Telling a life story, house by house: Susan Woodall of Madison pens a memoir

My Address Book

Susan Woodall loves houses–and you’ll see why when you read her new memoir, My Address Book: A Way of Remembering. Susan was a Realtor for years, as well as the daughter of an interior designer. When she describes a house, she includes things most of us might not think of.

More poignant, though, is what each house has meant in her life, how each has shaped who she is today.

Visit her website at, or buy her book at

It’ll get you thinking about your own houses, we promise!

Susan Woodall

Tell us about your book.

This book is a memoir of sorts, and a tribute to the homes I’ve lived in over my lifetime.

How did you first know that you wanted to write this story? What were the factors that engaged you from the beginning?

I got the idea for the book in 1992, when it became apparent that I would be moving from the East Coast, where I had spent my entire life, to the Midwest.  I wanted to record the places I’d lived in, as I thought I would never see them again. But life has its own twists and turns, and I am now back in the land of my birth.

Additionally, I have always loved houses and real estate.  My mother was an interior decorator and I spent almost 17 years as a real estate broker. So, I’ve been attuned to houses, décor, and real estate values. I’ve tried to incorporate these values, and a bit of history, into the book.

What was it in particular about this story that made you know it needed to be in a book that you would write?

This is a story (not the story) of my life framed by where I lived and my recollections of those places and what I was doing at the time. I knew that organizing the story by addresses would be a unique and specific way to relate my life.

Were you ever frustrated by having to stick to the facts of the story?

My only frustration was in trying to be as accurate as possible about the facts. I relied on photographs, letters, journal entries, the internet, and other sources to keep the facts as accurate as I could.

 Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

 The writing of the book came very easily to me. I have always wanted to write and publish, but I’d been inhibited by some haunting words to the effect of, “Who do you think you are and what do you think you have to say that hasn’t already been said?!”  It’s taken me a long time to overcome that emotional and personal obstacle.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book?

For this book, once I had the framework scoped out, I just wrote chapter by chapter. Each chapter is like a little story and each one is linked to the next one.

When did you first know you were a writer?

As a child, I’d always loved writing letters, even thank-you letters! And then when I was a junior in high school, I entered a Scholastic Writing contest, and won third place nationally. I then knew I could write convincingly.

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

 Do I procrastinate??? Only for about 40 years have I procrastinated.  Once I have the urge to write, I just go and do it. But, in the process of doing a long piece, which I’m now in the middle of, my procrastination takes one of two forms.  The first and most obvious is surfing the internet. I’m already at the computer, and it’s so easy to drift.

But the more insidious form of procrastination is that little voice inside my head that keeps questioning the validity of what I’m writing.  I guess you’d call it mind-fxxxxxg.  That’s the hardest to overcome.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

I think better in writing than I do in conversing. My thoughts come out more clearly and I can see issues and solutions much more rationally, so that gives me great pleasure.  But the biggest pleasure comes often when someone has read my work and tells me how they’ve related to it, or enjoyed reading it or best yet, learned something from it.

I once wrote an editorial in a small-town newspaper. It was about a civil rights issue locally that was going to be voted on by the town council the day the column appeared in the paper. I went to the meeting that night, hoping that my point of view would prevail.  Much to my surprise, there were a number of people gathered there, with my column in their hands, declaring that they were there that night because of my column.  My writing had influenced people enough to come out and act on something. I was so gratified that the town council voted as I had hoped.  I then saw first-hand the power of the pen.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

Just do it.