By the Wind Grieved

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Expansion of the Memoir Universe

Where else could you find Audre Lorde rubbing elbows with John McCain?

Everywhere I turn memoirs are falling out of the sky. Not that this is exactly a new phenomenon. In 1998, in his book Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, William Zinsser observed that the last decade of the twentieth century--a decade graced by the publication of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, Pete Hamill's A Drinking Life, Mary Kerr's The Liar's Club and Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life--was "the age of the memoir."

If Zinsser could claim then that "Never have personal narratives gushed so profusely from American soil as in the closing decade of the twentieth century," how much greater is that geyser of narrative now, facilitated as it is by the word processor, desktop publishing, CreateSpace, etc., etc., etc.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Publication or Bust: On Contracts, Publicists, and Other Loose Ends

Setting out on the last stretch toward the land of milk and honey (i.e., the book in hand!)

What happened to October? They must have skipped it this year. At any rate, despite my galloping rate of jotting here once a moon, I got in nary a post the whole month.

So, what's the jig scribbler?

Naturally I assign blame to the nearest culprit, the BOOK. Though I shouldn't malign it so; it has been the source of my continuing enlightenment in the field of publishing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Flash Memoir: Ties

With the creative work on my client's project all wrapped up, I am moving towards using this blog in a new way. I must admit that my own longer memoir projects (The Bitter Carmelita; Outskirts of Love; The Good Twin) have taken a back seat lately; just can't get excited about stirring those pots that have simmered so long on the back burner.

Still, while rolling around an idea for something completely different, I revisited two of my favorite bloggers: Lisa Reiter at Sharing the Story and Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch. Both of them have some great flash fiction challenges this week, so to get my engines rolling, I am taking them on. I invite you to try your hand at one or both of them as well, and to join me as I delve more deeply into the genre I call "flash memoir."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Memoir Writer as a Boring Drunk

I started this post sometime back and kept it as a draft, but even though the book I set out to write for my client is about to be submitted to a publisher, (more on this in my next post where I reveal his identity!) I love the point, so here it comes, late to the party.

A quote I came across by Annie Dillard has sat on my shoulder these last months, whispering admonitions into my ear as I veered from the comforting path of "editing" onto the fearsome trail of the re-write. It was a journey I had balked at undertaking.

Ms. Dillard says this about the memoir: "You have to take pains in a memoir not to hang on the reader's arm, like a drunk, and say 'and then I did this and it was so interesting.'"

Now, even though it was not my story I have told this time around, I took her advice to heart. I asked myself, in trying to glean from my client his entire story, was I including passages of no real import? Was I boring the reader?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Writing a Novel Line by Line or Scene by Scene

A year and a half ago, I primed myself for my memoir project by reading a number of books on writing. Now, with the way opening up for my own writing project, I find myself reflecting on the process.

While having gained some useful insights from those books, in hindsight, I think I still approached the writing of my client's story the way I had approached other kinds of writing, such as the thesis for my Masters degree or the annual reports required in my position as a academic program director. I did my research, took copious notes, and then outlined the whole shebang, adding to it as I gathered more details and color-coding sections to align with characters or places or time periods.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Another Bite-Size Memoir

Mother With Sick Child by Vasily Perov 1878

While I think about the direction this blog will be heading, I continue to explore the circle of bloggers that Lisa Reiter has introduced me to. And, since Lisa puts a new Bite Size Memoir challenge up each week, I have again decided to use it as a taking off point for my own writing. This week's challenge is to write ten statements or a 99-word reflection on CHILDHOOD ILLNESS.

I have opted for the ten-statement format. Here we go.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Flash Fiction and Memoir

Over the last month I've had the pleasure of exploring a new blogging community through Lisa Reiter's Sharing the Story. You will recall that I've had some fun with Lisa's Bite Size Memoir Challenge. This week I blog hopped from Lisa's site over to a place called Carrot Ranch, run by a gifted writer named Charli Mills. I don't say "place" lightly here, and if you are hankering for a Western getaway, do visit the ranch.

Charli runs her own challenge, not with memoir but flash fiction. I love how she describes the essence and benefits of writing in this format. For Charli:
. . . flash fiction presents us with stories as flashy and minute as minnows in a stream. Each week I feel child-like in the wonderment of how stories can burst to life and be told in 99 words. Practicing weekly flash within a dynamic literary tribe certainly charges my batteries.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Veering Off the (Safe and) Beaten Path in Memoir

The author (on the right) about to undergo early fitness training.

Last week, I had such fun with Lisa Reiter's Bite Size Memoir, that I decided to do it again. I expected to take another pleasant stroll into the past, but this time the exercise prompted a deeper reflection of the process of writing memoir: to wit, the memories often veer off on a path you did not expect. And when they do, do you follow the wolf to Granny's house or do you stay on the safe and sunny path?

If you recall, Lisa's challenge is designed to help anyone record some personal memoir in small manageable bites. There’s a prompt every week and some constraints to keep it small (with full details on the page linked above). Essentially, you create your piece in 150 words, or in ten "I remember" statements. 

Last week I responded to the "Magic and Fairy" challenge with ten statements. This week, I am trying out the 150-word format on the theme of what in England is called "Sports Day" and in the US "Field Day."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Bite-Size Memoir

I am going to take a break today from my usual preoccupations with "The Book" and introduce you to a delightful writer and blogger that I crossed paths with on a Linked In group I participate in. (And yes, this post has to do with fairies and magic, as you will see.)

Lisa Reiter blogs at Lisa Reiter--Sharing the Story, and true to the name of her blog, she does just that in her introduction. Lisa's story is a powerful testament to courage, hope, and good humor in the face of dark chance and capricious fate, and if  you need a good dose of optimism yourself, I highly recommend you read her account of surviving cancer.

Lisa recently inaugurated a writing challenge on her blog that even the most harried and time-challenged writers should be able to manage. Called the "Bite Size Memoir" challenge, she invites readers to write on a weekly prompt using one (or both) of two formats: a simple list of ten statements, or a paragraph limited to 150 words. In this way anyone can record some personal memoir in small manageable bites. You can find further instructions and guidelines on her blog.

This weeks Prompt # 3 is "Magic and Fairy Tales." I must say I was rather chagrined to find that I had few associations with this rich topic, (were there no fairies in Arizona?) and I felt rather sad that I did not remember being the kind of child that believed in the magical, but I did come up with a list to share here. I invite you to share your own list with me in the comments box, or sign up on Lisa's blog. You can also find her on Twitter by searching her name or #BiteSizeMemoir.

I may yet write a paragraph about this, but here is my list: (and, I hope you share yours!)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Titles: What's in a Name?

Naming a book is something like naming  a baby. It can be fun, but you need to be careful. It shouldn't be too outrageous (I once heard a mother call out "Tink" to her young daughter and was, upon inquiring, informed that the nickname was short for Tinkerbell!) but you want something memorable, something suggestive of a budding personality, something creative yet appropriate. Above all, you want something that will compel readers to pick the book up.

There is, of course, a real science to naming a book, and with my manuscript nearing completion, I scoured Amazon for immigrant and medical memoirs to see what catchy titles had been created. Regarding the latter genre, I came across some great ones: The Scalpel and the Soul; The Healing Blade; Intern; Heimlich's Maneuvers; Blue Collar, Blue Scrubs; and (among my favorites) the humorous In Stitches.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Beating a Path to Publication

I have been a very neglectful blogger, and broken the cardinal rule of the social media guidebook, i.e., be prolific with posts, tweets, and updates. But I am back today with an update on my memoir project.

It has been a year and a half since I started working with my client, a prominent retired neurosurgeon. The last months have been taken over with administrative tasks for which my old job as an academic program coordinator prepared me well. (Lesson: Do not disdain the desk job you may have now; the skills you are learning will enhance the writing career you may someday fall/wander/ or otherwise move into.)

With a manuscript that has been beaten into a form presentable enough to shop around to agents and publishers, I have spent the last months toiling away at the following tasks: researching the market for books similar to the one I have written; researching agents and publishers, including university presses; crafting query letters to agents; processing comments from Beta readers and tweaking the manuscript; assisting my client with brainstorming his own contacts (some pretty prominent ones there); formatting, printing off, and mailing the tome to connections out there who might provide a trenchant blurb or a referral to an agent; and taking gross advantage of my writer and editor friend Kathy Papajohn's expertise, not to mention her tendencies toward grammar totalitarianism.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Writing Short Stories

On the Winning Writers Newsletter this morning appeared some great advice from author Arthur Powers in a column titled: Advice from the Judge. I think it applies equally to the memoir genre, and it is worth passing on.

Arthur Powers will judge this year's Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest sponsored by Winning Writers.

Here are Mr. Powers' thoughts on fiction entries. According to Mr. Powers, unlike real estate, it is not about place. It is not about plot either. It is about characters.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Memoir as Schrödinger's Cat

Schrödinger's Cat refers to a famous thought experiment that presents a scenario whereby a cat in a box may be both alive and dead at the same time depending on an earlier random event.

What on earth could this have to do with the genre of memoir, or more specifically with my memoir in progress?

Just this: my memoir would appear to be lost in the relative space between two related but distinct genres. Is it a memoir with commercial appeal or a family history/life story of interest only to relatives and close family friends?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

More Revisions or Trimming Down the Fat Baby Manuscript

So, I have a manuscript. I feel elated. I have indulged in the euphoric glow of motherhood. Now, the novelty of new birth fading in the face of new tasks, I am taking a look at my red-face, squalling newborn with a critical eye. Arrggghhh! How did the bairn get so fat?

I have blogged about the revising process in my last couple of posts. I am on my seventh round, trimming it down to a word count that will not spell death in the query letter. It is humbling and rewarding at the same time to go through the manuscript line by line and identify all those meaningless phrases or tedious repetitions or even whole scenes that do not move the story along its narrative, thematic arc.

Plodding along in this tedious task, I came across another guide to revising that I found on a blog called Books are Bread. I thought I had culled my manuscript of pointless expressions (sort of, at one point, etc.) but this new list provided more ammo in my battle with mediocre writing. (Shocking how many times I used the modifier "really.") Check it out for a useful checklist.

Now, having shaved off yet another 5000 words, I am ready to meet with my client to go another round. I will also dare to suggest the elimination of an entire chapter…heaven help me! But, as I have learned, the writing is one thing; the craft of writing is another. And that craft is revealed not in the first ecstatic outpouring, but in her drab, little cousin, the rewrite...who (it is to be hoped) turns out to be Cinderella in the end.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Completed Manuscript as Jumping Off Point

A year has passed. It seems almost a miracle that before me sits a manuscript of 106,901 words. At the last meeting with my client, he approved the rewrite on the final chapter. The final revisions and few additions are nearly completed. I have fulfilled the promises made in the contract I drew up for him and received the final payment. The tome has taken its first few steps into the world as various readers now work their way through it.

Now what?

As this point drew near, I experienced both a slight wave of panic and a surge of excitement at the thought of being done with the project. I have some of my own projects sitting on the back burner and am eager to dive in. However, there was the question of income. My agreement with my client entailed a payment roughly equal to my monthly take home pay at my old job in academic program management. How was I going to develop another income stream in such a short time.