Today’s writer is Peggy Kennedy, whom we first presented to you on June 5, 2009. Approaching Neverland, her memoir of a mentally-ill mother and a family that struggled to survive, is amazing—and redemptive. I hope you will procure a copy.
To read Cindy Doucette’s interview in this series of “How to Write a Successful Memoir,” click here. Cindy is the author of It Can Happen to Any Family.
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?
Peggy Kennedy: The name of my book is Approaching Neverland, A Memoir of Epic Tragedy and Happily Ever After.
My book tells the story of how our family continually overcame adversity through our love for each other, and how that love allowed me to fully realize happiness and fulfillment in my own life.
I was driven to write the book in order to honor my family for all the kindness, wisdom, and small and large gestures of heroism.
My mom, though often fun and loving, suffered from an acute mental illness which cast a shadow on everything in our lives but also drew our family of five children closer together. We created our own universe, buffered from the world, in which creativity, compassion, and a dark Irish sense of humor kept us moving forward and inspired us to excel. As time went on, what we learned as children helped us to cope with a host of tragedies that befell us including my sister’s murder, my brother’s death from AIDS, and my father’s Alzheimer’s.
DL: Can you tell us how long it took from the time you conceived the book to the time you had it published?
PK: I started to think about writing the book in the year 2000 but didn’t begin writing it until 2004.
DL: How many years did you spend in active writing?
PK: Five years
DL: Were there long breaks in between active writing periods?
PK: No – once I started writing I felt compelled to continue until I felt it was completed.
DL: You must have had periods of time in which you were discouraged or at least less enthusiastic.
PK: LOL! I absolutely did have those times. I wrote my first draft of the book before I contacted Denis and was so excited to share it with him. Although he had some nice things to say about the writing, he broke the news that it all had to be rewritten because I had written it in the third person (instead of the first person). It took me a few days to pick myself up from there but as we worked together re-crafting the writing I came to enjoy the process of getting the writing to resonate and stopped worrying so much about its completion.
DL: Can you tell us about how you kept yourself going? What worked for you?
PK: I have to admit it was a long slog, and it was hard to stay motivated as I kept rewriting. What really kept me going were those moments when I wrote something that really rang true – often discovering something about myself or my family that I hadn’t realized before. There were even a few times when I screamed out loud with joy! I’d get so excited I’d go back to read it over and over again – quite a wonderful feeling!
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?
PK: I feel that my book’s theme of overcoming adversity through love is a source of inspiration for my life. I believe I was successful in getting the theme across because so many people who have read the book and so many of my book’s reviewers have commented on how amazing it was that our family actually grew stronger through adversity. They’ve also commented on how close they felt to our family after reading the book and how much they loved the individual family members. This makes me very happy.
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?
PK: Initially, as mentioned above, my biggest problem was point of view (switching from third person to first person). As the book became a first person narrative it forced me to look my life straight in the eye, which was often quite an emotional roller coaster ride. In order to do the best writing possible, I knew I needed to relive many painful moments in my life. This proved to be tough yet cathartic – and I now truly believe that going through this process has helped me to understand myself better and feel much more fulfilled.
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?
PK: The consistency of sitting down every morning at my computer at about the same time worked for me. Working with the Memoir Network and Denis on a weekly basis helped spur me on to get as much written each week as possible so that we could review it together.
DL: How have you dealt with self-doubt?
PK: I tend to overcome self-doubt by stubbornly refusing to give up and continuing to slog forward.
DL: What makes for a successful memoir? Do you feel your memoir was a success?
PK: For me, success was having readers see my family through my eyes and fall in love with them. Yes, I got lots of feedback that this happened. The memoir felt like a success to me.
DL: How do you recommend people deal with sensitive material that relatives might take offense at?
PK: I asked for permission to write the book from my only surviving brother and sister, telling them that I wanted to tell our whole story and I wanted to make sure they were okay with that. They were both terrific – providing details I had forgotten when asked, and reading though chapters to provide insights. They were both also very good about understanding that what I was writing was my perspective and they took care not to impose their own version of the stories of our shared childhood.
DL: Did you envision yourself as a writer before you begin this book?
PK: No – not at all.
DL: What is your identity as a writer now?
PK: I actually feel like a writer now – and it helps that I’m often asked when I’m going to write my next book. 🙂
DL: Will you write another memoir? Why or why not?
PK: I don’t think I’ll write another memoir as I feel I’ve addressed what I wanted to address in my first book. I’d like to have a try at a novel or historical fiction but am still looking for the right subject matter.
DL: How have people reacted to your book? What sort of feedback have you received?
PK: I’m pleased to say that people have really liked the book. It has received an average of 5 stars on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and has gotten great reviews – these can be found at or on my website.
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.
PK: I’ve done it all, lol. I’ve visited over 50 book clubs throughout Northern CA that have read my book, been on local television, radio and blogs, done talks at libraries, given talks to Rotary and Soroptomist groups throughout the area, and spoken at writer’s conferences. Here’s a partial list.
DL: What are your future writing plans?
PK: I’m waiting for the subject matter for my next book to zap me between the eyes. I will let you know when that happens!