Jamie Patterson has been awarded second place in the Sarton Women's Memoir competition for her book Lost Edens: A True Story (Beaver's Pond Press, 2011). A memoir of a failed marriage and abandoned dreams, Lost Edens helps readers understand that while some relationships are too broken to fix, we can change our stories and thereby transform our lives. Patterson, an academic editor, lives in Minneapolis MN. Lost Edens is her first book. The Sarton Memoir Award was established by Story Circle in 2011 and is named for May Sarton, distinguished American memoirist, poet, and novelist. For details of the 2012 competition, go here.
Read Sharon Lippincott's review of Lost Edens for StoryCircleBookReviews.org.
Interviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 05/14/2012
Lost Edens is your first book. Tell us about the process of writing it. Why did you feel you had to write it? How did you begin? At what point in the process did you know you had a book?
I have a lot of drawer novels (the kind you write and put in a drawer) but Lost Edens is the first book I felt was finished—there came a point when the work to be done was not text generation but editing and I think that's the moment I felt like I had a book. All of my drawer novels never reached that point and it could be that they were fiction. I wrote Lost Edens within weeks of where the book starts and so I was very much writing in the moment itself; there was a very clear beginning and then a sequence of events toward an end. The writing was fast and necessary because I was trying to figure out what had just happened to me but I wasn't writing it for an audience. I have always written to help me make sense of the world and I needed that outlet during that time to help make sense of this very specific series of events.
How did you choose the elements of your narrative that you wanted to include in your book? Were these conscious choices, or did you mostly follow the arc of events as they occurred? How much did you shape these events in order to include them in your story?
Because I was writing within weeks—certainly within months—of all the events, there was actually very little conscious choice of what made it into the narrative. Lost Edens is in its most basic form a simple chronology of events and I didn't leave anything out, particularly in the early chapters. Towards the end, though, decisions did need to be made about how to show, in a short space of time, the work I went through to heal. The decision was made to go back to two different beginnings: the beginning of the marriage in Kansas City and then the beginning of the book and the beginning of a new life in Minneapolis.
The title, Lost Edens, is both fitting and revealing. At what point in the writing process did the title come to you? Once you had the title, how did it illuminate the experiences you were describing? How did it shape the writing?
I read a lot of Sylvia Plath the summer the events in Lost Edens happened and I was mostly interested in her journals and communications. I read a book written by a friend of hers, about the time between Ted leaving Sylvia and her eventual suicide. Sylvia would say that she was doing fine and then Ted would come to visit and she would be reminded of "lost Edens." This was, in part, what made me realize for myself that the major loss I was experiencing was not the loss of a husband but the loss of a life and lifestyle that I had worked so hard to build. The title came long after the book was finished—the working title was Where You'll Find Me, which I'm glad didn't make the final cut!
The story of Lost Edens is not just your story, it is Ben's. Did telling his story present you with any conflicts? Why/why not? If it did, how did you resolve these conflicts?
One of the things that prompted the writing was trying to figure out Ben's story. I didn't know what he was doing, what his motivations were, or what his end goal was. This confusion I think comes out in the book and contributes to a feel of reading a mystery—even for months after the events all of these things were a true mystery to me, particularly his motivation and reasoning for why and what he did. I think because I simply related events as they happened I did feel any conflict about whose story this was. I was concerned, though, with protecting his identity and so small details were adjusted (where he worked, what sport he played) and some big ones, too (like his name). I'm confident that anyone currently in his life could read the book and not know the book was about his first marriage.
Many of your readers have described this story as "painful." In writing about pain, we have to deal with the pain of the experienced events, and the re-experiencing of this pain in the writing. How did you deal with this?
That's actually something I'm dealing with now in writing the followup to Lost Edens. I'm having to put myself mentally and emotionally back into moments that have long gone. I'm hesitant to do so and it's hard to do so. When I wrote Lost Edens, though, I was still in the moment, which made writing so much easier. I often say that I could never again write a story like Lost Edens about that time in my life, because now I have the wisdom and experience I gained from going through it. I didn't have that wisdom and hadn't yet learned from the experience when I wrote the narrative. That unknowing and naivete is what makes Lost Edens painful for me now.
Writing about our experiences is a way of re-storying them. As we tell the story, a new story (sometimes several different stories) about the past and present begins to emerge. The new story helps us to frame the future. Was that true for you? If so, what kind of new story has emerged from your writing?
I actually began writing at the encouragement of Dr. Miller, the doctor in my life (and in the book). The idea was that telling the story of what has happened to us helps us to reclaim the events and own them. This was definitely an important thing to me—I wrote so that I could own the events and not be a victim of them. What I'm working on now is a bit different because it's bits and pieces over a course of several years (as opposed to Lost Edens, which was one week). Selecting which bits to contribute to the whole is very much like selecting one particular story to come from those years. Lost Edens did help to frame my future, though, because it helped me to firmly place what happened that summer of 2006 firmly in my past.
As we write, we learn about writing. If you were writing this book again, would you write it differently? In what way? To what end?
If I sat down to write about that summer again today it would be a completely different story. In fact, I don't think I'd be concerned at all about the day-to-day events and probably look more at what events led me to those moments. I think the story wouldn't be about the falling apart but more about the putting yourself back together. One reason, though, I felt it was important to publish Lost Edens is because it is one of the few books in the genre that specifically address what the falling apart looks like. At the time, I didn't need another book to tell me how to save my marriage (there are a lot of books about that!): I needed a story that looked and felt like mine so I wouldn't feel so alone.
Tell us about the process of publishing your book, once it was finished. Who is your publisher? How did you discover this publisher? What is the relationship like?
I live in Minneapolis, which is one of the best cities to be in for small presses. I'm literally surrounded by them. I started thinking about publishing at the encouragement of my friend and editor, Sue Greenberg, and realized pretty quickly that I while I was proud of the story and the writing I was also a little hesitant to share it; it felt like living in or dredging up the past. I wanted the publishing process to go as quickly as possible so instead of querying traditional presses I chose a mentor publisher here in Minneapolis. The idea is that the publisher acts in every way like a publisher but the process is completely directed and paid for by the author. The relationship, then, ended once the book went to press. I think mentor publishing is absolutely fascinating and I saw big benefits (I kept all rights to the work) and big pitfalls as well. In the end, though, I got exactly what I wanted and that was a book published quickly (within 16 months of the project beginning).
As the book is being launched, the author faces the challenge (often difficult) of marketing it. How are you approaching this? What's the hardest and/or least attractive part of marketing, for you? The easiest? The most fun?
I have a background in public relations and marketing so I thought that the process of selling the book would be fun—and it is! I learned quickly, though, all of the things that I don't know about the process. I hired Austin literary publicist Stephanie Barko before we even had a final draft of the manuscript. Stephanie was absolutely essential in molding the text (she saved the whole project from a bad edit), securing endorsements, and establishing a solid online presence for the book. I worked closely with Stephanie for over a year and truly believe the project would not have been a success without her involvement. The best part about launching and marketing the book as definitely been the people I've worked with and met.
Now that Lost Edens is out there in the world, what's your next writing project? Tell us what you're working on.
I'm working on one more creative nonfiction piece that's a loose followup to Lost Edens. The story revolves around the summer of 2008, two years after the events in Lost Edens, when I spent most of the summer living in a flatshare in North London. The story has the framework of a travelogue but the questions I'm trying to address are related to what home is and what control we have over our lives. It's been a completely different writing experience from Lost Edens and I'll admit that I'm reading more than writing to try and find answers to these questions for myself!
Your book has been distinguished by a unique award: the first Sarton Women's Memoir Award. Tell us what this means to you.
Having the opportunity to accept the Sarton Women's Memoir Award is one of the highlights of this whole experience. It is such an honor for Lost Edens to be recognized and I had a wonderful time with the Story Circle women at the annual conference. Getting to hear other stories and other writers' lives was truly inspirational. The Sarton Women's Memoir Award is an honor and distinction that I'll always be so very proud of.
Thank you, Jamie! And once again, congratulations on your award.