Thursday, September 23, 2010

Read-Around for the Circle

October is a busy month with our "Art and Practice of Memoir" workshop.  This is a chance to share and commit to our writing while learning techniques for how best to write our stories.  I would like to extend an invitation to everyone - men and women - to consider registering for the workshop. Information about the workshop is listed on the right. What better time than fall to enjoy the beauty of Chester County and come together as a community of writers?

Because of the workshop, there is no read-around in October.  Our next read-around will be held at Wellington Square Bookshop on Saturday, November 6 at 9 a.m.  Please share a piece of writing you have been working on and enjoy free coffee and tea at this charming bookstore.  Read-arounds are for women only.

I wanted to re-post something I wrote about the joy of the read-around for those who may not be familiar with it.

Aspiring writers - whether you are published or not - know that the greatest joy often comes with sharing your work with other writers. They - like no other - can offer feedback after your solitary journey of hand-to-hand combat with words, paragraphs, dialogue and plot. Does this work, you ask? Will this resonate with the reader? The read-around is a lovely exercise of reading aloud what you wrote in an intimate and supportive setting. We ask for "readback" lines, sentences that captivate or resonate with humor, poetry or sheer gut emotion. The read-around is our touchstone for more creative work to come.

Join us for the read-around of the Women's Writing Circle.
All the best, Susan

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Book Signing and Self-Publishing

Times have changed from when you had to be published by the guardians of the literary establishment in order to see a manuscript turned into a "legitimate" book. There are many options for wonderful writers who do not have the time or temperament to wait years for "canonization" by traditional publishing houses. They want to get started now.

So it was for me yesterday. Thank you to everyone who came to my first book signing at Wellington Square Bookshop. It was a special day as I reconnected with old friends and connected with new.You helped me celebrate this amazing new journey as author. And I know many of you are looking at self-publishing options.

Self-published books allow us to hold a product in hand.  As New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan puts it, the self-published author offers "handmade goods, produced in small numbers, instead of the mass-marketed stuff you'd find at a superstore."

My book, Again in a Heartbeat, is something I can have printed-on-demand and offer at signings and other venues. My printing company CreateSpace was fabulous to work with and since I own the copyright to my book, I can move to any other publishing platform, if and when I am ready.

Self-published books also look great as long as you are willing to take the time and have the patience to do it right.  These are wondrous times with all the cheap, digital technology at hand.  As Heffernan says, "Print-on-demand options, which let individual buyers essentially commission copies of books - has been a godsend to writers without agents or footholds at traditional publishing houses.  It has also been a quiet godsend to literary history."

Hurray!  Let the change begin.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Fear Factor

Today at the monthly read-around of the Circle, we came together as writers laying our souls bare. That is the power - and terror - of memoir.

Memoir is not for the faint of heart. But we wouldn't have it any other way.

"I felt 10 pounds lighter after I wrote it," Deborah Martin-Plugh, said.

"I feel terrible after I finish, but it is eventually feeling that it is out there.  Much later, I feel better," Jan Backes said.

As much as memoir is a reckoning for ourselves, so it can be for those we write about.  But remember - there is the profound healing aspects of memoir, not just for ourselves, but for others longing to read our story.

So . . . Are we ready to share our stories?   Are we ready to provoke the possible anger of family?  This is your story.  Go for it, but proceed with caution.  Memoir is your legacy; you will want a certain cloak of protection when family members years from now turn the pages of your book, as they inevitably will.  As my sons joke, "Mom, we'll read your book after you're dead."  But read it, they will.

A couple of tips: (And I would love to hear yours in the comment section.)

  • Research family members before you write their story.  If they have left old letters, journals, memoirs, then by all means use those as resources to help capture the essence of who they were/are.
  • These are your memories, your recollections.  Keep in mind that no two people view the same situation or conversation through the same prism.  Stay true to yourself.
  • Change the names and identifying characteristics of people who pose a liability and are not family. It does make not sense to change the names of family members.  Memoir is non-fiction.
  • Impulsive decisions to write about something today, might not sit well years from now. If you are unsure, let it sit for awhile and percolate.

As Gregory Martin, memoirist, wrote in this month's Writer magazine, "You need to think hard about the real-life implications of your work long before it reaches any editor.  If you have, and afterward, if you can't quite breathe deeply, if you have become aware of a low-level underlying anxiety to all your waking hours, a kind of agony, at the thought of what might happen if your story does get published, then maybe you're ready for submission."

Here are some photographs of the writers at today's read-around at Wellington Square.  Top right, Annalie Hudson, contemporary artist: 
Patricia Zettlemoyer of Morgantown (middle) and bottom right, Flo Shore and Jan Backes of Plymouth Meeting.

Keep writing, as I know you will!  All the best to my Sisters in the Writing Circle.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Open Mic Night on the Main Line

Last night I attended Open Mic for 1st Person Narrative. It was held at an artsy and intimate Bryn Mawr coffeehouse with lumpy, velvet sofas and a view of Lancaster Avenue along Philadelphia's famous (or infamous) Main Line.

Remember The Philadelphia Story starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant? The Main Line is the setting for that classic film, although the movie was shot in a studio in Culver City, California, 3,000 miles from Bryn Mawr's mansions and towering oak trees.

The Main Line is synonymous with socialites and snobbery. It is where I grew up. Not that we had money. Dad was a teacher. We didn't belong to a country club. Pappagallo shoes and Villager sweaters were hardly in the budget. I attended junior high and high school on the Main Line. My "clique" was a small group of girls who hung out at Ho Jo's and smoked cigarettes and drank black coffee.

I was married in a Gothic-facade Presbyterian Church with massive red oak doors on the Main Line.  I was born at Bryn Mawr Hospital, my sons were born there. My husband died of cancer there ... moonlit clouds scuttling across a warm September sky framed that towering edifice last night.

Even though I don't live there anymore, the Main Line is still home. It is heaven and hell.

Back to Open Mic. I enjoy the energy of  performance. I admit it. I have come to like the attention. In the past few months I've learned how important audiences are to developing a voice and a presence on stage. The written word takes life in real-time setting when the author grabs the microphone, looks out at her audience and starts. At first, the words come too quickly ... slow down, pace yourself, an inner voice says. Let them feel the story the way you do.

My first reading was in a bookshop last January. How stilted it was compared to what I felt last night when I looked past the stage lights and into darkness. I saw the blur of faces - a small audience listened to sentences written long ago in the privacy of my room. I smiled.

We need to engage our audience. This is not an easy task for writers. We are solitary by nature. We don't normally seek attention. Even our writing sometimes beats around the bush.We describe everyone else in utter detail, but leave ourselves out. We tend to be a shy and insecure bunch.

It is important to practice reading at home before taking the stage. Much of the value of Open Mic rests in how well-crafted the performances are. Some people have yet to develop the poise and theatrical aplomb to pull off reading their work. They make eye contact only with the written page.  But that's okay. Practice makes perfect.

Many thanks go to writer Tracy Kauffman Wood of Ardmore, pictured here. Tracy organizes Open Mic at Milkboy coffeehouse in Bryn Mawr. Her whimsical piece about clothes shopping in junior high was a pleasure to hear. It took me back to a time when I, too, walked to the Marianne store. It was locatedwhere else? The Main Line.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Power of the Pensieve

Remember when Harry Potter peers into the Pensieve - a shallow stone bowl used to gather memory -  and is thrust into scenes from the past?  This is the task of the writer. To look deep into the swirling, silvery mists, take the plunge to the bottom and once there observe the characters, conversations and images of the past. Only then can we process memories and relieve ourselves of their excess burden.

A friend recently told me that some people come to critique groups simply looking for affirmation.  When they don't get as much as they would like, they lose hope, returning to the safety of their rooms where the only audience is themselves or those telling them what they want to hear.  Please don't let this happen to you. Realize there will be stumbling blocks along the way as you craft your words into story. Nothing worth having comes without practice.  That means establishing a writing routine and setting aside time for thought and contemplation.

In this day and age of animosity, discord and political upheaval, what greater gift can we give each other than sharing being human through storytelling?

As the end of summer draws near, I reflect how very special this summer has been for me.  My memoir was published on July 28.  The comments I am receiving from you - my readers - have been simply incredible. "I laughed and I cried . . . how bittersweet your story is," one woman told me.

A man at the local grocery story who has known me and my sons for years said he couldn't put the book down.  "I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. finishing it," he said.

Best of all, my story prompted you to tell me yours. Every day I find a new connection. Together, we have peered into the Pensieve and shared in its power.  No writer could ask for more.