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How to Write a Successful Memoir: It Can Happen to Any Family

Today’s writer is Cindy Doucette whose book is It Can Happen to Any Family. On August 22, 2012, we printed a testimonial written by a young person who was in the correctional system and who wrote of the influence Cindy Doucette’s book had on her.

Our last interview was with author Peggy Kennedy. If you haven’t read it, click here.

Denis Ledoux: Can you tell our readers what your book is about and why you were impelled to write it? What was driving you to spend the time, energy and money to get this book out into the world?

Cindy Doucette: It Can Happen to Any Family is about my 18-year-old daughter, Candice’s was a drug overdose death.

I wrote my story so that others could understand the pain that drugs can bring to a family. Candice was raised in a loving home with a father and two siblings. She became depressed at the age of 14 and I feel that was the beginning of the dreadful journey that resulted in her death. I wanted others to see how normal our family was and how drugs can sneak into your family, too, and take it over.

The time and energy I was able to devote to write amazed me as I had never written before. I wanted to get the important message about how drugs kill out to the world. It was costly to have professional editing and book design. The money was there, however, when I needed it, and I felt it was my journey to help others, and the investment was all worth it if I could just save one person from making the choice to start using drugs.

DL: Can you tell us how long it took from the time you conceived the book to the time you had it published? How many years did you spend in active writing?

CD: Candice passed in March of 2003, and I was given the idea to write her story just a few months later. By September of 2003, I was signed up for a week-long seminar with Denis.

I learned from him to treat writing a memoir like my work and to make a commitment to it, and that is what I decided to do. I work three days a week in my own business as a cosmetologist and I made the commitment to write regularly on the two days a week I was not in the salon. On the days I wrote, I would write all day until dinnertime. I had asked my family to give me my space and they did. In the mornings, I got everything I needed to do out of the way and then I wrote until dinnertime.

There were times when I took writing breaks. I spoke at local schools about the dangers of drugs, and sometimes had to prepare myself and could not write that day. My husband and I were building a house at the time so I did take a little break from writing to concentrate on the house. As soon as I could, I got right back into writing again because I knew the book was something I wanted to see completed. To get re-energized, I attended another week-long seminar, and by the time I had finished the book, I had attended three in all with Denis. My book was published in November of 2006, three years and two months from when I began.

DL: You must have had periods of time in which you were discouraged or at least less enthusiastic.

CD: There were times when I did get a little discouraged because I had made goals that had to be changed many times. I’m not sure what really kept me going other than her death was still so new to me and it was therapeutic to write about her. Also, speaking about my story at local schools gave me the motivation to get the book done and out into the world. Once I started writing, I experienced it as a gift and enjoyed the process. I have the personality that, once I commit to something that big, I need to finish it, and this book was so personal that I felt I owed it to myself and to Candice to tell her story.

The most difficult thing for me was the editing and making sure it was my voice when a Memoir Network editor had to cut the stories way down. I tended to write a lengthy story to tell what  I needed to about her life, but the editing worked. Faith in your editor is the key, and I had that.

It was discouraging a little when the book first came out because I expected to sell more books than I did. For me, once the book got out, it was different than what I had anticipated. I had 3000 books printed because I had aspirations of many, many people buying the book. I overestimated the amount I needed and still have over 1500 books in my cellar. I continue to sell them here and there.

My biggest challenge was the networking of the book. It was a lot harder than I had anticipated.  I felt that if it got exposure from a popular show I would sell a lot of books. I contacted select radio and TV programs and sent them review books, but I never heard back from most of them

After a few years networking the book on my own, I got burnt out and took a break. I republished a few years later adding an updated version of the book and an epilog. I wanted to update the readers on how things had gone since her death and the book’s first publication. At that time, I also put the book on Amazon and got it in the Kindle version. Now I can recommend it to anyone and don’t have to deal with mailing the books out to people, and I get a residual check in the mail from the publishing company I eventually decided to have handle the book.

Cindy Doucette

Cindy Doucette

DL: Tell us what the theme of your book was. How did you come upon this theme? Do you feel you were successful in getting your theme across to the reader?

CD: The theme of It Can Happen To Any Family was how depression can turn into drug use. I came upon the idea to write the book this way from Candice’s driver’s education teacher. He knew her and felt others could learn from her tragedy. I was very successful in getting my theme across to the reader because it all seemed to fall in place once I started writing. I really feel that Denis’ teaching in his workshops and his subsequent editing helped me the most as he taught me how to write so the book would flow.

DL: Is there anything in particular you would say was the most difficult thing to succeed at in this book? Was it scheduling, research, plotting, point of view, believing in yourself, or what else?

CD: The most difficult block for this book’s success was my lack of belief in myself that I could get it out there into the hands of readers.  I had an excellent story because I was told many times by readers that they couldn’t put the book down, I just couldn’t seem to get the marketing off the ground. I had speaking engagements where I thought I’d sell a lot of books and I would only sell a few. After I had told my story, perhaps members of the audience felt they didn’t need to read the book. Also, since she had passed away from a drug overdose, It Can Happen To Any Family wasn’t a success story. I think audiences want answers I couldn’t give them and maybe felt the book didn’t have any. I’m not really sure.

DL: Was there a success trait you have discerned for the process of writing? That is, are there best practices you would recommend to readers that would facilitate completing her/his memoir?

CD: I think the most successful trait I learned from writing my book is to treat it like a regular job. Denis advised me of that, and I took his advice. I was serious about writing and it was all I did when I had the free time. Also, I didn’t allow anyone to encroach on the time I had set aside to write.

I took it all very seriously and didn’t feel guilty when I didn’t reach my goals. I would just set other goals to help me to complete the project.

Denis was very supportive of me while I was writing. I loved calling and talking to him and felt he was a big source of encouragement to get me back on task. My family, friends, and my clients were all very eager to read my story so that kept me energized.

DL: How have you dealt with self-doubt?

CD: I don’t have any doubt when it comes to the quality of my book. I know it was written well, and I wrote honestly about my daughter’s life and tragic drug overdose death. At first, it felt scary putting my life out there for anyone to read and judge, but after a while, I felt okay about it.

DL: What makes for a successful memoir? Do you feel your memoir was a success?

CD: A successful memoir tells a story that has meaning. Make it exciting by putting all your feelings into it, and let the reader “see” who your characters are by showing what they look like and how they dress and by revealing their personalities. Give the memoir some sense of real life by including many details and making your voice come through. Don’t leave anything out because the readers will want to know you. The readers will not know what you have left out but they will feel something is missing.

It Can Happen To Any Family was a successful memoir because I combined writing from the heart with good writing technique. My story is a very personal one about my daughter and my family, and because of the type of story it was, I had to make sure to tell everything I could about her life and about that of my family so I could bring the reader right into my life. My intent was to change someone’s perception about drug use, and I wanted to tell what my family went through—from living an ordinary life to a very difficult one. When depression and drugs came into the family, it isn’t easy to maintain the normal family life you are used to.

DL: How do you recommend people deal with sensitive material that relatives might take offense at?

CD: My family was naturally very sensitive to what I would reveal. I had to go with what I thought was good for me, my husband and Candice’s two siblings. I felt a little guilty about putting this story out there because it covered so much personal stuff my family went through. During one of the seminars I took with Denis, we were all taking a break walking on the beach when I voiced how I felt to Denis. He reminded me that writing this book would be like donating a body to science. I didn’t get that chance with Candice and this was my chance to help someone by sharing what I went through so that others may choose a different path. I was grateful for Denis’ encouragement that day. I have never regretted anything about writing or publishing my book.

As far as sensitive material that may affect others, I could have put more in my book, but my intent was not to hurt anyone who may have been involved with her life so I was careful to put myself in other people’s shoes as I wrote.

DL: Did you envision yourself as a writer before you begin this book?

CD: I never envisioned myself as a writer, and because I haven’t continued the journey to write more books, I don’t recognize myself as a writer. I know I could write another book because I’ve already written a successful memoir.

DL: Will you write another memoir? Why or why not?

CD: I have no plans as of right now to write another memoir—but who knows. I loved writing my book because the subject was my daughter. It was a very emotional subject and writing proved a great way to heal from the tragedy that affected my life.

DL: How have people reacted to your book? What sort of feedback have you received?

CD: People reacted to my book very positively. I have heard many times that they couldn’t put it down. Although the story was very sad, I’ve been told that it was a very engaging and readable book. The readers have said they could hear my voice in the dialog. I wanted to make sure that, if anyone who knew me, was reading the book they would know it sounded like my voice. I have been asked very frequently, “When are you going to write another book?” There were a lot of unanswered questions surrounding her drug overdose death, and I think people really want to hear the truth as to what really happened to Candice the night she passed. That would be the subject of my next book.

DL: Was selling copies important to you? If so, what sort of outreach have you done to pursue sales: did you speak to groups, do guest blogging, do interviews, etc.

CD: At first, selling books was very important to me. I was invited to many speaking engagements at local schools, libraries, and ladies’ groups. I even attempted to form a TV show that was broadcasted in a Maine community for public television and competed for the Mrs. Maine title using my book as my platform—and I won Mrs. Maine Intl. 2008. I was very passionate about getting my message out and feel I took on everything that came across my path.

DL: What are your future writing  plans?

CD: Right now, I have no writing plans even though the experience of writing my book was a good one. I loved the challenge to finish it and was so excited to see it published. It is currently in many libraries and is used in schools as a tool when someone may be going through the struggle Candice went through.

While I had many goals I didn’t meet, I feel my book was a success. I would encourage anyone who is attempting to write a memoir to not get discouraged if they didn’t meet their first schedule. Start again where you left off because if it’s important to you. One day, you’ll be holding your printed book in hand and sharing it with others.

To purchase a copy of Cindy’s book, visit: It Can Happen to Any Family


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