Did you hear me screaming?

I spent over an hour yesterday summarizing the blogs I’ve written on memoir writing. Then when I tried to publish, a red banner said publishing was not happening. Over and over until 1 A.M. I tried without success. I left the computer on with a note for DH to click “publish” when he got up (hours earlier than I do). No luck.

I contacted help and a patient helper and I spoke different languages to each other. She suggested I save when there was no “save” button. She asked if there was black on the page and I replied yes, the type. She wanted me to go to another page when it clearly said I would lose content if I did. She finally gave up and said I should clear all caches and cookies. Eventually the only solution seemed to be to shut the computer down and start over. Which of course erased my post!

In Community help blogs I found dozens of similar complaints from as far back as ten years, many unresolved. So at least I’m not alone in my frustration.

Let’s see if this will post.

Kaleidoscope as a title?

For a while I thought Kaleidoscope: Bits and Pieces of a Life would be a good title for my memoir because it contains many articles, essays, and poems on many subjects written over a long time period. Many memoirs are focused on a theme such as loss of a loved one, serious illness, addiction, abusive and/or alcoholic parents, etc. I might have focused on negative aspects of my life but I chose to emphasize triumphs, dreams achieved, and along the way anecdotes featuring the many animals in my life. There was a bit of whining here and there, but I tried to keep it under control.

Now I’ll freely confess that I’m bad at titles. As I’m writing I keep jotting title ideas in a notebook, but seldom does one strike me as perfect for the piece I’m writing. Kaleidoscope topped my list for my memoir for months. I found spectacular royalty-free photos on the internet for a book cover.But how many people know how to spell kaleidoscope? Not me! Not until I had looked it up a dozen times.

So what did I call my memoir? In Pursuit of Dreams, a title so common that it’s faster to find the book by using my name rather than the title. Amazingly, titles can’t be copyrighted, so I could have called it Gone With the Wind if I wanted to! Brainstorming titles is one way that a writing group can be helpful. Sadly, I wasn’t in a group when I was finishing the book.

I recommend taking a writing class or joining a group to motivate you and to help you see your work through new eyes. I’m going to start looking for a group to join. Right after our fishing trip next week and a trip to Colorado to bury my parents’ ashes the next week and who knows what will come up next?

 

Inspiration

Organizing old files recently, I came across this fragment, written long ago in the form of a poem, with many cross outs and corrections.

EL VIEJO FROM GUANAJUATO FOLLOWS ME

Fifteen years ago I saw him

El Viejo, in a plaza in Guanajuato

bent like wheat broken by strong wind

glazed eyes to the ground

attending each dragging step forward

around the Jardin and around

again past my bench, left arm

clenching a large wooden box

pressing frail hips to the right.

I must go

but still I stay to watch

the parchment hands

the face like a dirt gully

after a hard rain

skin clinging to bone

ribs caved into organs.

Why is he shuffling still and

what does he carry and

what is he thinking and

what does he see?

If I were an artist I would paint him

If I were a photographer I would take a photo

But I have only words and I write him

in my notebook to carry home.

Long after the notebook is lost he stays.

I build him a cabin in green foothills

give him a lonely boy to befriend

who finds him dead one winter day and

learned from that a lesson

this selfish boy who played

with Christmas toys when he could

have visited El Viejo.

You only used me the old man nagged.

No wonder it didn’t sell.

You never knew me.

I didn’t care. I’d wasted

enough time on him.

I worked on commercial things but

he kept butting in until

I put him back in the cabin

and visited often

There it ends, as though there might be more pages. The truth is that El Viejo haunted me until years later, just recently, I published Amigos: A Novella on Amazon Kindle.

 

Short memoir articles are published!

Many short memoir articles or essays are being published in various publications. My first recommendation for anyone having trouble getting started is to concentrate on one story, one anecdote, at a time. My first national publication was a memory from third grade of being snowbound in a country school house where I lived with my grandmother. About ten of my short memoir pieces have been published, mostly in the local newspaper.

When I got serious about writing a memoir, I already had those articles plus some poems and other pieces, mostly animal tales, that I had written for family entertainment.  The hurdle of getting started was already cleared.

Glance through your favorite magazines or those on a news stand. That enticing article about an exotic island? Memoir. Catching that gigantic swordfish? Memoir. Surviving a dreadful disease? Memoir. A humorous take on your date from hell? Memoir.

Even if you have no desire to write a book-length memoir, writing short pieces based on your experiences can potentially be rewarding, maybe even financially.

Why write a memoir?

The first reason that comes to my mind is to preserve memories. For years we three children along with friends and other relatives urged my parents to preserve their memories. “Tape record your stories,” we urged. “Write them down,” we said.

One year a cousin, Gerry Parker, set up a tape recorder to preserve my dad reminiscing and reciting some of the long looong poems he knew. But in the end we had precious little of his amazing life from a spinal injury when he was a kid to missing his last year of high school to take his widowed mother’s cattle north from the worst of the dust bowl to better pastures. We know little of how he achieved his dream to become a minister lacking the requisite education, or how he managed to buy the mountain ranch of his dreams. Only he fully knew the details and now they are lost.

Only you know the details of the important events of your life from your point of view (and how often another’s point of view is wrong!)  I believe most private memoirs are primarily to let future generations know you and how the world was in your lifetime.

Another reason is to be an example, to teach a lesson. I just read a memoir with a primary message of “See how successful I was and you can be too.” I’m definitely guilty of that message too blatantly in some of my essays.

Very popular in recent years are conquering illness or substance abuse or abusive relationships stories. They are popular because they offer advice, empathy, and possibly hope to others in similar situations.

A fourth reason to write a memoir is to proclaim to the world what a wonderful person you are. I’ve read memoirs where that was the major theme, and again I plead guilty in a few places in my memoir.

Other memoirs seem to be primarily for revenge, to expose those who have wronged you, eg. Mommy Dearest and others of that ilk. Again I plead guilty: I wrote one chapter called “Terrible Awful Horrible No-good Bosses.” Those incidents were long ago and far away. But I refrained from writing about a very recent hurtful incident of blatant selfishness and rudeness of close relatives.

I’ve presented five reasons to write a memoir here. Can you add others?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memoir: Building and Using Tension

After reading articles like this I wonder I’m even bothering! This site has much valuable information about memoir.

Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“Tension has to exist at the level of the language; it has to exist at the level of the story; it has to exist at the level of the intellect; it has to exist at the level of the heart; it has to exist at the level of what we would call the soul, that archetypal tension of inherent dichotomies, the moving forward in life between morality and aesthetics.

When we write, we’re asking our readers to engage in that tension because without tension there is no resolution. And it’s the resolution, at some level, that story relies most upon. Even if it’s at the level of aesthetics or if there’s no plot whatsoever or action, we still have to have the resolution of the tension.” ~ Kim Barnes

tensionIn looking for a publisher, I’m struck by how many are looking for good memoir. However, each…

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Memoir: another method

I recently read a small book espousing a start entirely different from what I have suggested, so here for your consideration, are ideas from Immortalize Your Life by Marc Van Buskirk. He recommends starting with your earliest memories and writing, decade by decade, the highlights of each ten years. Throughout the (brief) book, the author gives illustrations from his own book and suggests that you duplicate them. “All you have to do is change the time, places, people, things, and events.”

By all means use this approach if it works for you. There is no one way to start writing about your life. Based on the experience of helping my parents, I suggest starting with your most vivid memory, the story you tell most often, the recollection that haunts you, the happiest or saddest or most traumatic time. As I have written elsewhere, my father got hung up starting his story exactly right and wrote that beginning over and over.

The important thing is START!

Translating history

Today was spent translating letters from an ancestor, John Foster Buck, to his wife Adeline from Omaha, Nebraska, in 1855-56 when the legislature first convened to establish a state.

Years ago my mother showed me the four letters handed down by her mother from her grandmother. I made copies of the tiny dim spidery writing, rendered almost totally illegible in my copies. After Mother died last September I told my brother Jim about them. He had never seen them but we kept an eye out, found them, and I brought them home (from Scottsdale, AZ to Oregon) promising to type them up to share.

In August my brother, sister-in-law and sister from Arizona and perhaps my nephew from Ohio plan to meet me in Denver and travel by car to Arriba, where both sets of grandparents settled from points east, to deposit my parents’ ashes in their long-ago purchased grave sites. While there we will visit the last remaining cousin on Mother’s side of the family. So I have been struggling to bring those dim words to life again.

A perfect time, I thought, to share the typed copies of those letters along with the little genealogical information I have learned. Amusingly, each letter starts, “Dear and affectionate wife” and ends “Yours truly, John F Buck.” In every letter he asks his wife to kiss James and Charlie and also mentions, in all, Abigail, Sarah, Theodore, John, and “all the little ones.” Maybe “affectionate wife” was a tad too affectionate!

This is why I think memoirs are important. How much more there is to know about these ancestors.

Brain fried!

This has been such a steep learning curve that my poor tiny brain is fried! I knew for several years that one could self-publish on Kindle free but I doubted that I could manage it, technologically challenged as I am. I succeeded only after many hours of frustration, kicking and screaming. I have considerably less hair than I had a few months ago.

I’m not a Luddite; my first computer was an Apple 2e in 1980. I’ve gone from the simple as pie Apple Writer to the horrible Word Perfect with all its F commands to many iterations of Word. In every case I’ve learned just enough to do what I need, mostly to simply write.

Formatting for publication is a huge jump, and my legs are short! Once I got Amigos on Kindle, my sister-in-law who drew the illustrations many years ago said she would love to see it in print. Okey Doke I thought. But that took weeks. Either there’s flaws in our Word 2013 or I’m seriously impaired. I prefer to blame our program.

Then there were weeks of editing my memoir and struggling to write enticing language for the book jacket, cover, etc. Now I’m told that a serious author needs a lot of “platforms” like a web presence, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. I’ve been on Facebook for years, but only to occasionally see what friends and family are up to. I joined Twitter during the election in 2008, but Mark soon gained followers on my account by making rude comments about some candidates. In fear of being put on the “no fly” list, I soon backed off. Now I’m in the throes of learning to use this platform (if that’s what it is). In every case if I finally succeed I’m so stressed and tired that I have no idea how I accomplished it.

Will all this brain activity strengthen my mental ability or will it hasten the onset of dementia?

Why “Writing Life?”

I’ve read (and repeated to students) that there are three classes of writers: Those who want to be A Writer, those who want to write, and those who write. The first category dream of author’s tours with TV interviews, fame, and lots of money. Those who want to write have a story they feel compelled to tell. The last category simply can’t help but write.

As with most truisms, this isn’t entirely true, but I fall mostly into the latter group. I still have a “poem” written when I was about eight and diaries or journals kept off and on through the years. In the eighth grade my essay won an honorable mention in a county-wide contest. During boring college classes I wrote (very bad) short stories, to all appearances taking extensive notes.I later took writing classes, but I seldom submitted anything for publication because I lacked the drive to be A Writer.

My work for many years mostly satisfied any creative writing itch because I graded thousands of college compositions, wrote thousands of dull words of curriculum, policies, self-studies for accreditation, strategic plans, etc. However, during summers and a period of several years when I wasn’t working full-time, I wrote four novels, a novella, and co-wrote a murder mystery. Mostly what I submitted for publication were stories for the local newspaper or poems.

Only recently have I decided to do something with those files of manuscripts and obsolete Apple floppy disks. Either I die leaving my daughters to burn those moldering piles or I work to get them out into the world for better or for worse.