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Moneymaking Memoirs
by Patricia Misiuk

"Oh, to be sixteen again," a coworker sighed. "Such a carefree age. No schedule, stress or cellulite."

"No, thanks," I said. "Wouldn't want to be any age ending in -teen. Once was enough."

While my cubbymate basked in homecoming queen memories, I moaned about flesh-colored goop masking facial eruptions, a fashion statement that included saddle shoes and, I almost forgot, a four-year bout with boils.

Selective memory and repression- the bordering-on-cliche psychobabble that guarantees survival- almost eradicated my battle-with-boils recollections. But, for the time being, I was thankful they (the memories, not the boils) had surfaced. I was in a memoir mode and dreamed of parlaying my quirky Kodak moments into money.

At first, the rejection slips outnumbered acceptances by ten to one. Gradually the odds improved, thanks to common sense, revision and market savvy. Perhaps other writers will learn from (and avoid) my literary blunders.

I proofread, spell checked and laser printed an article about a favorite childhood toy- a Flip-Top cigarette box. I praised the versatile castaways generated by my father's three-pack-a-day habit. An in-house tobacco publication rejected my article about a tent caterpillar condo I had constructed from Flip-Top boxes. Likewise a nostalgia magazine sent a "does not meet our editorial needs" form letter about those same containers that, when hooked on an old clothesline, carried messages to a playmate.

I figured editors weren't buying tobacco-related stories nor would they cotton to instant replays about skin eruptions. Oh, but wait. Guidelines for one magazine considered home remedies. My mother's lance-free, no-chemical boil treatment qualified. The "nature abhors a vacuum" rule was proven when she placed the neck of a hot milk bottle over the boil area. As air cooled, bacterial sludge oozed from the boil's core. I shared the painless and eco-friendly tip with Good Old Days readers. Articles offering solutions float to the top of the slush pile and often end up on a printed page.

Another crystallized and happier memory comes from an era predating the "just add water and stir" and "microwaveable" buzzwords in meal preparation. Our family's cottage industry of tapping sugar maple trees for syrup lasted only one season but was immortalized in Mature Living. I titled the article, "The Lord's Bounty," my father's name for the home-tapped ambrosia whose boiling off process (something like 50 drops of water for every drop of syrup) sent the utility bill skyrocketing higher than the mortgage payment. My victory in selling the article resulted from my analyzing the subscribers (retirees) and satisfying their hunger to reminisce about family-oriented activities.

Another huge hunk of memoir material stemmed from my two decades of wanderlust travels. Again, I examined travel magazines and determined that pitching my hitchhiking ventures to an upscale publication would guarantee rejection. So when I queried "Transitions Abroad," a magazine geared to the independent, on-the-cheap traveler, about my harvesting tomatoes in New Zealand, they responded in the affirmative.

Life-changing passages and comfortable traditions- graduations, holidays, marriage, and job, just to cite a few- warrant archiving. The Pointing Dog Journal published "The Canine-Challenged Christmas Card," a look back to our family's 1953 up-close-and-personal holiday greeting. The accompanying black and white photo showed a singing trio- my brother, me and our 75-pound German shorthaired pointer.

The piece was a natural for multiple markets. "Year Round Christmas" slated the article for a quarterly issue. And perhaps I'll rework the story, focus on the technical aspects of the shoot, and query a photography magazine.

Tapping into universal emotions allows readers to share and hopefully learn about coping with life's bumpy journey. Such was the case when my father died. I plodded through the stages of grief: denial, sadness, anger, acceptance. But I continued my therapy in a unique way: I wrote about it. A religious newsletter editor told me he published "On the Mend" because it shed a positive light on grief recovery.

Through the years and mountains of rejection slips, I've discovered that the way to sell memoirs, or any article for that matter, involves adhering to the oft-repeated mantras of studying the market and targeting your subject to the readers. For example, did your grandma bake mouthwatering molasses cookies with cholesterol-free ingredients? Send her story and recipe to a health magazine. If your mom designed and sewed one-of-a-kind Halloween costumes, query a parenting or craft magazine. Be sure to include instructions and a list of materials.

So, meander down Memory Lane and record your life experiences. If you're like me, you'll receive immeasurable satisfaction from validating your past. When a magazine prints a snippet from your life, bask in the glory and share the legacy with your family. Don't be discouraged, however, if some chapters of your memoirs, like mine, remain unpublished, at least for the time being. Do as I do: Maintain a Pollyanna mind-set. It works. In fact, I've psyched myself into believing that article-hungry editors will find niches for my pieces about Flip-Top boxes, saddle shoes, and pimple camouflage.

© Copyright 2000, Patricia Misiuk

Patricia Misiuk could have been the sole interviewee for Studs Terkel's "Working." Her jobs have ranged from migrant work in New Zealand to the replenishment of sanitary products in the "Big Apple's" restrooms. When she grows up (she is 61) she wants to be a columnist. She still works at "McJobs" but "writing is what she does."

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