The Making of a Memoir: Obstacles and Roadblocks

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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.


February: Taking a look at nonfiction

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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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Chatting with the Pros: Interview with nonfiction author Mark Shaw

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In February, Writing to be Read is taking at look at nonfiction authors and their works. I’m pleased to say that my guest on Chatting with the Pros this month is nonfiction author Mark Shaw. Mark has been a traditionally published author for many years, following a successful career in journalism. He’s written biographies on sports greats, priests, accused criminals in high profile cases, as well as books about golf and pilots, and writing instruction. Today, he champions those for whom justice has not been served, his most recent book being Denial of Justice, which outlines the events surrounding the  and deaths of J.F.K., Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby and Dorothy Kilgallen, which is a sequel to The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, which is Kilgallen’s story, and both books have been optioned for visual media and a script is currently being developed. Let’s welcome him and see what he has to say.
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Kaye: Could you share a brief history of your author’s journey for those who are not familiar with you or your work? How did you get to where you are today? 
Mark: It’s difficult for me to even believe that Denial of Justice was my 27th book. I never had any experience with writing, no classes, no workshops, etc. when I first wrote a book about Mike Tyson’s rape trial in 1992. What I fell in love with was the research, the writing process, and the chance to make people stop and think about important historical issues. That’s what keeps me going, looking for subjects now that deal with justice and injustice.
Kaye: In your books, you use your investigative reporting skills to dig deep and reveal little or unknown facts until you can tell the whole tale. Many of your books have brought some surprising details to the public eye. How do you choose the subjects for your books? 
Mark: I like to say the book ideas come to me. Most of the time, I get an idea for a book at 3 a.m. and quickly write down a thought about it on some note cards I keep by my bed. All of my book titles have come that way as well. Writers need to keep their eyes open, many book ideas float right in front of us if we pay attention.
Kaye: After the story of Dorothy Kilgallen, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, had a great reception and is now being prepared to be told through visual media. Was any of this a surprise to you, or did you think this story might be a best seller as you were writing it? 
Mark: I had no idea Dorothy’s name was still magic, that a book about her would touch so many reader’s emotions and become a bestseller. I’ve heard from people around the world about the book, still do today, two-plus years after the book was published. It’s been amazing experience for sure.
Kaye: You recently released Denial of Justice, which digs even deeper into Dorothy’s story. How did you know there was more to be found regarding her story?
Mark: Those readers I mention sent me tips about new information about Dorothy’s life and times and her death and a file I kept just kept getting thicker until I realized there was a second book for those who read the first one and did not. Now I feel as if I have told the complete story about her although some new information still comes my way.

 

 

Kaye: As mentioned above, the Dorothy Kilgallen story in The Reporter Who Knew Too Much is going to be portrayed on the screen. Are there plans to include Denial of Justice to be portrayed visually or perhaps be included in the screen version already planned? 
Mark: Both books were optioned for the big or little screen.
Kaye: How is that going so far?
Mark: There is no filming yet of The Reporter Who Knew Too Much. It is still in the development phase with a script being completed. I am quite excited about Dorothy’s story being on the big or small screen since if that happens, more and more people will know about this remarkable woman. I like to say a book is like a written megaphone to the world but a film or TV series reaches even more people.
Kaye: In addition to several books which revolve around J.F.K. and his circles, you’ve also written about sports icons such as Larry Bird, Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye and Don Larson. You’ve told the tales of suffering and discrimination during the holocaust, and you’ve written the biography of a priest, books on golfing and a how-to book on writing. What motivates you to write the stories that you write?
how to become a published authorMark: Again, the chance to make people stop and think, although some books have been more for entertainment purposes. Regardless, my books have a controversial slant to them, and that is important, something aspiring authors should seek to achieve. In my book about the publishing process that I use when aspiring authors hire me as a consultant, How to Become a Published Author: Idea to Publication, this is the type of practical advice I provide based on all of my
experience.
Kaye: Have you ever written a book of fiction? 
courage in the face of evil cover final nov 10 2017Mark: Yes, Courage in the Face of Evil is based on a true story, a Holocaust diary that is both disturbing and inspirational in nature, but I had to add certain elements that cause it to enter the world of fiction. I have also created a crime series called Vicker Punch: Lawyer on the Brink that is fiction, but based on my years as a criminal defense lawyer handling murder cases, and a book that is a sequel to a famous work of fiction.
Kaye: How do you see writing nonfiction differing from fiction in the publishing arena?
Mark: Fiction is much more fun, let the imagination loose without worrying about footnotes, etc. Just let it go and let the characters tell whatever the story is they want to tell. This said, for a first time author, getting fiction published these days is much more difficult that non-fiction since with fiction the star of the book is the author while with non-fiction the star of the book is the story.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge in writing nonfiction for you?
Mark: How to tell the story once I have done all of my research.
road to a miracleKaye: Tell me a little about Road to a Miracle? The book is listed on Amazon for $57.73. I have to wonder what type of book rates a price like that? 
Mark: That’s nuts, and there are other editions of the book at a much less cost. The book is my road through the amazing life I have been blessed to live to the point of finding a daughter and two grandchildren I never knew existed a few years ago. Truly a miracle.
Kaye: I believe your stories are successful because they all hit emotional chords in your readers. How do you portray the emotional elements of your story so that they will touch your readers?
Mark: I tell writers I work with to be certain, whether fiction or non-fiction, to show the reader what’s happening, not tell them. That’s how the emotion comes through, how the reader connects with the story. Remember, a book is like a conversation with the reader but the author is not there so the emotion must be shown not told.
Kaye: In How to Become a Published Author, you talk about the importance of titles and subtitles. How do you come up with titles and subtitles for your books? How important are subtitles?

Mark: The book ideas come to me and the titles in the middle of the night when whatever spirit it is that is guiding my life, whispers in my ear. I quickly write down the idea on note cards I keep by my bed.

Many good books and movies have never seen the light of day due to bad titles. They need to be catchy, like TRWKTM, Denial of Justice, Miscarriage of Justice, The Poison Patriarch, etc. Don’t have too much experience with books based on true stories or fiction but Courage in the Face of Evil is striking as is Victor Punch: Lawyer on the Brink.
 
Re subtitles, not as important as titles but add to the description of the book. Again, I’m quite proud of the subtitles for my books. They certainly add to the allure of the story.
Kaye: Many of your books are collaborations. Is it difficult to write a book with someone else? Why collaborate? What are the pros and cons? 
Mark: No, during the early part of my getting some footing as a writer, I had collaborations, but no more. This said, working with someone famous to tell their story is a good way to show writing skill and the ability to tell a good story. That’s key to establishing a reputation, as is writing biographies if a writer wants to enter the world of non-fiction.
Kaye: You were a criminal defense attorney and legal analyst for the news media covering the Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson and Kobe Bryant cases, and you have a book about Tyson, Falsely Accused. Are there books about O.J. and Koby in the future? If not, what separates Tyson out from the others? 

 

 

Mark: Injustice is the key word for the Tyson book since he did not get a fair trial. That thread has been woven through almost every book I’ve written in the last ten years or so, Miscarriage of Justice, Beneath the Mask of Holiness, Melvin Belli: King of the Courtroom, The Poison Patriarch, TRWKTM and now Denial of Justice, which relates actually to four people, JFK, Oswald, Jack Ruby and Dorothy Kilgallen. All were denied justice.
Kaye: What’s in the future for Mark Shaw?
Mark: Only the good Lord knows but I am truly the most blessed man on the face of the earth and for sure, I want to help as many writers as possible become published, to realize their publishing dreams.
I want to thank Mark for sharing with us today. He’s given us some insight into the world of a nonfiction author. You can learn more about Mark or his books at the links below.

Website: https://www.markshawbooks.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Mark-William-Shaw/e/B000APQ7ZM/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1547774000&sr=1-3

 

 

You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2019, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress.


Writing the Rockies through the years

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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.

WtR2018.DavidWelcomeDuring 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.

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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.

WtR2018.MarkKeynoteIn 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.

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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.


2018 Writing the Rockies Conference promises something for everyone

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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:

https://www.western.edu/writing-rockies-annual-conference

For more information contact:

David J. Rothman, Conference Director / 970-943-2058 / drothman@western.edu

Mark Todd, Conference Coordinator / 970-943-2016 / mtodd@western.edu

Michelle Wilk, Office Support Coordinator / 970-943-2163 / mwilk@western.edu

 

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.

For more information: https://www.western.edu/academics/graduate/graduate-programs-western/graduate-program-creative-writing-low-residency-16 

 

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