Wednesday, April 02, 2014



            Good writing – inspiration – stems from obsession. That obsession can reflect general issues like love or loss, or specific things like red shoes or pop stars.
One of my own personal obsessions, which began back when I was a teenager living in Glen Rock, New Jersey, is Pat Boone. Pat Boone is a singer who catapulted to fame by winning Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour: think American Idol but on black and white TV. I loved his music, his wholesome image. My new book, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, stems from this preoccupation with him.
What I came to understand later, as an adult, as a writer, is that, to me, he isn’t just an idol, or an idle crush.

The Path to Pat Boone

       After publishing two memoirs, one about surviving child abuse, and a subsequent one about sexual addiction (examples of dark obsessions), an unlikely event led me to write this third memoir. Several decades after my original teenage crush, I happened to see a photograph of Pat Boone in my local newspaper – a newspaper I hardly ever even glance at. The photo was an advertisement for his concert, twenty minutes from my home in West Michigan.
What choice did I have but to attend? And after the concert, given my obsession, what choice did I have but to barge backstage in order to tell Pat Boone what he meant to me while growing up? In a rush of garbled words (would I be unceremoniously thrown out by his road manager, staring at me aghast?), I told him about my scary childhood. I told him how he, Pat Boone, represented hope, safety, belonging.
After all, since my Jewish father hurt me, how could I help but fall in love with Pat Boone, whose squeaky-clean Christian image – this father of four daughters – represented a good parent? He was an antidote to my own father. Really, I’d always wanted Pat Boone to adopt me.
But in lieu of adoption, and now an adult, I could at least write about him! And in the writing process I was able to explore this obsession in much greater depth, metaphorically.

How Individual Obsessions Work Together to Form a Whole

            In The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, three separate encounters with Pat Boone frame my quest to belong to the dominant religion. Because this book is a collection of linked essays, I also explore other obsessions, some humorous, some sad: Charlie Chaplin, John Travolta, an Israeli paratrooper, Volkswagen campers (not a good obsession), the TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, and more.
            However, all these essays, all these obsessions, advance the overall theme of the book: a life-long spiritual crisis – a quest for identity – resulting from child abuse. During the revision process, if something didn’t fit, it was deleted. In order to earn its place in the book, each essay, each obsession, had to embody the theme.

All Our Obsessions are Important

             The word “obsession” can have negative connotations, but, for a writer, being obsessed means engaging with the world. The trick is to transform that obsession into a metaphor that enlightens some aspect of the writer’s life.  
I write what I’m passionate about – even if these things are dark or scary. I use obsessions as motivation, as inspiration to write. What do my obsessions reveal about me – these forces that shaped me?
What are some of your obsessions? What do they reveal about you?

The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew


Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

Publication Date:
March 1, 2014

248 pages

Gentile reader, and you, Jews, come too. Follow Sue William Silverman, a one-woman cultural mash-up, on her exploration of identity among the mishmash of American idols and ideals that confuse most of us—or should. Pat Boone is our first stop. Now a Tea Party darling, Boone once shone as a squeaky-clean pop music icon of normality, an antidote for Silverman’s own confusing and dangerous home, where being a Jew in a Christian school wasn’t easy, and being the daughter of the Anti-Boone was unspeakable. And yet somehow Silverman found her way, a “gefilte fish swimming upstream,” and found her voice, which in this searching, bracing, hilarious, and moving book tries to make sense of that most troubling American condition: belonging, but to what?

Picking apricots on a kibbutz, tramping cross-country in a loathed Volkswagen camper, appearing in a made-for-television version of her own life: Silverman is a bobby-soxer, a baby boomer, a hippy, a lefty, and a rebel with something to say to those of us—most of us—still wondering what to make of ourselves.


Sue Williams Silverman, Author
Sue William Silverman’s new memoir is The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew. Her two other memoirs are Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, which is also a Lifetime TV movie, and Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, which won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs award in creative nonfiction. Her craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir.  As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and more.  She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Thanks for stopping by! 


Jodi Webb said...

Obsessions? Well of course there's chocolate! And dahlias. And do I have to say books (as I stare at a wall full of over 400 books -- I counted them when I was on bedrest with my younger daughter)

Caroline Clemmons said...

Thanks to Sue for sharing with us today. I apologize for the white space around your blurb. Have no idea why that happened. Cyberspace did it again.

I agree with Jodi--chocolate and books are among my top obsessions. And writing, of course!

Sue Silverman said...

Ha! Yes, chocolate is one of my obsessions, too! But I love that you counted 400 books, Jodi! That's impressive.

And thank you so much, Caroline, for this opportunity to be your guest!