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How to Write A Successful Memoir: Stepping Stones [Part 2]

Today, we wrap up the interview with our guest writer Marilea Rabasa. Her discussion of self-discovery through the hell of substance use disorder continues in Part 2. Her memoir Stepping Stones placed in the International Book Award as a finalist.

For the first half of the interview, click here.

Marilea Rabasa in conversation

Denis Ledoux: Did you envision yourself as a writer before you began this book on substance use? What is your identity as a writer now?

Marilea Rabasa: Writing is a tool I have used all my life to make sense of some the things—like substance use—that had been happening to me. My diaries go back to when I was a child. Whenever I am distressed about something, I write about it. Putting my thoughts down on paper usually helps me to arrive at some clarity. So I guess I’ve always been a writer. It’s been a creative pastime for me. Sometimes it served a therapeutic purpose, but not always. Often—like a painter with a blank canvas—I just write down my observations of what’s around me. Much of my published lifewriting are short pieces drawn from my travels that contain some sort of wisdom or life lessons that I have learned along the way. And, some are humorous.

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I also write quite a lot of poetry, but very little for publication. I write a 16-line poem for each of my granddaughters for their birthdays every year, basically a recap of highlights of the previous year that their father is making into a scrapbook. Also, and this I’m carrying on from my father and mother, I write short, 4-line, mystery poems for Christmas presents where the recipient has to guess what the gift is based on the clues in the poem. My father was an extremely talented wordsmith, and I’m proud to be carrying on his legacy.

My identity as a writer? Well, it would have to be as a non-fiction author. But I honestly wish I had more imagination to write fictional narratives. That would be so much fun, and I feel that I would be bound by fewer constraints. As a writer, I enjoy playing with words on paper. It’s one of several creative outlets I enjoy.

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

MR: I have already started my third memoir. It’s not about substance use but is a love story about my partner and me. When I was married to my first husband, a diplomat in the US Foreign Service, he showed me much of the world in our time together. Then my present partner of  twenty-seven years was determined to show me the United States with camping trips to many of the national and state parks. What an adventure that has been with him! We are still happy and very much in love through all the ups and downs that have occurred during our time together. The theme of my third book is love and how it has the power to lift us up through anything.

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

MR: People have reacted very well. I’ve received outstanding reviews and was a finlist for an International Book Award. I have a lot of correspondence generated on social media, and there are other upcoming virtual book tours.

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.?

MR: My publisher, Brooke Warner, strongly encourages her authors to hire a publicist and embark on some kind of publicity campaign. With so many books on the market on substance use to choose from, it’s necessary to promote your work. I hired a lovely woman from Nashville who helped me promote my book via  press releases, various blog tours and book reviews. My most far-reaching and valuable book review came from James Cox at the Midwest Book Review: “An inherently fascinating and ultimately inspiring read from beginning to end,…” I think we forget how librarians can be our best friends. They will be reading his review and hopefully buying copies for their libraries.

But I don’t envision myself making public appearances. Covid-19 has precluded that. My writing agenda has always been very simple: to heal from the pain of substance use that was preventing me from moving forward healthfully in my life. Over time and quite a few years in various recovery fellowships, I have learned to live well without resorting to substance use of any kind. And I’m thrilled when I can be of service to others with similar substance use problems.

I imagine fame and fortune drive many writers to seek attention and do everything they can to sell books. But I have been rewarded so much already. I begin Stepping Stones with a letter to my grandchildren. The love that I see in their eyes, and in my son’s eyes, in my partner’s eyes—being able to turn those mirrors back on myself in the form of self-affirmation—and to finally love myself after so many self-destructive years of substance use, well, that may not carry with it a monetary reward, but in my mind it’s the greatest gift of all.

DL: What are your future writing plans?

MR: I’ve lived quite an extraordinary life. As long as my arthritic fingers can still type on my computer, I will write down my stories and thoughts, if only for myself. I have already written my autobiography, minus the substance use theme. That theme doesn’t define me, and I have many more fun and illuminating stories to tell.

I would also like to get back into teaching, and work on lifewriting with seniors. We sometimes underestimate the value of our experiences to those we love. My sister coaxed our mother to write her lifestory for several years before she finally did it. And it’s been a lovely gift to all our family members. Many of us could strengthen our legacies in this way.

[For another interview on therapeutic writing, click here]

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