Being Truthful When Writing

Nov 17, 2013 by

Writing our truth is both easy and yet the most difficult thing in the world for us to do! The idea of writing “truth” changes depending on our purpose.

If we’re writing “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…so help you…” well, then, it’s going to be sometimes interesting, but most of the time boring.

When we write about our memories and the remembrances of things that were important to us, we’re writing OUR truth, the truth that resonated with us at the time, the truth that helped us to see the world in a different light, the truth that helped us to know ourselves.

I’ve been a researcher for far more years than I’d care to admit…and when I get into that mode, I find myself struggling to take even one more damn step, because I’ve found so many facts and figures to either support or deny my purpose that I find I can no longer breathe.

If I’m writing a medical piece that not only insists on the absolute truth, but the lives of people depend on it…I have to continue.

But when you’re looking to understand yourself, your life, your world…then skipping over the boring parts is not only how to continue on your quest, but absolutely necessary!

People today don’t stay connected as long as they used to unless you can retain their interest…and trust me, they only want to know the INTERESTING parts!

I work with memoir clients all the time, and sometimes they get bogged down in the minutiae of their lives, but my job is to make sure they don’t lose their reader.

So here’s my two cents:

If what you’re writing is boring to you…

…IT WILL BE BORING TO YOUR READER!!!!

So, find the interesting parts, the sad parts, the happy parts, the very humorous parts and include those, because that is what will keep your reader reading. To exclude boring parts is part of writing and editing. It’s not being untruthful. If someone were to contact you and say, “So tell me the WHOLE story, you would.”

But they’re not going to do that. People have a very limited amount of time to spend and if you can keep them connected during the time they allow you…you’ve made a connection that you don’t want to ruin.

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Is a Journal a Good Start on Memoir Writing?

Sep 10, 2013 by

So you journal.

Or you write a diary.

Or you blog daily, or several times a week about things that mean something to you. I recently read a blog written by a mother who struggles with getting appropriate help for her teenage autistic daughter.  Most of her posts are a means of venting, of trying to get national attention for her dilemma, but also a place to just sound off about things.

And I’ve read plenty of articles about how you can turn your blog into a book. I’ve even written one on this blog here. And you can…certainly.  But, unless you have already planned/plotted your blog out for a year or more (which most blog writers don’t) you won’t have the components you need in a memoir. You will have a book, but not a memoir.

Memoirs are stories about a slice of life. They have a theme or multiple themes. They use all the components that are critical to the craft of writing, including knowledge about character development, writing scenes, transitioning from one part to the next, an overall story arc, compelling description, use of sensory details that keep the reader involved and interested.

Journals and diaries are often emotionally laden, very much “in the moment” of some sort of emotional distress. You’re writing for an audience of one.

Yourself.

And you aren’t interested in always including character development or sensory details to keep people reading. You already know the whole story, it’s yours after all. For journaling purposes there is no need of good dialogue, scene and sequel transitions.

No, instead you are fully engaged in the feelings that are in the forefront of your mind.

Can your journals help you with your memoir writing?

Certainly!hand with pen

But, don’t think that all you have to do is put your journals in printed form and suddenly you have a marketable memoir. It doesn’t work quite that way.

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Making a New Mexico Red Chile Ristra

Sep 7, 2013 by

I’m writing a foodie memoir of my life in New Mexico, and I wanted to give you just a little sneak peek into one of the topics I’ll be covering.

New Mexico Chile!!!!!

After living there for 25 years, my husband was transferred to Phoenix, and while it is close, it’s still far enough away to yearn for that New Mexican chile.

There are chile growers around the world, but there is really something about New Mexican chile that becomes a part of you.

Anyone who has lived in New Mexico knows what I’m talking about!  It’s addictive!

Here is a link on How to Make a New Mexico Red Chile Ristra.

Oh the memories this brings back!

Starting in August, green and red chiles are trucked into Albuquerque, delivered to various Farmers’ Markets around the city, and even some on the same street corner they’ve used for years.  The smell of roasting chiles has every chile afficionado sniffing the air, looking to find the best chile of the season.  You don’t buy a dozen chiles or so…you buy a couple BUSHELS or so, get them roasted, thrown into a bag for the trip home.

Your eyes water all the way home with tears of pain and of love.  (Your car will smell AMAZING for weeks after this adventure!)

The next few hours are spent either cleaning off the roasted skins and removing the seeds before packing chiles into quart-sized ziplock bags for freezing. OR, you can just pack the roasted chiles in bags and save the cleaning for later. I prefer this method as more of the roasted flavor seems to permeate the chiles.

Either way, you can’t go wrong!

My first introduction to New Mexico chile is that same as that of most people who didn’t grow up in New Mexico. I took a job in Albuquerque in 1984. My sister joined me on the first leg of the adventure, where we drove to Albuquerque in my pretty spiffy shiny new Toyota Corolla packed to the gills with the things I needed for the first week or two of my new life in New Mexico.

Fortunately for me, my friend and colleague, Lisa Barron, lived in Albuquerque with her husband. She is the one who opened the door to the career opportunity, and so I stayed with her when I first traveled to the Land of Enchantment for my interview. I was offered the position and accepted it immediately. (There really is MORE to the story here, it involves a ball game, hot dogs, and a phone, but that must wait for another storytelling session!)

Fortunately for me, there was an apartment available in their apartment complex.

The location was perfect.

The rent was manageable.

I signed on the dotted line.

Maureen, my sister, who was 18 at the time and looking to get out of Phoenix for the summer (and anyone who has endured a Phoenix summer understands why) accompanied me to Albuquerque. She stayed in my apartment, walked to the sister apartment where there was a pool every day while I was at work, and was disgusted with the afternoon rain/clouds that arrived every afternoon.

Personally, I loved it!

oldtown7 red chile ristras

My parents arrived the following weekend with a small U-Haul filled with my furniture (waterbed, dressers, and boxes of additional clothing…I didn’t own much at the time.) While I was at work they went to one of the local furniture auction houses and got me a lovely brown plaid couch with two end tables, a footstool, and a brown lamp. I still have the brown lamp and the two end tables…the couch and footstool graced the home of Lita and Joe, the first New Mexicans to teach me the joys of beans, chile, and tortillas.  Their story comes a little later…

Because my apartment wasn’t truly spacious, Howard Johnson hosted my family, and their sister restaurant was where we had dinner one night. Maureen wanted chili.  My mother had made chili once a week for us for as long as I can remember.  The recipe is simple, a pound of hamburger, a chopped onion, one can tomato soup, one can dark red kidney beans, and one can of chopped tomatoes.

Yep…

You read that right. It took me some time to understand the difference between chili and chile…AND…the difference between my mother’s chili and properly made Texas chili.

Yeah…this is going to take more than one posting to get my point across.

Will you bear with me?

Anyway, what does this have to do with stringing a chile ristra?  Well, if you have a lot of chiles that end up not getting roasted, they’re going to turn orange, then red.  The best way to preserve those for future use (hint, more recipes coming) is to string them onto a ristra and save them for winter use.

Nothing says “New Mexico” like a red chile ristra! My very first one was truly a treasure given to me by my second cousin (my mom’s cousin in Taos) my first year in New Mexico. It took me some time to use up that ristra, but ever since then, I’ve loved red chile…

…and green chile…

…and pinion fires…

…and…

…yup, there’s a lot I’m really missing about New Mexico!

 

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The Killing of Sushmita Banerjee – The Importance of Telling Your Story

Sep 6, 2013 by

I live in America and most days my biggest concerns are making sure all are off to school or work before I begin my day of wrestling with words.

Today I was saddened because I heard of yesterday’s murder of Sushmita Banerjee, an Indian woman who was executed by the Taliban. It isn’t known for certain that she was targeted because of the memoir she wrote (published in 1997 and then made into a movie in 2003), or if her execution was triggered by something else.

This story brings to mind that not everyone lives a relatively easy life, and her story put many of my pressing concerns into perspective.

I’m not likely to be executed for my words or my beliefs.

Banerjee’s memoir, A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife, covers her marriage to Jaanbaz in India against the approval of her parents because he was Muslim while she was Hindu. After her move to Afghanistan, life turned into a bitter existence as the Taliban increased their rule over the country, especially the increasingly strict restrictions placed on women.

Starting in 1994:

  • Women were forced to wear head-to-to burqas.
  • Women were banned from working.
  • Girls were no longer allowed to attend school.
  • Medical care for women deteriorated as male doctors were only allowed to examine women fully clothed.

Banerjee tried many times to escape from Afghanistan to get away from the Taliban rule and was finally successful in August 1995. However, an execution order was placed on her for her efforts to escape.

Was Banerjee finally executed yesterday for trying to leave Afghanistan?  If so, why did it take 17 years? Was she executed for bringing the horrors of life as a woman under Taliban rule to light in her memoir?

Or, is there something else to the story?

So far, I haven’t been able to get my hands on her book, but the DVD of her story is available on Amazon and other retailers.  Do those who watch it realize that it is a true story? Or are they simply entertained, believing it to be just another “story” from the movie moguls seeking to entertain the masses?Escape from the Taliban

I’m infinitely saddened by the death of Sushmita Banerjee. But I’m even more determined now to pursue the dream of telling personal story for everyone.  While most of us don’t live under Taliban rule, we do have our stories to tell.

By sharing our stories, we become more globally aware of the likenesses and differences we share with humanity around the world. Is it OK to just ignore the plight of women in Afghanistan just because your biggest concern today is something far less frightening than being ruled by the Taliban?

While I cannot do anything that make a BIG change in the lives of women in the Middle East, I can no longer put my head in the sand and believe that it doesn’t affect me.

Everything that happens in the world impacts us.

Share these stories with your children, your friends, your neighbors.

Becoming aware of world events connects us on a global scale, and sharing our stories bring awareness to injustice as well as hope to those who dream of escaping their nightmares.

 

 

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More about What Memoir Is and Is Not

Aug 28, 2013 by

Let’s do a little clarification about memoir.  While it certainly is your personal story, you have to make choices about what to include and what to leave out.

If you’re not sure about what should be included and what should be left out, you might want to check out a new workbook that is designed to help anyone prepare for writing their memoir, Journey of Memoir.

In Linda Joy Myers’ workbook Journey of Memoir she paints a very clear picture of exactly what memoir is and is not:

  • A memoir is a story with structure, a theme, and a reason for a reader to be engaged.
  • A memoir draws upon the skills and tools of fiction in presenting a story—with scenes, dialogue, sensual details, and the ability to create a world for the reader.
  • A memoir is not a journal. In a journal, your personal writing is without structure and written to be kept private.
  • A memoir is written for an audience to read.A memoir has an overarching message that a reader is left with, the reason for the book.
  • A memoir is focused on a topic or theme.

This list of what a memoir is and is not helps you as a writer to determine exactly how to portray your personal story for your reader.

We often get caught up in the fact that we’re writing our life story, and feel that we have to include absolutely everything that ever happened to us, beginning with our birth and recreating every step we have ever taken, “and then, and then, and then…”

Because memoir draws on the skills and tools of fiction to create and craft the story, the questions you have to ask yourself as a writer is this, “How will this event or part of my life help to move the story forward? Does it illustrate or illuminate my overall theme? If so, put it in. If it is just an amusing anecdote or a personal favorite experience, save it for sharing with a group of friends or family at your next gathering.”

Every human being is emotionally attached to their story, their experiences. When crafting your memoir, your job is to sift through all of those experiences to see which of them your readers need to know about in order to understand your story by moving the plot forward.

Your memoir is unique to you. No one in the world can tell your story the way you would. For those people out there who worry that their “story idea” might be stolen, this is comforting!  More importantly, your story is told from the “I” perspective and how you understand that experience to have affected your life.

Journey of Memoir

Someone else might remember an event differently. That’s because they experienced the same event and remembered things differently because it was filtered through their life experiences. Does this mean your version isn’t true? Absolutely not. Your version is true for you and that is the position you take when writing your memoir.

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When is it “Memoir” and When is it Just Your Story?

Aug 27, 2013 by

There are any number of books and articles out there talking about writing memoir. And I am a very strong advocate of that.

I’m also a strong advocate of your “story” and using it

Amber Lea Starfire wrote a wonderful posting on the difference between memoir and personal essay, Personal Essay and Memoir – What’s the Difference? and her conclusion is that they are very similar…similar enough to be indistinguishable from one another.  She makes reference to Sharon Lippincott’s post, What’s the Difference Between an Essay and a Story? where she says:

Story, specifically life story, generally focuses more on experiences and events as such.

Traditionally essays were confined to strict reason.

So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that writing personal life story IS writing memoir. It doesn’t have to be book length. It doesn’t have to start with your birth and end now. Memoir is capturing important bits of your story. It might be an entire book, it might be a page or two of an incident in your life that is important to you.

When we don’t take the time to write about our experiences, they’re lost forever. Sometimes we don’t even know how important a minor event might be.

It’s also important to write about things that sometimes you don’t want other people to know about. This “self-editing” sometimes keeps us from discovering things about ourselves. We claim to be worried that someone else will read and misunderstand, but perhaps we, too, misunderstand that event. All our experiences make us who we are. Each changes us, shapes us, molds us into something more than we were before the event.

So, my conclusion is that it is never “just” a story.

Every story is important in one way or another. You don’t have to be famous to put your story down on paper. Those who know you will be very interested in your story.

THAT will be your ultimate fame.

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