Thursday, April 15, 2021

Ask Us Anything About #Writing with Amy Shamroe and Our Blogging Team

Dani: Dear readers, today we welcome Amy Shamroe to the Blood-Red Pencil. Amy, tell us a bit about your writing project.


Amy
I have worked in books pretty much my entire adult life (bookseller and book festival organizer). As one might imagine, I have been a voracious reader since I could first read, too.
 
Despite that, when I was sitting in my living room working on designing an ad for work and an idea of a book popped in my head - not just a book, but a series - I was both excited and scared. Like many I have daydreamed here and there and toyed with ideas, but suddenly I could see my main character and her love interest detective. Her character and personality were so clear, I swear I could hear her voice. And so was the time period - the 1920s. Living through a pandemic now certainly certainly makes that time period so relatable. But it also has so much to work with - the losses from the war combined with the wealth and excess of the new decade. The changes in everything from music and literature to social norms. I am venturing to bring her and her very interesting friends to life.

So here are my first few questions:

Amy
What advice do you have to first time authors to stay inspired? Life can get in the way of a lot of things, especially something you are trying for the first time and not sure how it will go. What can I do to keep myself keeping at it?

Make it a daily ritual to write, and think of it as a gift to yourself. Even if you only spend a half hour at lunch writing, or an hour before bed, this is your time to create something precious. Do it for yourself, before anyone else, and without regard for any long-term goal. Enjoy the process just for itself.

I think having an accountability partner is very important. It could be a fellow writer, your best friend, or a writing group that you can be a part of so that you can share your journey. I think it's also important to create a space in your world that is delegated to your writing. It could be an actual room, it could be a closet that you put a desk and chair in, it could be a lap desk that you purchase to put your laptop on, as long as when you see this item or are in that space, you know it is time to write. Also, it is important to think about your day-to-day activities. It would be a good idea to sit down and journal what you do throughout a week. You want to put in the times that you eat your meals, take care of children, go to work, play on social media, Etc. Doing this will allow you to find time that you can reclaim to use for writing. For example, many of us spend a great deal of time on social media, and we could easily carve out 15 minutes or 30 minutes or even an hour a day or every other day for our writing instead of for being on social media.

Commit to yourself to show up every day. That's all you have to do: just show up. Make it your priority, before browsing the internet, checking social media, answering emails. What does "show up" mean? That's something you get to define. Everyone is different, and it's a muscle you need to develop. So a beginner writer might not be able to pound out 4000 words a day, but they could do 100 or 200. Some days might be really bad and "showing up" could simply mean opening the file on your computer, reading through some of what you wrote, and making a quick note about what's next. Showing up every day allows the work to stay in your mind, which is how you maintain momentum even when life gets in the way.

Many folks subscribe to the "show up every day" philosophy, and there's definitely something to training your brain to recognize: It's three o'clock: writing time!

But for some, that just doesn't work, so then you have to find something that will. Maybe every day is too much, what with all the other responsibilities. If so, then how about once a week? With Zoom and so on, there are all kinds of "write-in" groups one can join that meet at various times of the day or night. (My local Sisters in Crime and local California Writers Club chapters both have such.) 🙂 I find having writing buddies who nag me, who are willing to brainstorm, is extremely helpful in keeping the writing on track and keeping me inspired.
 

Amy
How do you keep confidence in your ideas? As someone who has read her entire life, I write and work on character development and then have moments of "Does that sound too much like X character or Y series?" No one needs to reinvent the genre wheel, but no one wants to be a hack either ...

Shonell
One thing I like to do is keep affirmations around my writing space. These affirmations speak to me being a great writer with an active, unique, and creative imagination. I recite these every day, especially when I sit to write. I also get very drill sergeant on myself and say, "Shonell, stop and write, now!" I do this because it's important to get out of your thoughts and into your writing.

Keeping our confidence level high is always a challenge. One thing that helps me is going through an older manuscript and finding a passage that just sings. I marvel that I wrote that and let that euphoria bolster me. I love to find such passages in books I read, which is why this works for me. That doesn't mean that the confidence doesn't ebb and flow, but to succeed we need to keep on writing.

Even if you gave ten writers the same basic plot and number of characters, each story would be unique: different voice, view of the world, opinions, descriptions, dialogue, and themes. No two stories are identical unless someone plagiarized. 🙂
 
Elle
The characters you come up with and their interactions will be your unique stamp on your work. Plots very often turn out to be similar (Georges Polti posited the 37 dramatic situations theory in the 19th century), but, as Diana said, every writer approaches these core plots differently, and every character responds differently. As long as you, as the author, are fascinated by your own characters that will carry you through the doubts. If you think they seem too close to characters you've viewed or read in other stories, think about what aspect or trait of that other character might have stayed with you and why. Then think about your character's back story and how it must be different to the other author's character. How does your character's history change their point of view and their response to situations? How did they get to be like so-and-so if they didn't have the exact same set of experiences? What did happen to your character?

Dani 
And in the first draft, what is most important is that you love your own characters. So what if they might seem like someone else's? For now, don't even think about it. The time to critically examine that is in a revision. Just love them as they evolve in the first draft.

Amy
Is it better to just get scenes/plot points down and come back and fill in details or to spend time on everything you write in the moment? (i.e.- get it all down NaNoWriMo style and go back and bulk it out or maybe spend two days on two pages getting it all down)...

Shonell
The better way is the way that gets your story finished. I like developing outlines that are a bit in-depth with notes about what happens in particular scenes, things characters say and do, etc. Doing this gives me visuals to jump into when I begin writing the story in earnest.

Elle
For a beginning writer, I would highly suggest learning to plot to start with - simply because this will save you time in the long run. Experienced writers who write to a "formula" (eg., genre conventions, like a cozy murder mystery or a romance which each have certain steps that tend to fall into place and everything else just fits around that framework) can get away with just letting it unfold as they write, because their minds are filling in the structure and characterization behind the scenes. But if you were to mess up in the first draft because you hadn't planned it out well enough, that means a lot of editing and rewriting much of the book when you could be working on the next book in the series instead. I recommend studying the books "Save the Cat Writes a Novel" and Gail Carriger's "The Heroine's Journey" to get a solid handle on plotting.

Plot? What means plot?

Elle
A patch of dirt in a graveyard with a headstone on it? 😅
 
Dani
I am big into some form of outline with basic plot points. Divided into three "acts".

Elle
Oh, I'm so done with not outlining properly. Retrofitting an outline into a manuscript that's already written is a total pain.

Dani
Back-outlining is a great exercise though.

Elle
Yep, eye-opening. But the cutting and rewriting that goes with it: not so much fun.

Diana
I believe in the conflict outline and the bare bones plot. There is no point wasting time on characters, plot devices, descriptions, line editing, and proof reading for it only to get cut later. Better to “imagine” your way through the basic bones then go back and flesh them out once you have a solid skeleton.

Maryann
My suggestion, and one I tell my editing clients, is to get the story down first. Write forward as long as the creative juices are flowing. Refining the story and the prose come in the second and third drafts. Don't shortchange your baby by only writing one draft and considering it done. So much can improve with careful rewrites. Choosing new refreshing words and phrases instead of the first ones that come to mind. Cleaning up awkward dialogue. And plugging up holes in the plot. But first get the story down.

Ann
Hmmm. Lots of interesting responses here! I start with a synopsis... usually five to ten pages that is mostly "here is the plot." Then I dive in and see where the writing takes me. Usually I follow the synopsis for a while and then... something unexpected happens! Oh boy!... and off I go, four-wheeling into uncharted territory (occasionally checking the synopsis "road map" to see if I'm more or less heading in more or less the same direction).

The past few books, though, I've been stopping short of halfway to make "chapter notes." These notes are the basic plot/character points I need to hit to reach the end, roughly divided into chapters (usually what happens is what I think will be one chapter ends up being two or even three). Those notes help me deal with the dreaded "muddle in the middle," where I *freeze* and wonder how the heck I got here and how I'm going to get out! 🤣
 
As for writing individual chapters, I let them flow, and sometimes I stop and research some quick bit I need. Sometimes I mark it with TK (to come) and rush forward.
 

Dani: What about you, readers? Do you have any advice or suggestions for Amy as she embarks on writing her first book? Please leave us a comment. We'll have more questions from Amy soon!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Poetry is Just Not My Thing

Even if I admit to being deeply moved by Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb, delivered with such stirring passion at President Biden’s inauguration, poems are still not my thing.

And even if I have a favorite poem that I’ll read again and again, specifically The Calf-Path by Sam Foss, poetry does not regularly call me to read or write in any of its forms.

Counting syllables to create a meaningful haiku does not feel like fun. Even if I wanted to write more ambitious poems, I’d have to go back and learn the basics all over again. Any little thing I might have learned from my college class has long ago been deleted from memory.

For me, National Poetry Month is less exciting than some of the other national month options. Did you know that April is also National Fresh Celery Month? I thought not. I love celery, especially with cream cheese. Or peanut butter.

April is also National Humor Month. Humor has carried me through the last year via television comedy and the antics of my cat and dog. I’m even writing humor these days (in a cozy mystery).

But back to poetry. I tried to write a few poems way back in the old days. They were terrible. I still have them in my box of unpublishable stuff to remind me not to do that ever again.

Those who find joy in reading and writing poetry are special people. A few of my friends have been writing poems for many years. They know what they’re doing, and they do it well enough to get published.

I’ll be satisfied if I can occasionally write prose lyrically. But it won’t be poetry. For me, April will have to remain more about fresh celery and humor.

 


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is now available in a large print edition, ebook and trade paperback. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appeared in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy, and brown tabby Katie Cat.

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Why I bought the book: Magic Lessons is a prequel to the book Practical Magic. I am ashamed to admit I had never read Practical Magic (which I have now remedied along with book two in the series The Rules of Magic and a third will be out later this year The Book of Magic). I will likely purchase her entire back list and add her to my top favorite writer list. I had enjoyed the 1998 movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock.

Magic Lessons traces the origin of the Owens bloodline starting with Maria Owens in the 1600s and her mother Rebecca. Rebecca leaves her daughter Maria with a woman named Hannah Owens, so she can chase love. Thus begins the Owens women's fraught entanglement with romantic love which seems doomed to bring them sorrow even as they help other women with their relationship woes. Hannah teaches Maria to always love someone who loves you back. However, like her wild mother, Maria falls for a weak man who leaves her pregnant and alone in the world. Maria follows him to Salem Massachusetts where she gives birth to her own daughter, Faith. Faith is kidnapped by a woman desperate for a child as Maria is on her way to the gallows to be executed for being a witch. Maria escapes and spends years searching for her daughter.

From an analytical standpoint, Hoffman does several things that would make me set aside another book. The story is related by a distant omniscient narrator like fairy tales of old. The characters are spoken of, not spoken through. The entire story could be considered telling not showing. There are historical information dumps and long lists of magical potions and plants. I admit I skipped over the lists. The book would be a great research source for anyone interested in writing about magic and folk cures in the 1600s. The story also has some interesting history about New York City. 

However, the haunting story weaves a magic of its own. You care about the women trying to find their way in a world where they have no real power, except for the ability to practice the "natural arts" they are born with. It is a beautiful treatise on what constitutes love and what people are driven to in the name of it, how the heart sometimes wants what it shouldn't have and often regrets it. It explores the love of a mother/mother figure for her child.

The use of magic is described in enchanting terms. This is not the special-effects laden, wand waving kind of magic from modern cinema. It is a history lesson about folk wisdom, herbal lore, and incantations. It is a story about the danger of superstitions and the power of emotions.

I was caught up in Hoffman's story spell and could not stop reading until The End. I highly recommend trying it, even if it isn't your usual cup of Courage tea.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Lessons-Prequel-Practical-ebook/dp/B084G9VWRW/ in paperback or Kindle. 

You should check out her back list while there too.


Posted by Diana Hurwitz, author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

2021 Workshops and Conferences April to June

Whether a one day session, one week conference, or a month-long writing workshop, writing related events are a good way to commune with other writers. They are opportunities to network and get your name out there. In some instances, you can meet and mingle with editors and agents. Some offer critiques or pitching sessions. Nowhere will you find a higher concentration of introverts enjoying each other's company. Local conferences are a good place to meet potential critique groups or recruit members.

Some are free. Some require a fee. Some are more social than others. Many are for new writers, but a few dig deep into craft. You should choose an event that speaks to your needs and desires.

Unfortunately with the pandemic, many in-person events have been cancelled. Some have been replaced with virtual events, podcasts, or online classes and lectures.

Virtual events allow for a wider audience and lower costs since attendance does not require travel and lodging.

April 8 - 11, 2021 Book Lovers Convention, Nashville, Tennessee visit their site for updates and the status. https://www.bookloverscon.com/

April 9 - 10, 2021 24TH Annual Blue Ridge Writers Conference in Blue Ridge Georgia. https://www.blueridgewritersconference.com/

April 10, 2021 Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference at the Holiday Inn in Clark, NJ http://www.libertystatesfictionwriters.com/conference/

April 12 - 18, 2021 Breakout Novel Intensive in Hood River Oregon. https://www.free-expressions.com/breakout-novel-intensive-hood-river-or

April 13 - 29, 2021The American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference (ASJA), New York Marriott Downtown, New York City, New York, Conference will be hosted virtually April 13-29 and will span three tracks: Journalism (April 13-15), Books (April 20-23), Content Marketing (April 27-29). https://na.eventscloud.com/website/20696/

April 16 - 19, 2021 Colrain Poetry Classic will be held via Zoom this year. http://www.colrainpoetry.com/wp/?page_id=2871

April 17, 2021 A Rally For Writers Conference in Lansing, Michigan. The 2020 conference was cancelled. Check site for updates relating to the 2021 event. https://arallyofwriters.wordpress.com/

April 21 - 25, 2021 The Muse and the Marketplace, GrubStreet’s National Conference for Writers in Boston, Massachusetts will be virtual this year. http://museandthemarketplace.com/

April 21 – 25, 2021 Chanticleer Authors Conference, Bellingham, Washington. Hotel Bellwether will be virtual this year. https://www.chantireviews.com/chanticleer-conference/

April 22 - 25, 2021 The St. Augustine Author-Mentor Novel Workshop in St. Augustine, Florida https://algonkianconferences.com/conferences.html

April 23 - 25, 2021 Pikes Peak Writers Conference has decided to host a virtual conference in 2021 with the plan to come back as a hybrid conference in 2022.  More to come about registration which will open January 15, 2021. Check site for updates in the upcoming days/weeks. https://www.pikespeakwriters.com/ppwc

April 24 - May 1, 2021 Ravencon Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention will take place in Richmond, Virginia. http://www.ravencon.com/

April 24 - May 2, 2021 Northern Colorado Writers Conference will be a virtual conference this year. Registration Begins December 2020. http://www.northerncoloradowriters.com/

April 30 - May 2, 2021 Malice Domestic Convention, Bethesda, MD. Malice Domestic is extending the Agatha Registration Deadline until January 31, 2021. While we continue to evaluate options and plan for the best possible Malice 32/33, we feel this deadline extension is necessary. Everyone who is registered or becomes a Friend of Malice by January 31, 2021, will receive an Agatha Nomination Ballot in early February. http://malicedomestic.org/

May 7 - 9, 2021 Atlanta Writers Conference, Our 24th conference offers virtual agent/editor meetings and an online workshop doubleheader featuring NYT bestseller Lisa Gardner. https://atlantawritersconference.com/

May 10 - 17, 2021 Longleaf Writers' Conference, Seaside, Florida. Tentative plans are for an in person event but is subject to change. www.longleafwritersconference.com

May 13 - 15, 2021 Storymakers 2021 Conference registration will open February 9th, 2021 at 6 AM MST. It is tentative set for an in-person event but may change to virtual. Check their site for updates. https://ldstorymakersconference.com/

May 15 - 18, 2021 Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference in Alaska, will be a virtual event. Early-bird Registration is November 23, 2020 – February 28, 2021. Public Registration is March 1 - May 7, 2021. http://writersconf.kpc.alaska.edu/

May 20 - 23, 2021 Stokercon Horror Conference, the Royal and Grand Hotels, Scarborough, United Kingdom. Pandemic travel restrictions apply. http://stokercon2021.org/

May 24 - 28, 2021 Boldface Conference for Emerging Writers, University of Houston, Texas will be virtual this year. http://boldfaceconference.com/

May 26 - 29, 2021 North Words Writers Symposium, Skagway, Alaska. http://nwwriterss.com/

May 30 -June 2, 2021 Blue Ridge Christian Writer’s Conference, Asheville, NC
https://www.blueridgeconference.com/

June 3 - 4, 2021 Clarksville Writers Conference in Clarksville, Tennessee. Visit site for updates. http://www.artsandheritage.us/writers/descript.html

June 3 - 6, 2021 Indiana University Writers' Conference, Bloomington, Indiana will be virtual this year. https://iuwc.indiana.edu/

June 7 - 13, 2021 VCFA Novel Retreat, Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont. In a state of cautious optimism, we are planning for an on-campus retreat. However, if pandemic conditions warrant, we will again hold the retreat remotely via Zoom. https://vcfa.edu/novel-retreat/

June 11, 2021 Annual West of the Moon Writer’s Retreat, New Harmony, Indiana has plans to be in person. Visit site for updates and plans for 2021. http://westofthemoonretreat.com/the-retreat/

June 12 - 13, 2021 DFW Writers Conference (DFWCon), Dallas- Fort Worth Texas. Check site for status of the workshop in 2021. https://dfwcon.org/

June 12-13, 2021 California Crime Writers Conference Culver City, California, https://ccwconference.org/

June 13 - 17, 2021 Tinker Mountain Writers, Hollins University, Virginia will be virtual this year. https://www.hollins.edu/academics/workshops-online-writing-courses/tinker-mountain-writers-workshop-residential/

June 17 - 27, 2021 Fine Arts Residency Conference Pacific University campus, Forest Grove, Oregon. https://www.pacificu.edu/masters-fine-arts-writing/residency-writers-conference

June 17 - 19, 2021 Kentucky Christian Writers Conference, Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Updates to the website with plans for 2021 will be posted as soon as details are finalized. http://www.kychristianwriters.com/

June 20 - 26, 2021  Kenyon Review Fiction Workshop, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio is excited to offer a new suite of online programs for summer 2021. https://kenyonreview.org/writers/fiction/

June 20 - 26, 2021 Chesapeake Writers’ Conference at the St. Mary's College of Maryland hopes to offer an in person event this year. Check site for updates. https://www.smcm.edu/events/chesapeake-writers-conference/

June 21 - 26, 2021 Minnesota Northwoods Writers ConferenceBemidji State University, Minnesota. Conference will be online.  http://www.northwoodswriters.org

June 22 - 26, 2022 Wesleyan Writers Conference, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. The 2021 conference has been cancelled. Check site for plans for 2022. http://www.wesleyan.edu/writing/conference/

June 23rd – 27th, 2021 The 30TH Jackson Hole Writer’s Conference registration begins January 2nd. A 100% virtual event with post-conference access to material. http://jacksonholewritersconference.com

June 24 - 26, 2021 Historical Novel Society Conference will be virtual for 2021. Registration opens February 15, 2021. http://hns-conference.org

June 25 - 26, 2021 Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, WA, will announce the full details in the fall. Check site for updates. https://www.whatcom.edu/academics/community-continuing-education/chuckanut-writers-conference


Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Writers Gotta Read, Right? — Memoirs and more

To wrap up a month of memoirs, autobiographies, and life-writing/journaling, here is a “list of lists” for your reading pleasure.

Let’s start with memoirs.
Now, diaries and journals.
Image by annazuc from Pixabay

Finally, Library of Congress (LOC) has some fascinating collections of narratives/interviews available to read/watch online, including Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936 to 1938 and the Veterans History Project. For these sites, you need to dig around a bit if you are after something specific, but you can also let serendipity be your guide. For instance, here’s a link to a video interview with Frank Woodruff Buckles. Buckles, who lied about his age to join the U.S. Army in World War I, talks about his experiences in both world wars.

Here at Blood Red Pencil, you’ll find many more recommendations and tips from the gang if you look at previous March 2021 posts. If you have other resources or reads to share, we'd love to hear about them! Please let us know in the comments below.

Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sourcebooks. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit AnnParker.net for more information.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Sirocco - A French Girl Comes of Age in War-Torn Algeria

Full disclosure: Danielle Dahl, the author of the book I’m about to review and praise, is a member of the Upstate South Carolina Sisters in Crime chapter. She speaks with a pronounced French accent which I love listening to. I tell you this because she wrote her book in English, and it left me in awe of her command of her second language. I’ve read books by authors writing in English, their native tongue, who don’t write nearly as well. Ms. Dahl paints pictures with her words, and once you start reading, you are there, experiencing the joys, fears, and horrors of the time. Besides being a family saga, it is a history lesson that reverberates to this day, not only in Algeria but in many countries around the world fighting for their independence from warlords and dictators. It is a lesson to heed, but as we know too well, history repeats itself, and the world doesn’t listen.

Her book, Sirocco, is subtitled A French Girl Comes of Age in War-Torn Algeria, and it reads more like a novel than a first-person memoir, with dialogue, characters, and vignettes that put the reader in 1954 Algeria as it fights for its independence from France. We get to know Nanna, Danielle’s name in the book, and her family, especially her strong-willed Papa, as they, along with other French settlers, must choose between the suitcase or the grave.

I will write a bit of the prologue so you can enjoy the imagery and the meaning of the title, Sirocco.

“A tremor shook the soaring rock and its crowning city. A shudder as familiar to Constantine and its dwellers as the searing Sirocco wind that, in season, blew howling sand from the Sahara Desert, hundreds of miles south. Then, as abruptly as it started, the quake rumbled away and the city settled in its limestone bed as if nothing had happened. Fooling no one.

“Everyone knew―the Berber boy herding his goats, in the searing North African sun, the Muezzin in the Kasbah, calling the day’s prayers, the Synagogue’s Cantor striking his mournful chants and, certainly, ten-year-old Nanna riding in the back seat of the family car―everyone knew that “Évènements” had been set in motion.

“Events that would revive Constantine’s eons-old tradition of seesawing between peace and war, abundance and devastation. Numidians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals. Arab and Berber dynasties. All had ruled her. But she endured and, one hundred and sixteen years after the French wrestled her from the Turks, Constantine still commanded the vast western plain, the chasm of the Rhumel River, and the four eastern bridges that anchored her to the land across the gorges.”

Memoirs are usually someone’s story of self-aggrandizement―how he or she became famous and why we should know about it. Moreover, why we should care. Danielle’s book is a story of survival. It is funny, sad, and frightening, but most of all it is personal. Isn’t that what a memoir should be?

I know she translated the story into French and is writing the next installment, Mistral. I, for one, look forward to reading it.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Memoirs - Reading Them and Writing Them

When I first got interested in writing a memoir, I started reading a lot of them, and in doing so I discovered that there’s a lot of similarities between a memoir and a novel of real life. In both, the writer is relating incidents and experiences that shaped a life, and each has to be written in a way that totally immerses the reader in the story.

I came to that realization when I read The GlassCastle by Jeannette Walls, followed by Half Broke Horses, which is a book about her grandmother’s life. One is a memoir, the other is a novel of real life. It actually has the subtitle of A True-Life Novel.

They both are compelling stories, and I loved reading them some years ago when I was just starting to write Evelyn Evolving, the story of my mother’s life. When I finished Half Broke Horses, I realized that I could follow the author’s example and write the story of my mother's life as a true life novel and then later write my memoir.

As I mentioned here last month, writing my mother’s story was relatively easy compared to my attempts to write my memoir, which is still a work in disarray. I’d say progress, WIP, but at times it hardly feels that way. And I must say that the writing of Evelyn Evolving was aided in great part by working with Kathryn Craft, a developmental editor and former member of the BRP team. With her guidance and objective POV, I was able to move from biography to novel.

After reading those books by Jeannette Walls I've gone on to read a number of other memoirs in my attempt to figure out what style and form mine might take. When moving into uncharted waters it’s always good to find a few maps to consult. Writing in a new genre is much the same.

If you’re considering writing your memoir, I highly recommend that you also read as many as you can to get a sense of how they’re written. The most important element of a compelling memoir, besides having a theme that is relatable, is how enjoyable the story is. The best memoirs that I've read are so much like fiction that the line blurs between real person and made-up character.

The most recent example of that is a book I just finished reading, Omaha to Ogallala by Terry Korth Fischer. I was only a few chapters in when I forgot I was reading a memoir and not a novel with pretend people making that trip across Nebraska. (I recently posted a review ofthe book on my personal blog.)

While you’re reading memoirs, I suggest that, in addition to considering style, you look for the theme of each book. Theme is very important in a good memoir, and recognizing it in other works will help you define yours. What is the reader going to take away from the story? What is the message? Where is the lesson, the inspiration?

Cherry by Mary Karr is a memoir of self-discovery with a rather bawdy look at sexuality in the 70s. Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey is also a book about self-discovery, with lessons learned about being a man from his father.

In The Glass Castle, Walls addresses the theme of siblings taking care of each other when parents have failed them. It is a story of resilience. In Omaha to Ogallala Terry Korth Fisher has a theme of one sister’s attempt to bring more closeness to her family by way of a week-long vacation together.

In fiction, one writes toward the conclusion of the story. For a romance, that will be the happy-ever-after. For a mystery, it’s the crime solved and the culprit paying the price. In fantasy, the hero, or heroine, successfully defends the kingdom against the threats of evil people or creatures. Every plot element, and scene, has to somehow move the story toward that end.

For memoirs, one writes toward theme. Every scene has to address that theme or it is unnecessary. After I figured that out, I realized that one of my favorite stories about myself, how broccoli saved my life, may not fit in the finished version of my memoir. Too bad, I loved that chapter.

Which is one more truth I’ve learned about memoir writing. Nobody cares if you love it. Will the reader love it?


Have you read a good memoir you'd like to recommend? After reading some of the posts this month here, are you considering writing one? Do let us know in the comments.



Award-winning author Maryann Miller has numerous credits as a columnist, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. She also has an extensive background in editing. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page read her Blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter