What’s next to write?

Now that my novel is going through a final professional edit and hopefully getting ready to shop around. I’ve been thinking about what’s next for my writing life. For a long time, I’ve thought that there isn’t another book in me, but now I’m not so sure. Could I write another memoir? I’m at that stage in my life when I have almost all of it to look back on, so I could write a memoir from an old wise woman’s approach to turning eighty. I could write about the secrets of staying married to the same man for over forty-eight years and living in the same house for thirty-nine years. Really where have all those years gone? And really that brings up another big question – how much time do my husband and I have left anyway, and what are we doing to prepare for our last years? Or better yet, how we’re handling our lives right now as we age – at different paces. Yes, another memoir or even two are a real possibility. The options are endless: how we're still working at surviving the loss of … [Read more...]

How I created my book and got it published

I belong to a writing organization called  Independent Writers of Southern California. We meet locally in a  small satellite group once a month, and this last month our leader asked me to speak about how I got my memoir published. Here are my notes from that talk. Even though writing is a lonely business, a village of resources helped and nurtured me from the time I started writing my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. I started with journaling, at first sporadically and later, after reading and doing the exercises in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Putnam’s Sons, 1992), I kept my fingers moving across the pages of my journal every day. I still do. After amassing about three years’ worth of journal entries I began to think about turning them into a book – a book very much different from the one that was eventually published. But, I was not a creative writer. My writing experience consisted of writing, editing, and training engineers to produce reports and proposals in the aeros … [Read more...]

Where I’ve been

I apologize for the scarcity of my blog posts lately. I've gotten very involved in a consulting job over at the aerospace company I used to work for and that has taken up most of my energy. And the problem  is, I don't see an end of the work in sight. Although I don't want to go on a complete vacation from blogging, I feel I have to cut back. I've already done that to my small stones writing regime, my work on my novel, and my attendance at  writing group meetings. Unfortunately, when I accept a consulting job, most everything else suffers. However, some interesting things have happened as well. I belong to a wonderful group called South Bay Cares that was founded as a source of education and to be an arbiter of positive action so that members can be the change that we want to see in the world. Our motto is: Educate. Empower. Engage. And a couple of weeks ago we hosted an event at our local independent bookstore: Pages: a bookstore with the cinematographer and two of the … [Read more...]

Three things

First. This is the last day the Kindle edition of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, will be on sale for $.99. So please grab your copy before midnight. Here’s what a few reviewers had to say about it: ...Leaving the Hall Light On left me in tears. It is a heart wrenching book; I could not put it down.  Anyone who wants to learn how to live with children or adults with bipolar disorder, must read this book. ...I could imagine that this book might be helpful for those dealing with bipolar disease or suicide in the family, but for those of us fortunate enough not to have yet experienced those problems, it also provides a very real look into how good but human people deal with the cruelty of fate. ...Suicide does not just end one life, it can destroy others. Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide is the … [Read more...]

How my memoir came to be

I wrote the following piece a little over a year ago for the Women's Writing Circle. I'd like to share it with you now. When I Knew I Had A Memoir I returned to writing regularly when our son Paul was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in March 1993. He had just turned 21 and was a senior at the New School in New York City. Early on during his illness I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992), and her suggestion to write morning pages resonated with me. Because I was employed full-time then, I didn’t always write in the morning, but I always finished my three pages before the end of the day. So writing about my son’s bipolar disorder and later about his 1999 suicide death became my therapy. Writing during the most stressful time of my life became an obsession and a balm. It gave me a way to organize my fears, pain, and thoughts. Besides journaling I began to take writing workshops at the UCLA Extension Writers Program and Esalen Institu … [Read more...]

Using memoir writing to deal with grief

On Sunday I’ll co-lead a workshop called Telling Healing Stories at the Story Circle Network’s writers conference in Austin TX. One of our goals for this workshop is provide the tools for our participants to address ways to transform a loss or crisis into readable and inspiring prose. It has been proven that writing is healing, and I happen to think that any creative outlet is beneficial to recovering from a traumatic event in our lives. My son Paul killed himself in September 1999 after a seven-year struggle with bipolar disorder, and I signed up for a writing class three months after his death. We sat in the instructor’s living room on couches and big easy chairs in a comfortable and forgiving atmosphere. Each week the instructor told us to write a journal entry. He didn’t specify a subject. This was a beginner’s class. All he wanted us to do was learn to “write like you talk,” and to write in a voice that came from deep within our bellies. And then we’d come bac … [Read more...]

Introducing Chanel Brenner, poet extraordinaire

I met Chanel last May at a poetry workshop led by Richard Jones. I was immediately taken by the poem she wrote during the workshop and that we have something in common - we each have lost a son. Chanel's grief for six and a half-year-old Riley who died from the rare disease Arteriovenous malformations (AVM)* is still new. And her beautiful poetry shares that grief with her readers. Here is Chanel's story, reminiscent of friends of mine who left after my son died. My Friend From Another Life She sits across from me, wearing a purple sundress, her dark hair relaxed around her face.           “You look really great,” she says, her voice thick with surprise, her eyes approving as they scan me from head to coral painted toenails. It’s not what she’s said, but what she’s left out, “compared to a year ago,” the last time we had lunch together at this restaurant, shortly after Riley died.           She scooted away after that, one email at a time. … [Read more...]

It takes a village to write a book

When Eleanor Vincent and I were at pages: a bookstore the other night discussing our memoirs and how writing helped us heal, we continually mentioned how it takes a village to write a book. I’m now in the process of writing a novel, and I continue to believe in the importance of many helping hands in the process. I’ve just completed a novel revision workshop and got useful comments from my instructor and classmates. I also belong to a writing group, and I’ve used the resources of The Next Big Writers website to get reviews of my book as I review the work of others. Here I discuss how I got my memoir written and published, not only once but twice. A member of my village helped me connect with my current Dream of Things publisher when my first publisher went out of business. Even though writing is a lonely business, a village of resources helped and nurtured me from the time I started writing my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. I started with journaling, at first sporadic … [Read more...]

"It’s always a fiction"

My writing teacher and mentor Jack Grapes sent out the email reproduced (in part) here over the weekend. I am in complete agreement with him that our sentences are always fiction. We cannot recreate the past except through writing our own version of the facts. In my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, I wrote down the truth as I remembered it. Some of the sentences I wrote about my truth were not as my husband remembered, but since it is my book and not his version, he is okay with it. I’m not distorting his version. I am stating my own. Anyway, please read Jack’s comments below. By the way, I took his method writing classes. I recommend them to you all. “NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND, NOTES FROM OUTER SPACE: RE: David Ulin's review in Sunday L.A. Times, "Critic's Notebook: What is Fact, What is Fiction." http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-ca-david-ulin-20120219,0,1862704.storySad to say, once again the subject of fact and fiction, fact and non-fiction, or fact … [Read more...]

Book Fair – Lessons Learned

Since I wrote my last post about going to participate as an exhibitor at the Ventura County Author Book Fair last Saturday, November 5, I thought I’d follow up with some observations. The Good Things · I sold seven books. · I gave away lots and lots of bookmarks. · Many people shared their stories of suicide and mental illness in their families when they came by my table, and I got to tell them about the Putting A Face On Suicide project when they admired Paul’s poster. · I was at a table at a good location in the room. It faced the center of the room, I felt sorry for the folks who sat at the room’s perimeter and had to face the wall. · I had a successful reading – I spoke about the book briefly, read the piece about comforting someone who is grieving, and I read five poems · I met some wonderful authors – one who works in oncology who told me a statistic I never knew, that many people who are diagnosed with cancer commit suicide. So she took a … [Read more...]

Using exercise to heal

I've worked out almost all of my life. After my son Paul died I became almost obsessive about. It just seemed to help me get through the pain. Here's another poem that will appear in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On http://www.LuckyPress.com/madelinesharples.html. It was one of the first I wrote in Jack Grapes method writing class.   Making It Hard The bright room is almost full. All four walls of mirrors reflect women and men in baggy shorts and sleek black tights. The music is so loud the woman in front of me stuffs earplugs in her ears. Lisa G says, “work from the core; your workout relates to your real life.” I want to get on with it. I don’t come here at 6 a.m. to listen to a lecture. The neon sign on the wall says “sweat,” and that’s what I want to do. The woman behind me complains. I don’t know her name, but here she is every week always in the same spot, always complaining, always in black. Black tights, black sports bra, b … [Read more...]

Learning to write poetry the mechanical way

I learned two techniques for generating poetry material at an all day workshop on Saturday with Jack Grapes and Richard Jones. Both techniques were to ensure that we as writers had no reason to experience writer’s block. And, in both cases the techniques are entirely mechanical. Inverted Pyramid Jack Grapes, who teaches method writing in Los Angeles, (http://jackgrapes.com/grapes_approach.php) presented the inverted pyramid method. He told us to write down several unrelated sentences or thoughts – the keyword here is unrelated. However, he told us what kind of sentences to write. And if you can visualize an inverted pyramid these sentences would go into the upper wider part. We wrote: two or three images, a couple of pieces of dialogue, a flowery description, a memory or two, a couple of deep thought about ourselves until we had five to eight in total in random order. The next step was to take these entirely unrelated sentences and form them into a cohesive poem so that by th … [Read more...]