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Marilyn Peterson Haus: On Battling Feelings of Disloyalty When Writing Memoir

Debut author Marilyn Peterson Haus discusses the surprises that came with writing her memoir, including struggling with feelings of disloyalty to her family while writing.

Marilyn Peterson Haus spent her childhood jumping in the haymow and feeding corncobs to the pigs on their farm in western Minnesota. She learned to read and write in a one-room school before riding a rickety yellow school bus seven miles to the nearest high school in a town of 700. After graduating from Augsburg College (now Augsburg University) in Minneapolis, she and her husband moved east and settled in western Massachusetts, where she raised three children, earned an MBA, and traveled internationally as a business executive. When she breaks away from working on her next book, Marilyn can be found shoveling compost around the coneflowers, hostas, and daylilies that overflow her many flower gardens. She never stops marveling at the broad shoulders of the Berkshire Hills and the contrast they present to the gloriously wide Minnesota horizon of her childhood.

Marilyn Peterson Haus

Marilyn Peterson Haus

In this post, Peterson Haus discusses the surprises that came with writing her memoir, including struggling with feelings of disloyalty to her family while writing, and much more!


Memoir 101

The goal of this course is to teach you how to structure your stories, develop your storytelling skills, and give you the tips, techniques, and knowledge to adapt your own life stories into a chronological memoir.

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Name: Marilyn Peterson Haus
Literary agent: Alexis Hurley, Inkwell Management
Book title: Half of a Whole: My Fight for a Separate Life
Publisher: Post Hill Press
Release date: June 8, 2021
Genre: Memoir/nonfiction
Elevator pitch for the book: Just when I thought I had escaped life as the child of born-again farmers on the Minnesota plains, my twin brother’s manic violence catapults me back to the fissures of my childhood—my twin’s encroaching mental illness, my mother’s blatant favoritism and the stultifying strictures of my family’s religious zealotry. Half of a Whole is a chronicle of my battle to break away from a painful past and live life on my own terms.

Half of a Whole: My Fight for a Separate Life by Marilyn Peterson Haus

Half of a Whole: My Fight for a Separate Life by Marilyn Peterson Haus

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What prompted you to write this book?

I was driven to tell the story about my intimate bonds with my twin and the devastating impact of his severe bipolar disorder on our relationship, to capture on the page my terror and my heartbreak, as well as my joyous relief when I was able to find a way to reconnect with him.

(Telling Our Family Stories: 4 Reasons Why It’s More Important Than Ever to Write Our Family Narratives)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

After I retired from my career as a business executive, I began writing a collection of short, happy pieces about growing up on a farm. I worked on the craft for several years before tackling the underlying deep and agonizing story, which became Half of a Whole. I worked with two editors, one who helped me to shape the narrative and the other to continue sculpting it. The writing and revision process took about seven years. I was fortunate to immediately find an agent, who has done a remarkable job of championing my book (kudos to Alexis Hurley!). Signing with a publisher and bringing it to the release date added another two years to the process.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? 

I was surprised that no one mentioned my age, even though I will be almost 80 when my first book is published! Only during the final publicity phase did my publicist prod a bit before suggesting that my experience might serve as inspiration for others who are reluctant to start writing because they think they are too old to publish a book. I also was surprised at the amount of diligence that is required to catch all the gremlins that sneak into the process.

(But This Really Happened: What to Include and Leave Out of a Memoir)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book? 

I didn’t realize that writing about my past would pull me right back into the intensity of my emotions, as if I were reliving what I remembered. I hadn’t anticipated the many layers I would have to peel back to get at the essence of my story. I also was taken aback by the power of my sense of disloyalty as I tried to write honestly about my twin and my family.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I want the readers to identify with me as I try to connect with a person who has a severe mental illness. I want them to cheer me on as I fight to break free from the controlling grip of someone I love. Most of all, I want them to know that they too, if they fight long enough and hard enough, can claim the freedom to live their own separate lives.

Marilyn Peterson Haus: On Battling Feelings of Disloyalty When Writing Memoir

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Write, write, and write. And when you’ve written the best manuscript you are able to write, find a good editor, who will find ways for you to make it better.

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