How Sally Field ended up writing her super intimate memoir ‘In Pieces’

Originally posted Monday, October 15, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Sally Field's memoir "In Pieces" is the opposite of a self-aggrandizing, celebrity biography meant to cement one's place in history.

Rather, it’s a vulnerable, frank, almost voyeuristic view inside Field’s mind and her efforts to “piece” together her life’s most crucial moments into a coherent understanding of who she is as a human being.

The 71-year-old Academy-Award-winning actress, who is appearing Sunday night at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta’s 27th annual book festival, said in a recent phone interview that she sought to “show patterns in my life that had been ingrained as a child that led me to where I am today.” (Her event is sold out.)

That included her domineering stepdad and his sexual abuse, her complicated relationship with her mom and her dysfunctional relationship with the late Burt Reynolds.

Here are excerpts from the Q&A:

AJC: Ultimately, what compelled you to write the type of book you did and was this what you imagined when you first started seven years ago?

Field: I really had no concept of anything when I started it. I wrote it at first utterly for myself. I had no real thoughts I would actually publish it. When my mother passed away, I felt terribly disquieted. We had done all the right things. We had the conversations and all of the moments you feel you need to have. But when she was gone, I felt there was something wrong. There was something festering in me. I couldn't find what it was. Then serendipitously, I was asked by a good friend of mine, co founder of the Omega Institute in upstate New York to speak. Every year, they give these wonderful women in power conferences. They invite some of the world's most extraordinary women from all over the globe… She wanted me to give the keynote. I said, 'I can't do that! I have nothing to say!' She said, 'Yes you do, Sally.' And that sort of rang my bell. I had something to say.

AJC: So how did it go?

Field: I did this hour-long speech. It was very raw and personal. That was the beginning of a whole journey that led to this point.

AJC: According to the book, you dug through a lot of personal files, stuff you hadn’t ever looked at before.

Field: I knew I had to find a way to pull all the pieces of this story out, boxes I had kept with me, memorabilia I had drug from house to house but never had the courage to look at. The only way I would really force myself to dig down was to write this, to learn this new craft… That meant I had to open those boxes and go places I didn’t want to go. I needed to answer questions for myself. I needed to know what the story was. I didn’t know what it was. I began writing without any expectation where it was going. Sometimes, I would be shaking as I wrote things down and things revealed itself to me on the page.

AJC: Did you write it in fits and starts, or did you write consistently over time?

Field: I became completely obsessed with it. It was my best friend, my confidante, my companion. I had to stop from time to time to do a movie or TV show or a play on Broadway. Other things would get in the way. I would grit my teeth, set it aside and come back later. But that was probably a good thing. I was able to look at things with a fresh eye and be surprised or horrified.

AJC: Why did you keep all those journals and memorabilia if you didn’t want to look at them?

Field: I don’t know. There was some piece of me that always thought to myself that I was going to need that someday. I didn’t question it. I just kept it. I didn’t look at them until I wrote this.

AJC: This book is by no means a complete look at your career. You barely even mention “Forrest Gump”!

Field: The definition of a memoir isn’t an autobiography. It’s one thread. A memoir could take place over a year or two years in your life or one special story within your life. That’s why some people can write four or five memoirs.

AJC: How did you end up turning these private thoughts into a book?

Field: I didn't want a book deal at first. Many people over the years have asked me to write a memoir. Or have someone else write it for me. I'd think to myself, 'You have no idea what my story is!' I didn't know what it was either. I had no representation in that way. I looked at writers I admired. Oddly enough, a handful of them were repped by the same person. I had this very bold moment and wrote this person Molly Friedrich, a literary agent in New York… At first, she didn't think we were a match. But she asked to read my speech for Omega. She and I then met in New York… She said it was clear I didn't know what story I would be telling but I would have to unearth it. She asked me to write 50 to 80 pages. If she takes that, she'll represent me. That spoke to me. That meant she would feel the work was worth her time and expertise and she wasn't just looking for some preconceived idea of a celebrity book. That was seven, eight years ago."

AJC: It clearly took a long time to reach this point, eh?

Field: Molly would reach out to me seasonally. She’d ask me, “Are you still writing?” About three years ago, I sent 250 pages. She said, “These are very young pages but I’m on your team!” At the time, that was great. I wasn’t alone. At the time, I knew I’d finish it but I didn’t know if I had the courage to publish it. A year ago, I sent a finished manuscript. I thought she’d say, ‘That was a good try. Let’s see what we can do.” Instead, she gave me a list of editors she felt were right for the book. I was shooting “Maniac” for Netflix and running around New York meeting with editors. In November, I signed with Hachette.

AJC: So there was a point when you decided it was okay to make this available to the world.

Field: Ultimately, it became important to me. You could do the world’s greatest performance of “Hamlet” in your bathroom but it isn’t the same as doing it on a stage in front of an audience. There’s a communication that happens between those sitting in the audience and those in stage. That’s what the arts are for. Without it, the language isn’t complete. So that was the missing piece for me: the audience listening, reading. So I put my head down and said, “Okay. It’s the final piece in place.”

Sally Margaret Field was born November 6, 1946, in Pasadena, California. She landed her first acting job at 19, playing the title role in the TV series "Gidget." Field has won two Oscars, both for best actress: 1980 for "Norma Rae" and 1985 for "Places in the Heart." Her often-quoted Oscars speech in 1984 is often misquoted. The actual quote is: “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me.” In 1988, Field was cast to play Tom Hanks’ love interest in "Punchline." Just six years later