Me? Write a Memoir? But…!

by Gail Kittleson

Decades ago, some friends invited us to go rafting on a local stream. I thought our son, three years old at the time, would be excited, but he said,

          “I’m scared of those rabbits, Mommy.”

          “Rabbits?”

          “Yeah. Evelyn said we’re going to come to some rabbits…”

Those rapids would’ve scared me, too, if I thought they might hop into our raft. After a bit of explanation about the mild rapids, our son loved rafting.

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Misunderstandings often ground our fears, and this proves true with writing. Being afraid to express our anxieties in black and white originates in false assumptions:

  1. What we write may be used against us.
  2. There’s a ‘right’ way to write, and we haven’t learned how.
  3. Once we write something down, we’re bound to the perspective we embraced at the time.
  4. Once written, our words will be “golden,” and therefore, we can’t destroy them.

          First of all, what we write may be used against us. But this is no reason to forego all the benefits of the process. Writing in a safe place that no one ever sees has done wonders for many people experiencing trials.

The feeling that we have no control over who might see what we write can keep us bound by the tide of emotions swirling inside us. Launching out to safely journal our thoughts, tied irrevocably to those emotions, may seem beyond our power.

          In order to take this tentative step, we must unlearn the second misconception, that there’s a ‘right’ way to write. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No perfect method for expressing what we feel exists.

In fact, the ‘perfect way’ will be the way our words come out. Each person’s story contains unique content, since it comes from our one-of-a-kind inner being. Each of us perceives even the identical situation with variations.

A family outsider, my sister, or my brother will see what I remember differently than I do. But my first feeble step—even if that amounts to writing one short paragraph about what’s transpiring inside me—unleashes immense healing power.

          Now to the third misnomer: we are not bound by our viewpoint at any given time. A glance around us reveals that everything changes constantly. The only constant is change, as they say.

If I still looked at what I experienced fifteen years ago with the same eyes, I would be in big trouble. But the thing is, I would never have arrived at my present perspective if I hadn’t started writing down my thoughts and feelings.

          At the time, my journal pages seemed somehow sacred, and they were. But as the years have passed, I’ve grown, and at certain points, I let go of certain writings from the pasts. Burned them, because they no longer seemed ‘golden.’ Some of them, I kept and edited. And re-edited, and re-re-edited into a memoir. That’s not the route for everyone, but proved to be an important part of my journey.

The point is, your writings are your writings. You have the right to choose what to do with them, including chucking them down a sinkhole never to be seen again.

And the broader point is that in the darkness of an emotional avalanche, we cannot even know what we think. By allowing words to flow from us, we invite clarity, and through this process, discover truths we would never have imagined.

Words equal an enormous gift—penned quietly in secret places, they blossom like hidden desert plants that bloom in darkness, where no one observes. But their flowers bear perfume, attracting the necessary insects for pollination. It may be that we will rework and launch our writings into a published memoir, but either way, this practice can become a powerful experience.

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than You.” 
Dr. Seuss

 

Gail Kittleson 2

When Gail’s not steeped in World War II historical research, writing, or editing, you’ll find her reading for fun, gardening, or enjoying her grandchildren in Northern Iowa. She delights in interacting with readers who fall in love with her characters.

Gail Kittleson taught college expository writing and ESL before writing women’s historical fiction. From northern Iowa, she facilitates writing workshops and women’s retreats, and enjoys the Arizona Ponderosa forest in winter.

catching up

Catching Up With Daylight; a Journey to Wholeness, is Gail’s own memoir. She and her husband began renovating an old house after he returned from a deployment in Iraq.  The book is “a gorgeous tapestry of non-fictional thoughts. This very gifted author knows how to weave her thoughts, memories, and the history of the old house she is refurbishing into a journey of emotional and spiritual wholeness.”

 

Women of the Heartland, Gail’s World War II series, highlights women of The Greatest Generation: In Times Like These, April 2016, With Each New Dawn, February, 2017 A True Purpose (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and Word Crafts Press, December, 2017.)

 

  Cover_APuroseTrue    With Each New Dawn    In-times-like-these
Visit her at the following social media sites:

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NOTE: This article was posted for Gail Kittleson by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

The Importance of Setting

Guest Post by Patricia Smiley*

michael-discenza-331452-unsplashYears ago I bought a novel written by a well-known author because it took place in Seattle, a city where I’d lived, went to school, and worked for many years. A few chapters in, I was dismayed that the descriptions of setting were so generic that the story could have taken place anywhere. It was almost as if that the author had never set foot in the city.

Setting matters. The place of your novel includes the broader vistas into which you set the story, such as the culture and customs of the people who live there, history, land, floral and fauna, and even the shape of the clouds. It’s also where each scene takes place, be it the backseat of a Mini Cooper, an English garden, a Federal prison cell, or a home kitchen.

We were given five senses for a reason. Detail specificity enriches your writing. Don’t just say the kitchen was messy; describe the smell of spaghetti sauce oozing down the wall, the feel of that sticky green substance puddled on the floor next to the baby highchair, and the tick tock of the antique grandfather clock in an otherwise silent room. Descriptions should not just be an inventory of the space. Each one must illuminate an element of plot, theme, or character and, in the case of this kitchen, raise a myriad of dramatic questions about what happened there and to whom.

Description as fine sauce. Descriptions need not be long and rambling, but a writer must persuade the reader that the story is real. Even people who’ve never been to a location should feel as though they’re experiencing it firsthand. This also applies to imaginary settings. To prevent long passages of boring prose, take Elmore Leonard’s advice, ”Don’t write the parts people skip.” Instead, distill the essence of a place into a fine sauce. Below is an example of reporter Jeffrey Fleishman’s brilliant and evocative description of Port Said, Egypt, from the Los Angeles Times:

“This shipping city of factory men, with its whispers of colonial-era architecture, was once a crossroads for intellectuals, spies and wanderers who conspired in cafes while the Suez Canal was dug and Egypt’s storied cotton was exported around the globe. Rising on a slender cusp in the Mediterranean Sea, the town exuded cosmopolitan allure amid the slap of fishing nets and the creak of trawlers.”

Don’t trust your memory—verify. Get the specifics right. Nothing takes a reader out of the story faster than getting hung up on inaccurate details. If you can’t visit the location, read travel blogs, talk to friends with knowledge of the area, consult Google Maps, online photos, and YouTube videos.

People like to “travel” when they read. Effective use of description creates atmosphere and mood, and stimulates emotions. Anyone who is familiar with the cold, bleak settings in Scandinavian crime novels or films knows how integral “place” is to every part of those stories. So, give your readers a compelling setting and then wish them a bon voyage.

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Patricia Smiley is the author of four novels featuring amateur sleuth Tucker Sinclair. Her new Pacific Homicide series profiles LAPD homicide detective Davie Richards and is based on her fifteen years as a volunteer and a Specialist Reserve Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department.

The third in that series, The Second Goodbye, is set for release on December 8, 2018.

Patty’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. She has taught writing at various conferences in the U.S. and Canada and also served as vice president for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles.

PatriciaSmiley.com

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Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash
*This blog article is posted for Patricia Smiley by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

 

Never a “Sense”less Moment – Writing the Big FIVE.

What is your favorite sense to write with?  Use the senses God gave you to SHOW your readers how you feel.  They’ll love you for it.

Jackie Houchin

I just returned home from a two-week trip to Torino (Turin) Italy.  If you want to experience your five senses with GUSTO, this is one of the countries you should visit.

IMG_3496 (Edited)I TASTED the cool creamy sweetness of real Italian Gelato, bit into crusty (salt-free) Tuscan bread piled high with fresh-made tomato Bruschetta and drizzled with first-press virgin olive oil from an orchard that covered the nearby rolling hills.  I sipped a frosty pale green menta (mint) icy that tingled my taste buds and sent shivers of coolness through my mouth and throat…on a baking-hot humid day.

IMG_1367I sampled an vast array of Italian cheeses (said to outshine France’s), from wedges of soft, creamy whites, protected by powdery rinds, to the mellow, medium-soft, large-holed varieties (not Swiss), that were delicious in a salty-sweet way with a dollop of apricot jam on top, to the hard, net-wrapped aged cheeses that take a good strong knife to slice, and a hunk of soft Italian bread to eat it with to even out the sharpness.

An expensive treat reserved for special occasions are the tiny balls of fresh Mozzarella floating in whey and filled with rich sweet cream that oozes into your mouth when you eat them. Magnifico!

What of the pastas (hardly ever spaghetti) in rich tomato sauces with melted cheese (and occasionally chopped hard boiled eggs), or made with basil-green home-made pesto?

Italy18 Hot Choc. Fresh whip cream What about a decadent hot chocolate so thick and rich that it looks like Hershey’s Chocolate Topping, but more delicious, served with a scoop of freshly whipped cream so thick you could eat it with a fork.Italy18 Hot Choc.

Aromas tease your nose when you walk past pizzerias or pastry shops. Sweets and Savories. Or sniff the meaty goodness of rows of whole chickens roasting on a rotisserie, dripping their goodness onto large chunks of peeled potatoes below.

Old Roman style streets of small cobblestones or large rectangle blocks make for uneven walking and leg strain…but offer a “rubbery warbling” from the tires of cars passing by…if you listen.  Horns honk continuously as Italian drivers in tiny cars dart in front of you, whiz by you, or fume impatiently behind you. “Romantic” Italian is spoken everywhere, quickly, rolling from the tongue with unfamiliar consonant and vowel endings, sometimes staccato, sometimes lyrical.

Italy18 Torino fountainMove through wet heat that causes limp hair, sticky skin, and clothes that cling. And then come upon an arched metal fountain in a park or piazza in the shape of a bull’s head (honoring “Torino”) that flows with cool sweet entirely drinkable water from its mouth. Hold out an empty water bottle, or cup your hands to catch the coolness, or even bend your head and drink freely.

Italian greetings surprise you, not with impersonal nods or stodgy handshakes, but with full frontal hugs, kissing (or air-kissing) on each side of the cheeks (always beginning on the right side!), a hearty pat or two on the back and a warm smile and verbal “Ciao.”

Italy18 Sibling hugsKids walk down the streets holding hands and they hug their siblings freely, unembarrassed.

You will see women (entirely “straight”) strolling arm in arm or hand in hand.

Sometimes men too. (Seriously!)

Ah, Italy.

 

Vibrant with the five senses!

What about your writing? Are you taking advantage of the “Big Five?”

SMELL

Exercise: Smell is the only sense that has a direct pathway to the memory center of your brain. What smells brings up unexpected memories for you? (Grandma’s house, your husband’s pajamas, Plumaria flowers, frying bacon, a certain spiced tea, wood polish, month-old laundry, cinnamon rolls warm out of the oven….a dead rat?  Describe a few of these using your sense of smell.

Hint: Read wine or perfume sites to build your smell vocabulary.

SOUND

Exercise: How would you describe the sounds around you right now? Pause and listen! Describe how fire sounds in a fireplace… in a forest fire. What’s the sound of water in a pool, a creek, an ocean? Make up a few new onomatopoeia sounds.

TOUCH

Exercise: Describe something fluffy, icy, pliable, jagged, papery, leathery, or slick. What do things vibrating or painful feel like?

TASTE

Exercise: Describe what something tastes like using a metaphor. (Comedian, Tim Hawkins, compares the taste and texture of a Krispy Kreme donut to “eating a baby angel.”  Think about that!)  What makes your mouth “water?” What makes you gag?  What does blood taste like when you bite the inside of your cheek? Have you tasted tears? Mother’s milk? Can you describe them?

Extra Credit Exercise. Buy a Bean Boozled Spinner Game and play several rounds with a friend. Describe the tastes of the Jelly Belly beans your pointer chooses for you. Flavors include Buttered Popcorn, Peach, Carmel Corn, Chocolate Fudge, and Rotten Egg, Dead Fish, Lawn Clippings and Barf.  I DARE YOU!!  Find a game here: https://amzn.to/2v4snUc

SIGHT

Exercise: Describe places you love. Describes different kinds of light, different shapes, perspective, illusion. Truly see a person passing by and tell what each aspect of his clothing, skin hue, walk, manner, and speed could mean. Use metaphors to describe a few of your favorite colors.

Italy18 checkered hall  Italy18 Castle shapes

Italy18 Lucky clover  IMG_3828 (Edited)

Close your eyes. Imagine one of your favorite places: a local coffee shop, the beach, a small bakery in Paris… anywhere. Take a few minutes to describe this place.

What is your favorite sense to write with?  Use the senses God gave you to SHOW your readers how you feel.  They’ll love you for it.