Oct 22, 2011

Come Write the Story of Your Life

Please join me and other instructors on November 11-13 in Ojai, California for the Ojai Writers' Conference, where I'll be speaking at the Saturday luncheon and leading a one-day workshop on Sunday for memoir writers of all levels.

My Sunday workshop, “Transforming Real-Life Events into Story,” will help guide your anecdotes from entertaining dinner-party stories to actual, publishable products. You'll receive information about the four basic elements of successful memoirs, including structure, detail and description, characterization, and scene versus summary. Short writing exercises will be incorporated into the day to help you flex your memoir muscles, and brief excerpts of published works will be handed out as examples. By the end of this workshop you’ll have tools to start a 750- to 1500-word short memoir, and maybe even a few first-draft pages.

Cost is $149 Times: 9am-Noon (break for lunch) and 1:30-4:30pm. Mention "Hope sent me" when you register and receive a free, signed copy of The Possibility of Everything!

For more info and registration details, go to the Ojai Writers' Conference web site.

And check back for information about memoir workshops next July at the Iowa Summer Writers Festival in Iowa City, and October in Paris!!

May 27, 2011

Ojai Writers Conference Next Weekend--June 3-5, 2011

For all aspiring and practicing writers out there: next weekend (June 3-5) is the first Ojai Writers Conference in beautiful Ojai, CA. It features Friday pre-conference workshops in memoir, screenwriting, essay writing, and myth, a Saturday VIP luncheon, and workshops and talks all day Saturday and Sunday morning as well. It's limited to only 100 participants but as of today there are still spaces left. Come for one day or all three!

I'll be teaching a personal essay workshop on Friday from 1-4, speaking at the luncheon on Saturday, and talking about the distinction between memoir and personal essay--and which one is best for your unique story--on Saturday late afternoon.

Click here for more info.

Hope to see some of you there!!

May 8, 2011

On the Occasion of Mother's Day

Wishing you all a most beautiful and peaceful Mother's Day, in recognition of those of you whose continuous and loving efforts will create our next citizens of the world. And with thanks to you for sharing the steps of your journey with the rest of us who so benefit from your experiences and stories.

I know this is a solemn day for those of us who've lost mothers, and I'd like to recognize those who have passed as well. This July will mark the 30th anniversary of my mother's death, and there hasn't been a Mother's Day since then when I haven't thought of her, missed her, and been grateful for what she did give me in our short time together. So on this day I'd also like to honor the mothers who are no longer with us, and acknowledging that we are all part of the strong and varied chain of female experience.

With gratitude and admiration for us who are doing the work, and all who have done it in the past,


Mar 21, 2011

New Writing Workshop, May 13-15

Only two seats are left in the Intro to Creative Nonfiction writing workshop in Santa Monica. Please contact me soon if you'd like one of them!

The workshop will run from 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, May 13, through dinner on Sunday, May 15, and will be held at the historic Georgian Hotel--just steps from the Santa Monica Pier and beach. Our guest speaker on Sunday will be Mim Eichler Rivas, author of more than a dozen nonfiction books, including Beautiful Jim Key and The Pursuit of Happyness. Cost is $450 and writers of all levels are welcome.

More detailed information can be found here.

If you're interested, please email me at hopeedelman@gmail.com for registration forms. Hope to see you in May--


Mar 17, 2011

Motherless Daughters' Guides: Please Share Your Ideas

In the 17 years since Motherless Daughters was first published I've heard from thousands of readers who've written in to share their individual stories. Among the many common experiences we share, one tends to surface frequently: without a mother, many of us feel we lack much of the basic information women need and that women with mothers naturally possess and we don't know who or how to ask.

I think of a woman I met back in the early 1990s, whose story appears in the first edition of Motherless Daughters, who told me about stealing an etiquette book from her local library when she was about eleven and reading it cover-to-cover when she got home because she was so hungry for information about how to be a woman, and so afraid of doing the wrong things, after her mother died when she was nine. All these years that story has stuck with me and it's no less poignant or heartbreaking now than it was eighteen years ago. I thought of it again the other night as I was explaining the elusive rules about thank-you notes to my thirteen-year-old daughter. If I weren't here to tell her, how would she know when to send them or what to write? Would she even know she was supposed to send thank-you notes at all?

Motherless Daughters was meant to be an overview book that identified and explained a phenomenon rather than a self-help book or how-to manual. But lately I've been wondering if, in addition, motherless girls and women would also benefit from short, very practical guidebooks to navigating some of the situations and life events that mothers typically teach daughters how to manage or actually steer them through. And of course, plenty of women with mothers don't get what they feel they need from them, so these guides might be helpful for them, too.

At the very bottom of this page I've made a list of the subjects that come up most in reader mail, and for which motherless women often feel in need of guidance or advice. Would you be willing to take a look and let me know which would be or would have been most useful for you? Please scroll all the way down to find the poll and to vote. This will give me an idea of which one(s) to start with or if this is even a good idea. (The titles listed in the polls are only placeholders at the moment to convey the main ideas; hopefully I'll come up with better ones later, or please suggest one or more that you like.) And please feel free to suggest guides that aren't on the list, or comments about the idea in general in the comments section below.

Would you buy any of these guides for yourself? For someone you know? Would you like to see several bundled together in a set? How would you like the information to be presented? Or do you feel that Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers have already covered this material sufficiently for you?

Very much looking forward to your thoughts,

Mar 8, 2011

Call for Stories

Have you or anyone you know ever found yourself feeling as if you're living from one crisis to another? Does this describe your childhood, or maybe your adult years? When interviewing women for Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers, I was surprised and disheartened to discover how often mother loss was only one in a series of adverse events for many women, and that they felt they'd been shaped for better and for worse by periodic crises which they had no way to anticipate and therefore no way to prepare.

I've been thinking about this for a long time, because this was very much my story after my mother died. For the next 23 years I had a deeply kind and well-meaning father who also drank heavily and was prone to intermittent breakdowns related to the alcohol and the toll it took on his health. The pattern of leapfrogging from one difficult event to another, and feeling that my life could only be enjoyed in between his exclamation points, came to characterize my adult life. After he died six years ago it took a long time for me to release the feeling that the next crisis was somewhere around the next corner, just waiting to erupt.

I imagine this must be the case for many of us with loved ones who suffer from addictions, chronic health problems, mental illness, eating disorders, or just garden-variety difficult behavior. (And very possibly other conditions. Please feel free to chime in.) Also, those of us who have protracted strings of just really bad luck.

My belief is that children raised in these kind of environments (as many motherless daughters are) get wired in a very specific way that in part determines their behavior patterns in adulthood, and also that adults who encounter such situations later in life (through marriage, parenthood, or other relationships) have to develop their own strategies to find fulfillment in between the episodes. And yet I've also met many women who have been able to transcend this and live happy, fulfilling lives not just in spite of, but sometimes because of, the exclamation points pushed into their paths.

I'm wondering if this might be a worthy topic for a future book. What do you think? And if this sounds familiar to anyone, and you'd be willing to share your story, please email me at hopeedelman@gmail.com for more details. Confidentiality and anonymity assured.

Many thanks,

Mar 3, 2011


What's the accurate label for people who use Twitter. Twitterers? Twitterites? Twittereans? Tweeters?

Or maybe just Those Who Tweet?

Nonetheless, I feel oddly compelled to invite everyone who visits here to also sign up for my ramblings and recommendations over there. Not that you need more ramblings or recommendations filling up your day--god knows all our days are full enough already--but occasionally one of mine might interest you and make you want to share it with your friends.

Caveat: I am not a fan of karaoke, comma splices, Jersey Shore, and most politicians (with the possible exceptions of Barbara Boxer and Rudy Giuliani at very select times during his first term as mayor of New York) and my Tweets sometimes reflect that. It might be good to know this in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises later.

If you're wondering what my gripe is with Jersey Shore, it's that I already went to high school with all those people in 1982 so I know what they're going to say pretty much all of the time.

Yes, I was surprised by how little has changed in 29 years, too.

Anyway, I'm @hopeedelman. See you here and there.

Mar 1, 2011

Parentless Parents by Allison Gilbert

Anyone who's lost a parent knows how that hole in the family grows even larger after a child is born. Now it's not just a parent who's missing from the equation, it's a grandparent as well.

What about when of both your parents are gone before your children come along? That's the topic of Allison Gilbert's new book, Parentless Parents, a careful and documented examination of the particular issues these parents face.

Gilbert, who mI've known since 2005 when she was working on her collection of interviews with adult orphans, Always Too Soon, was kind enough to take time out of her book-promotion schedule to answer a few questions about Parentless Parents for readers of 455-Girls:

455G: You lost your mother at age 25--before you married and had your children-- and your father when you were 31 and your son was eighteen months old. What were those intervening years like for you?

AG: I had feared becoming a parentless parent long before I ever became one. Once my mother died, I clung to my father. I knew all too well he was my final parent. Because of that, and after the birth of my son, he and I became the closest we'd ever been. I involved him as often as I could -- in everything I did as an expectant mother and later, as a new mom. My dad came with me and my husband when I had ultrasounds. My father jumped at the chance to come with us to get Jake's first haircut. And, then, just like that, he developed a cough and was dead a few weeks later. My father had lung cancer and hadn't smoked in 20 years.

455G: Many women who come to this blog felt emotionally parentless after their mothers died, even if their fathers are still living. Will your book speak to them as well?

AG: In many ways, even though my father was an enormous comfort to me after my mother died, I felt at times like I was already a parentless parent. My dad was loving, but he couldn't remember all the details I really needed to know as a new mom. He couldn't remember when I started eating solid foods, or how old I was when I first slept through the night. My mom would have likely remembered though, and that's why parenting without her hurt so much, even though I had my dad.

My father also wasn't a very patient man, and he certainly wouldn't have been willing to hear me drone on and on about cribs, strollers, and color choices for our son's nursery. That kind of inexhaustible interest in my life -- even the smallest, most inconsequential tidbits -- ended for the most part when my mother passed away, and could never be fully replaced.

Ultimately, because our moms were so often the ones who listened most attentively when we were young, and because our mothers stereotypically made most of the decisions regarding our care, the pain of mother loss can feel especially sharp, sometimes just as intense as being a parentless parent.

455G: One of the biggest challenges of being parentless is being able to ask for and accept help as a new mother. I remember poring through books for advice after my first daughter was born because I felt embarrassed to go to my friends with basic questions. What practical suggestions do you have for parentless parents who are, so to speak, setting sail alone?

AG: I don't think I was ever embarrassed to ask for help; I just wasn't willing to accept all the help that was around me. In my mind, nobody could measure up to the kind of grandma I imagined my mother would have been, so I pushed nearly everyone close to me away. In particular, I resented that my mother-in-law was just so willing (and capable!) of swooping in and taking over. Ultimately, I realized that all the anger I was clinging to, all that sadness, was hurting me more than anyone else. Gradually I began to get comfortable not only with accepting help -- but also being absolutely grateful for it. This represented nothing less than a sea change in my thinking, and the process has been enormously freeing.

Emotionally, I understood that my husband and I were both very lucky to have his parents. They are active and engaged and completely loving. And as a matter of simple physical practicality, by learning to embrace help, the enormous pressure I felt being a mom without my mom began to lift. Looking back, it seems that many of the burdens that come along with new motherhood are easier to handle once you accept that no amount anger and self-pity can bring a mother back.

455G: Support groups have been enormously helpful for many motherless women because they find comfort in the presence of others who understand. You've helped to start several Parentless Parents groups. Can you tell us a little bit about what they offer?

Sure! Parentless Parents support groups are now forming all over the country. They’re developing in several states including California; Oregon; New York; Washington, DC; and Florida. The groups are run by parentless parents, and are a way for parentless parents to meet and exchange ideas, tips, and resources. These groups actually tend to be a lot of fun, because there's instant camaraderie and connection.

There is also a growing and active Parentless Parents Group page on Facebook. Parents from all over the country (and the world) are coming together to discuss the specific challenges of being a parentless parent. I think the in-person support groups and the Parentless Parents Facebook page are so helpful because sometimes strangers understand you better than your own family and closest friends do. There's no need to explain yourself. We all "get" it. And that's incredibly validating.

You can find a complete list of Parentless Parents chapters on www.parentlessparents.com. If a chapter doesn't exist where you live, feel free to start your own! You can find Parentless Parents on Facebook by clicking here and watch the book's trailer here.

Feb 25, 2011

Floating the Workshop Balloon

The past few weeks have seen a spontaneous flurry of emails asking when my next writing workshop will be held. So I thought I'd send out a feeler about doing one this spring and see if anyone is interested in a three-day Intro to Memoir workshop in Santa Monica, California, from May 13-15.

I use an eight-step program I developed to help bring writers from an idea to the first draft of a five-page piece in two and a half days. It's a good format for women who want to write about their mothers, though in the past students have come from all over the country to write about every personal topic imaginable. Writers of all levels of experience are welcome, including beginners.

We meet Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 6. Cost is typically $450, with breakfasts and Sunday dinner included. The venue is right across the street from the beach, and May is a beautiful month in SoCal. Also included in the price: handouts, unlimited coffee, and an hour with a guest speaker so you don't have to listen to just me for two and a half days straight.

Also in the zone of possible: the same workshop in Iowa City in early June.

If you're interested in either of the above, please email me at hopeedelman@gmail.com.

(This photo is from the Iowa City workshop in May of 2010, taken in my dining room. The giraffe in the far back corner is named Newman.)

Feb 21, 2011

Congratulations and thanks to Rosie O'Donnell. And wow!

Rosie O'Donnell, who lost her mother to cancer just before her 11th birthday and has been a longtime advocate for motherless daughters, will be getting her own talk show on Oprah's OWN network. In an interview reprinted in the Chicago Sun-Times she talks about learning about her mother's history for an episode of the NBC show "Who Do You Think You Are?"; starting a new talk show; and being a motherless daughter. She also gives a big and very generous shout-out for Motherless Daughters, and tells the story of how I tried to contact her more than 15 years ago when I was first writing the book.

I was a guest on Rosie's Sirius radio show about a year and a half ago, and she's incredibly warm and smart and plugged in to social issues. I think she's going to do a sensational job with her new TV show.

I'll reprint an excerpt from her interview below...although I'm always uncomfortable being self-promotional like this, I'm hoping it'll help some readers. And that's always the goal. You can read the whole interview with Rosie here.

You can also watch the episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" right here. She finds another motherless daughter in her family's history--and lots else.

From "Genealogy show helps Rosie O'Donnell face mother's death" Chicago Sun-Times, February 17, 2011

O’Donnell was only 10 when she lost her beloved mom to cancer.
“Nobody mentioned my mother after she died in 1973. It was like Lord Voldemort. You couldn’t say the name,” she says. “Nobody said ‘mom’ in that house or ‘mommy’ or ‘mother’ from 1973 on. I always wanted to know who she was and what she felt like, and to have her and see her through a woman’s eyes as opposed to a child looking up to their mom.”
O’Donnell says fans approach her all the time to talk about losing mothers to cancer.
“I think no matter what age, when you lose your mom it’s your mommy,” she says. “I remember my friend Jeannie lost a mom who was in her 70s and a grandmother in her 90s and when her grandmother died, she kept calling out, ‘Mommy, mommy.’
“The bottom line is that everybody has that kind of natural, base, primal wound connection, and if it’s severed it becomes a permanent wound,” she says. “My wound is the mother-child connection. But I did find out that when you do search for your lost parent’s past that it does help heal it a little bit.”
O’Donnell has other advice.
“I’ve found that the most helpful thing I could tell anyone to do who has lost their mother is to get the Hope Edelman book Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss,” she says. “When she wrote the book in ’95, she had written me and asked if I could do an interview. I remembered thinking it was going to be cue violin background music. You know, poor celebrities whose mothers have died when they were young. If I had known what that book was really going to be, I would have participated and I would have begun my healing so much earlier.”
The comedian says that as she ages, she also laments.
“It’s weird for me to be 49 years old, a decade more than she lived. I’m getting to things that she never did, like raising teenagers.
“In some ways, she’s lucky,” she jokes.
She sobers and adds, “I’m getting to experience it all, but I don’t have a mother to call and talk to about it.”

Feb 18, 2011

Love Song for Snow

So this afternoon I brought the eighth-grader home from school, and an hour later turned around to bring her to a friend's house for the night. Except during that hour between getting home and needing to leave, the storm at the top of the hill had morphed from steady-but-manageable-rain to crazy-downpour-from-the-apocalypse-complete-with-perfectly-sideways-blowing-wind.

Still, what can you do? The kid's got to get down the hill.

I opened the front door and braced myself against the wind. "Ready to make a run for it?" I asked.

If eye-rolling could make a sound, there would have been a deafening one at our front door right then.

I sprinted full speed toward the car. Maya walked.

"What you think is bad I think is just rain," she said as she got into the car. "And you're from New York! And you lived in Iowa!"

Damned individuation process. If an obvious example of a mother's stupidity doesn't immediately present itself, you can always count on a thirteen-year-old daughter to create one.

"This is cold rain," I said. "New York and Iowa didn't have cold rain. You got warm rain or you got snow. At least with snow you had something good to show for it in the end. Here, we just get leaking windows."

Right. I know. I romanticize. And all of you on the East Coast and in the Midwest are probably thinking, "Yeah, yeah, Calfornia girl. Show me one good thing about snow this winter." But what can I say? I like snow. Even when I had to live with it all winter I liked it. I grew up in New York, went to college in Chicago, and did graduate school in Iowa. When you've grown up in those states, winter isn't winter without snow. Some of my best memories from childhood involve waking up in the morning to find a thick blanket of snow covering the neighborhood, and running to the crackly transistor radio in the kitchen to learn that we were having a snow day. And some of my best adolescent memories involve Ski Club nights where my hands and feet and nose were so cold as the ski lift raised us into the black sky, with the mountain gleaming spotlight-white beneath us, and the bone-cracking cold went so deep it skewed all perspective, so that by the time you got to the top you'd be wondering if it would be possible to ever feel sufficiently warm again.

This is the first winter in ... actually, I think the first winter ever where I won't see snow. Unless you count whatever was still left on the ground in Washington, DC, earlier this month when I was there for a conference and saw glimpses of it speeding by through the window of a cab to and from Dulles. Normally this is the weekend, over President's Day, when we might take the girls to see snow or even, in a particularly good financial year, go skiing for two days. But I'm working triple time this winter, and we just returned in mid-January from the three-week Monster Trip of the Decade to Israel and Rome, so we won't be going anywhere for a good, long time.

So, snow. I miss you hugely. I miss the way you used to turn brownstone steps into shapeless mounds in New York. I miss the way you required us to crank up the forced steam heat in old Chicago apartment buildings and how the radiators used to hiss and clank all day.

Ice, I even miss you, and the way you encase tree branches in Iowa like elongated crystal fingers. I loved the way you made me stay inside for a whole day (or three) emerging only to gingerly pick my way down the center of the street to get a carton of milk at the corner market because the roads weren't safe to drive.

Of course, back then I was single and rarely had any place I absolutely had to go. And certainly nobody who was depending on me for transportation. Now I have a floor of 43 degrees in February, rain that nonetheless feels too cold, and a mad dash to the car while a thirteen-year-old rolls her eyes.

She's right. It's just rain. Not snow. Just rain. And 43 isn't cold, unless you're naked. Or coffee.

California: you're making a wimp out of me.

Feb 16, 2011

The Making of Motherless Daughters

There's a really nice, very short clip over at Vimeo from the documentary-in-progress The Club about motherless women--the filmmakers did this interview with me about a year ago, talking about how I found the very first women I interviewed for the book. (Back in the pre-internet era.) They came to my house in LA and we had a beautiful afternoon together. Their hearts are 100 percent in the right place. Filmmakers contact me all the time about making a documentary about motherless daughters, but Carlye and Katie have gotten further along than any of them. Here's hoping they make it all the way to distribution!

I can't for the life of me figure out how to save this video to my hard drive and embed it, so I'll provide the link right here.

If you're interested in the documentary The Club, you can read more about it and see a trailer featuring Rosie O'Donnell here or join The Club's Facebook group.

Congratulations Katie and Carlye! You're doing beautiful work.

A Day at Disneyland

When you take five kids to Disneyland for your nine-year-old’s birthday and almost pass out when you see what admission costs for six people; when you watch families from all over the U.S. walking around with those thick-ribbon necklaces covered with character pins they purchased one by one, knowing this might be the only vacation they can take all year; when you see the trash bins (ironically labeled “Waste Please”) overflowing with paper goods and plastic bottles by 3 p.m.; and try to talk the nine-year-olds out of every sugar-laden treat on display that of course they all immediately want; and stand on line with 200 people for a ride that will last four minutes; and then walk to the next line and do it all over again--it’s frighteningly easy to start believing that you’re the only one here who notices or cares about all this excess, who realizes that the money being spent here in one day could probably solve a small nation’s hunger for a week, and it’s all too simple to start feeling smugly superior to everyone around you. And then you see a middle-aged mother and father dressed like Hell’s Angels, pushing a wheelchair with a severely disabled child in it who’s dressed in a Cinderella gown, and you realize, very humbly, that you don’t know anything about anything at all.

Feb 15, 2011

Along the Way

Lately a lot of people have been asking what I’m up to, and why they haven’t heard from me for a while, and why I haven’t blogged in a long time, and what I’m working on next. Excellent questions, friends. There's one answer to all four questions. My next project is one I'm very excited about. It’s helping Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez write their father-son memoir about family, fatherhood, and faith, set against the backdrops of Hollywood and northern Spain. At the moment it's titled Along the Way. You can read a brief article about the book here.

Most of you probably know Martin Sheen from Apocalypse Now and The West Wing (among other films) and Emilio Estevez from The Breakfast Club and The Mighty Ducks trilogy(among other films, including Bobby, which he wrote and directed). They’ve recently made a new film together called The Way which was filmed along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain.

As soon as you have a chance to see this movie, run—do not walk!—to the theater. It’s the story of a father who scatters his estranged son’s ashes along the Camino after his son dies on his first day trekking. If that sounds like a downer it’s really not, because it’s also about the odd assortment of people he befriends how he walks and how they change his life. The story is absolutely inspiring and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. You’ll want to book a ticket to northern Spain and hit the path by the time it’s done.

And that’s all I’m saying until the book comes out.

Father’s Day 2012. Or sooner. I’m planning to write like the wind.

Happy February to all,