Friday, April 29, 2011

Making the Most of Memories

Memoir is making a comeback as most editors can tell you. It isn’t just the big publishers who’re trolling for good pages of memories. Magazines are just as interested in finding passages from one person’s memories that will resonate in another person’s mind.
Literary magazines seek memoir in a variety of genres. Everything from a boy’s first soapbox race experience to a girl’s first brush with love fascinates readers when delivered with finesse, humor and/or poignancy. Editors know this and sit on the river bank of possibility, fishing for the perfect submission to float by, ready to be reeled in.
Plucking the perfect memory to expand into an essay can happen quickly. You only have to hear someone tell about a recent event or see a commercial on television. A similar memory flashes through your mind that is vivid, exciting, and filled with details to entice a listener. Within an eye blink you’re inside that memory, breathing in the sensations that riveted you back then.
If you believe that others have had similar experiences or that they have felt as you did, you have the makings for a memoir subject. The trick is finding its length of memory strength and subject direction.
Memory and Subject Usage
Just because you have decided on the memory doesn’t mean that the heavy work is done. Once a specific recollection is chosen, what aspect of it are you going to use for your essay or story?
This choice can make or break the impact of the finished work. Everything else hinges on this choice. If you have a specific market in mind to approach, the subject will have to be something they will appeal to that market.
If your memory concerns how long it took you to choose your wedding gown from all the available dresses at the local shop, it wouldn’t appeal to a magazine which specializes in disabilities. If, on the other hand, it reveals your wedding dress selection as based on the fact that you happened to be on crutches due to a recent injury, that disabilities magazine might leap on such an unusual slant to the question of disability and everyday life.
You could take that same memory and use it for a memoir piece from a sports slant, especially if said injury came on the ski slopes. In this one, you don’t have to mention the dress selection, but rather, concentrate on the injury and the mental upheaval that occurred when facing your wedding on crutches. It could end with admiration for those who function each day knowing that the inconvenience of crutches is a permanent thing.
In the end, whichever richly detailed memory is chosen, the subject for a memoir drawn from it can vary in emphasis and direction. Much depends on what use you wish to make of it and the medium you’ve selected to receive your manuscript.
Length of Memory Strength
This expression denotes the strength of memory being relived coupled with the calculated length of written piece sparked by this memory.
Here’s an example.
A memory of swimming with friends at the local creek sparks many memories that can tie into it. There is a memory of having dear old Dad through you into the deeper water to “teach you to swim” and how your terror kept you from taking to the water for another ten years. That memory ties to one with your first “official” swim instructor and the crush you had on him until you learned that he only liked redheads.
This line of memory (and we all have ones like it) creates a timeline for either an article or a story. For an article, the writer can flesh out each strong mental impression and create a piece on the consequences of mile-marker events in a person’s life. On the other hand, the article could revolve around only the fear-driven experience and the scars that ensued, or how the father’s action changed the relationship between child and parent. The permutations are endless, depending on how many memories were sparked and their quality or importance.
Once the decision is made regarding how the memory is going to be used, the critical factor is how long the article or story will run. Consider it the petal vs. blossom question. It could run very short (under 400-600 words) as a personal experience piece for a children’s magazine. It could go between 1500-2000 words for a popular magazine as personal experience, as well. Two thousand to 5000 words could take the memoir to literary magazines that are looking for more detail, critical thinking, and expertise.
Standing above the rest is the book-length manuscript. Many book publishers are looking for well-written memoirs of varying types for their lines. Some want manuscripts from celebrities or public figures. Others snag those from people who know people (the starlet’s personal assistant, for instance.) Still others will consider superbly written manuscripts from the ordinary man or woman.
Some of the time humor is selected over other considerations. Geographical or historical relevance can also help trigger interest from publishers. Every book deal has its own deciding factors.
One Way for Making Memoir Work
My writing for the next year or so will utilize huge amounts of travel memory and its central role in articles. After so many months on the road, I have more material than I can ever use on just about every subject imaginable.
Much of it I’ll use for literary. There are tons of bits for children’s magazines. Still more can go to trade magazines and travel markets.
The book, at least for now, will center on the changes that took place within Sister Jo and me as a result of the places we visited and what we experienced. That subject has distinctly personal reverberations. As well, the manner in which we chose to approach the project makes it more unique. Once that one’s finished, we can discuss others with different slants.
 We have a few more days to explore before settling down again. I hope your memoirs are as rich as ours. It’s never too early to begin thinking about the past and how it can be used.
Until later,

Sunday, April 24, 2011

From Beach to Volcano in One Day

Our new location is far up the West Coast. We left Paso Robles and moved up through San Francisco and Marin County. Once we got into the Redwoods we found so much to capture our interest.
One thing that hadn’t changed from when we came down the coast back in December was the pricing on campgrounds for tenters. At $35/$45 per night, they had priced themselves into economic hurt. The problem was that private campgrounds tending to be less expensive, when we could find them, than those in the State Parks.
One resident, in the Redwood forest area, told us that the state government had lost its mind to be charging those kinds of fees in years like this. We didn’t disagree with her at all. Few of the campgrounds we passed were even half full of RVer’s and few accommodated tenters.
This section of California is so beautiful and so big that seeing all of it would take weeks. Vineyards are just as available that far north along the coast as they are further south. Giant trees loom along the roadsides, giving the largest herd of Roosevelt elk a protected place to reside.
We caught part of that herd early one morning. The cows and young females were looking for handouts at one of the local campgrounds. Some of the young bulls were acting as sentinels at one of the state part entrances along the 101. With their antlers in velvet and their minds on relaxation, they didn’t bother to move when we stopped to snap photos.
We saw more elk in that park half an hour later. No deer put in an appearance. A few squirrels scampered among the trees, but they were much faster than a camera shutter.
By the time we made Crescent City, California, we had overdosed on redwoods and were ready for beaches again. And our sojourn from CA in OR didn’t disappoint us at all.
Our last stop along the Oregon coast was South Beach. We stayed in a nice campground there among the trees and the protective dunes. We shared the space with a troupe of small vintage RVs, some prize winners. A tour group in a school bus took one end of the park for teen girls toting personal tents. Everyone turned in early, though, which meant we could all sleep pretty well.
We left that park this morning and moved north. At Lincoln City we turned onto Hwy 18 and went east to hit the I-5.  From there we moved through the upper end of that Oregon area, through the farms, groves, vineyards, and orchards of the Willamette Valley. Portland was an easy crossing today. I know, odd, huh?
Once inside Washington State, we took a detour at Castle Rock to make a sojourn up the mountain to see Mt. St. Helens as she stands now. Irony reigned today, though. It sprinkled as we drove up to the upper Visitor’s Center. At that point St. Helens stood swathed in cloud cover. We continued upward from the Center. By the 1800 ft. level, the mists had lowered even further.
We made the decision that further exploration was pointless and turned back down mountain. Halfway down it began raining in earnest. Toward the bottom, rain pounded the car. When we turned back onto the I-5, the sun popped out. Now, an hour later, the sun is still out. I guess the mountain didn’t was to wave hello today.
We’ll be leaving this McD’s soon to find our camping spot for the night. Tomorrow we’ll move on to Tacoma where we’ll spend time with Sister Jo’s kids and grandkids before turning east once again.
I hope you continue to stop by to see our reports. Be sure and comment on anything that strikes your fancy.
Until then,

Monday, April 18, 2011

Another Departure Looms

Yes, we're leaving first thing in the morning for parts north. We've been dawdling in Central California. Our friends here may miss us after we leave, but we’ll certainly miss them more. They’ve spoiled us rotten. The kids (read that as one dot and two exotic birds) have kept us entertained each day. And we’ve had wondrous weather while we were here that we could not fail to miss our resting time here.
My writer friend, Mikki, and I have had the opportunity to talk writing, and projects, and gripe about all those things that writers feel the need to vent about. It’s been marvelous. I don’t get the chance to do that face to face normally. It’s gonna hurt, giving that up.
After our opportunities to roam beaches, watch elephant seals, and tour local wineries, we have plenty of material for whatever projects we wish in future. We've sampled local produce from the open air market, enjoyed meals at the local eateries, and generally luxuriated in California's Central Coast environs. That's not bad for an otherwise stormy April in the rest of the country.
Were we privileged? You betcha, and we don't feel one whit of guilt over it, either. Oh, yeah, we've enjoyed ourselves very well, thank you very much.
So, today we’ll get the last of our laundry done, repack the car toward evening, get ice in the cooler tonight, get final showers taken, and God willing, get my hair cut. Before bed, we have to get the car gassed up as well. We’ll pull out first thing in the morning, coffee in hand, and good-byes on our lips.
We’ll try to remain smiling, but it will be hard. We’re part of their herd now, according to Dylan, their Corgi. He believes we belong here, not out wandering the highways in search of new sights and interests. And we feel the same way about Mikki and Richard.
Once we get on the road, though, and point the car north, we’ll do Monterrey first, where we hope to do the aquarium during our stop. Neither of us has seen it. Now’s our chance.
From there we’ll move on to the Redwoods where we plan to camp for a couple of days at the least. Of course, assuming the primal urge doesn't force us to remain longer so that we can soak up all that serenity, we’ll try to keep it down to a couple of days. I’ve camped there once before, back in the nineties¸ and know the spell with which the forest blankets the area.
We’re not putting an itinerary on the calendar this time in any form. When we feel like stopping, we will. When we need to move on, we will. Much of our return will depend on how we feel on any given day. We’re old enough now to allow ourselves that luxury.
So now you know why we’re taking our time going back. We want to spend a few hours in San Francisco, too. We’re both looking forward to that.
The Oregon coast calls to us along Highway 1, the scenic highway. Sunsets along there and the lighthouses there make for great photo ops. That drive also allows for great photos.
In the Tacoma area we’ll take the time to see Jo’s kids and family for a couple of days before heading east along I­-90. We’ll see her oldest son in Central Washington during that trek. We won’t be able to get into an apartment until the middle of the month of May, so there’s no real hurry. It’s not snowing here at the moment. It is up there.
And there you have the situation with us. We’ve had our ups and downs, mostly with the weather and the continuing rising costs of gasoline and, consequently, everything else. We just didn’t budget for that kind of rise in costs.
Yet, when we look back, we managed to huge amounts of material and experience  in 20 states in five months, and much of that while stationary in only a few of them. That’s not a bad track record, don’t you think? The really hard part will come after we re-establish ourselves in Kalispell. Jo gets to put in months of work in PhotoShop while I work on the book and the articles for magazine submission. If luck and writing perseverance prevail, those articles will help us put money back in the savings account. So, keep those fingers crossed.
I can’t promise when I’ll get to post on anything again after today, so you’ll just all have to keep an eye peeled for the slightest blip on your radar screens. I’ll try to pop in again before getting back to Kalispell.Take care and God bless.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Memoir--We All Do It

In Lee Gutkind’s book, “Keep It Real,” he discusses the many aspects of creative non-fiction. (For those who don’t know, Lee Gutkind is the founder and editor of Creative Non-Fiction, the journal.) In one section he talks about The Memoir Craze.
The section isn’t long as descriptions go, but it has everything one needs to consider when thinking of writing any piece of memoir. Of course, the reason for that is because he’s so thoroughly covered the other aspects of the technical considerations of writing non-fiction—creative or otherwise.
One of the best, and for me most telling paragraphs, says this of memoir…
“When you look at our tendency these days to interface with technology rather than one another, perhaps the surprise is not that memoirs are flourishing but that anyone questions the trend. Neuropsychologists are discovering that the impulse for story is likely hard-wired into our brains. The less we talk to one another, the more our personal  narratives—our confessions, our dark sides, our recitations of the things we do in secret—with seek other ways to emerge, finding voice in the genre of memory.”
Reading this paragraph begs any storyteller to delve back into personal memory just to prove the assumption of brain hard-wiring as it pertains to them. The question arises as to how long the writer has personally lived inside a storyline that pleads to be told to someone else. The storyteller also learns that the affliction of ever-present swirling plot ideas and character profiles is something to be endured whether they make it to print or not.
For bloggers, professional or not, the memoir is a mainstay of posting something for whoever drops by to read it. Trolling for new opportunities to learn about a person nets the surfer a load of disparate choices.
When people socialize face-to-face, they discuss the day’s events, philosophy, experiences, etc. Much of that interaction is pure memoir. Humans emphasize their political views by sharing memories. They use personal experience to declare their life’s philosophies and attitudes. All of a personal’s experiential history gets filtered in micro-seconds for the perfect—or not-so perfect—example to wedge into conversation.
If you listen to children when they’re “talking things over,” they often refer back to past experience to make their points. Do they learn that technique by modeling their parents, or do they come by it naturally? According to Gutkind’s book, experts believe it’s a natural tendency.
The cliché example of the memoir storyteller involves the hunter/fisherman. Fishermen gathered around any stationary object, such as dining table or campfire, use memoir use discourse for opinion pieces on everything from travel recommendations and “factual” reporting of fish population conditions to forecasting conditions five years hence.
Hunters talk about game population conditions, both physiological and habitat, and go on to a complete consumer report on ammunition and arms power. The gamut of subject matter also includes family related information about preparations to marital relations. Personal history and future aspirations are all brought out and aired before the council of game experts gathered for the purpose.
Let’s face it. Humans can’t go one day without referring to one memory or another. We use time-line reference for everything from clock time to calendar time. We rear our children based on memory, work according to past experiences with the activity and expectations, and even worship as we’ve learned to do so.
The very act of learning requires that memory be used each and every minute of the day. Otherwise, each moment would be as fresh and new as the one that came before it. We wouldn’t be able to learn at all.
What astounds me is that it’s taken neuropsychologists so long to come to their conclusion. Every writer knows that without memory there is no story. The writer, whether working in non-fiction or fiction, recognizes the invaluable benefit of memory and memoir to the written word.
It’s not every day that experts validate the truth of what writers take for granted. And Gutkind was gracious enough to put that nugget of official validation out into the world for us all to see. For that, and ever so much more, I applaud him.
Anyone who would like to know what other gems of insight Lee sprinkles into literature should drop by his website: You’ll find more than you thought possible in that compact website. Creative Non-Fiction journal is also a must for the non-fiction specialist or dabbler.
On that note, I’ll leave you for today. Have a great week, whatever your activity.
Until later,

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Sighing Do-over

In that pre-dawn hour, just after the early morning bathroom run and crawling back into bed, comes a time when Muse takes her dipper of brilliance and sprinkles profound and inspired thoughts through the near-slumbering mind. The mind pursues these wisps of creative wonder along pathways destined to come to naught.  Sleep again overtakes thought, and morning finds only hints of earlier mental journeys.
Why do so many of us never learn from our frustration? Why can’t we allow ourselves to get out of bed and use that hour to write down all of those magnificent ideas and ponderings? It’s not as if we’re going to forget that we had them; we only forget what “they” were about.
This morning I had half an essay written in my head—a nice lyrical piece on this subject. When I woke, it was all gone, except for the initial idea for the piece. Frustration, directed at myself, ensued.
Dr. Wayne Dyer postulates that when a person wakes for unknown reasons early in the morning, it is due to higher powers speaking to the sleeper. Dr. Dyer never identifies the higher power but allows the individual to make a personal interpretation of the term. He goes on to say that the best and most inspired writing, painting, or whatever creative outlet the person uses, comes during that time just after the pre-dawn wake-up call.
I must agree with him, for that is when my mind is the most free from daily concerns, sees the world in the least cluttered way, and has the most fluid writing ability. I agree and would like to accommodate that axiom of taking that free-thought time for writing.
The problem is that sleep tempts me too well. There is always a dream to finish so that I have an ending to that particular storyline. Or, I didn’t get into bed until the wee hours of the night and haven’t had enough sleep to keep me awake to do more than make that bathroom run.
Sleep and its many guises will become an issue again after tonight. BJ and I are beginning the last leg of our tour just after dawn tomorrow. Neither of us sleeps well nor long while on the road. We’ve learned all about that already.
There will be many very early mornings in the coming month, some far earlier than we’d wish. My wish is that with all the new sights and adventures, inspiration will become more delegated to regular working hours and not to those frequently interrupted ones devoted to sleep. There are times when only a sigh and a do-over will suffice.
One question haunts me sometimes. I wonder how many Pulitzers, Nobel’s, Oscars, etc. have been left at Muse’s doorstep because the sleeper couldn’t be bothered to write down the words on the calling card?
Until later,