Memoir or fiction? That is the question!

David W. Berner, my WOW! Women on Writing guest today, and I have something in common. After writing memoir we both turned to fiction—stretching ourselves, as David says, as writers. We both took a true story, settings, and characters and made up things—let our imagination have its way with us—to enhance the story's effect. My fiction book—though not ready to be published yet—takes off in a whole new direction from the true facts. My family members would definitely know the people and places I write about, and might even have a problem with the way my fictionalized version of our family history turns out.  Well, I'll deal with that when the time comes. I applaud David for using his wonderful memoir, reporting, and teaching skills to become a successful fiction writer. His first fiction work: Night Radio: A Love Story, has already received rave reviews. Thank you, David, for being here at Choices today and telling us about your journey into fiction writing—a stor … [Read more...]

What’s a platform anyway?

A few weeks ago I was a panel member at a writer’s conference workshop. The subject was building a platform. Today, I’d like to share a few points that we made at the workshop. But first, here’s my go-to person for all things writer-ly, Jane Friedman, who tells us what platforms are and are not: "What editors and agents typically mean by platform They’re looking for someone with visibility and authority who has proven reach to a target audience. Let’s break this down further. Visibility. Who knows you? Who is aware of your work? Where does your work regularly appear? How many people see it? How does it spread? Where does it spread? What communities are you a part of? Who do you influence? Where do you make waves? Authority. What’s your credibility? What are your credentials? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role. Just take a look at any graduate of the Iowa MFA prog … [Read more...]

A little novel excitement – short-lived

I was on two panels last weekend at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference – one on memoirs and the other on building a platform. After getting much kudos I was feeling pretty good, so good that I jumped at the chance to present a short pitch to a literary agent about my novel. I had a synopsis with me and I knew my story cold, so why not? When it was my turn I told the agent about my book. He smiled and told me to tell my story without a lot of details. When I finished, he nodded his head and said, “I like it.” He then asked me to send him a synopsis by email. He didn’t want the hard copy I had with me. I was stoked. When I got home I decided to rewrite my synopsis. And thanks to Jane Friedman I found a wonderful resource: How to Write a 1-page Synopsis by Sooz. The outline was easy to follow. And in most cases I was able to use some of the synopsis I had already written. I also wrote a cover/query letter that included a recap of my meeting with the age … [Read more...]

Please welcome Dorit Sasson

Dorit Sasson has just  published her memoir about being a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces: Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces (She Writes Press). And, as if being in an army wasn't brave enough, Dorit has taken the next brave step - she fought off her inner critic nay sayers during the whole memoir writing process. Please welcome Dorit today and read how she chased her inner critic demons away. Working with the Inner Critic When Writing a Memoir by Dorit Sasson Somewhere along the writer's journey, the writer confronts the inner critic. It often likes to say: "Why the heck are you writing this? You know you aren’t going to write like your favorite authors, so just quit now!” Most people don’t understand a writer’s daily battles. They don’t care. They just want the book. They see the author’s life from the sidelines. The author cranks out a book, becomes published, gets on the New York Times or Amazon … [Read more...]

Busy times – it’s all good!

For the last ten days I was working in my old technical writer/proposal manager capacity - helping a small business write and deliver a proposal to the National Science Foundation. The proposal was due yesterday, and I'm proud to say we got it in electronically as required with two hours to spare. Within minutes of finishing the proposal work,  I changed modes and started thinking about the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference happening this weekend. I'm scheduled to appear on two panels tomorrow, and up until yesterday I had done nothing to prepare. This morning I went into my files and found notes from past panels I've appeared on, and  found what I needed to provide some good information on writing a memoir and building a marketing platform, using the social networks. (This blog was the first thing I did to start building my platform prior to the publication of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On.) One more thing that's happening at the conference is an oppo … [Read more...]

Congratulations, Keith Alan Hamilton!

My poet and walking friend, Keith Alan Hamilton, has just released his new book of poems: Peace Out Poems about My Abnormalities Normality. The poems are about stigma, mental illness - including depression and bipolar disorder, and suicide. "I hope for those who read it, it will be of benefit to them.  There is a huge stigma overshadowing those who suffer from mental conditions like depression or being bipolar.  Even more so for those who have committed suicide.  That reality will not change until my type of story is told and understood.  To me, the stigma overshadowing a day-to-day survivor is even worse.  When you are a depressive with thoughts of suicide cycling in your head day in and day out..... it is far harder to survive and keep going than it is to submit.   It is easier to be considered mentally ill and medicated, or to have taken ones life than being someone who successfully copes day-to-day and is a productive contributor to life.  If we are going to show ot … [Read more...]

A wonderful 5-star review

Thank you so much for this great review of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. That makes 206 reviews total, with 66 percent of them with five stars. This review made my day. "as she explores on the page what it is like to attempt to create normalcy within a family life ... Exploring the real life story of the unspeakable tragedy of losing a son to suicide, author Madeline Sharples has written an affecting and heart wrenching memoir entitled LEAVING THE HALL LIGHT ON. A deeply personal and first hand account of struggling with her son’s battle with bipolar disorder and the effect on the family, the memoir delves deeply within the author’s consciousness, as she explores on the page what it is like to attempt to create normalcy within a family life where little exists. She tells her story with courage and abiding honesty never shirking from the hard truths of a life filled with s … [Read more...]

Thank you, Denis Ledoux

Denis Ledoux, creator of The Memoir Network and a memoir-writing mentor, just posted a wonderful five-star review of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. His words make me feel so proud that I couldn't resist sharing them here. Denis' review: I would have been proud to have written this book. How to add something new to a memoir that has received such a huge and positive response of reviewers? This is a good book that griped me from the beginning. The subject is tragic. Being a widower myself who has gone through his own overwhelming grief, I can attest that Madeline Sharples' observation and her writing of that observation are so accurate. So much here resonated with me. It was hard to read at times as this memoir evoked sorrow for Madeline Sharples (and for me) but it was also supportive to read about the author's journey. Madeline Sharples is clearly a polished writer and it was often a pleasure to read a turn of phrase she had crafted and then to reread it. The book i … [Read more...]

Three memoir-writing tips from Pamela Jane

My Choices guest today, Pamela Jane, shares how she wrote her memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story. It took her twenty-two years. However, it was well worth the time and effort. Here is Pamela Jane and her three tips for those of us struggling with our own memoir writing. Please give her a warm welcome. She will gladly respond to the comments you post below.   Shaping Your Narrative What to Leave in and What to Take Out of Your Memoir  by Pamela Jane "The writer of any work, and particularly any nonfiction work, must decide two crucial points: what to put in and what to leave out..."  Annie Dillard, author of An American Childhood You want to write a shapely story with a taut narrative thread, a story that will draw readers into the world you are creating. But how do you know what to leave in and what to take out, especially in a memoir? In early drafts everything you write seems evocative and beguiling. There are so many different roads to … [Read more...]

How I’m finding my muse again

I’ve had a tough time getting back to my writing routine since completing my recent consulting job. While consulting I did manage to write a journal entry almost everyday, but that was the extent of my writing practice. Besides the grueling proposal work I lived out-of-town in a hotel and ate bland uninteresting food – for about four months. I had hardly anytime to do anything else besides work. There were no muses in that hotel room, believe me. The first thing I did when I got home was sleep. I napped several times a day for two weeks, until I finally felt like myself again. Although I worked out in the early mornings as usual, not long after breakfast I needed my first nap. Finally I started to look for something to kick-start my writing, to bring back my muse. I had put my list of poetry prompts into my Dropbox folder so I’d have it handy while I was away, but I never once opened that file. I didn’t even update it with the prompts that came by email every Wednesda … [Read more...]

Susan G. Weidener finds writing as a way of healing

I am so pleased to have Susan G. Weidener with me today on her second stop of her WOW! Women on Writing virtual book tour. The third book of her trilogy, A Portrait of Love and Honor, was just released, and I'm happy to say, I read it and loved it as I did her other two books, Morning at Wellington Square and Again in A Heartbeat.   Here Susan tells us how writing is healing for her. I can totally relate. Writing has been my healing balm ever since my son's death in 1999. But enough about me. Here's Susan. Writing As a Way of Healing By Susan G. Weidener In the Bible, Lot’s wife ignored the angels’ warning not to look back when she and her family were fleeing a devastated and rotting Sodom. We all know what came next.  As she glanced over her shoulder, she was instantly turned into a pillar of salt. For many, this story became a cautionary tale. See? This is what happens to a curious woman who looks back at her past. The story of Lot’s wife is a favorite … [Read more...]

We Love Memoirs – Sunday Spotlight

I had a fabulous experience yesterday - Sunday June 21. I was in the hot seat for the We Love Memoirs’ Sunday Spotlight. We Love Memoirs is basically a Facebook social group consisting of memoir writers and aficionados that allows no self promotion. That is except for the Sunday Spotlight. For that one day I was told I could promote, post relevant photos, links, and information about my writing work, and talk about it until I couldn’t talk (actually tap on my computer keys) anymore. Also those coming on-line to chat with me were told they could ask me ANYTHING, and that I'd be there to answer their questions ALL DAY LONG. So I sat down at my computer at 9 am and except for two 15 minute breaks and an hour for lunch (I needed to pay some attention to my husband on Father’s Day), I was online fielding questions and comments until 5:15 pm. The interesting thing is the people on-line were from the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, other foreign countries, and the US †… [Read more...]

A special to honor the Out Of Darkness walk

The Boston Out of Darkness overnight walk for suicide prevention and awareness is the night of June 27 – less than two weeks away. And I’ve been very aggressively training for it. I’ll need to walk 16 to 18 miles that night, so I want to be well prepared. Yesterday I walked almost 10 miles, so I think I’m right on track to be able to complete this personal challenge. I'll be posting photos of my team S.O.L.E.S. and me in this hat. In case you’re wondering why the walk is at night, here are my thoughts – it’s to bring the suicide word out of the darkness. We need to speak that word so we can help prevent it. If people will talk about their suicidal thoughts maybe others can help prevent those at risk from acting upon their thoughts. I wish my son had talked to my husband or me. I still think after almost sixteen years that maybe I could have changed his mind had he only told me what he was thinking. Here's one of the S.O.L.E.S. team captains, Deborah Lee Rose, … [Read more...]

Comparing writing a proposal to writing a book

I finally have a break from work. Yes, it’s Sunday and I have the day off. For the last five weeks I’ve been knee-deep in working with a team of engineers writing a proposal to the U. S. Air Force. And, I’d like to share some of the steps they have gone through – some very similar to those we take as fiction and nonfiction authors and some not. Plan. Start with an outline or a plan – the engineers produced annotated outlines and planning documents called story maps that showed where on each page of their sections their graphics and text will layout on the page. I started both my memoir and novel with outlines. I know some of you are panzers, but I like to have a plan before I write. Review. We spent a lot of time reviewing these plans for compliance with the proposal instructions and technical soundness. I was very fortunate to have a friend review my original memoir outline and another person review my revision plan when I was getting it ready for publication. Having … [Read more...]

Leaving the Hall Light On has legs!

This month has ended with the 124th five-star review of my book, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. Published four years ago, this makes me  feel my memoir still has long legs, that there are many others who can relate to the story I tell about our son's bipolar disorder and suicide, and of how they affected the lives of my husband, our surviving son, and myself.  The book ends on a high note - the marriage of our surviving son, but don't get me wrong. The grief will never end, I still miss our son desperately, and my memories of him are alive and active, but I've been able to move on and live a full life without him. We all have. Here's what the latest reviewer on Amazon had to say: Amazing story of a mother and her family's journey through the wilderness of suicide grief. This painfully honest memoir, parallels the experience I recently have had with my son's 3 year battle with schizophrenia … [Read more...]

Denis Ledoux redux

I'm so happy to have Denis Ledoux return to Choices. His knowledge of all things memoir is priceless. His website The Memoir Network and his books are huge resources for you who are writing memoirs now or about to get ready to start one. I wish I knew Denis when I was writing mine. When Denis was last here, his subject was: Writing Painful Memories: Three Tips To Make It Easier. Today he discusses Writing Your Memoir: This Might Be A Challenge. Without further ado, here's Denis. Writing Your Memoir: This Might Be A Challenge by Denis Ledoux Your initial—and perhaps most fundamental—challenge as you settle into writing your memoir will probably not be scheduling, nor discipline, nor writing itself—although these challenges are not to be dismissed. It is likely to be something more fundamental: Your initial challenge is likely to be how you think about writing and about yourself as a writer! Without addressing this—and in a positive way, you are not likely to have … [Read more...]

What’s in a book title?

The title of my memoir is Leaving the Hall Light On (Dream of Things). A lot of people ask me what the title means. Here's an explanation. At first I believed—my magical thinking—that if I left the hall light on, if we didn’t move away from our house, if we didn’t change our telephone number, Paul, our son who took his life at age 27, would know how to make his way back. Paul would know we were still here waiting for him. For a long time I waited for that familiar sound of his Volvo coming into the garage, the sound of the door from the garage slamming as he entered the house and went down the hall to his room, the sound of him walking around the house at night, the sound of the door opening and closing as he went in and out of the house. In fact, for a while I thought I heard those sounds. And for a long time I left most of the things in his room alone for fear of removing his presence there. For a long time I refused to give away his things in case he would need t … [Read more...]

Myrna J. Smith and her thoughts on memoir

My WOW! Women on Writing blog tour guest today is Myrna J. Smith, author of God and Other Men: Religion, Romance, and the Search for Self-Love - her first book. A huge welcome, Myrna. Since Myrna's book is a memoir, I asked her to write a post about other memoirs that resonate with her. Here is what she has to say. Memoirs that Spoke to Me By Myrna J. Smith Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes has all the qualities of a good novel: sex, violence, thievery, suffering, death, and, most importantly redemption. Amazingly it is a memoir, not a piece of fiction. We wonder, how so many terrible things could happen to one family? And how could young Frank come out of that suffering to live such a rich life in America? McCourt lives in Catholic Ireland and suffers from Catholic guilt. He really believes the consumptive Theresa would go to hell because of their sexual transgressions on the green sofa. He thinks he deserves punishment for a hundred other sins, including masturbation. … [Read more...]

Some folks to show off

  Yesterday we attended a book launch and reading of my friend Lee Quarnstrom's new memoir. Lee and I go all the way back to high school - New Trier Township in Winnetka, IL - where we studied journalism and worked together on the New Trier News. He went on to be a newspaper reporter and columnist and did a bunch of other things well worth reading about in his book - such as hang out with Ken Kesey on the Magic Bus for a while. From the title you'll see that he had an exciting life. He's now living east of Los Angeles with his seventh wife, Chris, whom he met at our 40th high school reunion. Chris and I have known each other since grade school. Besides the three of us, seven other New Trier alums attended the reading. It was such fun to get together with dear old friends.   Another couple I've known for a long time, Alice and Richard Matzkin, will appear from March 3-5 on a free online event called Transforming Aging Summit - about making your later years your b … [Read more...]

Sales are down

Maybe reading a heartfelt and sensitive review will help get you over to Amazon to buy a copy of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. "A beautiful yet heartbreaking story..a must read! As parents, we do everything we can to help our children become strong, healthy, well adjusted and morally upright adults. Yet there are obstacles that we cannot foresee and cannot even begin to understand until we see all of our efforts unravel right before our eyes. This is what Madeline and her family experienced with Paul. He developed a severe mental disorder that caused him to become someone that his family could barely recognize. As hard as they tried to understand, encourage, and help Paul, his illness took over time and again. The ebbs and flows, the highs and lows, the abstract hope and then disillusionment became their norm. In the end, no amount of intervention helped Paul to overcome his dise … [Read more...]