Posted: April 8, 2019 Filed under: Commentary, Memoir, Nonfiction, The Making of a Memoir, Writing, Writing Process | Tags: Creative Nonfiction, Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother's Grief, Memoir, Nonfiction, The Making of a Memoir, Writing Process, Writing to be Read
Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother’s Grief
“The Making of a Memoir” is a bi-monthly blog series which explores the stages of writing a memoir as I write the story of losing my nineteen year old son, Michael, to suicide, through his story and the tale of a life without him and the grief I experience every day, even after he’s been gone for a decade. Some progress has been made toward the actual writing of the book since the last segment. I made a final decision on the title above for the book, and work on the cover is in progress with Art Rosch at Starrts Creative. Although there is still a lot of material still to sort through and compile what I want to include, I managed to work through a considerable amount. The going is slow, as I knew it would be, due to the emotional nature of the material and the memories some of it awakens.
In the last segment, “Stage 1: Prewriting Tasks“, I said I expected this book to be the most difficult story I have ever attempted to write, and that has proven to be true. In fact, it has proven to be difficult in more ways than I had imagined. This segment was supposed to be titled “Stage 2: Selling the Story”, but alas, unexpected “Obstacles and Roadblocks” has become a more appropriate title. Over the past two months, I run into several and I’m still trying to find a way around, over or through one huge one in particular – legalities.
Memoir can and should be a work of creative nonfiction. It is a true story told creatively, so as to capture and hold the readers’ attention. What memoir is not, is a work of fiction, with fictitional characters and places. You are telling a true story, something that actually happened, something in which other real people played different roles, and to tell the story, their parts must be told as well, even if the tale doesn’t portray all of them in a positive light. A good memoir must be told with honesty, from the heart.
As I sorted through the plethora of material I have gathered and saved since my son’s death: his poetry, writings and artwork; my poetry and writings; and oh so many photos, I couldn’t help but think about the other people involved, directly or indirectly with the story of the events leading up to Mike’s death and also the events that came after, and I realized that there were more than a few, people associated with Mike, and law enforcement officers, who might not want this story to come out because of the manner in which they might be viewed for their parts in his death.
It normally wouldn’t be a problem at all. I’m writing the story of events as they happened to the best of my knowledge. Many facts surrounding Mike’s death were suspicious, and for a time I believed that Mike might have been murdered. Things didn’t add up, but the proof to back up what I know to be true was withheld from me by local law enforcement. I no longer entertain the idea that Mike’s death was anything other than suicide, without the proof that the events happened the way I claim they did, I could be open to liable in telling this story.
The individuals involved wouldn’t really be a problem. The obvious solution is to change the names. Even in a true story, real people can have fictitious names, without damaging author credibility. Authors do this all the time; you just state that some names have been changed and readers won’t feel cheated.
The law enforcement agency and certain individual agents present a bigger problem. Do I change the names of the law enforcement agents? Do I change the name of the area they represent? How much can be changed before a true story becomes a work of fiction? The proof I lack wouldn’t portray the local law in a positive way and they know it, so they aren’t likely to have a change of heart about sharing it with me for the book. They play major roles in the events leading up to Mike’s death, and the story really can’t be told without their inclusion.
Although this issue has presented a roadblock that appears it might be unsurpassable, I have a couple of ideas on how I might be able to get around it. I need to let it play out and see. If not, I’ll look for a way to go over, or under if I have to. This is a story that must be told, and I’m determined to tell it. By the next segment, in June, I should be moving forward once more. I’ll let you know how it gets resolved. I do hope you’ll join me then.
Join me in my writing journey through “The Making of a Memoir” the second Monday every other month on Writing to be Read: February, April, June, August, October and December. To be sure not to miss one segment, subscribe to email or follow on WordPress for notification of new content.
Posted: March 6, 2019 Filed under: Fiction, Humor, Inspirational, Nonfiction, Pep Talk, Writing | Tags: Criticism, Jeff Bowles, Jeff's Pep Talk, Writing, Writing to be Read
The Big C(riticism)
By Jeff Bowles
The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
I don’t think there’s a soul on earth who likes criticism. There’s just something about it that can cut to the bone. Human beings have such fragile egos anyway, those pesky little conscious seats of individuality that get bruised and battered when others make us feel small, less talented, less competent, perhaps even less valid as people. Some more than others, right? I’ve had writers tell me they never feel offended, angry, upset, or in any way discouraged after a round criticism. I don’t think I believe them. I mean, not at all? Even just a little? Really?
And of course, if you’re checking out this blog, odds are you’ve seen your share of creative criticism. It’s essential to the process, right? Every writer can benefit from it, from the newest of newbs to the most seasoned authors. And a change in attitude often occurs once a writer actually gets neck deep in a viable career. At that point, criticism has become just another part of the job, kind of less of a hassle than, say, making deadlines you have no hope of making or enduring long, drawn-out revision cycles.
But there’s another dimension to writers that’s so common it’s a cliché. Many of us suffer from mental illness. I know I do, and lots of my associates and acquaintances are in the same boat. Most of the time their personal stories boil down to a bit of depression here and there, but look, there’s something about a creative profession that requires long periods of solitude that seems to attract folks who are maybe a bit less emotionally equipped than the rest of humanity. Plus, you know, the ubiquitous link between genius and madness. Some of the greatest writers in history should have been in the nut house. Some of them were.
Now there’s a big difference between getting your feelings hurt over some bad comments from a crit group and losing your mind completely. We subject ourselves to the honest (and often brutal) opinions of our colleagues because we understand in the end criticism will make us better. Especially when we’re just starting out. If we can find a few people who really get what we’re all about and who consistently offer good feedback, we’re wise to consider them valuable resources. The fact remains, writers pour ourselves into our work. In many ways, stories and novels, articles and memoirs, they’re like our children. Sometimes it’s hard not to take criticism personally. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admitting it.
So as a writer who’s had one or two creative outbursts himself (sorry about that black eye, prof), here’s a few tips to soothe the wounded beast. Number one, and going back to the crit group thing, it really does help to know a few people who are on the same page as you creatively. It’s old advice, but it is enormously beneficial. Also, try not to work with writers who aren’t quite as skilled as you are. Likewise, learn to recognize when you’ve gotten in with folks who have a lot more ability and experience. Writers who punch in above your pay grade aren’t going to be able to help as much as you might expect, and you may even struggle trying to understand and disseminate their feedback.
Next tip: always keep a few pots on the fire. Okay, this new story didn’t work out for me, but at least I have that other one that shows way more potential. Dive into this process head first, if you can. Conceive, draft, and revise in cycles. Nothing blunts criticism like a sense of forward momentum. Keep an idea notebook handy. Never miss an opportunity to dream up something new and play with it a little. We’re still growing here. Got lots and lots of stories to tell in the future. Stagnation sucks. It crushes the life out of creativity. Avoid it if at all possible.
Tip number three: make sure to honor your private life. I mean that. Some people throw themselves into their work at such high velocity their relationships and daily routines suffer. You’ve got friends, right? Hang out with them, have some fun. While we’re at it, don’t neglect your romantic life, either. Seems like kind of a toss-off to some people, but look, you’re human. Biology is a factor, and it’s just a basic fact that people tend to be happier when they consistently engage this part of their personality. Family, hobbies, even other, more practical career goals, these can all serve as a refuge when your creative mind is battered and tired. Conversely, writing itself can act as a pretty powerful refuge from things like, oh, family, hobbies, career goals, romantic life, friends…
Fourth tip: don’t worry about developing a thick skin. Focus more on developing a keen critical mind. Say someone tears your latest to shreds. You can either A) get emotional about it, B) decide this loser doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about, or C) penetrate the matter a little more deeply, choose which criticisms are valid, discard everything else, move on to the next thing. Your lizard brain is your lizard brain. It’s a given. But your analytical mind, that you’ve got to hone. So get clinical if you can. Easier said than done? For some it really is. You’re not a robot. At least I don’t think you are. I mean, you haven’t blinked in several minutes. I’m watching you…
Do the best you can to stay neutral during and after a round of feedback. Or if not neutral, at least receptive and pragmatic. This is a process. Repeat it to yourself if it helps. This is a process. This is a process. And don’t forget to ask plenty of questions. Stay engaged. Again, criticism affects people differently. I imagine some will read this blog post and think, “I don’t see what the big deal is. This Jeff Bowles guy must be a total train wreck.”
To which I might reply, “Stop staring at my mangled caboose!”
…Ahem, yes. Anyhoo, there’s no accounting for temperament. Look, it’s always seemed to me writers just aren’t honest when it comes to these things. And why should we be? Nobody likes a hot head. No one’s particularly desperate to work with a soppy, spongy mess. But there’s always the case to be made for blowing off steam when necessary. Never let it jeopardize your work, your reputation, or your sense of professionalism, but don’t bottle it up, either. If you find the situation becomes chronic, do a little soul searching. What’s really bothering you here? Why does criticism seem to affect you so much? Self-analysis, some say, is the path to divinity. Not that divinity has anything to do with the life of a writer.
Speaking of which, and if all else fails, there’s still good old-fashioned counseling and therapy. It might sound dopey and overwrought to even remind you of it, but sometimes in life, it helps to get serious about ourselves and consider our own triggers and shortcomings. No shame in it, and never let people tell you there is. Mental health is extremely important, much more important than the modern world ever seems to recognize. And even simple depression can become dangerous if left unchecked.
And now to spoil the mood completely, some depressed writer jokes!
“Well doc, I guess it all started when they said my steampunk riff on The Notebook was even lousier than my 50 Shades of Grey fan fic written from the whip’s perspective.”
“Really? And how did that make you feel?”
“Like we should have used a safe word.”
Why did the anxiety-riddled writer cross the road? Are you crazy? I’m not going outside. That road is clearly a death trap.
[end of joke digression]
Ready to tackle another round of critiques? Well, in a perfect world, I guess you would be. Do what you need to do to combat discouragement and self-defeatism. One of the healthiest attitudes we can adopt as professional writers is the macro, career-long perspective and an abysmal memory. If the fates allow, you’re in this for the long haul, so just remember this or that little hiccup will mean nothing in the end. It’s a basic fact that we learn more from failure than success. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and fail as hard as you can!
Pep talk concluded. Feel better now, don’t you?
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Posted: February 25, 2019 Filed under: Biographies, Biography, Books, Commentary, Creative Nonfiction, His Name Was Michael, Memoir, Nature writing, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Travel, Writing, Writing to be Read | Tags: Biography, Creative Nonfiction, Diaries, How-to books, Journalism, Memoir, Nature Guides, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Travel Books, Travel Memoir, Writing to be Read
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.
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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Posted: February 22, 2019 Filed under: Blog Content, Book Review, Chatting with the Pros, Fiction, Film Review, Interview, Nonfiction, Paranormal, WordCrafter Press, Writing, Writing Contest | Tags: Book Reviews, Chatting with the Pros, Film Review, Jeff Bowles, WordCrafter, WordCrafter Press, Writing to be Read
The entries are rolling in for the paranormal fiction contest and each one must be read. Stories good enough to recieve invitations to the anthology will also need to be edited. In order to accomodate a time budget for all this contest judging and anthology compilation activities in addition to my other life responsibilities, you can expect to see a few changes in the Friday Reviews.
One good change is we’ll be seeing more of Jeff Bowles. Last week he stepped in with a movie review of Glass that was brutally honest, but captivating. That review was so well recieved that he’s agreed to share a movie review with us on the third Monday of every month. His review of Glass was knowledgeable of the genre and written well enough to be mistakeing for one of the top critiques. If book reviews are hugs for authors, then Writing to be Read wants to hug the film industry, too. If you want to keep up on many of the latest movies, be sure to catch Jeff’s Movie Review (working title) each month.
I also plan to make two reviews each month instead of four, for books in the genre to go along with the monthly theme set by the genre the “Chatting with the Pros” guest author for the month. In February my guest author was nonfiction author Mark Shaw, so the February theme was nonfiction. My supporting author interview was with nature writer Susan J. Tweit and my supporting post was about my own nonfiction endeavor with the first post in my new bi-monthly series, “The Making of a Memoir“. My reviews were both of nonfiction books of different sub-genres: Mark Shaw’s How to Become a Published Author and a compilation of poetry artwork and writings about mental illness, the Letters of May anthology.
March’s theme will be science fiction and fantasy, and the “Chatting with the Pros” guest author will be national and international best selling author Kevin J. Anderson. He’s written more best sellers than there is room to list here and I’m thrilled to have him on Writing to be Read. My supporting post will be about my science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods. I’m still searching for a author for my supporting interview, but my reviews will be for Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories and Jordan Elizabeth’s Rogue Crystal. If you want to be sure not to miss any of these great science fiction and fantasy segments, be sure to sign up to email or follow on WordPress to get notification of new content.
Before I wrap this up, let me just remind you all that there is still time to submit your short story to the WordCrafter paranormal fiction contest. The deadline is April 1, so don’t drag your feet on this one. The entry fee is $5 and the winner will recive a $25 Amazon gift card and a guaranteed place in the WordCrafter Press paranormal short fiction. Email your submissions to kayebooth (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send you confirmation instructions for submitting your entry fee.
Your submission can be any genre, but your story does have to include a paranormal element, so get those stories in. Other entries may be included in the anthology by special invitation, and all anthology authors will recieve a small royalty share if the book makes any money. You can get the full submission guidelines here: https://kayelynnebooth.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/short-fiction-contest-paranormal-stories-sought/
I do hope you’ll all join me in the exciting changes ahead. I’m always interested in reader feedback, so leave a comment and let me know what you’d like to see on Writing to be Read.
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Posted: February 8, 2019 Filed under: Book Review, Books, Nonfiction | Tags: Book Review, Letters of May, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Writing to be Read
Letters of May is, to my knowledge, a unique collection of writings, poetry and artwork which offer glimpses of mental illness from an inner perspective. I can see how someone afflicted with any of the mental illnesses addressed within it’s pages might be grateful to find others who relate with them and the knowledge that they are not alone. These authors have vowed to fight against the stigma of mental illness and share of themselves openly.
For someone who is not afflicted, they offer opportunities to step into the authors shoes and see the world as they do. For the authors and others who are afflicted, dealing with their mental illness is a way of life, encountered on a daily basis. For me, they were a learning experience, identifying some things, but also exploring worlds foreign to my experiences.
These pages might be empowering to some, and enlightening to others. This collection was compiled with the intention of raising awareness of mental illness. Their message above all else: Those with mental health issues are more than their illness. They are still human beings and deserve to be treated with dignity and understanding. This book has much to offer all readers. I give Letters of May five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.