that raises the issue of what makes a memoir good.

Here are three characteristics of a good memoir that I found in Amy's book, Chasing Waves.

1. The topic is of interest.

2. The writer's personality comes through in their writing style and their stories.

3. The issues in the story are both personal and big picture issues.

What I loved most about this story was seeing how a person with a friendly personality--one that seeks harmony--will come back again and again to learn to be a better surfer, despite the difficulty of the waves, the difficulty of other surfers, and the difficulty that being a new parent presents. Also, the descriptions of place and waves were wonderful. In a literary world where I often read about conflict and the underhanded nature of human beings, it was nice to read about an individual getting out and making themself better at something that is worthwhile. I came to see that surfing, at least for Amy, is much more than surfing: It's a way of being, one that I can relate to and pursue in other activities like hiking and running.

What do you think makes for a good memoir? Do you have a favorite?

Is anybody else starting up with classes or teaching? I start teaching on Monday. Life has been very, very busy with getting settled in and getting things ready for the new school that I am at.


  1. Hey Dave! I think #2 is huge for a good memoir, and in some cases, unless you've been taken over by a 1st person voice of a character, it applies to fiction as well.

    Personally, I really liked The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, by J. Maarten Troost. His voice was outstanding, and the story just knocked me out.

    Good stuff, thanks.

  2. I used to love memoirs...then I hit a couple of really hard-to-stomach ones, so now I am leary. For me, I like a chatty style without too much craziness or abuse. A Girl Named Zippy, or even The Glass Castle are some of my favorite memoirs.

  3. i don't like memoirs, actually, so i don't really have anything to add on the subject :)


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