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Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

37 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0820331669
ISBN-10: 082033166X
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Editorial Reviews


If you are writing a memoir, read Fearless Confessions. There are some things that can't be taught in a book, but Sue William Silverman teaches you everything that can be! The author of two stunning memoirs herself, she breaks down the complex weaving of a story into discrete elements, such as detail, voice, and plot, with clear, useful guidance on each aspect. Invaluable!

(Ellen Bass author of The Human Line)

Fearless Confessions is such a dynamic guide to memoir writing it has inspired me to completely refine and retool the memoir I’m working on. Sue William Silverman, a faculty advisor at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, is an amazing master of the language. Her prose is as enjoyable as it is instructive. This should be an essential textbook of any creative writing course. She gives examples of memoir pieces and analyzes each one, showing how they work, why they're powerful, and even why some fail to impress.

(15 Minutes Magazine)

I dutifully recommend Lamott's Bird by Bird, Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and King's On Writing to my students each term, but I find that I'm particularly excited to inform them of Silverman's new book. Her writing has a tone that's both accessible to readers and uncompromising in its rigorous investigation of what makes for compelling memoir.

(Writer Magazine)

Fearless Confessions is a must. I love the way Sue William Silverman exposes the process she used in creating her much acclaimed Love Sick―its struggles, exposures, and empowerment―to teach. A masterful nonfiction writer, Silverman uses her story to guide readers through their own process: how to grasp the use of the senses, mimetic detail, scene, and much more. Her discussion of the Voice of Innocence and the Voice of Experience is sure to become a classic. This book is truly indispensable.

(Suzanne Paola coauthor of Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction)

Fearless Confessions demonstrates the range of Silverman's voice, which is conversational and engaging throughout, never lapsing into the dry instruction-manual voice that could have endangered this book . . . Fearless Confessions provides a guide not only to students, emerging writers, and faculty members who teach memoir writing but also to more established writers interested in exploring the genre. Writers will find lessons and examples that they can use, from the first words of their stories-Silverman's 'first bite'-and onward.

(Prairie Schooner)

I've wanted a book like this for the courses I teach on memoir and am looking forward to putting it to good use. Silverman's Fearless Confessions is a valuable guide not only for students and teachers but also for those outside the academy who are interested in writing memoir but are uncertain of how to begin.

(Janet Mason Ellerby author of Following the Tambourine Man: A Birthmother's Memoir)

Sue William Silverman has yet again written a book that needs to be written, in this case an indispensable guide to the writing of memoir, especially those we might deem 'confessional.' The confessional has long held a vaunted though sometimes controversial place in Western literature, and Silverman not only redeems the value of confession artistically but quite pragmatically gives the novice a means of giving voice to what was previously jumbled and ineffable.

(Robin Hemley author of Do-Over!)

About the Author

Sue William Silverman is a faculty advisor at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and the associate editor of the journal Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. Her first book, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You (Georgia), received the AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction. She is also the author of Love Sick: One Woman's Journey through Sexual Addiction (made into a Lifetime TV movie) and Hieroglyphics in Neon, a collection of poems.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (June 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082033166X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820331669
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sue William Silverman's new memoir is "The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew." The book describes Sue's search for authentic self-identity - a search complicated by her conflicted feelings toward Judaism and her various efforts to "pass" as Christian. At the heart of this journey are three separate encounters with 1960s pop-music icon, turned Christian provocateur, Pat Boone, who plays a pivotal role in her desire to belong to the dominant culture. It is published with the University of Nebraska Press as part of their American Lives Series, edited by Tobias Wolff.

An earlier memoir is "Love Sick: One Woman's Journey through Sexual Addiction" (W. W. Norton), which is also a Lifetime Television original movie. During the filming, Sue visited the set and makes a cameo appearance in the movie!

Her first memoir, "Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You" (University of Georgia Press), won the AWP award series in creative nonfiction. Her poetry collection is "Hieroglyphics in Neon." Sue's book on craft is "Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir," which won Honorable Mention in "ForeWord Review's" book of the year award.

Check out the photos of Sue on this page! In one she is with Pat Boone after one of his concerts. In another, she stands beside the actress Sally Pressman, who portrays Sue in the movie "Love Sick." And another from the movie set shows Sue standing outside her movie trailer! There is also a photo of Sue teaching a workshop in creative nonfiction.

As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on such television programs as The View, Anderson Cooper-360, and CNN-Headline News. She teaches in the low-residency MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sue believes we all have a story to tell, that all our voices are important, and encourages others to write their life narratives, too.

Her partner is the poet Marc Sheehan, and they have two cats, Bijou and Siobahn.

For more information and photos of Sue, please visit

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Mary Domenico on June 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
Sue William Silverman has accomplished the rare feat of offering writers a craft book that won't simply get thumbed through and abandoned. Avoiding the usual rehash of basics, Silverman concentrates on what matters most to a memoirist - How do you identify and effectively contrapose the voice of your younger, less-experienced self with your wiser, reflective voice? How do you devise plot powerful enough to make leaps from mere story to universal meaning? How do you sift through the images sparked by your material to find expressive metaphors? Her provocative theoretical discussions are coupled with practical instruction. Particularly useful are Silverman's exercises, which are not run-of-the-mill prompts but detailed progressions that dig deeply and, even for an experienced writer, yield surprising results.

If you've ever been made to feel your story isn't worth telling or pressured to adapt your reality to the market, in Silverman you will find an intelligent and convincing advocate. No craft book can give you everything needed to embark on a new book, but she goes a long way toward equipping you for the journey. I wish I'd read this book before I wrote my first memoir; I'll welcome it as a companion during my second.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Michael D. Hemery on June 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
I can attest, first hand, that the writing method contained within these pages works. Sue William Silverman offers a grounded approach to both the micro and macro levels of writing. The book offers practical assistance with common writing issues (using more active words, voice, dialogue, and tense) to more nonfiction-specific concerns (voice of innocence/experience and truth/memory). I teach this book to both my creative writing classes and my literature courses--as a way to approach nonfiction.

Prior to utilizing Sue's method I was having little success with publishing, but within one year after heading her advice within this book I landed eight publications. I will now be following her suggestions in this book to find a home for my full collection of essays. There is no other resource that is as comprehensive and helpful for new and experienced writers as this book. A must have for anyone who is even thinking of telling his or her story.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Erin Miller on September 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
If you have ever thought about writing your story, but thought:
I can't do that
I don't know how to write
What will my mother say?
I have nothing to say anyway

then this book was written for you.

This book is the antidote for all of the voices that demand silence, be they literary critics or family members. Sue Silverman not only guides the reader through the thorny issues of telling the "truth" in memoir, but she also provides real, practical guidelines for writing better prose, as well as innovative ways to market your work. The result is an inspiring, funny, and incredibly insightful book. I particularly loved her writing exercises and the example essays that she chose to illustrate her various points.

Silverman also has first-hand experience in writing about "confessional" subject matter--she's the author of two memoirs, one about growing up in an incestuous family, and one about sex addiction. Her gentle prodding--"Write anyway! Whatever the roadblock. Write anyway!" is backed up by solid information and great advice. Her critique of literary and pop cultural denigration of memoir is sharp and to the point, and among the best I've ever read.

Sue's book is a gift to us all. I'm grateful that she wrote it, and that I had the opportunity to read it--and now I've got to get back to work on my memoir.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on June 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
Although the subtitle refers to memoir, Sue William Silverman's guide will be helpful for essay writers as well. The author uses her own life experiences to illustrate the elements of memoir, and good writing in general. Each chapter ends with practice exercises and a "for your reading pleasure" short essay that relates directly to the lesson.

In her preface, Silverman tells us that "Fearless Confessions is intended to help ensure that our voices are heard." Her direct, honest voice tells the reader she wrote this because she "struggled through numerous false starts and made many mistakes" before she learned how to turn her raw experience into an artful story. Through clear instruction, exercises, readings and heartfelt encouragement, she has made certain the success of her mission.

Highlighted statements reinforce each chapter's main ideas. For example, in "Plotting Your Life," Silverman introduces the reader to the horizontal plot (what happens to the writer) and the vertical plot (how the writer feels about it). "It's only through writing about events after they happen...that we come to understand what they mean," she says. "All our lives have plots. We find them through writing."

In her chapter on voice, she contrasts the Voice of Innocence and the Voice of Experience, and ends with an essay by Candace L. Greene portraying the voices of three women--her own, her mother's and her grandmother's, describing each moment in the Voice of Innocence, and ending with the Voice of Experience as the writer realizes a truth about their lives. In the chapter on metaphors, Silverman says "Don't expect to know your metaphors before you begin to write. This is what you'll discover as you write.
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