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The stories of our lives

Memoir writing class inspires mystery novel

Created date

November 8th, 2017

Longtime friends Marcia Boyles (left) and Marcia Aberle coauthored The Memoir Class, now available in paperback and electronic formats at


After more than eight years writing and sharing their personal memoirs in a memoir writing class at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va., longtime friends Marcia Boyles and Marcia Aberle recently coauthored a book, The Memoir Class, published by Amazon. 

The Memoir Class centers on six women, all members of a memoir writing class at a retirement community similar to Greenspring. In writing their memoirs, the characters uncover ties of love, sex, and revenge leading to threats and murder. The intricately crafted mystery took the two former teachers almost four years to complete and includes memoir writing tips cleverly spun into the story.

“I’ve always wanted to write a fictional mystery,” says Boyles, who leads the Greenspring memoir writing class. “Our class served as my inspiration. There are so many wonderful stories shared, both interesting and intense.”

The start of something special

Boyles started the memoir writing class at Greenspring eight years ago.

“Initially, it was my intention to host the class for three or four months, just long enough to teach the basics of memoir writing,” she says. “But the class members had other ideas. Everyone enjoyed the class and our time together so much that we’ve continued all these years.”

From the first day of class, Boyles informed the women that a memoir is not a random story but a personal story that makes a clear point. As a result, the writings are often extremely personal, and everything shared by the group is completely confidential. 

“It’s the number one, most important rule in the class,” says Boyles. “Over the years, we’ve shared everything—the good, the bad, the ugly.”

“The result is the ability to be extremely intimate and personal in our writing,” says Aberle. “The class provides a sense of safety, which is essential. Our class is made up of women with very diverse personalities, backgrounds, and ages (from 70 to 90s). And from the beginning, we were all very conscious of the preciousness of what we were developing. We have a very special bond.”

Sometimes, members of the group chose to share their writings with family members and friends. 

“Everyone in our class has lived very full lives,” says Boyles. “Writing down the experiences of our lives provides a lasting legacy for younger family members.”

An idea takes root

Five years into the memoir writing class, Boyles approached Aberle about cowriting The Memoir Class. As friends and classmates, she felt Aberle would complement her own writing.

“I enjoy reading mysteries, as do many of my friends, and I felt that a mystery centered around a retirement community, where the characters are developed through the writing of their memoirs, would be a unique and fun project,” says Boyles. “I’ve never read a story like that.”

Embarking on the project together, Aberle and Boyles determined that the story would be completely fictionalized to avoid breaching confidentiality among the memoir writing class members. They wrote their parts of the book separately, coming together to critique, edit, and put the book together. 

“It was a very comfortable arrangement,” says Boyles. “As we were writing we shared with the class, providing us with great feedback.”   

“We developed characters that are very different from each other,” says Aberle. “Through the memoirs the characters share, the reader gains insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the women, all of whom choose to spend their vibrant 70s and 80s in the pursuit and enjoyment of camaraderie and intellectual engagement.”

Throughout the writing of the book, Boyles actively pursued publishing options.

“Providing a paperback version was important to us. Our generation are the book buyers of the world,” says Boyles. “However, doing so made the process much more time consuming.”

The women decided to self-publish through Amazon, allowing them to potentially reach millions of readers worldwide, while maintaining control of their work. The book debuted this past July and is currently available on in both Kindle (electronic) and paperback format.

“We are thrilled with the result and happy that people are buying and reading the book,” says Aberle. 

To date, all the reviews posted on are positive. One reviewer remarked, “Don’t let the ‘senior mystery’ words fool you into thinking this is a tame read. Secret sexual liaisons, dark family histories, revenge, shame—it’s all here alongside powerful family bonds and notable achievements.”

“There’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment from seeing other people enjoy and appreciate all your hard work and effort,” says Boyles.

“And, in addition to enjoying the story we tell, we hope that the book also inspires others to write their own memoirs,” says Aberle. “For all of us, the process has been a journey of great, personal discovery.”