Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On The Topic Of Memoir: How To Become An Orphan

By J.C. Lynne

*If you read my blog through or follow me on FB, you already have the background for this post.*

For the rest of you, I'll explain. No, let me sum up.

  • I've published two novels, various essays, and two short stories.
  • I make no secret I'm a writer and I frequently write about my family.
  • I've shared my author page, my blog links, and my publication notices with my parents regularly.
  • They've never read anything I've written. Oops, not true, my mother recently read my first novel after digging it out of a box and three years of dust.
I've been working on a memoir structured in short stories and essays since 2002. It was the first thing I allowed anyone to read and the responses blew me away. Over time, my fiction career has moved forward and the memoir hasn't seemed as critical. 

I'm a ten-year veteran writing teacher. I teach workshops on memoir. I've attended workshops on memoir. There are some important rules associated with the genre.

Accept the fact that some of your family will object.

It's a well-known fact that memoirs often upset families. I've said it over and over to writers, "Be prepared for the backlash." It's a running joke in my house that I wouldn't publish my completed memoir until my mother passed. I recently wrote a post about my mother's battle with dementia.

Not only does some of my family object, but it's become ugly.

Another rule of memoir, give folks the chance to read it first. 

I've said everything I write about to my parents' faces, perhaps more gently and with a care not to crush them. The thing about some people is they have selective hearing, particularly when what you are saying seems harsh or hurtful. I've given my parents every opportunity to read my work, they've never taken it. They only read Drama Mama because an irate family member cut and pasted it into an email. Never mind, I've been sending them the link to my blog since I started writing it. My mistake was not hand delivering it and saying, "This is about you." She would've definitely read it then. Maybe.

Your Truth is your perspective. There are many perspectives of an event.

I understand different people see things from unique viewpoints. My mother is a great revisionist. Her recollection of my childhood is vastly different than my recollection and not because of the change in perspective, but because she's rewritten her history in her mind and believes it wholeheartedly. 

Be certain you're emotionally ready for all of the above.

Because the likelihood is some of the family will never speak to you again, be sure you have a great support system in place. Often, your surrogate family is healthier and more loving than your blood relatives. Also, nothing brings the nasty out in a person like airing dirty secrets.

Remember that your Truth is your Truth. 

My angry, extended family insists they are better experts on my life than I am. Some of them I haven't seen in decades. Saying over and over that something isn't true or didn't happen is the refuge of denial. It doesn't change your reality. My detractors feel my parents are maligned and subverted by me, the "delusional, devil spawn with an active fantasy life." 

The irony is all of these people have skeletons of their own. The devil spawn accuser who forwarded my post to my parents traveled across the country because the aliens promised to pick her up in Baltimore.  I'm a good writer, but I can't make that shite up.

My parents have cut me off with a "How dare you" and a "Go to Hell." I'm okay with that and accept their anger. I may have said all of these things to their faces, but saying it publicly was the ultimate sin. It was the last toxic relationship in my life. I kept it going because they are my parents. 

This has all been a blessing in disguise because any fear I still harbored about my writing has evaporated. I may not publish my memoir, but not because I'm afraid. 

Write on, write boldly, and write well.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Into the Sunset

by Rich

Despite cooler temperatures, falling leaves, and shorter days, fall has been deemed the time of change. Kids enter new grades, television networks once made grand introductions for season premieres, and sports fans ignore their losing baseball teams to focus on their losing football teams. Fall has also been a time for many folks to end one chapter of their lives and begin another.

I'm in that category. After two-and-a-half years I've decided to step down as a regular columnist for The Writing Bug. When I began writing for this site in 2013 I was finding my creative groove. And, well, you know what happened, because I blabbed about it numerous times:

blah, blah, blah ... versatile author,
blah, blah, blah ... small press owner,
blah, blah, blah ... broadcaster
blah, blah, blah ... pillar of the writing community
blah, blah, blah ... Kardashians

Needless to say, I'm a different person than I was in 2013. Some of that is thanks to the depression meds, but the rest comes from the knowledge I amassed reading and writing columns on this site. In a nutshell, here's what I learned ... us creatives are not the perfect specimens of productivity and confidence. We have our weaknesses, our down times, and our fears. We try to push all of these far below our kidneys but can't seem to keep them locked away. The Writing Bug columnists have shown these blemishes on their sleeves, and they're darn proud of them.

I've noticed these traits in myself during 2015 as priorities shifted, my life got insanely crazy, and my kids bugged the heck out of me during summer vacation. One of the reasons I'm leaving The Writing Bug is to gain a fresh perspective for the writing world. The other is to give another NCW member a chance to show what they have. I mean, I can't hog the spotlight forever, regardless how many chains I use to attach myself to the mechanism.

As many talk show hosts have said this year, this is not a true good-bye. I'm still going to be the web administrator for The Writing Bug as well as a pinch hitter for those who can't make deadline for some reason. Plus, I continue to maintain a hand in the writing world through my posts on Facebook and Twitter and hosting gigs for the NCW Podcast and Between the Pages. And I'm not going to stop blogging. I'm just going to refocus it at my new author page and Wooden Pants Publishing. Oh, I know another reason why I'm leaving -- I'm freakin' busy.

Don't think of my virtual walk into the sunset as an ending. Think of it as moving closer to get a better look at the glorious hues, textures, and uniqueness of each sunset. New adventures are waiting for me just beyond the golden warmth. I hope you have a similar journey.


Friday, August 28, 2015

The Trouble With Being a Writer

Bill Watterson
By Sarah Reichert

            We're alcoholics and psychotics. We're sufferers of depression and anti-hubris. We sit alone and struggle with the worlds inside our own heads, sometimes to the failure of the outside lives we have. Like many creative professions, writers have been known to live chaotic existences, peppered with self-destructive behaviors, and emotional upheavals. But sometimes the problems are less dramatic.

Ø   The Burnt Pancake Principle. Other people can focus on one or two things at a time. If you're a mom, chances are you focusing on about twenty. But when a writer is stuck on a plot snafu in their mind small tragedies occur. Curbs are hit, pancakes burn, remotes are randomly shelved in the freezer. It’s a real problem because smoke alarms and jolting tire flattening can really interrupt that perfect train of thought.

Ø  I'm Dying of Dengue Fever, or Cancer… Creativity doesn't stop when your fingers are off of the keys. The constant question, “What If…” allows us to write intriguing stories but it also makes mountains out of moles and convinces us that the scratch we got from a bunny trapped in the window well will surely result in Tularemia, meaning we only have about a month to finish that novel before we succumb to fever and inescapable death. The plus side: you have new inspiration to finish.

Ø  The Ruin of Books: Becoming an Accidental Editor. I love to read. I could spend days curled up with my yet-to-read piles of books. But ever since I grew my hard editing eye (pretty sure that’s an actual condition and I'll probably be blind in a week, causing me to have to learn to read braille and find conflict resolution by feel alone) it has become increasingly difficult to turn it off and just enjoy the story. Worse, I feel proud when I find mistakes in a professionally published novel. In your face, author who is, otherwise, better than me in every other way...

Ø  Being an Introvert While Simultaneously Having to Promote Your Work. I don't like talking about myself unless it’s to tell others about my shortcomings (a great technique for lowering expectations). In this world of self-back-slapping and “read me-read me!” cries, I still feel uncomfortable promoting my work. And I get tired of people telling me to get over it. That’s not who I am. If I could quietly sneak a reader my book, assure them it's perfectly fine to burn it if it’s as horrible as I think it is, and slink back into the shadows, I would be much more comfortable.

What other troubles plague you as a writer?  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I'm Not Here to Make Friends

By April Moore

"I'm not here to make friends." How many times have you heard that on a reality television show? It comes as no surprise that these are the people who get the most attention, thus, draw us into their train wreck of a life. We want to see what dastardly thing he or she will do next. Why should this be any different with fiction? We often hear that as writers, we must create likable characters, but also make them human so that our readers can relate to them. I get the idea behind this, but is every human you know, likable?

Author Claire Messud was asked about whether or not she'd like to be friends with her character, Nora, from her book, The Woman Upstairs. She gave the interviewer an earful: "For heaven's sake, what kind of question is that?" She rattled off several unlikable fictional characters of popular books and finished by saying, "If you're reading to find friends, you're in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibility. The relevant question isn't 'is this a potential friend for me?' but is this character alive?"

Messud isn't the only one asked (in a way) to explain why her female protagonist is so unlikable. Other authors, like Edan Lepucki, has said that her female protagonist in California, gets more flack from readers for being unlikable than the male character who is equally flawed. It's a literary double standard that many authors grapple with. One blogger summed it up by saying, "It would seem that when it comes to female protagonists a Goldilocks mentality applies--to be a likable female protagonist, you must be neither too lonely nor too independent, neither too aggressive nor too ambivalent, and that's a very tough like to walk."

Gender issues aside, I think we often confuse unlikable with uninteresting. The reason readers can have difficulty connecting with a character is simply because the character fails to engage the reader. If a character doesn't influence change in her situation and is too passive to warrant concern, the reader won't be interested. It's not that she's unlikable; she's boring. Chuck Wendig, author of 13 novels says, "The audience doesn't have to like the character. They have to believe in, care about, and be willing to live with the character for as long as the story exists." On the other side, a character who sets herself up for conflict and engages the reader with her rudeness and repulsive behavior, is one we'll keep reading about. Think about those train wrecks that we just can't pull our eyes and ears away from.

These are the Donald Trumps. It's been shown that the nastier politicians are to one another and to various groups of people, the higher their numbers climb in the polls. Sad, but true. (I'd much rather see these folks in works of fiction, wouldn't you?)

So perhaps we shouldn't worry so much about creating likable characters as we should be about creating interesting ones. It's dangerous to assume that readers only relate or connect to likable characters, because chances are, they don't--even if they won't admit it.

Which fictional characters do you love to hate?

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Sun Sets on Summer

Post by Jenny

Please excuse the shortness of today’s post. My laptop died, and I’m writing this on an ancient desktop with a monitor that’s so blurry, it belongs in a dream sequence. This computer situation is a natural conclusion, I suppose, to a summer in which I got very little writing done. Part of it was by circumstance, and part of it was by choice.

My sons, you see, are 16 and 14, and as the prospect of them leaving the nest looms ever larger, I grow more possessive of my time with them. Because they are teenagers, that time often comes on their terms instead of mine. (I’m embarrassed to admit how many episodes of American Ninja Warrior I’ve seen this summer.)

Neglecting my writing, even in favor of my kids, makes me feel guilty. I call myself a writer, after all, and the pull of the story rarely leaves me—even when it knows I can’t, or won’t, do anything about it. But I take some comfort in this quote from author and poet Wendell Berry, who celebrated his 81st birthday on August 5:

“I’ve known writers — I think it’s true also of other artists — who thought that you had to put your art before everything. But if you have a marriage and a family and a farm, you’re just going to find that you can’t always put your art first, and moreover that you shouldn’t. There are a number of things more important than your art. It’s wrong to favor it over your family, or over your place, or over your animals.”

I don’t have a farm, but I have acres of laundry to wash, bushels of groceries to buy, plants to be tended, two occasionally--okay, often--needy dogs, a husband, and two wonderful, smart, funny sons whose company I thoroughly enjoy. Now that they’re officially back in school, I will dust off my writing and try to hit the ground running. But first…the computer store.

How do you manage your family and writing time during the summer?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Shut It ... Please

by Kelly Baugh

A few days ago I revisited a place that was one of my favorite childhood vacations: Mesa Verde. Not only that, but my kids are now old enough that I got to visit my favorite ruin in Mesa Verda: Balcony House.

Here’s how I remembered Balcony House: a scary climb up the tallest ladder I’d ever seen, tight squeezes through tiny tunnels, and a surprising pond, collected from a wall seep at the back of the cavern. I wandered around studying the intricacy of the stone structures and marveled at the workmanship that had created such flawless stone walls. I studied the small finger and foot holds that dotted the cavern entrances and pictured myself living in the ruin during its heyday, climbing up those walls with a load of wood on my back or leading my little sister. 

It was a magical experience. For weeks and months afterwards, I would imagine myself back in Balcony House and pretend I was one of the original people that lived there. I also read everything I could find, both fiction and non-fiction on the place. I was head over heels in love.

Sadly, this is not the experience my kids got at Balcony House. They were not allowed to experience the wonder of discovering a haunting ruin on their own. Instead they were subjected to the slowest, most boring, didactic one-hour guided lecture that I have ever had the misfortune to listen to. 

Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I watched in horror as not only my kids, but all the other kids in the group, and eventually most of the adults tuned out the droning information dump of the park ranger. We were told what to think about, what to touch and not touch, where to walk, how long to look at an object, what archaeologists were sure everything meant (which, by the way, was completely different than when I visited before). 

I know that park officials have had to get more strict about tourists climbing into the ruins or touching them. This is due to the sheer number of visitors they now receive and the damage all us tourists are doing to these fragile marvels from the past. I totally get that. But surely, surely there is a way to not destroy the wonder at the same time? To let visitors discover on their own the magic of this national treasure?

But how often do we as writers do the very same thing to our audience? We tell them every single thing they need to think or see in a scene instead of letting them unravel the mystery of our imaginary world all on their own. So what if some of the things they imagine aren’t what we envisioned? Who cares if they go away wondering about some loose ends that we haven’t tied up? Don’t the best authors leave us wondering, wanting more?

Show don't tell. I will never hear these words again during a critique without picturing the light of excitement fading from all those tourists' eyes, from my children's eyes. And hopefully this experience will pound that writing truth even deeper into my literary heart.

(And if anyone from the National Park Service ever happens to read this blog, please know that people will continue to visit Mesa Verde even if you cut down on the lectures. You aren't the reason they came to visit in the first place.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Write It! Write The Bloody Book!

By J.C. Lynne

I've embraced my writer self. I no longer hesitate to introduce my profession as an author. Those first few times, I stumbled, but not now. Hi, I'm J.C. What do I do? I'm an author. Why yes, I have a novel published and the sequel will be out in a few weeks.

It never fails, someone invariably tells me they've always desired a writing career. The excuses are familiar. No time. A busy career. The piece is terrible. No one will publish it. It's too long. It's too short. It's a mixed genre. It's a new genre. There are millions of books out there already.

Here's the deal. You don't have to quit your day job. Every article out there says keep it. Okay, I don't listen to common wisdom sometimes, but I completed my first novel while teaching full time. It can be done.

Write. Whatever IT is, just write. If it's finished have it professionally edited. If it's edited get it to Beta readers and send it to every single agent that represents your genre. Find a small press. Heck, you can even publish it yourself. Leave it in the drawer for your family to find one day, but never for one minute think the list of excuses won't turn into "Oh, I should have...."

Essays, memoirs, novels, articles. Write it!

The end.

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