Writing a Memoir About Divorce: Amy’s Story
When her husband left her for another woman after 27 years of marriage, Amy was forced to look for work for the first time in her adult life, eventually discovering her passion for writing. She’s now an author, blogger, writing instructor, and creator of writing retreats for women.
Tell us a little about your background…
I am the oldest of three daughters, which, when I was growing up, was pretty cool. I got to stay up later, stay out later, shave my legs, and wear make up before anyone else did. That came back to bite me in the ass later, when I was the first one to go through menopause, fanning myself through hot flashes, while my sisters looked totally cool and glam whenever we dined al fresco. They’re catching up now, however. Yes, it’s all fun and games until all the sisters hit menopause.
My parents are both New York born and raised, but we lived in St. Petersburg, Florida until I was a senior in high school, at which time my father accepted a position in Louisville, Kentucky. I had never heard of Louisville, and in fact when I wrote my new address down for my then boyfriend (who would later become my husband and father to my four children), I actually wrote, LOUIEVILL. I ended up living in Louisville for most of my adult life, and raised my kids there. It is a beautiful place, I miss it at times, especially in the spring, but am in love with my little slice of Florida paradise, a little house on the water where I see birds, dolphins, and manatees on a daily basis, which helps me calm down when I’m in a panic over writer’s block or the end of a binge watch of my favorite series on Netflix.
Now my four kids are grown and I am enjoying life with my partner Michael, whom I met on Match.com seven years ago. Empty nest? BRING IT! I love my kids more than life, but the peace, the quiet, the lack of drama? Something to be said for that too.
What changes did midlife bring for you?
I really thought I had mapped out my midlife pretty well. My children would all grow up, get accepted into Ivy league schools with full scholarships, thanks to their unbelievably perfect combination of brilliance and athletic prowess, and my husband and I would travel the world and probably buy a vacation home in San Francisco because it’s near wine country and there’s no humidity.
Not so fast. Some women have that “aha” moment in midlife, when they think, “Now it’s MY TIME and here’s what I want to do.” I did not really have that type of aha, my aha was more like, “AHA! My husband is leaving me for another woman, now what do I do?” Me, married 27 years, never having graduated college, and never having worked outside of the home. So I guess my midlife path was more or less thrust upon me.
During my divorce, the J word (job) was bantered around. Imagine my surprise to discover that, in my late 40s (I am 55 now), I would be expected to work? Where? Doing what? I worked at a spa. I worked at a furniture store. I got my real estate license and then I even went back to college and enrolled in Creative Writing classes.
What is your next act?
I am a blogger, writer, and author.
My blog, Ex-wife New Life began in 2011 as a way to describe what I was going through, including dealing with the new woman in my ex-husband’s life (although not so new to him apparently) and dealing with four teenagers. I like to think it is a humorous but from the heart tale of my journey. My posts now focus a lot on having adult kids, being in a second long term relationship, and the joys of midlife.
My first book, There’s Been A Change Of Plans: A Memoir About Divorce, Dating and Delinquents in Midlife is the true story of my divorce experience, both the time leading up to it and its aftermath. It starts when my husband of 27 years tells me he is having an affair with a Swiss pastry chef. We go to counseling. He can’t give her up, even though I buy all new Victoria’s Secret thongs and get a mini facelift. We go to mediation—I am nearly led out by police. I scream, I cry, I drunk text. We get divorced. Throw my four teenagers into the mix and you’ve got yourself a party.
That’s only the beginning! I not only recover but reDIScover a new and exciting life as a midlife woman. I go to work, I go on dates! I find part two. It is a tell-all that I hope will help other women who are going through the experience.
I am also passionate about helping women write THEIR way through divorce. To that end, I am hosting my first weekend retreat entitled “Writing Through Your Divorce” the weekend of September 23, here in my home In St. Petersburg, Florida. My business partner, Rebecca Gold, (also a divorcee, author, and writing teacher), and I have designed a well-crafted weekend that will provide not only the emotional support to go through this life-altering process, but also offers tools and techniques that will get your creativity flowing while promoting healing. Whether you plan to share your writing with others, shoot for publication, or just get thoughts, feelings, and emotions down on paper, writing can be a way of working through divorce by organizing thoughts, putting them down on paper, and then moving on! Plus there will be bagels, so there’s that. Details are available on my website.
In addition, Rebecca Gold and I have formed a small publishing company called Word Gets Around Publishing and we just released my second book titled How To Write It Funny: A Step-by-Step Guide for Bloggers and Others, which basically gives away all my secrets on how I write my blogs and books. It might put me out of business, come to think of it. I am also conducting online classes on How To Write It Funny.
How did you become a blogger and get work as a writer?
I started my blog, Ex-wife New Life in 2011, at the age of 49. At the time, I was working as a realtor and my boss would make me go to Starbucks and not come back to the office until I had made three contacts. Well, uhm, no. I am not going from table to table interrupting online coffee dates and girl talk to see who wants to buy a home, which at that time was no one. So I would take out my laptop and start writing about my experiences and loved it.
I was also lucky enough to secure freelance writing jobs. I wrote about the world’s most expensive caviar, how to buy your very own private island, how to know if you’re ready to start dating—the list goes on. I got a great job writing home descriptions for a high-end real estate magazine in Sarasota. I had 100 descriptions to write. I started out strong, using flowery language to describe a traditional ranch home in a gated community. I even got my thesaurus out. How many words are there for foyer, (entryway) for patio (lanai) for media room (screening area)? I used them all.
Towards the end, I was beginning every post with “Welcome to your own tropical paradise” so I was not rehired for that job.
Recently I had a wonderful job populating celebrity Facebook pages for a digital marketing company. I loved it! We would look for trending stories and write them up in the voice of our celeb clients and post on their Facebook. I started as a writer and was then promoted to a team lead and finally to executive content director. Imagine me, at 55, in a position of authority doing something I love! My boss was 25. Yes, 25. I would sit in meetings learning about Google analytics and when asked for feedback would be like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Still, it was a great job and I had a great bunch of young writers under me who have no idea that they have the whole world at their feet. Sure I was envious, but these were great talented kids. Unfortunately, that company went by the wayside.
One of my proudest moments was when I was contacted by Huffington Post. I received an email from the editor of the Divorce section saying, “We like your story, would you be interested in writing about it?” And of course I was and AM interested in writing about it! When my first post came out and I saw my name on the Huffington Post blog site, I was overwhelmed. I still contribute to the divorce section, however, I also enjoy writing about midlife and the humor that surrounds it and have been featured in the comedy and book sections as well.
How did your book come about?
My book, There’s Been A Change Of Plans, came about after I started my blog. I remembered sitting on my bed after my husband had left for the last time (“This time I really mean it!”), petrified and feeling totally alone. All my friends were still married! I read book after book trying to find solace, help, someone who knew what I was going through. I read about meditating your way through divorce, how to breathe, how to let go of anger. WHAT?
I needed to know how to get through the day! How to deal with four teenagers while my ex was off in Switzerland skiing with his new girl. I read one book by a woman whose husband had also left her. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” I thought. However, that woman was lucky enough to return to her role on a popular TV show and move on with her life. Hmm… Not sure that would work for me. I felt totally alone. So, when my time came and a memoir started taking shape on my computer screen, I wanted to write a book to help other women find their way and to let them know they would survive, they would be okay, they would laugh again. Truly. I have people tell me, “I read your book and it is just like you are in the room talking to me.” That means the world to me!
What challenges did you encounter with your book?
First was overcoming the challenge of actually writing and completing my book! Then I was lucky enough to find an agent. Any writer will tell you that is a huge challenge. And then came my biggest challenge, the moment I thought maybe this wasn’t meant to be. Here’s what happened: My agent sold my book to a large publisher! I received an advance. More importantly, I told everyone. My mother told everyone. We had a big congrats party. I had the author’s portrait photo taken. And then, my agent called me to tell me that the imprint had lost their editor and they were no longer going to do memoirs. I could keep the advance, but there would be no book.
Devastated? Yes. My agent took instant action, acquired my rights back and immediately hit the pavement again. We sold it to a small Indy publisher, and finally my book made its way to the public. I cannot tell you how I felt when I held that first book in my hands. I DID IT! My book came out in October of 2015 when I was 55.
What have you learned about yourself through this experience?
I learned that I love to write. I NEED to write. And that is what I am doing. I now know that I am stronger than I ever believed and that when I have a goal, one that really means something to me, I will achieve it. I also learned that skinny jeans should not be worn with high waisted underwear—but that’s another story.
How supportive were your family and friends?
My family has always been my major support system. My father especially said, “You have a book in you, I know it.” He taught me the joy of reading, at a very young age. I could stay up as late as I wanted to if I was reading; otherwise, it was lights out at 8:30pm.
My friends have been supportive as well, but now will say, “THIS IS NOT FOR YOUR BOOK” when we are engaged in some in depth conversations about dating, belly fat, or where are our eyebrows.
My ex and I are in a very good place and the point of the book was not to bash him and his new wife, but of course, there are repercussions. When I received a date for publication, I called him and said, “You need to know, the book is coming out,” and I sent him the PDF several months before it hit Amazon. He told me he could not bring himself to read it and I don’t believe he has. As far as his wife goes, she and I do not have any contact and as I don’t mention her by name; she really has nothing to say about it. It is what it is, right? Own it.
When it came to my children, it was a fine line I had to walk when I wrote the book, because obviously it revealed some intimate details about my life with their dad. I believe my daughters have read the book and my sons have not, which is fine with me. I think it may be too much for sons to read about their mother dating, and some of the shenanigans I got into.
As it turns out, only one of my four kids took the traditional route of a four-year college, and it was NOT on a full scholarship, much to my dismay. But they are all living their lives—happy, caring people whom I love dearly. I can’t imagine my life without them and for that I thank their dad every day. Really, I’m not kidding. Sometimes I will just text him out of the blue and say, “Thank you for these wonderful children.”
What advice would you offer to women in midlife?
I don’t know if I have advice as much as a philosophy for women in midlife looking for or FORCED INTO change. I can’t stress it enough: THIS IS OUR TIME. If you want to write a book, WRITE IT. If you want to make jewelry, MAKE IT. Whatever it is, DO IT. The person who you were way back then when you began your family, or pursued a career in order to have the life you so craved, IS STILL IN THERE! Get to know her. See what she wants NOW.
What resources would you recommend?
As far as resources that helped me move forward, I have several. The first one is the ONE book I read that truly helped me through my divorce and gave me hope. It is
How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over by Theo Nestor. I also had the great experience of attending a seminar by Theo years later and she guided me through my own memoir, which thrilled me.
Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craftis a must for any writer. I read a little each day to get me started.
Publisher’s Marketplace is a site that writers need to pay attention to. It has the daily book deals, agents, and publisher’s news. It has a small monthly fee but it is imperative to keep up with what is happening in the writing world, what is selling, what isn’t, etc.
Query Tracker is a site where writers can keep track of the agents they have submitted to as well as see what agents are looking for what type of work. Plan to treat your search for an agent as a full time job.
Finally, my go to, the book I always have with me, is Heartburnby the unforgettable Nora Ephron. Her humor, her wit, her insights, inspire me so. When I was last in New York City, I walked past her building hoping some of her fairy dust would settle on my shoulders.
What’s next for you?
Well, as I mentioned, I’m really excited about helping women work through their divorce by writing, just as I did, which is the goal of my “Writing Through Your Divorce” retreat in September, and I plan on continuing these throughout the year.
I am also writing my third book now, which is really exciting since it’s my first fiction book, but really, isn’t everything we write somewhat based on our real experiences? Not going to give too much away but it is a hilarious story (I HOPE) about a midlife divorcee from a small town in—guess where—Florida, who moves to New York City for one year and well… You will have to read it! Let me just say it combines the divorce experience with my love for dogs. Okay, that’s all I’m saying. My goal is to complete it by my 56th birthday in August
Contact Amy Koko at: email@example.com