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.
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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Every event we take part in touches us in some way, helping to shape us into who we are. Our experiences change us, sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in more drastic ways. We live, we learn, we transform, and always there is movement and growth. Certainly, the 2018 Writing the Rockies Conference was one such inspirational event, although there were so many offerings, it would be impossible for me to touch on them all. The offerings which I did get to attend were very informative and inspirational.
During the welcome reception, the program director, Dr. David Rothman, talked about what it is that makes the Writing the Rockies Conference stand out among other writing conferences. Certainly, the fact that it leans heavily toward the academic aspects of writing should be counted toward the top of the list. Not that the writings explored are all academic in nature, but the intention is to educate us in how to tap our inner creativity and allow it to flow out onto the page. And every year that I have attended the conference, like everything else in life, it changes and grows.
The Writing the Rockies Conference has expanded considerably since I first attended in 2012, and has even grown some since I last attended in 2016.In addition to the great panels and single day workshops, and their outstanding poetry symposium, which are offered every year, the 2018 line-up included an opera performance and workshop, three-day intensive workshops and seminars in all five concentrations, (creative nonfiction, genre fiction, poetry, screenwriting and publishing), which are available for an additional fee. And as usual, there were opportunities to sign up for pitch sessions and manuscript critiques, and social events such as Coffee with the Pros, where you have the chance to chat with professionals from the industry, both student and professional readings, as well as open mic events and a full day’s schedule of nature hikes in the Gunnison Valley, (one more thing which makes this Conference unique). While attending, there were also opportunities to attend a special presentation of Comedy is Hard by Mike Reiss and a one man play, Multitudes: An Evening with Walt Whitman by Kim Nuzzo, both public performances which coincided with Conference dates.
In his Keynote, author, poet and educator, Mark Todd discussed Writing From the Edge of Nowhere, and why so many writers sprout from Colorado or are drawn to Colorado as a backdrop. Certainly, the breath taking scenery attracts the attention of writers and many have tried to capture the beauty of the Colorado landscape with their words. There are some who haven’t done a bad job of it. As a native Colorado author who made historic Colorado my setting in Delilah, I can tell you that the love for the landscape draws you and for westerns, the landscape plays a big part.
The publishing panel, moderated by Kevin J. Anderson, who has been traditionally published for many years and has founded his own WordFire Press with his wife Rebecca, was enlightening for me. As I’d been wondering if my own publisher was being fair with me. I learned what you should be able to expect from a small press publisher, and found that although perhaps my communication with my own publisher could be better, they are probably giving me a pretty fair deal in today’s market. Their panel also made me reconsider my own plans for publishing The Great Primordial Battle, which is book 1 of my Playground for the Gods science fantasy series. It’s been sitting on the virtual shelf after many rejections, and I was planning to self-publish it when it comes back from my beta reader, but now I’m thinking perhaps I should give traditional publishing one more shot before I go that route.
I had the honor of sitting on the alumni panel for Western’s Graduate Program for Creative Writing, which offered the chance for panel members to toot their own horns about their individual successes and tout praises for the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program. On the panel with me were my fellow alumni, Chris Barili, Susan Spear and moderator, Steve Visel.
Although I did not purchase a meal card, I heard high praise for the conference cuisine, well worth the additional charge. The welcome dinner and ceremonies, featured delectable appetizers, a main course of stuffed peppers or mushroom chicken and all the accompaniments, and mouth-watering fruit pies for desert. All was well prepared and attractively presented by Western State Colorado College.
The one thing I was disappointed with was that I didn’t get to do the book signing I had anticipated due to scheduling conflicts. But at Writing the Rockies they are always looking for ways to improve their program, so I can always hope that next year things will be scheduled better. Over all it was a great conference and I look forward to watching it grow and develop in the future.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, An Adventure in Book Marketing, I will be sitting as a panelist at Western’s Alumni Roundtable at the Writing the Rockies Conference in July. There I said that was my next experiment in marketing, but to be honest, although copies of Delilah will be available at the book fair, run by Crested Butte’s Townie Books, I’m not expecting my sales to suddenly shoot up off the charts. Writing conferences, as a general rule, are not places where you sell a lot of books, but I’m exciting to be going and representing Westerns M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, (I’m actually representing both of my concentrations, screenwriting and genre fiction), for other reasons. What writing conferences are generally good for is making connections within the writing community, and Writing the Rockies is no exception. It seems Western, or maybe even the Gunnison Valley is especially prolific in this area, because you begin to feel yourself being pulled in to fantastic world of writing and publishing as soon as you step onto the Western campus. And the connections I’ve made at Western and at the conference have been very useful to me in some unexpected and surprising ways. Never have I attended this conference without coming away with some valuable new connections, some of which have turned into long lasting friendships, as well.
This year, it looks like they’ve got a great line-up, including fantastic opera workshop performance of Lottie Silks, with music by Jay Parrotta and libretto by Western Poetry and Genre Fiction student Enid Holden, directed by Ben Makino and Andrew Sellon, to go along with their infamous and very intense poetry symposium. They also have some not to miss Keynote speakers lined –up: Mark Todd, author and founder of Western State’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, for the conference Keynote; award winning poets Ned Balbo and Jane Satterfield for the poetry Keynote; Kevin J. Anderson, author of over 140 novels, publisher at WordFire Press and a member of Western’s M.F.A. program staff for the publishing Keynote; Patrick Pexton, former ombudsman for the Washington Post for the creative nonfiction Keynote; and Emmy Award winning screenwriter, John Bowman for the screenwriting Keynote; and Michaella Roessner, published author and M.F.A. program faculty for the genre fiction Keynote. Other presenters in the publishing track include Darrin Pratt, Editor of the University of Colorado Press and immediate past president of the Association of American University Presses, D.H. Tracy, Editor of Antilever Press, and others.
In addition to their always informative workshops, sessions and panels, pitch sessions and manuscript critiques are available, their annual hike above Crested Butte will take place, three day intensive workshops, and full day seminars. Special presentations of Comedy is Hard, by Mike Reiss, directed by William Spicer; and Multitudes: An Evening with Walt Whitman by Kim Nuzzo and Valerie Haugen Nuzzo. Film screenings including How Murray Saved Christmas, by Mike Reiss and the highlights from the Crested Butte Film Festival with festival co-director, Michael Brody will also be available.
As you can see, Writing the Rockies is a conference promises something for everyone. I’m excited to be a part of it and I hope you will join us. This is the 19th year running for this wonderful conference and it grows with each passing year. This year the conference will run from Wednesday, July 18th through Sunday, July 22nd. The cost is $300 for the entire five day event if you register before July 1, and $350 after that date. The good news is, although the conference is fully open to the public, every student of Western’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing goes as a part of the curriculum, and there are scholarships available for alumni, K12 educators, and Gunnison Valley residents, as well as anyone else who wishes to apply. You can sign up for the 2018 Writing the Rockies Conference or apply for scholarship here:
For more information contact:
David J. Rothman, Conference Director / 970-943-2058 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Todd, Conference Coordinator / 970-943-2016 / email@example.com
Michelle Wilk, Office Support Coordinator / 970-943-2163 / firstname.lastname@example.org
On a similar note, Western State Colorado University still has a few spots open for their low-residency M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, which begins in July. If you have an undergraduate degree and you’re interested in persuing a career in writing genre fiction, poetry or screenplays or a career in publishing, their program may be just what you’re looking for. Low-residency means you must attend physical class on campus for two weeks each summer and the rest of the courses are online. (Remember, if you’re in the program, you get to attend the Writing the Rockies Conference as a part of the curriculum.) Their faculty consists of successful published authors, successful screenwriters, and distinguished poets. Looking at the successes of myself and my fellow alumni, I have to say they offer useful skills and knowledge that can be applied in the writing industry.
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