Tag 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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Reading and five minute video

Hot Summer Nights 7-2016

August 26th, I took part in “Hot Summer Nights”–Tuesdays in July when four members of Redwood Writers, the largest branch of the California Writers Club, read from recently their published books at Copperfield’s Book Store in Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, CA. This is the fourth year Copperfield’s has partnered with us on this event.

Here’s a five minute clip my friend Beth filmed: https://youtu.be/auw1c9uoiJY

Enjoy!

 

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Bound to Love wins award!

My memoir, Bound to Love, won the indieBRAG medallion award, hence the new gold medallion on the cover. I was delighted to receive fives, their top rating, in every category.

They review, and grade independently published books. I’ve entered four other contests for books post-publication, which I hope to hear about in the next few months.

Bound to Love cover dropshdw BRAG for sig

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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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The Book Designer e-book cover awards

I entered my cover in Joel Friedlander’s e-book cover contest at thebookdesigner.com. The nonfiction books are way down at the bottom. Although I did not win an award, Joel’s comment was “nicely balanced.”

Bound to Love ebook website

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believable prose

In addition to hooking our readers in the first couple of paragraphs, our writing needs to have verisimilitude—whether we’re writing memoir or fiction, it needs to be believable, smooth, and carry the reader into the dream of our story. Paying attention to these six points can help this happen:

  • Correct use of words—nothing will throw the reader out of the story faster than incorrect word usage. Know the difference between effect and affect. Capital and capitol. Site and cite. Complement and compliment. Lie and lay. Just because journalists and politicians make these mistakes doesn’t mean it is all right for serious writers. On the Internet you can look up lists of often confused and misused words. By using words correctly, you build the reader’s trust.
  • Sentence formation—vary sentence length, making sure sentences are constructed properly, without dangling modifiers, or incorrect referents. A scene with high tension might have shorter sentences, and even some fragments. A sequel that describes place might have lush, longer sentences. Notice the rhythm your sentences have, and vary it. We writers need to become aware of our tendencies, and work to overcome them.
  • Economical writing—our prose is dragged down by extra words: two (or three, or four) adjectives where one would do; extra attributions—he said, she said—where the meaning is clear without them; wandering, or circling descriptions, or weak verbs where a powerful one could eliminate unnecessary adverbs.
    Hint: I participate in a weekly critique group. Each week, we bring up to ten pages. For the six nights prior to that group, I review the section—honing, searching for strong verbs, deleting extra words. Every night I find ways to strengthen the writing. As I near the evening of the critique group, I read my selection out loud. It is amazing what I catch by listening to the words rather than reading them.
  • Avoid cliches—cliches are the easy, fall-back way that people describe a situation: “time will tell,” “old as the hills,” “scared out of my wits,” “fall head over heels.” Writers need to do better! Cliches are a sign of writerly laziness. It’s fine to use one as a placeholder in a first draft, but by the second draft, come up with an original phrase.
  • Retain standard punctuation—avoid multiple exclamation points !!!, or the useful ?!. They do not have a place in serious writing. Instead, use words to create that feeling.
  • Strong verbs—using strong verbs reduces the need for adverbs and adjectives, and lessens our reliance on the verb “to be.” Search your work for “was” and “were.” You may be stunned by how many instances you find.

Remember, most suggested rules have been broken in ways that succeed. But don’t count on it!

© Skye Blaine,  2016

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opening hooks

When writers begin a new piece, our first instinct is that we need to fill our readers in on what went before, so they are prepared for the story that is starting now. Sometimes our first instincts are not correct—and opening with back story is not the way to invite the reader in.

We need to hook our readers first. We must compel them to read on. There are a number of ways to incite the reader forward:
● Focus on one character, and make that character specific and unique, so the reader gets curious (second example, below)
● Raise a question, a problem, a situation, or a theme that the reader needs to have answered (first example, below)
● Answer or raise, or both, some of the questions of who, what, when, where, why
● Soon after, or in the opening itself, something must occur that raises the question of how things might turn out.
Do all novels or memoirs fulfill these specific hooks? No. But there must be something in the writing to drive the reader forward, to forget that he or she is relaxing in a recliner, and that the laundry really does need folding.

Look at this example, The Invention of Solitude, by Paul Auster:
“One day, there is life. A man, for example, in the best of health, not even old, with no history of illness. Everything is as it was, as it will always be. He goes from one day to the next, minding his own business, dreaming only of the life that lies before him. And then, suddenly, it happens there is death. A man lets out a little sigh, he slumps down in his chair, and it is death.”

This opening paragraph seems general, but as the reader, aren’t you convinced that soon, in just a few pages, you will find out what man has died? And why? He’s not even old! What happened?

And from Waiting to Exhale, by Terry MacMillan:
“Right now I’m supposed to be all geeked up because I’m getting ready for a New Year’s Eve party that some guy named Lionel invited me to. Sheila, my baby sister, insisted on giving me his phone number because he lives here in Denver and her simple-ass husband played basketball with him eleven years ago at the University of Washington, and since I’m still single (which is downright pitiful to her, considering I’m the oldest of four kids and the only one who has yet to say “I do”), she’s worried about me.”

MacMillan develops voice and character in this opening paragraph with “simple-ass husband” and “downright pitiful.” The reader wants to get to know this character better.

I encourage writers not to worry about the opening at beginning of writing. New writers can get stuck, writing and rewriting the first page. Often, it is not until the novel or memoir is finished that we come to understand the full arc, and where the story actually needs to start.

© Skye Blaine, 2016

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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, take two

Writing the truth about one’s younger self is daunting. It has required rigorous self-examination, and the willingness to admit my weaknesses and flaws.

I kept a running list of scenes that I needed to tackle, so each day, when I sat down to write, I had a place to start. I’d pick a scene from that list that felt alive, or “hot,” and began typing.

The very process of considering an event, and parsing for just the right words to express my experience, often brought long-forgotten detail to the surface. I also spoke to people from that time and asked questions about what they remembered. I did not, however, contact my ex-husbands during the writing process. I felt the need to stay with my own experience–even though I knew it was one-sided. I didn’t have the gumption to exhume those painful failures with them again. It wasn’t the time.

When I first began writing about my life, mentors encouraged me to write without filtering–to “tell my whole truth.” I wrote for self-discovery about myself as a parent, partner, and human being. Now that the memoir is finished and approaching publication, I felt I must reach out to people included in the story to let them know I wrote about them. This included not only friends and two ex-husbands, but physicians as well.

I have no interest in blaming. What happened, happened–we all participated, and I know each of us handled ourselves as best as we could in that moment–even when that best looked like rage, betrayal, or weakness.

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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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