memoir


 by Garrett Dennert

I don’t want you to be scared of the genre.

Creative nonfiction is a young genre.  Its very essence—advancing the exploration of the self through applicable ideas— makes it prone to experimentation.  It’s an exciting thing.  And scary.  But that’s why I’m here.  I don’t want you to be scared of the genre.  I don’t want you to be five-hundred words in and breach paralysis by analysis.  What I want you to be able to do is deflect mental haymakers like: “I can’t do this,” or, “I don’t like talking about myself.”  I’m hoping these five tips will help you fight your story onto the page.

Tip #1: Pursue an idea.

 My definition of creative nonfiction is as follows: where memoir and essay meet.  Yes, you’re (likely) talking about yourself.  Yes, you’re tapping into memories.  But what do those memories mean and what can be learned from them?  Lastly, how can the information be presented in a way that the reader can learn, and feel, as well?  By pursuing an idea.

For example, I wrote a piece of creative nonfiction recently that examines all of my past relationships.  If I were to strictly write about the memories of those relationships, it would be classified as memoir.  But because I took those memories and formulated a ‘hypothesis’, if you will (that we have three selves in a relationship: Love, Lust and I), the piece is classified as creative nonfiction.

Another example is a piece I wrote called “I’ve Killed Us, Mother”.  The memory I examine is one of me at seven years old and killing a barn swallow with a BB gun.  The driving idea of the piece, however, is that, by the narrator killing that bird, he also kills a part of his childhood; the murder forces him to grow up faster.

This distinction can also be viewed as the “What” and “So What” or “Story” and “Situation”.  But I believe ideas must drive a piece of creative nonfiction.  They can be large.  They can be small.  And loud.  Or quiet.

Tip #2: Apply truth(s).

There are two types of truths in creative nonfiction: lower-case truth (truth) and capital-T truth (Truth).  Lower-case truth is the emotional truth and it must be specific to either the narrator or the narrator’s subjects—emotions are indisputable facts to the self that cannot be ignored.  Truth, then, is plain, old, researched, sometimes boring fact—a city’s population, the cost for a cheeseburger, etc.

The most beautiful thing about creative nonfiction is that, more often than not, life cannot be folded up like a blanket

and placed neatly on a closet shelf.

Because creative nonfiction requires both, imagine the two truths on a teeter-totter.  Truth goes up, truth goes down and vice versa.  What amount of each do you need in order for your piece to achieve what it has set out to do?  What is taken away from each with the addition of the other?  While Truth has its place, I look more for truth as an editor.  And that’s because I want to empathize with the narrator.  I need to know what they’re feeling (or have felt) if I’m going to invest myself into the piece.

Tip #3: Embrace uncertainties.

The most beautiful thing about creative nonfiction is that, more often than not, life cannot be folded up like a blanket and placed neatly on a closet shelf.  There will be uncertainties about whatever it is you’re trying to get across.  Embrace them.  Admit them.  And move on.  Empathy—not sympathy—is created by doing so, and that is what you, the writer, should be striving for.

Tip #4: Just talk.

Sometimes I shy away from pieces of writing that, through vocabulary and word choice, make me feel inadequate.  Other times, I embrace them and the challenges they present.  Through this, I’ve realized something: just like there is no right way to speak, there is no right way to write.  See, writing isn’t just a job, it isn’t just an art form.  Writing is a way of communication.  So write in the way that feels comfortable, remembering that there is only one of you in this world.  Just talk to the reader, knowing that, by picking up your piece of writing, their ears are tilted your way.

Tip #5: Make it sing. 

Or dance.  Or scream.  Or punch.  Whatever the piece calls for, listen to it, and edit accordingly.  You have to keep in mind that, unless you are superhuman, your first draft is not going to be the final draft.  Sentence length and sentence variation will not be hitting on all cylinders.  Visual and contextual experiments, if you’ve chosen to perform them, (likely) will not be enticing the desired attention or emotion out of the reader.  Clean them up.  Keep in mind that, as you’re sending your work out for publication, the editors looking over the draft are doing so with the mindset that it is the final product.  So do what you can to make it as perfect as possible.

____________________

By way of Hart, Michigan and Seattle, Washington, Garrett Dennert currently resides in Holland, Michigan. He attended Grand Valley State University– initially as a Film & Video major– and in 2012 attained his B.A. in Creative Writing.  During the summer of 2011, at the age of twenty-one, Dennert published two books, one an instructional guide to the game of golf, the other a collection of short stories and essays.  More recent work can be seen in various forms at WHISKEYPAPER, CIRCA REVIEW, TOSKA MAGAZINE and QUICK FIX SPORTS.  He is currently a nonfiction editor of SQUALORLY and is at work on a dystopian novel titled WOUNDED TONGUE.

By Beth Carter

Many writers are learning how to Get Published Using Just Six Words, and here are my 5 Tips to getting started right away…

Tip #1: Choose Six Compelling Words

After all, you only have six words to play with, so be selective. It’s your story but you will want to grab the reader’s (okay, editor’s) attention. Be poignant, funny, sad, timely or quirky. You’re a writer, right? Use gripping words.

 Tip #2: Use Punctuation To Your Advantage

Forget all the rules you learned in high school English class. When writing six-word memoirs, punctuation is nearly as powerful as the words themselves. An interesting use of punctuation can lend style and sass to your memoir. For example, you might use one-word sentences for emphasis. See. What. I. Mean? Or try dashes or colons. Experiment to make your memoir as convincing as possible.

 Tip #3: Eliminate Needless Words

Again, you only have a six-word limit. Therefore, you must eliminate superfluous words like “the,” “that,” “a,” “an” and “I.” We’ll still get the message since we know you are the subject. It’s a memoir, remember?

 Tip #4: Choose A Theme

It’s easier to create six-word memoirs, if you enjoy (and experiment with) a theme. Check out the http://smithmag.net site and choose a theme you like. There are several to choose from such as “Life,” “Love and Romance,” “Food,” “Writing,” “Teens,” or “Work,” to name a few. Select the themed page that inspires you and start writing! Warning: Six-word memoirs are highly addictive.

 Tip #5: Write A Good Story

Whether your memoir is funny, sad or quirky, have fun with it. Get involved in the SMITH community founded by Editor Larry Smith. The site is now more interactive and members are allowed to respond to other members’ memoirs by making comments. You can also find Six-Word memoirs on Facebook and Twitter. Finally, the SMITH community often has community readings featuring its memoirists and the public. I attended one such event at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. I predict after trying this fun genre that you too will soon need a daily six-word memoir fix. Have fun and see you in the neighborhood.

____________________________________

A former bank vice president, Beth Carter shed her suits and heels and waved good-bye to corporate America to write. She is the author of two children’s picture books—WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE? and THE MISSING KEY. Both are available on Amazon and BN.com.

Carter is also published in three Echoes of the Ozarks anthologies, as well as A Bad Hair Day anthology. She is a multi-published six-word memoirist and is published in IT ALL CHANGED IN AN INSTANT, SIX WORDS ABOUT WORK and a 2013 six-word memoir desk calendar alongside celebrities and famous authors. An award-winning writer, Carter is at work on a novel (women’s fiction) and has been in marketing for over 20 years.

Blog: http://banterwithbeth.blogspot.com
Facebook: Beth Carter and Author Beth Carter
Twitter: bethsbanter

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE?

THE MISSING KEY

Beth CarterBy Beth Carter

“For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.” These poignant words were written by Ernest Hemmingway after he was allegedly challenged in a bar to write his memoir using just six words. If you saw that tiny memoir, what would you infer? Maybe they couldn’t conceive or possibly the baby was stillborn. I wish I knew the backstory but the mystery in itself is intriguing. Could it be that the baby was just born with huge feet? At any rate, it’s compelling and got me hooked on six-word memoirs.

I discovered this short genre four years ago. You see, while I love to write, editing and I are surly bedfellows. Very surly. While avoiding novel edits, I read the annual “101 Best Websites” by Writer’s Digest and was intrigued by the SMITH Magazine site for six-word memoirs. As I perused the submissions—some funny, many quirky, a few sad, and many poignant, I was immediately hooked and started submitting memoirs weekly.

I soon caught the attention of the editor, Larry Smith, who called me a “power user.” He featured one of my memoirs on the front page of his online magazine close to Mother’s Day. My MOMoir was “Moms do it in high heels.” I was an online phenomenon. Well, almost.

I continued writing and submitting a few hundred six-word memoirs because my OCD kicked in and I couldn’t stop. Really. A few months later, I received a letter from the editor. This time he told me I would be featured in IT ALL CHANGED IN AN INSTANT, A Six-Word Memoir Collection featuring celebrities, famous authors and little old me. What? I couldn’t believe it. The editor informed me that their publication had received over 200,000 submissions worldwide and chose around 1,000 for this published collection. I was beyond honored.

IT ALL CHANGED IN AN INSTANT (Harper Perennial, January, 2010) features such well-known names as Marlee Matlin, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, the late Frank McCourt, Marlo Thomas, Dr. Oz,  the Fonz, Neil Patrick Harris, James Frey, Suze Orman, Junot Diaz, and Andy Richter, to name a few.

My mother received her copy of the book before I did. I asked if she had found my memoir. “Yes.” I then said, “Don’t tell me what page it’s on. I want to find it myself.” She obliged and when I received my copy, I about fainted when I saw that my memoir was published on page one.

The excitement didn’t end there. SMITH had several promotional book tours and I attended the one in New York City at the 92nd Street Y. Many of the memoirists were featured and we were invited to read our memoirs aloud and also had several impromptu sessions with the audience.

Here’s my memoir that was selected for this particular book: “Zip. Zero. Zilch. Not published. Yet.” See, how nicely it goes with the theme of IT ALL CHANGED IN AN INSTANT? Since then, I’ve been multi-published with two picture books, four anthologies, two six-word memoir books and a desk calendar under my writing belt.

To give you a feel for the memoirs in IT ALL CHANGED IN AN INSTANT, enjoy these:

  •  “Former boss: ‘Writing’s your worst skill!’” ~ Amy Tan

  •  “I’ve done it all except hear.” ~ Marlee Matlin

  •  “I found my mother’s suicide note” ~ Anne Heusler. Strangely (or not), her mother’s note was also just six words.

  •  “Acting is not all I am.” ~ Molly Ringwald

  •  “Class clown, class president, town drunk.” ~ Victor Goad

  •  “Life is one big editorial meeting.” ~ Gloria Steinem

  •  “A story told with every wrinkle.” ~ Beth Canton

  •  “I spent Christmas alone. At 10.” ~ Qraig deGroot

  •  “Journalism? Hah! Just make stuff up.” ~ Dave Barry

  •  “Ate, prayed, and loved, but differently.” ~ Andy Raskin

Okay, you get the idea. Great stuff, right? And quite a variety. It’s amazing the punch just six words can pack.

Last year, I was published in SIX WORDS ABOUT WORK which is another fun six-word memoir book about—you guessed it—work, bosses, and all that entails (like happy hour). It’s a great gift for graduates or co-workers, and somewhat surprisingly to me, most memoirists liked their bosses. I was very nervous about which of my memoirs they had chosen and really hoped it wasn’t the one about my former boss staring at my crotch. It wasn’t, thank goodness.

 A few months ago, I was again contacted by the editor and told I’d be a featured memoirist in SMITH’S 2013 desk calendar. See why I love six-word memoirs! I was able to give the editor a few special dates (birthdays, anniversaries) and my memoir in the calendar is: “Mid-life isn’t so bad, reinvented myself.”

The six-word memoir project by SMITH has grown to include an online magazine, several books, tee shirts, a game, desk calendars, projects for teachers and more. Editor Larry Smith has had phenomenal success worldwide by involving celebrities, famous authors and obscure authors like me in his varied projects—and he keeps it fresh. He also collaborates with several companies so there’s always a new challenge on the site. Occasionally, SMITH will use a theme like Valentine’s Day with love and heartache memoirs. Once the topic was about New York City and they’ve even had memoir challenges about politics, food, going green, you name it.

Teens now have their own six-word memoir book with my favorite: “I can’t keep my own secrets” which is a memoir as well as the name of the book. Another hilarious teen memoir is: “I’m in algebra. Kill me now.”

Teachers use six-word memoirs to show students how enjoyable writing can be. A preacher wrote a sermon using six-word sentences, as did a reporter who reviewed SMITH’s first book using all six-word sentences. National Public Radio is a huge fan and often has the editor, Larry Smith, on the air with eager callers joining in the fun. Six-word memoirs have been hailed as American haiku. The New York Post says, “The brilliance is in the brevity” and I must agree.

My daughter perused my 300+ six-word memoirs, chose one, and had it printed on a tee shirt for Christmas. I love it. The one she selected says, “It all started with six words” which perhaps should have been the title for this article.  See, where starting small gets you? I hope you’ll try this creative genre. Go to http://smithmag.net and get started.

 Flash Fiction Chronicles invites you to leave your own six-word memoir in our comments section below!

____________________________________

A former bank vice president, Beth Carter shed her suits and heels and waved good-bye to corporate America to write. She is the author of two children’s picture books—WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE? and THE MISSING KEY. Both are available on Amazon and BN.com.

Carter is also published in three Echoes of the Ozarks anthologies, as well as A Bad Hair Day anthology. She is a multi-published six-word memoirist and is published in IT ALL CHANGED IN AN INSTANT, SIX WORDS ABOUT WORK and a 2013 six-word memoir desk calendar alongside celebrities and famous authors. An award-winning writer, Carter is at work on a novel (women’s fiction) and has been in marketing for over 20 years.

Blog: http://banterwithbeth.blogspot.com
Facebook: Beth Carter and Author Beth Carter
Twitter: bethsbanter

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE?

THE MISSING KEY

Lucinda Kempeby Lucinda Kempe

Writing comes naturally to me—I have been a diarist since age thirteen—writing succinctly has not. About a decade ago, I wrote a 160,000-word draft of a memoir that consisted of a dense, expositional narrative juxtaposed against over-long passages of dialogue. I abandoned it. What I had written only a masochist with a machete could or would slog through.

Honestly, I did not know how to write differently. However, by focusing on the short form, the conventions of writing flash, I have become a better writer of the long and have refined my skills to shape memoir moments into “story.”

About three years ago, I received an invitation to the Flash Factory, an office at Zoetrope.com, an online writers’ site. I had no idea what flash fiction was, but I jumped into the weekly prompts. I had a lot to learn and unlearn. My first flashes were arc-less non-stories, or moments/ mini scenes. Scenes I could do. I have a theatrical background. Literally and figuratively. What I did not know was how to write a compressed piece of prose with an arc where something happens, that something is resolved, and changes.

Flash taught me how to hone dramatic moments. In Something About Your Mother below—a “memoir flash” based on a true event—I compressed a long scene into a dramatic moment where a cruel child tells a terrible lie to another child, leaving in only the most relevant words, details, and dialogue. In memoir, the writer uses fictional devices to create “story” based on personal memory versus pure fictionalization. Ditto “memoir flash.” What could have been a fifteen-hundred-word chapter is now less than five hundred words.

In the story, I introduce the protagonist Lucinda playing a game. Immediately, the antagonist, Cam, arrives and interrupts her play with a lie. This happens within a few short sentences. Upset about the lie, Lucinda runs home to her grandmother and the two of them go onto Chestnut Street to learn if the lie is true. When Mama rides up on her bike, the effect of the lie on Lucinda and Mamoo allows the reader to see the three familial relationships and reveals a universal truth about the cruelty of children.

Did the actual event happen in such a compressed period? Of course not. Things like dinner, baths and or phone calls interrupt real time events. However, what flash has taught me is that fewer words said well are better than many words meandering around with no end in sight.

I have become a better writer of memoir because of the skills I’ve learned from writing flash fiction: to strive to make every word count. I even do a bit of fiction on the side, which is great. It gives me a break from myself!

The 440-word flash below originated from a prompt—to write something about your mother.

Something about Your Mother

Busting ass backwards out of the Lime’s driveway, I laughed.  “See if you can catch me.” I raced to the corner of Chestnut and Second.

“Hey, Lucinda!”

I looked at the short, blond-headed girl two years older than my twelve who blocked my escape path with her expensive French bike.

“Hi, Camille.”

Her eyes scanned my Tomboy-scraped and bruised knees. I scratched my arm irritated by a sting and stared at my neighbor, Cam Mercy. Her younger brother Phinizy was my friend. Phin, I liked.

“Lucindah,” she said, playing with the pronunciation. “Or do you prefer Kemp-e?”

“Whatever.”

“Ya’ll have funny names.”

With a mother named Jay, a brother named Phinizy, and an uncle named Walker, well, what could I say? Bait her? No. I waited.

“There’s something I have to tell you about your mother,” she said, smiling in a way that didn’t look happy. “She’s been in an accident…on her bike. A car hit her. I think she’s dead.”

I looked at her bright white sneakers.

“Did you hear what I said?”

I heard loud. I flew around the corner, pushed open my front gate, and tore up the three front steps. Pounding on the door, I screamed.  “Mamoo, Mamoo!”

My grandmother opened the door.

“Mama? Where’s Mama, Mamoo?”

Mamoo looked startled.

“Camille Mercy said Mama was killed by a car.”

Mamoo’s eyes got big as raccoons. She grabbed the top of her sweater with her little hummingbird-sized hands. “What? No. She went to Zara’s….” She walked past me, down the steps, past the gate and out onto Chestnut Street. I followed behind her.

“To Zara’s for cigs, on her bike,” she muttered, turning to me, her face ashen as an elderly gnome. I came and stood beside her and together we looked towards Jackson Avenue. I could see Cam, in her yard cattycorner from our house, watching us.

Mama, I thought, no, no. Mama who took me to the bars. Mama who brought strange men home. Mama who told me daddy was crazy. Mama who I hated to love. Mama who I loved to hate, please don’t go. I squeezed Mamoo’s hand so hard she gasped.

We stood staring down the street when a figure on a three-speed Raleigh appeared in the distance. A figure wearing Bermuda shorts and a Greek captain’s hat rode up and stopped the bike right in front of Mamoo and me.

“Poots! Mother! Why how delightful to have a welcoming committee!”

I smiled bigger than I had in years. I looked across the street into the Mercy’s yard. Cam had dissolved into a puff of smoke, her bike tossed on its side.

 [The Dirty Debutantes’ Daughter]

My journey from long-winded expositional narrator to flasher reminds me of the A.A. Milne story, In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle, where Pooh and Piglet get lost taking the long way around a short bush.

One further plus I discovered. Flashing in public is an addictive habit that is actually good for you.

__________________________________

Lucinda Kempe is a writer and memoirist.  Flash Fiction Chronicles, Fictionaut, MudJob, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and The Short Humour Site have published Lucinda’s flash. Upcoming work will be at Metazen and Referential Magazine. Lucinda loves flashing and lives to do more of it publicly.

 

 

 

 

by Gay Degani

I’m writing this post today, right now at 6:55 on Wednesday morning, February 1, because I am behind on everything ( I forgot to schedule something for today’s FFC!) and I know if you are reading this and you are a writer, you totally get what I’m talking about.  

While I love modern innovation and technology as much as the next person, I sometimes imagine myself back in the English countryside with those lucky lonely Brontes.  What was their day like?  My memory is a little shaky–I know their home life was somewhat miserable (I read some book years ago)–but in my imagination, I see the family wandering downstairs in their everyday frocks–the girls, three girls, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne and Branwell, the brother, who as far as we know did not wear frocks–and sitting down to a breakfast served by a faithful servant.  I’m certain they had at least one or two. Their father as I remember was a minister and learned man.

What I’m also certain about is that they weren’t staring down at their Iphones, Ipads, tablets, and laptops as they munched on eggs and rashers of bacon, toast with marmalade, and porridge.  They didn’t have to check their email, their Facebook notifications, or get their blood stirred by playing a round of Angry Birds.  They didn’t have to figure out what the hell to do with Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.  They sat down at their table with nothing in front of them but breakfast and conversation.

“Anne, dear,” asks elder sister Charlotte.  “How’s your novel coming?”

“Quite well, actually.  I spent several hours in the study with father’s books, but still had time to sit down at my desk and pen thirty or forty pages.”

“Only forty?” says Emily.  “You waste too much time in the library, dear.  If you would only sit down first thing in the morning, you might produce sixty or seventy pages.”

“Oh you penners of words!” Branwell might say through a mouthful of biscuit. “You should wield the brush!  You can be outside by the rill, smelling the daffodils if you painted.”

Well, anyway.  Sometimes this is what I think about, being a Bronte, but then they all died young so maybe not.  But I have been feeling overwhelmed for over a year and I think it most definitely has to do with the combination of REAL LIFE and WRITING LIFE and my commitment to do both well.  This is an insidious mix of things that need to be attended to, but I’m seeking to get them sorted out.

REAL LIFE

As a writer, I know I have to stay involved with REAL LIFE.  I know.  That sounds like a no-duh statement but really, it isn’t.  You see from my Bronte fantasy, that I keep telling myself, wouldn’t it be great to drop out, stay in my garage office, and write.  I’ve withdrawn over the years, letting some friendships go, pulling in emotionally, and narrowing my focus so that I can learn, practice, and produce writing.  And this has worked.  For someone who won second place in the Atlantic Monthly Writing Contest for High School Students way back when, most of my life I have done only a scattering of work. REAL LIFE wrapped itself around me, all thick and muffling, and I thought I wasn’t all that good at the writing bit anyway–thinking I apparently wasn’t born with that writing gene–because I couldn’t produce enough stories and didn’t really get how to make them work to actually make any progress.   I let go of the dream.

Eventually though, I realized that I have control over RL to some degree and began figuring out how to exercise that control.  One of the things I did is, I started to pay attention to conversations around me, the concerns of the people around me, and began to realize two things,  that there were stories out in the world I wanted to tell and that there was a lot of shallow self-absorbed nonsense in many people’s lives (good topics, the wannabe writer whispered to herself), so I began to take a step back.  Weigh what was importantto me. To stop worrying about everything in my life meeting other people’s approval.  The process for me has been a lifetime of taking what I believe to be important–family, close friends, being a good and thoughtful person–but also fulfilling a passion of my own.  It’s still a struggle and my life is very different from my non-writer friends, and it’s tricky to negotiate time and responsibility, but worth it I think.

WRITING LIFE

The first goal of most writers who really feel the passion is the art and craft itself.  Yes, we would all like to have best-sellers or some-kind-of sellers at some point, but for so many of us, it is the journey, the process, the getting to know ourselves by turning ourselves inside out to find content that we can shape into art.  When and how to do this when you care about REAL LIFE?  It isn’t easy.

If I were a Bronte, would the boredom of living in the country with needlework as my expected occupation, drive me to writing instead?  I think yes, of course!  You can only embroider so many bell pulls in a lifetime.  In my fantasy, I would have long mornings and stretches of afternoon to sit and scribble. I would do the the 19th century version of “workshopping” with my sisters. Or would I?   Was their REAL LIFE be as much of a challenge to them as I find mine?  Might I not lay abed and feign illness so as not to do anything? I don’t know, but I don’t think so.  A mind and body rebels for most of us at such lack of stimulation.

However, I am a procrastinator, I like to have fun, I love books, TV, and games, I like to nap and all of these things make it hard for me to keep myself at the keyboard.  Some days I shake my head and think how much easier my life would be if I didn’t write…or if I, at least, allowed myself take a break from it.  But my whole life has been a break from writing.

I am terrified if I let the writing go, if I don’t hold onto the work every single day, like a cat with a bird, I will never come back.  Would that really be that awful?  I have a few publications out there.  I can be satisfied that many of them have been well received.  I have proven to myself that I am not a ……  (I stop here because the phrase in my head seems inappropriate to type out here.  I do have some sense of dignity, but if you write and if you have often felt like you are not “good enough” then you  can finish that phrase).

Will I quit?  I hope not.  It is my sense of self-worth or at least a large hunk of my sense of worth.  And maybe the whole challenge is the tension between the balance of REAL LIFE and the WRITING LIFE! Maybe that’s the juice we all feed on.

Now I’m going to go have a rasher of bacon, some eggs, and marmalade on toast.

 

Next Page »