What a Memoir Writer Can Learn From a Novel

Today’s memoir review focuses on a novel. Huh? I’ll explain.

I’ve been wanting to read a novel by WordPress blogger Anneli Purchase for some time now, and the other day I had a long car trip so I settled into my seat with a copy of Orion’s Gift, Anneli’s 2012 novel.

Before I knew it we had arrived at our destination, and I didn’t want to put the book down. The story is part romance and part adventure, and I became caught up in the budding love story, as well as the dangerous escapades.

In the midst of all that, my memoir-writing brain started clicking away when I read what Anneli does with setting. I realized that I could learn from her about writing setting in memoir.

The story takes place, for the most part, in Baja California. Anneli has traveled and camped that area herself, and her own experiences inform the book with multi-dimensional descriptions of the area. Sometimes the reader is plunged into the natural beauty. Other times, the setting reflects the interior landscape of the characters. Kevin, one of the lovers who is beset with worries, sees the landscape this way:

Rocks, sand, cholla, ocotillo, and cardón cacti, and palo verde trees. Beautiful, yet unending and without distinguishing landmarks, and no ocean in sight. I didn’t like it. Oh, it was scenic enough, but heading out into the unknown, so late in the day, putting all my trust in people I had just met–it didn’t sit right with me.

In addition to using setting as an exterior marker for what is going on with her characters’ thoughts and emotions, Anneli uses setting as a way for her characters to interact.  Kevin has helped Sylvia in several ways, including escaping from a bandido and getting her damaged van back on the road again, but Sylvia can teach him a few things, too. When they enter the water, she advises him what to do if he runs into a stingray. Kevin says he will fight back if he has to, but then he realizes that he never fought back in his marriage that just ended–he had let his wife walk all over him.

The setting is integrated as part of the story; it’s not a bonus or addition, but an essential part of what occurs in the book. It has an effect on the plot and on the actions of the characters. The campgrounds and wilderness areas provide a backdrop for the dangers of Mexico, but the towns bring the couple in closer touch with their dangerous pasts. When Sylvia has to learn how to dress properly for the town, there is more at stake than just fitting in.

Orion’s Gift was a relaxing and engaging break from reading memoirs. I’ve already loaned it to my daughter to read.

It’s a perfect addition to your summer reading list.

Anneli writes two WordPress blogs. You can find her at Anneli’s Place and at wordfromanneli.

To find out more about Anneli and her books, click on the links below:


Links for Orion’s Gift:

Amazon.com http://amzn.to/TSNU8v

Amazon.co.uk http://amzn.to/13bba5z

Amazon.ca http://amzn.to/Zr8K3U

Smashwords.com http://bit.ly/VsEj7S



Filed under Book Review, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir writing theory, Research and prep for writing, WordPress, Writing

25 responses to “What a Memoir Writer Can Learn From a Novel

  1. Intresting – this is much like what I was just reading about what setting can do for photos, particularly of airplanes which is something I am getting into; how the placement of clouds and the angle of the camera and what it captures at that angle communicates about flight.

    • Luanne

      What a great visual way to imagine what I’m talking about here, too. I hope people read your comment because it exemplifies my point so well. I can’t wait for all your airplane shots!!!!!!

  2. I enjoyed your focus on setting here — how it can be a sort of character in fiction or memoir. A good prose writer (or poet, of course) has a feeling for the physical world and can give that feeling to the reader through imagery.

    • Luanne

      Yes, a feeling for the physical world. That’s what you really get from Anneli’s book. Setting truly is a character and one that interacts with the other characters.

  3. Thank you for that lovely review, Luanne. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed “Orion’s Gift.” I wanted to add that when my husband and I camped in Baja, we saw Orion every night in those indigo Baja skies, and as the night progressed I could roughly tell the time from Orion’s ever-changing position in the sky.

    • Luanne

      Now that is an anecdote that really shows how far away we usually are from the natural world–and how valuable camping can be. I loved your book and hope others will go to the pingback below and take advantage of the deal on your books!!!

  4. Pingback: Three Treats | wordsfromanneli

  5. You’re killing me, Luanne! Every review you write, I want to read the book. There’s nothing better than reading a book where the setting is its own character. Great review!

    • Luanne

      Jill, haha, I love it! You will love the balance in this novel between how it immerses the reader in the setting, the adventurous plot, and the love story at the center. Thanks so much for loyalty, Jill xo.

  6. I read a review of Silk for the Feed Dogs on http://www.disappearinginplainsight.com that emphasized how setting can be as much a character in a story as the characters. The novel is by Jackie Mallon. I haven’t read it (yet) but I am intrigued in part because of the setting (Milan). Anyway, your post reminded me of the review and of the importance of setting in anything we write 🙂

    • Luanne

      Marie, thanks for the link. It sounds good! Milan is one of my favorite. I left some artwork in a public restroom and when I got back it was still there! Setting is something I am always working on because I am always afraid of spending too much time on description.

  7. Now that’s what I call a positive review. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  8. You’ve written a great review of a great book, from your unique perspective. Do check out Anneli’s other books too. You won’t be disappointed.

  9. I read “Orion’s Gift” some time ago and I totally agree with you about the setting. It was like taking a road trip in Baja, California. A perfect book to take along not only if you’re going that way but also if you’re embarking on any road trip. The suspense was an added bonus. 🙂
    Great review, as always, Luanne.

  10. I’ve read two of Anneli’s books and looking forward to this one. Thank you for the review.

  11. Thanks again for hosting my book on your blog, Luanne. It’s been a pleasure meeting your followers and sharing your blogspace.

  12. This is an excellent idea to study other styles of writing, including this novel, in how to incorporate setting into your memoir. It sounds like you have a lot of new ideas and approaches, too! I am so glad you shared both the book and her techniques with us all, Luanne! Thank you!

  13. Great post Luanne!

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