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
My memoir, Bound to Love (link to book here), has won another first prize, from BAIPA (Bay Area Independent Publishers Association). I’m thrilled! I accepted the prize on Saturday, December 10th, and gave a twenty-minute presentation on readying work for publication.
I’m working on the cover for my first novel. I may still change the title, but for now it’s You Called Me Home. I put out a call to Scottish deerhound and Irish wolfhound internet lists for photos that may work for the front, and have five responses already. One of my characters is a deerhound/wolfhound mix, and one person who responded has a dog of that mixed heritage.
And I’m deep into writing the sequel, which takes place four years later, titled Must Like Dogs.
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
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.
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
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.”
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