Monday, May 2, 2016

Two Important Things In Memoir Writing

M E M O I R

Memoir writing has been in vogue for several years and it still appears to be going strong. Celebrities write entire books to share their story with fans. A memoir differs from an autobiography in that the memoir can focus on one area and is filled with emotions and viewpoints while the autobiography is generally fact-filled, chronological and covers a full life, not just a potion.

I have noticed over the years that the Memoir category in our state authors contest always has the most entries. That also means it's the most competitive and when one places in that category, he/she can be proud. We all have memories that can be turned into a memoir piece of 2,000 words or less for a contest or a magazine. The topics within are boundless. Reach back for memories of school days, the home where you grew up, your extended family, influential friends, moving from place to place or staying in one all those years, your marriage, births of your children. The list can go on and on. 

For me, two things become extremely important when writing a memoir piece if you want it to be of interest to others. 

1.  Tell not only what happened but inform your reader how it affected you and your family members or friends. What was learned? If you tell what happened and ignore the next part, you're writing a slice of life piece which could be of far greater interest to you than to your readers. But, if you let them know how you were affected and what you learned, they are more apt to key in and relate it to their own experiences. In the personal essay, we need to gift our reader with a universal truth of some kind, and I think this can apply to memoir writing, too. 

2. Show your reader what happened. Show your characters' traits. You can tell me that Grandpa had a mean streak but I'm going to 'get it' a whole lot better if you illustrate his character trait. Show him kicking a cat down the stairs or swatting a dog who got in his way. That will make your reader wince, especially if he/she is an animal lover. Show the reader what your mother was like after she fed 10 hungry field hands every mid-day during harvest time. Don't say something like My mother looked tired after the weeks of harvest and feeding the hands every day. Show us her posture, the circles under her eyes and maybe the smile that accompanied them because she was grateful for the help. Show us what she wore as she spent hours in the kitchen preparing those hearty meals. Show your memories so that the reader can begin to feel how you were affected.



Friday, April 29, 2016

Call For Submissions From Chicken Soup

I received a Call For Submissions letter from Chicken Soup today for an upcoming
book. No doubt, they'd like the word out to as many writers as possible so I thought
I'd share their letter on today's post. Be sure to read it carefully to see the kind of
story they are looking for. Deadline is not until June 30th so you have plenty of time
to write, revise and edit your story. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything]
to gain.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident




Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident
101 Stories about Loving Yourself and Your Body
With Coauthor, Supermodel EMME

Women come in all shapes and sizes. We're all beautiful and the key is to be fit and healthy within the body type that we were issued at birth. Our new book is all about body image, self-esteem, and feeling comfortable within our own skins. We want to stress the mind + body + spirit connection, the rational consumption of foods that we like (no stringent dieting) and the pursuit of exercise that makes us feel happy and connected to the wonderful machines that are our bodies.
We want to be fit and healthy, but that doesn't mean we have to look like a traditional model, although these days that's changing too! Look at the new Barbie dolls, which come in tall, petite, thin and curvy! Or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, featuring women of all shapes and sizes.
Society is changing and we want to be part of it. Curvy and confident — let's share our stories. We want your stories about loving your look and feeling beautiful. How did you develop confidence? Have you helped girls and other women get confident? How do you stay fit? What do you eat? How have you gotten to know your body? Tell us about how you became curvy and confident or stay curvy and confident. What advice do you have for other women? How did you learn to deal with the pressures society and the media put on women to be thin? What lifestyle changes did you make? What attitude adjustments did you make? And when you did decide to accept and love yourself just the way you are, how did that make you feel?
If you are a man, tell us what you think of the curvy and confident women in your life. Do you have your own story about your own body image or self-esteem? Does the curvy movement help you too?
We're excited to have the world's first curvy supermodel, EMME, joining us as coauthor of this book. She is an advocate for women to find happiness within the skin they're in — for women to nourish themselves emotionally, physically and spiritually by learning to eat nutrient-dense foods, get their bodies moving, choose friends and lovers wisely, carve out silence within their busy day to just be, and for once and for all to enjoy the diversity of their body types.
Please remember, we no longer publish "as told to" stories. Write your story or poem in the first person. Do not ghostwrite a story for someone else unless you list that person as the author. If a story was previously published, we will probably not use it unless it ran in a small circulation venue. Let us know where the story was previously published in the "Comments" section of the submission form.
All stories should be true — we do not publish fiction — and should be no longer than 1,200 words. If your story was already published in a past Chicken Soup for the Soul book, please do not submit it. We will not publish it again. If you submitted a story for one of our previous books and we did not publish it, please feel free to submit it to this book if you think will fit. That way we will be sure it is considered for this new edition.
If your story is chosen, you will be a published author and your bio will be printed in the book if you so choose. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book, worth more than $100. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it or self-publish it.
SUBMISSIONS GO TO OUR WEBSITE. Select the Submit Your Story link at the bottom of the page and follow the directions.
DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS IS JUNE 30, 2016.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

No Fools Category For You




In my opinion, this quote has pros and cons to it. Anne Rice is right in that, when we write something for publication, we risk having critics come down on our heads like a flock of angry pigeons. Perhaps even laugh at us. We also take the chance that there will be lots of readers who like what we've written.

We have all learned by now that it is impossible to please all people all of the time. Why even give that a second thought? Well, guess what? We often do. We want to write books or stories, essays, poems and more that give something to the reader, that bring pleasure to the reader, that makes the reader seek more of our writing.

To write something and have an editor/publisher accept it for publication is the first sign that maybe you have not made a fool of yourself. If our writing makes it past the gaggle of editors, it should mean it's great. Right? Probably but not a definite. Add to the mix that self-publishing is becoming more widespread and you know that some of those publications may not measure up to good writing.
Many are just plain wonderful, but I fear that too many beginners grab the first story they've ever written and attempt to self-publish, aiming to be the next John Grisham or Danielle Steele.

I would hope those writers would do two things:  1. Give themselves time to write several books or stories before publishing one. We, who have written for any number of years, know that we learn as we go and that, nearly always, our work gets better as we continue writing. 2. Seek out other writers to critique the writing. Look for ones that will be brutally honest because you should truly want to know if what you've written is publication worthy. (Close friends and family are not good people to choose for this job. They love you, so they will not say anything to hurt your feelings.)

If you're in too much of a hurry, you do risk making a fool of yourself. Regular readers here know that one of my keywords for writers is patience. I cannot stress enough how important that is in your writing journey. For a little self-test, go through your files and read several of the very first things you wrote. Then read your latest. What do you think? Did you cringe a bit when reading those early missives? Most of us would. It's a rare writer who is the perfect writer straight out of the chute. Most of us improve greatly as we write more and more. And that's the reason we are told to write on a regular basis--something every day if possible.

If you're a writer who thinks you don't need a critique group or a writing buddy who will read your work and offer honest feedback, think again. Doing either of these is one of the greatest benefits a beginning writer, or even an intermediate, can have. Others look at our work with objective eyes. They see beyond what we see when we read our own work.

No one wants to risk looking like a fool, so do what it takes to make sure you're not going to have that happen to you. You know that not every person will love what you write but that's different than having them laugh at you. Don't let the risk of being the fool stop you from writing. Just take careful steps along the way.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thinking About Ernest Hemingway and Being A Writer

Ernest Hemingway's Home in Cuba


This morning's Kansas City Star had a fascinating article on the op-ed page by David Brooks. He wrote about Ernest Hemingway after having visited the Hemingway home in Cuba. The famed author lived in several places around the globe and he fought numerous demons along his writing path. I found the article of great interest, both as a writer and as one who has admired Hemingway's writing for many years. He also interests me because I went to the same high school as he did, although later years. 

If you'd like to read the article, find it here.  If you would like to see numerous pictures of the inside and outside of the house in Cuba, find it here.  Take note of the many, many books in the various rooms. Writers are urged to be readers and it seems there is no doubt that Ernest Hemingway heeded that advice. 

Sometimes we think of writers as meeting life with nothing to be concerned about except the words they put on paper or screen, how many words they write, where to find inspiration, finding a publisher and more. If you read the David Brooks article, you'll see clearly that writers have many other things in life to contend with. Perhaps those wide experiences give us things to write about.

It's the same with you and me. Writing is a major part of our lives but there is more. So much more. We have families--whether we are in the stage of raising children or being grandparents. We have homes to take care of, community functions to attend and perhaps volunteer for, health concerns to deal with on occasion. Maintaining our home, if we own it, or calling a landlord to maintain things if we rent. We have social lives, too. We have personal demons of one kind or another that interfere with our writing world. Hemingway's drinking had to be a detriment to his writing world. 

My point is that we are not just writers. We are people and writing is a part of who we are. It's up to us to decide how great a part our writing will take in our overall life. I know that there are times in my life when I write more than at others. A lot depends on what else is going on at the time. 

David Brooks brings out the point that Hemingway was not always a nice man. Even so, it had no bearing on the brilliant books he left to us. But hey, let's try to be good human beings along with our good writing. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Food For Thought From Dr. Seuss




Dr. Seuss said something very important in a mere smattering of words. We go through many moments in life that we take for granted while they occur. It's often later--sometimes much later--that we look back and realize the significance, or as said above, the value.

There are special moments in all our lives that I think take on greater value as time goes on and we reach into our memory bank to relive the moment.

Here's a partial list:
  • Graduation Day
  • Wedding Day
  • First day of college
  • First day of military service
  • A great first date
  • The birth of a child
  • The birth of a grandchild
  • A special anniversary celebration
  • A health issue that helps us learn
  • A high school or college reunion
  • A Sunday sermon that stayed with you
  • A new job
  • A vacation that stands out from others
When we pluck these things from our memory, we usually do so at a much later date than when the event happened. We're able to look with a new perspective than when we had the experience originally. Perhaps some of the people involved are no longer a part of your life and that memory brings them back for a short time. 

As writers, we use those memories in the memoirs, stories, personal essays, poetry and even fiction that we write. Many fiction writers use their own experiences at times within those made-up stories. 

When we look back at those special memories, we should ask ourselves what we learned, who was there that we treasure more today than at that time, how whatever happened affected our future lives. 

So stand back and take a look at some of those memories. Do you think differently about them now? I am guessing that maybe not all will be showing you the value, but perhaps some negatives, too; Hopefully, the value side will be the heaviest. 

As you ponder those old memories, put a check mark next to the ones you want to write about. Keep your list handy to use for inspiration when your muse seems to have gone off to a faraway land.  If you write a story from one of those memories, you might nod your head, give a wink of the eye and whisper Thanks, Dr. Seuss.


Monday, April 25, 2016

We All Quote Shakespeare Now and Then



Last Saturday was the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Celebrations of the noted playwright spread across the globe. I even heard about 3 women here in my community who went to lunch to honor his memory on Saturday.

This anniversary seems to have garnered more attention than marking his birth that occurred 52 years prior to his death. Did you know that he was born on April 23rd, 1564 and also died on April 23rd, 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK? Rare is the man who dies on his birthday. None by choice, most likely.

There have been all kinds of theories about his career as a playwright--that someone else actually wrote the plays for him. Never proven or he would not be as popular today.

I found a fun website that highlighted 10 phrases from Shakespeare's works that we still use today. Many of us have said them without ever realizing we are quoting Shakespeare. If you want to read the entire page with the source of the sayings, go here. Wouldn't we all love to think that the words we have written will still be read, heard and said more than 400 years from now? Just imagine!

For those who want only the list, here it is: (note that all are actual quotes from the plays)

  • Good riddance
  • Break the ice
  • Wild goose chase
  • Love is blind
  • Naked truth
  • Brave new world
  • Green eyed monster
  • Bated breath
  • (Fight) fire with fire
  • Laughing stock
We've all used at least some of the quotes in the list, whether in conversaton or when we write. I'm quite sure that my critique group would mark some of them with cliche. No doubt they might be considered such having been used for more than 400 years. Even so, these are some very good sayings.

Shakespeare's Birthplace




Friday, April 22, 2016

Flint Hills Phtoto Prompt Exercise



Today's photo prompt exercise is going to challenge your imagination. This is a scene of the tallgrass prairie that surrounds our community. I've often thought that we could be a runner up to Montana's nickname of Big Sky Country.

Study this picture for awhile and use your imagination. Who or what is beyond the hill? What has happened here? What might happen later? What time period is it? What season? Ask yourself many questions before you begin to write.

Try more than one writing. Go in different directions. Remember that these exercises can result in a full story, essay or article that can be submitted to an editor. They are good practice but also used for inspiration.