Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Commitment to Ourselves

In foraging through all the stuff I have collected over the years about writing, I came upon "Tips for becoming a great writer." One in particular stood out: "Live the life you've been given at a deeply personal level."

It struck me that writing has always been my touchstone, going back to high school when I tapped away on a Smith Corona in the loft of my parents' home. Boy, was that hard work compared to the wonders of a laptop!

In my memoir, I write how the very act of writing saw me through some of the loneliest and darkest days of my life. That is why I feel committed to this new journey, the Women's Writing Circle. I am meeting others who are longing to live their lives at the most deeply personal level that they can and sharing that in a spirit of like-mindedness.

This work we do in the Circle isn’t about writing self-help or self-improvement how-to guides. It is about working on stories that come from deep within. These are the stories that wind their way along sometimes rocky terrain, offering up side trips of humor and irony, but eventually leading to cool waters of relief and rest. The Circle is a safe place, a place permitting total devotion to ourselves.

At this month's read-around I wrote about deferring to my sons and putting my desires on hold. As women, we are especially prone to nurture and caretake. Then one day we ask, "But when is it my time?" Another tip on that sheet: "Keep writing even when you can’t write."  There is no better time than now.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Self-Publishing

Some of you may ask why I included CreateSpace as a link on this site. I did that because I decided to self-publish my memoir through this company, which is a subsidiary of Amazon. 

Self-publishing - and my experience with it - is a topic I intend to start writing about as soon as my book goes on sale. For now, it looks good.  Why? Self-publishing is a fascinating and expanding opportunity for new and established writers. It bypasses much of the "gatekeeper mentality" of the traditional publishing world.  Self-publishing allows you to get your work out  in a fast and timely manner, rather than waiting years to hear back from a literary agent or publisher whether your book has been accepted or rejected.

I don't know about you, but it takes long enough to write a book . . . having to wait more years just to see if it might ever see the light of day, is not something I had in mind as a writer.

In addition, there is complete creative control with self-publishing, as well as the opportunity to make more money from book sales than the traditional route.  Yes, it is a lot of work in terms of marketing your book, but in today's world of publishing, marketing falls on the author in any case.

If you have self-published or been published through a traditional press, please, please share your experiences in the comment section.  Blogging can be a lonely exercise.
Thanks very much,
Susan

The Widow's Life

As some of you may know, my memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, is a love story. Part One of my book is about meeting John and falling in love, raising a family and ultimately going through a seven-year ordeal of watching him die. Part Two centers on grief, widowhood and dating again.  What do you do when Prince Charming makes a final and dramatic exit from your life?  How do you go on in middle age as a single woman with two children? And can you?  These are the questions I pose and which I answered for myself through the healing power of memoir.  Below is an excerpt from Part One:

            It had been seven years since he’d first been diagnosed.  There had been CT scans, bone scans, MRIs, radiation, ultrasounds and chemotherapy.
“What new test will medical science dream up?” John asked.
All of it merging now into one long, unforgiving illness. I’d get home and find my husband asleep on the couch, under an afghan. An old movie was running on the VCR.
“The worst time for me is after dark,” he told me. “The house is quiet and I can’t sleep.”
All these years he had been terrified, horrified by what was happening to his body. I knew he viewed it as a personal failure; that he had let me down. Yet he kept it from me as he fought his solitary battle with cancer. His honor had been at stake.  That battle he had surely won.
I had a flashback - him whispering how much he loved me.  He made it so easy for the girl who had once felt unattractive.  With him, I was lovely and desirable. With him, I became a wife and a mother. I became a woman.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Haunting Childhood Memory

Remember the last assignment?  The Ugly Me essay? We held in our hands the shard of a vulnerable, shaming or painful experience and learned that by putting it in words, we took away its power.

Digging deep and taking more risks are high on the list for becoming a great writer. When you dig deep to face your truths, you begin to care less about what your critics think of your writing.  You tend your creative garden and empower yourself.

I have another "assignment" I would like to suggest for the August 14 read-around, "A Haunting Childhood Memory." Haunting, perhaps, because it still elicits fear or anguish.  You can remember it as though it happened yesterday. Or hauntingly beautiful like a lovely photograph  that has barely faded with time. You decide.

My "haunting moment" starts like this:   It seemed that  one of the mothers in our neighborhood, Mrs. Sloan, a short, heavyset woman whose lips wore a perpetually nasty sneer, had decided I was responsible for her daughter falling off her bike and hurting herself. In actuality no such thing was true. I had no idea why I had even been accused. Was it because I was the tallest girl on the street or my parents didn't belong to a country club?  Or maybe Mrs. Sloan just didn't like me, even though I was 10 and she was 40. "We're not allowed to play with you anymore," my friends taunted. In that moment I felt shame. In that moment, I learned how vicious girls can be to other girls.

I'm not going to impose a word count, although 1,000 words, give or take, is a pretty good place to be.  As always, if you prefer not to do this, bring whatever your muse inspires.
All the best to my Sisters in the Writing Circle,
Susan

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Schedule for the Circle and Memoir Workshop

The Women's Writing Circle meets at 9 a.m. every second Saturday of the month at Wellington Square Bookshop, located in the Eagleview Town Center, Exton, PA 19341.  

Below is the schedule for the Circle for the next two months:

August 14
September 11

Due to "The Art and Practice of Memoir" workshop I am hosting with Mary Pierce Brosmer on October 15 and 16, the Circle will not meet in October.  Please see the information included on this website about the workshop, which is open both to men and women.  Bring a friend or friends and set aside this time to commit to yourself and your writing. 
Susan

A Memory Crystallizes

When we least expect it, memory crystallizes.  We have no choice. We put pen to paper and come to terms with all it evokes.  Such is the "alchemy of memoir."  An overused expression, perhaps, but one that conjures the magic of  memoir.

When I began my memoir, Again in a Heartbeat - a love story about my late husband, John Cavalieri, and me -  I had no idea what I might unearth as I put into words the defining relationship of my life.  Even now, I have trouble explaining the extraordinary treasures I found along the three-year journey to complete the book.  But let me try.

First off, I began discovering that I could let go of the guilt and despair and grief I had carried for years. Like a river, life ebbs and flows. I could either float along and yield to the currents beyond my control, or die.

Then the best treasure. In a carton long ago packed away, John's unpublished 307-page memoir, Cancer versus Honor: A War of Wills, beckoned.  It had been years since I had seen it  As I began reading late into the night, I was transported.  It was as if John were in the room, once again talking to me.
John had written.

Even from a distance of twenty yards, there was an air about the way this tall blond woman carried herself.  She was confident and self-assured.  She was almost past me when I stopped her.  Up this close, I wasn't disappointed.  Her blond hair was fine and natural and cascaded freely onto her shoulders.  She wore large sunglasses. Her lips were sensuous and inviting.
"Hi, you must be Susan?"
"Yes, are you John?"
She pulled off her sunglasses to reveal large beautiful green eyes.  She smiled.  I was staring.
"So, you're Paula's roommate."
"Yes, we share a house about four blocks from here."
"Nice."
This conversation was going nowhere and I was beginning to sweat.  This was not going well at all.  Susan saved me.
"Listen, I have to run. Call me sometime.  We can get together for a drink."
Just like that she was gone.  I was left there with the smell of her perfume still in the air.  I sniffed the air like some horny old dog. I called her and a week later we found ourselves headed to Montreal, Canada.

I was hearing in his words how he felt the first time we met. I heard his inimitable sense of humor!  Memoir is our legacy. Memoir is magic. Memoir is a gift to those we love and those we have left behind.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lighting the Candle

Yesterday's read-around of the Circle was the biggest yet. We had eight writers come together for a memorable morning at Wellington Square.

The Circle begins with lighting a candle. As Mary Pierce Brosmer writes in her book, Women Writing for (a) Change:  A Guide for Creative Transformation, a lit candle symbolizes hospitality.  It also means that we have entered the Circle  - "stepped out of the ordinary into the charged space of creation."

I felt this energy yesterday as we read our "Ugly Me" essays, stories of vulnerable, hurtful moments in our lives.  This exercise helps with the tough work of "digging deep" - of  putting ourselves out there in memoir, rather than standing back in a detached way. It can also be healing. What we view as ordinary or unimportant are the very words that other women often long for and need to hear.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to announce that Mary Pierce Brosmer will facilitate a workshop with me, "The Art and Practice of Memoir" the weekend of October 15 and 16 at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Glenmoore, Chester County, Pennsylvania. This is an opportunity to commit to yourself and your writing.  I will post a separate page on this workshop in the coming days.

For more information about Mary or to obtain a copy of her beautifully written book, go to: http://www.marypiercebrosmer.com/

All the best to my Sisters in the Writing Circle.
Susan

Friday, July 9, 2010

Paring Those Pearls

Paring our "pearls" is one of the hardest things new writers find themselves grappling with in memoir.  "But I love that part!" writers protest when as their editor I suggest they excise a long, rambling description of their childhood home or trip to the grandparents.  Why? Because it has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

Whether it is a story about coming to terms with child abuse, grappling with illness or learning that love is not always what it's cracked up to be, memoir holds to a theme.  Like a river, it flows from good writing, sympathetic characters and a beginning, middle and end.  Characters change and grow through the evolution of realization . . . a realization they did not have at the beginning of the story.

The best memoirs are a snapshot in time of a life, not a catalogue of "I was born on this day in this month," and on and on to side trips about people, places and things that while interesting are not germane to the larger theme. Unless you are famous, you are not writing an autobiography.  Memoir is a narrower view of time - a period in your life that resonates with meaning you wish to impart to the reader.

So pare those pearls no matter how much it hurts.  That doesn't mean you have to throw them away, rather store them for another day. Who knows? They might come in handy in a personal essay or blog.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Women Having Their Say

I was talking to another writer last night.  He has a reading scheduled at a library next month. "Before I read, though, I want to start out by talking a little bit about why I wrote my memoir," he said.

It got me thinking about my own memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, which will be available in August.  Why did I write it and then press forward to publish these most intimate details of my life?  Because it came as naturally to me as breathing.  I wanted to share my life, my truth, in hopes it would resonate and that, together, we could form a community of storytelling.

It has become extremely gratifying to me to see how women are finally getting their due in a publishing world long dominated by men and discrimination against women writers.  The movement of women's writing groups - some of which I have listed on this web page - is testimony to women's voices gathering strength through the written - and printed - word. Through many avenues, including independent and self-publishing, literary journals and e-books, our stories are finding an audience.  Let's continue to support other writers in their desire to craft and publish stories . . .  as well as attending retreats and workshops, writing circles and critique groups.