By the Wind Grieved

By the Wind Grieved
“O lost, And by the wind grieved, Ghost, Come back again.” Thomas Wolfe

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Going After Fact; Ending Up With Fiction

Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality.  
Joseph Conrad
Writing a memoir or autobiography for another person, or perhaps even for yourself, presents the well known problem of getting at the fact versus the fiction or invention (the same thing) of what happened in the past. What do you do when the subject of the book only remembers snippets of a conversation or fragments of a scene? What if the subject does not have the descriptive skills to make a significant character in his story come alive with details about that character's appearance or mannerisms? What if his descriptions of place and people are limited to adjectives such as "beautiful" and "nice."

One approach would be to leave out everything from the period before my client could remember events clearly, as Stephen King did in his memoir, On Writing. That works for the the first problem but doesn't solve the question of detail. Another is to use a tool that historical fiction writers employ, research.

I decided early on that I was going to rely on research. I had photo albums from as far back as the 20s and a diary from the subject's mother to describe the environment that the subject, and his parents, grew up in and to fill in details about stories handed down from his parents. I used these materials as a jumping off point for further research on the Internet.

Friday, April 19, 2013

From Memories to Memoir: Getting the Story

OK, I got the client; I invested in a MacBook and the Audio Note app; now I had to gather the material for my client's memoir.

 Fortunately, my client had attempted to get portions of his life down in writing, and he gave me hard copies of four or five of these narratives, as well as a Power Point presentation he had done detailing the main parts of his life within the context of a major historical period. He also gave me the journal his mother had kept detailing his family's refugee/immigration experience when he was a boy, and photograph albums from early periods.

The point is, get your hands on any materials the client may have at the onset of the process. These materials were my starting point. They allowed me to construct a first outline of what he saw as his story.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Where I Write

I have been following a blog I recently found called Writing In Style that a writer named Melissa March puts out. She invited bloggers to submit a post about where they write.

I think that where you write is so important that I have used a photo of my desk to illustrate my blog. It took me a long time to get the kind of space I wanted, one that is private and has bookshelves to hold the literature, poetry, essay anthologies, and travel books from the library that is literally distributed throughout our house. (My husband is a retired psych and philosophy professor who was so traumatized by selling his set of Great Books back in the 70s that he hasn't let a book go since.)

My writing space reflects who I am at this point in my life. The desk area you see has a shelf of the books I need at hand, my MLA Handbook, Oxford Dictionary (still prefer both resources in book form), and collection of writing books and memoirs; selected images that inspire me and items that have become talismans over the years: the porcelain cat bookends a favorite cousin (now alive only in memory) gave me 30 years ago; an hourglass from my sister; two antique Japanese lacquer boxes for batteries and paper clips; mementos from a former life in Japan and Europe; photographs of those I love.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Prep, Process, and Tools

Tonight I thought I would share some preparatory steps I took as I prepared to "ghostwrite" my client's memoirs.

The first thing I did, even before accepting the offer, was to research ghostwriting in general, and memoir ghostwriting in particular. From what I saw out there, a lot of writers are ghostwriting a broad range of work from promotional materials to web content to articles and books, you name it. I have done some of that kind of work before, in particular for the marketing department where I used to work and in collaboration with my husband on our website Center For Future Consciousness. But my first well paid freelance gig has given me the opportunity to focus on memoir. Fortunately, I had collaborated with my husband, Tom, on his book Mind Flight, so I had some idea of how I wanted to approach the structure, in this case, straightforward, chronological narrative.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ditching the Day Job

I am three months into my new writing life and thought it was time to start blogging about my experience.

 So this is how it happened: In early 2011, my sister and I decided to start a writing group. We started with four women, one of whom then worked at a local hospital as senior editor for the publications department. I shall call her Sakura. Sakura and I immediately developed a real resonance based on mutual passions for art and poetry, as well as a shared pre-Raphaelite romantic sensibility.

 Around August of 2012,Sakura came to me and asked me if I would be interested in taking on the task of writing the memoirs of a noted neurosurgeon at the hospital who had approached her with the idea, hoping that she could take it on. She had too much on her plate, so she declined the offer, but told him she knew someone who might be interested.