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 fresh eye … [Read more...]

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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 and hi … [Read more...]

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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 an easy tim … [Read more...]

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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 them when he … [Read more...]

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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. But th … [Read more...]

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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 … [Read more...]

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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 disease … [Read more...]

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Revising and editing are like sculpting

Here’s a piece of advice from Samuél L. Barrantes in his article, 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Samuél L. Barrantes, for Chuck Sambuchino’s website: Guide to Literary Agents. It came at exactly the right time. I am in the very nitty-gritty editing and rewriting phase of my revision process. Barrantes says:  Writing = Re-Writing. I used to have a romantic notion of writing as a frenzy of creativity, where the words poured out of me, the Muses singing by my side. But the truth is writing is as much about editing and re-writing as it is about creation. You really have to love what you’re working on to stick with it. I think of the first draft as the sculptor’s block of cold stone—there is something there, buried within, but the sculptor spends years chiseling away.  For example, I cut approximately 35,000 words between the first and final drafts of Slim and The Beast, with countless rewording and revising throughout. My goal is to cut 9,000 words from my manuscript that i … [Read more...]

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The work-in-progress blog tour: about my novel-in-progress

During this Hanukkah and Christmas season I can't help feeling grateful for all that this past year has provided. I'm especially grateful to my dear writing friends - some I've met in person and some not - who have brought me continued wisdom about the writing process and such joy in knowing them and their writing work. First of all thanks to Kathy Pooler, author of her new memoir: Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, for tagging me to participate in this blog tour. Kathy's memoir is a must read if you haven't yet. So here goes: My Work in Progress Synopsis and story idea : My novel, Papa’s Shoes, is the story of a family immigrating to America in the early 1900s and a daughter’s coming of age in the 1920s in downstate Illinois and Chicago. Some other things going on in the book – life in a Polish stetl, early 19th century Chicago and Illinois, a woman’s role in society at that time, religious prejudice, interfaith marriage, and a feisty mother-daugh … [Read more...]

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How technical writing helped me write memoir and fiction

I fell in love with writing in grade school and took journalism and was on the newspaper staff in high school. I attended the University of Wisconsin as a journalism major, then transferred to UCLA my senior year to complete a degree in English. Because jobs for women journalists were few in the 1960s in Los Angeles, I began a long career as a technical writer and editor, proposal manager, web designer and content developer in the aerospace industry. And I must say that was a great choice because my job paid very well, and I’m still able to work from time to time as a consultant years after I officially retired (I’m just about to embark on a four-month job to help a group of engineers write a proposal to the U.S. Air Force). Plus, I’ve been able to transfer what I learned as a technical writer over to my memoir and fiction writing. Here are six things I learned: Plan before you write. I had an outline before I started my memoir and a list of scenes that guided my fiction b … [Read more...]

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Author David Berner discusses writing about our lives

Our Choices guest today, David Berner, shares with us the essence of memoir writing. He tells us what it is not - a series of diary entries that relate every detail of a life - and what it is - a story that begins with a moment rounded out with the details related to that moment. My memoir Leaving the Hall Light On, begins with the moment of my son's suicide. The rest of the book details the events leading up to that moment and its aftermath. David Berner's memoir, Any Road Will Take You There, starts with a five-thousand mile road trip  that enables him to find peace and fulfillment in being a dad after a series of heartbreaking and life-changing personal events. Please welcome David Berner. Making the Choice to Write About Your Life by David Berner A woman came up to me after a workshop I conducted several years ago about writing memoir. She held in her hand a thick manuscript and told me she was writing about her life, one full of adventures, one she wanted to share. “I’ve star … [Read more...]

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Company is coming tomorrow – Linda Appleman Shapiro

Linda Appleman Sharpiro will join me here tomorrow on the first stop of her WOW! Women on Writing blog tour to promote her memoir, She's Not Herself: A Psychotherapist's Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother's Mental Illness. To give you a little advance information about her memoir I've posted my review here today. As you'll see I was very much taken by her book. My review of She’s Not Herself: A Psychotherapist's Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother's Mental Illness I love survival memoirs and this is certainly one of the best I’ve read. It resonated with me and touched me in many ways: the author and I both grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, we were both children of immigrant parents – hers from Russia, mine from Eastern Europe. And most important of all we both had to find a way to grow up and thrive while our mothers were never themselves. The author’s mother suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and depression, my mother battled with borderline manic depression (undiagnos … [Read more...]

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I’m making slow progress with my novel revisions

I’ve posted all the comments from my novel’s beta readers on the wall, I’ve posted the entire novel on the wall, and I’m working through the comments by scribbling page after page with yellow marker and red pen. I use the yellow marker to highlight where I explain and/or use expository language to tell rather than show (a lesson learned from the Writers Digest tutorial, Revise for Publication: Revision Strategies That Will Improve Any Draft). And, I’m actually rewriting with the red pen, with special emphasis on clearing up inconsistencies – like one of my characters has a black bushy beard in one scene and a light brown beard in another – improving on the quality of my verbs, and further developing my characters - while making sure I describe them consistently throughout. I storyboarded my memoir when I worked on its revisions as well. However, this time I actually saved time, wall space, and printing costs by reducing the size of the book to  single space rather than space and … [Read more...]

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I’m so pleased to reintroduce memoirist Kathleen Pooler

Kathleen (Kathy) Pooler and I met virtually a couple of years ago while hanging out on Google+, talking about - you guessed it - memoirs. And we've been buddies ever since sharing our books, sharing about memoir writing techniques and dos and don'ts, and forever wishing we'd someday meet in person. Alas, that hasn't happened yet. However, I'm pleased to be in her company any way I can. Today I'm reintroducing Kathy on Choices (see her other guest appearances here and here) during her WOW! Women on Writing book tour, and I congratulate her on her powerful and brave memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead : My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, a true life, tears-to-triumph story of self-defeating detours and dreams lost and found. About Ever Faithful to His Lead: A young woman who loses sight of the faith she has been brought up with attempts to find her way in the world, rejecting her stable roots in lieu of finding adventure and romance. Despite periods of spiritual renewal in w … [Read more...]

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One Lovely Blog Award – paying it forward

I’m paying it forward in thanks for the One Lovely Blog Award I recently received from my dear friend Cate Russell-Cole. It definitely made my day to be included in her list of awardees. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m going to pass the award to some of my writing friends who will hopefully take the opportunity to pay it forward as well. Here are the rules: One Lovely Blog Award Rules: 1. I need to thank the person who nominated me. check! 2. Share 7 things about myself that you still may not know. check! 3. Nominate up to 15 bloggers. check! 4. Notify the nominees that I have done so. check! 5. Put the logo of the award on my blog site. check! Now seven things about me that you may not know: I worked as a technical writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace industry for thirty years – after getting a degree in English. Both my parents were born in eastern Europe – Mom from Lithuania, Dad from Poland. They met and fell in love in Chicago, wh … [Read more...]

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Mary Gottschalk asks: Is it memoir or fiction?

The subject matter of Mary Gottschalk’s guest post really hits home for me. I turned to memoir based on a traumatic incident in my life after a 30-career in technical writing, and now I’ve embarked on a novel based in part on factual events. I agree with Mary. I would not have attempted a novel had I not had the memoir writing experience. I hope those of you working on both memoir and fiction will learn as much as I did from Mary’s piece. Also, in welcoming Mary to Choices, please join me in congratulating her on just releasing her novel, A Fitting Place, in May of this year and publishing her memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam in 2008. Is it a Story or an Idea? By Mary Gottschalk Because the inspiration for my first novel came from an incident in my own life, I’m often asked why I chose to do A Fitting Place as a fiction rather than a memoir. Another frequent question—since I have published both a novel and a memoir—is which is the “better” vehicle for a story that has some basis … [Read more...]

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Writing a memoir – a mixed bag

There are so many lessons for all of us in Joan Rough's story about her relationship with her mother. My mother was always difficult and got much more so after my father died and as she aged. I never thought of her critical treatment of me as abuse, but surely it was, and I, like Joan, need to find forgiveness and move on. Thank you Joan for being my guest here on Choices today and for relating your thoughts on writing your memoir - indeed, writing a memoir is a mixed bag because it stirs so much up. I can't wait for ME, MYSELF, AND MOM: A Journey through Love, Hate, and Healing to come out so I can read it. Down and Up, Writing Memoir By Joan Z. Rough Writing memoir can a mixed bag. It can fill us with laughter or bring tears of sadness.  It can remind us of joyful times, or the anger and terror we have forgotten about … sometimes on purpose.  For me, it was a revisitation of those moments when I felt helpless, hopeless and alone. When I began writing ME, MYSELF, AND MOM: A Journ … [Read more...]

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Please welcome my WOW! guest Paige Adams Strickland

Please welcome my WOW! Women on Writing tour guest, Paige Adams Strickland, author of Akin to the Truth. I love her topic for today, The Benefits of Being An Adoptee. Imagine coming away with a group of top-notch friends or being blessed with a soaring imagination as a result. I'll let Paige fill you in on the rest in her wonderfully insightful and sensitive piece. The Benefits of Being An Adoptee by Paige Adams Strickland My adoption memoir, Akin to the Truth, contains some universal themes, which appeal and are relatable to all teenagers, adopted or not. (Pre)junior high through high school is the period of time when young people observe more and begin to analyze and form attitudes and concepts about their personal lives and the world in general.  Often these notions lack perspective and life experience, however the young person's belief system still contains value and meaningfulness because their feelings and how they deal with them are parts of becoming mature. For me, being an … [Read more...]

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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 Institute in … [Read more...]

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Drum rolls for my guest Marie Abanga

I'm so pleased to introduce my guest Marie Abanga, author of My Unconventional Loves: My Hurts, My Adulteries, My Redemption, a book written in a voice so raw and open it almost takes my breath away. Here she  tells how she created her book almost in complete secrecy because of what she calls her "embarrassing and shameful revelations." Please welcome Marie. I am so glad she persevered and successfully completed her memoir project. My Memoir Writing Journey by Marie Abanga Hi there, my name is Marie Abanga, author of the memoir My Unconventional Loves: My Hurts, My Adulteries, My Redemption. I was so happy when one of my favorite authors, Madeline Sharples, offered to host me on her blog. She asked me to do a post on my memoir writing journey for other beginners like myself. I sort of knew what memoirs were and had read several. But I had not come across one with such embarrassing and shameful revelations like I included in mine. There may be worse ones out there, but the authors … [Read more...]

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