Memoir Writing Lessons #4 and 5: Check

Yesterday’s memoir writing lesson (#4) from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away couldn’t be posted. The prompt is to write “I don’t remember,” and the idea is to dredge up the dark stuff. Her point seems to be (and I have to guess because she doesn’t draw it all out for the reader) that a memoir about only good things happening (what she calls protection) wouldn’t be a memoir/book/story/have-enough-conflict. A story, as you know, has to have conflict–that is what creates the story. Otherwise it is merely a description.

She gives permission to destroy what you write from this exercise–so that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands–at least until you’re ready.

Today’s lesson (#5) is:

Tell me what you will miss when you die.

When I die, I will miss the missing. The longing for something that is just out of reach or long past. When I am dead, this life will be completed, a finished product. It can be altered only by perspectives, as different people revise their thoughts of me through time. But my life will be boxed up and sealed with packing tape. Somebody will write with a fat black marker on the side of the box: Luanne 1 of 1. There will be no more dreams and goals, no more maybes. None of that glorious unexplored space that makes up all that world that is not the self. When I die, I will miss my family. They won’t be my family any more because they will move on and change and become different without me within the family as a living presence. So I will miss them in a physical sense, but also miss them as they are now. I will miss my cats. Since I will no longer be able to worry about them, I will worry about them now and make arrangements for their care when I do die. If the gardener and I die together, the cats will be divided among our two children (they want to take them). 5 + 1 + 2 = 8 cats. They will each have 4 cats, although my son might be in a better spot to handle 5 and daughter 3. I will miss helping them negotiate who takes which cats. When I saw this assignment I thought I would list all my favorites: pumpkin pie with whipped cream, fried zucchini (you knew that was coming), chardonnay, sake, Mountain Dew, trees and lakes, peonies and hummingbirds, cats and elephants and bears, the colors coral, ivory, and black, but when my fingers hit the keys I knew it would be the missing that I would most miss.



These are getting harder!


Go ahead and try it. Tell me what you will miss when you die.

young Siren is available at Home Fur Good in Phoenix


Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

Memoir Writing Lesson #3: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away:

In this exercise, Goldberg asks us to respond to several prompts. They are derived from the “I remember” prompt, but are more specific.  I will choose a couple to publish here.

Give me a memory of the color red. Don’t use the word “red” at all.

In high school I had a pair of floral hot pants that were designed with an overall-style bib front and straps that crossed in the back. The yellow daisies bloomed against a background the shade of a chili pepper.  I’d bought them while shopping with my best friend who went to the high school across town. My high school was far more preppy than hers, so when I walked through the halls in fake patent leather knee-high lace-up boots, a yellow T-shirt, and those shorts, my face and throat flamed with a rosy-hued rash. It didn’t matter that my outfit was the height of fashion on TV–it didn’t fit at my school. I felt as if everyone was looking at me and when I would look at individuals who quickly looked away, I realized I was not being paranoid. I wished I were that little birthday girl in her chiffon dress–the one with the pink top and a skirt decorated with twin-stemmed cherries. In the shorts I felt like a girl with that well-known letter on her chest.


Tell me about a time you remember rain. Rain does not have to be the main focus.

While walking in the rain, I tend to look down at my feet. As a kid, the sidewalks on my street were uneven and sometimes damaged, so water would puddle easily both on and off the sidewalk. The brown water seeped over my Buster Browns and onto my socks when I made a misstep. Even worse were the worms and nightcrawlers that had come out of their undergrown homes to find death on the sidewalk. I remember walking home from Mrs. Blair’s house (my next door neighbor babysitter), and the time it took to walk down her driveway, up the sidewalk, and up my driveway in the rain amidst the dying worms (that smelled . . . wormy) seemed interminable. In some tiny part of my brain I am always walking that worm gauntlet between babysitter and home.


Why didn’t I just run from her front door, across our lawns, to my front door? Was I wearing my school shoes and worried that the rain-soaked lawn would be like quicksand? Had I been taught to use the sidewalk?
The red prompt wasn’t nearly as easy as lessons #1 and #2. But the rain one was even harder for me. I couldn’t even remember any events that had happened to me during the rain, other than this memory loop of walking between the two houses. Having my memories narrowed down like this is more difficult than just writing from whatever comes to mind.


Go ahead and try it. Start here: Give me a memory of the color red.

Lily Lane (my grandcat and smartest cat in the world)


Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

Memoir Writing Lesson #2: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away:

Write for 10 minutes on this topic that “hits smack-dab into the heart of memoir.” Don’t sit there and wonder what to write about. Just write what you remember: a list of memories, a sustained memory, something in between, WRITE.


I remember . . .

those summer suppers. My mother, often brittle or rigid–afraid?–loosened up in the moist heat of Michigan summers and served those marvelous easy-going summer suppers. Bisquick strawberry shortbread for main course–one summer on the picnic table out back and one summer in the dank basement during a tornado warning. Huge zucchinis from ripping brown bags brought by family and neighbors were sliced, then dipped in beaten egg and flour and fried individually in my mother’s trusty electric frying pan. She carried that pan with her from our house in town to our lake cottage where we lived for three months every summer. The pan’s striped black cord snakelike between outlet and the pan heated right on our table, but the breaded slices were forked and eaten almost the moment she slipped her spatula under them and placed them on the paper-toweled plate. Large red tomatoes, also sliced, dripped seedy juice over the plate and then down our chins. Peapods, just hours off their stems from a farmer’s roadside stand, we ate with the zucchini and tomatoes. Boiled new potatoes. When I bit into one, its flesh so creamy and smooth, I barely recognized it as related to the aging Russets we ate in winter. I remember that in the winter, my mother built our meals around fried chicken, fried “hamburgs,” calves liver (‘n onions), pot roast, chicken (n’ dumplings), ground beef spaghetti, pork tenderloin, and the like. But in the summer, the only meats I remember were from my father’s grill–chicken breasts and hamburgers–and hot dogs for the fire pit Dad had built on the sand in front of the cottage. Summer foods were Michigan cherries, the raspberries my father grew because I loved them, strawberries, and peaches. They were the vegetables from my grandfather’s garden, from our neighbors’ gardens, from the farmstands. And I remember the ice cream that we swirled with Hershey’s syrup. The cherry and orange popsicles, the creamsicles and pushups. The fudgesicles.  Next morning we had blueberries or strawberries with our cereal. When I make fried squash today I can have as much as I want–I don’t have to share with my parents, my brother, the ubiquitous guests at our table. I can have as many popsicles as I like. There is nobody to say, “One is enough.”


I went over the 10 minutes a bit as I didn’t feel I had finished what I wanted to say.

When you have a lot of memories it is sometimes hard to grab just one and write. I could have listed memories, but instead I took the very first memory that showed up right before my eyes and went with it for the assignment. When I look back at it, I see something interesting about memory and memories. I created a bit of a palimpsest.  From Merriam-Webster:


noun pa·limp·sest \ˈpa-ləm(p)-ˌsest, pə-ˈlim(p)-\
Popularity: Top 40% of words

Simple Definition of palimpsest

  • : a very old document on which the original writing has been erased and replaced with new writing

  • : something that has changed over time and shows evidence of that change

The palimpsest in this assignment can be found in the layering of the ages I was for these memories and the layering of the houses we lived in. For the strawberry shortcake memories in the basement and at the picnic table, we lived in the first house I remember. We lived there until I was past 8 1/2; that house had a bomb shelter in the basement. But we didn’t have the lake cottage until I turned 12. And, at the time we lived at the lake, we didn’t even live during the winter in the house we moved to after the bomb shelter house. We had already moved on to a third house! But you can’t see evidence of this in the assignment unless you have more information. This is one thing that makes memoir writing so difficult. Our memories form this palimpsest, where we are the documents upon which “original writing” memories have been erased and replaced with new memories. But the original memories are never completely erased. We retain them in bits and pieces and they meld with the new memories. This creates these complex human brains of ours, but it makes memoir writing super difficult.


Go ahead and try it. Start here: I remember . . .


Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

Memoir Writing Lesson #1: Check

Looking for a way to get back into writing, I picked up (again) my copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, a memoir writing text. The beauty of this book is that it doesn’t lecture about craft; rather, each tiny chapter gives at least one short writing assignment and a fascinating exploration/explanation of what the assignment will do for your writing.

To keep myself on point, I plan to publish some of the unrevised results of my “assignments.” The idea is to respond to the prompt and go for ten minutes. Write crap if that is what comes out. But write for the full 10. Write “What am I looking at?” whenever you need a jumpstart.

What am I looking at?

A light filters down from above through wood-framed glass shelves. The top shelf is so well lit that I can read the labels on the corks making up the hand-crafted pumpkin: Glass Mountain, Torre Fosca, Murphy Good. The plump green insides of the tea cozy. A white porcelain teapot with a faint green Japanese scene. The funky mauve print teapot. And another tea cozy–burgundy–hidden in the corner, but the light seeks it out. On the middle shelf, on the top of the white teapot, the knob of the gold-leaf lid gleams, a reminder that this elegant pot came free by mistake from the company. It throws the rest of the shelf into shadow–teapot, books I’m using in a small stack, a bobblehead Puss in Boots that reminds me of Macavity who died over a year ago. Hard to believe that the movie makers had never met Mac and his larger-than-life personality. The bottom shelf’s contents are dark against dark; I can only make out their shapes–no colors–, the dancing light on the rhinestones of the business card display, the white greeting card from a friend. Tucked against the wall are smaller dark shapes, but I know them by the feel in my hand. Plastic mice laser pointers for the cats. If I hold one and push the button, its red light attracts a cat who tenses. Her eyes follow the red. Another cat tenses.

Underline the last sentence: Another cat tenses.

After finishing my assignment I wondered about the word funky. It has so many meanings, including something icky. But I mean it more in the sense of fun and quirky, a bit hip, but a bit of a “miss.”

Then I was instructed to go for another ten minutes on “I’m thinking of.” Follow the same instructions for the above assignment.

Goldberg says to go back to these assignments over and over, like a dancer or athlete practicing and putting your muscles through the same paces.


Do you want to try it? Go ahead: What am I looking at?  Then: What am I thinking of?




Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

Mom Made Me

I’m sorry this post turned out so long. My back has been out for days, so I probably am not thinking clearly. I’m taking Advil, but it isn’t touching the pain. (Hidden subtext: feel sorry for me, please).


My parents struggled financially when I was a kid, but I still got weekly lessons in one or more of the arts.

When I was about seven, my mother started me in ballet school. Mrs. B had been trained in the Royal Academy style of ballet and had been a member of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I wasn’t very talented, but I tried (I really did) and managed ok. My favorite part of Royal Ballet training were the folk dances because they were a release of emotion, whereas you had to suck it all in for ballet. Not just the emotions, but also the derriere, as Mrs. B called it.

By third grade, I wanted to tap dance. Tapping seemed more outgoing and forgiving of mediocre talent than ballet. As a guest student one Saturday morning, I watched kids pull their shoes out of their little pink or black dance bags. They all had black patent-leather shoes with single ribbons across the arches and silver taps screwed on the fronts and backs of the soles. When the kids lined up in rows across the wooden floor, I tried to copy, but was several steps behind, which confused me.  I knew there was no use as Mom wouldn’t let me join the class permanently.

What I had already learned by then was that ballet was “good” for me, and tap wasn’t enriching, so there wasn’t extra money for it.

A couple years later, I fell in love with the Scottish highland dancing that Mrs. B taught in the class after mine. It’s related to Irish dancing with a stiff upper body and strong legs. Unfortunately, you need expensive kilts, knee socks, and black lace-up shoes even for class. Mom said NO.


A few years later, I was reminded again that Mom knew best about what lessons I needed. It was important that I learn to play the spinet piano that my parents had purchased.  But there was no money for voice lessons, drama class at the Civic Theatre, or riding lessons (or a horse ;)).

A few years later, Mom decided that art lessons were important, so I went to art class at the art museum.


Sometimes I cried myself to sleep on Friday nights, filled with anxiety over the ballet class to come next day. I didn’t cry because I didn’t want to dance, but because the older girls were “mean girls,” and they treated my friend and I with condescension and nasty comments.

Sometimes I fooled around on the piano between lessons, but I never practiced. Right before my lesson each week–if I had a few minutes–I would pull out last week’s assignment and read it over, maybe plunk a few keys. Then I went into class and played better than I had the week before. Not well. Just better. After all, it was my second time playing the pieces. I didn’t realize my piano teacher knew I didn’t practice until one day when tears came to her eyes as she chastised me. “You could play quite well if you would just take the time to practice.”

Ahem. That was my modus operandi for a lot of things, let me tell you. That’s probably why art lessons went well. There was no homework. We did our work in class and then didn’t think about it again until the following week.


I learned a lot from taking ballet for years. As a young adult, I even went back to ballet class on my own–and searched out Mrs. B. More recently, Mom attended a lecture on Swan Lake by my old teacher who still looks marvelous (yes, Mom sent a picture).

I loved art class and it gave me an advantage in art classes in public school.

Piano taught me about music in a general sense. It also taught me that I was a disorganized and lazy fool who threw away opportunities.

My parents found it hard to carve out money for these lessons. I felt ungrateful.

Now I’m kind of winded with guilt when I think of how many kids would have loved these lessons and they received none.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have become a more outgoing person if I’d been allowed to pursue the arts that appealed to my child sense of fun–tap dance, highland dancing, singing, acting, and riding (which I tend to think of as an art as well as a sport)–rather than pursuing the more introverted endeavors of ballet (huge focus on barre work), piano, and art.


Did I learn any parenting lessons from my experience? Hahaha. No. And yes.

When my daughter was little, she showed singing talent by age four. I thought I would ignore that and encourage her in sports, rather than the “typical” lessons for little girls. I went on and on  yadda yadda how I would put her in soccer and roller hockey and keep her away from the “expected” activities for girls.

But when she was six, she begged for shoes that make noise, and I knew I couldn’t force her in a direction I thought was correct. The way she could get shoes that made noise was to take tap lessons.  Now, after years of dance, voice, and acting lessons (that cost me buckets of money) and years of experience in those areas, my daughter is able to go after her own interests–as she says, she follows her dream. For full disclosure, by age nine, she had the makings of a talented athlete according to her PE teacher, but she had to decide between performing lessons and sports because there is only so much time and money, and she had religious classes as well. She chose performing.

If you think I’m writing this to point out that my mother was wrong to choose my lessons and that I was right to let my daughter’s interests call the shots, I’m not. Well, maybe I thought that once, but not any more. I was a lucky duck for my lessons and my teachers, and my daughter was also blessed to have the lessons and teachers she had. I’m not sure either philosophy is right. Training and experiences do help guide our paths in life. Maybe I would be more outgoing if I’d had tap and voice lessons, but then it’s less likely that I would be a writer. If my daughter had been persuaded to pursue soccer at a certain point in her life, who knows where her life would be today? She wouldn’t be the brilliant performer she is, though, that I believe.

If neither of us had had these lessons at all, our paths would have been still different. Different, not necessarily worse or better. That’s just my opinion. But I can almost hear other opinions clamoring out there. Maybe you had lessons you hated? Or lessons you couldn’t have that you wanted so bad you still feel resentful? Maybe you think kids shouldn’t have lessons at all until they prove themselves worthy of them?

What is your opinion of supplemental art and music (type) lessons for kids?

One last thing: I feel very very strongly that art and music (and dance and drama) should be offered in public school for children of all ages. This is a different subject than after-school lessons, but obviously related.


Filed under Art and Music, Essay, Family history, Lifestyle, Nonfiction, Writing

NATIONAL FERAL CAT DAY: October 16, 2016

Why is it important to have National Feral Cat Day? Read what Alley Cat Allies (one of my favorite animal charities) has to say about the day:

National Feral Cat Day Facts

  • Alley Cat Allies launched National Feral Cat Day on our 10th anniversary in 2001 to raise awareness about feral (also called community) cats, promote Trap-Neuter-Return, and empower and mobilize the millions of compassionate Americans who care for them.
  • National Feral Cat Day is observed on October 16 every year.
  • The theme for National Feral Cat Day 2016 is “All Cats All Communities”
  • This year’s poster features real cats with real stories that embody the “All Cats All Communities” theme! Meet our poster cats: Inky, Pearl, and Pie!
  • More people respond to the call to action and celebrate National Feral Cat Day every year. Since 2011, more than 2,773 National Feral Cat Day events and activities have taken place—spreading the word and helping cats all over the country and the world. We can’t wait to reach even more people with National Feral Cat Day this year!

Feral Cat Facts

  • Cats have lived alongside humans for more than 10,000 years. They are part of the natural landscape. Feral cats, also called community or outdoor cats, are the same species as pet cats, live in groups called colonies, and can thrive in every landscape. They are just as healthy as pet cats, but they are not socialized to humans and are therefore unadoptable.
  • Trap-Neuter-Return is the only humane and effective approach to caring for community cats and stabilizing the cat population. From 2003 to 2013 the number of local governments with official policies endorsing TNR increased tenfold, with hundreds of cities and towns successfully carrying out TNR programs. That number continues to grow every year.
  • In many cities, cats are still caught and brought to animal shelters and pounds, where most are killed. In fact, the shelter system is the number onedocumented cause of death for cats in the United States. About 70% of cats who enter shelters are killed there, and that number rises to virtually 100% for feral cats. That’s why it’s so important for people like you to join us for National Feral Cat Day®, and every day. Together, we can change policies and create compassionate communities for cats.

Alley Cat Allies Facts

  • Founded in 1990, Alley Cat Allies is the only national organization dedicated to protecting and improving the lives of cats.
  • Over 600,000 people worldwide support Alley Cat Allies and champion our mission to protect all cats.

Be sure to go to the link above about the 3 cats on the post to read their stories!

October 16 is also my future daughter-in-law’s birthday. She’s a “mom” of two cats. Happy birthday, R!


Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Lifestyle

Enter to Win a FREE COPY of DOLL GOD and The Little Free Library with Dogs

What to win a free copy of Doll God?

Enter the Goodreads Giveaway. If you’re not on Goodreads, it is easy to sign up–and it costs nothing to enter to WIN A FREE COPY OF DOLL GOD.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Doll God by Luanne Castle

Doll God

by Luanne Castle

Released January 10 2015

Enter Giveaway

Remember the little free library?

One of the books I bought at the used bookstore was The Girl on the Train. It was a fairly suspenseful thriller, but it had some pretty big flaws. For one, a lot of the book is taken up by holding the main character’s hand while she drinks. Yeah, she’s a very tedious alcoholic. Boring. Then I figured out the solution to the mystery by the middle of the book, so the ending was a big letdown. None of the characters were likable.

Strangely, the book felt like it was written by Paul (not Paula) Hawkins. This is not meant as a negative about books by men or anything like that. And I’ve never really thought to myself about whether a book was written by a man or woman–I never cared. But I was haunted by the feeling that a woman couldn’t have written this book. It was kind of odd.

All that said, I read the book in one day, so it was a suspenseful read.

I went to California and thought I’d visit the little free library. Since I had just finished reading The Girl on the Train and didn’t have anybody I wanted to subject give it to, I thought I’d walk there and do a switch. When I arrived at the house with the little library, I noticed that the front door was open and a little wire-haired cutie (dog) was walking down the front yard. I kept approaching the library, wondering if the dog was supposed to be outside as he/she wasn’t wearing a collar. Just then a yellow lab came running out of that open door. The lab was not happy with me and ran toward me, growling in an aggressive manner. I walked across the street and turned back in the direction I came from. That was disappointing, considering I like being able to walk to a little library. And I couldn’t help but think of the children’s books in the library and what could have happened if a child had been walking there at that moment.

Later, the gardener drove me over there and I did the swap. I ended up with a book called Earnest about . . . (get this) a yellow lab.


Filed under Book Giveaway, Book promotion, Book Review, Books, California, Doll God, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

Another Glass of Chardonnay (or Sake)

Somehow I got conned tricked into an online wine club (by accident). I discovered they were putting $40 every billing cycle on my credit card. I like wine, but I sure can’t use $40 a month! So I placed an order for the wine I had coming to me and quickly cancelled the subscription.

One of the wines I ordered was Rumpus, both because it was advertised as a popular chardonnay and because the name reminded me of “Let the wild rumpus start!” from Where the Wild Things Are.

When I first opened the bottle, I liked that the wine had no bite, no aftertaste, and was very smooth and good tasting. But the next time the wine (from the previously opened bottle) was sharp to my tongue and a bit abrasive–like a typical cheap chardonnay. The third time I drank from the bottle, the sharpness had calmed down, but it tasted like a very average chardonnay.

Notice on the back the talk of “Angel funding.” That was my $40 per month. I’m an Angel, but when I cancelled I had to turn in my wings and halo. Now I’m just a wine parasite.

A long time ago, I promised you more chardonnay reviews.  The problem is that if I don’t take good notes and if that one glass turns into 1.5 or even 2, I forget all my very important observations.

Here are some wines I’ve tried since that review last December.

Qu is another wine club offering. It was adequate. Actually adequate is not bad because that means that it is a lot better than most house chardonnays in most restaurants, right?

Cloud Break is such a pretty name for a wine. Gosh, where are my notes? That means I have to buy it all over again some day, just to see what I thought.

To my knowledge, the vineyards for this Jerome wine aren’t anywhere near Jerome, Arizona. I heard on TV the other day that there are over 30 wineries in Arizona now, but I kind of turned up my nose. I didn’t care for this Arizona wine. In fact, I thought it was pretty icky and suspect most of them are like this. (I apologize to my dear friend I gave a bottle of Arizona wine to yikes). Any Arizona wineries out there want to prove differently, email me for my shipping address. I accept free wine for review.

If I drink more than a glass or two of chardonnay a week, my stomach gets free-ranging acid. So I had to find a remedy. Most people would switch to red wine. Or vodka. Or stay away from alcohol (and chocolate).

My remedy was to switch to sake. It doesn’t seem to bother my stomach, and it’s never disappointing. I buy or order junmai sake because junmai means distilled alcohol has not been added. That assures that the wine is most likely gluten-free (the celiac has had good luck with junmais).

Fun sakes are Mura Mura: I’ve enjoyed four of its locations: river, canyon, mountain, and meadow. They are all quite different, but delicious. The most unusual is mountain: sweet, , full, rich,  and milky white. It fills the tongue beautifully.  Mountain is perfect for drinking by itself (without food). River feels and looks thinner, has a milder taste, and is pale yellow. Canyon and meadow are closer to river than they are to mountain.

Now Mura Mura makes a pear orchard sake, but I have yet to taste that delicacy.

Here are some other good tasting junmai sakes that are varying prices. Momo Kawa is intense and a bit dry. It’s very good, but not a favorite of mine. I suspect I like the sweeter sakes best. Ozeki is good, sweet, and I might add that it tastes slightly metallic–but even by putting that into words is exaggerating the characteristic.

The differences between junmai sakes are not that different from each other, according to my uneducated palate. I drink these sakes at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. If you want warm sake, order the crap like Gekkeikan that you see in every supermarket.

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On another note, I finished the little free library memoir Monkey Mind and highly recommend it for anyone suffering from anxiety (unless you’re a kid and then it’s not appropriate!). The style is not chronological narrative as I am trying for my memoir (yes, I decided to put it–mostly–in order), but rather more thematically arranged and with a journalistic twist to it (research).

Kana’s selfie shows the best anxiety remedy: cat cuddling!



Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Books, Cats and Other Animals, Food & Drink, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Writing

Setting Memoir Parameters

Tiger sleeps in a cat cave on the couch

Now that I have your attention with that cutie-face, I want to pick your brain.

I’ve got a problem I haven’t yet figured out. What keeps me from finishing my memoir is that the arc of my story takes place over too long a period of time. It’s about my relationship with my father, and that is a lifetime relationship, of course, because it continues even after his death a year and a half ago. But even if I put a cap on it with his death, it still covers a lot of ground.

The other day I read Sherrey Meyer’s post Five Ingredients Memoir Writers Must Have and realized that I should write a post about my problem–just in case anybody has any advice. So advise away.

I know that there is great benefit in finding a defining year or particular experience because the more discrete the chunk of real life a memoir needs to cover the easier it is to write. Excusez-moi if this sounds insulting to writers with a project that fits that description, but those are the stories that perhaps beg to be written. My story doesn’t beg; it mocks me.

But how to find a discrete story where the protagonist takes decades to learn something? Or some things?

My son used to have a picture book called Leo the Late Bloomer, and although my son was meant to relate to it, in truth I related to it. I’m a late bloomer in a lot of ways.

In the case of my memoir story, an additional reason it took me so long was that there was certain key information that I didn’t learn until 2008. More new information continued to come to me through 2015.

Checking out my half shelf of writing technique books, I soon discovered that most of the books don’t deal with this problem. But then I noticed a book I have mostly ignored (because I didn’t read it for class): Writing & Selling Your Memoir by Paula Balzer. (Who wouldn’t like that bit about “& Selling” added to the title?!)  A chapter called “Setting Your Parameters” caught my eye. Yes, that is exactly what I need to do. Figure out HOW to set my parameters.

Balzer argues that the place to begin the memoir is at the moment of discovery. I like the way my book opens with an incident that sets up the initial mystery in my life. It’s a somewhat shocking event, at least to the mind of an 11-year-old. And it created the mindset by which I lived in ignorance for many many years. Is it a moment of discovery? For me, it felt that way. It was the discovery that a big secret existed in my family–and that the secret carried great emotional power for my father.

My full first draft has now been read by four people. Three of them were a group package, so to speak, so I lump them together because they could have influenced each other. I will call them group B. The other reader was my Stanford mentor/tutor. I will call her group A. Both groups are memoir “experts” who teach and write memoir. The advice of group A and group B completely contradicted each other. I mean completely. They want me to revise the book in opposite directions.  Actually, I did revise to somewhat follow the advice of Group A before sending the manuscript to Group B. And everything I did for Group A, Group B didn’t like. They argued for the way I had originally been planning my story before I even started the program at Stanford.

Neither group addressed the problem with the big humongous fruit tree of life I’ve had to pick from for the book.

So I’m reeling from the contradictory advice, but that is all just spinning on the surface because the underlying problem is how to handle the parameter setting.

Or is it? I’m getting confused. Maybe I’m imagining the parameter setting as a problem since neither group even mentioned the problem. Maybe the real problem is one I can’t identify–a problem that caused two completely different readings. Maybe my tale just sucks.

The way I ended up shaping the story (taking into account a lot of advice haha) to send to Group B was to feature that moment of discovery scene as a prologue and then jump forward 40 years and begin the story itself in present day, using a back and forth movement between present and past by chunks of chapters (a few chapters in present, a few in past, like that). Maybe I should start with that moment of discovery and proceed in chronological order and tell the story in a more classic storytelling structure.

Whatcha think, peeps? More whine wine?


Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year) to my Jewish readers! A good week to everyone.


Filed under #AmWriting, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing Talk

Oscar Brand: a real folk troubadour, storyteller, radio-guy, and writer. We’ll miss you.

Here’s to my mother-in-law’s cousin and musical icon Oscar Brand and his everlasting memory.

Words We Women Write

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Filed under Art and Music, Family history, Writing