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.

April 9 - 10, 2021 24TH Annual Blue Ridge Writers Conference in Blue Ridge Georgia.

April 10, 2021 Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference at the Holiday Inn in Clark, NJ

April 12 - 18, 2021 Breakout Novel Intensive in Hood River Oregon.

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).

April 16 - 19, 2021 Colrain Poetry Classic will be held via Zoom this year.

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.

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

April 21 – 25, 2021 Chanticleer Authors Conference, Bellingham, Washington. Hotel Bellwether will be virtual this year.

April 22 - 25, 2021 The St. Augustine Author-Mentor Novel Workshop in St. Augustine, Florida

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.

April 24 - May 1, 2021 Ravencon Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention will take place in Richmond, Virginia.

April 24 - May 2, 2021 Northern Colorado Writers Conference will be a virtual conference this year. Registration Begins December 2020.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

May 26 - 29, 2021 North Words Writers Symposium, Skagway, Alaska.

May 30 -June 2, 2021 Blue Ridge Christian Writer’s Conference, Asheville, NC

June 3 - 4, 2021 Clarksville Writers Conference in Clarksville, Tennessee. Visit site for updates.

June 3 - 6, 2021 Indiana University Writers' Conference, Bloomington, Indiana will be virtual this year.

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.

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.

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

June 12-13, 2021 California Crime Writers Conference Culver City, California,

June 13 - 17, 2021 Tinker Mountain Writers, Hollins University, Virginia will be virtual this year.

June 17 - 27, 2021 Fine Arts Residency Conference Pacific University campus, Forest Grove, Oregon.

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.

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.

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.

June 21 - 26, 2021 Minnesota Northwoods Writers ConferenceBemidji State University, Minnesota. Conference will be online.

June 22 - 26, 2022 Wesleyan Writers Conference, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. The 2021 conference has been cancelled. Check site for plans for 2022.

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.

June 24 - 26, 2021 Historical Novel Society Conference will be virtual for 2021. Registration opens February 15, 2021.

June 25 - 26, 2021 Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, WA, will announce the full details in the fall. Check site for updates.

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 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 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

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Life-Writing: Merging Feelings, Fact, and Fiction

The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing describes it as extending far beyond basic biography ( Running the gamut from a full life to day-in-and-day-out living, it transcends the limits of facts, fiction, people, animals, organizations, objects, and promotes embracing them all. 

Such a broad application is, to say the least, mindboggling. Breaking it down into single components makes it more mentally digestible; however, it's still challenging to wrap one's head around. For writers, however, it opens doors to a wide variety of possibilities and genres. Beyond personal works such as journals and diaries, it also includes autobiographies, memoirs, and more. 

Let's take life-writing down a different path, a step away from basic personal facts and into the field of fiction. Many people keep diaries and/or journals. I intermittently kept a diary as a young teen but never journaled. The older I grew, however, the greater my need for expression of life's disappointments and pain. Except for an unpublished short story and a published article, I didn't pursue serious writing until my sixtieth year. 

The first novel, currently undergoing its final (I hope) revision, took five years to write—five years to allow long-buried emotions to surface enough to transfer them to different characters. The second novel, completed a few years later, provided more characters and avenues for expression. Does fiction writing work like journaling as a platform for life-writing? No doubt it could because facts in one form or another create the underpinnings of most novels. 

One final thought: poetry works, too. While preparing to write this article, I reviewed a folder of personal poems I'd saved over the years. The earliest one was obviously written in elementary school; most were written decades later. While a lot them simply shared thoughts or observations, one in particular struck me as different. It's a bit long, but I am going to include it here as a poetic example of life-writing. (Another example is Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie* by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a book-length narrative poem I read in high school and one to which I would never dare compare my amateur attempts at verse.)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


If I could live my life again, would I change what I did then?
Many small things come to mind if I returned to days behind;
But one regret takes precedence o'er all the other incidents,
One that stabs with agony my heart that has not since been free.

Our meeting was of innocence, yet I was filled with diffidence;
Our friendship grew in spite of me; a steadfast friend he proved to be;
But I could never let him know how in my heart I loved him so,
For he might laugh or leave me then, spurn my love, not be my friend.

There is no greater pain, I said, so I'll be safe and keep my head;
Stifling all the joy inside, in the friendship I did hide;
That lovely friendship wasn't wrong, but it was a simple song;
Yet there's another melody, a majestic symphony.

A rare and precious gift exists for those who brave the deep abyss
Of fear that pain too much to bear is waiting for them over there;
Instead an orchestra awaits those passing through love's magic gate
Where soul mates write their unique song, where to each other they belong.

By not embracing what was real, what was truth, what I did feel,
I told myself his loving me was something that could never be;
As I look back, I now despair. Did he want me? Did he care?
And I have found the greater pain, forsaking love that could have been.

Now I've passed the bloom of youth; now it's time to live with truth;
I, in my fear, myself denied; a joy beyond compare thus died;
I cannot not resurrect the past, nor can I find some peace at last
For my heart I have betrayed just because I was afraid.

But should we ever meet again, should I find this special friend,
I would not deny my heart; it would be diff'rent from the start;
My unbounded love I'd share; he would know how much I care.
I would dare to take a chance; I would embrace the sweet romance.

My open heart I'd not protect; my love for him I'd not reject;
Though I might be still in fear, I'd recall what is most dear,
And I would not push him aside; I would not my feelings hide…
If I could live my life again, yes, I would change what I did then.

*May have been based loosely on a true incident during the time when the British were deporting the Acadians from Nova Scotia (1755-1763). This beautiful epic poem fits the definition of life-writing, at least as I understand it.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Literary in nature, her novels focus on character as well as plot; their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. You can contact her through her websites. and

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Memoir: True History One Life at a Time

I read a few memoirs each year, looking primarily for works by writers and other real people. In other words, I avoid the tales put forth by politicians and entertainment celebrities.

What is memoir? Memoir is a tiny word for a huge variety of life stories, sometimes comprehensive tales from childhood to old age, other times a few meaningful weeks plucked out of a life that may have changed that life in unexpected ways. We, as readers, often develop the habit of reading only one or two genres, mostly fiction. But real people all over the world have shared something intimate and profound about their lives and times. We can learn something different from memoir than we can from the best of the best in history books because we get a slice of that history from one point of view. History is made up of those unique perspectives. I am grateful to those writers who are brave enough to give us a piece of themselves.

I don’t know anything about writing memoir, but I think it’s safe to say that those who aspire to write memoir must also read memoir. Common advice for any writer of any genre, fiction or nonfiction, it’s a basic truth.

My first recommendation is also my most recent read in the genre. Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, is the poignant and soul-searching story of Natasha Trethewey’s childhood and the horrible trauma of her mother’s murder when Natasha was still in college. This story pulled me into Trethewey’s experience in a heartbreaking way. Writing about tragedy can’t be easy, and that explains why it took the author so many years to revisit her childhood and her love for her mother. Perhaps a Pulitzer Prize winning past US poet laureate (2012-2014) was the best person to deal with the issues of race and violence that molded Trethewey and sealed her mother’s fate. This is the kind of memoir that creates a truth about history, one life at a time.

Last month I posted about The Quarantine Tapes--Good Listening for Black History Month and Pandemic Woes. There you will find the link to the Eddie Glaude interview of Natasha Trethewey.

Memoir can also be sweet and entertaining. Nicholas Sparks and his brother Micah were in their mid-thirties and the last survivors of their family when they undertook an adventure. They tell their story in Three Weeks with My Brother, a book I read several years ago. This one made me wish I’d taken off on a trip with my own brother before it was too late.

With all the adventure-seeking people in the world (and the armchair travelers who follow their exploits), it’s no surprise to find so many memoirs devoted to outdoor experiences. The relatively gentle A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson is fun and funny and sometimes a bit scary, but not too much. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is introspection combined with a fish-out-of-water set of experiences I loved reading about but would never attempt.

An alternative type of adventure memoir will be released in April 2021. The Next Everest: Surviving the Mountain's Deadliest Day and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again by Jim Davidson is high tension and very scary. The book tells of Davidson’s two attempts to summit Everest, the first try foiled by the massive earthquake that trapped many climbers on the mountain and devastated the base camp. How he got through that terrifying ordeal and then went back to the mountain again is high tension as well as educational and motivational. Here’s the link to the book trailer.

 Memoir comes in many forms. Here are four more I enjoyed:

The Summer of the Great Grandmother by Madeline L’Engle. I also love “L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet: Book One of the Crosswick Journals.

I Am Malala : How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World / Malala Yousafzai

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

I also liked Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace - One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson, but be aware there are questions about the authenticity of some of the anecdotes.


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.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Introducing the Fierce and Funny Marti MacGibbon

For memoir month, I am thrilled to introduce you to one of my personal heroes, the amazing Marti MacGibbon. We met one day when she and her husband knocked on our door with a petition to keep a self-storage facility from being built next to the elementary school. We happily signed. They had moved in a few houses down and my husband and I were thrilled to find kindred spirits. 

When I mentioned I wrote books, Marti told me about her self-published memoir Never Give In To Fear: Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom. Memoir is not my usual jam, but I purchased it and loved it. With her gallows humor, Marti wrote about her move to California to work in comedy which soon turned into a nightmare of homelessness, addiction, and being sex trafficked to the Japanese Yakuza.

Marti not only survived but thrived, using her experiences to help others. She gained professional certifications in ACRPS, (Advanced Certified Relapse Prevention Specialist, and the CAPMS (Certified Addiction-Free Pain Management Specialist) and became a public speaker on the issues of addiction and sex trafficking. She has traveled the globe and been invited to speak at the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office for Victims of Crime on mental health and policy advocacy. Returning to her love of standup, Marti is founder, producer, and emcee of Laff-Aholics Standup Comedy Benefit for Recovery, an annual charity fundraiser in Indianapolis that features nationally headlining comedians.

Never Give Into Fear became a nationally award-winning and critically acclaimed memoir. She followed it up with Fierce, Funny, and Female in which Marti takes us to the oil fields in Texas where she was one of the first women to work as a laborer, setting off explosives and staking oil wells. The memoir is dotted with memorable characters: sleazy authority figures, wannabe Sixties musicians, crazed Corn Belt cult leaders, wild-eyed redneck coworkers who robbed banks on their lunch hour in the company truck, Texas oil billionaires and wildcatters.

We both left Indianapolis, moving to opposite coasts, but I have enjoyed watching her spread her wings and soar, giving back to a world that took so much from her. She is a bad-ass warrior woman and I can't wait to see what she does next.

You can learn more about Marti and connect with her on social media and view her inspirational talks and comedy on her YouTube channel.

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 for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Lost Diaries of a Future Author

Open Book Gateway, photograph by Clyde Robinson, via Flickr

I first read Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl when I was about eleven or twelve years old. In the self-centeredness of prepubescence, what I most identified with was Anne’s difficult relationship with her mother. And I was awestruck at the audacious way she wrote about their arguments and how angry she was at her mother.

It wasn’t long before I decided to start writing a diary of my own. It served as a record of things I did and places I went so that I could remember and transcribe the most relevant news into letters to my best friend, who had moved overseas when we were ten. I made a pencil mark at the end of the last entry to have made it into the current letter, so I would know where to begin the next. In those days, it took several weeks for our mail to be delivered, so it was easily two months’ worth of diary entries that went into each letter.

And, emboldened by Anne, I also used my diary to vent my frustration, devastation, and rage over my mother’s abusive behaviour towards me. It would be twenty years before my mother was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder; all I had for support was pen and paper.

When I was nineteen I left home and escaped overseas for two years, taking the current diary with me to record my adventures and travels—but, stupidly and in the rush of packing, I forgot to lock away the six or so books I’d amassed over the years. Or maybe it was fate. My parents moved house while I was away, and my mother found and decided to read my diaries “to try and figure out why [her] daughter was so unhappy”. When I returned, she confronted me about their contents that described “family business” and abuse that I’d been told never to reveal. Although we managed to have it out with many tears on both sides, she won that round and I felt I had no choice but to allow her to burn the diaries with their damning evidence against her. I even handed over my travel diary that had nothing about her in it.

I stopped keeping a diary until about seven years later when I realised I was being left behind while everyone and their dog was happily blogging away. My first attempts to join in lead to panic; it was then that I noticed how deeply but subconsciously I’d been affected by my mother’s condemnation of my personal writing. I had developed a complete and painful mental block against writing about myself and my feelings. For an author, this was a serious problem: I couldn’t even manage a decent bio, let alone a blog. Even Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages failed for me—I ended up using them to write general articles at one point rather than stream of consciousness, because stream of subconscious said, “Don’t you dare write down what you really feel.”

It took me ten years to get to the point where I could blog without feeling sick to my stomach. But, still, I found it painful and laboured, posting probably once a month on average, if that. Every so often I try to keep a record of some sort—my children's births and early childhoods, especially—but for each short note I make, there is much more that remains locked in my head, so much that I want to go back and fill in. I've come to think that I might one day consolidate the scraps of Morning Pages, notebooks, and day-to-a-page diaries, prompted by some of the thousands of photographs sitting on various hard drives, and write it down as a family-only memoir. I think then I might find some peace.

As painful as it was for both of us, my mother reading my diaries did have a positive effect thirteen years after the fact, shortly before she died. As part of the counselling that followed her diagnosis with bipolar disorder, my mother reopened communication on her behaviour during my childhood. It didn’t go smoothly, but she gradually came to understand and accept my point of view, and had the grace to apologise. I think we both achieved some closure on the issue and reconciled before she died, and I was slowly able to write publicly about myself again.

This month at the Blood-Red Pencil we are looking at life-writing in it's various forms: memoirs, journals, diaries, autobiographies. If you missed it, do catch Maryann Miller's post on memoir writing and the release of her latest book, The Many Faces of Grief: Stories of Love, Loss, and Hope From a Hospital Chaplain.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at or check out her programme for new writers at Fully Booked.

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography