January 13, 2011

guest post: fledgling - the birth of a memoir

by Nancy Hinchliff

MARCH 2010: "I have started to formulate in my mind an approach to writing a memoir, but haven’t come up with anything concrete yet. I’ve been running a bed and breakfast for 16 years and want the memoir to be about my life there. I do not want it to be focused on my family, but rather on the interactions between me and my guests, employees, and colleagues. At this point, I don't know how to start..."

I wrote the above almost a year ago, when I made the decision to put all my stories and blogs posts about my years as an Innkeeper into memoir form. I had never written a memoir before and had no idea where how to start. But, like most of my new experiences in life, I just jumped right in. I started gathering information and talking to every writer I knew about memoir and what they thought it was. There was a lot of controversy and many were not able to give me a definitive answer. So I went to the dictionaries, online and off. I started formulating definitions and writing about them on my blogs, my writer’s sites, and all my social networking sites. I got a lot of feedback.

On one of my writer's sites, I posted regularly about what it was like being an Innkeeper, the challenges, the interaction with guests, and the running of a small business. I began getting lots of comments and interest in what I was writing. Many of my virtual friends suggested that I collect my posts into some kind of book form. At first, I laughed off the idea. Up to that time my thoughts about writing books were that they were too time consuming and required too much from me in the way of commitment and dedication. Never did I think that I couldn't do it. I just never thought about it at all....until one day, out of the clear blue.

I went to a place on line called Fast Pencil. I registered and started posting my stories as chapters into the program. It was free unless you wanted to self-publish. I came up with a bland, working title and starting spending more and more time there. I still wasn't thinking about publishing; I just wanted to see what all of my stories and events looked like as an organized unit. My writing strategy was to organize the stories and information about the Inn I had already posted into chapters, then write a preface and afterward,  I decided that, if I didn't have enough stories to produce 70,000-90,000 words, I'd dig down into my memories of the past 16 years and add some more. I just wrote whatever came to my mind planning to re-write later. I wrote five to six hours a day...every day for months.

I changed the title three times, and may not stop there. The first one was: Tales From An Innkeeper's Crypt. I used this one to post my stories when I first started writing about my inn keeping experiences. After studying the memoir market a while, I discovered there were too many "Innkeeper Tales..." out there and I needed to come up with something more original. Eventually, I adopted A Memorable Time of My life as a working title. The third and present working title came from a line out of the book: Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen, a little off beat and more interesting.

Where am I now in the process?... and it has been a process, from which I've learned a lot. I'm over halfway finished with the first writing (approx. 60,000. words), I'm working on a query letter for agents, and a proposal. I've had several readers look at it, have posted my query and excerpts from the manuscript on several writer's sites for feedback, and have self-edited and re-written parts of it many times. It is now stewing on line, waiting for me to get back to it with fresh eyes, to rewrite again, finish the chapters, have an editor friend look at it then re-read it through for clarity, flow, voice and so on.

The process is complicated, many layered, and at times intensive...but for me, it's more comfortable than writing fiction. I actually discovered through this process I am truly a non-fiction writer. Few writers cross over very well and I guess I'm one of the one's who prefers not to. Non-fiction is the category of writing I've been drawn to all my life. I prefer reading biography and memoir to fiction as well, and enjoy satire. I don't like Sci-Fi or Fantasy. I like reality shows and prefer real life stories to made-up ones. Since "voice" is an important part of any piece of writing, I have infused my book with humor and good-natured sarcasm, which is characteristic of my particular voice and style.

To anyone who wants to write a memoir, make it honest, authentic, and reflect the real you. You can make it creative, by using techniques from fiction writing, but get to the truth and flush it out. And remember this, it's not as easy as it seems.


Description: OPERATIC DIVAS AND NAKED IRISHMEN is a humorous and poignant account of how an admittedly asocial retired school teacher with no business sense reinvents herself as an Innkeeper. The reader is taken on a sixteen year journey as the author deftly wields her way around cantankerous contractors, harrowing housekeepers and no shortage of strange and interesting guests.  Through her collected stories, the author gives the reader a personal, in-depth, and honest look at what it's like to be an Innkeeper and not lose one's sense of humor.

Excerpt from Chapter Eight:

...I opened the door to a barrage of people, having no idea who they might be. The only person scheduled to check in that night was a single, elderly lady.

"I am Madame Rosalina Capriani!” the woman announced, "and these are my suitcases".

I scanned the four men accompanying her and, sure enough, each one was carrying a suitcase...

She extended a long, well rounded arm covered in silky, red, purple and green, part of a flowing cape encircled heavily in dancing Magenta fringe. I stood there in awe, as she flamboyantly glided through the doorway, motioning to her walking suitcases to follow her...


Nancy Hinchliff owns and operates a bed and breakfast in Louisville, Kentucky where she also blogs and writes on line at Examiner.com, Eye on Life Magazine, Pink magazine and Hub pages. You can find her blogging at Business and Creative Women's Forum, Inn Notes, Inn business  A Memorable Time of My Life, and Louisville Bed and Breakfast Association . In 2008, she co-authored Room at the Table, for The Bed and Breakfast Association of Kentucky for which she won their president's award for outstanding work. The coffee-table cookbook has recipes from Kentucky Inns throughout the state and beautiful photographs of scenic Kentucky taken by award winning photographer, Robin Goetz. She is currently working on a memoir titled Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen: An Innkeeper's Tale, a humorous and poignant account of how an admittedly asocial retired school teacher reinvents herself as an Innkeeper. This intimate tale recounts 16 challenging years of self-discovery.


  1. Sounds fascinating. I bet you've gotten a lot of real characters over the years. There are so many people out there with dreams to open a bed and breakfast one day, I think you'll find that there is a sizeable target market for your book. Best of luck to you.

  2. Exactly what I was thinking, Austin. After doing this for 16 years, I have a sizeable "constant contact" approved mailing list which will definitely be part of my networking platform. I am also fortunate enough to have a brand in the Aleksander House name and logo. I use the name Alekhouse on all my social media sites.

    Thanks for the nice comment.

  3. You know, now that Austin mentions it, my mother wants to open a bed and breakfast someday. I really hope you succeed in your journey to publish your memoir. I have a feeling it will be funny and entertaining :)

  4. Thanks, Brooke, for the support. If your mom wants to open a B&B, I hope she's a workaholic, cause it ain't easy. But it's a great experience and can be fun when you're not totally exhausted.

  5. Nice post- inspiring. It must be fascinating as a writer to be able to meet so many people- all with their own stories...