Give Your Opening an Attitude

By Matilda Butler

This month’s interview is with Maralys Wills. Maralys is unusual, a published author in six different genres. Most of us are happy to write within one or two styles, but Maralys loves the challenge. 

With her varied writing background, she has had occasion to think about, execute, and even teach about beginnings — book beginnings and chapter beginnings. In her memoir, Higher Than Eagles, Maralys begins:

“I never thought I’d lose a son to hang gliding. It just never seemed possible that the sport we’d watched and applauded — the sport we’d taken on as a business and nurtured from infancy — could turn around and bite us. And Eric! How could it have been our third son, Eric, they called about, when all along it was Bobby who took the risks, Bobby who’d made a private pact with Luck?”

In this first of three memoirs, Maralys grabs our attention immediately with the drama of the situation.  We want to know what happened, why it happened, and how she would manage to survive the death of a son. She told me that she wrote and re-wrote this book many times. Finally, she had a break through and could better shape the story. This led to her first paragraphs. 

Of course, not every story begins with drama. When asked about other ways to begin a memoir, Maralys recommends attitude. For an example, let’s take a look at the opening to her second memoir entitled A Clown in the Trunk.

“With enough chocolate, I swear, you can persuade anyone to do anything.

Which is how I induced my friend, Carol, to accompany me on a trip she should have avoided like a meerkat avoids a hawk. A few days before the trip, I’d laid a path of chocolates from her house to my car. When she came out the front door, there they were, soft-centered and chewy, snaking down the path and across the sidewalk, stopping right at my passenger door. ‘Of course, after that,’ said she, ‘I had to come.’ Carol is one of those women who would surrender her soul for the right two pieces of See’s candy.”

As Maralys explains in the interview, this opening salvo began with an attitude, an attitude showing that the road trip would be a little bit crazy. She used the opening to foreshadow the story.

If you’d like to hear the interview with Maralys and learn about her other advice for ways to begin a memoir, please click here to go to have just posted the audio file on the Women's Memoirs blog.

One response to “Give Your Opening an Attitude

  1. Joyce Boatright

    Thank you for two very different but equally compelling openings for a life story. I teach the personal narrative to college freshmen and they have such a hard time with “intoductions.” These will be grerat illustrative examples to share with them.
    (In the meanwhile, I’m putting Maralys Wills on my holiday wish list for friends and family who need a hint about what to give me for Christmas. Both openings have intrigued me and I want to know the rest of her stories.)
    My, my… so many wonderful books. Aren’t we blessed!

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