Writers Connect: Jacqueline Masumian

We’re very lucky here in Fairfield County, Connecticut, because we get a constant stream of authors willing to visit and share their wisdom. I’m not saying that selling some books has nothing to do with it, but I’m often impressed by how willing they are to discuss their writing process, how they found an agent, etc. So I’ve decided to begin recording some of them, and asking for a piece of advice about writing.


The first up is Jacqueline Masumian, a local writer, whose memoir, Nobody Home, has garnered critical praise. I loved her book; it’s a charming memoir. From her childhood in Ohio, to her life as a landscape architect, via acting, singing and market research, she takes the reader through a vivid journey. The memoir tries to make sense of her distant mother and a father who left the family when she was a child. Attempting to understand one’s family is something I suspect most of us do. Jacqueline has made it possible for us to understand hers in a very readable way.
When she came to the Westport Library recently to talk about the art of memoir, I asked her what particular advice she would give to her fellow writers.Here’s what she said:
The best advice I could give would be to share your work with a group of other memoir writers; a workshop setting gives you deadlines, forcing you to write every day, and provides very valuable feedback on your writing. Groups in which you read out loud to the other writers provide a special advantage, because reading your work aloud alerts you to any awkward sentences or incomplete thoughts you may have overlooked. I could not have written my book without the many thoughtful comments of my workshop friends.


Author interview: Randi Redmond Oster

Randi-Oster-214x300My friend Randi Redmond Oster started with a problem and turned it into a dream, which she is now making come true. The problem was that her teenage son was repeatedly hospitalized for a misdiagnosed disease, and Randi had no idea how to challenge the medical profession in order the get the best care for her son. A former GE engineer with an MBA, Randi decided to apply some of her problem-solving skills together with her motivational skills, with amazing results. The book she wrote about her experience is called Questioning Protocol. It’s very readable, with plenty of first hand stories, and also provides a step by step guide as to how to have this success if confronted with a large medical bureaucracy. So successful has the book been, that Randi is now asked to speak around the country, both to people on the receiving end of care, and to hospitals who want to improve their communication with patients.RRO cover
GC: Randi, having had the experience of helping your son, what made you think of writing a book about it?
RRO: As my son sat on his hospital bed waiting and waiting for a doctor, I started to question the processes to build confidence for a patient. We were in a whirlwind; spun around by new people entering and exiting Gary’s hospital room. When a doctor that I never met finally showed up, I realized I’d probably only have 10 minutes of her time. I set expectations quickly by telling her I wanted to be involved in every non-life threatening medical decision. The next day she put my son on steroids without telling me. At that point, I decided to record every step of the process. I wrote a journal with the goal to identify process improvements for the hospital from the patient perspective. In GE I was trained to build high performing teams. I implemented these skills to build a high-performing medical team focused on my son. After recording a couple of days of hospital interactions, I realized my journal could help both the medical community understand the patient perspective and individuals could learn the tips, tools and techniques I leveraged from my corporate experience. My mission was born.

GC:How long did it take from having the first word on the page to holding a book in your hands?

RRO: Three years. Three long years. It took me 18 months to write the book. I worked full-time on the manuscript. Every week I’d review what I wrote with my editor, Carol Dannhauser. We’d meet at 7:30AM in a local Starbucks  and go over every word of the story. She said if we’d get through 7 pages in one hour, the work was excellent. In our first session, she reviewed only 2 pages. She really helped me find my voice and tell the story. With time, I got better and better at writing and by the end we easily would be able to review 7 pages in an hour. In a couple of sessions, I hit 10 pages! Once the manuscript was done, she sent me away for a week to reread and revise the entire book. I spent a week in Lenox, Massachusetts at a bed and breakfast and worked 12 hours a day. I took the manuscript to Edith Wharton’s gardens and poured over the pages. I visited the Normal Rockwell museum and sat on a veranda and gazed at the hillsides as I red-lined and shifted paragraphs. I hiked up to the top of Mount Greylock and sat on a picnic bench with a 360 degree vista of mountains and searched for meaningful words to describe the hospital experience. At the end of the week, I gave Carol back the updated manuscript and then she re-edited the entire work. When we were done, it then took another 18 months to get the book published.

GC: Did you ever get discouraged?
RRO: No. But, I think because I was so determined to help others learn from my experience. Nothing was going to stop me. Any obstacles I hit, I’d find someone to teach me.

GC: Have you always been a writer?
RRO: No – Far from it. I am an engineer by education. I avoided papers in college. My MBA helped me write for a business audience but I mostly did PowerPoint presentations. People often told me I tell a good story and they’d say, “You should write a book.” When I left GE, I decided to take a writing class. I spent 8 years in writing classes. The last three, I took a memoir class with Carol, my editor. In the class, she taught me to be truthful on the page. She’d give us prompt and 10 minutes to write a response. The topics were personal and sometimes painful to write about. Then we’d read our responses to the group. My deepest secrets were being shared with strangers. I’d see their eyes as I read out loud life events that I kept hidden. They could totally judge me and discuss it right in front of me. At times, I wanted to drop the class. I didn’t understand how this exercise would make me a better writer. But, I as I read my innermost secrets, I saw people were more understanding than I expected. The more open I was the more others felt confident to share as well. I realized that as hard as it is sometimes to expose ourselves, when we share our truths we can really help others. As I wrote Questioning Protocol the memoir class really helped me be truthful on the page. I no longer worried what other people would think.

You can find out more about Randi and her book here


Life sucks. Then it goes on. Six-word memoirs

Or alternatively: My constant cheeriness drives people nuts. Two terrible examples of a six-word memoir.



I don’t know if you know Smith Magazine? I may have mentioned them before. They’re a class act, (published by TED Books, a division of the TED Conference), and they invented the six-word memoir, and to date they’ve published seven volumes of them. It’s not as easy as you might think to come up with a really good six word memoir, but you can see some of the winning ones here.

Now they’ve raised the bar slightly, or maybe quite a bit, depending on how talented you are. For their next book, they’re looking for illustrations to go with the memoir, and they have to be done by the author, and – the author has to be a student – of any age. The book will be entitled: Things Don’t Have to be Complicated: The Art of Six-Word Memoirs by Students of the World.

Here are some of the current entries. Try not to get discouraged…they’re good.

You can read the submission guidelines here, and they’re taking submissions through October 15th.

Surely you can do better than I did here?

Reading my first interactive eBook – and loving it!

Sumner Glimcher is quite a guy. I first met him at the Westport Arts Center in Connecticut, where he was telling people about his new eBook memoir A Filmmaker’s Journal. I read it recently on my Kindle Fire, and it was astonishing for several reasons. First, Sumner’s career has taken many twists and turns. Starting with a stint of active combat in World War II, through service in post-war Germany in the de-Nazification program, through a long career in documentary film, followed by teaching at NYU, he’s had the sort of life that probably wouldn’t be possible today.

But the thing that interested me most about his book was not the story, fascinating though it was. What hooked me was the fact that this was the first interactive eBook I’d seen. It contains links to clips from Sumner’s movies, as well as to an oddity of a song called “That Ignorant, Ignorant Cowboy” – designed to be a way of telling people, after the invention of penicillin, that syphilis was now curable. Apparently it became a huge jukebox hit!

Why is this so extraordinary? Because Sumner is a very charming and gregarious 88 years old. And he’s still taking a very active interest in new technology and ways of getting his message across using all the means at his disposal.

Over coffee recently, I asked him how he’d managed it.

“Oh,” he said suavely, “Once I’d conceived the idea, I found this absolutely terrific young guy at the Apple store, and he helped me get it all together.” Creative thinking, right?

Just reading this eBook has given me a whole lot of new ideas of what’s possible in the eBook world. So, although I love a paper book, this kind of creativity will keep me reading on my Fire.

If you’re old-fashioned, and must have a paper book, it’s available as a paperback from Amazon, as well as in eBook form for Nook, iPad, etc. So you have no excuse now. If Sumner can lead the way, you can follow.

You can find Sumner at his website, on his Facebook page and you can follow him on Twitter – he’s just started tweeting. You can find his movies on YouTube, or just Google him…he’s everywhere.

This Saturday, August 4, he’ll be interviewed on WWNN radio (8.30-9am) by Anita Finley, host of the radio program:  “Cutting Edge with Anita.”  They’ll be talking about how the Publishing Revolution has developed as a result of self-publishing, reading tablets and eBooks. And on August 20th, (6-8pm) you can meet him in person at a “Meet the Filmmaker evening at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in New York.

It seems that Sumner Glimcher’s adventures keep right on happening.


A theatre-going innovation

Here’s an interesting development in the world of books and writing. Our local theatre, the Westport Country Playhouse, a venerable institution, is starting a new “literary salon series” called Books Worth Talking About!  The program starts in June and consists of a pre-show discussion with an author whose writing complements the production. I’ve not heard about this kind of collaboration before, but it makes perfect sense to have writers and theatre-goers discussing what they have in common. In particular, the first in the series relates to memoir as a healing medium. Those among us who write memoir will surely find the comparison between two different authors’ work helpful.

Nina Sankovitch

The first discussion, on June 13, will feature Nina Sankovitch, author of  Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:  A Year of Magical Reading,” a memoir in dealing with the death of her sister. She’ll be interviewed from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. by Tessa Smith McGovern, memoir collection editor,  writing professor at Sarah Lawrence and founder of eChook Digital Publishing.

Maureen Anderman

The play that follows is The Year of Magical Thinking, based on the National Book Award-winning memoir by Joan Didion.  Featuring Maureen Anderman, the play is about hope and renewal following the author’s loss of her husband.

If you have a ticket for the play in that evening, you can attend the salon.

Two more salons are scheduled – on  July 18, prior to a performance of Molière’s “Tartuffe”; and on August 29, before the world premiere of the comedy “Harbor,” by Tony Award-nominated playwright Chad Beguelin.

If you’re interested in this new collaboration, you can buy a ticket by calling the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529. Tickets are available online 24/7 at www.westportplayhouse.org.

Recreating a memory

I was hanging out at the Westport Arts Center’s ArtCafe last Friday and got to talking with my friend Helen Klisser During about something that happened to her recently. It made me think about memories – how they’re formed, how we re-create them, and how they differ from the original event in the recreation. The story Helen told me was about a friend with a memory which Helen helped her recreate. Now I’m writing about it, so recreating it again. It may be different from the actual event, but that’s what being creative is about. I’m not big on heart-warming stories, especially when they’re designed to tug at your heartstrings. But this one is true, or as true as I can make it. Are you writing your memories down as they happen?

Helen was walking along the beach in Westport the other day with a friend of hers, Susan. It was a blustery day, but the beach always makes for great photos and Helen is am professional photographer, among other things. Westport likes to pride itself on having repulsed 2000 redcoats British in 1777 (after they’d set fire to the town of Danbury), and to commemorate this event there are two cannons located at the beach, pointing out to sea, in case the British (my friends and I) ever decide to invade again. Too late, of course, we’re here already, but I’ll let that pass…

“When I was a little girl, said Susan wistfully, “I used to sit on those cannons.” Helen’s ears pricked up. What she heard was” I wish I could sit on that cannon again…” Susan was 87.

Helen decided she’d never forgive herself if she attempted to hoist Susan up onto a cannon and anything went wrong. But she really wanted to make this wish come true. Across the parking lot, she spied a couple of young men who had descended from their motor bikes to smoke a cigarette in the fresh sea air. Helen marched up them and asked if they’d be willing to help.

“Sure,” they said. They swaggered over to the cannon and, very gently, helped Helen’s friend to sit astride. Then they supported her, but out of sight, so that Helen could record the whole thing on film. Here are some of the pictures:

Easy does it!







“By the way,” Helen told me, “Susan’s family think I am a bit of a risk taker, because Susan mentioned at the end of last summer how she used to love to go  sailing with her sister  in the sound – something I do 3 or 4 times a week – racing with a crew at Pequot Yacht club and renting little Hobie cats for an hour after work, from Longshore sailing school-for an evening sail…”

Helen’s response to this was to find a day that was: “breezy, but not too breezy. I needed to keep the chances of capsizing to a minimum. Hobie cats aren’t really ‘senior friendly’. They don’t have any rails or a solid bottom. You just have to take your life jacket and go sailing.”  And here’s the result of that!

Ahoy there!

Here’s what Helen, with her usual modesty, concluded from these events: “If you have a little idea, make sure you’re with someone who listens.” And I’d add that she’s stacking up karma for when she needs a hand climbing cannons when she’s 87.

All photos are by Helen Klisser During and she holds the copyright. You can also check out her weekly ArtCafe blog for updates on the local and global art scene. Lots of great ideas there.