Award-winning actress and director Sally Field has kept personal journals for decades and always intended to keep her writing private. But when her mother died in 2011 on the actress’s 65th birthday, Field began to write a memoir, In Pieces (Grand Central, Sept.).

“After she was gone, I couldn’t settle. I felt like there was some gangrenous wound growing on me that I couldn’t find. I didn’t know what needed resolving, so I just started writing,” says Field. “It all culminated into this urgency to put all the pieces down in front of me and see if could put them together into a picture that I didn’t know I knew. And that’s what I did.”

For inspiration, Field looked to writers she’s admired over the years—Elizabeth Strout, Jane Smiley, and Frank McCourt—and researched their agents. “They all happened to be represented by the same person: Molly Friedrich. I wrote her a letter over the transom on her agency website, and said, ‘Hello, my name is Sally Field, I’ve been an actor for 53 years.’ And she wrote back saying, ‘Thank you so much. I know who you are, but I don’t think we’re a fit.’ ”

Field mentioned her 2012 Women & Power Conference keynote address at the Omega Institute, and Friedrich offered to look at her speech. “Molly read it and said all those many years ago, ‘There’s a little bit of a voice, but I don’t know if you know what it is. I want you to go away and write 80 pages, 100 pages, and I’ll represent that, and not you.’ And that’s what struck me,” says Field. “It meant she thought I had something to say and that the work was worth her expertise.”

The first-time author is adamant that her memoir is not a “kiss- and-tell” book. “It isn’t about Hollywood or any of that,” says Field. “It is about my mother and me, my trying to find [out] more about that. And the craft I found at the age of 12—the beginning of something inside of me the first time I was on stage. It was the only place I could hear myself.”

Asked how she feels about signing at BookExpo, Field replies, “I’m good at that. The kind of life I’ve had for 53 years, I’ll put on my face and my suit and sign things. And I think probably part of me will have my head in the sand.” She laughs and adds, “Until I feel it’s safe to come out.”