What inspired you to write your memoir?
The inspiration came from the despair and confusion I felt during my two-year involvement with a New York City homeless woman, as I became deeply involved with her life and potential death in the gutter. Although I told friends and family — most of whom couldn’t understand my commitment to her — it was in the silence of my room and facing a blank computer screen where the story unfolded with clarity.
Truth be told, however, the original manuscript was stored in a closet for twenty-plus years. Although written when the story happened, which accounts for the realistic dialogue and gripping descriptions, I never considered myself an “author” dedicated to a full-length book. I’d written freelance travel articles for over 25 years and preferred the shorter piece. But after my first book was released, I wasn’t prepared for the sense of loss I felt when finished. It was then I dusted off The Street or Me: A New York Story manuscript, enrolled in a writer’s workshop and polished my words to create a second book.
About your Book:
The Street or Me: A New York Story is a raw, riveting read that chronicles my unlikely friendship with Michelle Browning. She’s a former beauty queen from Italy, 33 when we meet, drunk and homeless for six years, living a medieval life in my New York City neighborhood. I’m a middle-aged, divorced woman with four teenagers, three live in Rhode Island with my ex-husband, the youngest with me in my studio. I struggle daily to support us in my adopted city.
When my brief sidewalk hello with Michelle turns into a fixation to return her dignity, I undertake a solitary mission filled with immense odds. To gain friendship, I visit her in hospitals. I bring food and clothing to the bank lobbies where she sleeps. I jitterbug with her in a hellhole apartment occupied by a freak wearing a Batman mask. It’s there Michelle shows me photos of her family in Italy. But I never take her to my home or give her money. I encourage her to return to her family to heal. They know nothing about her homelessness.
As Michelle nears death, she allows me to contact her mother who wants her daughter home but doesn’t know how to do make it happen. I offer to take Michelle although frightened to be alone with her. I’m also bone-weary from interacting with the homeless sub-culture. One of my grown sons agrees to accompany us. Days before our departure are fraught with mishaps and danger, and where I grow to hate Michelle’s alcoholism, sometimes her and the obsession I can’t shake. Those feelings vanish at the Venice airport at the family reunion filled with screams of joy.
Why I did this uncommon deed is revealed throughout my memoir as I take the reader on the journey of an ordinary woman who undertakes an extraordinary deed where redemption conquers evil.
How did you decide how to publish your book and where is it published through:
I self-published my first book and knew the ropes. However, the thought of a marketing partner and traditional publisher, slim as it might be, led me to contact several agents. No response from some; another wanted me to add 20,000 words with statistics about homelessness in NYC (ugh) and others had no interest. I simply couldn’t play the wait game and quickly returned to self-publishing my second book. Major perk is I keep all rights and have more control.
I hired a first-class designer for the cover and an editor. Paperback was created by CreateSpace. I use Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Nook for the eBook.
How do you see writing a Memoir as different from writing other genres of books?
For me, it wasn’t that difficult to switch from writing freelance articles, mostly travel, to writing a memoir. I found writing my novel more difficult to invent characters and dialogue. I’ve written for many, many years so it’s not difficult to wait for the muse to visit my screen. All good writing needs a strong opening, an elevated middle with conflict and then easing into the end. Memoir writing needs that too.
My memoir needed a strong “show don’t tell” approach since it’s a graphic story about the grittiness of homelessness. I needed realistic dialogue, which I had since I wrote down scenes as they occurred and put them away. I also had to put in a chapter about my mother’s disapproval of me and my helping the homeless woman. It was the hardest part of the memoir to write about but, as a writer with confidence in a good story, I could step back and write about the confrontation with honesty.
I’d say the most difficult part of memoir writing is cutting out trivia. Keep to the facts supported with informative and lively narrative. The reader doesn’t need to know what the memoirist did every second of the scene. And not all memoirs cover an entire life. Mine, for instance, covers a two-year period where I fill in my back story as the memoir progresses.
Judith Glynn has been writing and publishing travel articles for 25+ years, many about travel shopping and offbeat locales She lives in NYC and Rhode Island, which is her hometown and family base. Her first novel, “A Collector of Affections: Tales from a Woman’s Heart” combines travel with a middle-age romance, plus rich descriptions of Spain, Portugal, New York City and Rhode Island. Available in English and Spanish. Second book, “The Street or Me: A New York Story” chronicles her encounter with a homeless woman and how she took her home to her family in Italy.