Larry Kilham and Edith Tarbescu are two examples of the prolific members of SouthWest Writers (SWW). They each write in a variety of genres with one in common: memoir. Both authors had new releases for 2022 and have one or more interviews posted on the SWW website.
Author Larry Kilham is a retired engineer and entrepreneur who has published science fiction novels, poetry chapbooks, memoirs, and other nonfiction books with topics ranging from creativity and invention to artificial intelligence and digital media. His most recent release is his 2022 memoir, Curiosity & Hope: Explorations for a Better World. You’ll find Larry on his website LarryKilham.net and blog, and on his Amazon author page. For more about his work, read his 2017, 2019, and 2021 SWW interviews.
How is the memoir structured? What was the inspiration for the title?
I wrote an outline of about 12 chapters that covered my childhood through the present and included school, college, jobs, travel, and high-tech start-ups. There could have been twice as many chapters, adventures, and episodes than I used. I tried to focus on my story arc, where each episode led on to the next.
The book title started from a project I’m working on at Santa Fe Prep called Curiosity. It is an elective program to stimulate kids to follow their curiosity. Then I thought, “Isn’t this the thread of my life? I will build my memoirs around my curiosity.” Of course, without hope, curiosity leads nowhere. So I added “Hope” to the title.
Do you have a favorite quote from the book that you’d like to share?
My father advised me, “Don’t be afraid to fail. Be willing to work by trial and error. The life we live is made up of falls and recoveries. The falls educate us and the recoveries enrich us.”
What do you consider the most essential elements of a well-written memoir?
One, clearly explaining the historical context of the central character of the memoir. The inventors of my three memoirs were each focused on the resources and needs of their times. Two, explaining the family and societal support (or lack of them) that fostered the inventor’s personal development and propelled them into a productive and satisfying career. And three, finding universal themes or generalizations that any reader can relate to.
You wrote three memoirs in four years—The Perfectionist: Peter Kilham & the Birds (2018), Destiny Strikes Twice: James L. Breese Aviator and Inventor (2020), and now Curiosity & Hope. How did you manage to pull that off?
Finding a common theme which really makes all three memoirs one story. In this case, the theme is about the whys and wherefores of three generations of inventors who developed useful things. In my grandfather’s case, his invention of oil burners for home and commercial heating; in my father’s case, the invention of very popular birdfeeders; and in my case, the invention of sensing instrumentation for the chemical industry and environmental sensing.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m thinking about a second edition or another version of my memoirs to develop some more general themes about where our society is going. I am writing a lot of poetry which has been well-received. And I am exploring various ways to bring my poetry to the public and to finding and perfecting my style. Some of the poets I use for models and inspiration are T.S. Eliot, William Wordsworth, Maya Angelou, and Pueblo Indians.
Author Edith Tarbescu has written essays, children’s books, plays, and a novel. In 2022, she added memoir to her list of publications with the release of Beyond Brooklyn (Adelaide Books). You’ll find Edith on her website at EdithTarbescu.com and on Facebook and LinkedIn. Read more about her writing in SWW’s 2021 interview, and look for Beyond Brooklyn on Amazon.
Why did you write your memoir, and who did you write it for?
I had been reading a lot of memoirs and thought it would be interesting to write one. I wrote it for myself and my two daughters. It was especially interesting to go back in time to my childhood in Brooklyn. I recently learned that Dr. Fauci lived in the same neighborhood as me while I was growing up. I also loved re-living my trip to Romania while it was still under Communist rule. We were followed by a Romanian James Bond who insisted we visit his office, a scary experience.
When you began the project that became Beyond Brooklyn, did you have a theme in mind or did that become obvious with time?
I thought fairly on that since I’m a playwright—I studied at the Yale School of Drama—I should include a few plays. I ended up including three short, humorous plays and a one-woman play titled Suffer Queen, all produced in New York and in regional theaters. One top New York agent, who didn’t take on my memoir because she didn’t think it would make enough money for her, called the writing “cheeky,” including the plays. I was flattered, but wished she had taken it on.
What was the expected, or unexpected, result of writing the book?
I realized I was divulging all my secrets and wondered how my friends, and/or family, would react to learning all the intimate details of my life, but that’s a memoir.
In memoir, does the author’s responsibility lie with the truth of the facts or with her perception about the past?
I think the author’s responsibility lies with telling the truth and let the facts speak for themselves. If an author doesn’t want to do that, or is unable to do that, he or she should probably turn the past into fiction and write a novel.
Of all your writing projects—essays, children’s books, plays, a novel, and now a memoir—which one was the most challenging, and which was the most enjoyable to write?
I enjoyed writing everything and they were all challenging. A couple of my children’s books required research. For the picture book Annushka’s Voyage, I did research at Ellis Island. For my book about the Crow Nation, I traveled to Montana and ended up meeting with several members of the tribe. That was especially interesting to me coming from Brooklyn, New York where I never learned about Native Americans or heard about the boarding schools they were forced to attend.
The plays were also enjoyable, especially when I ended up having staged readings or productions of a play. I had several plays performed in New York, in regional theaters, and one in Valdez, Alaska. It was exciting to work with various performers and directors.
My novel, a mystery titled One Will: Three Wives, takes place in New York and I was thrilled to spend time in Manhattan researching neighborhoods, restaurants, etc. I also visited the police station where my novel takes place, and a policeman took me around the building where I visited a squad room for the first time.
What are you working on now?
I’m revising a middle-grade novel titled The Amazing Adventures of Alison Badger for readers ages 8–12 years old. It’s a fantasy that takes place in the Dumbo Section of Brooklyn (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.) One agent loved it, but he wanted novels for boys. I’m not giving up. I’m very persistent. Luckily, I have that trait.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.