Sunday, October 10, 2021

Writing Memoir - Six Questions that block the process

Some of the questions my students ask reveal the reason they have not begun writing about their lives.

  • Where do I begin?
  • How can I possibly put everything in my long life into a book?
  • How do I write about things that happened before I was born?
  • Can I write unflattering truth about my family?
  • What kinds of things should I write about?
  • Why should I write about myself?
Monteen, my cousin and her brother, Charlie

My cousin, Monteen, was her family's historian. When she was well into her nineties, she wrote about the Charlie Council family that lived in Palmetto, Florida in the book, Profiles and pedigrees: The descendants of Thomas Charles Council (1858-1911)
I published this book in 1998.  Monteen wrote one chapter in the book and enlightened the reader to what life was like in the 1920s and beyond in south Georgia and Florida during the Great Depression. When I suggested she write more about her family and her life, she said she didn't know how to begin and she said there was too much to write. She never did write that memoir.

Memoir is not the same as an autobiography. 
An autobiography tells the entire life of a writer, from birth to the time he publishes his book. Celebrities and political figures write autobiographies.

In memoirs, we write only the memories that add to the theme of our life story. We don't remember every single thing that has happened to us, but we do remember those events that made an impression. Why did those memories stay with us?  
If you want to write about your life, read memoirs and take note of how they are written, where do they begin, how much of the author's life do they write in the book? A person can write a number of memoirs about her life. She might want to write about a certain happening that affected her all during her college life. 

She might want to write about why she cried every day at school when she was in elementary school. Perhaps she doesn't know why, but in writing about those years, she will open her mind to what was happening at home, at school, how she felt then, and why she was unhappy. 

Part of a good memoir is in the facts, but part is also reflections on those facts. In writing, we disclose to our readers how we felt then and how we feel now. Maybe what we learn will be helpful to those who read our stories. How we begin and how we end are as important as what comes between. Read some memoirs and see how they began and how they ended. 

"Make a habit of reading what is being written today and what was written by earlier masters. Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learn by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing that I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it. I write entirely by ear and read everything aloud before letting it go out in the world."     William Zinsser

If you want to write memoirs, read good books.

Best memoirs are character-driven and are written in scenes.

Angela's Ashes - by Frank McCourt is character-driven

The Glass Castle – by Jeannette Wall is character-driven 

Traveling Mercies - by Anne Lamott

Writing Your Life Story by Kelley Notaras

I would love to know your favorite authors and your favorite memoirs. What did you like about the books? 

Writing Life Stories

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The crucial ingredient in memoir is people.

William Zinsser says the crucial ingredient in memoir is people.

You must summon back the women and men and children who notably crossed your life. What makes them memorable?

Why do we remember some things and not others? Why do we remember certain people in our past? 

When we write our memories we learn why they stay with us, why we must explore them.

I don't have to look hard to find something or someone to write about. The people who notably crossed my life include family members, four brothers and two sisters, a mother and a father, four sisters-in-law, two brothers-in-law, and a number of nieces and nephews. Then there is my husband and his family.

In my family history, Profiles and Pedigrees, The Descendants of Thomas Charles Council (1858-1911) my main characters were my paternal grandparents, Sally and Tom, and their ten children. With those children came spouses and their children. Each family had a historian who shared the life stories of his or her parents. It was interesting to me what each person remembered. The stories were not all the same because what one remembers is not the same as what another remembers. One of my male cousins described the automobile his father drove and how impressed he was with the car his uncle owned. His memories came from his childhood, and I have found that automobiles often bring back memories when we begin to write about our lives. 

Think about your first car. How did it make you feel? What did it look like? What make and model was it? Did you do something special the first day you had it? Who were the people who rode in your car? Write about your adventures and travels in your first car? What memories come back to you when you think about that car? How did it smell? Did you wash your car or have it washed? What did you keep in your car all the time? Did you inherit your first car? Was it brand new off the lot?

My father, Coy Lee Council, and his first car. We heard stories about this car and his friends. This was likely one of the first automobiles built, but he didn't buy it new. He learned quickly that he had lots of friends until he had to repair the car or buy a new tire. Then those boys were hard to find. He is one of the characters in my life story.

My husband, Barry, liked sports cars. We rode in this one when we were young marrieds.
 Barry was particular about the cars he owned. All of his life he enjoyed convertibles and his last car had a sunroof because I didn't want my hair blowing as it did in a convertible.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Writing about Real People

With six students in my class on Memoir writing, we got off to a great start Monday. I enjoyed seeing my students from a previous class and welcoming the new students who want to write about their lives.

No one is likely to write a complete memoir in my classes. I teach the writers what I know about writing their truth, creating entertaining writing that will be read in years to come. Some of the writing done in class might end up in the final stages of a book, but my plan is to teach my students the best way to put their words on the page using humor, dialogue, strong verbs, few adverbs, and to help them dig for memories that help them to learn more about themselves and the people in their lives. 

Writing can change our minds, change our ideas about people in our past. I heard a well-known writer on a podcast say he wrote a memoir in which he described his feelings about his mother and years later, he wrote another memoir after his mom suffered from dementia. He said the books were different because he saw his mother in another way. 

Whether a person publishes his writing for the public to read or for his immediate family, the act of telling his story in his voice with his own reflections can open his eyes and his heart in ways he had not thought possible. We can't write about our lives without learning more about who we are.

I am listening to a book by Pulitzer Prize winner, Rick Bragg, a southern writer who writes about "his people" meaning his family and friends in Alabama where he grew up and has moved back to live. His latest book is about dogs, especially the terrible dog he calls Speck. But in this book, we learn as much about Rick, his feelings for his beloved brother and his elderly mother as we do the trouble caused by Speck.

I have enjoyed all Rick Bragg's books that I have read and this one about the rescued Australian Shepherd that wants to herd everything he sees is one of my favorites. I like that Bragg loves this dog and the dog learns to love him as well.

If you are a fan of Rick Bragg, tell me why and what have you read?

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Poet Laureate from 2004 - 2006

I like to share interesting people and writers with my readers. From the first time I read poetry by Ted Kooser, I knew I liked this man. I have his books and he is a Facebook Friend. I visit his website and FB page often. He is of my generation and I relate to his writing. I enjoy his poetry about rural life because I write about my rural life. I grew up on a farm in south Georgia and now live in a small rural county in the mountains of North Carolina. There are similarities in our lives although he lives in Nebraska and I live in the south. I hope you will read about him and read some of his poetry. I would like to know what you think.

I like people who like dogs. This is Ted Kooser and friends.

About Ted

Ted Kooser is a poet and essayist, a Presidential Professor of English at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He served as the U. S. Poet Laureate from 2004-2006, and his book Delights & Shadows won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. His writing is known for its clarity, precision and accessibility. He worked for many years in the life insurance business, retiring in 1999 as a vice president. He and his wife, Kathleen Rutledge, the retired editor of The Lincoln Journal Star, live on an acreage near the village of Garland, Nebraska. He has a son, Jeff, and two granddaughters, Margaret and Penelope.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Now Might as Well be Then

My poetry book Now Might as Well be Then, was published by Finishing Line Press. 
I was honored when poet, Scott Owens, wrote a review of my book. I was thrilled because Scott is a poet whose work I greatly admire. I have almost all of his books and a CD with his poems. 

I am publishing his review here because Amazon is not selling my book anymore and many folks think the book is out of print.
Read the review, please, and if you would like this book, you can order it from me or from Finishing Line Press for $12.00. If you order from the publisher, I do not receive any payment. 
If you order from me, I make a small profit.  The book makes a lovely gift and I will be glad to sign it for you.  I will also send you a free copy of another poetry book. Please share this post with others. 

Posted By Scott Owens to Musings at 3/10/2010 02:31:00 PM

There are no surprises in Glenda Beall’s new book of poems Now Might As Well Be Then. The title gives it all away. These are poems about timelessness, specifically about the timelessness of human experience. There are no surprises, but there is great joy. Not that every poem tells a joyful story. Quite the contrary, some of the best poems here are the most tragic. But even in these poems, there is great poignancy, and in that poignancy the joy of recollecting, of being reminded of how it feels to be human, of having, in fact, those feelings cathartically intensified through the poems.

Beall begins the collection with a love poem that celebrates the timelessness of a relationship. The speaker in the title poems says, “You brought me spring in winter // youth when I was old, / you found my childhood self.” If not for the dedication of the poem which announces who is intended by the indefinite second person pronoun, one could easily read this as a celebration of many things--god, nature, the mountains of North Carolina—and interestingly, any of these meanings would fit for the poems that follow as these poems celebrate the presence and influence of all of these elements.

One suspects, in fact, that the relationship between speaker and mate in “Now Might As Well Be Then” is inseparable from that between speaker and place. That suspicion is supported by the next poem, “Mountain Seagull,” in which “Lake Chatuge wraps the mountains, / lapping love,” and the speaker says “My spirit soars above the scene / a seagull far from home, / But yearning to embrace / and build a nest.” Four poems later in “In the Dark,” the theme of timelessness in this relationship appears again, as does the title of the collection and the first poem: “Here I am years later, listening to your soft breath / and feeling your warm smooth skin. / In the dark, now might as well be then.”

The timelessness Beall reveals to the reader is not the magical, mysterious, miraculous sort of timelessness that remains inexplicable and unearned. 
Beall, instead, makes clear in poems like “Woman in the Mirror” that the timelessness she speaks of is fostered through the vital effort of memory: “What happened to those days / I ask the woman in the mirror. / Gone, she says, all gone, unless / you can remember.” The final line break of that poem becomes an impressively empowering device, creating both an imperative and a confirmation for the reader to carry into his or her own life.

To show us how this creation of timelessness is to be done, Beall practices her own imperative throughout the poems in this book. She remembers the sound of rain in “Listening for the Rain” and is reminded of her father:
Too late for the corn, my father says,
across the bridge of time.
Maybe it will save the pasture,
give us one more haying
before summer ends.

She goes on, then, to recall other events from her childhood, the tragic story of “Roosevelt” (perhaps my favorite poem in the book), the story of her “Father’s Horse,” another story of tragic loss in “Clearing New Ground,” and finally, the beautiful and touching concluding poem “Blue Moon Every Twenty Years,” which successfully reminds the reader of all of Beall’s themes by tracing the singing of a particular song every twenty years, the last time when the singer was somewhere around 70 years old and still proclaiming, “I’ll sing your song for you again / in twenty years.” Just so, these poems will sing to the reader, again and again, reminding us to embrace life through our relationships with people and places and to make those relationships timeless through the vital habit of memory.

--Please leave a comment. It will not appear immediately, but I will read it and respond to it. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Lisa Turner's New Book

One of my favorite writers and a good friend, Lisa Turner has written another book to help us with our homes. Lisa is a very intelligent and interesting woman. I am always amazed when I think about her building her own airplane and flying it. She was the girl who wanted to take Shop in high school instead of Home Economics. She appears as a guest on podcasts and writes a blog that is helpful to all of us who write and want to publish. Visit her here.

 Lisa Turner is a former aerospace manufacturing engineer who is now a freelance columnist for Sport Aviation and KITPLANES magazines. Lisa is also the home improvement columnist for Clay County Progress, the local newspaper in Hayesville, North Carolina.

See her author page and all of the books she has available.

Check her out and let me know what you think. Read one of her books and give her a review on 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Want to write poetry? Take this workshop with poet and professor, Catherine Carter

 Saturday, September 11th, 1:30-3:30 PM

Fee is only $25 and beginners, as well as more experienced poets, are welcome.

Carter will teach a two-hour workshop for NCWN-West via Zoom from 1:30-3:30 on Saturday, September 11th.  Wherever you live, if you can get Zoom on your computer, you can participate in this class.

The workshop focuses on using the addition of internal slant rhyme to poems to echo off existing keywords and increase poems’ music, along with close attention to the impact of lines’ end words. 
For the first hour, poets will look at published poems and the ways in which their sounds enhance their content. 
For the second hour, participants will work on enhancing the sounds in a short poem of their own and, if they like, share the results with the group. 

Participants are asked to have on hand a HARD COPY of a draft of a short poem of their own, less than one page long, for this activity.

To register: Send a check or money order for $25 made to NCWN-West, %Glenda Beall, 581 Chatuge Lane, Hayesville, NC 28904. We need to receive the fee by September 6, and we will then send you the link to the class.