Motherhood & Words

Last night I participated in writers revealed debut virtual book club, which was so much fun. There were about eight of us, and we all read Meredith Hall’s wonderful memoir, Without a Map, and then we called into the show for a Q&A with the author.

Hall became pregnant at sixteen, was completely shunned by her family and community, and was forced to give her son up for adoption. Her memoir is a story of struggle and loneliness and shame, and eventually, a story of healing and forgiveness. She comes back again and again to the ideas of abandonment and love, what it means to be loved. Hall’s prose is lovely and her story is compelling. (I read the book in two days, which rarely happens these days.)

I actually had read a couple of the chapters of the book when they appeared as essays in Creative Nonfiction, but I didn’t realize this until I began reading Without a Map. The book and her writing felt familiar to me, which I loved.

One of my questions for Meredith was about her use of the present tense. The whole book, with the exception of the prologue chapter, “Shunned,” is in present. For me, this had the effect of stacking time and memory, which made a lot of sense because she was constantly living with her memories and the knowledge of what she had lost. She says late in the book, “I carry the past each day.” She also says, “I am memory.” I was very interested in whether she chose to use the present for this reason, and she said in part, yes, but that she had originally written the book in past tense, but that past tense created a filter. It diffused some of the pain of her story, and she wanted the pain and longing and loneliness to be more palpable, more alive. She wanted the immediacy that present could offer. (This is my paraphrasing of what she said. Please listen to the podcast for her word-for-word response.)

I thought this was such a fabulous answer, and I totally agree with her. This is the same reason that I put Ready for Air in present tense. The story feels so much closer, more immediate.

So, do check out Without a Map, and also check out writers revealed, which does weekly podcasts with authors.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.

1 Comment

  1. Mardougrrl on August 8, 2007 at 1:10 am

    I can understand that…I play with whether to use the past or present tense in my novel, because while I want the immediacy of present tense, I also want the ability for insight which might not be available to someone as she is going through the experience.

    The book sounds fabulous. I’ll add it to my (way too long) to-read list.

    And I just tagged you for a blogger award!