A story of self-discovery as told by SSU alum

With finals looming over and stressful thoughts of life after graduation kicking in, was there ever a better time to seek optimism about the future?

Take it from Sonoma State University alumna, Natalye Childress, and her heartbreaking, yet powerfully written memoir, “The Aftermath of Forever: How I Loved and Lost and Found Myself. The Mixtape Diaries,” set to release June 1 through Microcosm Publishing. She first worked on it while taking a directed writing class with English professor, Noelle Oxenhandler.

“Early on, when I encountered the first pages of what later became Natalye’s memoir, I was struck by the very distinct quality of her voice,” said Oxenhandler. “There was something about it that was quite plain and matter-of-fact, and at first it even seemed a bit dry. But very quickly I could feel that, just below the surface, there was a great intensity of feeling.”

The memoir exposes Childress in her early 20s while weaving through a world of dating in the San Francisco Bay Area. Readers soon uncover background of her past, and the result of a failed marriage. The story is a path of self-discovery to cope with how life moves on after experiencing heartbreak from someone once held so close.

Each chapter incorporates music as a way of self-expression, as Childress retells the events of 10 men she knew, illustrating a picture of these relationships via the mixtapes created for all of them. As she carves out the innermost personal feelings of her love life, the inspirational and optimistic tones rotate with clumsy and harsh ones that are all too familiar in modern dating.

Childress attended SSU as a graduate student in fall 2009 because it was close to Santa Rosa, where she grew up throughout her teen years. While taking a cross-genre class with Oxenhandler, the two got to know each other personally. Eventually they would end up working closely together on her memoir until she graduated in 2011.

“It was probably after the first couple chapters, with the encouragement of Noelle, that OK, yes, this is shaping into something,” Childress told the STAR. “It wasn't until the second semester when I took it [in for workshop] and thought, ‘OK, people are interested,’ I could expand on it.”

When Childress first came up with the idea to write her memoir, it was more with music as a focal point, because she didn't feel there was a lot to tell without it. She was encouraged by Oxenhandler’s insight of her story and the moments within it that represented more than just the music, which helped the piece evolve.

Inspiration for Childress came from both Chuck Klosterman and Rob Sheffield, writers who focused on music and memoir that were able to create something out of the two things she enjoyed most in life.

Opening chapters containing the mixes “Add It Up” and “I Just Feel Free and a Little Bit Empty” are available for listening and reader interactivity at 8tracks.com/theaftermathofforever. Childress plans to post more of them in the coming months. Her memoir is $12.95 and preorder links can be found at the-aftermath-of-forever.tumblr.com/buy.

She mentioned the order of each chapter was based on what made the most sense to her, but knew exactly what the last one would be. Childress didn't want to start in chronological order, but instead ease readers into it, and noted there was never a grand scheme; she simply did what felt right to her.

Most of the original names were changed, where she opted to use middle names or ones sounding similar, because it felt more authentic than coming up with something that didn't represent the person. Childress chose to change most of them out of respect.

As far as her friends who are characters in the book, she asked them, “What do you want your name to be?” As a memoir writer, Childress believes it has to have some connection. 

Emily Hostutler, professor of freshman composition, was able to see the memoir in its early stages.

“Natalye is the best kind of creative writer; in her work she couples an unapologetic and authentic honesty with classic linguistic grammatical precision,” said Hostutler. “She’s simply one of those writers that makes it look easy.”

Her writing has been published in plenty of places, including magazines and anthologies, but has also been rejected just as much. Childress, however, expected the only way she would be able to get published was if she tried.

In general, she believes writers have to keep at it, and find their niche.

Sending out a proposal to write for something that doesn't fit the publication, or does not speak to the writer, is not something she would recommend.

Childress reads 20-30 books a year at least, which she considers very important for other writers to do. Immersion into what it means to be a writer, no matter the quality of work, will help find positive aspects in the material, and inevitably be taken note of.

Noticing when the written word is something truly well done, are important moments to have as well. Instead of thinking “I’m better than everyone else,” Childress believes it’s important to really appreciate and value one’s own writing, the process having gone through and the progress made.

“You’re not going to be a writer if you’re constantly being too humble or talking down your work,” said Childress. “You have to be able to recognize when it’s good and be OK with that, and let it feed into better writing.”