Here’s part two of the Q & A with Rachael Hanel. Her incredible memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You, is now on bookshelves.
You’re a huge fan of memoir as a genre. Why?
I think this ties into the previous question. I grew up listening to true-life stories. Even as a small child, I felt like the fictional stories I read paled in comparison to these stories that Mom told me or the real stories I sought out to read. I was always fascinated by real stories and was captivated to try to learn how people react to events in their lives. The memoir genre continues to fill this need.
It’s also no surprise that I grew up wanting to be a journalist. I wanted to learn people’s stories and be the one to chronicle them. I remember returning from interview after interview shaking my head and thinking, “Wow, what an amazing story! You can’t make this stuff up.” Real people and their real situations will just always be very compelling to me.
What memoir are you currently reading and name 3-4 you’d recommend.
I just finished Thirty Rooms to Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic, by Luke Longstreet Sullivan and published by the University of Minnesota Press. I was completely blown away. It’s funny, because the couple of books I read before this one were novels. They were very good novels and I enjoyed them. But after reading Longstreet Sullivan’s book, it was once again affirmed that I am completely drawn to memoir. The novels just seemed to be lacking something in comparison—I find it hard to fully care about a fictional character.
My favorite memoir is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I bought it right away when it came out in 2006 because her father worked as a part-time mortician. I came to find out that this is actually a very small portion of the memoir, but the book (which is a graphic memoir) is stunning nonetheless. Bechdel is a very smart writer and she expertly weaves together many different stories and ties everything together in a full circle. I read the book several times as I was writing my memoir. Structurally Fun Home is about as perfect as a memoir can get.
I’m partial to memoirs that take place in the Midwest. Some stunning ones include Nicole Helget’s The Summer of Ordinary Ways, Kent Meyers’ The Witness of Combines and Debra Marquardt’s The Horizontal World. These were also books I read several times as I was writing my memoir.
What’s it like to think about your book – your baby – going out into the world?
This is causing me a great deal of anxiety! Ironically, even though I wrote a memoir, I’m a very private person when it comes to my life and my emotions. So there’s anxiety surrounding the idea that I’m going to be revealing myself to friends, family and strangers. There’s also anxiety over the fact that I’m sure not everyone will love the book, so what will the critical reviews say? But even good reviews will make me nervous because I don’t like a whole lot of personal attention. I’m social and I love being around people, but I don’t like the focus to be on me.
But of course, this is a day I’ve dreamed about for many, many years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I’m just sure the reality of it will be different than the fantasy I built up in my head!
I’m grateful to Rachael for being part of my blog. I also owe her an overdue, public thank you. Nearly 20 years ago, she was copy editing my news story under deadline. Rachael and her eagle eyes saved me from spelling my own name wrong. (Really, who hasn’t done that?) She actually prevented public humiliation for lots of reporters during those years. On behalf of all of us, thanks!