Conversation with Author and ‘Professional Honeymooner’
Franz Wisner on the Big Mistake in Memoir Writing and the Biggie on His Bucket List
Franz Wisner healed his broken heart by writing. When his fiancée called off their wedding at the last minute, the Davis native not only held a wedding reception without a bride, he went on a honeymoon and took his brother. The experience turned into a New York Times bestselling memoir, Honeymoon with My Brother.
Wisner’s life went off in an unexpected direction that ultimately led to Beverly Hills, 90210. He fell in love and married actress Tracy Middendorf and wrote a second book, How the World Makes Love. Wisner now helps businesses, brands and individuals write their own stories.
His Brand Storytelling Workshop takes place on Saturday, April 22, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., at the College of Continuing Education at Sacramento State, and his Memoir Writing Workshop follows on Saturday, April 29, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Wisner sat down for a conversation:
Franz, you wrote a memoir that resonated with a lot of folks and now, you’re helping others with their memoirs. So who’s taking up memoir writing?
In my classes in California and New York, it’s always a mix, everyone, from aspiring bestsellers to writers who are interested in self-publishing or sharing their story with loved ones. Some just want to hand down their stories to their kids and grandkids. And for others, writing is therapy. They have gone through a cancer battle or lost a loved one, and writing is a way to process it. So there’s a therapeutic element.
A lot of people feel they have ‘stuff’ inside and a story to tell. This workshop helps get that story out in a form that’s compelling, interesting and readable.
How do folks get started with writing their memoir?
There are definite ways to writing a memoir, and I have a whole approach on how to tackle a book. It’s similar to how moviemakers approach a movie. We do a lot of things on 3X5 cards, writing the most compelling parts of our life, big or small, on 3X5 cards. And then we start to see themes emerge and the beginnings of a book slowly takes shape.
One of the common mistakes people make in memoir writing is thinking it’s the story of my life, and it starts the day I was born and ends today. And that’s not a memoir, that’s more of a strict biography. Memoir is much more thematic and artistic. We want to include the most interesting portions of our lives, stuff that makes the best story. That’s a key component – what makes a memoir soar and conversely, what kills a memoir, and which memoirs do we cringe at and why? And that’s a fun discussion.
What else do you have planned for the workshop?
There are some drills I have my students do, basically, trying on different sorts of approaches, trying on different voices and finding that voice that really suits you. The key is being yourself. So often we write something, take a look at it and think, that’s nothing like the way I talk. How did that come out of my brain? So it’s finding the style that’s comfortable and that’s true to yourself.
By the end of the day, I want folks to have a solid understanding of all the steps they need to take to write, publish and market a life story, whether it’s a commercial bestseller, a self-published book or a family history. My goal is to have everyone walking out of the class knowing exactly what they need to do to shape their story in the best possible form. I guarantee you, people will come out a stronger writer.
What’s your Brand Storytelling Workshop all about?
There’s a whole range to brands, from companies, big and small, to nonprofits, trade unions and associations. They all want to stand out, but their story isn’t getting out. The workshop is about teaching proven storytelling techniques and literacy techniques and applying it to your brand. I have a background in communications and public relations but also a background in literature. So brand storytelling is about helping businesses and brands shape and share their stories with the world.
In the simplest terms, it’s the difference between trying to talk to somebody from the head and talking to somebody from the heart. People are tired of traditional marketing where all you hear is, ‘We’re the best, we’re the brightest, we’re the biggest.’ People connect with stories, and storytelling is a much more real and meaningful way to communicate a brand’s unique value proposition.
We look forward to meeting you, and your family must be excited too?
I’m a local boy, Davis High, Class of 1984. My folks are 80 years old and still live in Davis, and my sister lives in Sacramento with her three kids. We’ve done some really fun book clubs and book signings. I’m hugely thankful to Sacramento.
Speaking of books, what’s your favorite?
For humor, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. And for pure writing, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s a repulsive subject but pure art.
What’s still on your bucket list?
My wife and I have two boys, 16 and 11, and I want to take them to Africa. I want to take them on safari, but I also want them to see the villages and Africa from a real local perspective.
There’s something compelling about the developing world and Africa, in particular. There are surveys on optimism and Africa routinely comes out on top. The continent that has the least is filled with people who are most optimistic. And you feel the warmth and openness in the villages, with 20 kids rushing up to you and wanting to hug your leg. Africa is hugely inspiring. And it changes you.
We really enjoyed the conversation, Franz, and thank you for your time.
To learn more about Franz Wisner’s workshops, Brand Storytelling and Memoir Writing, and to reserve a seat, please visit www.cce.csus.edu/workshops.