Time. It fascinates us, captures our imaginations with the possibilities of time and time travel, so much so that our literature and the entertainment industry are filled with stories and songs which follow that theme. There have been countless movies on the subject: the Back to the Future series; Time Cop; The Terminator; Groundhog Day; Planet of the Apes; Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey; The Butterfly Effect; Land Before Time; and Timestalkers, to name a few. And of course, television series: Dr. Who; Quantum Leap; Sliders; Time After Time; Outlanders – not to mention series with one or more episodes that involve time travel. Books and stories about time travel include: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain; The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells; Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving; A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens; “The Langoliers”, by Stephen King (Four Past Midnight); Timeline, by Michael Crichton; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowlings; The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger; and more recently, All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai. Even the music industry has gotten in on the theme: Fleetwood Mac can’t stop thinking about tomorrow; Tim McGraw deals with it in segments, so he only worries about the next thirty years; Bad Company is ready for love and figures better things are bound to happen looking forward; Jim Croche wants to save it in a bottle; Cindy Lauper comments on the repetitiveness of it, as things tend to happen time after time; and Stevie Nicks would do it all again, even though it’s not always a breeze. These lists don’t even scratch the surface. So, why is it that time so fascinates us?
I had a little Australian Shepherd named Dorchester. I got her when she was a pup. When she was young, she was agile and fast. Man, was she fast. She could smoke both the male Blue Heelers she grew up with to get a Frisbee. Then, she’d run off with it and wouldn’t give it back. She never was much for playing by the rules. But, as she got older, of course, she slowed. Age affects dogs in many of the same ways that it affects people: it gets harder to get up and down; movement is slower, more careful; the senses are not as accute as they once were, etc… Dorchester began to lose her eyesight first, even before her she lost her speed and her agility, so I had to become her seeing eye person. I began carrying a walking stick on our walks, thunking it down firmly on the ground with each step I took, so that she could hear where I was and follow. We walked this way for several years until eventually she was no longer able to go on walks with me anymore due to poor eyesight and other effects of aging.
Dorchester isn’t with me anymore, but I still go on walks with both of the Heelers. We all walk a little slower these days. Our walks are shorter and there’s not a lot of rabbit chasing anymore, but they are are enjoyed, never the less. My son’s dog, Zaar, was Dorchester’s mate. They were the same age, each joining our family at about the same time. As Zaar ages, he is not only losing his sight, but his hearing, as well. He is very frightened of thunder and storms always gave him major anxiety attacks, so his not being able to hear so good hasn’t been a totally bad thing, but it does pose new problems on our walks. Zaar grew up walking on our property, so he thinks he knows where he’s going and doesn’t always pay attention to where his walking companions are headed. He gets into ‘the zone’, nose up, sniffing th air, and no matter how loud I yell, he doesn’t hear me, causing me to have to chase after him, touching him to get his attention and get him back on track. Zaar was also raised around a Heeler who was deaf, so he learned hand signs and once I have his attention, he will follow, but it’s getting his attention that’s the trick.
The exercise he gets from his walks is what keeps him healthy and mobile. As I watch him getting older, I feel a sense of urgency, knowing that time may be running short for our walks and I want to enjoy my time with him while I can. I guess I just don’t know how to be a seeing eye person for a dog that can’t hear. He doesn’t hear my stick. I must figure out how to adapt and rise to the challenge, because left to his own devices, Zaar would soon be lost, especially after dusk, when his eyesight is at its poorest. It seems none of us are as young as we used to be.
It’s easy to look back and see what we’ve lost. ‘Hindsight is better than foresight’, and all that. Looking to the past, all our regrets become vividly obvious, but we tend to embellish the good times, as well. I think happy moments may be remembered as euphoric, more so than what they actually were, because those are the times we wish to hold onto. When I look back, there’s a dividing line to my timeline, seperating my life before my teenaged son died, and post-death, signifying the time when he was no longer in my life. That’s my loss. The time when Mike was alive seems brighter, more vivid in my memories. He was my biggest fan, with aspirations and the ability to be a writer himself. He was a unique soul and a source of inspiration for me.
These days, I feel a sense of urgency to make this writing for a living thing work while I still have time to do so. I have certainly taken enough time making it happen. I was 52 when I finally earned my M.F.A. and 53 before I became a published author. I’m sure I have some good years left, but I have to wonder if there will be enough for me to realize my dream. I wish I could go back in time and do things differently, but of course that’s only possible in my fiction.
Now, with time travel, there’s the possiblity of doing things over, making things turn out different. Granted, it doesn’t usually turn out well when you go messing around with time, but things can, on occasion turn out better. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at MY time travel short, Last Call. Things aren’t going good for Derek, but he finds a way to make his life better. Maybe I could go back and get started on this career path a lot earlier in life. That’s not Derek’s solution, but it could work.
I don’t live in Derek’s world and there is no Last Call bar for me. I know I can’t just sit back and wait for things to happen, so if I want to reach my dreams while I’m still alive to see it, I have to take action. I must market what I already have published, but even more importantly, I must keep writing. So, my plan is to just keep at it. Eventually, my efforts will pay off. I have to believe that.
So what if I didn’t earn my M.F.A. until I was 52 and wasn’t published until I was 53? I’m not the only one to get a late start on their dream. After all, according to an inspirational Facebook post by Karen Caron, Stan Lee’s first big comic came out at age 40, Morgan Freeman had his first major movie role at age 52, and Julia Child didn’t make her cooking show debut until age 51. That puts me in some pretty good company.
Young or old, all we can do is look to the future. (There’s that time thing again.)
With that in mind, I’ve begun the writing and compilation of my memoir about my son’s life and death, finally, after nine years. I’ve decided that it’s time to reunite the two time periods that divide my life and my thinking. After his death, I wrote poems and stories about him, pouring my grief out onto the page. I compiled all the photos of him into a slideshow for his memorial dinner. In addition to that, I plan to contact some of Mike’s friends and request them to contribute writings of their own about who Mike was for them. It’s going to be a massive amount of work, but his story deserves to be told and there is no one else who can tell it. It will be my first non-fiction work of book length.
I’ve always said that I never have less than three works in progress. Michael: How my son became a teen suicide statistic, will make the third one, as I’m also writing the first draft of the sequel to my western novel, Delilah: The Homecoming and I’m revising the first book in my science fantasy Playground for the Gods series, The Great Primordial Battle. Writing is an integral part of my life, past, present and future. I may be an old woman, but there is no other direction in which my life can go. Mike would be proud of my accomplishments so far and I think he would be glad that his story will finally be out. After nine years, it’s about time.
Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.
I think Banker Without Portfolio: The Ugly Truth Everyone Needs to Know, by Philip P. Gbormittah is meant to be inspirational. Certainly, Gbormittah proclaims his love of Jesus loudly and attributes the little success he has had and all of his upstanding morals to the grace of God, but it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. The author makes himself out to be altruistic and morally unblemished, praying for God to meet all of his needs, but after a decade at a banking institution, to still not have received a raise in grade and income makes it seem as if his prayers aren’t really being answered.
The book cover is misleading, or perhaps misrepresentative of the true content, since this memoir is written by an author whose skin is a different color than that on the cover photo. Gbormittah might be missing out on a huge opportunity here, for had he played up his discrimination in the work place as an issue of color in today’s market, he might have had a best seller, even without improvements in writing style.
On the last pages, the author summarizes, “My love life suffered. My nuclear family relationships suffered.” But I have to ask why we didn’t see any of this throughout the story? It wasn’t until almost half way through the book that we learned he was married, and we never get to meet his wife or get a description of her.
Discrimination in the world of high finance is the theme, but the two dimensional character we get here doesn’t allow us to really care about the injustice of it because the character doesn’t feel human, and that’s bad because he is a real character. Although the story is about the author’s professional life, to get a glimpse of his personal life would have made for a more well rounded character, who we could actually care about. Let us meet the wife instead of just hearing about her? How did he feel toward her. We don’t know, because Gbormittah doesn’t allow readers to be privy to this information.
We don’t get to see him as a loving, indifferent, or abusive husband. He could be any of them, and it might have made a difference in how much we readers are willing to invest in the character, how much we care about what happens. The only side of him we do see a little of is his professional side, how he interacts in the workplace, and even then we’re only allowed a small glimpse. But even then, the majority of what we know, we only know because we are told, rather than shown, these things.
As it is, Banker Without Portfolio: The Ugly Truth Everyone Needs to Know does a lot of telling us what happened, but very little showing. There is lots of conflict, but very little resolution and no reason for readers to care. I can only give it two quills.
Kaye gives honest book reviews and she does not charge for them. If you have a book you would like reviewed contact Kaye at kayebooth[at]yahoo[dot]com.
Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 3): Interview with Self-Published Author Arthur RoschPosted: October 31, 2016
Your at a dinner party, chatting with other guests when someone asks what you do. You say that you’re an author and everyone is adequately impressed. It’s not every day you meet a bonefide author. Then you mention that you are self-published, and suddenly they all have somewhere better to be.
Self-publishing carries with it a certain stigma. In part, it may be due to a certain number of poor quality self-published books that flooded the market with the rise in popularity of the self-publishing market. With the rise of digital media, almost over night, it was no longer necessary to seek out and captivate a traditional publisher, and anyone, whether they write well or not, could become an author. In the beginning, as it is with most rising trends, self-publishing was a rather expensive proposition, and many authors didn’t have a whole lot to invest, so they skimped by on costs by skipping things like professional editing. Some maybe had their mother or their aunt or their brother give it a once over, but none of them had a trained eye. Others didn’t even do that, believing that their writing was so good, it didn’t need to be edited, or perhaps they were just out to make a buck, and didn’t really care if they put out a quality book. But, for whatever reasons, a lot of less than good quality self-published books made their way out into the market, marring the reputation of the self-publishing industry.
Companies like Amazon and Smashwords put another bump in the industry when they offered authors yet another avenue for publication with the e-book. Digital publishing was cheaper and easier than publishing print copies. In fact, it is virtually free to publish digitally, freeing up funds to be used for things like editing in order to create a quality piece of literature. Of course, there will always be those who are just in it for the money and don’t really care if the book they put out there is good quality, as long as it makes them money. They’re the types that will take advantage of the savings of digital publication to line their own pockets and still won;t bother to pay an editor. They are the authors that wouldn’t survive in the digital publishing world, but hopefullly, there are less of them now.
Despite the stigma attached to self-publishing, there are many talented self-published authors out there, who care about creating and publishing a quality literary product. Today’s interview is with self-published author, Arthur Rosch, who puts whatever time and effort is required into his books, sometimes taking years to complete them. Art is a talented writer. His publishing credits include his travel memoir, The Road has Eyes: A Relationship, An RV, and a Wild Ride through Indian Country, his literary novel, Confessions of an Honest Man, and his epic science fiction novel, The Gods of the Gift. Art shares a positive outlook on self-publishing with previously interviewed self-published authors, Tim Baker and Jeff Bowles. Here, Art shares his thoughts on the publishing industry with his very generous answers, as he candidly relates his own publishing journey.
Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?
Art: I’ve been reading for pleasure since I was five.years old I remember the day I learned to read. It came like a lightning bolt. Aha! So that’s how it works! I made the connection between letters and the sounds they represented. It was my third week in kindergarten. I hated school but I loved to read books. I started by reading historical novels. The other kids were reading “Dick And Jane Go To The Farm”.
When I was fifteen I fell madly in love with a girl. She wanted certain attributes in a boyfriend. One of those requirements was that said boyfriend should be a poet. So, I began to write poetry to please my girlfriend. She turned out to be far less faithful than the process of writing. I gave up on the girl and stuck with the writing. When I was twenty five I was seized by the ambition to write a novel. The project became a science fiction novel called THE GONGS OF SPACE. It was awful. It did, however, attract the interest of literary agent Scott Meredith. I signed a two year contract, and proceeded to write more novels. None of them sold. I had plenty of imagination but lacked some fundamental skills in the craft of writing.. I also needed more life experience.
I’m old enough to remember the “old” model of publishing. I had an entree into that world of agents, editors and publishers. A short story of mine won Playboy Magazine’s Best Story Of The Year Award. I had my fifteen minutes of fame. All the doors were open.
Playboy invited me (with an expense account) to their twenty fifth anniversary party.. I came away with a pocket full of business cards from important people in the publishing industry. Unfortunately, at that time I was dabbling in drugs. That dabble turned into a roaring addiction that derailed me for twenty years. I wrote during those decades. I wrote a lot. But I was like the Hubble Telescope before it was repaired. I couldn’t focus. I had a wonderful opportunity that I wasted by making a very bad choice. This kind of blunder is the stuff of life. I admit, I screwed up. I prefer to regard that interval in my life as “experience”. It was my Dark Night Of The Soul I had lost my family, my home, my possessions and my dignity. But I learned from my suffering.
What can a writer do without insight into the human condition? What decent writer is not also an observer and a psychologist?. My addiction years were loaded with with lessons. I sank to the bottom of the social order. I was on the streets, completely mired in the human experience. I learned from the streets. I learned hard. Then I had to put myself back together.
Addiction is one of the central pillars of my life narrative. I wanted to heal myself, so I went into a long therapy and read everything I could find about family dynamics, addiction and obsession.. Some writers need to spend an apprenticeship in the realm of compulsion, irrationality, bad choices and failure. By the time I was in my mid forties I had a thorough apprenticeship under my belt.
When I surfaced from that underworld, I started looking for an agent. A whole generation of agents had come and gone. The publishing world had changed. I was now (by my own evaluation) a fine writer with a distinctive voice. Agents weren’t interested in me. I wrote hundreds of query letters. I had three novels and a memoir that were ready for editing and representation. I got rejections again and again. How many times did I read the same phrases? “Not quite right for us”, “good luck with your writing career”, “though you write well, I couldn’t quite fall in love with this project.”
It’s likely that you’ve also read these phrases.. In 2001 I wrote to the Scott Meredith Agency in an attempt to re-kindle some kind of relationship. My letter was answered by the head editor. Meredith had passed away and the agency continued under a new owner. My novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN was well under way. The editor loved the manuscript and offered to work with me. I was not a client of the agency. I was a side-project. The editor, B.N. Malzberg., charged no fee, and worked with me on his own time. The guidance he provided helped to make CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN into a mature and viable novel.
Still, no agents wanted to represent me. It was an odd situation. Malzberg didn’t have the authority to bring me on board. I don’t know why. I never will. I’m grateful to Mr. Malzberg for the help he gave me in bringing that wonderful novel to fruition.
Kaye: What are your thoughts on the self-publishing industry?
Art: I spend a lot of time writing my novels. Some of my books have been in process for thirty years. THE GODS OF THE GIFT, a sci fi epic, was begun in 1978 and wasn’t completed until 2012. Nowadays the book scene is so competitive that a writer needs to have an extensive body of work. Writers are forced to view their works as Product. The more product you have, the more you can sell. I have to learn to write more quickly. My travel memoir, THE ROAD HAS EYES, was finished in a year. Now I’m writing a crime novel. In a month I’ve racked up 20,000 words. I do all my own cover designs. I hire out the formatting. I mostly self-edit but that’s not really a good idea. It’s better to join a writing group and share your work with your peers. Better still, hire a good editor.
It’s useful to identify one’s “brand” with a genre. It’s also good to write series. The reading audience loves series. My crime novel will be a series based on the characters I’ve invented. I have a fantasy trilogy in the works. Book One is complete. Book Two, the sequel, is under way. I’m not known as a genre writer. With good reason. My portfolio consists of one memoir, one literary novel, three sci fi novels and a crime novel-in-progress. I also have nearly three hundred blog posts in the form of reviews, poems and essays. My “brand recognition” doesn’t stick. Fortunately I have relationships with magazines like Across The Margin and Exquisite Corpse. ATM has published a lot of my work. I’ve also published as a photographer with magazines like
Shutterbug and Popular Photography. I had a centerfold in CAT FANCY. Our beautiful cat, Agate, was shown without her clothes. Agate didn’t care. She never wears clothes. We don’t believe in dressing up animals to look like people.
Kaye: Why did you choose to self-publish your books?
Art: Four years ago I began to explore the self-publishing world. Getting a book published is easy. Marketing the book is another matter. I’m not a good marketer. I plunged into the crazy world of podcasts, webinars and the pitches of various book marketing gurus. I was trying to get a basic grip on marketing strategies. The problem is that the parameters for marketing change so fast that it’s impossible to know how to approach the world of self-promotion.. Also, I was broke. Marketing costs money. I spent $1500 on paid-for reviews and marketing “helpers”. These investments weren’t completely useless, but they didn’t do much to boost my sales.
I would estimate that at least $5000 is required for a marketing budget. That’s just for starters. If you’re lucky, and if you have some talent, your investment will begin to show returns fairly quickly. You’re going to need a knack for business promotion. Marketing a self published book requires patience. Patience. Patience. Just don’t give up. You’re going to encounter a lot of rejection and a lot of discouragement. It goes with the profession of writing.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
Art: The first thing I do every day is drop a Tweet about one of my books. Twitter is free. Facebook is…well, not quite free. As the world’s population increases, so do the number of writers competing for a piece of the audience pie. I’ve learned, to my dismay, that you don’t have to be a good writer to be successful. You just have to be a good story teller. Many popular writers tell the same story over and over again. They hit on a formula that works, and they milk it. I don’t have it in me, to be a lazy writer. I pour my heart and soul into everything I do. My books enjoy modest sales. My platform is almost non–existent. It will take time to develop my platform until it’s something more than a few Popsicle sticks taped together.
Most of my “writing time” is actually study time. When I write, I write. But I spend three or four hours a day studying marketing. And I’ll admit I’m confused. The major advertising venues change their parameters suddenly and arbitrarily. Facebook had an advertising algorithm that was favorable to the writer. Then they changed the algorithm. The amount of pay changed downward. Same with Amazon, same with Google. It’s like writing in an earthquake. The ground shifts under our feet. But that’s life, isn’t it? The ground always shifts under our feet. The one thing you can count on is CHANGE.
Kaye: Would you recommend self-publishing to aspiring authors?
Art: Traditional publishing now resembles self-publishing so much that it’s difficult to pry them apart. If you sign a contract with a big house you’re still going to have to do your own marketing. If you’re a major name, that’s different. Steven King doesn’t do his own marketing. But Arthur Rosch will indeed have to market, whether he’s self published or under contract to Random House. So…why not self publish? Statistics reveal that self publishing is garnering an ever-increasing market share. There’s no longer a stigma attached to self publishing.
Don’t give up. Persist. Stay with what you love, and if you love writing, then, you must write. Right?
You can visit my book website at roschbooks.com. My e-books are $2.99. I signed up for the Amazon KDP promotion but I haven’t seen any benefit. Next step will be to publish real paperback books. I recommend self-publishing for the simple reason that many of us have no choice. It’s so difficult to hook an agent these days that you might as well fish for salmon in the local park’s swimming pool.
I want to thank Art for sharing his story with us. Be sure and check in next week on Writing to be Read, when I’ll talk with traditionally published children’s author, Stacia Deutsch and get her views on the publishing industry.
Did you like this post? Subscribe to email and be notified each time a new post is made here on Writing to be Read.
Wednesday the 21st is the 8th anniversary of the death of my son, Michael Daniel Lee Booth. Since his death, September has always been a pretty difficult month for me. His birthday was the 9th. He had just turned nineteen when he took his own life. I relate well to the song by Green Day, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, but of course, I can’t sleep the whole month away. It’s just not practical. So, instead I try and find some way to cope by honoring him in some way.
Since his death, I’ve talked a lot about how I want to write a book that will tell his story, and mine too I suppose, or at least the story of how his death affected me, and changed my life. When I first began thinking about it, I referred to it as a memoir, but it has to be more than that because there are so many others his death affected. I keep putting off writing it because I’m not sure I’m ready to dredge up all the memories that writing his story would bring. Some of them are still so painful it seems as if they only occurred yesterday.
For a long time after Mike died, it seemed that he was the only thing I could write about, and many of those writings will eventually be incorporated into the book. For now though, I’d like to make this blog post in honor of him, and share with you the eulogy I wrote. I stood up and read it at his funeral with tears streaming down my face, my heart breaking inside of me. People said it was brave of me to get up there and read it in front of all those that attended his funeral, and there were a lot. But for me, it was just something that I had to do. After all, I am a writer and he was my son.
Michael Daniel Lee Booth
When Mike Booth said, “I love you”, it was forever. And when he called you his friend, you knew you could depend on him to stand by you, no matter what. He loved to try new things, to explore and to learn. He had a love for life and for all that he held sacred. Mike strove for excellence in all that he did, and lived by a code of honor that was extremely tough to uphold. His Christian upbringing was intermixed with Hindu and Buddhist beliefs to make up the tapestry of his own personal belief system that was disciplined and unyielding. When he made mistakes, Mike was harder on himself than anyone else ever could have been.
When he got mixed up with the wrong people and things, he made some poor choices. He did not deny what he had done, but instead stood up and accepted the punishment that was given to him. He tried to make amends for his wrongs and was on his way to accomplishing that goal. He expressed great sorrow for his errors, and inflicted emotional punishment on himself over and above what the law could ever require of him.
He had a strong will and could accomplish anything that he set his mind to, including learning to speak Japanese and perform martial arts skillfully, all on his own. Mike had a love for Japanese culture and he could have lived off of green tea and sushi. His knowledge and skills were gladly shared with those who wished to learn. Mike had a love for nature and enjoyed all kinds of outdoor activities, including skiing, hunting, fishing and hiking. His imagination was endless and he created stories and drawings that reveal a talent far beyond his tender youth.
Mike was so much to so many people; a loving son, a dependable big brother, a doting little brother, a respectful grandson, a loyal friend and a devoted husband. He loved his dog, Zaar, who was a companion and loyal friend to him. Mike was sensitive, and hurt so easily and so deeply, yet he was too strong willed to ever let it show outwardly. Only through his writing, can we glimpse the love that he embraced or the pain that he felt. When he loved, he loved with all of his being. Mike was fun loving and enjoyed spending time with those that were important in his life. He had beautiful curls and the most wonderful smile that could light up my heart whenever I saw it. Mike turned 19 three weeks ago. He had a whole life ahead of him. He was much too young to be called home to God.
Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted.
My husband asked me to help him build a storage shed and I agreed to the task. How hard could it be, right? Except that I am not a carpenter, and I was committing time away from my writing. Well, that’s not true either. I’m never very far from my writing. I’m always thinking about my writing in my head, even when I’m physically occupied with other tasks. So, although I was out hammering nails, my thoughts kept straying to how building this shed related to the YA mystery I am working on for my Genres II class.
The good solid twang you hear when you hit the nail head on reminds me of the feeling I get when I find an element the story is missing and added it in, knowing I’ve nailed it, (pun intended). But more often, I don’t get that direct hit, the story elements shooting off pell-mell into the forest, like the nails that I miss, or curling up like the nails that hit knots and won’t be driven forward, and I have to keep going at it from different angles until I am able to drive it home.
The story is sort of along the tradition of the Nancy Drew mysteries, with two young girls, growing up in the 1940’s as the protagonists. The story is three-quarters of the way finished, but I keep second guessing myself on what it is lacking. As I begin to pound nails into a new wall, I notice that I am starting on one side, with the intent to work my way to the other, yet I begin halfway up from the bottom corner. I wonder why I chose to start where I did, and it occurs to me just how many different places there are to begin on this wall, just as there is in my story. There is no hard and fast rule that a story has to start at the beginning, just as there’s no law that says you must start nailing a wall from the top right hand corner. With the wall, where I begin won’t really make a lot of difference in the end, but with my story it might. I toy with the idea of changing the point where I begin the story until I’m abruptly brought back to the here and now by the throbbing in my thumb after I missed the nail and hit it with the hammer. All these thought about writing are very distracting, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
I’m afraid of heights. It’s a fear I’ve been dealing with for the past thirty years. I believe the official term is acrophobia, from the Greek words that combine “summit”, “edge” or “peak” and the word meaning “fear”. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines it as an “abnormal dread of being in a high place”, although I’m not sure I would define it as abnormal. I like to think of it as a healthy fear of potentially dangerous situations. That being said, I am a firm believer in meeting my fears head on and overcoming them. I have forced myself to face this one on many occasions, yet it still keeps rearing its ugly head to challenge me.
When I agreed to help with this project, I knew that at some point I would be required to climb a ladder to help with the roof, but we weren’t to that point yet, so his request that I climb up and slid across the ladder he had positioned across the top, extending from one side of the building to the other to nail in a small board caught me by surprise. I had gone for four solid hours and was tired when I started out this morning, and I couldn’t muster the energy to fight off my fear. Instead something inside my brain just mentally snapped.
“Oh, no. Oh, no,no,no,” I said even as I picked up my hammer and nails and began to climb the ladder with tears streaming down my face.
“What? Just climb up there and pound in a couple of nails. What’s so hard about that?” my husband asked, absorbed in whatever he was working on and not really paying attention to my reaction.
“I’m going,” I said.
There must have been something in my voice that made him look up and take notice. “Are you crying?” he asked. “Really?” He was puzzled by my reaction because I usually just buckle down and do what needs doing in situations like this, without making a big deal of it.
I swung my legs over the vertical ladder and slid my butt across it. “No, I’m fine,” I said, hammering in two nails as quickly as I could. When I turned to slide back the way I had come, my body didn’t move. I was temporarily frozen. I’d had this happen before when I climbed out under a large cement bridge that spanned the Colorado River to get pictures of my party of rafters, so I knew eventually my body would respond to my minds commands to move, once I got control of my fear, but knowing that made the experience no less terrifying for the moment.
“Wait, I’ll get a picture of you up there,” my husband offered.
“No!” I said.
“It’s okay,” he replied. “You look good up there. Just stop crying a minute and look up at the camera.”
Having my picture taken was the last thing I wanted at that moment, but as I was stuck for the moment, there was nothing to do about it. So, I wiped the tears from my face and resolved myself to the fact that I would have a photo to capture the moment. My eyes remained glued to the top of the front wall however, because every time I tried to look down at him with the camera, I felt my fear rise once more.
“Oh, you decided to come down,” he said, as I finally emerged from the opening that would be the door. He had gone about his business, allowing me time to gather my courage and get myself down from above. “I thought maybe you were going to make a nest up there.”
Now, with my feet firmly planted on the ground, his statement made me realize what a great opportunity I had missed because of my dumb fear and it made me angry. There I was, sitting with a bird’s eye view of the forest around me and I hadn’t taken advantage of it. I’d been too scared to even notice.
That’s when I realized that I’ve been doing the same thing with my memoir. Writing the story of my son’s death and my own grief is a difficult task. There are many issues that the memories stir that I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with. I’ve been putting off doing the research for several sections for this very reason, because I didn’t want to rehash the pain that interviewing the people who knew my son would inevitably produce. My instructor at Western State, Barb Chepaitis, has emphasized that eventually I must face these memories in order to portray the story honestly, and I suddenly realized how right she is. By putting off the necessary interviews because I fear the pain they will bring, I’m depriving myself of the full picture, just as I deprived myself of that high altitude view that would have allowed me to see the world a little differently. Eventually, I’m going to have to do them to present an honest portrayal of the story I need to tell, and by putting it off, I risk losing track of the key players. It’s already been four years since my son died. His friends have all gone on with their lives. They aren’t just hanging around waiting to be interviewed by me.
That night, I got on the computer and sent messages to several of the people who knew Mike, asking for their assistance. Already, I’m going to have to track down some that I no longer know how to contact. Once I have this part of the research done, I still won’t have a finished book, any more than pounding in those two nails produced a finished shed, but it will bring me one step closer to having all the material I will need to do the job.
Yesterday, I attended the final workshop in the Writing Your Life: Crafting Creative Non-Fiction and Memoir from Life Experience workshop in Salida, Colorado. Presented by New York writer, Alex Van Ark, this workshop was really a great experience. I chose to attend this workshop for two reasons: the main one being that I have started a memoir about the life of my son, Michael, and the bond that he and I shared; and the workshop was free, so it fit into my budget quite well. Although I was unable to attend the first of the three Sunday afternoon workshop sessions, the two that I did attend taught me a lot about my own writing. Now I sit here, chewing on an English muffin, reflecting on what I really got from this workshop:
Through a series of writing exercises, Alex showed us all how to write more factually, by writing with only nouns and verbs, thus eliminating all opinions. This is more difficult than it sounds, believe me. Using this method though, you can create a picture that is much more clear and concise, (and it also seemed to cut down on run-on sentences, but maybe that was just me). It is amazing how much we tend to interject our own impressions and biases into our writing, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, the exercises showed us how those same impressions can be portrayed through the action in the scene being described, so that readers can reach their own conclusions. While you can say that a character was not a good mother, but it is much more effective to show the ways in which she was not good. For example,
“More often than not, she would promise her boys that she would
be there for Christmas and then never show up, making up
some excuse, maybe car trouble or some fictional emergency
that didn’t really make sense, but would be believable enough for
two young boys who needed to have faith in their mother. She
would promise to send the presents, then, claim that she had to
move, and the presents were in storage, so she couldn’t get to
them, or claim that they must be lost in the mail. Sometimes
they would arrive in March, or May, with price tags still
attached, but sometimes they would never come at all. One
of her favorite tricks was to ask, “Didn’t you receive the card
that I sent?”, knowing full well they hadn’t. There never was a
card. She would claim that there was money in it and their
father must have stolen it, when they said that they had not
gotten it, with tears in their eyes.”
When you read this piece of writing, you can easily imagine how disappointed her children must have been, over and over, and most people reading this would come to the conclusion on their own that this woman was not a good mother. Moreover, this is much more powerful than simply stating that she was not a good mother. Readers may or may not believe it just because you say it, but they believe it after reading the passage about how she disappointed her children, because they came to the conclusion themselves and her actions leave no question as to the matter.
We also talked about how not to get sued when writing memoir and including real people and places. You can change the names, or use titles in place of names, or have the real life people sign clearance forms, giving permission for you to write about them, or you can turn the whole thing into creative fiction. Even with clearance forms, people can come back on you if they don’t like the way that their character is portrayed. In my case, many of the people involved, especially those associated with his death, would probably not be very open to giving clearance anyway, so I will have to come up with another solution.
The other thing that I learned was how to use archetypes to create my characters. Combining different types of characters creates diversity and adds conflict to the story. One exercise had us pick an archetype and write a description, using behavioral examples, of course, the reading our descriptions to see if the other workshop participants could identify the archetype. Another writing exercise involved having two archetypes interact. I think that by placing characters into an archetypal mold, it allows the character to be more rounded, while remaining focused. I found both exercises to be very interesting and helpful, as character portrayal can be a very difficult thing for me.
The last session, yesterday, was a Cowboy Story Hour, where each of us did a reading of some of our work. I chose three pieces, two of which were poetry. I had been fortunate enough to attend a Poetry Performance Reading with Rosemary Wahtola-Trommer, of Telluride, (The Word Woman), whose reading was vibrant and filled with energy. I couldn’t hope to do a reading even close to that quality, but I tried to keep her in my mind and emulate her, as I stood before the other workshop participants and did my first reading ever. I tried to read slowly and pause in all the right places to give the proper inflection of my words. I probably should have selected different pieces, as the ones I chose were maybe too personal, and I can’t even read them to myself, without choking back tears. My fellow workshoppers were very gracious though and gave me a nice round of applause, even though they may not have understood the last lines through my tears. It was scary to walk up there to read my work, but I think I did okay, and I definitely lived through it. I know because I couldn’t have heard all the other readings if I were not alive following my own. The talent of all those in the room was just amazing, with readings that carried us all over the world, to places that I had never been before, but never the less, made me feel as if I were really there. That was the best part: all of the great writers that I met there.
The facilitator, Alex Van Ark, was just a wonderful guy, who had the ability to draw on your hidden talent with his exercises, which aside from their learning value, were also quite fun. He was easy to talk to and he never asked us to do anything that he did not do himself. He did a writing of his own for each exercise, and then read what he had come up with, right along with the participants. He is a very talented writer, as are many who attended. All in all, it was a wonderful experience that I very much enjoyed. I am looking forward to Alex’s promised return next year and plan to attend his workshop again. It will be interesting to see how my memoir has developed over the year.