≡ Menu

Day 4 The Writer Mama Every-Day-In-May Book Giveaway: Memoirist Melissa Hart

Fellow Willamette Writers Member, Jon Dragt introduced me to Melissa Hart and I’ve hosted her at The Northwest Author Series. She’s an inspiring presenter and just a delightful person. Enjoy!

Melissa Hart is the author of two memoirs: Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood (Seal Press, 2009) and The Assault of Laughter (Windstorm, 2005).  She’s a contributing editor at The Writer Magazine, and her articles and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Advocate, The Los Angeles Times, Fourth Genre, Other Voices, Northwest Review, High Country News, Orion, The Chicago Tribune, The Oregonian, Hemispheres, Horizon Air Magazine, Woman’s Day, Cat Fancy, and numerous other publications. She lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, photographer Jonathan B. Smith, and their young daughter, plus two dogs, and five cats. Learn more about Melissa at http://melissahart.com/.

Book Description:

Torn between the high socioeconomic status of her father and the bohemian lifestyle of her mother, Melissa Hart tells a compelling story of contradiction in this coming-of-age memoir. Set in 1970s Southern California, Gringa is the story of a young girl conflicted by two extremes. On the one hand there’s life with her mother, who leaves her father to begin a lesbian relationship, taking Hart and her two siblings along. Hart tells of her mom’s new life in a Hispanic neighborhood of Oxnard, California, and how these new surroundings begin to positively shape Hart herself. At the opposite extreme is her father’s white-bread well-to-do security, which is predictable and stable and boring. Hart is made all the more fraught with frustration when a judge rules that being raised by two women is “unnatural” and grants her father primary custody.


1. How has writing (either just the act of writing or writing this book or both) impacted your self-confidence?

I’ve been writing since nine years old, and it’s an integral part of who I am.  Writing has insisted that I become an extrovert, a teacher, an owl trainer, a filmmaker—all of which feed my self-confidence.

2. What are three words that describe your creative book-writing process?

Three words that describe my creative book-writing process are faith, focus, and revision.

3. What good has your book created in the world?

Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood, has made readers laugh and cry. It’s inspired them to belt out songs from old MGM musicals. It’s challenged their ideas about parenting and disabilities, and it’s inspired them to make Frito Boats.

• • •

Thanks for participating, Melissa!

Personal writing, like essay or memoir—I am curious how many of you have had any personal writing published.

Have you ever submitted an essay for publication? Have you every had an essay published? How is this experience different from writing and submitting other types of writing for you?

Answer in the comments in 50-200 words (no less and no more to qualify to win one of today’s books). Please read the complete rules at least once!

Melissa is allowed to answer too, but not until tomorrow, after her winner is drawn, because she can’t win her own books.

Thanks for participating in the Writer Mama Every-Day-In-May Book Giveaway! Please spread the word.

Like this post? Subscribe to my Feed!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Heidi Smith Luedtke May 4, 2011, 11:19 am

    I’ve had one essay published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog and one published in Military Spouse magazine (on the topic of whether I consider myself to be from a military family). The first (about the dog) was very cathartic to write, and didn’t present much internal conflict because the story I told was completely my own (well, the dog wasn’t going to speak up and say he was offended by my portrayal of him, anyway!) The piece about my marriage and in-laws was much harder to write. I wonder how memoirists deal with the fact that the people in their lives might not like what they’ve shared. It seems so easy to offend someone and/or create a rift when the individual sees things differently than the writer. My husband can’t cope with some of my blog because of this.

  • Renee May 4, 2011, 11:48 am

    I have had a few essays published, and a few rejected, but it isn’t a form I dabble in very often, simply because of how personal essays can be. However, I’ve just finished an essay that talks about some painful childhood memories for a competition, and I think it’s one of the most honest things I’ve ever written. But I know that if my mother ever read it, she would probably stop talking to me for a while because she doesn’t believe in airing dirty laundry for all the world to see. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I am a writer, and I can’t always be expected to write about everything around me. My best writing comes from somewhere deep inside of me.

  • Tebbertrevalee May 4, 2011, 1:28 pm

    When I told my daughter my first book, a self-published memoir, was something I was compelled to write, she looked at me frostily and asked, “Will you be compelled to write anything that includes me after this?” Ouch.

    I think I wrote the book with a great deal of sensitivity to everyone involved. I try to employ a journalistic style to my own story by telling the story and allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions. But the facts include suicide attempts (long before she was born), psychiatric hospitalizations and multiple marriages. Believe me, it could have been written in horror-movie style.

    However, I know what it is to be “Adolescent Alice,” my pseudonym in my mother’s columns. It sorta stinks to be part of a writer’s written life. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing to be done for it, though. If you write, you write, and if it’s non-fiction it will involve people. Lucky the historian who deals with a subject who can’t talk back.

  • Ann May 4, 2011, 1:45 pm

    I have written many essays but I know that I consciously edit myself to avoid hurting people.
    I decided it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
    Many of them have been published so even though they may not have inluded the most personal details (if I knew it would have upset a member of the family), they were still ‘good enough’ for publication.
    Once when taking an essay course, at the teacher’s prodding ,( she could see I was holding back), I wrote those extra very personal details and it did make the piece better – but I still knew I’d never publish it with those sections in.
    It’s something everyone has to decide for himself. I couldn’t bear to alienate a member of my family because of my desire to ‘write it all’.

  • Cathe Fein Olson May 4, 2011, 2:02 pm

    I only attempted to get a personal essay published once. It was about learning to cook with my mom and my experiences teaching my children to cook. I submitted it to Mothering Magazine where I had had several food-related articles published. I got a very polite rejection letter saying that they got hundreds of these types of submissions every month. From then on, I stuck to articles and recipes. I have a friend who’s had luck getting stories in the Chicken Soup for Soul books – – – have occasionally thought of trying but . . . haven’t.

  • Jen H. May 4, 2011, 2:51 pm

    Before last June, when I started writing for more mainstream magazines, personal essays were all that I had written and published–and mainly in unpaid literary journals. The main difference for me is that in writing essays there is more risk involved in revealing personal details about myself and others. In essays, everyone is vulnerable. More significantly, the truth (or verity) plays a different role in essays. You’re not only dealing with your own memory–your own personal truth, which in memoir is often subjective–but you’re also accountable to those you care about whose truth may drastically different. Bottom line: I often share my essays with those I write about before they’re published so that they know what I’m saying about them and are prepared to see it in print. With my other writing, I’m concerned mainly about factual accuracy, good writing, and a catchy hook.

  • Terra K Moore May 4, 2011, 4:12 pm

    Essay writing is one area I have never really enjoyed doing. I have written a few personal ones, and had them published in the highschool publication along with some poems. The up side from the experience was that people at school gained an understanding about life with a paranoid schizophrenic. The downside was making myself so vulnerable. It was a cathartic experience, but after that, I decided that essay writing was not for me. I really enjoy writing stories that reflect my life much more.

  • dot hearn May 4, 2011, 4:32 pm

    I regularly send out essays and personal writing pieces. It has gotten a little easier over time – but, depending on the piece, there can still be the “what if so-and-so sees it” feeling. And I feel more exposed, of course, than sending out a fiction short story. Also, the rejections do feel more personal in comparison to fiction or poetry. Again, those have become less personal over time – but there are still a few writer-cells who think it IS about them.

    For two of the personal writing pieces, I participated in the related publication release and reading. One of them was an extremely personal piece of writing and I deliberately pushed myself to stand up and read. It was hard and it was good. I think that was the event which changed getting my personal words out there into the world: standing up in front of other (local) writers and friends and reading what I’d written about me.

    Right now one project I have is writing a memoir about a particular period of my life. It’s freeing and it’s scary. It’s not random. And it’s very personal.

    And I am a lesbian step-mom whose step-kids are now adults.

  • David Ozab May 4, 2011, 4:51 pm

    I have a personal essay on the verge of publication. Will be my first in print for money. Can’t say anymore just yet . . .

  • Beth K. Vogt May 4, 2011, 5:34 pm

    I’ve had a few articles published that shared personal moments: my less-than-perfect mom moments or dealing with a surprise late-in-life pregnancy. And my book on late-in-life motherhood provided an opportunity to share personal experiences, along with practical information and advice. The biggest challenge with all of these? Being willing to be honest–to let my guard down and speak the truth, even when it included my failures.

  • Anonymous May 4, 2011, 5:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing information about Melissa Hart. I can’t wait to check out her website and learn more about her. Gringa seems right up my alley, and I look forward to checking it out. I have utilized my personal experiences in most of my writing. However, I am finally starting to work on my memoir, a personal account with my father and OCPD. OCPD, or obsessive compulsive personality disorder, has the classic markings of OCD, but the person can’t identify their behaviors as being out of the ordinary.

  • Cara Holman May 4, 2011, 6:35 pm

    The first personal essay I ever had published was “The Dogwood Tree” in the online Survivor’s Review journal. I wrote it days after the death of my father, when the pain was still raw. The second I clicked on the “submit” key, I immediately began to experience second thoughts. My father was a very private man. What would he have thought of me writing about him? And why did I feel so compelled to write about and share such a private moment? Three years later, these are questions I am still pondering. What I do know is that of all the writings I have published since then, including author interviews, book reviews and event recaps, it is the personal essays that mean the most to me.

  • Lara May 4, 2011, 7:55 pm

    I had my first essay published last month and another will be appearing in multiple publications over the next few months. Essay writing is a natural form for me. When I blogged, many of my posts came out sounding like essays.

    It is interesting to see others’ reactions to being written about. A Father’s Day essay I wrote about my husband portrayed him in very loving terms. I tried to shine the spotlight on my own inadequacies, while showing him in a positive light. But he took it very differently and called my recollection of one particular event “revisionist”. He’s since gotten over it, but it made me aware of the pitfalls of personal writing.

  • Pattie May 4, 2011, 10:23 pm

    I have written many personal essays, but only one has been published (in two different forms, in two different anthologies that I mentioned yesterday, in fact!). It’s an essay about when I was a white teacher in a school that was 99% African-American. The race issue is a tough subject, and since my experience really had to do with three races, I guess it makes a very good story. But because it’s personal, it’s harder to let it go into the world to be published.

    I have an essay right now that I’ve been revising on and off for a year. My creative writing prof last spring told me I need to revise it and submit it for publication. But when do I know it’s ready? It’s like a piece of my heart on paper, about my parents’ divorce after 36 years of marriage

  • Lela May 4, 2011, 11:07 pm

    I’ve published a lot of personal essays and it can be odd if they circulate in your personal geographical locale! I sometimes forget what I write until someone reminds me in the produce aisle at Walmart. Why, yes, I did forget my daughter’s dance recital! Thank you for reminding me. But I can’t not write them, so I guess it’ll be my curse.

  • Kathleen Whitman Plucker May 4, 2011, 11:29 pm

    Although they were not essays, some of the columns that I published as a community columnist for my local newspaper were highly personal. Two that come to mind are one that I wrote about watching my grandmother’s long demise from Alzheimer’s and another that I wrote about being sexually harassed (and all that ensued) at a Fortune 500 company.

  • Bethany Dykman May 5, 2011, 12:47 am

    I’ve written essays, but not submitted any yet. I find that the process of writing an essay is for me a very fulfilling experience, and yet the editing process is longer and more difficult. I want the words to be just right. I’m picky and exacting. And when it comes to submitting, I feel more vulnerable in putting my personal self out there.

  • patricia May 5, 2011, 1:01 am

    Oh I have not submitted such at this time, but I surely have a stack of them ready to go and one day I will just step up to the plate and motivate and as they say get my act together.

    I attened a workshop/seminar once with a woman who said I did not write my first book till I was 60.. it gave me hope, but that time is nearing quickly.

    I hate the part of submitting, it scares me, I want someone to do it for me and assure me that it will be productive, isn’t that what we all want. So for today the answer is NO….

  • Susan VB May 5, 2011, 1:53 am

    The first article I ever published was a personal essay about a spiritual experience I had in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It was an experience I mulled over for over 6 months before querying. It was different than other writing for me because I had to write and rewrite to explore what exactly I wanted to say about the experience–it didn’t come to me right away. I was able to bring latent thoughts to the surface, whereas other writing I often have to look outside myself for content and understanding.

  • Judy May 5, 2011, 2:34 am

    I have submitted and had a number of essays published. I feel great pride in all of my work, but there a several that are particularly meaningful because I have seen how people have reacted to them and that means a lot to me, to be able to reach and connect with others through my writing.

  • Anonymous May 5, 2011, 4:05 am

    Ages ago I had an essay published in Army Times about how to reconnect after one or both of you have been deployed. When the Common Ties project was going on I turned a real life experience into an essay-like story. I have written tons of essay and plan to submit them this summer. Like most writing it can be very healing, maybe even more so because it comes from personal experience and learning about life and being human.

  • Suzanne Kamata May 5, 2011, 4:09 am

    Before I published my first personal essays, I’d published short fiction. With the latter, the writer can always make the claim, “I made it up!” but with personal essays, you’re laying yourself bare, and open to criticism. I sometimes say that writing/publishing personal essays is like being naked, whereas writing/publishing fiction (which also has an autobiographical element, if we’re being totally honest) is like wearing a flimsy negligee.

  • Jjewelsea May 5, 2011, 4:39 am

    When I first started writing intentionally for publication, I imagined I would be mainly a personal-experience essay writer. Easy right? No research. Just whip out a piece about how you feel about something that happened to you. Ack! NOT so easy! Hard! I did sell one or two. Turned one into a series of devotions that sold. You really really have to have something to say that people want to hear. How-to pieces or articles about the ancient Egyptian pharaohs might be easier……

  • Mar Junge May 5, 2011, 5:03 am

    The first personal essay I submitted for publication was to Christina’s Writer Mama Contest in Writer’s Digest magazine. I’d never won a writing contest before. To win second place in a national competition with my first entry blew me away. It was also a great motivator because at the time I was studying under a very tough teacher, Novelist Floyd Salas, and I was discouraged at how much there was to learn. That personal essay was vastly different from any other written submission because it took much longer to get it right. And even then I had to use a professional editor to help me polish it as I was too close to the material. But the time and money were a good investment because they were an investment in my career. Just like we tell our kids, Writer Mamas have to be life-long learners.