Category Archives: memoir

my friend’s blog post: “one reason not to publish a memoir”

My friend Laura McHale Holland has written a thought-provoking post as a guest blogger on Kathy Pooler’s site. Anyone writing–or interested in writing–memoir can benefit by reading her post.

Here’s the link, and her picture is below: http://wp.me/p1vAO5-3kn

laura-mchale-holland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy!
Skye

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can we trust memory?

Memory is, by its very nature, flawed. Our brains take snapshots of events, and encode, along with the picture, smells, sounds, textures, and sometimes dialogue. But the whole scene is not captured; only the parts that impacted us. Memory is piecemeal.

Nonetheless, when we undertake writing a memoir—a chunk of our history—we are stuck with memory as our main source material, and if we’re lucky, journals we might have kept. It is my belief that if we have worked hard not to judge others, and to honestly assess the role we played in those events, we can use those memories to help reconstruct the story.

A big section of my memoir took place over thirty years ago. When faced with writing dialogue, I relied on my feeling sense of the encounters. Occasionally I remembered actual sentences people said, because they struck me so strongly. But most the time, I recreated it. Many people who are in the memoir have now read my account. No one, including the doctors who played a powerful role in our lives, has complained about the conversations I reconstructed in the memoir.

Of course, I also did research, and talked to people who were in my life back then. They were less helpful than I expected. These were not vivid memories that they had stored, because the situation hadn’t impacted them the way it had me.

So as long as you are not out to blame anyone, including yourself, and have developed an honest curiosity—even in situations where you felt victimized—I suggest trusting yourself, and writing what you recall on the page.

© Skye Blaine, 2016

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My book is published!

My book, Bound to Love: a memoir of grit and gratitude has been published! Both the paperback and Kindle versions can be found here, at Amazon. Other digital versions can be found at Smashwords.

Bound to Love ebook websiteThe memoir won first prize in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association 2005 contest under the name Blood Bond. That was a very bad time to market memoirs, I discovered, because of James Frey’s betrayal of the form when he exaggerated his personal story. I let the manuscript molder on my computer for seven years, then pulled it out and walked it through two more critique groups.

Bound to Love is the true story of a single mother who encountered and navigated a complicated nightmare for any parent. My child, the only child I could ever bear, was born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect, and suffered a more brutal health diagnosis soon after. Walk with me as I birth the courage and grit to meet Thom’s compounding challenges.

The memoir covers Thom’s first twenty years as we confront prejudice, injustice, and a share of compassion as well. This is an important read for any parent who feels alone raising a child with complex disabilities.

© Skye Blaine, 2015

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family trouble

I’ve been reading a book of essays by memoirists called Family Trouble, compiled by Joy Castro. The essays explore the challenges that come from writing about family and friends, and their possible reactions to what is revealed. I’ve learned from this book that when people get upset, it’s never what the writer expected would be upsetting. It might be a tiny detail of how a person was characterized. In some cases, revelations have brought families closer.

“First person point of view requires me to say who I am and where I’m standing when I look into the world, find something I think is worth reporting, and speak of it to the reader. In investigating this perspective and its sources of understanding and authority, I have to be able to write about what I see and where I stand–and therefore the places and people that have shaped me–with both honesty and clarity.” from the essay  “Things We Don’t Talk About” by Aaron Raz Link pg 157 of Family Trouble.

My take: tell my truth, remember that the other person is simply the same awareness clothed in a different form. I dive deep to mine my own weaknesses as well as the other peoples’ in the story. I do not write to blame anyone; I write to understand.
© Skye Blaine, 2015

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Filed under craft, memoir, writing, writing craft, writing process

narrative distance

Two decades ago, when I wrote the opening chapter of my memoir and took it to a writing group, the response I got was that the readers felt at a distance from the story. They even named that distance: it was like they were standing twelve feet away from the action. As a new writer, I puzzled over their comments. I had no idea what I had done—or not done—that created this impression. But I got clear that I, too, was holding back. My story is hard, and I was avoiding truly digging in and learning what I needed to know about that time in my life.

I gradually learned storytelling techniques—used in fiction, but equally beneficial, and needed, in memoir—such as the difference between scene and sequel, or showing and telling. I discovered that I had been “telling” the story—not putting my characters on stage and creating scenes with dialogue that pull the reader right into the action. This “showing” allows the reader to be inside my character, experiencing their anxiety, rage, or confusion, rather than looking at my character through a camera lens.

No particular narrative distance is either right or wrong. The writer needs to learn to control that distance to fit what is going on, and to manipulate it seamlessly without the reader noticing on a conscious level. If a scene is very, very intense and heavy, such as a rape, more distance may be helpful. We don’t want to trigger our readers so badly that they put down the book. When we provide facts for the reader—what neighborhood the character is in, for example, we are adding some distance. If we were intimately inside the character, they wouldn’t be thinking about the neighborhood by name. They would simply BE there, experiencing where they were walking.

© Skye Blaine, 2015

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the healing power of writing

Anne Lamott quoteRecently, in my Friday afternoon memoir group, our leader, Steve Boga, read a piece detailing the research and the health benefits for people who write about difficult passages in their lives. Please check out the article written last year by Rachel Grate for the full story. In brief, writing reduces depression, lowers blood pressure, and people who write spend less time in hospitals.

I have discovered another amazing outcome of memoir writing: reflecting back, even on events that occurred long ago, can catalyze life-changing epiphanies. In my experience, these insights don’t arrive until we have the capacity–and perhaps the willingness, even if it is unconscious–to welcome them.

I think of it this way: I write myself alive.

© Skye Blaine, 2015

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writing memoir

I wrote the first words of my soon-to-be-published memoir, Bound to Love, twenty-three years ago, while recovering from being hit by a huge falling tree branch–a life-threatening accident. Getting struck broke open what had been frozen inside for twenty-five years: my internal response to cruel comments made by a college creative writing professor in 1963. I put my pen down.

In October, 1992 I could no longer deny the call. I wrote a letter first, to an abusive night shift nurse in the Sacred Heart Hospital recovery room. I wrote and re-wrote that letter before sending it to make sure it clearly depicted my experience of her bedside manner. It was my first time writing on the computer, and I discovered the joys of cut and paste. Then I wrote the first twenty pages of the memoir—and stalled. I needed to learn the craft of writing.

In December 1997, I discovered an online workshop called WriteLab, out of Pennsylvania State University. Twenty-six exercises were offered on all aspects of creative writing: point of view, tense, characterization, scene and sequel, and so on. I posted my attempts for critique. The exercises required either a 300 or 500 word submission. If they ran over the noted word limit, they would not be critiqued. I completed all the exercises, and I learned the first powerful lesson of writing: how to cut my work, honing it again and again. Although WriteLab is no longer active, I consider it a master class–it gave me a solid foundation for storytelling.

I joined a critique group. The first one had a leader, but soon after I became a member of a peer group, and remained with them for over ten years. I only left because I moved to a different state. In 2001, on the advice and encouragement of Robert Hill Long—who taught creative writing at the University of Oregon—I applied to MFA programs, and was accepted by Antioch University. I ended up fulfilling a dual concentration in both fiction and creative non-fiction, and during that two-and-a-half years, wrote a huge chunk of Bound to Love.

Recently, sorting through old papers, I found the 1963 story that had incited my professor’s nasty side. Of course, it had problems and was not a successful story. But in rereading it, I saw the bones of a writer who loved wordsmithing, and worked with delicacy to find just the right rhythm and flavor. I no longer remember the name of the professor, but if he could be found, I would surely take him to task for not encouraging his student. I still wonder what about my story elicited such vitriolic comments.

 

 

 

 

 

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