February: Taking a look at nonfiction

Nonfiction

Our monthly theme for February on Writing to be Read was, you guessed it – nonfiction. So, what tipped you off? Was it the great interview I did with nature author Susan J. Tweit? Or maybe the nonfiction revues of  How to become a Published Author and Letters of May? Or perhaps it was the “Chatting with the Pros” interview of nonfiction author Mark Shaw? Whatever it was that gave it away, I’m here to tell you that these few posts on nonfiction don’t even scratch the surface of what the genre of nonfiction encompasses.

There are many subgenres of nonfiction, just as there are many subgenres under each of the genres of fiction. When someone asks what type of book your fiction novel is, we are quick to catetgorize it as a paranormal mystery, a historical romance, or a science fiction thriller. For some reason, we don’t seem to think about nonfiction the same way we do fiction and when someone asks what type of book your memoir is, or your travel diary, or your self-help book, we tend to lump it in with all the rest in nonfiction. Why this is, I don’t know, but I find that it is the case, time and time again.

The fact is, not all nonfiction books are alike and there are many categories or subgenres that fall within the nonfiction realm. Mark Shaw writes biographies and creative nonfiction tales that are very different from the memoirs, illustrated travel books and nature guides of Susan J. Tweit. Other types of nonfiction that are hard to define are books like Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd’s Wild West Ghosts, which chronicles their ghost hunting experiences and offers advice on how you can be a ghost hunter too. Or Hollywood Game Plan by Carole Kirshner, which is a how-to guide for anyone wanting to break into the screenwriting world. These books are all nonfiction, but they are all very different types of books.

According to wikipedia the genres of nonfiction are biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, commentaries, creative nonfiction, critiques, essays, owners manuals, journalism, personal narratives, reference books, self-help books, speeches, and text books. I would add to that spiritual texts, encyclopedias, documentaries, how-to books, cookbooks, diaries and anthologies such as the one found in Letters of May, which is a collection of writings and artwork illustrating the world of those afflicted with mental illness. I’m sure there are others, but as you can see the list is quite extensive.

Nonfiction books may or may not be aimed to entertain, but the primary purpose, no matter the type of nonfiction book, is to inform. This may account for the fact that my reviews of nonfiction books receive more views in general, than most of my fiction reviews. A fact that I found to be surprising when I uncovered it while looking over the data for this blog. My theory is that readers turn more quickly to books they may find useful than they do to those with entertainment as their sole purpose.

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My reasons for interest in nonfiction and all it’s many forms stems from preparation for my journey to write my own memoir, telling the story of my son’s death and my life without him, His Name Was Michael. My bi-monthly blog series which will chronicle that writing process, “The Making of a Memoir“, came out with the first segment in February, too. It was a good month for it to come out, as it also fits in with the nonfiction theme. I hope you’ll join us again next month, when the theme will be science fiction and fantasy.

Be sure to join me next month when we will explore science fiction and fantasy, with guest author Kevin J. Anderson on “Chatting with the Pros” on March 18th, as well as a review of his Selected Stories: Science Fiction Volume 2, and Jordan Elizabeth’s Rogue Crystal.

Update: In Friday’s post I talked about the changes coming for Writing to be Read.  One more change that I just recieved confirmation of, and I’m pleased to announce: Art Rosch will also be posting one movie review a month, on the forth Friday of the month, in “Art’s Visual Media Review”.

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The Making of a Memoir: Stage 1: Prewriting Tasks

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His Name Was Michael

I’m starting this bi-monthly blog series, The Making of a Memoir, which will chronicle my journey as I write my memoir of my teenage son’s suicide and my life without him, breaking down the memoir process into stages. I am sharing thios process for several reasons. One, Michael’s story deserves to be told. It needs to be told. Two, telling my own story may act as a catharthis and help me to resolve my own unresolved issues surrounding Mike’s death. Three, commiting to bi-monthly accountability to you, my readers and fellow authors, forces me to create and meet deadlines, assuring that I make adequate progress on the book. It is too easy to make excuses and avoid the emotionally difficult tasks if I’m accountable only to myself. And four, I believe there are those of you out there who are interested in the methodology behind creating memoir.

Before I can begin writing the my memoir telling the story of my son’s death and the story of my own journey to find closure and my need to be sure that he will always be remembered, I must know what it is that I want to say, and have some idea of how I want to present it. After Michael’s death, I went through his writings and artwork, I went through every picture of him over and over and over. I listened to his music. And I cried and cried, and I thought I would never stop. It never has. At least not completely, but I did gain control over it by putting all his things away, to be dealt with at a later time. I knew I needed to tell his story then, but I wasn’t ready. Not then.

I actually made several false starts at writing his story at different times, I wrote poetry, some of it semi-epic, but the emotional wounds were still fresh. I was angry and overcome by grief, and I wanted by son back. I wasn’t able to portray what I was feeling with the depth of emotions I was experiencing. I had to set it all aside and heal some before I could undertake this immense task.

In addition, I wasn’t a skilled enough writer to undertake it at that point. I’ve since earned my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, published three books, and have short fiction and poetry featured in several publications and anthologies. Does that make me an expert now? No. But it has taken me down that path, and certainly I know more about writing books and my writing skills are much improved. I believe that I’m ready now to undertake the writing of my son’s story and my own.

There is no doubt in my mind that this book will be the most difficult book I could ever attempt to write. It is difficult because there is so much emotional investment in this book for me. I’ve collected and saved a mass of materials which may or may not end up in this memoir, but it first must be sorted and compiled. This is a difficult task because of the emotions attached to every piece of material I’ve collected and with the memories associated with each one. Michael has been gone from my life for a decade, but the compilation of these materials still must be taken slowly, a little at a time.

On the other hand, emotional investment in the author lends authenticity to the story and that, according to some, leads to best seller material that people want to read. If you go by that thinking, the more difficult the book is to write, the better it will be. You can let me know if I’m right after you’ve read it.

I thought I had the title. His Name Was Michael: How I lost my son to teen suicide. The title, “His Name Was Michael”, is perfect, for it reflects the feelings I had as time passed and others went on with their lives. Sometimes, I felt that everyone had forgotten about him except my husband and I. A title that would make people remember is a must, and I think it does that. But the subtitle, “How I lost my son to teen suicide”, although clearly and concisely telling the reader what the story is about, it doesn’t roll off my tongue smoothly when I say it aloud. I came up with the idea of  replacing it with “No Happy Endings”, and although it states a truth about this story, the potential reader picking it up off the shelf or spotting it online, might pass it over because it sounds depressing and doesn’t really tell them what the book is about. At this point, I have to wonder if a subtitle is even necessary. Comments on Facebook reflect the idea that the title is strongest without any subtitle. So, I am rethinking the title and I’m open to suggestions or thoughts in the comments.

There is still much to do in addition to compiling material and deciding on a title, before I can begin the actual writing of the story, pre-writing tasks, if you will. There are still more materials to gather and research to be done. I know you may be wondering what there is to research. Don’t I know my own story? After all I lived it. But the fact is there is research to be done on every book. On this one, I need to know things like statistics on teen suicide, and I need resources for warning signs of suicide and other information on the subject. I may not use everything I dig up, but I will have it available if I decide that it has a place in this book. I believe it does but I haven’t worked out how I want to present it. There is so much that I want to say, but not all of it belongs. Finding my voice for this book will mean finding my true voice.

There are several people I need to interview, people who I haven’t seen since Michael died, people who have something valuable to contribute to his story. I must learn to control the emotional whirpool that surfaces when I anticipate these contacts, the memories connected, cause turmoil within me. But, I know his story must be told, and to tell it in the manner it deserves, and so, I must contain my emotions and silence the memories in order to what must be done. The very act of doing this very difficult task for the sake of his story will become a part of my own, for it is my story, as well.

There must be at least a vague outline, which is now begining to take shape in my head. I believe I know how I want to begin the story and the structure I need to use. The next step will be to get it down in print, so I have a clear direction in which I want the story to go which I can refer back to to ensure that I stay on track. Outlines are a valuable tool  in giving any story direction and making sure it doesn’t veer off into left field and lose the storyline and the way I’ve chosen to structure this particular story demands that guidance.

I’m starting this blog series, The Making of a Memoir, which will break down the memoir process into stages, for two reasons. One, Michael’s story deserves to be told. It needs to be told. Two, telling my own story may act as a catharthis and help me to resolve my own unresolved issues surrounding Mike’s death. And three, commiting to bi-monthly accountability to you, my readers and fellow authors, forces me to create and meet deadlines, assuring that I make adequate progress on the book. It is too easy to make excuses and avoid the emotionally difficult tasks if I’m accountable only to myself.

Since I hope to get this memoir published traditionally, I will also need a book proposal, a query letter and somewhere around the first three to five chapters for that. We’ll cover that in the April segment The Making of a Memoir: Stage 2: Selling the story. I do hope you will join me on my journey.

 

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