free the pen, a blog for writers

July 22, 2011

Author Jeanne Simonoff’s Interview

Filed under: Uncategorized — freethepen @ 11:30 pm
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I would like to introduce you to another special author, Jeanne Simonoff. Jeanne took thirteen years to write her memoir, Saving Myself, A Los Angeles Childhood. Although Jeanne is a poet and has written a chapbook titled 13, she writes prose so beautifully you would think you were reading a long poem. In reading Jeanne’s answers let them inspire you to think of your own life-then pick up your pen and write a full page or more of your own story. It is my pleasure to intruduce you to Jeanne Simonoff.

1. Why did you write this book?

To reform and remember that part of my life I pushed down and repressed after the death of my birth mother; to bring my story out from the caves into the light to heal. There is much more, but that is the most succinct answer.

2. Tell us about a few experiences you had in writing this book for the last 13 years.

Writing, for me, is a practice of bearing witness–that my story was real, that it did happen-that it is possible to bring back one’s life and fill in the holes, the gaps, to transform who I was and create a positive life. Each time I formed words on a blank page, I was amazed that the story was calling itself forth, one experience at a time, in random order, not like linear time. Mind tells stories the way each individual remembers them. It is like Gertrude Stein’s  “A rose is a rose is a rose,” and each time I wrote, the story changed slightly, became fuller, more complete. Poems became prose. Images sang out in different forms. My dreams were filled with memories where there were none as I  brought the memoir into the world over time.

3. Is it true Oprah wants you on your show?

Wouldn’t that be something? We will be sending a copy of the book with a packet to the new network. Hopefully people who resonate with the memoir will write to Oprah and ask for the memoir to be on the show. Who knows–anything is possible.

4. How do you think the experiences you had as a child, 50+ years ago, apply today?

Everything changes and everything remains the same. Statistics show that early childhood loss has increased with the wars we are fighting leaving children parentless with war deaths. The media talks about the epidemic we are experiencing with bullying in the schools and the many suicides. The difference is that today they are talking about it. When I was a child the loss of my mother was hidden, not spoken of, not acknowledged. In the 1940’s parents didn’t talk about death with young children in order to spare the child pain, but as a result, silence became something children never get over.

5. I‘ve heard people say that your book is important for our times…Could you elaborate on that?

One Sunday morning this spring, there was a program on early childhood loss. It stated that it is something a person never recovers
from. And the numbers are rising because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Children are calling each other names and causing physical and emotional harm in the name of differences and diversity instead of letting those diversities become something to enrich each other. My book can teach children to bear witness to the inequalities that they experience with racism and bigotry by helping each other understand loss, whether it be the death of a parent or the death of their identity because they are different. Workshops will be structured to help them learn to tell their own stories of loss and inequality and learn from each other’s experiences.

6. How has this book saved you?

By writing the memoir, l learned that I did, in fact learn how to save myself. It has brought up to a conscious level that I did find ways to cope, ways to get away from the enemy, run faster, stand up and defend myself. I learned to be myself and be in the world, a world that is cruel and unjust, but a world in which a young child can survive and live to tell the story.

7. How did you remember all those details from 50 years ago?

Mind categorizes and files itself away. A word, a phrase, a sound, a smell can release a long held memory. The sound of a fountain pen– (I write with an old pen which I fill with ink, the old fashioned away, on unlined white/sketchbook paper), releases memory from bondage and frees it onto the page, one grain, one word at a time. It’s a magical process that I never would have believed existed if I hadn’t experienced it for myself. It’s a practice Natalie Goldberg calls writing practice and like any other practice, the more I did it, the better I got at bringing my childhood experiences forward.

8. Do you think your book will turn into a great film?

It’s a small, quiet book with great visuals. It could happen. Look at Little Miss Sunshine and Avalon. A dream world emerges on the screen. A story once flat becomes alive, three dimensional.  A screen writer, a producer and director, with the help of a sensitive cast, brings such
stories alive on the screen. I could envision all of this for SAVING MYSELF: A LOS ANGELES CHILDHOOD.

9. Are you looking for a producer or film agent now?

People who have read the memoir tell me the book comes alive for them. They see it as a film. I need someone as excited about it as I am. People inhabit words and phrases. We all imagine, especially those who used to listen to the radio. We “picture” characters. It’s the next evolutionary step. Yes, and anyone who sees or hears this interview, and is interested can contact me on my website, I look forward to opening a dialog with them.

Untile next time,


10. How can your book help educators and students?

I will have study questions and modules with topics and issues for educators to discuss with their classes using the book as a guide, such as how to learn by example, how to deal with early childhood loss, how to silence the bully.

11. What is your next project?

I am working on a second memoir called JUST NOW: THE ALZHEIMER’S JOURNAL, about living with my family’s alzheimer’s and dementia and relating it to the now because there is nowhere else for them to go. It will be a mosaic, with poems, a two page play, and stories. The second project is a psychological thriller about a performance artist called CENTURY, another memoir forming called VENICE BEACH DAYS, about growing up and coming out in the late 50’s and early 60’s in Venice Beach, California, and lastly, a performance piece based
on the Queens of France in Luxenbourg Gadens in Paris, France.


  1. Great interview. I like how Jeanne opened up and let us see inside her. (Of course, a lot of that came from the well phrased questions.) Best of luck, Jeanne!

    Comment by Deborah Owen — July 22, 2011 @ 11:51 pm | Reply

  2. Thank you for reading this interview, Deb. I’ll pass your comments on to Jeanne. Hope your writing institute classes are going well. Please drop your link here. I’m sure my readers would like to sign up for your newsletter. Jan

    Comment by freethepen — July 23, 2011 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

  3. I enjoyed the interview and learn something new about Jeanne each time her name hits the news. I enjoyed reading her book and hope she makes it to the stars! Maxine

    Comment by Maxine Davenport — July 23, 2011 @ 7:28 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Maxine,

    I pray your manuscript is evolving just right for you. I think of you often. As Jeanne can tell you, getting the manuscript into book form is quite a birthing. Let me know how it all unfolds. When you are holding the book in your hand, call me for an author interview.
    Blessings, Jan

    Comment by freethepen — July 23, 2011 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

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