Posts Tagged ‘memoir writing’


Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

I sent off my manuscript to a first wave of Beta readers and for the first few days after, I felt adrift and purposeless. Shouldn’t I be writing, editing, rewriting? That was my existence for the past (many) years: sitting at a table or desk, opening my laptop, and beginning to work.

Now I’m floating in the sweet space of possibility, hoping my readers will like my first novel, and not yet faced with the million more edits I’ll undoubtedly need to make based on their feedback.

The first real writing workshop I ever attended was in 2006, at Squaw Valley. My project-in-progress was my memoir, Mamalita. I remember the first night, during orientation, sitting in a room filled with other writers and feeling like I’d made it to somewhere great, finally. And then, during workshop the next morning, having my pages–the pages I’d agonized over–ripped apart.

I came home, devastated. My book was trash. I’d never finish it. I spent a few weeks flattened by despair, then steeled myself to re-read the workshop’s comments. They were as bad as I remembered, as harsh, but contained within were morsels of hope: “A good story,” someone said. “I’m interested,” said another. “Keep going,” urged a third.

The criticism could make the work stronger, if I was willing to listen. The key was to stay open enough to receive the knowledge generously offered.

For years, I studied dance in New York. One of my teachers once said only two things were required to master technique: the desire to learn, and someone to teach you.

I don’t know if I’ll ever “master” writing. But the desire is there, and I’ve found the teachers.

Regardless of what happens with my manuscript, I needed to write this novel in order to tell this story. At last, I’m free of it. 

Photo credit: Jeffrey DuFlon; poetry reading with friends.



17th Annual San Diego Book Awards names “Mamalita” Best Memoir

Monday, June 13th, 2011


The 17th Annual San Diego Book Awards named Mamalita “Best Memoir” in a ceremony on Saturday, June 12, 2011. Yay!

My sister, Adrienne, and her friend, Claudia, attended the event with me, and when the evening’s host announced my name, my sister screamed. (We O’Dwyers are an enthusiastic bunch.) My entire family is thrilled. In fact, as I write this, my mother is showing off my lovely trophy to her ”Needlework” volunteer group at Pomerado Hospital in Rancho Bernardo. Adrienne and my parents and everyone else in my family shared the Mamalita journey with me–not only the experience, but also the five years I spent afterward, writing about it.  How gratifying to share with them this recognition.

Thank you, everyone!


Whose story is it? AP article on adopting HIV-positive children

Monday, April 4th, 2011

During the five years I wrote Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, I grappled daily with the question of how much of the story I was entitled to tell. After all, the book’s subject is the adoption of my daughter, Olivia, from Guatemala. Ultimately, I decided the story belonged to me, too, at least partially. As long as I kept the narrative from my point of view, I believed her privacy would be maintained. Foremost in my mind was the question, “When my daughter’s in high school, will she be okay reading this?” I can say with confidence that I believe she will.

That said, I also wanted to write the truth of intercountry adoption as I experienced it. A baby strapped in a stroller in front of a television set or kicking me away because I was her fourth mother-figure aren’t the ideal visuals to communicate, but that was what happened. Change can never be made if no one talks about reality, including the impact on children of prolonged foster or institutional care, or multiple caregiver placements.

I was reminded of the struggle between privacy and truth-telling as I read this Associated Press article by David Crary, More families adopting HIV-positive children. One of the children discussed was born in Guatemala. Do parents have the right to reveal their minor children’s HIV-positive status via an Associated Press article? Although there is absolutely nothing shameful about the disease, it might not be information a person necessarily wishes to share with the world at large.

I don’t know the answer, but my guess is that, like me, the parents in question hoped to normalize their family’s situation by being honest about it. Time will tell if our children feel the same.


Home and home

Monday, January 24th, 2011

I arrived back in California late on Saturday after a whirlwind Mamalita reading trip to the East coast. I’ve lived in California more than twenty years, but in many ways, the East coast still feels like home.

Today is a holiday for our school district, so Olivia and Mateo are here with me now as I post a few photos from my glorious journey to visit friends–Debbie Bower and Maria-Rose Contini from grammar and high school in New Jersey; and Susanne Donovan, Anne Maffia, Robin Wray, Sean Culkin, and Brian Doerner from college in Delaware. Susanne invited me to speak to her book group in Pennyslvania. I have to tell you, that reading almost made me want to transfer my base of operations to the Keystone State, those women were so much fun. The last photo is of fellow adoptive parents who, through the wonders of cyberspace, learned about my reading at Borders Books in Bryn Mawr.

It’s great to be back, fortified by my friends for life.


Reading at The Regulator and dinner at Sharon’s

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Wednesday night I had an amazing reading at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, North Carolina. Amazing, first, because The Regulator is such a charming, friendly independent bookstore, with a huge inventory of books for readers of all ages. And second, because the audience was so insightful about adoption. Nearly everyone contributed at least one question or comment–on subjects ranging from the politics of name-changing, to media coverage about international adoption and how it affects our children, to the possibility of our children wanting to return to Guatemala permanently.

I’m grateful to my husband’s colleague, Neil Prose, and his wife, who invited me to Durham, and to fellow adoptive mother, Marcie Pachino and her daughter, for making me feel so welcome.

Last evening, Sharon McCarthy hosted a dinner for me with her book group at her home in Washington, DC. Sharon and I met the first day of high school, in homeroom, and have been friends ever since. The members of her book group are as fabulous as she is. Here are a few photos. Thank you, Sharon!

I just arrived in 30th Station Philadelphia via Amtrak. Tonight, I read at the Borders in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The Mamalita Book Tour has turned out to be a great opportunity to reconnect with friends. What a bonus! More later~


Book groups, a blog review, and conversations about motherhood

Friday, January 14th, 2011

If you belong to a book group, I hope you will consider choosing Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir as one of your selections. Here’s what two friends wrote about reactions from their membership:

Our Book Group started in October 1997…  We have now read 134 books, yours being the 134th.  We have read classics, non-fiction, contemporary works and books recently written by acquaintances.  Last night we had by far the most intense, intimate, lengthy discussion of a book – everyone loved it. 


Mamalita led to one of the best and most substantive book group discussions  we’ve had in our 10-year history – especially since everyone loved the book and there wasn’t anything to disagree about! It was amazing that the book seemed to resonate equally among the mothers, the adoptive mothers, and the non-mothers. And surprising how many people we all know who’ve been touched in some way by adoption.

If you loved the book, please suggest the title to your book club. Some sixty percent of Americans report being touched by adoption in some way. Chances are that some of those people are in your book group, and would also enjoy the read.

I’m pleased to link to this blog, Thighs & Offerings: Everyday Efforts at Embodied Spirituality, which reviewed Mamalita in terms of its theme of motherhood. Mamalita‘s first chapter opens with this sentence:  “I’ve never given birth, but I know the exact moment when I became a mother: 10 A.M., September 6, 2002.”  That was the day I met my daughter, the baby who would become Olivia, for the first time.

In her her blog post, Kate writes:

Mamalita is, according to Publishers Weekly, “[H]arrowing and moving…deftly handled.” And I agree. But as a young woman beginning to consider the possibility of one day becoming a mother myself, it is not only the enjoyment that I experience in reading a “deftly handled” memoir, but also the thought, conversation, and questions that such a memoir provokes that, to me, make O’Dwyer’s book worth reading. One such question has persisted, and has found its way into conversations even now, long after I finished the book. When, I have wondered time and time again, does a woman become a mother?

I’m a person who believes that we learn by asking questions and discussing. How wonderful that, for some people who have shared their views with me, reading Mamalita initiates that process.


Interview on “WomensRadio”

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and ours was shared with my family, my sister Patrice, and good friends. My plan is to write more about it soon, but right now I’m posting a link to a radio interview I did with Pat Lynch for the  Speak Up! series on WomensRadio.  Click on the link to listen to it here.

Being interviewed “live” is still a new experience for me. I must say, I’ve gained a new respect for people who speak in front of microphones or cameras. But Pat Lynch made the experience delightful. As always, I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk about my favorite subject, adoption.


“Mamalita” now in a bookstore near you

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Yesterday morning I heard from my friend Paula that my book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, was in stock and on the shelf at our favorite local indie bookstore, Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. As soon as I got the kids off to school and did everything else that needed to get done before I could do anything as self-indulgent as go look, I grabbed my car keys and drove over.

The bookseller at the store was very nice and pointed me to the table in front where the appealing cover of Mamalita might catch the eye of someone standing in line on the way to the cash register. (Thank you, Book Passage!) After that, he directed me to the “Parenting” section, where my book was shelved with other books about adoption: Susan Caughman’s You Can Adopt, Janis Cooke Newman’s The Russian Word for Snow, and Scott Simon’s recent Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other. Very good company, I’d say.

One of my goals in writing Mamalita was to tell a real story about adoption, and in doing so, to contribute something lasting to the conversation about the subject. The thought was subconscious, but strong:  “This is what happened to us. What does our experience tell us about the experience of international adoption?” My book existing on the shelf is the first step to our story, and the story of others like us, being heard.

Please forgive me if I’m a little too excited to see Mamalita, finally, out in the world. It’s my first book, and I’m not a young writer bursting onto the scene. As the Book Passage bookseller said, when he saw me tearing up, “Publishing your first book is like giving birth.”

So I’ve heard. Or, for many of us, adopting your first baby.