Saturday, September 29, 2012

An Amazing Journey of Grace

It is hard to believe it is almost three years since I met a handful of women in a bookstore and began with them the Women's Writing Circle. 

 
As chronicled on this blog, it has been an amazing journey of grace. A diverse group of women took a risk to spend a Saturday morning and offer their writing, their hearts, and the details of their life. 
 
Throughout this time, I try never to forget the spiritual nature of this work and of the Circle; a container which provides a safe haven for us to break the silence and find our voices as women and as writers. 
 
We guide and mentor each other through our pain, our loss, our desire to create . . . and find in that a shift of perspective and an enlargement of our sense of self.
 
With exquisite grace, women tell their stories, transform and illuminate.  To quote Anais Nin: "We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection."
 
 
Some writing groups of late have forgotten that they were conceived to bring women together through readings, critique, fast writes or writing prompts. Instead, the emphasis has become top heavy with weekend events and fairs skewed toward finding literary agents, or learning how to wend your way through the labyrinth of traditional versus self-publishing options. While this is of keen interest to many writers, the Women's Writing Circle is a community; a place to take that risk . . . that leap of faith onto the blank page.  We find, too, in the Circle, the fun and the joy of meeting new people and making new friends.
 
Last weekend I celebrated the debut of my new memoir, Morning at Wellington Square.  I  held a reading and book signing at that same bookstore where this journey began; the store, by no coincidence, is named Wellington Square.  As much as the personal accomplishment that a new book represents, I wanted the signing to be a celebration of the women who have come and shared so generously their hearts and stories these last three years.

I invited them to read their work . . . and the "signing" became a read-around - more than an apt reminder, it seemed to me, of the spirituality of this work.  As each woman finds her voice, there is a ripple effect. Her voice encourages another voice and another and another . . .
 
So I share here with you, dear women of the Circle and blog visitors,  last Saturday's celebration. 

Join us on Saturday, October 13 for our monthly read-around. 





Saturday, September 22, 2012

Does True Love Only Come Once?

Morning at Wellington Square



In her new memoir Susan G. Weidener writes the journey of a woman's life through love and loss with the unflinching eye of a romantic and a realist.  Does true love only come once, she asks as the memory of John lingers?  Her journey searching to find herself again has been compared to that of every woman. 
 
What readers are saying  about Morning at Wellington Square:

"As life's losses mount, Susan takes an unflinchingly honest inventory of her experiences in this authentic and engaging memoir. Through her funny and poignant personal stories, her readers will recognize and relate to themes of love and loss, job changes, raising kids as a single mother, the quest to find love again and coming to terms with life - ultimately making meaning and finding her own strength in all of it. It's a quintessential woman's story of transforming life events into a life that is truly her own. And I love that even with all her crazy dating experiences she never quite gives up on the idea that she could find love again!"
 
"As you savor this book, you will feel as though you are having a private conversation with her . . . . you will learn as much about yourself as you do about her. For me, she put into words many of the feelings that I experienced as I searched for personal fulfillment after losing my career and my husband."
 
"Susan Weidener's newest offering is a welcome and satisfying follow-up to her earlier memoir AGAIN IN A HEARTBEAT. The honesty with which she deals with sometimes difficult situations, like online dating and taking chances in new locations with total strangers, is refreshing. I'm sure many women (and men as well) will also find it very helpful as they deal with getting on with life after loss. Though written as a sequel, the book definitely stands on its own as a good read."
 
To order Morning at Wellington Square:  Contact Susan G. Weidener at sgweidener@comcast.net or visit her Author Page at:
 
 

An excerpt:

 

Chapter Three

John

 
            What lives in my mind now is that moment in 1977 when I first met John under white dogwood trees above the parade field at Valley Forge Military Academy.   It was the beginning of happiness . . . and all that has come since.
  The night I fell in love with him we were sitting on the sofa in my one-bedroom apartment.  The floor was strewn with copies of the weekly newspaper where I worked as a reporter.  John asked if I wanted to go to West Point for a football game. He would take me to Flirtation Walk which ran along the Hudson River.  This was where cadets made out – and more – with their dates, he grinned. His long dark eyelashes, the dark hair on his wrists made me want to touch him, feel his lips on mine. His deep set brown eyes locked onto mine as if he had read my thoughts.
He told me he fell in love the moment he saw me that day at Valley Forge.  For the first time in my life, I felt what it was like to be adored for who Susan was, not who Susan pretended to be.  I could say anything I wanted and he thought it was fine, interesting, amusing. 
On our first Valentine’s Day his beautiful flowing script adorned a huge pink and red card with hearts and doves.  A lovesick lion gazed out from behind the bars of his cage. “To my favorite reporter.  To put it mildly, I love you wildly,” John wrote. 
John wore his heart on his sleeve.  For that alone I loved him passionately.
Two children and sixteen years of marriage later, death stole our dream of growing old together. As English writer Julian Barnes said, “For sorrow there is no remedy.” 
For the dead do not return, they only haunt our memories.
We buried John with full military honors in the Catholic cemetery at West Point, high above the Hudson River where years before he and I had held hands along Flirtation Walk.  It was a brilliant Indian summer day in October.  I remember being handed the American flag.  I remember my grief-stricken parents as my husband’s coffin was lowered into the ground.   I remember Alex and Daniel running up and down the lobby of the Thayer Hotel where we were staying.  The boys seemed oblivious to the magnitude of the event.   I was too numb to accept it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Self-Publishing Is Entrepreneurship

 


Frustrated by people who call themselves authors, but drag the rest of us down when they produce shoddy products?  Upset when they provide fodder for the anti-self-publishing movement claiming we are all unprofessional? 
 
SO just what is the difference between being self-published  and a self-publisher? Everything.

Being a self-publisher means hiring professionals who can make your book as good as it can be. You are the author but you are also your own publisher. You hire a printing company like CreateSpace to produce your book.  Make no mistake. You are an entrepreneur. You create a product, you market it, you sell it.
 
What is entrepreneurship?  It is the pursuit of opportunity.  The opportunities to get our stories out there have become almost limitless.

                                                  *****


Recently at the Curves fitness center in Lionville, Pennsylvania, I sold my books. Like any business person you need to make contact with your audience.  As the women finished their work-outs, they met with me, talked about memoir, shared their own stories.  I brought some light refreshments . . . fruit and vegetables to add to the celebration.

 
This week I joined a LinkedIn discussion titled: "Do you think you can self-publish without hiring a professional editor?" From the comments, it seemed there was some resistance to spending money on editing, as well as some hopeful thinking that a quality book can be produced without hiring professionals.
 
 
How do you stand out in a crowd of folks who believe that they can upload whatever and however (text for the book ends up on Kindle looking unprofessional) all to save a few dollars?

I have met people who wanted me to read their work which they were planning to self-publish, WITHOUT paying me a cent for my editing expertise. Seriously? A book is your legacy, it is your calling card as an artist.

Why would you just throw it out there in the marketplace? 

Yes, traditional publishers also have typos in their books. And so do magazines. Recently, I picked up a well-known memoir magazine - a literary journal. The last name of the great Canadian short story writer, Alice Munro, was misspelled. So nothing and no one is perfect. We live in an imperfect world, but as self-publishers we owe it to ourselves to hire people to help us create a beautiful book worthy of any bookshelf . . . mostly, though, worthy of our readers.
 


 

Hire -


  • An editor for content.

  • A copy editor and proofreader to catch typos, grammatical errors, etc. 

  • A design team for your cover and interior format.

  • If you don't know much about promotion or publicity, hire a publicist.


Here's a good article elaborating on functions editors perform: 

Like any business, there are untold hours required to be successful.  That is both the joy and the challenge of being a self-publisher.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Memoir - The Challenge: Understanding Yourself



At our recent writing workshop we learned that memoir is a craft that requires structure, good storytelling technique, a beginning, middle and end.  We learned the necessity of engaging our readers so that the story is broad enough to contain a message and universal appeal.
 
We learned about the "memoir revolution"; people writing their stories and putting them on the Internet for a larger audience than family and friends to enjoy.  But the most important lesson - memoir offers the invaluable challenge of making sense of our lives  . . . of understanding ourselves.

Our life, our experiences, the people we have loved and lost, admired and detested, comprise the "palette" of a lifetime.  We hold the palette and begin "painting" our stories with the brushstrokes of the artist.    
 
The  journey of struggles, overcoming obstacles and moving forward with "agency" or  action to reach closure is one where the author is the guide.  So as our workshop instructor, Jerry Waxler noted: "Writing a memoir takes patience, tenacity and desire."  Our stories are steeped in psychology of self-reflection, as well as meaning.

 Until we understand ourselves, we cannot understand others, let alone write about them.

To quote Socrates: The "unexamined life is not worth living."

It is always good to remember that writing our stories is also fun and represents a generosity of spirit and willingness to connect with others.

***
I want to thank Jerry Waxler for leading us in an all-day discussion of memoir, complete with detailed instruction on how to write the story of our life, providing us with writing prompts, exercises to organize our memories, and his own personal insight into our individual stories and how we might tell them. 

Most of all I thank the writers who came to the Art of Life Writing workshop for placing your trust in the safety and support of the Writing Circle  . . . your gift to me. 

Highlighted here are comments you made at the conclusion of our workshop:
  • "I loved hearing everyone's stories." 
  •  "I will take Jerry's suggestion about having a daily writing prompt." 
  • "I liked the focus on the elements of a story:  the arc with crisis, obstacles and resolution."

  • "I enjoyed the interaction, the community atmosphere.  It opens me up to expression."
  • I enjoyed learning how to organize my story, understand the importance of chronology.  It was helpful to be instructed in   the basic building blocks of scene, character, desire, obstacle.
  • "Encouragement and understanding were very strong.  A lot of my issues are very uncomfortable to talk about.  I felt comfortable to write and read without judgment, which I think will make it easier to be honest and provocative."
  • "I enjoyed the group.  Some stories were quite interesting and inspiring.  Being with aspiring writers has been very helpful."
  • "Very stimulating . . . listening to everyone's writing."
  • "Today's workshop was filled with information, insights and collegiality."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why We Write Memoir



I wrote my new memoir, Morning at Wellington Square, as a sequel to Again in a Heartbeat.  I did this because I realized I had more stories I wanted to share and that those stories were intrinsically linked to each other. My stories revolve around the quest for love, romance and finding passion in life; how this collides with the realities of death, single parenting, widowhood, loss of a career . . .online dating. So my memoirs are really about life's journey, one I hope women - and men - relate to.  The books can stand alone, but together they make a whole.

When people ask me for tips or advice on writing memoir, this is what I offer.

Do you have a story you need to tell?  Do you want to bear witness to what you see out there in the world?  Have you paid close attention and want to bring it all together with your senses?  Are you "striving to become a person on whom nothing is lost," to quote Henry James?

What is the compelling narrative . . . this "slice" of life you want to write?  This may not be obvious until you begin writing.  Then synergies emerge from the shadows and with it your story - the narrative. 
 
Don't write a memoir because you seek love or support.  Write from the heart.  Don't write because you want to please an "audience" or seek the acceptance of  family.  Each one of us has our own unique voice when we write.  Nurture it, love it, cultivate it.  Don't make apologies for it.

When someone tells you they like your story, believe them.  As writers we live in a cocoon of second-guessing ourselves.  To again quote Henry James:  "We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."

While we want honest comment, we must also learn to accept the support and accolades that come our way after our stories have been written.  This is the beauty of the Women's Writing Circle.  We hear the supportive comments of other writers in the Circle and it encourages us to go on, despite our fears and inner critic.

Write about your background, your past, but don't get stuck in it. Keep in mind that your story must resonate with a broader appeal.

Memoir is drama, it is not cut and dried, a blow-by-blow of a life. It unfolds with a narrative arc and interesting characters, of which the protagonist, the narrator, is the most insightful.

And, yes, dear memoir writers, this is what makes our genre so daunting. We are required to do this standing up close and personal to our lives yet looking through a broad enough lens to write an engaging and entertaining story.
 
 
All of this and more has been said much better by Natalie Goldberg. I would urge you to read her books on the art and craft of memoir:

http://www.amazon.com/Natalie-Goldberg/e/B000AP7I9G