Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

Get Your Memoir Published by Simon and Schuster!

December 8, 2013

Are you born before December 31, 1964? A resident of the United States? Want to have Simon and Schuster publish your memoir? The Huffington Post and AARP are offering a memoir contest NOW! Entries may be submitted through February 15, 2014.

Upload a synopsis and the first 5,000 words of your memoir written in English.

Entries must be written by the entrant and cannot have been previously published in any manner. Entries should include entrant’s name, date of birth, mailing address, email address and telephone number. Limit one per person.

Entries may be posted on the Contest Website after being submitted. Having an Initial Entry posted on the Contest Website does not constitute that the Initial Entry has met the submission requirements listed in these Official Rules.

Judges will select ten finalists based equally on originality, appeal, and the power of the storytelling.

Confirmed Finalists will be required to submit their original memoir by 11:59 pm ET on June 15, 2014. Memoirs must be 20,000-50,000 words in length and in English. Memoirs must be written by the entrant and cannot have been previously published in any manner.

Memoirs will be judged based equally on originality, appeal, and the power of the storytelling. One Grand Prize Winner will be selected.

One Grand Prize Winner will
(1) receive $5,000;
(2) receive a book publishing contract with S&S for publication of Winner’s Memoir in hardcover, trade paperback or ebook format (in S&S’s sole discretion). The approximate retail value of the book publishing contract is a book advance of no less than $5,000;
(3) be featured in The Huffington Post online site; and
(4) have an excerpt of the winning memoir printed in AARP The Magazine and posted on AARP’s online website. All components of prize, including but not limited to, publication, online feature, and excerpt publication are in Sponsors’ sole discretion.

For Contest results, send a hand-printed, self-addressed, stamped envelope to: AARP & Huff/Post 50 Memoir Contest Winner’s List Request, 601 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20049. Requests for the winner’s list must be received by December 31, 2014.

Or visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/22/memoir-contest-rules_n_4317794.html

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Neighbors

April 30, 2013

When Zoie took me out for a walk the other day, I stopped at the curb in shock.  There, in our neighbor’s front lawn, hung a FOR SALE sign. 

No. 

It couldn’t be. 

How could they do this to our perfect little cul-de-sac?

Another neighbor and my friend, Hilde, joined us outside with her dog.  We all stared sadly at the sign.  It was as though our canine friends understood our grief.  Admittedly it wasn’t so much about losing this particular couple – after all, we hardly knew them.

But.

We’ve had a past.

Before these people lived here, a family whose kids’ police record rivaled Al Capone’s dwelled in our hood.  Okay.  So maybe I’ve exaggerated slightly.  But one kid burglarized neighbors’ homes and his parents were so belligerent and inebriated their fights were legendary – as were the holes they punched in their walls.

No, we stared at this calm, quiet house and we worried. 

Who will move here? 

“Maybe if we see motorcycles and teenagers we could all stage a noisy fight,” I said.

By this time another neighbor, Tom, had joined our worry club. 

“But they might be happy to think they’ll fit right in,” said Tom.

He’s got a point. 

“I’ll pray,” I said.

“I’ll hope,” said Tom.

“I’ll move,” muttered Hilde. 

Writing Prompts

  1. Write about a neighbor you had, good or bad.  What made this neighbor memorable? 
  2. In the writing project you are working on now, who are your character’s neighbors?  How well does your character know them?  Write a scene where they are forced to face a conflict together. 
  3. Write a scene where they are in conflict with one another. 
  4. Write a poem about neighbors. 

Writing Memories for You and Your Characters

March 5, 2013

While I was away on vacation in the Southern California desert, I purchased postcards and pulled out my handy purse-sized travel address book.  Flipping through the dog-eared pages, my quest for certain addresses vanished when I saw names of my friends and family who had passed on. 

My friend Marisa, who glowed in her favorite color pink (even the stripe of pink in her hair).  We shared our fondness for everything Mother Mary together.  She let me in on her favorite saint – – Saint Rita. 

When my one and only California aunt would call, she’d begin with a rant and I’d say,  “Aunt Dorothy – – ”  Then she’d respond with her hearty, gravelly cigarette one and only laugh and ask, “How’d you know it was me?” 

My mother kept notes by the phone to make sure she’d remember to tell me everything that was on her mind.   We could talk forever and never run out of anything to say.  She’d send me pin-wheel cookies with crisp, buttery goodness, making me crave just one more. 

Once I ate an entire coffee can full of these while talking with Aunt Dorothy.  When my hand reached the bottom of the can, searching for one more, I gasped. 

“Oh no!” I screamed into the phone.

“What happened?” asked Aunt Dorothy.

“You won’t believe what I’ve done.”

I couldn’t hide the crunch on the phone so Aunt Dorothy knew what I was eating.

“You ate that whole can, didn’t you?” she asked.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“Because they go down so easily.  And it’s what I would have done!”

We both exploded into laughter. 

Images flashed through my mind of writer’s group with Marisa, Disneyland with Aunt Dorothy and washing dishes with Mom in my childhood home.    

The address book’s binding  was ripping apart in the middle; only threads were keeping it together.  Why did I insist on keeping it when clearly I needed a new one?  But I knew the answer to this question. 

Each time I opened it, memory movies played in my mind, complete with scents, tastes, dialogue, and feelings.  I’m not ready to give it up yet.  Will I ever? 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Which object do you have which gives you images from your past?  Write about the object and its significance to you.   Write the scene it helps you to recall. 

2.  Choose a character from a project you are currently working on.  What object holds memories for this character?  Why?  How?  Write a back story for the object.  Create a scene which goes along with it. 

3.  You characters need memories.  If you are stuck in a story or plot, it may be because you don’t know your character well enough.  Write your character in scenes you may never need to include in your book, but YOU need to know.  Scenes such as:  What was his favorite childhood cookie moment?  Did she have a quirky aunt or embarrassing relative?  Did he have a best friend who collected something weird? 

4.  Keep a memory diary.  When they occur to you, jot words or images down.  Then when you need an idea to write about, use them as your writing prompt for the day.

Down Wedding Memory Lane

September 8, 2012

I’ve just arrived home from my niece’s wedding in Utah, where the bride and groom spoke of their love for each other under pine-scented air with majestic  mountains all around us. There were small touches the crowd couldn’t see, such as the tiny framed photos attached to the wedding attendents’ flowers of the grandparents’ marriages, three of them having passed away before this grand day.

This touching celebration made me flashback to her youth and my son’s, their escapades in the sandbox, water rocket bottle launches, Marco Polo water games in the pool. 

Then I flashed back to my own wedding, which didn’t flow as smoothly as this one.   Mine began on a sweltering June day in Fresno (111 degrees)  with the cake lady calling to report the frosting wouldn’t stick on the cake.  What should she do?  Maybe I shouldn’t have saved quite so much money after all, and gone with a professional baker . . . Next, after seeing the priest briefly at the church, my friend who played the piano, asked when she should begin. 

“The wedding starts at ten, so begin at ten,” I said.  Hey.  I’m from the Midwest.  We are prompt.  What I didn’t know is that California time begins much later than universal time. 

The music began and so did we.  And there we stood, at the altar, waiting for the priest to appear.  We waited.  And waited.  Where was he?  In the bathroom?  Ten minutes slowly ticked by.  We thought we’d have to get a friend to be a stand-in when he finally rushed on to the scene.

My Uncle Arnold, a sign-painter by trade, couldn’t travel to the wedding, but he made us a lovely sign which we put in the back of our car’s window.  After the ceremony and on the way to the reception across town, the sign fell down.  At a stoplight, a friend in the car next to us, opened my door to our two-seater car, pushed my seat forward, and leaned over to straighten the sign.  The light turned green and he slammed the door shut.  Problem was, I held on to the door’s frame when he pushed me forward. 

He jumped back into his car before he noticed my hand protruding outside the closed-door, and me with my mouth open, uttering sounds.

“What’s wrong?” asked my new husband.

“Uh, ug, uh,” I said which I thought were intelligible words. 

I cradled my swollen hand and refused the idea of an emergency room visit.  Fortunately, one of my bridesmaids was a nurse and knew my hand wasn’t broken, just bruised.  All the pictures show me with one hand behind my back.

The best man was so nervous he spilled wine on my dress twice – – red and white.  He shook so much before the wedding I promised him he wouldn’t be the one married that day.

And our photographer friend, employed by a newspaper, used different film he had never used before.  Only one photo came out that day.  Fortunately, we had other friends taking pictures so we did have some for our scrapbook.   And we did have memories, didn’t we?  Fortunately, compared to the wedding, the marriage has been a piece of cake. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Write about a major celebration in your life.  What memories made lasting impressions upon you?  Others?

2.  Using a character from a current writing project, create a wedding scene.  Throw in a major or minor conflict.  What happens?  Make your reader cry or laugh or both.

3.  Use the theme of a wedding to create a poem, song or another work of art. 

4.  Write about your wedding or a wedding you have attended.  What made an impression upon you?

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.

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 memoirjournal.net    

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. 

Short Fiction/Memoir Contest

March 20, 2012

WRITER ADVICE – 7th Annual Flash Prose Contest.  Short Fiction/Memoir, 750 words max. First Prize: $200, Deadline: April 18.  Guidelines: www.writeradvice.com  Questions:  lgood67334@comcast.net

Writing About Your Life . . . Will it Harm Others?

February 13, 2012

Are you interested in writing episodes of your life?  Working on a memoir?  Personal narratives? 

You must be willing to be honest.  What do you owe the other people in your life who will make appearances in your scenes? 

At the moment, I’m writing about how my life intersects with others.  As I read my aunt’s diary for research, one line changes everything. 

Do I include this in my story?  If I do, it alters perceptions. 

I pause.  It is true the people in my narrative have passed on.  But I do not want to cause hurt to anyone on this side or the other.

Yes, it is important to the storyline. 

But. 

We must choose our words carefully in our daily life and in our writing. 

Crash!  A dove has just flown into my office window.   The universe has sent me a message. 

Writing prompt:

Choose a moment from your life that has emotional meaning for you.  It can be funny or sad, small or large.  Write the scene using sensory description, dialogue, setting and your feelings.  Set it aside for a few days and then come back to it.  Can you recall any other details you may have left out that are important to the story?  Do you have a journal  you can check which may refresh your memory?  Anyone that was there who might provide insights to the moment in time?

So You Want To Write a Book

December 10, 2011

So You Want to Write a Book

Four local authors discuss their writing journeys and offer tips for aspiring writers

 Please join us at the Moraga Library as we present a panel of block-buster local authors who will discuss their writing. A Q&A session follows as time permits.  Joining us will be:

 Barbara Bentley (A Dance with the Devil: A True Story of Marriage to a Psychopath).  When life threw her an unexpected curve, Barbara took the experience and turned it into a book to help others understand the crazymaking world of the psychopath.  Her story has been featured on Dateline NBC.

 Jon Cory (A Plague of Scoundrels). Retirement enabled Jon to return to creative writing after a career in business. His debut novel received the 2009 Independent Publishers’ Silver Medal award for popular fiction. 

 Alfred J. Garrotto (The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story)   A native of Santa Monica, CA, Al now lives in Contra Costa County. In addition to his writing career, he serves as a lay minister specializing in adult faith formation in a local Roman Catholic parish.

 Judith Marshall (Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever). The novel won the Jack London Prize awarded by the California Writers Club and has been optioned for the big screen

 If you have any interest in writing and being published this is a “must-attend” event. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012  2:00pm 

Moraga Library 1500 St. Mary’s Road, Moraga, CA 94556  (925) 376-6852