Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hawks and Doves

Stumbling into two self-pub houses, I got nearly immediate response. Should have titled this Vultures and Doves. Strong admonishment to get a lawyer if I write anything about abuse, while telling me no publisher will touch a memoir including such material. Yeah. Right. So, would that individual please explain the large number of published memoirs in my personal library concerned with same? And then why push interest in shepherding me to publication under their banner? Am I swimming with sharks?

The second email arrival, not achieving contact with a phone call, led me to his website to fill out a form leading me to a contract. the simple grammatical errors, poor spelling and general sloppiness tell me they don't care enough to be professional in their own work, so what would they do with mine?

Not WINNING yet, but LEARNING, for sure. Chalking this up to valuable experience, and adding in several fab blogs, I have discovered full of helpful info delivered with high good humor and, at last, some irreverance, a much needed posture in this business so fraught with heavy handed overbearing seriousness, like going to bad lunch at a musty, passé and ancient men's club with cheap cigars and huffy self importance.

It's time, folks, to breathe fresh air. The day of secret handshakes and shut-out need to be over, and lest you wonder, no; I have submitted nothing to anyone yet. But I have been around the block of life more than once and know a thing or two when i see it.

In the meantime I am into second draft, building my show/ tell weakness, taking small comfort in the information that says most memoirists have this deficiency. Cold comfort. I want to be better than that. a suggestion from the aforementioned blog asks that I randomly select ten pages and search them for olfactory references. Did that and found three. According to Dave and Bill, that's pretty good, but to aim for five. This was actually a natural, since I lived in a farm town, redolent with the smell of the local cannery...peaches, tomatoes, beans filled the air. And the alfalfa field bordering our lawn and newly mown, fills my nose even today, along with recently cut hay when the car windows were down on a late spring day. And most childhood Sundays found gangs of family crowded around a table full of incredible food, hot and savory,followed by sugary sweet fruits and chocolates and hot bread. Our noses were as alive as our taste buds.

Addressing my story as a reader, not a writer, is my best instruction. Reading out loud is very good but having someone else read my story out loud to me is a stunning revelation. Give it a try. Pick your toughest critic. Let fly.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Having completed the last of the planned classes across two years, I have looked back at my sources for progress. I began with a very long series of essay classes across that whole time without a break and continuing as I took other classes. I used essay form to frame my memoir as a method to marshal the material of excerpts from my memoir. I did that for several reasons. It gave me access to a reading audience providing response to the writing, a very helpful tool showing me my own voice, how to maintain it and how to deliver the story. Was it interesting, did it hold attention, pull the reader in, tell the story real, keep them wanting more? Every month my classmates changed as people did or didn't re-up. Class participation was such a bonus. My mentor, editor and class director was Sheila Bender at Writing it Real, a thoughtful, helpful writer whose insight and skillsets led me through the maize as I developed the memoir as a tool for understanding my own purpose for writing it and then writing it well.adding feedback from dozens of other writers as we read each other's work and then finishing with Sheila's response was affirming guidance asi developed what I needed:a sense of the thing and how to tell it.

For some of that time I attended class at Writers Digest, taking two of their doused, both with Rita Robinson as my instructor. By the second class she told me there was not much more to teach me in this effort. She gave me a gift, saint I need to stop thinking of myself as a student and start thinking of myself as a writer. She further said to write a synopsis,attach a couple of chapters and send it out there to see if there was any interest. I was not prepared for that and while lovely to hear, I was so far from that kind of confidence that while it intrigued me, I still doubted my own ability but not my story. So I anted up ever more money and took a six week course with BArncat Publishing taught by Jami Shapiro.

I learned all about things like story arc, using the film Wizard of Oz as the tool for learning how to identify and present the protagonist, how to line up the story and let the characters tell it. This time it was a webinar which included four to five other students in various stages of progression in their writing, all of us with a book in progress. Classes lasted an hour and a half, pretty crowded time for five. While I learned general and specific ways to build my story, personal time in that course was necessarily short. Nevertheless,I then elected her advanced course with the same format but with the subject of structure, learning the fine details of flow, arrangement of chapters, and the building blocks to get the book out the door and off to a publisher. In the last class of this course, on the list of goals for the hour and a half was the subject of agents and how to acquire one. We learned from the instructor that we didn't have time for that. Too bad. Getting to a publisher and an agent were listed goals to be accomplished in this course.

There is a conclusion worth placing here. There is lots of outstanding help to be found online, including a number of fabulous blogs by folks in the business who give their knowledge and guidance away for free. With simple dumb luck I stumbled across the courses I took and every one of them elevated my understanding where before I had only my story, not much about how best to tell it. I am much better equipped now.

I understand fully that all three of these people offer their skills for profit. I learned something different from each of them. So I didn't pay for duplication. In the end, I intend to stay with the most encouraging person who thinks I can get there, will show me the way and help me to get there. Each of these contributed heavily to my understanding. Each has a different personality. What is really important is the fit. I have been really fortunate to have fallen into the arms of really gifted teachers who taught me so much. What is left is to choose the person whose methodology embraces the subject, fosters the best of my skills and who shines a bright light on what works and what needs work. While sugarcoating is not needed or wanted, neither is resistance without reinforcement. So here i'm talking only about personal style.

Would I recommend online study? You bet. It can't all be about dumb luck, or some mystery of discernment. I think it indicates there is so much help available that luck is the least of it. Adding up the dollars spent in this pursuit makes an ugly number, but in the end I didn't regret a dime because I learned so much from generous people with lots to teach me.

After the first write of my memoir, all over the place, wildly overwritten, poorly focused, Sheila Bender applied her skills as a developmental editor, showing me what works, what is in the way, how to self edit and how to focus and tighten the story for readability. She pointed out my strengths and how to make them shine, showed me I had a voice and how to use it, and set nome free to exercise the innate skills and to apply the lessons of use.

What is prime is to believe in the story, to believe in my own ability, and to believe one person to follow to the finish line building on the positives, minimizing and then eliminating the negatives. I think I have made my choice.

There is flexibility in the rules of memoir writing. Creativity in the telling of a major subject is permissible. What matters beyond the telling is the mind and heart of the reader. Abuse and abandonment has many facets. Comes in many forms. The psychological erasing of a disliked child affects a whole life. Overcoming parental behavior is a tall order for a child, but is achievable. The story is an encouraging one about triumph in spite of attempts to defeat her. In a chaotic time in history, when virtually every household is challenged by war and it's wounding, wounds which by themselves inflict more wounds, broken people stitch up their lives and by hook or crook run or stumble or fall across the finish line of their lives, leaving a blood trail of emotion in their wake.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

And the beat goes on...and on and on...

When I think about the persistence of this thing called memoir, I understand what it means to write because not writing has become impossible. It even means this blog gets short shrift while I mold and shape and come to grips with what I want to say and not to say. It's the"nots"that are assailing me right now. Say them? Don't say them? Do they matter? Not matter? Those things I forgot to mention, did I really forget, or are they relegated to that deep labyrinth of darkness where they are held eternally? does it matter? Should I care? This kind of angst, while irritating, will resolve itself eventually, and in the end the memoir will tell me what it needs, and what it needs to discard. I did not come to this understanding with ease. It was a slow dawning, pierced with resistance. But realizing that the thing is writing itself, that my purpose is only to shape it, I surrender to it even in the times I attempt to take back control. What I have come to understand is that part of me sees the need to let out these truths to others, not as a revealing of myself, like a purging, but to announce in a meaningful way that throughout this writing it can be seen that we are all knitting the same garment, it's colors, size and appearance all shades of the same experience we call life. How we wear the thing we make is perhaps the real tale.

As I read the essays by others in the now many classes I take at Writing It, I see how valuable are the outpourings of writers doing their knitting of a similar garment of many colors, and how they wear their lives for themselves and for others, as we unravel the tangles And knots as we reweave the sorry places, as we discover our true colors, our broken strands, our place on the path of the journey.

As an exercise, memoir is worth the doing, if that is all memoirists did. But the greater, and better goal is to bravely reveal what can perhaps heal others just by the telling. Today I am happy in my work. About time!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

No matter how good my intentions.....

Memoir should come first, but has been superseded by a cookbook, a time eater, absorbing me since August, allowing only brief encounters with my blog. Bummer. Finally imprint, after countless hours transcribing, proofing,and editing, feel as if I have done it all but setting the type. It's not all me;I have a fine marketing team, a good sales person, and behind me sixty contributors who did a fine job to create a money maker that will fund a missionary from our ranks who teaches orphans in Guatemala for the past fifteen years. Very worthwhile, and useful for me too since it can help flesh out my bio along with this blog if only I attended it better. And if more readers would make themselves known I'd be ever more legitimate.

At my current stage I'm analyzing each chapter for it's purpose and it's meaning. Why does the memoir need this chapter...what does the reader need to learn, what action occurs, and does each chapter flow to the next? Or must I surrender it? It's a very informative process for a writer, one I sm truly enjoying. Defining the plot seems to be difficult for me but I'm working through it and beginning to feel comfortable doing it.

What is more joyful has been to work with Sheila Bender of Writing It Real, and Jami Shapiro, a wildly successful movie critic and writer about to seek to publish a novel. Learning the mechanics of building the great story into book sense so a reader can follow the story, remain interested, want to keep turning the page, and learning something from every chapter is a formidable goal, but even more important is to come to terms with the whole reason for writing my life in the first place. And to fall in love with a couple of kids valiant and creative to avoid a toxic mother and her well intentioned but emotionally crippled new husband.

I suppose most of us lose a little interest and walk away, but for me, even after two years, waking up with my head stuffed full of words is still the norm. Writer's block does not happen here. I do not anticipate a sequel, I think my story will be the only one I'll birth. And I am not sorry, though what I will put in it's place is a mystery yet. I really suspect I'm a one book writer. That is deemed to be a limitation. I don 't know. I don't need to know. I just need to getvthis one out of my inner box and send it off to market.

I am getting better at submitting work to editors. Brevity rejected me. That was right after Creative Nonfiction gently let me down. I am surprised, for though not winning contests, nor getting picked up for a mag edition, I find myself neutral about rejections. Indeed a Brevity rejection is a prize framed now and hanging on my wall. Undaunted, I will continue to submit to them because they are quality. High end. I want my work read there. Such a goal is a needful thing connoting some level of achievement on my part.

What does puzzle is the subjectivity that seems based on nothing more than oh, maybe whim, or a bad day, or abiding one, or I just don't like her costume. Oh. Sorry, that's about judging ice skating. You know, when the girl on the blades is flawless in her execution, or perhaps not a blonde enough blonde, or her costume is the wrong color. That day.

I'm sure this must mean I just don't understand the business end of this business.I just know I don't do vampires. Or Amish romance. I simply talk about my life. A child abandoned to an orphanage, a late arrival to same who is identified as a brother she has no memory of, a world war that yields a wounded broken would-be daddy who lacks any parenting equipment go bolster his good intentions. A mother ill suited to a back water town with absolutely nothing to do, working her decades forward to the culmination of employment as the school janitor taunted by the townie snobs who speak of her as Toilet Tilly. What do they know of her overcoming, her dogged perseverance, her sheer will power, her toxic personality? She doesn't care. Her disdain for them is powerful. She has decimated far worse than these two bit penny ante pretenders. She's got their number if only they knew how far beneath her they are.

My own story is richly peopled with women and men of loss and gain, triumph and defeat, in an atmosphere of uncertainty and brokeness that permeates nearly all the world. The stuff tumbles out, rolling in great waves over the pages, needing only the marshaling of the thoughts and the words that gladly tell the story that no longer stays silent, living in the dark place. Light is truly cleansing. My hope is that there will be someone with a brain, who gets it, feels it resonate, can't wait for more chapters, hopes no one else picks it up.

Wow. I've come such a long way. Look at that confidence! Listen to that self assurance! I was not this person two years ago. Way too unsure then.Too frightened, angry,ashamed.

That suppressed, abused and forlorn but very angry child pushed and demanded and muscled her way to the surface and told me exactly where up was. I look at the words I write and know she tells her story through me. I'm just a conduit. And I know the complete pleasure of the work. Plowing the ground of my life at the hands of a whisp of a girl is risk and sweat and a deep desire to know all her aspects.

To come face to face with the child that is me.

It's a journey of the soul.