Deciding to Write a Memoir, Guest Post by Sandra Bornstein

I met Sandra Bornstein after posting an author interview with Erika Dreifus, as Sandra was the winner of Quiet Americans. Sandra came to the blog as a reader, but today she shares her experience as an author. She’s crafted a lovely post about the challenge in writing memoir, and she’s giving away a copy of her new book, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Read Sandra’s guest post below, and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy. Thanks, Sandra, for sharing your experience and your book!

“Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book,
if written, results in a person explained.”
~Thomas M. Cirignano, The Constant Outsider

My decision to write my memoir, MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE, reminds me of the story of Pandora’s box. For decades, I had kept most of my life’s story private and well-contained. Only a few friends and relatives were privy to my childhood and day-to-day happenings. I was content to live beneath my own personal radar screen.

However, after having the unique opportunity to live and teach in a Third World country, my opinion changed. I was not prepared for the culture shock that I experienced. Monkeys in my classroom were never anticipated. Despite these unusual disruptions, I was able to share my multicultural expertise and teaching experience in significant ways. I was the only American primary teacher on the campus.

I had an inspiring story to tell. Similar to Pandora, I did not believe that the contents should be confined for eternity. I was curious.

Could I write my compelling story and keep an audience engaged?

Would it be worth the price of revealing my life to the public?

The mere act of writing about my life unleashed a flurry of memories. Some of these memories brought a warm glow of happiness while others rekindled periods of sadness, unfairness, and despair.

By having to confront the negative aspects of my life, I clung to the belief that others would benefit from the lessons that I learned from my journey. Amidst all of the evil that was released from Pandora’s box, she was able to locate hope. Likewise, I waded through my challenging episodes and sought out the promising and encouraging moments.

Even though I was telling my story, I had to look at each chapter with a minimal amount of bias. Without the help of my developmental editor, Joe Kita, it would have been much more difficult to find an appropriate voice and locate the major threads to my story.

Part of the challenge of memoir writing is to maintain a balance between retelling a truthful story and keeping your audience engaged. Far too many authors in recent years have excessively embellished the truth in order to sell more books. Maintaining my integrity throughout was always my intended goal. Elie Wiesel was absolutely correct when he stated, “I will say, with memoir, you must be honest. You must be truthful.”

If I was not going to be true to the facts, I might as well have written a novel. However, by adhering to the truth, I ran the risk of peeling back too many protective layers that had kept my life behind closed doors for decades.

But then again, isn’t that what makes a memoir compelling? It is those tender moments when the author reveals her inner feelings and connects emotionally with the reader. In so doing, the reader walks hand-in-hand with the memoirist and relates to the real life message of the story. The author’s life becomes fully illuminated.

Sandra Bornstein, an educator with four sons, was living her version of the American dream in Colorado when her peaceful and predictable life was jolted after her husband accepted a job requiring extensive international travel. Following a series of events, Sandra ended up living by herself in a 300 square foot dorm room while teaching at a world renowned international K-12 boarding school in Bangalore, India. She adapted to an unfamiliar environment, embraced her Jewish identity, and endured deteriorating health. In her memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, Sandra shares what she has learned about perseverance, travel, education, faith, and family.

Remember: leave your name in the comments. The winner of Sandra’s memoir will be chosen on Tuesday, January 22nd.


About Christi

Christi Craig is a native Texan living in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Family Matters Contest, 2010. You can send comments or questions via her contact page.
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