Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Special Thanks to My Readers


The last three years have been an amazing and rewarding journey, thanks to you my wonderful readers.  Each and every month since July 2010 when I took the plunge and published Again in a Heartbeat, new readers have contacted me either in person or online and told me how much they have enjoyed my stories of love, loss, passion and renewal.  
 
Your insights into my stories, which, in many ways, you have told me are your stories too, have taught me so much about this road we travel together called life. I am forever in your debt. 
 
To celebrate the third anniversary of the publication of Again in a Heartbeat, I am offering my memoirs - Again in a Heartbeat and Morning at Wellington Square - at a special savings of under $6 for the ebook set. 
 
It was always my hope that they would be read as a compact set.  Together, they form a portrayal of  a modern woman's journey.   "Not an easy life, nor a popular one given the choice," as one reader told me, but a life as true as I could tell it . . .
 
So a very special thanks goes to you, my wonderful readers, who have brought me so much love and joy and without whom I never could have found the courage to write these stories.
 
Your ongoing support and encouraging words of praise remain the catalysts that keep me motivated in my desire to bring women's voices to you here on this blog/website with exciting guest posts by inspiring writers; through the read-arounds and writing workshops of the Women's Writing Circle . . .  and in future writing projects and stories I hope to bring your way.

With gratitude,

Susan

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A 20-Year Journey To Memoir


This essay is part of an occasional series by authors who have written memoir with honesty, courage and skill.

I first "met" Madeline Sharples online about a year ago.  Her memoir had been drawing attention as a testament to a mother's love and desire to help others in the wake of her son's suicide following a long mental illness.  As her story was about love, loss and grief, it drew me.  My review of "Leaving the Hall Light On" speaks for itself.  Please welcome Madeline to the Circle.
 
I returned to writing regularly when our son Paul was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in March 1993. He had just turned 21 and was a senior at the New School in New York City. Early on during his illness I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and her suggestion to write morning pages resonated with me. Because I was employed full-time then, I didn’t always write in the morning, but I always finished my three pages before the end of the day.
 

So writing about my son’s bipolar disorder and later about his 1999 suicide death became my therapy. Writing during the most stressful time of my life became an obsession and a balm. It gave me a way to organize my fears, pain, and thoughts.

Besides journaling I began to take writing workshops at the UCLA Extension Writers Program and Esalen Institute in Big Sur California. Then four months after Paul died, I started working with Jack Grapes, a Los Angeles based instructor who teaches method writing.

After writing about Paul and our family in poetry and prose in Jack’s workshop for about a year, he and my classmates started to say I had to get my story out in the world. Jack suggested I write a memoir. But, I put it off for a while. I was still too engulfed in grief to think about taking on such a project. Finally about a year later I began to take my journal entries, pieces from writing classes and workshops, poems, and new writing – and turn them into a book.  However, I didn’t have a clue what to do next.

My first thought was to write a memoir in poems since I already had a poetry manuscript. However, I met a former literary agent through our younger son Ben who read my poems. She suggested I organize a book in prose, which included poetry, according to the order of the poems in the manuscript. She also gave me writing prompts that helped me round out my material. 

Then I began compiling - first by reading through my journals, underlining everything I thought applicable, and transferring that material into book files on my computer. It took a long time. Once in a file I moved pieces around according to my outline. Then I wrote some more, edited, worked with a paid editor, revised according to my editor’s notes, edited, revised again until I had a draft manuscript. At that point the work really began.

I began to query agents and small presses, sending out my manuscript whenever I got a request for it. And two years and 68 queries later I finally had a book contract with a small press.



But, not so fast. My publisher asked me to revise the second half of the book completely. That took another six months with a lot of help from three writing friends in organizing, looking for repetition and inconsistencies, and line by line editing.

Finally after writing journal entries, workshop pieces, new pieces, and poems from as early as 1993 I had a memoir that was first published in May 2011 – pretty close to twenty years later.

Using a lot of my source documents helped me create a raw and honest book that offers parents and siblings who have experienced a child’s or a brother or sister’s death ways to get out of the deep dark hole they are in. I have created my book for anyone who has experienced some kind of grief in his or her lives.

The major reason I decided to write my memoir was to keep my son’s memory alive and share my experiences with others who might benefit from them. Through that process I also discovered my lifelong mission – to work to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide in the hope of saving lives.


Madeline Sharples is the author of Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide (Dream of Things). She also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press). She co-edits The Great American Poetry Show anthology and wrote the poems for The Emerging Goddess photography book. Her articles appear regularly at Naturally Savvy, Aging Bodies, PsychAlive, and Open to Hope and on her blogs, Choices and Red Room. Besides writing poetry, she is also writing a novel.  Madeline and her husband Bob of forty-three years live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small beach community south of Los Angeles. Her younger son Ben lives in Santa Monica, California with his wife Marissa. 


Links:
http://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Hall-Light-On-Surviving/dp/0982579489/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Monday, June 17, 2013

Social Media and the Writer's Life


It seems writers have often led a solitary and isolating life.  Is technology isolating us even more or is it bringing the world to our doorstep? This is the first of an occasional essay on social media and the writer's life.


That Third Reality  ~ By Edda R. Pitassi


It was a lovely June morning, and I was driving to the Saturday seminar I had registered for at my college’s Alumni Weekend festivities.  The lecture, “What’s Trending,” being given by a favorite English teacher, would provide both light and shadow to the rest of my day.

After listening to 60 minutes of a mixed bag of consonant clusters and acronyms; an ‘A to Z’ soup of apps, androids, iPads, iPhones, Smartphones and ‘Zite’ (a new ‘personalized' magazine for my phone’), I thought our group of some 20 former Communications/English majors (including the 2 lecturers) might spend a brief time talking about ‘the good old days of books, magazines and newspapers.’ 
In today’s texting, ‘ru kiddin me’?  No time for that.  
Some attendees  - branching into the blogosphere - wanted to learn ‘how to monetize’ their blogs.  No time for that. The teachers were not moved.

Booklovers among us cried out, “Why doesn’t anyone read anymore?” 

One of us answered:  “You know what Steve Jobs said…'people don’t read anymore.’"

“We could spend hours talking about the changes in storytelling, journalism and media,” the teacher said.  

We could, but we will not, is what he meant to say.

Our group went on to share a few pleasantries, we said our goodbyes, and I walked back to my car.  As I opened its door and got inside, I found my hands tightening onto the steering wheel.  I looked out the car window and took in the lovely natural surroundings of the campus, the warm sun, the blue sky, and the newer, modest buildings resting fairly comfortably among the older, more stately ones.  The splendid green trees still stood tall.  I took a deep breath.
 
As I felt myself getting upset, my stomach performed its customary somersaults.      I wanted to cry.  Instead, I put my head on my hands.  So many questions buzzed through my mind.  After a few moments, I drove home, and my mind would not stop racing. 
 
Do we really need English Lit teachers anymore?  What’s the point of Shakespeare or Milton?  Or Dickens? Hemingway?  Edith Wharton?  Plays?  Theater?
Is there any value in the artful turn of a phrase?  
Will phrases – or sentences -survive? 
Will words still matter? 
Will the structure of language – as we have learned and understood it in our lifetime – become extinct? 
Will new generations speak and write only in fragments, and will we of an older culture still be able to understand them - and each other?
What is a Communications or Journalism degree worth in today’s expanding Mobile/ Digital /Technology World? 
Wouldn’t students and colleges both save many thousands of dollars just by having teachers learn and teach the newest ‘Apps’ and work with students on how to use them for digital storytelling?

 
"Oh, wait," one of the teachers at the seminar said. “These kids don’t know how to tell a story anymore.” 

My thoughts continued as I drove the verdant Pennsylvania countryside:

Should I still keep trying to write and publish short stories? 
Should I learn how to write poetry instead? 
As a published author, is there an audience for my work outside of cyberspace? 
It’s so crazy out there…who will listen? 
Where?  On the run? 

The questions flooded my mind, and I began to understand the truth of living in more than one reality.   I’m familiar with living in the natural and the physical.  That third reality - Living Online - disturbs me.  Okay… it terrifies me.
 
I know technology is reshaping the world.  I get it.  I see all those disembodied faces sitting at restaurant tables, or waiting in line for a table, their thumbs tapping away or sweeping on a screen.  No one talks.
I wonder . . .  do they even taste their food when a smiling waiter or waitress places it in front of them.? I never hear ‘thank you’.
I don’t want  to stray too far from my natural, physical, human roots.  I feel myself clutching harder at the steering wheel.  My eyes fall on the ominous lawn signs along my road home:  “Final Days for Furniture Sale.”
Final Days – indeed.

What are your thoughts on how social media affects the writer?

Edda R. Pitassi has maintained a love/hate relationship with writing since she started seeing her “letters to the editor” in print at age fifteen.  A published journalist with several suburban newspapers, she currently contributes a monthly book review for Chester County Seniors! newspaper.  A former web content writer and proofreader, her employment history includes a 20-year career with IBM.  Highlights of her writing life comprise a writing internship in New York City, editing Morning at Wellington Square, and contributing to the Women’s Writing Circle.  Her most recent work includes a short story, "The Zen Art of Peeling Potatoes," and a poem, "An Aging Rolling Stones Riff," in Slants of Light: Stories and Poems From the Women's Writing Circle.
  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Men In The Women's Circle


I admit I am perplexed, although not surprised by the claim that women’s writing groups exclude and perpetrate barriers.
 
Anyone who attends a women's writing group feels the magic, the alchemy.  In fact, women have always gravitated toward other women, whether it was a sewing circle in the 1800's or a book club today.  The safety, the security . . . the implicit understanding that we, as women, travel a common journey forms a bond beyond words.

Women only groups have great value as a place to share, empathize and validate as I learned firsthand by attending a woman's writing retreat which was the catalyst to my memoir journey for Again in a Heartbeat five years ago. 

I can only imagine how different my life would have been if I had not been there.

Our June meeting was the first time a man had attended a read-around of the Women’s Writing Circle. Boyd Lemon, the author of a memoir Digging Deep about the failure of his three marriages, was our visitor. Boyd offered the male perspective, as well as the vulnerability that comes with memoir writing.  By the end of writing his story, he confided,  he understood that the failure of his marriages was in large part due to the unconditional love and acceptance he found from his mother and his desire that his wives replicate that. 

This candid admission gave powerful insight into the self-discovery of memoir and its healing journey that goes beyond gender issues and is the basis for the genre's growing popularity, not just among writers but readers.  This admission also led to a discussion about some men and their changing roles; their confusion, as Boyd put it, on how to “deal” with the feminist movement.

Boyd’s impending visit had triggered a conversation in the Circle last month when the women learned that a man would attend a read-around.  The fear, the questions, and the concern that something valuable and sacred would be lost by opening the read-around to men quickly surfaced and was openly and honestly expressed. 
 “I’ve been in writing groups before where men try to dominate,” one woman confessed.
Finally upon reflection that same day, all the women – totaling 14 – agreed to put their skepticism aside and be open to a man’s presence in the writing circle.  After Boyd’s visit this past weekend, the overwhelming consensus was that Boyd was a special man, an excellent writer and a valuable resource for writing techniques and honest truth-telling in memoir.  Still, the question persisted.  Would the writing circle be open to men in the future? 
 
While our Women’s Writing Circle workshops have always been open to men, the read-around  . . . which is often a raw and intimate sharing of our emotional and psychic lives, has not. 

Upon reflection, I believe – at least for now – it is important that read-arounds remain open only to women. While my hope is that Boyd is the first of several published authors – male and female to visit our read-around from time to time - here is my thinking on why the read-arounds should remain open only to women.
 

The Women's Writing Circle . . . I view it as a communal, meditative and restorative place for women to write their stories.   It is also a fact that we (women) have been downtrodden as a sort of "minority" group for a long time.  We don't view our Women’s Writing Circle as discriminatory, rather it is a freeing atmosphere. 

Many of our writers are beginning the journey of finding their voice through the written word.  This is worth more than gold.  It is a matter, not just of the heart, but the soul. Any sabotaging could cause irrevocable damage. 

One of the reasons I suggest women in the Circle be careful who they show their work is due to the word “victim” that is sometimes applied to women who write the truth of their stories.  I believe it is the woman writer's worst fear - that the old patriarchal stereotype of women as "victim" and as "whiner" will be thrown at her when she writes the truth of her story. 
 
And while it is true that people are responsible for their actions, it is also true they are not responsible for society’s stereotypes and social actions.
 
Many of our writers have never before been heard.  The read-around is their time to tell their stories, read them aloud and "test drive" their voices in a supportive, nurturing and learning environment.

Mary Pierce Brosmer, founder of Women Writing For (a) Change, writes in her book of the same name about her group's read-arounds:

“WWfaC read-arounds are radical in that they are simply and persistently by, for and about women’s words.  Radical in that we are going to the imbalance in our culture, and on a small scale, attempting to heal the attention deficit women and girls have historically experienced by keeping our attention on women’s – and girls’ words.” 
 
So for now, we shall continue valuing and loving one another in our journey of the feminine.  But, as always, time will tell and we shall see  . . .  where the path leads, keeping ourselves open and remaining hopeful that our words will bring all of us closer together.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mining 'Gold' From Writing Groups

Boyd and Penny
This Saturday at the Circle our guest will be Boyd Lemon, author, blogger, independent publisher and attorney.  As he travels across country from his home in St. Mary's, Georgia with his dog, Penny,  to visit family in California, Boyd will make a stop here in Chester County to share with us in Saturday's read-around at Wellington Square.  

 

Boyd has traveled the journey from the blank page to being the critically-acclaimed author of numerous memoirs and short stories.  I asked Boyd to share his thoughts on the value of writing groups like the Women's Writing Circle. ~ Susan

 
Writing groups, if not a must, should be one of any writer’s tools. They have benefited me in different ways.



Honest, respectful critiques of my writing by group members have been invaluable for both specific pieces and in general. The key is the first two words in the preceding sentence.
 
If the critiques are not honest, they are not helpful. Simply being told that what you wrote was good, awesome or amazing does not promote growth.

Many people are afraid to criticize, and a group of people who only compliment your writing is not worth your time. I have left such groups.
 
Less common, I am pleased to say, is the disrespectful critique. It is of no help to be told that what you wrote was crap, even if it was. Anyone who engages in such criticism should be asked to leave the group.

Also, consider the value of a group or an occasional meeting within a group in which no comments are allowed. You might be surprised at how liberating that is, and that sometimes you write better in that environment.

It is helpful to read your writing aloud to others. For some reason that I can’t claim to understand, I learn by listening to myself read aloud. It tends to highlight awkward phrasing or weak action descriptions.
 
Listening to what others write, both the good and the bad, is invaluable. I have learned a lot from other’s gold, as well as their weaknesses.

It’s just plain fun to share with like-minded people who are hooked on writing. That in itself is a good enough reason to join a writing group. If you can’t find one, start one yourself. I did that when I lived in Boston, and it turned out to be a wonderful experience. You can start out small with just one or two other people.

Learn more about Boyd and his memoirs and thoughts about the unique challenges of writing memoir in this guest blog post he wrote for the Circle in March.  He will also be signing his memoirs Saturday, which I highly recommend.



 


Our writing prompt for Saturday:   "Write What Should Not Be Forgotten" ~ Isabel Allende    Using dialogue and two characters, write a scene (either from your own life or from your imagination) that you feel should not be forgotten. Try this in 1,000 words.

However, if this prompt does not suit, bring whatever your muse desires.  I look forward to sharing our writing together.