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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E47. What's Your Story Really About? with Ruby Peru

Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.

Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Hi everyone, Francisco here. Just before we get started, I wanted to share something I'm really excited about. I recently launched the story powers bootcamp, a course that teaches you everything you need to know about how to find craft and tell stories that work. But it's not just an online course, because you get personalised feedback from me for all the practical activities in three hours of life coaching to work through any challenges, or focus on specific projects. So it's like if you bought a cookbook, but the chef came along with it. So go to story and click on Course, all the information you need will be there. So please check it out. And if you love the show, and would like to support us, you can go to buy me a forward slash story powers. I drink about five coffees a day, so any support would be much appreciated. All right on with the show.

Welcome to the story powers podcast, a show about the power of stories, the people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco mahfuz. My guest today is Ruby Peru. Ruby has spent decades as a ghostwriter of memoirs and other nonfiction for clients, and she is the best selling author of bits of string to small to save. She was also featured by Kirkus Reviews in the indie authors to watch list. When she's not writing her own fiction or helping others bring the stories to life. Ruby spends her time like a mad Victorian inventor, trying to convince her dog to sleep with her on a bed that suspended a dangerous distance from the ground. Ladies and gentlemen, Rooby Roo. Ruby, welcome to the show.

Ruby Peru 1:45

Hi, Francisco. Thank you for that very colourful entrance. I, I realise you must have listened to some of my other podcasts.

Francisco Mahfuz 1:54

I always do. I usually don't stop with the with the research until I have something very weird. In your case, it was pretty easy to find something weird.

Ruby Peru 2:05

There's always something weird.

Francisco Mahfuz 2:08

Did I imagine this? Or did you say that you really liked those old lifts, like the super mechanical ones that you have to open or I'm, I'm in Barcelona, and we have those lifts everywhere. And I think if you had lived with one for a tiny little bit, you would have used and feel the same? Because when you have to I have small kids. So you have small kids, and you you know have some groceries or whatever and then you have to press a button, then you have to open one door, then you have to open another door, then you close the foot of the first door and then

Ruby Peru 2:47

yeah, using them for practical purposes is probably there's a reason why they're not so popular anymore.

Francisco Mahfuz 2:56

They look gorgeous, but but they're not. They're not practical at

Ruby Peru 3:00

all. Yeah, okay. fairpoint

Francisco Mahfuz 3:03

talking about things that are not very practical. The one something that drew my eye to your book is right at the beginning, you have some long disclaimer about all the people that we are not going to like the book.

Ruby Peru 3:21

I wanted to preempt that right from the start. Because the thing about bits of string too small to save it is I had a lot of publishing agents look at it and turn it down. And they told me the thing about it is I wasn't thinking about marketing. When I wrote it, it was just a pure expression of my creativity. And it was it was what I wanted to write is the story that I had in my mind. And when it came to trying to publish it. People said, okay, it doesn't work for little kids, even though the main character is a little kid because the vocabulary is too high. And it's too long. And it's got too many subplots. But it doesn't work for adults, because the tone feels like a kid. And it doesn't work for men. And it doesn't work for women, it doesn't work for girls, it doesn't work for boys. And there are a million reasons why nobody would like this book, even though everybody loves it. So it doesn't fit into a particular marketing category, which is why indie published it. And I've had a lot of success with it. But I kind of thought that making a joke about that fact in the beginning would sort of let everybody know that I'm aware of the fact that this is sort of cross genre in a way that makes it unusual and weird. And let's just celebrate that and not be in denial of it.

Francisco Mahfuz 4:30

I mean, I understand the marketing approach. I understand, you know, I publish my my self publish my book earlier in the year and the last thing I was I had in mind was the marketing of it. You know, I wrote a book on public speaking and how to do it in a brutally honest way or whatever. And you know, I wanted to have a cool cover and I wanted to have a cool name and but what I wasn't thinking about this, okay, well how do I produce this in a way that it sells more or that more people are going to see see it on Amazon and feel compelled to buy it on the basis of how it's called There are the subtitle as it you know that there's some purity to the art of it. But at the same time again, understand that if your job is to sell books, you need to try and twist things in a way that that fits a certain mode that is proven to work. And you don't know that whatever you did, that was different was going to work until it has worked,

Ruby Peru 5:23

right. That's why a lot will study marketing before they write, which is logical. But I do feel like it inhibits your creativity. Because now you're writing to a certain market, you're not just expressing what you have to express, you know, now that I know a lot about book marketing, now I do book marketing for other people. So I know a lot about it. And now I can't excise that information out of my head. So the next book that I write, I know what market to point to that, so that it will sell better. And I don't think that that inhibits my creativity. But it changes it, you know, a little,

Francisco Mahfuz 5:59

it's difficult, it's a difficult balance, always, when you're trying to serve an audience, or you're just trying to express yourself creatively in whatever are to perform me. I think that some things are done to serve an audience. And I think most artists would like an audience. But they're very different. If you're right, you know, in my case, you it's easy to argue that I should have paid a lot more attention to marketing. Because, you know, do I want to sell this to executives doing presentations? Do I want to sell this to the average person wants to get better at public speaking? So I didn't have that question. 100% clear in my head. And that perhaps is one reason why the book didn't just take off. Whereas if I could have written three different books for three different audiences, and each one of them would have had more take up if it was focused on that audience. I find it difficult to apply that to fiction, particularly the sort of magical realism fiction that you wrote

Ruby Peru 6:56

here while they do it. In the world. My book is not a young adult book. That's what I discovered, after doing a lot of research into children and young adult literature, I discovered, okay, this is not, I did have an agent say she'd be interested in working on it with me and trying to find a publisher, if I would totally rewrite it in a much more simplistic style. It's a 400 page book. And I was like, it's not even the work that would go into it. It's the fact that my writing style is my writing style. To me, that's the whole point of the book. And if I rewrote it, it would be a different book. And it wouldn't be me. But my point is that the way they do the way they market, young adult fiction and children's fiction is they have all these rules, like children like to read about characters that are slightly older than them. And in each age range, like you have books for like four to seven year olds, and like seven to 10 year olds, like it's all broken down like that. And kids at each in each phase can understand a certain complexity of concepts. And they have, they're expected to have a certain vocabulary. Individual kids, of course, vary all over the place. But when you're marketing, you're marketing to a kind of predictable niche of kids that have a certain amount of intellectual power and a certain amount of vocabulary knowledge. So everything has to be written within those parameters, which are extremely tight. So my hat goes off to people who actually write for kids and for young adults, because it's an extremely like, the, the parameters of what you can do are really limited. And you have to be creative within those guidelines very tightly.

Francisco Mahfuz 8:31

What I find strange, but perhaps not surprising about anyone looking at that, at your book, will probably say something about the book. Otherwise, vision goes over most people's heads. So I read the book, and I really liked it. And what the book reminded me of was, the notice was in third point, this was intentional, but it's in tone it to me, it seemed like a very modern retelling of a Ellison Wonderland type of adventure, which also reminded me a lot of a lot of magical realism that I've read a lot when I was younger. So I'm from Brazil, originally, and South America, there's a big tradition of, of magical realism, where just all this crazy stuff happens in the middle of a normal narrative, and no one remarks on it a great deal. So we know that some kid has that breaks up with a boyfriend starts crying and the crying goes on and then floods up out of the house. And no one talks about this, this is a weird thing. It's just, you know, something that happens. And I'm very used to that type of literature, even though it's been many years and maybe a few Salman Rushdie novels back that I read something that had that type of element. But that's sort of a proven style. I mean, this you know, you didn't invent that. I just I think maybe it's a style that perhaps fell out of views.

Ruby Peru 9:51

Well, thank you. That's a big compliment. I mean, I I would love for my book to be successful in the category of magical realism because that's how I think of it as Well, but yeah, I don't know. I mean, I didn't study what other people are doing. When I wrote this. The way I wrote it was, I had a job teaching preschool. And I used to get the kids in a circle every morning and tell them a long, elaborate story where each one of them was in the story. And whatever was going on in their lives, or whatever little hairstyle they had, or something was part of the stories, I would integrate it all into that. And it was this huge creative experience for me that really built up my my storytelling ability, and the kids would love it, people would come by and be like, Why is your classroom so quiet? Like cuz I'm just telling a story. And they're just absolutely wrapped in attention. And after I quit that job, I ended up getting a corporate job writing for a magazine, that was not very interesting. And I felt like all that creativity is just going to go down the drain. But it was across the street from a library. So after work every day, in order to just keep my creativity alive, I would go across the street to the library, and spend an hour writing and trying to keep alive that storytelling ability that I developed with the kids. And it did start out feeling like I'm going to write a kind of Alice in Wonderland tale, and it had the same tone to it that I used with the kids. So it has a kind of, I compare it to Lemony Snicket for adults. So it has a kind of sing songy storytelling quality, especially in the beginning. And then it just starts going off on to a bunch of different subplots that basically reflected what was going on in my life at the time. So the rule that I had for myself was I have to be having fun. The whole point of this is to keep my soul alive while I'm in this corporate job. So if it turns into work, what's the point, you know, so I would just take crazy elements like sort of ordinary elements from my life and put them together into interesting characters and situations in the fantasy world of the book. For instance, the character grandma, one of the main characters, she's a combination between my landlady at the time, who has this wonderful big hearted sort of grandmother character, and my boyfriend at the time who loved cars. And so she's a grandma who loves hot rods, drives Hot Rods, and fixes them. And she's, uh, she's one character was a combination of two real people. And that's how I created some of the interesting characters and situations by just taking real life elements and putting them together to create something that was interesting and kept me entertained.

Francisco Mahfuz 12:20

Something I wanted to ask you about. Because it's not something I see a lot in in books, at least not in books that are for adults, was the the visuals. So your book has a number of illustrations in the beginning of each chapter, which are very distinctive. Why did you choose to do that?

Ruby Peru 12:38

Well, I wanted the book. Going back to the Alice in Wonderland theme, I wanted the book to look like one of those classic children's books like Alice in Wonderland, where there are illustrations in it. But it's not, it's not a comic book. It's not an illustrated novel, it's just got a few illustrations in it or like 1001, Arabian Nights, there are a lot of like sort of classic stories that tend to be published with these really beautiful kind of pen and ink drawings that are really detailed. And I love that I've always loved those kind of books. So wanted it to look like that. Even though it's not a story for kids, it looks like a classic children's storybook because I like that look,

Francisco Mahfuz 13:16

that's drew my eye because when I talk to people I work with about storytelling, one thing I tell them not to do is they all don't show. So people love, you know, corporate presentations, things of that nature, to get a visual of whatever they're talking about. And sometimes that visual becomes limiting, because you're talking about in our beauty, an amazing trip, and then you put a beach picture, or a mountain picture on your slides. And then You've now made it more difficult for me to imagine a completely different holiday than the one you just put there. So we didn't say no let people co create and don't limit it. But we're talking about very different things here. What you did, and what what I what I thought about it when I saw it. So the book is your first fiction work but but what you do as your day job is your your ghostwriter. And you write a lot of memoirs, one of the first questions I have when I think about that is this idea of of a story that is either already there, or that the person that's hiring you already has in their mind contrasted to this person has a whole bunch of things about their life they want to talk about, but that's perhaps not the narrative, the narrative thread that you see when you talk to them. So what I wanted to understand a bit better is how much the first case where they come to you with a story they think is already there is the case and how much is it while I want to talk about my life, but they have no idea what the actual story is.

Ruby Peru 14:55

Well, I've written 20 memoirs, so I've had clients From all over both of those two different spectrums, some people come to me knowing that they want to, like, impart the sort of the lessons that they've learned in life through their life story, but they don't really know what part of the story is the most interesting. And in a way that makes it easier for me because I can listen to their story and pick out the parts that are the most interesting, and tell the story the way I want. And then they just trust me. Some people have an idea for how the story is going to go. And I usually have to educate them as to how stories work. Because sometimes, sometimes people think writing a memoir is about like making a long list of the things that you've done in life, I accomplished this, I did this, I achieved this, I helped all these people, I did all this, I made all this money, you know. And that's only interesting if you're famous, and people want to know about all your achievements. But for non famous people, a memoir is most interesting when you talk about not just what you did, but why you did it, what you were trying to achieve, why that was important to you, how you went about trying to achieve this thing? And then whether or not you did achieve it, or if you realise halfway through, oh, I'm doing this for the wrong reason, or I'm achieving the wrong thing. And then at one point, at what point did you change your mind about what you wanted in life, change your your actions as a result and go in a different direction. So the inner story is, what's more important when you're telling a memoir? And the story of your achievements? It's part of that, but it's not the thing that fascinates people the most.

Francisco Mahfuz 16:29

Yeah, you said, I find that what people find interesting about their own lives is actually not what's most interesting to others. Yeah, and, and 100%, I have the same experience I, I have often speak to people, because you know, what I do is try to teach them how to use storytelling, to improve their overall communication in a business scenario. And everybody says, they don't have any stories. And then you ask them about some really basic things in their life, you know, what's the last time you were wrong about something? What's the last time you really frustrated? And then they come out with this very colourful stories that their mind, just oh, that's just like, normal, everyday stuff. But what when, when it comes to a memoir? How often do you need a payoff from whatever experiences people are having for that narrative to work? Because in most of the stories, you know, identity with oral storytelling, and that you're talking about minutes, right? So you know, something you can tell in two or three minutes, sometimes a bit more, but very rarely that much more than that. So it's a memoir. So it's something in theory, we're not interested by default in that story. So how often do you need to have those realisations? How often do you have some sort of learning for that narrative to work?

Ruby Peru 17:46

Well, let me give you an example of a book I wrote a couple years ago, the basic story is, this family is for four sons, and their mother who's a single mother, and she raised them on a farm on an organic farm and her mission in life was to become an organic farmer and like, really improve the world of American agriculture with organic farming. And also to let her kids although she had grown up in a kind of suburban environment, she thought it was better for her kids to grow up on a farm and to kind of like totally freeform, do whatever you want out on the land kind of thing. So she had a certain philosophy that she raised her kids with. And what happened was she tragically died of cancer when they were in their sort of like teens and early 20s. And then they all had to figure out what to do with the farm, did they want to keep the farm and run it, it had been just absolutely dead broke farmer was not successful at all. So it was sort of their family legacy, but they kind of hated it for making them broke all their lives, but they kind of loved it, because it was what they were. It was their background, right. And so then in the end, they ended up making it into one of the most successful organic farms in America. And there was a lot of other stuff in the story as well. And he gave me this whole story, and I had to go, Alright, how am I going to frame the story? Where does it begin? Where does it end? Right? So for me, there was a, there's a, there's a sub story in this larger story that was so interesting to me that I made it the ending of the book, because to me, it represented everything. And the sub story is this, these four brothers, they were very close. But then when their mother died, there was all this infighting in the family, and that really broke the family completely apart. And I think a lot of people have had a death in the family. I've experienced that. I know I have, how just the one person who held the family together, you don't even realise it until they're gone. And then it's like everybody doesn't know what to do. And what happened was about a year later, they got into this huge fistfight with each other, and it was a knockdown drag out fistfight. But these boys, they fought each other all the time. That was the way they grew up. They were fighters, you know, and this fight kind of released all the tension in the family. And at the end of it, they were all laughing and this fight was what brought them back to together as a family, and I thought that was so interesting because it, it shows their unique family culture, from being boys with no girls, or they've never known any girls their whole lives growing up, it was just the boys on the farm. And so they grew up in this way where they created this little culture in this world of their own. And this is how they genuinely solved problems. And they really solved this huge problem in that way. And my client didn't see that fistfight as like a pivotal moment in his family's life. But I did, because everything was different after that. And it's also really funny that something like that is actually what brought the family back together instead of tearing it apart. You know, so I use that as the ending of the story. He thought the story took place over about like a 10 year span. And I said, No, this, the most interesting part of the story takes place between when your mom dies, and that fistfight, that's where all the drama in the family plays out. People trying not to fight was kind of what broke them apart. And then when they finally allowed themselves to fight, it brought them back together. And it was something that showed how unique their family was, to me that fight epitomise the whole story. So that's kind of an example of how I take somebody's story and then figure out here's what I think is interesting. And here's what I think is significant.

Francisco Mahfuz 21:23

I guess the challenge with with any story we're trying to tell is to understand what is what is the actual story, and what is the the setup of the story, or the context for the story in what is just the the resolution the stuff that came after. And I guess that in this scenario, if them growing to you know, growing desire organic farm to be super successful, only happen after they solve the big problem, which is they were trying to kill each other, then the killing that they're almost trying to kill each other is the that is the story. Everything else just needs to to inform that. And then what comes after is just sort of the consequences of that. The actual building of the farmers perhaps not that interesting, because most of the conflict was already left behind. At least that's what I get from, from from telling me the big

Ruby Peru 22:15

conflict of this story was they couldn't do each of the four of them had different ideas. One of them absolutely hated the farm never wanted to return to it. The one who the guy who was my client was the middle child of the family. And he was very much on both sides of the fence about he hated the farm too. But he was very good at farming. And then there were two other brothers and they each were pursuing other careers. So when the mom died, everybody didn't know what to do about the farm. And it was very emotional. And so to me, the conflict of the story was the inner conflict of deciding what to do about the farm. It wasn't the outer conflict of how do we make this farm successful, because they weren't even sure if they wanted to keep it in the beginning. To me, that was a much more interesting conflict to focus on. Because there was a point after the fist fight where that the middle child, the one who was my client, made a decision. And he said, I'm keeping this farm and I'm gonna make it successful. And he made this decision, largely because his family finally came back together, and they trusted him to make that decision. And to me, that was a much more interesting plotline, then just saying, like, here are all the things I did to make the farm successful, this is this, you know, we bought this equipment, we did this, blah, blah, blah, business, blah, blah, blah, you know, that's kind of a different story, that's more of a business story, how to be successful, just on a basic step by step method, you know,

Francisco Mahfuz 23:42

in perhaps what what's important is always to make the story to find what makes the story relatable and relevant to other people. If it's a story about how you create an organic farm, that's one story that a very limited number of people are going to be able to read and take anything from, and it's still probably not going to be a particularly exciting read. Because it's going to be a menu of do this and do that. And you know, that's not a memoir, as more of a how to than anything else. If it's a story about, you know, family conflict, and struggling with decisions that you just don't know, what's the right, the right or wrong of them. Who cannot relate to that type of story, although those are universal. Exactly.

Ruby Peru 24:24

Yes, it makes it relatable because family conflict is something everybody can relate to. And sibling dynamics is also another thing. You know, to me, I find that interesting, because I've come from a family of all girls, and he comes from a family of all boys, and we have our unique ways of not solving problems. And they have their unique ways of not solving or solving problems, which are just devised from the innate differences between girls and boys, women and men and country people and city people and stuff like that. So what

Francisco Mahfuz 24:53

does the interview process look like? So they come to you they say, Oh, this is what I want to tell you about and then when you start out Same question, is it? Is it a sort of chronological interview? Or do you make it very strategic about, you know, what was the turning point of that? And, you know, how does that work? Normally,

Ruby Peru 25:14

it's never chronological because people don't tend to remember things in order, it's okay, if they want to do it chronologically, it's fine with me. But they never succeed, because it's just not how memory works. So I tell people, just my job is to take all their memories and put them in order. That's part of what I do for them. So they will tell me, and I said, you know, start with whatever you feel like talking about right now, usually, there's something that's burning some memory that's burning in their mind to talk about, and they'll say, but it's not the first thing. It's not, it's not where the story begins, it doesn't matter. My job is to hear you, essentially, you remember things in snippets. And oftentimes, you remember things in images, you know, this memory, that memory, this memory that I take it all in, and I record the conversations, and then I transcribe all the recordings, and then I put them in order. And then I create a timeline of all these events, and I give it back to the client. So they can see their memories in order, which they're not usually able to actually remember them in order. So it creates, it allows them, it gives them a whole new way to look at their life and go, Oh, yeah, that is the order or else they'll realise, you know, they'll they'll fix it. If there's anything that's not an order, and then we'll have all the memories in order. So getting that chronological order is work. And that's the first part of the work that I do.

Francisco Mahfuz 26:30

What is harder when you're doing that that work? Is it the story part of it? Or is it the voice part of it,

Ruby Peru 26:38

the story part just has to do with, if you know how to build a plot, you can take any real story and go okay, well, here's the turning point, here's the central conflict. And then here's the part where the hero goes on a quest or whatever, you can find those elements in a real story, if you know how to build a plot. So the more difficult and also interesting part of the process is, is developing the voice, which usually the attempt, my attempt to make it like the client's real voice only enhance for the purposes of a book, but it needs sometimes a client has a favourite author. And they'll say, Oh, I really want this I had one client who loved Jeannette walls, she said, I wanted to read like half broke horses, you know, I wanted to have that type of storytelling style. And I'm good at imitating different authors. It's so I can say, Oh, that makes it easy for me. If you tell me an author that you want to imitate their style, then I can do that. You know, and but a lot of times, a lot of people who hire me to write books don't actually read a lot of books. So sometimes they don't have a style. So I will listen to them talk. And then I'll pick out books, different authors that I know and go, do you like this? Do you like this, and my imitation of that person style is never so spot on that somebody will go, Oh, you're doing exactly this, nobody would know. It's just that I'm using it as a guide. And it's fun, because sometimes the style is funnier than the person really is. And then somebody reads your book and goes, Oh, you were secretly funny all this time. And you know, it's fine with me if they claimed that it was their idea.

Francisco Mahfuz 28:14

I don't know if I had ever thought about this before. But when you said it now, I remembered that when I was, I don't know 13 or 14, there was a writer back in Brazil called Luis Fernando very similar. And he had a very distinct style of writing. And he had this character that it was kind of a sort of home, not homeless, but down the hill down the hill. Detective, and he always got into this weird situations whenever for some, I mean, I really liked that writer in my I created a character that was a poorer version, poorer drunker version of that character. And I could do the, I could write it very close to what he wrote, you know, at least for a 1314 year old sensibility. So when I used to turn in those essays, people love them, because it just read like one of those authors. And I never thought stop to think that if you are trying to use someone else's style, or a similar style, in some ways, it makes it a lot easier than trying to find a voice that feels authentic to you. Because when I when I started writing more, that was the hardest part is was finding a way to write that felt like it was me. I don't know, I don't know to what extent that extends because I never really tried writing someone else's style now other than when I'm making fun of Cormac McCarthy but that's that's that's very easy to do.

Ruby Peru 29:42

Everybody I mean, the thing is, everybody is a result of their all the things that they in their environment that they've seen and heard and read and known. So we we are not entities who exist, like separate from other things. So the more things that you read, the more it informs whatever style you will have So you can think of if you've read a style that you like, you can think of yourself as copying that style. But most likely, you're just resonating with that style. And most likely, you won't copy it so well that people will immediately know that you're copying it, they'll just realise that your style is somewhat similar to that if they've also read that, you know, there's nothing wrong with copying somebody's style, because unless you're really good at it, no one's gonna notice. It's just something that informs clearly you're accepting, this is what I like, and I want to do it like that. And then you'll end up doing it in your own way.

Francisco Mahfuz 30:33

It's a strange type of reinvention, where you say, you know, I am not the Hemingway type. I mean, I really like Hemingway. Some of my favourite books are from him, but I'm not his style was very different than mine, you know, he's very, very economical with words is the heart of the you know, the iceberg, all of that he doesn't talk about feelings. Um, I'm the, the anti Hemingway. But I like his styles. There's an element of like, I really like to be cool like that. So when you write Can you write like that? So if people go You're, you're much deeper than I thought. Yeah,

Ruby Peru 31:09

I that's, I feel that way, too. There's a lot of writers where I like their style. And I could never be that, but I like it. It's refreshing to me to be able to, like read something that is that has less emotion in it than what I put in my books. It's it's relaxing. You know?

Francisco Mahfuz 31:25

I think he's got a few whenever I watch any TV show, where the dialogue was written by Aaron Sorkin, I just wanted to live in a world that everybody was that witty. It's not like every every dialogue is monitored. It's fast paced, and it's full of references, and it's humorous. And then you talk to normal people. And it's like, this conversation should be a lot more than this.

Ruby Peru 31:47

Why doesn't interesting as a movie. I mean, I always, when I watch TV shows and things where whenever we're on TV, young people are represented as having such incredible ability to like, they're always so much wiser than young people, really, our I mean, high school students on TV are so deep. And I'm like, that's not the way it was you barely

Francisco Mahfuz 32:14

have you watched Cobra Kai, I guess I had to meet a pretty good example of what what teenagers are like, I don't think they've taken many, many liberties there. But but it's perhaps one of those weird things about storytelling in written format, which is, it's very difficult to write as a, as an author, 13 or 14 year old, really, if you generally write the way, like particularly 14 year old boy, if you wrote the way I thought when I was a 14 year old, it would be very difficult to carry a book that way, you know, one, you'd have to edit most of the thoughts out, but but also, it will have to be mostly plot, because the inner life wouldn't be rich enough to carry the book by itself. So yeah, I think we all take it with a pinch of salt, how much how perceptive the narrator is, if you're using a first person narrator, I sense this a lot when I read books, and I think how cool these characters are, they can always tell what's going to happen. They can read people's expressions in a way that I never been able to do in my life. And I just think that as you know, they're cool hero characters. This is not a real person, real people are not that perceptive.

Ruby Peru 33:25

Well, that ties into an important point about writing memoir, which is that young people have a rich inner life, but they don't usually have the ability to express it, you know. So when you're writing memoir, I'm working on a memoir of my own right now, that goes back to around the age of 11 to 13. And as an adult, I can look back on experiences, I had that and give a lot explain a lot of the depth of feeling that was going on that I did not have the words for at the time. And also when you're a kid, you have no perspective, you don't know how your, your experience is different from other people's experience. When you get to be an adult, you you've had so many experiences, you know that, you know, if you were a certain type of kid, there were also other types of kids and and you understand the difference between your life and other people's lives. So when I'm writing my memoir of myself as a child, now, I can put a lot and it's fun. And it's funny to put a lot of adult understanding of what was really going on into the description. Because a lot of times when people write memoirs, they think if you write your memoir of yourself as a child, you have to talk about only what you understood as a child, which is not true at all. Well, you understand that jet was very boring. Children don't understand that much. So you have to put in your adult understanding of what was going on as a child and that makes it much more richer story.

Francisco Mahfuz 34:49

What I think about when when I think about that subject is the dangerous of which I think everyone that is a little bit into storytelling falls into it. is the danger of always making everything into a story that starts at one point and gets to another point where I've seen, I've seen this a lot with people that are, that are speakers or they're entrepreneurs, is this, this reflex of saying, Oh, I'm working in this thing now, because when I was a child, and everything is, well, that has to be the starting point for this. And that creates more of, I don't know, a purpose or an expertise or whatever in what I wonder is, knowing what we know now about how memory works, that there is no such thing as a memory that you just that you remember you in a way you remake the memory every time you remember. And if you influenced in a particular way, you will just remember it in a way that didn't actually happen. That wasn't what you were thinking at the time. That might not have been your motivation at the time. But now you've you've recreated the memory to suit that narrative. So I wonder how much there is the risk of trying to find a reason or a context that was make sense. Now book perhaps wasn't what was actually going on back then.

Ruby Peru 36:07

The thing is, there are so many things going on at any given time, that you can pick and choose which aspect of that story is the important story. Like I recently, I'm working on a story right now about when I was a kid, that movie Greece came out. And all the little girls were obsessed with this move with this movie and the music, it was an obsession. And there are a lot of different levels, I can tell the story on one level, I was kind of left out of this because I wasn't allowed to see the movie because Olivia Newton, John turns into a sled at the end. And so on the one hand, there's like, oh, sadness, and unfairness. And on the other hand, I was determined to learn at recess, the girls used to do the dances. And I was determined to learn these dances. So another element of story is my determination and all the things I did to try to get involved in this world that I that I didn't have access to. Right. And then there's another element that I find interesting comparing to how girls were playing at the time with how boys are playing and why. Why were we drawn? It was like, the things that girls did were so obvious, it was the only thing that you would do dancing to this music, what else would you do? And the little boys were like playing baseball, what else would you do? You know, and it's sort of interesting how people are pre programmed to do certain things you don't know why you do the things that you do. And these are all three different ways of telling the same exact story. That all exists. And it's my choice, which aspect of the story I'm going to emphasise.

Francisco Mahfuz 37:36

I loved that movie. But I made the mistake of watching it again. Not that long ago, maybe three, four years ago, your parents thought that the biggest problem of that movie was that John wears those trousers at the end and acts what would be considered flirty at the time. There is because no one at the time realise how rapey That movie was? is about the guys trying essentially trying to rape whoever the with that how much did she get? Did you get very far did she put up a fight? He locks himself in a room with a girl and says you're not getting out of here into your put out.

Ruby Peru 38:17

I don't actually know what I'm probably all of that came into play. My parents didn't sit me down and tell me why it wasn't allowed to see it. They just they actually didn't tell me I wasn't allowed to see it. They just kept on finding reasons not to take me to the movie theatre. They're like, Oh, well, today we're doing something different. And like hula until finally the movie went out of town. And they were like, Oh, well, too late. And I knew that they were doing this on purpose. But I didn't really know. What about the movie? Well, I wasn't allowed to see it, you know, and they wouldn't really admit that I wasn't allowed to see it because they knew how much I wanted to see it. So you know, I don't know, I've never asked them about I understand there's a lot in that movie. That's really weird.

Francisco Mahfuz 39:04

It's it's so many movies just don't age particularly well. But it's, I think that the rule should be if you loved it when you were a child are very young. Don't watch it again. Yeah, don't show it to your children. I think so movies is made. No, I've watched The Princess Bride the other day. And that's fine. I couldn't spot anything particularly horrendous there. I think the Wizard of Oz is fine. So we can maybe I can maybe try and show my my girls that. But stuff like Greece. I mean, there's just I mean, you can show them as this is a movie. We all thought it was okay back then. And just see them horrified about this.

Ruby Peru 39:40

And also, you know, like my parents grew up in the 50s. And I'm sure my mom was very aware of a lot of that stuff. And she was glad that we weren't in the 50s anymore and didn't want me to experience that world. And that was probably a wise decision, you know. So the story isn't about whether or not that was a wise decision on my parents. It was just about the experience. I having, you know,

Francisco Mahfuz 40:01

I've heard you say this before, but I'm not sure I got the answer when you explained it. How do you define the difference between a biography and a memoir?

Ruby Peru 40:11

Okay. A memoir is typically about a part of your life that you want to talk about where a biography tends to be about your whole life. So people who have biographies written about them are usually famous people who people want to know, how did you get to be famous what happened in your whole entire life, they're usually not for entertainment purposes. They're just for like factual purposes, whereas a memoir is typically more for entertainment purposes.

Francisco Mahfuz 40:37

I've also seen you talk about how you like the idea of telling of writing a memoir, as a sequence of short stories instead of one longer narrative. And one of the things you said about about that is that you think it, it's easier to be funny when you're doing that, yeah. Why?

Ruby Peru 40:55

Well, all of the memoirs that I've written for clients have been longer have been full, lengthy narratives. And this all started with a COVID-19 thing last year, because I had more people interested in hiring me who had less money, and I was trying to figure out a way that I could help them that would be less work for me and less expensive for them. And what I realised was because people remember their lives in snippets, if they can pick out short stories that they want written, I can write short stories for them. And then they don't have to pay me a huge bundle up front to write this huge book, you know. And also, I'm a huge fan of David Sedaris, who writes his memoir work in the short story for him. And I think that his incredibly dry humour is superduper. Funny. So when you're writing a short story, you really have to look at the story and go, What is a story really about? What what did I learn here? What does this say about the human condition? Why do I remember this? Why was this significant to me, and you stop, and you pay much more attention to that one part of the part of your overall life than you would if you were just including it in a grand sweeping memoir, you know, so it's easier to be funny, because you know, what you're being funny about, you know, that this is about, like some of the short stories I've written lately, in the memoir I'm writing one is about what I was just saying the difference between little girls and little boys, just it's an observation about the human condition. You know, another one is about how kids learn about the birds and the bees, you know, and like all the misunderstandings that usually are involved with little kids trying to figure this out, and how hard it is to understand this for little kids. And how weird it is that at a certain point in life, you just understand it magically, you know,

Francisco Mahfuz 42:44

I think there's plenty. There's plenty of divorced women out there that would argue with that.

Ruby Peru 42:49

Well, I mean, you know, like in adolescence, you gain a certain understanding of what that's about, whereas a little kid has no, I dia, what you are talking about. And that's what one of the short stories is, you know, so my point is that when you're writing short stories, you have an idea of what you're really trying to say. And it's more pointed, and then you can be funny within that, because you realise that is a very funny thing. Little kids trying to understand the parents trying to tell them how sex works. And they're just like what, you know, and that's very funny. So you can be funny when you're when you have a more clear idea of exactly what you're saying,

Francisco Mahfuz 43:31

My daughter who's now four, she has a baby sister who's one. So when when my wife got pregnant, Alice was while she was three, or three and change. And as, as children do, she got obsessed with the whole pregnancy thing. And she started playing baby, which means that she is pregnant. And then she goes to the doctor, and she goes through all the exams and all of that. And then she wanted to know how babies come out. So we have with like, hundreds of times. Now, again, where she goes to the doctor, she complains that you know, the baby's bothering her, then she gets an epidural. But then when she can feel her legs, then I get the baby out. And I said to her one day, because basically she came out of a C section and so did her sister, because they were both breech. And then I said to her, you know that normally that's not where babies come out from. Sometimes the babies come out of the mommy's vagina, it's just like, how would they ever come out of there? That's, that's her understanding. And I think we've gotten to the purchase for we got to the point of like, the daddy puts a CD in, but I don't think we've actually explained Oh, actually, we had to explain. We had to explain how that works. Because I had a kidney stone. I had a kidney stone and that I had to tell her where kidney stones normally come out of and she said, Oh, but you know what's why? Can they just not, you know, sort of like, take it off? And I'm like, well, because if they take it off, then your mom and I can't. And I'm also gonna say, have fun and that other night, we could never make another baby. And that led into the conversation. I'm sure she'd forgotten about it already. But you made for a funny conversation at the very least. But it's there's an interesting point in there. From, from what you said, with the shorter story being more focused on understanding what the story is really about. Because what I come across a lot when people try to tell a story is that they don't usually have a moment. So this is the term in the business, storytelling world we use a lot is the moment. So what's the story really about? What's that vivid, moment full of description, where you are somewhere or someone is somewhere and it's something's happening, and you describe that in in vivid detail. And then before that, there was the context. And after that there is the payoff of the lesson being learned whatever, people normally, when, before they've been trained in any way to tell a story, they just go on forever, and give you a chronology of things. They don't focus on that specific moment where something changed, or what did they learn something. And they gassed, that there's a loose parallel there between trying to write a short story because you have to know what it's about. And if I tell someone, I've used this example, many times I say, if you want to tell me about your difficult childhood, you know your relationship with your father, for example, don't tell me about how he was for 10 years. Tell me about how it was once, maybe at Thanksgiving, and describe that in a lot of detail. And then then I understand how if you just say, No, it was always like that, then I understand how he was, if you just give me a whole bunch of statements about how I was very difficult. My father was there as my father was that I won't really feel it. Whereas if it's short format, then then I would, my last question to you is, is one about, you know, you said, you're writing your own memoir, and you gave me some examples of how you're, you're interpreting some of those events. And I don't think this is just me, I think a lot of people, even people that work with story and branding and things of that nature, it's really difficult to do it for ourselves, I find very, very difficult to write my own origin story as such. But that's exactly what you're doing. So have you just done it so much for other people that you've broken that barrier? Like when when I've gotten used to my own horrible, horrible real voice? By having to edit my podcast? Or is there something else at play here?

Ruby Peru 47:39

Yeah, it's really, it is really hard writing your own. And it's weird that I've written memoirs for other people before writing my own, because I now experiencing what my clients experience. It's more than just being emotional. It's sort of like, you write a story. And then you start to realise, okay, here's what has helped me writing memoirs. For other people. A lot of times people want to include their sour grapes in the story, you know, stuff that everybody has resentment and anger about stuff that happened in childhood and all the unfairness and this and that, and they tend to want to include that in their memoir, and I have to talk them out of it. And oftentimes, it's a lot of work to talk them out of writing a memoir that is essentially a revenge book. Nobody wants to read that nobody

Francisco Mahfuz 48:25

generally kill someone, like if there is, if there is murder, it is not clear that you did it. I will read that book.

Ruby Peru 48:37

But typically, what makes a memoir interesting is insight into your experience. So as I'm writing my book, I write the story. And then I go, Oh, no, this story is full of sour grapes. I'm so embarrassed, you know, because I know that, first of all, I'm going to do it, and I should get over it. And secondly, it's not that is not what makes the story interesting. And it's hard work to take out the sour grapes part and go, but on a deeper level, what is this story about? And then you realise things about your life that you didn't realise before he realised his story is actually not about what you thought it was about. And it really changes the story. It's a very deep experience of looking at your life again, and sort of coming to terms with everything you went through and making it Okay, getting over the sour grapes in order to write a better story.

Francisco Mahfuz 49:28

It's something I heard from other people that do story work, even if even in a context that is a lot more commercial than yours. So I have I have a friend, Cindy Linden, who does a lot of sort of branding storytelling, and she will get you get the story out of an entrepreneur or a company and then write that for them. And then the way you describe the process, I said, what you're describing is therapy. Now these people are giving all the reasons for doing these things and all the problems they had overcome and you're moulding that in to a story that they can live with, did you ever get a few when your target declines that you're you're, you were in a sense, a cheap therapist that is not going to get repeat business for 15 years?

Ruby Peru 50:12

Well, two answers to that one therapists are cheaper than me. And

Francisco Mahfuz 50:17

not if you consider that they keep their clients for 10 or 20 years,

Ruby Peru 50:22

right? Yeah, exactly true. It's a bit of a danger in my position, because oftentimes people do treat me as a therapist, and I have to remind them, a, I'm not a therapist, I'm not qualified to be a therapist. And also, I don't want to be one. I literally am a storyteller. That's what I am. That's what I want to do. And that's what you're asking me to do. So when you tell me your story, I have to often really remind them to stay focused on the story elements, and not to go into therapy land, how everything made you feel, unless it's relevant to the story. And sometimes it's hard work to make clients realise that the therapy if there is a therapeutic element to this, it's in when you receive the story back looking back at your life, and letting me show that there's more to your, to your memories than the sour grapes, there's more to your memories than your feelings. There were significant things that happened in your life that mattered. And it's, it is therapeutic, and is therapeutic for me to write my own memoir Very much so. But it's a it's a danger for for people who are working with me to see me as a therapist, because that's, it's a totally different dynamic.

Francisco Mahfuz 51:36

One thing that I've heard many times, but the most recent was from someone called Hassan yaks, who has been on the show and and in the way he describes this, he said that people want to live their own life journey. They're often as you said, they're looking at the wrong thing. They're looking at the sour grapes, they're not looking at how far they've come, he just doesn't feel like they've come so far. Because they're, they're zoomed in to what was going on day to day or month to month, year to year. But when you look at where you were at the start, and where you are now, physically, all as a person, that's usually a pretty impressive journey there for most people. And when other people who are at the beginning of that journey, see that they can learn from that they can be they can be inspired and moved by it. But it is very difficult for us to do that for ourselves. Because as you said, you know that there's the negativity bias or focusing on all the things that that annoy you that that are going wrong, and not on, on the things that are that are going right in the moment we're living in historically, with the pandemic and everything else. It's so easy to just fall into this trap of Everything Is Everything sucks. My life is miserable, and everything sucks. Whereas actually, if you take a bit of distance, or if you ask someone else does my life suck, it's like, no, you, you being

Ruby Peru 53:01

and they're like talking about their life sucks. And I'm going I've known this person for so many years, and I have to remind them, your life is exactly what you wanted it to be. If it sucks, that's that's the sucky life that you wanted. It try to enjoy it, because you got what you wanted. But I think what you said just now with about negativity bias is really on the button. Because that that is a lot of how we remember things always remembering. So the darkness and there, once you get past that in the writing, it's like you're on another level, and you can really realise there's a lot more to it than the emotional memory.

Francisco Mahfuz 53:38

Oh, no, what you said before, I think applies. Now if someone has the life they they wanted. And they think it sucks is because they are making the same mistake that your some of your clients will make when they come to you. They are thinking of life as the series of things or events, and not how they felt about them. So you know if if what you wanted when you were a geeky kid was to have a whole bunch of friends. But you confuse that with I don't know being being in good physical shape because the people that had a lot of friends were were fit and good looking. You can get fit and good looking and not feel loved. Because you're you're going for the wrong thing. And that's the reason most people get very high paying jobs because they think that they really want but that's not you just want a few competent you want to feel respected.

Ruby Peru 54:30

Yeah, I mean, ultimately getting what when we envision what we want in life, I want a spouse, I want a child, I want this job, I want this house I want to live in this place. You think those things are gonna make you happy and then when you realise you're not happy, what people often don't realise is, it's not those things that are making you happy or unhappy. That's just the condition of your life. Whatever is making you happy or unhappy has nothing to do usually with those superficial things of your life. And I think everybody realises that at a certain point, especially people who have been divorced or going through any type of major transition going, if I change my life this way, I'm gonna be happy and then realising you're still not happy because happiness isn't really about those superficial things, at least for a lot of people.

Francisco Mahfuz 55:17

You're suggesting that when I get into my, my 50s, to divorcing my current wife, and getting a much younger one, and getting a sports car is not gonna fix all my problems?

Ruby Peru 55:29

I would be willing to bet that it's not. I'm gonna lay my money on No.

Francisco Mahfuz 55:34

Yeah, okay. Okay, this is this is maybe where you're losing your Ruby.

Ruby Peru 55:40

You have plans? I sympathise with that. I'm just saying.

Francisco Mahfuz 55:47

I used to have this conversation with my wife all the time, you know, when I when I trade you up for a younger wife, and then initiate your complaint. And I said, Hold on. Do you realise you're complaining about the idea that I'm talking about about leaving you after we've been together for 30 years? It's just like, 30? Oh, no, no, no, if you're going to do it, do it after 20. There's no way I'm going to put up with you for that long to then have to go out. So you know, we're still we're still debating how what's the cutoff point for both of us? Ruby, people want to want more of you. And your book is bits of string too small to save, and it's sold everywhere books are sold. Where else can they go?

Ruby Peru 56:29

My website is Ruby So you can find out about my ghostwriting work, their editorial work, the books that I've written, links to buy my books and everything like that.

Francisco Mahfuz 56:41

Perfect. I'll put all those links in in the show notes. So thank you very much. I'm glad we managed to we managed to do this.

Ruby Peru 56:49

Thank you. It's been really an honour. Alright, everyone.

Francisco Mahfuz 56:52

Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time.

I hope you enjoy the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or a rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find this show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars tap. I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find this. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website story

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