Monday, February 27, 2012


This week I'll wend my way to the great southwest and try to pay attention in writers workshops and lectures, with other writers polishing their skills. The winter season has been kind this year and a lesser challenge than most winters here. Even so, I loathe being cold, so I look forward to sunshine and warmer air, with clear skies and starry nights. I'm currently experiencing a lot of pain, and know I'll be spending time with physicians when I return. I am a true wuss and generally neglect myself. Whatever is wrong lets me sleep through the night,so I have been able to postpone sleuthing with someone able to figure it out. Trekking airports won't be easy, though.

When I am over whatever this hump is, my intent is to throw myself at the memoir and complete it. A further goal is to send, send, send essays and excerpts to literary magazines to see if someone, anyone, will show interest in printing me. I find this part of writing tedious and defeating. Try as I might, I cannot get past some blind spot I seem to have about which publishers want personal essays, never mind that they say they do. I seem to be choosing wrong. and I can't figure out what I don't get. I see that in some cases what is printed is way, way out of my league. I can live with that, I get it. But there are some magazines printing stuff several cuts beneath mine. And they pass on me, too. I must just keep truckin'.

I suppose someday it will so clear that I won't be able to figure out what escaped me, but not now, Bud. Not. Now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Riding out discouragement

It is especially daunting to read the advice of an author who says what to do and not to do to get published. Among other things, she says din't write about abuse, everyone does, so publishers are put off, for such a subject is part of many repertoires. That author, of course, goes on to herald her memoir, published, of course because of her riveting experience of sexual abuse. WHAT???

The author goes on to tell me that publishers receive thousands of memoirs annually, because it is a popular genre, but that the market for them is weak, most are poorly written, not ready to publish, and that, if you are not some name recognizable celebrity, or that your story is unique, like perhaps you were hatched on Mars and wandered here on the wings of some petri dish contrived raptor, you really should forget it. WHAT??

This seems to be the message: writers love to write them, no one wants to read them. Hmmmm. How does that work?

There I am, brought up short, wondering why I'm bothering. There follows oodles of instructive tips to apply to my work that will probably never be read by anyone. editors to hire...irony there...why would I hire an editor to edit something no publisher would print unless I' know.

Look. I know that for publishers it is only and always one question: will this thing sell? That's reasonable. Practical. Smart. Who wants to print a loser? But how that coin toss works is what's under my microscope. It would help if I had been the child of a vampire. That's the current great hook, except I don't read about vampires, werewolves, trolls. I do read memoirs because generally they are about triumph and victory, uplifting and absorbing.

I recall that the auto industry was plagued by requests from drivers to reproduce convertibles. There was a huge deficit of convertibles for a very long time because auto makers believed there was no market for them, never mind all those demanders for same. finally, they listened and we have those fun cars again.

Is it the same with publishers? We get few memoirs because they have decided? Sane thing with petite size clothes. Or plus sizes. For decades tiny women and large women were offered only average sizes. Who in their right mind come up with this kind of"I've decided for you" who would refuse for so long to service those two markets? And pass up all that money?

Oh, don't get me entirely wrong. Publishing is dollar risky. I get that. Who wants to read about an abandoned child sprung from an orphanage to an angry jealous mother married to a broken soldier during a world war, who in that maelstrom of disillusionment of catastrophic size, still makes a world for herself with a funny little brother in a rural farm town, coming out the other side victorious? Never mind that the story Is compelling, absorbing, full of colorful characters who win their own wars, or lose.

I count myself fortunate. My story is filled with fab winners and dismal losers. it tells the story untold of the women who were not Rosie the Riveter, but built the war machine in other ways, making the bullets, the guns, the uniforms. in a Depression. In a world where all the men went away. Who would want to read about that, or about the aftermath when the factories and plants closed and those thousands of women put their aprons back on and cooked dinner Ad infinitum. Held their war shattered husbands in the long nights filled with their nightmares.

Who'd want to read about that? Seen through the eyes of a child, lost within her own unrecognizable family, it's just a memoir and we don't read those things. Oh, we watch the endless rekindling of the memories of those men who are finally talking about their war terrors. Men taught to be silent. Men relieving their pain. There is another story held by the women who waited, who made the explosives, who risked their lives unsung. My mother was one of them. Who'd want to read about that?

Never mind. Somewhere in the world there will be someone who sees the value of the story historically, emotionally, about how many ways we abandon each other with aplomb. About victory and triumph. Someone will want to read about that.

So here is my advice: believe in your own story. Tell it the best you can. Understand, when you've received your umpteenth rejection, it's not's business by a business knocked on it's ass by writers self publishing, by ebooks, by writers who are innovators, unwilling to accept pronouncements by on-high folks who used to know it all,but are currently as confused as you are. Remember Stephen King and Rowling, who do you think doesn't want to read them. Such monumental mistakes tells those who make pronouncements do not know it all. They are well intentioned people just like you and me, who live and die On their decisions.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tucson conference

I am so looking toward the third conference with Sheila Bender and Writing It Real. At my first conference I met a good number of repeaters and couldn't understand why. And then found myself wanting to return the second year. And now the third. No, we are not groupies. Not writers with nothing to do, without a real life, no longer connected to the real world. So why?

Writers stimulate writers. Writers are committed to their work and consequently to each other. Oh yes, a few have attitude about having been published and won't help with the details about how to get there. But they are few, and mostly we don't pester them to give up what they don't want to share. They are the minority. The rest of us encourage each other, show interest in each other's work, share the writing space, support each other and go out of our way to make new writers feel comfortable. After all, each of us was a new writer once. It's a fine sisterhood/brotherhood.

Nothing is so satisfying as giving a leg up to someone new so they participate at a level whereby they at least get their money's worth, and hopefully make fast friends. I plan to come home with a new friend or two.

The current essay class with Sheila, and the new class n how to target magazines interested in my genre and writing style, with Rita Robinson are keeping me stimulated and exposed to other writers. It's fun and I gain so much, sharpening my skills and networking and making new friends.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cracking the Code

One never knows when the quantum leap will happen. Writing memoir is more an evolving and a revealing than a recording of what is known.

As I sat before a fire, listening to it's hiss and whisper in the grate, I mused with my husband about our respective childhoods. He was the tag-on boy following two boys, when he should have been the longed for girl. That might have been workable, but then, the girl finally came, and now who could he be except discarded? older bros united together and shut him out. Sister became her mother's only recognized child, a menopause baby,to worn out parents.

Some of his issues are my own. Over afternoon drinks....a beer for him, a scotch for me, we looked at what went on with my mother as I pushed my stylus across the keyboard of my iPad. We mused as we watched the birds gobbling at the feeders in the fast falling snow. We got right to it and wondered at the end of the afternoon why we had missed what we actually knew all these years.

Mama was always enamored of bad boys. ornery, she called them. Not really bad, just well, ornery! Good boys, good children bored her. No excitement, no stimulation. This syndrome would resurface with my half sister, decades later, when she refused to date guys who kept a schedule, excelled at their studies, treated her well. They bored her.

My younger brother was a rule breaker. He walked the ridges, balanced on the edges of law breaking, knowing naturally where the safe place was and where the dangerous. He almost never got caught at his flaunting, hardly ever got tagged. She loved the daring, the risk taking, the exhilaration of "getting away with".

She encouraged it. She was blatant. I, on the other hand, was seen by her as a goody two shoes with never an infraction of the rules, always towing the line, hoping for approval. My very goodness intimidated her. She thought I was actually above her. She understood herself to be "bad" and therefore, common. She never dreamed I thought myself superior. I was breaking my neck to win approval, and getting marked down for it.

I knew viscerally that Mom was enamored of her "bad boy". She made no secret of her amusement at his infractions,and she openly resented my accomplishments, small or large. Something about my achievements made her feel inferior. So never was I rewarded.

So it was that one day forty years later, after visiting my parents, impromptu, I packed my belongings for the seven hour drive home. They didn't even say good bye. Halfway home, I pulled off the turnpike sobbing like some captive in the London Tower. out of control, heart breaking, I was face to face with the reality that absolutely nothing would open this door of rejection of me. My very presence was a challenge, an affront, a reality filled with too much pain for my mother. I would have to simply stop trying. To forfeit her. Such sick jealousy was irrational and insurmountable. I could not be less than I was.

It took me a few decades to process this, to understand the kind of parent who rewards the "bad" kid and punishes the "good" child. not that my brother or I saw ourselves in such categories. Each of us were simply following our instincts. Bobby fascinated her. I threatened her. Simple. But not.

As we sat, my husband and I, looking at this epiphany, we recognized in my mother her poor picture of herself, and how vulnerable she was, and how deprived, herself, of approval and applause. She too lacked the recognition of her value, of her own contribution of value. She couldn't get past her own guilt over placing each of her children in an orphanage, thereby reinforcing her own bad opinion of herself. And she knew she was playing favorites, unable to help herself.

I recognize readily the mechanism here. The gift of recognition necessarily means I better understand myself. The purpose of memoir is to translate this kind of grief and loss to victory and triumph, and ultimately validates the whole point of writing this memoir in the first place.

Memoirists are telling their own story to themselves, not as catharsis, but as revelation. We share it because we know our story is not ours alone. We seek that aha moment for the reader in the hope that they, too, can come to terms with their brokenness, and begin to heal.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The memoir lives and breathes and keeps me up nights

One month gone already, of 2012. Are we closer to the end of the world? If so, why am I writing? Maybe I should write an excerpt here, ya think? Still working well in Sheila Bender's essay class and submitted Buckaroo, a less than 1000 words about the cowboy playtime of my brother and I. Two kids out from under the regimented management of play in an orphanage suddenly had the run if the whole town, and somehow cowboys and Indians must be in our DNA universally.

I'm at the Place where all writers know, finally, that they are nearly finished, and now polish, slash and burn, cutting, cutting, cutting, tightening, chopping, throwing away perfectly good words for the sake of the piece, hoping not to toss the good parts instead of the bad parts and by this point, how do we know?

Writing mother without making it her memoir but knowing she is the true maker of all my foibles....oh yeah, always blame the mommy...NOT....but we can't pretend otherwise about her, and so she is a giant in my book. And not in a good way. I spend much time on my iPad pages dropping my thoughts about her there, so as not to Lose them. She was, baldly, a piece of work.but I'm on vacay from her. I'm strongly into story arc, framing, ordering chapters and on my way to piecing together the pieces parts for flow. For readability, for pace.

I must say here that while I know I have one helluva story, I was not prepared for the quality I have to tell it. It still surprises me that from somewhere deep inside me, some part of me is telling this story. it's not even asking permission.

Actually that part of me is telling me my own story, a fascinating and stirring mechanism I find surprising and rather engaging. While it is very hard to describe negation, but not my feelings about it, getting the reality
on the page would not happen if the thing were not writing itself.The erasure of a child's presence is a subtle thing, a cumulative message, beginning as a suspicion, something a suspecting child has difficulty defining. She knows it is happening but isn't sure how,has trouble naming it and can hardly admit to herself her mother hates the very sight of her just because she exists.

Looking inward is currently a full time job, but temporary, and not permanent. Thank goodness. I hear that even when finished, a book takes two years to get into print. Unbelievable. Truly.just getting a response to a short submission can take a half year, though not always. What else moves this slowly?

The salvation of this potentially depressing story are the many chapters of pure entertainment about living daily life with my little brother, with whom I was joined at the hip. Mother's delight whose perpetual safety was my permanent assignment. We were a pair in our love for this funny, creative little boy. Yes, I had/have other siblings, but my dailyness was lived with just this one, through thick and thin, after orphanage time.

Jerry, older brother, spent ten years in institutions. I spent nearly five. My little brother did a year and a half away from mother. So our stories are necessarily dissimilar. Told together, the emerging picture of a mother who put her kids away is a challenge. The difficulties and disillusions of this woman combined to bring a world of negation on our heads.

Given freedom at last, two kids made a life outside our home, away from the toxins of highly dysfunctional and unhappy parents cheated by the world War and their losses because of it.

Mama was a boom boom, not about the boom boom room, a cheap and tawdry description of call girls and, what, the halls of Congress, did I hear? No. Mama made explosive munitions for the Navy in time of war. Boom-boom. The plants blew up several times. She nearly died more than once. The whole war story about the neglect of women and their role in the war effort has been sadly ignored, but not in my memoir. Staying with her in the barracks at Triumph explosives allows me to describe this part of her life. And to tell the story of this nation at war and after, from her point of view.