Archive for June, 2012

Your Lucky Break

June 25, 2012

I read Anna Quindlen’s lovely memoir, Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake and paused at her question, “Do all of us, by the time we’re grown-ups, have something that was our signal lucky break?”

Thinking back, I can construct a time-line of lucky breaks, but I don’t really believe in luck.  I believe everything happens for a reason, both “lucky” and “unlucky.”  If it’s not something we desire, perhaps we learn more from those stages in our lives?

But no matter what my philosophy is, there are moments for everyone that there is a click . . . everything comes together perfectly.  Whether it is in a career, level of creativity, knowledge, or a special relationship that changes a life forever, it is a break. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Answer Anna Quindlen’s question through a personal narrative, poem, song or another work of art. 

2.  Create a time-line of creative learning experiences you’ve had in your life.  Choose one to express with an essay.

3.   What about the characters in your most recent project?  What have been their lucky breaks?  Create scenes about theirs.  What about their unlucky ones?  How have they dealt with these?  Favorably?  Unfavorably?  Show their character’s growth or weaknesses through these scenes.

Summer Writing Groups

June 23, 2012

Summer is a great time to write! 

Writing groups at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center (Contra Costa County, CA) will continue throughout the summer, providing lots of chances for support, feedback and inspiration from other writers.  They now have three active groups:

 10 Page Feedback Group

Meets twice on month on Tuesday night.   

Writers of fiction, non-fiction, memoir, history and more.

Up to 10 pages is submitted in advance, read and then discussed. 

Get info or join:

Children and YA Authors Group

Meets once a month on Sunday afternoon. 

Submit work in advance, read and then discuss

Get info or join:

Teen Writers

Meets once a month on Saturday afternoon. 

Supportive and welcoming atmosphere

Bring paper, pencil, ideas and enthusiasm

Get info or join:

Jonathan Franzen – Writing Fiction and Memoir

June 22, 2012

Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, Freedom, two other novels, a work of nonfiction and two collections of essays, gave a talk the other night and I was a fortunate attendee.

He spoke with thoughtfulness and richness.  When the audience asked questions, Franzen didn’t merely pop off answers from the top of his head, but gave them much consideration; the answers were from deep reflections, much like his writing. 

“Reading and writing fiction is an act of social engagement.”

“A character dies on the page if you can’t hear his or her voice.”

“A novel is a personal struggle.  What is fiction after all if not purposeful dreaming?”

“If fiction is easy to write it’s not any good.” 

(He mentioned he wasn’t talking about fun, light reading.)

“Take autobiographical risks.  Trust people you know to love the whole you.  All writers have to be loyal to themselves.”  His brother was similar to the character, Gary, in The Corrections, in that he was also working on a family album.  But Franzen learned not to be concerned because he knew his brother had his own life.  After his brother read the book he called him.  “John?” he said.  “This is your brother.  (Pause.) Gary!” 

“Tone, language, character – – – even a great TV show like Breaking Bad can’t do moral subtly. I’m trying to defeat other media.” 

“A writer wants to be alone in a room.  He’s easily ashamed and is an exhibitionist.”

“I’ve grown a thick skin.  I’ve learned not to Google myself.” 

“I never thought I’d do nonfiction.  I thought it was a betrayal of the novel.” 

Favorite bird at the moment?  The California Towhee.  Why?  Subtle.  Charismatic.  Not shy. 

Just like Jonathan Franzen. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Franzen gave a plug for Memoir Journal, a nonprofit that is a literary magazine and also holds writing workshops.  Check this publication out a    

They are open to submissions for memoir pieces, with $500 and publication as their top prizes.  Write a memoir following their submission policy.   

2.  Choose one small autobiographical detail and combine it with a fictional character in your story.  Make sure it enhances and adds depth to your character and story.   

3.  Create a character with one or all of these descriptions:  subtle, charismatic, not shy.

Family Stories Inspire Creativity

June 19, 2012

Cousin Mary stands with me along with Marion and Ann who are seated.

Visiting relatives for me has always meant listening to family stories.  “What was it like when you were growing up?” I’d ask my aunts and uncles, longing for their descriptions of what life was all about during the roaring twenties, the depression and the war years.

During my recent trip back to my native state of Wisconsin, we cousins reminisced and pieced together our family tree without those aunts and uncles, as they’ve crossed over into another world where we can’t ask them questions any longer.   

One afternoon my cousin, Mary and I gathered with our dads’ cousins, Ann and Marion, both in their 90s, the last of their generation.  Photo albums were spread around us.

“Tell them about the fire,” said Marion to her older sister. 

 “It happened when I was a little girl,” said Ann.  “Mother had wash hanging in the kitchen near the stove.  I was with the baby in the kitchen and Mother went out for a few minutes to help Dad.” 

“How did the fire start?” I asked.

“One of the children put the clothes on the stove,” said Ann.

 “One of the children!” exclaimed Marion.

“Who?” I asked.

 “Well, it certainly wasn’t the baby,” said Ann. 

We all laughed as we realized she had done it. 

Although the house was destroyed, young Ann grabbed the baby and got out safely. 

That day, we bonded over family narratives. 

What tales do you have to tell?

Writing Prompts: 

  1. Create a timeline of emotional events for yourself.  They don’t have to be life-threatening or tragic.  It could be the day in third grade you discovered your gift of making people laugh. Or the time you hit a home run for your baseball team. 
  2. Flesh out these memories with details and recreate them as personal stories.
  3. Interview family members for their memories.  A good book to help you is Legacy:  A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence.
  4. Invent a memory timeline for your protagonist.  Flesh out a few of them creating back story for your character.
  5. Use a family story to inspire a poem, song, or other piece of art work. 

Writing about Food and Memories

June 10, 2012

Warning:  This blog is about food.  So if you’re hungry, it may make you want to reach for something yummy.  If you aren’t, you’re probably safe. 

Friday night fry.  Turtle sundaes made with honest-to-goodness creamy, custard.  (Richer and tastier than ice cream!)  My cousin, Cindy special-ordered German doughnuts called crullers, from a delightful small-town bakery called Bon Ton. Crullers are delicious pastries created with cake-like dough twisted into sticks and covered with light white frosting, from a wonderful small-town bakery, Bon Ton. My cousin, Mary’s fabulous farm-fried egg, white on top, perfect yellowy-goodness inside.  A POP of flavor!  Best of all? The homemade pies my cousin, Paula created – – apple with a flakey crust – – the apples not too hard and not too sweet, but just right – – and a tangy lemon meringue.  What could be better?

The last time I had a homemade Wisconsin pie – – made just right – – was when I was seventeen.  (Thank you, Mom, if you can read this in that parallel universe known as heaven.)  I left for college and came home for visits when she created the most fabulous cakes and cookies.  Perhaps because I didn’t come home during apple-picking season, I didn’t have eat another of her apple pie wonders.

Setting foot on Wisconsin soil brought back memories of picking sweet, crunchy carrots right from the garden, holding them under the hose and then chomping down on them for a quick snack.  I did the same thing with lettuce and even green beans.  Mom would shudder and say, “Raw green beans?  How can you, Elizabeth?” 

But I hated picking them in the early morning, slapping away at Wisconsin’s state bird – – the mosquito.  See what happens when you begin writing about food?  Our sense of taste can bring back a flood of other memories and associations.   

I recall years ago writing a number of articles about one of my passions – – chocolate.  At one point, I received annual gifts from the Chocolate Manufacturing Association.  There was only one problem with my assignments – – the writing motivated consumption of the product.

Stay tuned for more about the Wisconsin trip, and how you can use your travels to motivate and improve your own writing.  Right now, I have to take a break and eat something luscious.  Unfortunately, nothing will taste as good as it did in my home state, or in my memories. 

Writing Prompts

  1. What foods do you recall from your past?  Write about them and any associations they bring.  
  2. Describe a food scene with a character in your current project.  Is your character sitting at a dining table?  Eating on the run?  Include description of the food and your character’s reactions to the food and her/his surroundings.
  3. Let food motivate a poem, song, or other piece of art work. 

Calling All Teen Writers in Contra Costa County!

June 6, 2012
Break out your pens again! We’re having another teen writing group, and we would love for you to join us. 
Writing can be a solitary pursuit… but it doesn’t have to be! Want to meet other enthusiastic teen writers? Come to a teen writing group at the Lafayette Library! We’ll chat, share ideas and experiences about our writing, and — of course — write alongside each other with prompts. We aim to create a fun, welcoming teen community of writers that encourages and supports its members. 
This is an open and free group (8th-12th grade preferred). Just bring paper, your favorite writing tool, and enthusiasm!
Saturday, June 16th
1:30-3:00 PM
In the Willow Room 
(behind the information desk )
Lafayette Library 
3491 Mount Diablo Boulevard
Lafayette, CA 94549
Please reply to if you can make our next meeting. We hope you can join us. If you have any teen writer friends who may be interested in our group, please forward them this announcement. We’re always looking to expand our group!