Episode 26: Healing With Memoir with Yvonne Caputo

Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!

In this episode I chat with author Yvonne Caputo. Yvonne shares the path she took to self-publishing two memoirs, and how writing memoir brought her closer to her father, and helped her come to understand herself better, too. Yvonne reminds us that it’s never too late to write your book or heal your relationships.

If you’re ready to learn more about writing and publishing a memoir, and the healing power in doing so, then this episode is for you!

You can connect with Yvonne at yvonne@yvonnecaputo.com

Find her on Facebook here.

Or join her FB Group Dying With Dad here.

Find Yvonne’s books here.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and review. It really does mean the world to me!

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Find the full transcript of this episode below.

Episode 26: Healing Through Memoir with Yvonne Caputo

Jo: Hello, my writerly friends. How are you doing? And how is your writing going?

So I have a looming deadline ahead where I’m trying to get a first draft together between doing all the other things required of being a functioning human. It can be tough, right? And if you’re one of those people who’s been putting off writing your book because you’re too busy or, and I’ve heard this one before and I loathe to say it, but too old, I want you to listen to this episode. Today I talk to an amazing author, who like many of us, not only had to make the time to write alongside a day job, but who wasn’t put off by the time it took to do so. In fact, Yvonne Caputo’s author journey didn’t even start until she was in her sixties. And she was in her seventies when she published her first book.

So in this episode, Yvonne shares the path she took to self-publishing two memoirs, and how writing memoir helped heal her relationship with her father, and helped her come to understand herself better too.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about writing and publishing a memoir, and the healing power in doing so, then it’s time to grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show.

Hello, my lovelies. Welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. So today I’m chatting with author, Yvonne Caputo. Yvonne taught in Erie, Pennsylvania public schools for 18 years. She’s been the vice president of human resources at a retirement community, a corporate trainer and a consultant, and a psychotherapist. Yvonne has a master’s degree in education and in clinical psychology. Her first book, Flying With Dad, is the story about her relationship with her father through his telling of World War II stories. Her second book, Dying With Dad, was released earlier this year. She has always been a storyteller, using stories to widen the eyes of students and to soften the pain of clients. It’s her stories that result in rave reviews as a presenter and speaker. Yvonne lives in Pennsylvania with her best friend who is also her husband, and together they have three children and three grandchildren. So welcome to the show, Yvonne. I’m so happy to have you here.

Yvonne: Thank you. It’s so good to be here.

Jo: In your bio, you told us a little bit about your background, but I’d love if you could share what led you to write your first book, Flying With Dad.

Yvonne: In 2008, my elderly father and I were on the phone together. And I live in the Southeastern part of Pennsylvania. Dad lived in the Northwestern part of the state. So our way of connecting was always a phone call. When we talked, sometimes we stumbled. Once we got through his doctor’s appointments, and his medical exams, and his latest dialysis treatment, and the home care people that we had, making sure that he got all of the things that he needed, we struggled to talk. I’m not a sports fan, like my brother and sister. So I couldn’t get into that kind of stuff with him.

When in January of 2008, he opened up and told me this quirky, funny, off the wall story about being a navigator on a B 24 in the Second World War. And I’d never heard him talk about it. We knew he was in the war. We knew he flew a B 24. We knew he was a navigator. But for him to say, you know, anything personally about what happened during those times, it just didn’t happen. So on the phone that night, I said to dad, wait a minute, let me get a pencil and paper, I wanna write this down. His exact words back at me were, “What the hell do you wanna do that for?” My father had this deep resonating voice. And I said, this is just a really neat story. I wanna capture it because I think the family would enjoy reading it.

The next phone call, the very next week. I said, Dad, if you’re willing, start at the beginning. And he did. And story after story after story rolled off his tongue, and I started taking copious notes. And I started to type it up. Each chapter was where Dad had been, and what was the next move? And what was the next move? And along about getting into, like, I didn’t even consider them chapters at that time, but along about the fourth one, I thought to myself, boy, I think I have something here. I did research and there wasn’t anything that I could find in terms of books, that was like the stories my dad was telling me. It wasn’t guns, it wasn’t battles, it wasn’t major political figures. It wasn’t any of that kind of stuff. It was just ordinary day to day what happened to him and how he got into the service. So that’s really how it began, is Dad telling me these stories? And I thought the more he told me, that there might be just a wider audience than my family. So I just got hooked. I loved history anyway. And so here was this person just relaying all of it to me, and I started thinking, I might just have a book.

Jo: That’s cool. That’s really special. Very special. Had you any inclination growing up that you were going to be writing books?

Yvonne: Not a clue. And I’m really easy in terms of talking about it. This was in my sixties and it took 11 years to get it to publication. So it’s a, yeah, it’s a late in life venture. Now for your audience, I was working full time, still. So the amount of time that I had to really dedicate to the book, was not there. So when I retired, then I could really focus on it.

Jo: Yeah. But you were writing it while you were working full time as well?

Yvonne: Mm-hmm.

Jo: So how did you make that work? How did you fit that around your job and everything?

Yvonne: It was a lot of weekends. It was some evenings. It depended on where dad was in the storytelling. I just made time for it. But I’m not like some writers who get up in the morning and they set aside, you know, like four hours, and they dedicate that. I’m more of a, when I have the time to do it. I had the very first draft completed in two years, but never having published a book before, I started reaching out to people, because I’ll admit, I know when I don’t know. I didn’t know what publishing a book would be about. I didn’t know about soliciting to traditional publishers. I didn’t know about proofreading. I didn’t know about book design. I didn’t know any of that.

So I started to reach out to professionals and after the third professional said to me, where are you in the book? And my answer was, I’m not in it, I’m not supposed to be in it. It’s about my dad. And one of the guys said to me, read Tuesdays with Morrie. And is that a book that you know?

Jo: I actually haven’t read it myself, but I’ve worked in bookstores where it was a best seller. I’ve heard of it all the times. It’s on my to be read list, but for whatever reason I haven’t got there yet, but I’ve heard amazing things. So I’m familiar with it in that respect. Yeah.

Yvonne: It is an amazing book. It’s a story of a professor and one of his students. And the professor’s really ailing and he and the writer goes over and visits Morrie on every Tuesday. So I began to explore the idea of inserting myself in.

So until 2017, I rewrote it twice. Whew. And I understand that that’s just what writers do, they’ll go through drafts. And then in 2017, I decided to publish it independently. And one of the things that dad would say when we were on the phone, if I called him and said, how are you? He would say, Well, Helen, I’m on this side of the grass. So my idea about publishing independently was I wanted to be on this side of the grass when the book was published. So that’s why I went independently. So I took a great deal of time to research independent writing. I wanted to know the who, what, when, where of all of those things.

And that also led me to doing research in the legality part of independent writing and independent publishing. I didn’t want to do anything that was gonna land me in court. Mm-hmm. So once those things were done, I searched out four different people to interview. And having some knowledge now about independent publishing, I wanted somebody who could take me from the cradle to the grave. I didn’t want to find a separate proofreader. I didn’t want to find a separate cover designer. I didn’t want to do those things. I just wanted to sit with a person who could take me from start to finish. And in the interviews, Ingenium books, Boni Stafford Wagner, just kind of jumped out because of the way she listened to me the way she talked to me about the book.

So in 2017, I sent her the manuscript. She took it, put it in a blender and sent it back to me saying, this is what I think you need to do. And so, we went chapter by chapter and that was the last rewrite. So that was the process that I went through.

Jo: And so did they take care of everything? So they take care of the editing, the cover design, putting it on all the platforms? All of that?

Yvonne: All of it.

Jo: Oh, that’s so nice. Do they also take care of, this is the bane of a lot of author’s existence, but do they also take care of the marketing and promotion or is that something on your shoulders?

Yvonne: That’s now on my shoulders. Mm, okay. And I will admit I’ve had their help again. I hired them back and their marketing end of the team, because, again, I know what I don’t know.

Jo: Yeah.

Yvonne: And so I wanted some solid ground on which to know just exactly what responsibilities I was gonna have, like finding you and finding other podcasts, and pitching to television stations and, you know, writing blogs, all of that kind of stuff. I am now more set up to do, because I have a more of a general idea of where I’m going and what I’m doing. But they did, they did all of that. They even got my ISBN numbers.

Jo: Oh, wonderful. That’s so good because it’s a huge learning curve, I think, deciding to go indie. It’s fantastic because it also gives you so much more control over your book and you get your book out there faster into the world, but there are so many different pieces that kind of go into it. So it’s nice when you’re able to have somebody help you along with all of that as well. What do you think with your promotion and marketing and that so far has been the most impactful for you for your sales and that?

Yvonne: I don’t think there’s one avenue. I really think it’s that combination of things. The podcasts, the blogs, I mean, anything that will get my name out there and get the book in front of an audience. For me, I don’t know when that hopefully big thing is gonna happen, but I just have to keep plugging away at it.

My goal for the first book, Flying With Dad, is that people who read it will understand that relationships can change. And that there’s a way to go about that. The goal for my second book is that it will make people more comfortable. Parents talking to children, children talking to parents, loved ones, all that kind of thing about death and dying. None of us are gonna get away from it. I mean, it’s a foregone conclusion that it’s gonna happen sometime. And because of how it happened with my father, it is really something that I would love other people to have. I don’t grieve the loss of my dad the way I grieve the loss of so many others, because we did an advanced directive together. And then we did a document called the five wishes, which takes an advanced directive to a place with a lot of heart. And so in the end, and I was with my father when he passed, I was able to make sure that what he wanted was what he got. So there’s a little bit about the two books. My goal again is to have people, A. see how the writing of the first book healed the relationship I had with my father. And then the second part of it is how in healing that relationship, I was able to give him the gift of – he said frequently, I wanna go out of my home feet first. And that’s exactly what happened. So those are the goals that I have.

Would I like either of them to be an international bestseller? Of course, what writer wouldn’t, you know? But keeping in mind the kind of feedback that I’ve gotten from people who’ve read the book, it’s really heart warming because I’m seeing that they get my intent.

Jo: Yeah, that’s cool. I actually, this morning sent a copy of Flying With Dad to my father, just because he loves reading, but he loves hearing real life stories about World War II and everything like that too. So I sent him a copy this morning and said, you might wanna check this out. So, yeah. Did you find that the writing process too, because it sounds like the conversations you had with your dad was healing in a way, did you find writing it all out as well, gave you an even deeper understanding?

Yvonne: Yeah, absolutely, a deeper understanding. Looking at it. Reading it again. Telling the story now, like I’m doing it, just takes me so much closer to him in terms of- I’ll give you an example. Dad suffered from PTSD. Now in the Second World War they had no idea that there was such a thing. And what happened between the two of us was that by the time we got to when he was in England and flying bombing missions over Germany and France, he was comfortable enough to open up and tell me about the nightmares. And further down the road, when we were talking about what was going on with him when he was stateside after the war, he told me about a flashback that he had. And here I am as a psychotherapist, being able to describe to my father what those things were and why they happened and to let him know that the nightmares and the flashback were normal for anyone who had witnessed the kind of trauma that my father witnessed.

So in that sense, it’s hard to describe, but this feeling of letting my dad know, 60 years after the end of the war, that he was normal. That his reactions to what he witnessed was normal. I mean, what daughter gets to do that?

Jo: Yeah. That’s special.

Yvonne: Yeah, it is. So looking at that over and over again, I just continue to get a sense of wonder about how much I do now understand the man that was distant from me when I was a kid.

Jo: Yeah. And did your dad get to see your book? Did he get to read it or see your finished product?

Yvonne: The last time he was in the hospital, I was home. And I took him the first draft as a Christmas present. So I have a picture of dad laying in the hospital in those lovely gowns, you know, the lovely hospital gowns. And he’s got the three ring binder resting on his copious belly, and it’s in the book, it’s one of my favorite stories, but as I was leaving to join my husband and drive six and a half hours back to the other side of the state, I said to dad, I said, I just want you to know how proud I am of you. And he said, For heaven’s sakes, what for? And I said, For your service during the war. And he said, No, honey. I’m proud of you, you wrote the book.

Jo: That’s so precious. That’s so super special. Just being able to share those stories, so, so important. I love that. So when you were writing this book and going through the process of publishing it as well. You did this over a long period of time, so it was obviously a real passion project for you. During that time, was there any part of it that you found a bit of a struggle to keep going with or to learn about or anything like that?

Yvonne: When Boni read the manuscript and when she threw it back at me, she said, Section one will be in your voice. And that’s all about how there was this disconnect between dad and I, lots of family stories, which give you a real well-rounded idea of what the Caputo household was all about. The last section of the book was also in my own words or from my frame of reference. And that’s how the writing of the book gave me the dad I always wanted. And he got a daughter that he didn’t know he had. But Boni recommended that I write the second section of the book, the whole central part, which is about dad, to write it in his voice. And I’m like, how do I do that? Mmm. I’m not a writer by trade. I mean, this is all coming out of me because it is coming out of me, but it’s not because I studied, you know, writing in any way, shape or form.

Well, I have all of the letters that my father wrote to my mother during war.

Jo: Oh, that’s special.

Yvonne: That’s how I found his voice. And interestingly, he met mom at the second step of becoming the navigator. They had so many cadets, so many people who wanted to fly. They gave each of them a semester in college. And they got physics and writing and lots of good background stuff for whatever it was they were gonna do. He met my mother during this time at Allegany. So from that point on, until he came home from the war, I have those letters. And so the way he talks to my mom and the way he describes it, and then there is another piece. I did a tremendous amount of research for this part. Dad would tell me something and I would say, man, can’t be true. For example, on one of the bombing runs that he did, he said, Not on his plane but on other planes, they dropped napalm. And I said, No way, napalm was Vietnam. He said, Yes way. And so indeed, I researched and literally found pictures of B24s dropping napalm. You can see that this is something very different from an incendiary bomb.

Jo: Yeah.

Yvonne: So that was another piece of it for me, is in doing the research of really getting to know what it is that my dad did at every base, that he went to prior to his last base before flying overseas. So that gave me a depth, too. One of the examples that I love so much, and I think this is really where my relationship with dad began to shift. Dad was stationed at camp Miami beach for basic training. Miami was shut down. And so the Army Air Corps later, the Army Air Force, hired or rented hotels, rented ballrooms, rented restaurants, just took Miami over and that’s where dad was stationed. And I said, So what hotel did you stay in? He said, Ah, I don’t remember. He said, But I remember it was on the corner of Collings Avenue and something else. And he gave me the name of the avenue. So you can Google anything, right? Just Google anything. So I started researching what hotels were at that intersection, and I’d send them a picture via email. And he’d write back. Nah, that’s not it. Nah, that’s not it. On the fourth try, he sent me an email that went something like this. That’s it. We were cadets, and good job. Love you dad. So why I say what I’m saying is, I think that, that was the occasion when my father got a sense of how far I was willing to go to get something right.

So, when it came time to write the second section of the book in the last draft, Dad was in Harlingen Texas, San Marcus Texas, San Antonio Texas. There were four bases that he was at. Well, I don’t know, from Texas. So I said to my husband, I need to get on a plane. So I flew to Texas and went to all of those air bases, which some of them now are just airports. So there’s not a lot that you can see, although there were some things that I could see that were still left over from the Second World War. So doing that kind of thing, I wanted to get it right.

Jo: It sounds like it’s been such an amazing journey because it’s not just your family history, but it’s healing, and you traveled, and the research and everything that you did to really get into your father’s story, just sounds like quite a magical journey.

Yvonne: It is. I was close to mom. We’re always very close. Okay. But I was her daughter. And when I think about my greatest generation dad, his expectations for fatherhood were food on the table, a safe environment, a disciplinarian when we needed it. He was in the bedroom, down the hall, every night. I went to sleep knowing that my dad was there. But the kind of intimacy of talking about really important things didn’t happen with dad and I. With his sons, it was much easier because they could spend time together fishing and hunting and do all those kinds of things. And then on top of it, I’m not a sports fan. So my sister is, and she and dad would go head to toe about the latest, you know, game or, or whatever. But I didn’t have that with him. So gaining that is priceless.

Jo: Yeah, absolutely. What advice would you give anybody else who was maybe setting out on writing a memoir?

Yvonne: Do it, just do it. Know that it’s a process, that is going to help you to understand people better and to understand yourself. In the first part of the book, there’s a story called Fishing. And when I was 10 years, mom and dad were in the kitchen and they were talking about dad going fishing. And I stuck my head in and I said, I wanna go. And dad says, Nah, nah, nah, you’ll just mess things up. Oh. My mother, God bless her, stepped in and said, Oh come on Mike. What’s it gonna hurt? So he took me fishing. We were walking alongside a very wide Creek, and there were spots to my right where the rushes would die off and there would be an empty spot where you could look 175 feet over to the other side of this Creek. And when we were walking down that, when we got to a specific spot that was open, he told me to set my bucket down. He gave me a fishing pole. He put a barber on it so that it would be just the right depth, you know. I already knew, I don’t know how, but I knew how to, to hook a worm on the hook. I knew how to do that. And then he walked away and he said, I’ll be right down here. Call me if you need me, but don’t call me unless you need me.

So here I am 10 years old. Blue sky, soft breeze sitting on this hard packed uh, wasn’t a beach, but on the hard packed edge of the Creek, and I was fishing away and I was daydreaming and having a great old time. And I did exactly what I was told. When the barber went down two or three times, I gave it just a gentle tug just to know that I’d caught it. So I reeled and let it go, reeled and let it go, all following all the directions till I landed this fish flopping up on right beside me. So I called him. And he was gruff. Cuz that’s the way he talked. He was just gruff. What do you want? Dad, I got a fish. And he said, I’ll be right there. So he came down and he brought a stringer with him. Now this is like a, not a Bobby pin, but a, a diaper pin, and it opens up and you slip it up through the gills of the fish. Okay. You lock it off. And you put that stringer back in the water so that the fish stays alive. Cuz you want fresh fish. So he helps me with all of that and he turns around, walks away again and goes back down fishing with my uncles and my brother. So I called him twice again, and he said, each time, do you want to do it? And I said, Yeah, I know what to do. So the end of this story is we’re finally home with mom in the kitchen again. And she says to me, Well, how did it go? And I said, Well, I caught three fish. And she said, And what did the guys get? And I said, They didn’t get anything. And I remember my little itty bitty shoulders being up, you know, and when I wrote that story, I recognized that age 10 was when I started the, I’ll show you, Dad. I’ll show you, Dad. And I did so much, I’ll show you, Dad, for the rest of my life until in my early thirties, my mother said, Your father’s not gonna come to you. You’re gonna have to go to him. And so we didn’t lock horns like we used to over political stuff. Oh boy. Ends of the spectrum politically. And I came to him for advice about building and cars and that kind of stuff, but we still weren’t where I wanted us to be. But it started when I was 10. So the insight that I got, so then I’m saying to your folks, if they want to write a memoir, it’s a great way to get in touch internally with who you are.

Jo: Yeah.

Yvonne: And how you got to be the way you are. And that kind of self awareness, coming for me, a psychotherapist is priceless. It’s again, something that’s priceless.

Jo: Yeah. So I don’t write memoir, I mainly write fiction, but there’s always a great deal of myself that goes into the stories. And I have noticed that the characters sometimes surprise me with things that I didn’t realize about myself. And so, yeah, so I find that writing can be a very healing and insightful thing to help us learn about ourselves. Absolutely.

Yvonne: I did a dinner for a library, back in December. And all of the people who attended this dinner had read my book. That’s a joy to speak to a group of people who’ve read your book, I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that. And one woman asked me a really interesting question. She said, there were times when I read your book that I just cried. How in the world, could you get your emotions down on paper and stay away from being a bucket of tears? Or were you a bucket of tears? I said, interestingly, no. When I was writing, I was so into what’s the sentence structure. How can I say this? My editor in the very beginning said Yvonne, create a picture because it was more like I was writing a term paper in college. And so I had to learn how to set it up so that people would get a sense of the story by creating that picture. Doing that brought me also back around to understanding myself better.

Jo: Yeah. That’s cool. So did you find that writing your second book was a little bit easier after you’d already kind of been through the process once with your first book? Did you find it was a little easier or different?

Yvonne: It was actually harder in some respects, it was actually a whole lot harder. In the first book, particularly in the second section, Dad graduated from high school. That’s a chapter. Dad was encouraged to learn a trade. So he did the youth administration program and learned to repair airplanes. That’s a chapter. Repairing the wing on an eighty six and then being told to get in and fly. That’s another chapter. So I had this chronological order to work through.

For the second book, I had a purpose. But how to structure to get to that purpose, it was not easy for me, until I had produced some stories. That’s for sure. And my editor loved my stories. But I was still struggling with, you know, what’s the setup? What’s the chronology? So she gave me the hero’s journey, the steps in the heroes journey. And when that happened, I created an Excel spreadsheet. And I used the hero’s journey and the steps in that to think of the stories that I wanted to tell that would take me through the book. So in that sense, it was harder. Until I got to that point, it was harder.

Jo: That’s interesting though. I really love the hero’s journey to help with just a basic outline for plot, too. So that’s really cool. I like that. So do you have plans to write more books, then?

Yvonne: I would like to do it. Yeah. I have some thoughts in mind. But right now I know that that’s not gonna happen because of the marketing piece of the book. I need to take my time and do those kinds of things. But, in my past, I did enjoy writing. Particularly writing letters. And so I knew that I enjoyed writing, but I didn’t know to what extent until I wrote these two books.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah. Do you think when you do come around to potentially writing more books, are they gonna be similar? Are you going to be writing more memoir or are you going to change genre or what were you thinking?

Yvonne: It will probably be another memoir, but I’m not certain. I’ve kind of just said, okay, let’s put this in a box, you know, and when we get to that point, we’ll take it out. Now, how I see myself doing it, is using the hero’s journey again. So I can say having been a teacher, I had to take a college level course on writing lesson plans. And lesson plan after lesson plan after lesson plan. And so what I appreciate about having that training is the need for structure. And so having the hero’s journey give me that structure, I think is extremely helpful.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. That’s really cool. So for people listening to this, can you tell them how they can connect to you and where they can find your books as well?

Yvonne: My email is fairly easy. It’s Yvonne, yvonne@yvonnecaputo.com. I guess it’s cool to have your own domain. And any internet book seller will have it. Since I love independent bookstores, go that avenue, walk into your favorite bookstore and say, please order this book for me. So that’s how they can find both Flying With Dad and Dying With Dad.

Jo: Wonderful. Oh, that’s so cool. Well, thank you so much. It’s been so fascinating listening to your stories and so interesting to hear about how powerful it is or how powerful our writing can be for healing those relationships, and healing ourselves a little bit too. So I so appreciate you coming on to chat today. Thank you so much, Yvonne.

Yvonne: Oh, you’re welcome. It was great fun.

Jo: I found that so fascinating talking to Yvonne and I hope you did too. Some takeaways from today’s show:

1. It’s never too late to write your book. Yvonne started in her sixties and published in her seventies.

2. Consider your goal for your books? What do you want your readers to feel or think about while reading them and afterwards?

3. Writing memoir can not only help you to understand other people better, but also yourself, which in turn can be healing.

4. Following a structure such as the Hero’s Journey, can help with planning and sequencing stories, and the book as a whole.

5. Yvonne’s number one tip for people considering writing a memoir is just do it.

So I really hope you enjoyed this episode and are maybe feeling inspired to write your own memoir. If you’ve ever found writing to be a healing or cathartic process, I would love to hear from you. So do feel free to connect with me on social media, Facebook and Instagram, @jobuerauthor. Or alternatively, you can sign up for my newsletter and drop me a line via email. The links to do just that and to connect with Yvonne are in the show notes.

If you have enjoyed this episode or any of the episodes of Alchemy for Authors, I’d be super grateful if you would leave me a review or a star rating. It really does help me to grow the podcast and record more amazing episodes with these fantastic guests.

So I hope you have a wonderful week ahead, my friends, and inspiration and words flow. And until next time happy writing.