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Musings & Meanderings: It must be cathartic, writing this memoir, and other untruths about writing through trauma. Tuni Deignan on her lyrical memoir, UNDERWATER DAUGHTER, blending motherhood with writing, Mushroom School through Corporeal Writing, and more

By Leslie Lindsay

A curated newsletter on the literary life, featuring ‘4 questions,’ reading & listening recommendations, where to submit, more

Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book


It must be cathartic, writing this memoir.

Have you heard this statement? Perhaps you, with good intention, uttered this phrase to a writer?

It sounds like the thing to say when you want to support someone in the depths of writing about a traumatic experience.

In reality, there are so many layers to writing a memoir, that this comment feels kind of…pat.

Memoir is a process of excavation, intuition, organization, assembly, drafting, revising, more revising, problem-solving, often all at the same time!

There are myriad ways of approaching this–but mostly it’s about digging into memories (some false, mis-remembered, and…some traumatic). But in addition to all of that, one must also employ all the other bones of writing: the balance of action/exposition, front story/backstory, character, voice, setting, tone, dialogue, structure, imagery…so much. In fact, sometimes it feels like one writing a memoir ought to have a therapist on speed-dial!

Memoir is not autobiography.

You can think of memoir as a story across a certain aspect of the author’s life. A memoir is really about arrival.

“The memoir, at its core, is an act of resurrection.”

–Carmen Maria Machado

In my case, I am resurrecting (literally), my mother. But I am also resurrecting myself as a person I did not know until I wrote what I wrote. In that sense, I you could say it’s cathartic.

Exhumation allows the author to lose/gain/survive/grieve/understand all over again. It might be therapeutic, but really, it’s jarring. It’s like scraping at a scab. Sometimes it’s bleeds all over again. Sometimes it scars.

Ultimately, a memoir ought to enchant your reader. It should place them in your position, have them cheering for you, and sighing with relief when you finally…arrive.

That’s really what memoir is, an act of arrival.


What might you say to someone writing a memoir instead of…’it must be therapeutic?’ I’m not sure I really have any answers…except maybe…

I’m cheering you on!

Respond here in a comment, or find me on InstagramTwitter, or Facebook.


~Leslie : )

Speaking of re-set and receiving feedback, I’ve got an Insights Interview (keep scrolling) with Tuni Deignan on her new memoir, UNDERWATER DAUGHTER which is so lush, but so dark centering on childhood sexual abuse, dancing, motherhood, and ….arrival (SheWrites Press, May 2 2023),

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

This issue of Musings & Meanderings is jam-packed with some really great stuff to get your writing and reading off on the right foot. Classes and workshops, bookstore events, book recommendations, journals to submit to, reading recommendations, author interviews, recently published prose, and a quick 4 questions insights interview with Tuni Deignan, author of UNDERWATER DAUGHTER

By the way, I do not get any ‘kick-backs’ or other kind of payment (in-kind, or otherwise) for mentioning these classes/workshops/books/individuals. Sharing because if helps me, maybe it’ll speak to you, too.

Some Writerly Things:

  • Do you identify as a mom? Maybe you’re a step-mom, a bonus/honorary mom, adoptive mom, or in some other capacity, mothering. Check out this April 23 Corporeal offering about blending motherhood with writing. I wish I could attend, but it’s actually my daughter’s 18th birthday weekend…
  • Personal narrative sounds easy in concept (you already know the story), but in reality, it’s a totally different beast. Check out this offering from Writing Workshops, The Personal Reported Essay, a 4-week Zoom class.”
  • We’ve all gotten feedback on something we wrote and thought…’now what?!’ How to determine if the feedback you received is actually…helpful? How to shrug it off and move forward, more. This is a one-time session with Julia Fine, author of several novels, and offered through StoryStudioChicago.
  • Back to Corporeal Writing…they have this super-cool ‘Mushroom School,’ a virtual classroom and workshop and community for 2024…So much goodness on re-storying story, new forms, shapes, formats, plus guest speakers (Renee Gladman!), and more. Check out all the delicious details HERE.
  • Hedgebrook has some lovely retreats still to come in 2023…dreaming of Tuscany? What makes a story ‘work?’ What is that quality that takes your breath away? Application deadline is in July. Check out their Radical Craft Retreat.
  • This piece, and this statement:

“You must never give up on your writing, but you might have to give up WHAT you’re writing.”

kind of rang true. You?

From LitHub essay by Clare Pooley, refer to link above
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

New! Featured Author|Insights

Tuni Deignan


“Written in rich, insightful prose, Underwater Daughter showcases hard-won self-knowledge and wisdom, while inviting readers to feel Deignan’s wounds and joys. Though bitingly descriptive of the traumas that Deignan endured, the story also movingly recounts Deignan’s rebirth…” 

–Publisher’s Weekly BookLife – Editor’s Pick

Tuni’s father began sexually abusing her when she was just four years old. Her mother, though aware of the abuse, was a silent witness–one either incapable or unwilling to intervene–and the abuse continued until Tuni was eleven. 

Leslie Lindsay:

Without responding in complete sentences, what would you say UNDERWATER DAUGHTER is about?

Antonia Deignan:

Childhood trauma, life reckoning, dance as passion, muse, life raft, forgiveness, love.

Leslie Lindsay:

Where did you write UNDERWATER DAUGHTER? Do you have any special writing routines or rituals? Do they change with each project, or remain constant over time?

Antonia Deignan:

My kitchen, my son’s bedroom, my back porch, my bedroom, the barn, on airplanes, back of cars, the basement, the coffee shop, in hotel rooms. I always meditate before I write, unless my dreams need to be written down which means I’ll meditate after that. I have something to drink (water/spindrift) a lit candle somewhere nearby and I am at my best I when write in the morning.

For the most part my rituals remain constant. I will occasionally mix in however, reading poetry before I write, (gets my head below the layers) and every so often I’ll put noise canceling headphones on and pipe in some music to write by.

Leslie Lindsay:

If you weren’t writing, you would be…

Antonia Deignan:

I’d be a professional cellist (#dream) or I’d be on a hike (#doable) or I’d be a dog (#inmynextlife).

Leslie Lindsay:

What book did you recently read that you can’t stop thinking about?

Antonia Deignan:

Currently reading DEEP SURVIVAL by Laurence Gonzales, which is a heavy duty psychological and neurological factoid bible mixed with passion and risk taking adventure telling – applicable to all of life’s journeys, including a writer’s.


 Antonia Deignan is a mother of five children by choice, a dancer by calling, and a writer by necessity. She was born on the East Coast but spent most of her life in the Midwest, where she danced with multiple dance companies and raised her children. She opened her own dance studio and directed a pre-professional dance company before a bike accident wish-boned her path, and her identity. Her work has been published in print magazines and online. Now retired, she resides in a beloved island home in Martha’s Vineyard, where she continues to be inspired and write. This is her first book. 


Browse my Bookshop.org for more books featured on Musings & Meanderings, what I’m reading in 2023, and some of my favorite books mental health/illness...and memoir.

You can purchase Underwater Daughter HERE.

Recently Published Interviews, Prose, Etc.:

  • A conversation with Tanya Frank about her new memoir, ZIG-ZAG BOY: A Memoir of Motherhood & Madness, about her son’s devolve into psychosis at nineteen, how she coped, advocated, and more. It’s a very moving read and interview.
  • Gayle Brandeis and I sat down for a conversation about her breath-taking essay collection, DRAWING BREATH: Essays on Writing, the Body, and Grief in Hippocampus Magazine. The book is available now from Overcup Books.
  • It was such a dream to connect with Nicole McCarthy on her equally dreamy and sublime A SUMMONING (Heavy Feather Press, 2022) and be featured in CRAFT Literary for their hybrid contest (now over), but you can still read the interview HERE.
  • This piece, ANSWERS TO QUERIES, was recently published in the final issue of Scissors & Spackle, part of the ELJ Editions family. Who doesn’t like a family history mystery? Check it out.
  • THE HOUSE, a love letter of sorts to my late grandfather and our newlywed home, recently released from Heimat Review, which is all about ‘your reflections and nostalgia, your narratives of familiarity and strangeness, the things that draw you back to where you are – and where you hope to be.’ C’mon in.
  • Y’all, I am super-excited about this illustrated review in DIAGRAM, which has sorta been like a dream place of mine to get work published. It’s a beautiful melding of all things that bring me joy: fonts, words, ideas, art, books, and the human body. I mean…the only obsessions missing for me is architecture, travel, nature, and basset hounds. Check it out and the book, YOUR HEARTS, YOUR SCARS: Essays by the late Adina Talve-Goodman (Bellevue Literary Press, Jan 24 2023), which happened to be a Powell’s pick for January.
My illustrated review of YOUR HEARTS YOUR SCARS (Bellevue Literary Press, Jan 24 2023) as it appears in DIAGRAM 22.6
  • Kathryn Gahl in conversation with me about her poetic memoir, THE YELLOW TOOTHBRUSH (Two Shrews Press, September 2022), about her incarcerated daughter, perinatal mood disorder, more in MER, November 28, 2022.
  • Sarah Fawn Montgomery’s HALFWAY FROM HOME (Split/Lip Press, Nov 8) in Hippocampus Magazine, about her working-class unconventional childhood in California, moving across the country to pursue writing, home, displacement, and so much more November 13, 2022.
  • A conversation-in-review with the EIC of Salon, Erin Keane, about her memoir, RUNAWAY: Notes on the Myths that Made Me (Belt Publishing, September, 2022), in Autofocus Literary, November 12, 2022.
  • A conversation with Sheila O’Connor about elegantly exploring the nonlinear, (a total obsession of mine), in her EVIDENCE OF V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, Fictions (Rose Metal Press, 2019), in Fractured Literary, October 25, 2022
  • A review-in-dialogue with Su Cho about her debut book of poetry, THE SYMMETRY OF FISH (Penguin Poets, October 2022) in The Cincinnati Review, November 1 2022.
  • Prose in SEPIA Journal Oct/Nov 2022 issue. Interiors is about an Appalachian family, black bottom pie, trains, and ear aches. It was inspired by my own family lore, and also: this journal is STUNNING!
Image retrived from SEPIA website

There’s more to this newsletter. Keep scrolling.

Photo by Leslie Lindsay

What’s Obsessing Me:

  • Do you feel like our reading lives have evolved? Maybe we don’t read like we did (newspapers, long fiction). Perhaps we prefer to consume more multimedia type work (i.e., a blend of more than just letters on a page)? Maybe we crave interactive and blended works? A collaboration between reader and writer and artist?
  • Check out this article by the folks at PRH on graphic narrative, YA graphic work, even memoirs.
  • This Aeon article about architecture and poetics, featuring Gaston Bachelard, but others, and some really evocative pull quotes.
  • I’m digging this new site, Same Energy, in which you can search for all kinds of visual art. Give a try HERE.
  • Fonts! I’ve always been a sucker for font, layout, design, all of that adjacent bookish stuff. Ever wonder which font pairs best with one another…for various things? Books, yes, but also business cards, websites, etc.? Check THIS out.
  • Finally, I am in awe and cheering on this guy, Anthong Chin-Quee, a retired surgeon who is a medical advisor to TV show Grey’s Anatomy, and just recently published a memoir, I CAN’T SAVE YOU (April 4 Riverhead) about being a black man in medicine, but also his family history of depression.

You are reading Musings & Meanderings, a consistently inconsistent weekly newsletter about the literary life from Leslie Lindsay, and home of an archive of bestselling and debut author interviews. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I canFeel free to find my book suggestions on bookshop.org, and also check out the authors I’ve hosted in in-depth interviews HERE.

In the meantime, catch me on:

Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

Thank you for letting me guide you on your bookish journey.

Photo by L.Lindsay @leslielindsay1

Let’s walk this bookish path together.


Some of you have been reading my reviews, interviews, and meanderings for more than a decade now. That’s huge and I am so humbled. Thanks for being here.

More than 2,800 folks read Musings & Meanderings.

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Sending spring vibes your way!

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Created by Leslie Lindsay. I’m a proud book nerd. Connect with me on Instagram, and Twitter. See what I’m reading on Bookshop.org. Find my reviews on GoodReads. I’m also a Zibby Books Ambassador.

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