Our hearts live in these hills, bound to these hollers

Credit: Dan Reynolds Photography / Getty Images.

The Appalachians are among the oldest mountains on Earth, born of powerful upheavals within the terrestrial crust and sculpted by the ceaseless action of water upon the surface. — Encyclopedia Britannica

Reviving the “darlings” left behind

Photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash

The directive to “kill your darlings” is one of the most challenging and valuable practices we can employ as writers. But how do we pick those darlings? And if those passages are so dear to us, how can they truly be worthy of deletion?

A good editor is the answer to the first question, and will give you the answer to the second. For me, working with a good editor on my memoir was a game-changer — for the first time, I was given clear, professional guidance on what to add, rearrange, and cut — and why.

Most of my…


I struggled to understand my father. Here’s what I do know about him.

Illustration: Tetiana Garkusha/Getty Images

There are some things you should understand about this man, the man who fathered me:


He looks like almost every other baby ever born: red-faced, hairless, eyes closed. His cries pierce the quiet country desolation and scatter among the last brittle oak leaves of winter. Spring is coming.


Middle child syndrome. Somewhere among the cows and the chickens, the last of the hogs and two stray dogs. Not as pious as the eldest, a daughter, nor as charming as the youngest, another son. Poor eyesight and a buzz cut. Nothing special, really.


Pulls a knife on the kid at school…

The hidden power in your chapters

Someone writing in a journal
Someone writing in a journal
Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

I wrote a good portion of my memoir in a stream-of-consciousness outpouring, which was a satisfying way to externalize the vivid memories (so many memories!) I carried from childhood. At first, I sought only to tell a good story, which I still value above all else. However, aside from committed fans of James Joyce and Jack Kerouac, I knew my eventual readers would want (and perhaps need) some structure. …

Unlike autobiography, memoir offers a focus or theme. What is your “what”?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Lots of people have an important story to tell, and in recent years, memoirs have evolved to tell true stories in creative new ways. Take, for example, Thi Bui’s acclaimed graphic novel memoir The Best We Could Do, which she illustrated herself.

Whether your memoir is a genre-bending form like Bui’s or a traditional exploration of the personal, there are crucial elements to structuring and writing your story that can help you get started or refine a manuscript in progress. …

Friends walking by fence
Friends walking by fence
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

“I didn’t know why I wanted to protect my brother, and why no one could protect me. I didn’t understand what happens to people when they are just trying to survive. I couldn’t have told you that, as a girl, I felt like I had a duty to my family, a responsibility that was God given or something close to it. As if I was the only one who could save us.” — Bobi Conn, In the Shadow of the Valley

When I wrote my memoir, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my experiences as a girl and…

Mother holding young child
Mother holding young child
Photo by Julien Pouplard on Unsplash

A little over twenty years ago, I met a young woman from Florida who was traveling with a group of hippies. Like most of the traveling hippies I met back then, she had a hippie nickname: Pixie. I was a college student and loved meeting people like Pixie, though I was envious of their adventures and freedom. I had basically reinvented myself when I moved from my small town on the edge of “coal country” to attend the first interracial and coeducational college in the American South. …

Bobi Conn

Author of In the Shadow of the Valley — A Memoir. Read more about my work at bobiconn.com.

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