Monday, February 20, 2017

Interview with women's history writer Suzanne Sherman

Writer Suzanne Sherman joins me today to chat about her women’s history / memoir Girlhood in America: Personal Stories 1910 – 2010.

Suzanne Sherman is a professional editor, memoir teacher, book consultant, and writing coach. She has ghostwritten memoirs and business books and her book proposals have gained representation by top agents and small publishers. Her newest book is Girlhood in America: Personal Stories 1910 - 2010, available in print on Amazon, local bookstores, by order through Ingram, and as an e-book.

Please tell us about your current release.
Girlhood in America is a fun and fascinating look at the life and times before age 13 in every decade across a century in the words of 56 women and girls. A short cultural history of each decade and highlights from pop culture open the chapters, about inventions and advancements across the 20th century. It's a time capsule, an educational and entertaining living history that shows what's unique and what's universal across a century of change.

What inspired you to write this book?
I started teaching memoir in 1996, when my students were mostly women and men born in the early years of the 20th century. Fifteen years and hundreds of amazing true stories later, I realized the times that led us to where we are today were disappearing with the people who had lived them. I wanted to be a storycatcher and share some of the stories with more people. Florence’s dad bought a car from a door-to-door car salesman when she was 5 in 1911—that story is the 1910s chapter. Lois went to one of the first “talkies” in the 1920s. In the 1960s, Victoria went to Woodstock, at 12. And then there are the stories I collected from girls who came up in the ‘70s, ’80s, ‘90s, and 2000s. I saw the girls go from mother’s helper at home to contributors to culture.

Excerpt from Girlhood in America: Personal Stories 1910 – 2010:
from CHAPTER 8: The 1980s

Ms. Pac-Man Is IT! Nicole Bivens — Little Rock, Arkansas
.... Nicole wore Levi’s button-up jeans and T-shirts to school because, she says, dresses just weren’t practical. Dresses were for church or weddings or Easter. And the superhero underwear? That was good any day of the week.

My underwear was decorated with characters like Tinkerbell or Care Bears and superheroes like Wonder Woman Everyone had them. My favorite shoes were KangaROOS, with the little zippered pocket on the side where you keep coins. We thought we could run faster in those shoes because that’s what they said on the commercial.

For years, my hair was long, down to my butt. That changed with Dorothy Hamill. I wanted more than anything to be a figure skater like her, but there wasn’t a chance. The best I could do was get the Hamill haircut. I never had long hair again.

Halloween was Nicole’s favorite holiday, until safety became a new concern for trick-or- treaters. It wasn’t all about putting on a costume and going out at night with friends to collect a shopping bag full of chocolates anymore.

We’d get a costume at K-Mart — Wonder Woman was one of my favorites — and our mom or a relative would go with us while we went door to door trick-or-treating. We’d come home with huge bags of candies, all kinds, and we’d sort through them for what we liked best and trade some with each other. Then we started hearing about razor blades showing up in Halloween candies and people talked about poisoning. It was all over the news: check your candy. We still went out, but as soon as we got home the adults checked every piece of our candy to make sure everything looked okay. The fun game — free candy — suddenly became something you had to fear.

That was just before seventh grade, when Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against drugs was on full force. They showed movies at school where people high on angel dust thought they were Superman and wanted to dive out second-story windows, and alcoholics were shown in all kinds of extreme situations. In class, we made a commitment not to take drugs and signed a “Just Say No” card we were asked to carry around in our pocket or purse. I know I took it seriously even though I have no idea what happened to that card.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m collecting stories now for the next book in the 100 Years in the Life series: Teenage Girls! Coming of Age Through a Century. These are stories about experiences that affected you as a teenage girl (13 to 20 years old) and that reflect the era or decade when you were that age. Topics can be any experience that gave you a new sense of independence or in some way made an important impression on you. At the website you’ll find a form to submit your idea for contributing a story for the book. As with Girlhood in America, I’ll be including a fun and interesting write-up of culture for girls in every decade, from 1920 to 2020. This book, though, will have much to say about first loves, dating, learning to drive, and all the rest that comes crossing that bridge between childhood and being a woman.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That first diary I had when I was 10 could be called my first book, but I found the few lines to fill out for each day limiting. I had a lot more to say than what happened with the summary at the end: “It was fun” or “It wasn’t fun.” Two years later I was filling pages in three-ring notebooks detailing the day’s events (including conversations with boys) and calling those books my diary. By high school my favorite classes were poetry and creative writing. In college, I majored in creative writing, writing short stories and a short novel. I knew writing was the only world I wanted to live in.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I write for much of the day every day. Besides my own writing, I am an editor, ghostwriter, and memoir teacher, helping other people write and get published. I am busy with words all day. Fortunately, I like to wake up early and use that quiet time for writing the short memoirs I publish occasionally in The Sun magazine, write my memoir blog articles, and work on my books.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I do my best work sitting with a laptop in my recliner with my feet up. Sitting at a desk or using a desktop computer is creatively confining for me.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A novelist. I didn’t know yet about memoir and how good it could be.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
In the 1960s, when I was a young girl, there were a lot of new foods and toys, some of them two-for-ones, like the Thingmaker, with its Gobbedy-Goop to make the little creatures in the supplied molds on the electric stove; I mention that in my story in the book. We get so busy with our lives we tend to forget about or discount our younger years, but writing this book I got to remember and laugh about some of the stuff that gave me so much pleasure. I’ve heard the same from women whose girlhoods were in the 1970s and on. Not all times were happy ones, and I appreciated hearing about the challenges that showed up in every decade for girls from all walks of life. I wish everyone a great experience time-traveling!


Thanks for visiting today, Suzanne.

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