When the ice maker repair person was leaving my house the other day, he said something that forced me to think about a writing problem I have. I didn’t bring that to his attention. Instead, I just laughed and responded with “You got that right!”
After discussing the repair to be made with this repair person, the gardener had waltzed off to the treadmill. Since I was pan frying dinner (ahead of time–my favorite time to cook), I was left overseeing the repair. My overseeing consisted of complaining to said repair person that the food was falling apart because it didn’t have any gluten in it. Anyway, when he was done, he shook my hand and said THIS. Watch for my italics.
“Say goodbye to your husband for me. Tell him it was really fun talking to him. You probably hear that a lot. He’s quite a character!”
THAT. He’s quite a character. You probably don’t know he’s a character because I don’t make him much of a character in this blog. Or in my memoir-in-progress. I present him sort of flat and static–not multi-dimensional or dynamic.
Why is that?
Well, I’ll tell you why! It’s because he would overshadow the other characters (including me, of course).
I first realized this when I was around 150,000 words into my memoir (don’t panic–while I have about 400,000 by now, only 80,000 are currently in play). Because my father was quite a character, and my story is about my father and me, the gardener has to be a very two-dimensional confidant. According to yourdictionary.com, a confidant is described this way:
One to whom secrets or private matters are disclosed.
A character in a drama or fiction, such as a trusted friend or servant, who serves as a device for revealing the inner thoughts or intentions of a main character.
And, truly, that is who the gardener actually is in my life, along with a whole lot of other things, such as best friend, lover, and most worthy antagonist. But he’s also a pain in the you-know-what to write about–unless, of course, I were to write about him. Putting him front and center. I am not prepared to do that. The thought of that project is beyond daunting.
In case you’re wondering if I am a wilted violet in the face of all that personality, never fear. The kids are waiting for our family reality TV show because they know it’s coming.
Talkin’ trash here is more like it. So. You know how I’ve been working on poems and flash prose based on my research into my family history? Well, I have been. I’m working toward a chapbook–maybe 25 pieces.
One of my favorites was taken by a new magazine that looked great. They had one issue out with some excellent and even well-known poets, and I loved what I read, so I was excited for the 2nd issue with my poem in it. It was due out in December.
It’s now April and has not yet been published. And they don’t respond to my emails or my tweets.
If they had to fold, I feel bad for them, but it’s so unprofessional to accept work for an issue that will never be and not to notify the writers. I did send an email accepting their acceptance, so am I stuck now with a poem I can’t send out elsewhere?
I say NOT THE CASE. They seem to have broken any possibly contract that could have existed. But I was happy to have half my already-written pieces accepted and now this sets me back. I need another acceptance to catch up to that halfway point ;).
If I’m not going to name the offending journal, I guess I’m not even talkin’ trash, right? I’m just talkin’ poetry.
In 2004 I wrote a poem that took honorable mention in a competition that had an interesting reading venue. The poems that placed or were awarded honorable mentions netted their poets invitations to read at Carnegie Hall. That impressed me. I always wanted to play Carnegie Hall, but I thought you had to be a musician! I was not able to attend, sadly, and that meant that somebody else read this poem on my behalf.
After the fires came mudstorms
Bulldozing bodies into the mix.
Weeks spent crumpling like dying stars,
Families’ children into science,
Into candlelit commiseration.
Pressure builds in a cauldron
With boiling tar, the three virtues tied
To a wheel and beaten with rods.
Small skulls of infants and bonobos
Commix in the pasteurized fields.
These offerings burst into flame
Larger than Santorini.
Rebuilding over brick, concrete, bones.
And the moon moves farther from us.
The event that inspired the poem was a horrific mudslide in San Bernardino County on Christmas 2003. Nine children and five adults were killed as they ate their holiday luncheon.
Weirdly, although it’s National Poetry Month, I picked my memoir manuscript back up last week. I feel a little split down the middle . . . .
Handsome (and mild-mannered) Rex dreams of a loving home in Arizona
Last summer I explained that structure was a problem for me in writing a full-length book. I wrote a couple of posts here and here about a book I found very helpful: Stuart Horwitz’s Blueprint Your Bestseller. By following Horwitz’ directions for isolating “series” and creating a bull’s-eye target, I was able to get past the biggest hurdle I’ve had in writing the book. Horwitz’ method is known as the “Book Architecture” method. He critiques, edits, and coaches writers on their manuscripts and can be found here.
After Blueprint’s help with my book, I discovered a smaller and farther-down-the-road structural problem that Blueprint didn’t address. I contacted Horwitz and asked him about it. He said something like “funny thing you should mention that as it’s going to be in my next book.” That’s when he asked me to be a Beta Reader for his new book!!
And here is the masterpiece:
CLICK ON THE LINK TO PURCHASE FROM AMAZON
I almost feel like one of the midwives for this book. Gee, I wonder how Stuart Horwitz feels about me using the childbirth metaphor for Book Architecture!
If you’re writing a novel or a memoir or any full-length book–or planning to write one–you will want to click the link above and order the book.
You haven’t started your book yet? Unlike his previous book, you don’t have to have written any pages. Dig in and learn how it’s done. He doesn’t provide you with a formula, but a clearcut and easy-to-follow guideline to create the bones of your unique book.
He uses a handful of books and films–one per chapter–to show how others have done it–and you can, too. You don’t have to be familiar with the stories ahead of time. Horwitz tells you what you need to know. If you are familiar, it’s even more fun. I knew some and not others.
The first chapter begins simply, with a children’s book, Corduroy.
The other chapters cover the book The Great Gatsby, the film Slumdog Millionaire (I saw the movie, but it wasn’t until I read this chapter that I understood what it was all about!), the film The Social Network, the book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the book Catch-22, and The Metamorphosis, a novella by Kafka. The last is the most complex, but by the time you get to the last chapter of the book you will easily understand Horwitz’ points.
His first book explained the concept of series and how to use them as building blocks for a book very well. But in Book Architecture we learn how to use series arcs and series grids to pull together a rich plot and subplots.
I have a different reason to love each chapter, but one of my favorites is the Joseph Heller/Catch-22 because Horwitz shares the series grid that Heller created for his novel. What a fascinating document–and so helpful to understand how it’s all done. It’s as if Horwitz pulls aside the curtain and lets us see the wizard at work.
Best yet? After reading Book Architecture, I was able to solve the remaining little problems with structure. I am happy with my structure now, plus I understand how it works so if I decide I want to change things around it won’t be a big deal because I have knowledge of my building blocks and how they can work together via series, series arcs, and series grids.
Thanks so much, Stuart Horwitz! Your new book rocks!
Remember the memoir I’m writing? I can’t blame you for forgetting. I pretty much forgot it myself ;). I have to turn in my revised draft on Friday. Stanford University has given me extensions for this last portion of the Writing Certificate program, mainly because of selling our business over the past year plus, and this is the last one. I haven’t gotten enough done, what with an overload of work (yeah, still lots of work-work) and my dad’s illness. So this week I am writing like mad. Hence not much of a post today.
Here is what the desert looks like right now as I write: covered in yellow blossoms.
I read the novel Red Clay and Roses by blogger S.K. Nicholls. In addition to its engaging, well-told story, the book intrigued me with its historic detail and accuracy. When S.K. and I discussed the real life story behind the book, I saw that the line between a novel and a nonfiction genre, such as memoir, is not always that well-defined. In this case, thank goodness!
So I asked S.K. to talk about the historical nature of her book, without using any spoilers–and here she is!
By the way, you’re going to want to check out her book for yourself!
The lovely Luanne has invited me here to her very neat and pleasant blog to tell you a little bit about how writing a roman à clef relates to writing a memoir. I’m a little disorganized. I’ll try not to mess things up too much while I’m here.
A roman à clef is a fictionalized true story. Not quite a biography and not quite an autobiography.
French for novel with a key, it is a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction. Historically, the original works had a key included that was often mailed out to people who followed a story. The key identified real life people whom the stories were written about so a select few who were privy would know the truth (as the author told it, which often amounted to gossip and was flavored with the author’s own ideas).
Why was that necessary?
The roman à clef (pronounced: romana clay) was written about stories that were considered scandalous. The reasons an author might choose the roman à clef format include satire; writing about controversial topics and/or reporting inside information on scandals without giving rise to charges of libel; the opportunity to turn the tale the way the author would like it to have gone; the opportunity to portray personal, autobiographical experiences without having to expose the author as the subject; avoiding self-incrimination or incrimination of others that could be used as evidence in civil, criminal, or disciplinary proceedings; and the settling of scores.
Where a memoir is more like a true story of the author’s life experiences, more like an autobiography, the roman à clef may be colored with more biographical facts and fiction about others.
Both recall facts.
Both involve real life experiences.
The memoir is a genre of its own.
The roman a clef is akin to historical fiction (only ordinary people become characters rather than famous people).
While most all fiction is inspired by real life situations, a roman à clef goes one step further and records actual history. The names and locations may be changed to protect the innocent (or the guilty) but the basic story actually and factually occurred. How is that possible? Then it would be nonfiction, right? Wrong.
I will use my book, “Red Clay and Roses” as example.
Part One was written in first person. The nurse interviews a couple of people who tell their stories and she relates those stories through development of the characters, as in fiction. Ms. Bea, the good doctor’s wife, and Moses, the good doctor’s handyman, were two individuals that I, in real life, had the pleasure of meeting. I valued their stories and wanted to retell them. How they were involved with the good doctor was very significant. The good doctor was a chiropractor who had an abortion clinic in the basement of his home back in the fifties when abortion in any form was criminal.
Through Ms. Bea and Moses (in 1992), I was introduced to people I had never met: Moses’ wife, Eula Mae, his son, Nathan, and his daughter, Althea, Swamp Witch Wilma…and of course, the good doctor. I developed their characters for the story through what I had learned about them through these other folk and told their stories. Names were changed, but the events actually occurred as best as could be recalled.
In 2012, I was reintroduced to an eighty year old cousin, Sybil, and learned so much more. She was a white woman deeply enmeshed with Nathan, the black handyman’s son in the 1950s-60s during the commencement of the Civil Rights Movement. Again, that was scandalous in the Deep South!
Part Two, written in third person, was born to tell their story.
While all of these stories were true, the ending was less than satisfying to me so I took the liberty of the roman à clef to create what I felt was a more satisfying ending. “The opportunity to turn the tale the way the author would like it to have gone.”
So, while a memoir and a roman à clef both tell a history, the memoir is a true to life experience of its author, while the roman à clef is more of an imaginatively creative endeavor that reads more like fiction than non-fiction.
“A novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction.” The events that prompted the writing of “Red Clay and Roses” actually occurred. They were true stories based on my own experiences, or were shared with me by those close to me. Some of the people I never had opportunity to meet were described to me and their personalities were developed from those descriptions. That being said, the characters were imaginatively created to tell their stories. Likewise, although I drew on my experiences as a nurse, Hannah is a fictional character.
The historical events in “Red Clay and Roses” were pulled together through exhaustive research from old newspaper articles (primarily the LaGrange Daily News in GA, the Troup and Meriwether County Archives), and online research. The character’s real life participation in these events was factual.
Have I thoroughly confused you?
Would you like to read more?
Thank you, Luanne, for allowing me to ramble about on your blog 🙂