Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma


"An inspiring guide to ennobling personal stories that travel to the dark sides of life."

- Kirkus Reviews

“Writers of all genres will glean golden nuggets of advice about writing and living from this book, while all readers, because they, too, have unique personal stories, will be comforted and inspired by the everyday and creative struggles of some of their favorite authors.”

- Booklist

"[I]t unearths gems of insight, especially about the natures of truth, memory, subjectivity, and fact, and about what memoirs can mean to readers. And it leaves no doubt about the strength required to confront old ghosts."

- Publishers Weekly 


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Five years ago, I began writing a painful family story that has now become a memoir, All the Things I Couldn't Say.  Writing into the memories of this part of my life left me with some difficult questions: What does it take to write an honest memoir? And what happens to us when we embark on that journey? Would I survive the process?  I decided to approach the writers whose memoirs moved me and ask these questions. Their replies – honest and soul-searing – comprise Writing Hard Stories.  This book profiles my conversations with some of our country’s most prolific writers including: Alysia Abbott, Richard Blanco, Kate Bornstein, Edwidge Danticat, Mark Doty, Andre Dubus III, Jessica Handler, Richard Hoffman, Marianne Leone, Michael Patrick McDonald, Kyoko Mori, Suzanne Strempek Shea, Sue William Silverman, Kim Stafford, Abigail Thomas, Jerald Walker, Joan Wickersham, and Monica Wood. These writers invited me into their homes, into their lives, to share the intimacies of finding the courage to put words to their stories. Their candid descriptions of their own treks through the darkest of memories and the details of the breakthrough moments that opened up their stories gave me the mooring I needed to keep writing my own.

September 2023

A Hard Silence 




In 1985, when I was thirteen years old, my father, a prominent general and thoracic surgeon, was infected with HIV from contaminated blood during open-heart surgery when he suffered a heart attack at age 42. Ignorance and hysteria about AIDS were at their heights, and in Canada, where we lived, rumors swirled about publicly identifying and quarantining AIDS patients and their families. Believing he had only months to live and afraid of the stigma of this disease, my father decided to keep his illness a secret. No one imagined that he would live another ten years. But he did. And for ten years, the secret of his illness and the specter of disaster that inevitably loomed ahead defined my life. The complicated nature of his disease and the grief of his death have had an indelible impact on me. Writing my memoir is an attempt to understand that impact. My sense of self, my worldview, my faith, and my family are among the threads that weave this story together.