Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Memoir Writer's 'Hidden Nerve'

I recently came across a book on the "giveaway" shelf of my library - those gems patrons donate and the library charges 50 cents or $1. The book,  Writers on Writing, featured an essay by Andre Aciman, author of the memoir, Out of Egypt.

All writers, he says, have "a hidden nerve,"  a "secret chamber" which stirs their prose . . . something "akin to a signature."

The "hidden nerve" is what makes us tick as writers, what makes us want to write our stories.  It's what writers wish to uncover when writing about themselves in this age of the personal memoir, he says.

And yet, as Aciman notes, it is that "hidden nerve" that writers often sidestep.

I have no idea what I have sidestepped as a writer of memoir.  Perhaps, I have confused confession with introspection.  It's easy to confess.  Introspection  . . . . that takes a whole lot more courage.

I write about a woman in white wedding gown who believed that good things come to good people - that life is something you can control until the illusion is shattered.  Who was that woman?   After all, when we look at ourselves in the mirror, what we see is merely a reflection.
Much has been said about how writing memoir brings closure to that which haunts and brings us pain.  Memoir, we are told, helps lay the past to rest, put the finishing touches on that which we needed so desperately to come to terms with.  Through writing our stories, we move on.

Do we?  Or is unfinished business lurking? Can we only move on - and in the process become better writers - if we find the "hidden nerve"; the thing that makes us tick, the "secret chamber" needing to be unlocked and explored?  Do we even know it exists until it hits us with excruciating pain?
Our writing prompt for the August read-around of the Women's Writing Circle - which may help us explore the 'hidden nerve':
"Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.  If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare."  ~ Anne Lamott

Write about a moment when you or a character in your story comes to this realization . . . that forgiveness means letting go of the past, of a person, of a hurtful experience.  You can do this either through a scene with dialogue or through inner monologue.

As always here on this blog, your thoughts and comments are welcomed.  The hidden nerve, the secret chamber . . .  how can writers find self-discovery?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Self-Publishing Tsunami

Last night I spoke at a local writers group meeting.  The topic:  Independent/Self-Publishing.  The meeting was attended by about 40 people and almost all were considering self-publishing.  That is just one group, one night, in one area.  Yes, the self-publishing tsunami is upon us.

There seems to be a lot of information, misinformation, competing agendas and commentary backed up with little actual data circulating out there when it comes to self-publishing.  Who to select as a publisher?  CreateSpace - which seems to come up most commonly - versus creating your own imprint in the hopes it won't look like you are self-published.  While the contention is that CreateSpace "screams" self-publishing, as one person at last night's meeting put it, I would have to ask this question: Assuming you have created your own imprint - let's say you call it "Morning Thunder" or "Pink Sky Publishing" who has ever heard of either and wouldn't common sense lead one to believe these names, too, are the inventions of self-publishers? 

It also becomes clear that self-publishing is the wave of the future because of the belief that bookstores are dying and the ebook market on the rise.  And, young and old readers, alike, just love their Kindle Fire, it seems. 

As one person said, "Forget the bookstores, put that dream away.  You are not going to end up in Barnes and Noble if you are self-published."  This has to do with that company's corporate decision in 2010 not to allow self-published work in their stores, a reasoning too complicated to explain here - although apparently it comes down to money (traditional publishing houses pay for table and shelf space) and most self-published books are PODs - which means print-on-demand and non-returnable. 

As for independent stores that create "local author shelves."  The feeling is that they tend to look a tad "junkie" and turn off readers because a lot of stuff - good and not-so-good - is crammed on the shelf.  That said, I still believe in getting your book in the stores and when they display them on their shelves or when customers first walk in, it's a terrific feeling of accomplishment.

Either way, the attitude last night is that bookstores are no longer a factor when it comes to making a decision about going the traditional publishing route or self-publishing. 

Another thing to consider: much of the conflicting information swirling around out there is how much money you need to spend to publish a quality product.  One thing is clear - it is agreed that you can't publish a book overnight; you need to hire an editor and cover designer.  All of this is well-documented on the Internet.   But again, how much money to spend on a self-published book varies wildly.  Someone said "anything under $2,000 and forget it."  I spent approximately $1,450 on each of my books and loved the quality and the caliber of them, both trade paperbacks and Kindle versions.

My talk last night focused on how to successfully promote your self-published book.  This I had to jam into a 10-minute spiel, but here's what I said.

  • Understand your audience
  • Create your platform
  • Learn how to write a press release (yes, the media still plays an important role in getting your word out as an author).  And despite some who have said that writing a press release is a no-brainer, this is untrue.  Writing a cogent, to-the-point press release is an art.
  • Figure out how to summarize the plot/substance of your book in two or three sentences when you pitch it to readers.  Again, this is a challenge.  And, if you don't believe me, try it!
  • Build connections in the community through book signings, craft fairs and work to make your table stand out - and put a smile on your face when people approach your table.
  • Set your own pricing for your books - so that they are neither too high nor too low.  When you price your trade paperback, don't lowball it.  You can always revise and bring the price down, but you can't increase the price once you have set the original price.
  • No ebook for an independent author should be higher than $4.99, although right now the going philosophy seems to be $2.99 is probably the best pricing option.
  • Free giveaways of your book lose traction after the 3rd or 4th giveaway.
  • 99 cent ebooks look cheap and scream the message that the author does not value his or her work.
  • Build a blog that is beautiful, interesting and features the work of other authors or whoever your audience is and fits into your "niche."
  • Use social media - Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook to your advantage but don't beat people over the head with all your latest - and greatest - reviews and promos. 

Finally, make no mistake about it.  As I said last night, this is the most exciting AND challenging of times in the history of publishing.  You can make your wishes come true through hard work and perseverance.  Yes, you, too, can be an author. But this is also true and listen carefully.  This "book business" is not for the faint of heart. Being an author means becoming a promoter, publicist and entrepreneur.  There are so many books flooding the marketplace it becomes clear that confidence in yourself and your book, along with a well-defined strategy are essential.  Why?  The tsunami is upon us.

Thoughts or comments on your own publishing experience or on the topic of self-publishing?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Memoir: Personal Truths In Story

Linda Joy Myers, president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers will teach a memoir workshop through the Women's Writing Circle on Saturday, October 19 in Exton, Pennsylvania. 
This all-day dynamic writing workshop - Writing a Memoir: Love, Truth and Craft - brings inspiration, learning and a supportive group of writers together during the height of autumn here in the heart of the beautiful and historic Brandywine Valley.
I asked Linda Joy to write her thoughts about our workshop and what inspired her own memoir journey.  Please welcome Linda Joy to the Circle. 
In my work with memoirists over the years, I’ve noticed many are writing from love—exploring treasured memories, putting people in the story who’ve meant a lot to the writer, and examining moments of meaning that capture the significant themes of their lives. This “love” is not just romantic love—though it might be. 
It can mean a feeling of gratitude, blessings, or appreciation; it might mean some kind of transformation from holding grudges to finding forgiveness; discovering ways to feel compassion for someone who once was misunderstood. It can mean finding compassion and forgiveness for ourselves, and the follies that we have undergone in our journey through life. "Love” can be a feeling of becoming larger than the moment-by-moment struggles of life . . . to a larger overview, a new perspective.

Writing a memoir is about finding a way to present our personal truths in story form - we must wrestle these truths. We  know that in real life, things are not black and white. It’s the shades of gray that make us struggle with our story, that make us question the lens of vision and memory that we present in our memoir. It's painfully clear that people see things differently—in a family, in society.
We gaze upon the same scene through different eyes, and that is our truth. The struggle some memoirists have is to give themselves permission to have their own truths, despite what others say. But we also need to be open to learning new aspects to the views we’ve always believed. Doing research and interviewing others can offer new ways of seeing that can enhance our memoir.

And then there’s “craft.”  I see it like the container, the boat or “craft” that guides us down the river of our memories. When in this craft, we have a structure, focus, and direction which keeps us afloat. It helps us take the flotsam and jetsam of our memories and dreams, floaty things at best, and create something substantial from them.
We create story out of memories, but in doing so, we also create something new, something that has never existed before. In bringing down our memories into the “real” world of story through creating a structure and using the agreed upon “rules” of grammar and story telling, we transform memory into something real, something that others can enter into with us.
We are no longer alone in our reflections. In learning how to shape our personal experiences so others can join us there, we are engaged with the rest of the human race in empathy, compassion, and understanding of the human condition. We share with others as they share with us, and all of us are blessed and renewed in this process.
Writing my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness was a lesson in finding my way to let go of the past, layer after layer. The title of the first edition of my memoir was “Breaking the Chain of Mother-Daughter Abandonment” because my focus as I wrote the book—living it as I wrote it—was that I didn’t want to repeat the pattern of  mothers abandoning their daughters.
As I shared the first edition with people, I realized that my book was really about finding my way to forgiveness, and breaking another pattern: mothers and daughters holding grudges ‘til death.
Even at the beginning of writing my memoir, which I couldn’t conceive of as a book for several years—I was writing vignettes.  Yet I knew I wanted to capture the people in my life who’d made a difference, those who had seen me or saved me, so others could know them too. I felt that many of the chapters were love letters to my great-grandmother, my cello teacher, and others who had offered me love as I grew up in an environment of strife and absence.  It was even in the end, a love letter to my mother.
I struggled too with what truths to tell, and in how much detail to share them. Painful stories are problematic, as most writers want to protect the reader from pain, but pain is part of the human condition, and through our writing, we can be a witness to others about that pain. In sharing our tough truths as well as our happy ones, we hold hands with others as part of the universal human story.
Writing a long work is like any lengthy project—it takes longer than you planned, and you do a lot of learning along the way. A long project is unpredictable, and you need to be ready for the long haul of not only discovering your story, lifting it up from within you to the light of day, you have to learn how to write well, and write the kind of story that’s interesting to other people. You discover right away that a story is not a journal entry, and you have to learn many skills: how to write a scene, how to structure your book  . . . how to leave the reader satisfied.
Learning the craft of writing is like learning to play piano—there are many keys and songs those keys can play. You choose the ones that are harmonious to the songs you’re writing, the tale you’re telling.
Linda Joy Myers is president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and the author of four books: Don't Call Me Mother—A Daughter's Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness; The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, and a workbook The Journey of Memoir: The Three Stages of Memoir Writing.  Linda has three children, several cats, a rose garden and is the grandmother of three. She enjoys friends, family, and traveling. She has finished her novel Secret Music about the Kindertransport and the power of music.  She lives in San Francisco. To find out more about her monthly newsletter, and memoir coaching services, please visit Linda’s website:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Love, Truth and Craft: A Memoir Workshop


Writing a memoir means writing from love —exploring treasured memories, putting people in the story who’ve meant a lot to the writer, and examining moments of meaning that capture the significant themes of our lives.  It also means finding ways to present personal truths in story form— and wrestling with what these truths are. And then there’s “craft” which guides us down the river of our memories. When we are in this craft, we have a structure, a focus, and a direction which keeps us afloat.  In this workshop, we will learn about these three important elements in writing memoir.


Writing a Memoir:  Love, Truth and Craft

Saturday, October 19, 2013
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fairfield Inn 5 N. Pottstown Pike
Exton, PA

What to expect:
1.      Learn about finding your turning points as an element of structure.

2.      The timeline exercise: a way to find your narrative arc.

3.      Character development: how to make your reader love your family.

4.      Weaving dark and light stories—how to create balance in your story—and in yourself as  you  write.

5.      Elements of writing the truth in memoir.

6.      Writing as healing.

7.      Quilting your memoir.

8.      Privacy and sacred space.

9.      Publishing dreams—and how to connect with your audience.
Writing time will be provided along with reading our work in small groups and the larger group.
This workshop is co-created by Linda Joy Myers and Susan G. Weidener

Linda Joy Myers is, president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and the author of four books: Don't Call Me Mother—A Daughter's Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, and a workbook The Journey of Memoir: The Three Stages of Memoir Writing. A speaker and award winning author, she co-teaches the program Write Your Memoir in Six Months, and offers editing, coaching, and mentoring for memoir, nonfiction, and fiction.  She has an MFA from Mills College and received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Integrative Learning and her M.S. from San Francisco State University. Linda is a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. She has presented workshops on memoir-as-healing at the National Association for Poetry Therapy Conference 2004; her workshops at the Story Circle Conference in Austin, Texas  in 2003, and 2004 were: "Spiritual Autobiography" and "Memoir as Healing."

Susan G. Weidener is a former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer and the author of two critically-acclaimed memoirs, Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again and Morning at Wellington Square.  Susan has a BA in Literature from American University and a master's in education from the University of Pennsylvania. A writing coach and book editor, she started the Women’s Writing Circle, a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia.

Who Should Take This Workshop:  Suitable for writers of all levels and experience. Open to men and women.  Women’s Writing Circle workshops are designed to be intimate and there are a limited number of slots.

What To Bring: Writing tools: pens, paper, and/or laptop. 

Where:  Fairfield Inn 5 N. Pottstown Pike Exton, PA 19341.  The Fairfield Inn, located in the heart of the beautiful Brandywine Valley in Chester County, Pennsylvania, provides easy access to the Downingtown exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and has ample free parking. 
Cost:  Early bird special $110 if paid by Sept. 1, 2013.  After that, cost is $135.   Includes light refreshments, coffee, tea and lunch.  Checks should be made payable to: Women’s Writing Circle and sent to 75 Jennifer Drive, Chester Springs, PA  19425  Include email address with check.

NO refunds after Sept. 1.

For more information about Women's Writing Circle Workshops:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

When Wishes Come True

Here at the Women's Writing Circle our anthology, Slants of Light, is leading to new connections, new readers and as one author put it: "Taking the show on the road." 
This week the anthology authors joined a group of ladies at a local assisted living community and read stories and poems from Slants of Light.  The reading was one of several events and activities involving our book we have planned throughout the Philadelphia suburbs in the coming months.

Reading from "Slants of Light"

The rewards of reinforcing and supporting each other as writers are difficult to put into words. Our 15 collaborators had often talked about our wishes, our hopes and our dreams . . . letting our imaginations soar when we began talking about an anthology. 
That's when we began learning that anything is possible when kindred spirits join together to pursue their creative passions, their higher selves.  Including publishing a book . . . and then going out into the world with it.

As we read our stories at Villa Saint Martha I felt a gift had been handed to us.  Together, in a circle of women of many different generations, backgrounds and experiences, we shared the stories of our lives and heard the resonating note that this is indeed a universal journey we travel. 

There was laughter about biting into a bulb of garlic for the first time; poignancy in poetry of a bird soaring; memories of those who are no longer with us; friendships spanning decades.
Through writing we are able to put behind regrets, aging . . . reinventing ourselves and igniting our imaginations through a belief in our own truth.

Those of us who may feel lost, depressed or anxious appreciate the healing power of writing when we realize storytelling has made us more comfortable in our own skins.   

I understand this . . . especially today on my birthday, July 11, as I continue the journey through  my 6th decade here on earth.

The light - yes, a certain slant of light - enters a room when we reimagine ourselves and embrace our creativity. At the same time, that light touches our listeners and they become active participants in this dynamic process . . . sharing their stories and their lives as many of the beautiful women living at Villa St. Martha did with us. 

Here are a few things I have learned to make wishes come true:
  • Recognize each other's unique skills and honor that with gratitude
  • Create a new concept of yourself as worthy of being called an artist
  • Find and hone your voice as you take your work to the public
  • Believe in yourself and your divine gifts and you become stronger, healthier, more confident
  • Open yourself to self-discovery through the gift of learning from others


Monday, July 8, 2013

A Friend's Death Leads To Writing

"A friend who dies, it's something of you who dies."  ~ Gustave Flaubert

Victoria Noe, the author of  a series of small books about grief and the loss of friends, shares what she learned from her writing journey. A resident of Chicago, Victoria's  freelance articles have appeared on grief and writing blogs as well as Windy City Times and the Chicago Tribune. Her website including links on how to order her books can be found at

When I finally made the commitment to write about the experience of grieving the death of a friend, I felt like a teacher. I was introducing a topic that few people had considered: how the grief we experience when a friend dies is often dismissed.
So when I started my blog, FriendGrief, while my approach wasn’t academic, I was holding myself at arm’s length. I was determined to be objective, not reveal too much.  But what I found out in the first few months was that I couldn’t separate myself. Not only that: I shouldn’t.

I began to reveal myself and my experiences; working in the AIDS community, losing a number of classmates, including one on 9/11. It wasn’t easy for me. Looking back, I feel like I was writing skim milk instead of whole milk. I wasn’t digging deep inside myself because I didn’t think anyone was interested. That didn’t change until I realized that while I may not be the whole story, I’m part of it.

My journey to write about the importance of grieving the loss of friends began before I met Delle Chatman yet Delle was the catalyst for all that came after.  

We met in the fall of 2001, when her daughter started first grade at Academy of the Sacred Heart, where my daughter was in 2nd grade. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November, 2002. She fought cancer most of the time we knew each other, but was not sick most of the time. She kept coming back. We expected her to keep coming back.
 In the spring of 2006, we sat in our favorite coffee house. She was in remission. “Meet me at Metropolis” was often the email we sent to each other, making a date to catch up over green tea after dropping our daughters off at school.
I was nervous telling her I had an idea for a book about people grieving the death of a friend, inspired by my friendship with her, as well as anticipation for what I feared would come soon. I didn’t want her to think it was going to be about her, though she was obviously my inspiration. My writing had been limited to grant proposals, marketing plans and fan fiction. This was way out of my experience and comfort zone.

Delle's approval and her encouragement were immediate. She saw something in me I didn’t see. I think that’s true of many friendships: we see the potential in our friends, talents they don’t recognize or maybe even deny. She died shortly after that conversation.
About a year later, I tried to start writing. It wasn't happening. I tried and tried and gave up. Then in August 2009, it suddenly came together.

I started my blog in February, 2011. I was asked to write a piece for the “AIDS@30” series in Windy City Times, the largest gay/lesbian paper in Chicago. I’d known the publisher since she started the paper, when I was a fundraiser for an AIDS-service organization in the late 80’s. I was good at my job. I considered raising $1 million a year to be “no big deal.” She wanted my perspective as a straight woman working in a largely gay community.
I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to remember names or incidences of dying men abandoned by their families, being looked at with suspicion for being straight in a mostly gay organization, stunning levels of bigotry and hatred directed towards my gay friends. Imagine my surprise when the keyboard fairly smoked. People and events filled my mind. The level of anger and pain shocked me.
When people read the article, many were stunned. "I didn’t know you went through that," was the frequent response. I realized then that I hadn’t talked about my experiences in almost 20 years. A time in my life that represented some of the most important work I’ve ever done had been pushed to the back of my mind, never referenced, never mentioned.
I think that was my first real indication that I wasn’t alone in keeping those stories to myself: stories of friends who died, whose deaths didn’t seem to matter to anyone else. I was also beginning to interview people for my book (which has since morphed into a series of small books). In many cases, it was the first time the interviewees had talked about a friend who died, sometimes years earlier. I was onto something, not just in my writing, but in myself.

I had spent years focused on other important things: getting married, raising an exceptional daughter, selling books to Chicago Public School librarians. I had pushed down other passions with a long list of excuses: no time, no money, other things were more important. It took a few years, but I was finally keeping the promise I made to  Delle Chatman; to write about the grieving we experience when our friends die.

Victoria Noe
Writing has re-connected me to people and causes that were and are important to me. I try to pass along what I’ve learned. I’m not the kind of inspirational friend that Delle was to me, but I’ll help whenever I can.

Victoria Noe is the author of Friend Grief and Anger: When Your Friend Dies and No One Gives A Damn and Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends – published in Spring, 2013. Future books in the series (scheduled for the fall of 2013 and winter, 2014) will address grieving a friend in the military, in the workplace, and on 9/11.  She describes her books as nonfiction.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Everyday Stories of Family Life

Many memoirists write about their parents, yet weaving a story of who they are  into the fabric of family history and a way of life takes special skill. 

I was intrigued after hearing about  Carol Bodensteiner's memoir of growing up in a farming community in the Midwest.  I always loved the special simplicity that is the rural way of life.  As a journalist I had interviewed many farmers who recalled the days of early rising, milking cows, tilling fields, attending one-room schoolhouses.  As development pressures increased, many sold their land.  Cornfields were replaced by housing subdivisions and corporate parks. Carol's memoir of bygone days in a farming community sounded wonderful, a true slice of Americana.
Her memoir shows us how writers can turn the ordinary days of their lives into a story shimmering with charm, nostalgia and universal appeal.  Here is my review of Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl.  It is with great pleasure that I welcome Carol to the Circle.

“You’re a writer. You can write our stories,” my mom said. She said that 1,000 times.

“Yes, but I’m a business writer, not a creative writer,” I responded. “I don’t know when I’d do it anyway. Even if I knew how. Which I don’t.”  I said that 999 times.

Carol Bodensteiner
Mom was a persistent woman. I could not say, no, as often as she said, yes. Through her repetition, she planted the seed of the idea that grew into my memoir about growing up on a family farm in the middle of the country, in the middle of the 20th Century.

I did not have an extraordinary childhood. Not in the blow your mind, Angela’s Ashes, bestseller memoir sense.  I grew up on a small dairy farm with my mom and dad and two sisters, cows, chickens, pigs, a dog, and a barn full of cats. We could not have been more average.

The days of my life were tied to the cycles of milking cows (twice a day, 365 days a year), putting meals on the table (7 a.m., noon, 6 p.m.), and the seasons of the year (planting and harvesting). I grew up like most farm kids, working hard and not knowing any different.

When I first set out to write, my thought was to write about my parents’ lives. So I interviewed them, writing in a journalistic style the stories of the jobs Dad had during the Depression, of Mom’s experiences teaching in one-room country schools, of their first years on a farm with no electricity and no indoor plumbing.

As those who write memoir know, the more you remember, the more you remember. As they told their stories, I remembered things about my childhood. I wrote those stories down, too.

I must stress that these were mundane stories. About 4-H projects and making hay and doing laundry. About going to church every Sunday and eating fried chicken for Sunday dinner. In the early days of writing these stories, I did not imagine that they would ever become an actual book.

When I told my mother I was a business writer, not a creative writer, I wasn’t just stalling. I didn’t have the first idea how to write creative nonfiction. But the more I wrote, the more interested I became in learning the craft. I began to take workshops. I thrived in the environment, becoming a bit of a workshop junkie. Each summer I found myself in Iowa City attending the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. During the rest of the year, I found workshops offered in basements and churches. I devoured them all.

The workshops were invaluable and I could have continued signing up, but then I heard a speaker say, “Sooner or later, you have to just shut up and write.” Fortunately, my writing buddies were in the same place. We’d learned enough. It was time to write.

We sequestered ourselves for a week-long retreat and every day committed to turning out a new chapter. It didn’t have to be polished, it just had to flesh out the core of a new chapter. At the end of the week, we each had five new chapters. Amazing! We continued to meet through the year, encouraging each other along.

When I finally had enough stories to constitute a book, the publishing bug bit me. I shopped my memoir around to small and regional publishers. Uniformly, they thought the stories were nice but because there was no “character in conflict,” they did not see the book as commercially viable.

I moaned to my writing group. One of them pointed out that there was a way to restructure my childhood stories into adult drama by building off my divorce. I could see at once that she was right. I also knew that that version of my stories was not one I could put in my mother’s hands.

I elected to publish independently. I hoped others who also enjoyed growing up country would like the stories, but I was prepared for the possible reality that my mother would be the only one to read the book. Regardless, I committed to writing and producing the best book I could.

It’s been a surprise and a delight to find that my everyday stories of farm life have found a niche among readers. The stories capture a time in history and a way of life that people want to remember. They prove that every story doesn’t need to hang on high drama. They prove that the ordinary can be extraordinary.

Some lessons I take from my memoir writing experience and continue to apply to the novel I’m writing now:
  • Learn the craft and keep on learning.
  • Surround yourself with encouragement.
  • Commit to the goal and keep at it.
  • Trust your gut.
  • Listen to your mother. She knows.
About the photographs in this post: 

In the top righthand corner, is a photograph that Carol describes this way: 1951 - Ready for church on Easter Sunday -  L-R My older sister Jane (4), me (2 1/2), and my dad Harvey Denter. I'm guessing it's Easter because that's the one day we'd have worn hats. I'm a little surprised, we aren't wearing white gloves!  Dad always wore that hat to church. And church was the only time he'd have worn a suit.

And in the lower lefthand corner: 1956 - First day of school at Fairfield Independent one-room country school. Kids in school that year came from three families - Four Lehmkuhls (in the back), two Scheckels, and three Denters. I'm second from left. My sister Sue is the smallest girl and my sister Jane is standing next to our teacher Miss Fowler. Miss Fowler was my teacher from kindergarten through 7th grade. We all went into town school the year I was in 8th grade.

Technically, our school had more than one room. There was an entryway, which is right behind us, where we hung our coats and stowed our lunch boxes on a shelf. Also in the entryway, there was a crockery water jug that we pumped water for and filled each morning. We were also quite lucky to have indoor toilets. They walled off the end of the school to add these toilet rooms. The toilets were just like outhouse toilets except inside. When you used the toilet, you wrote your name on the blackboard outside the door and erased it when you came back out. The school wasn't insulated and let me tell you, those toilet rooms were cold in the winter, but still better than going to an outhouse.

Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing. She writes regularly for The Iowan magazine and blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment at  She published her memoir Growing up Country in 2008 as a paperback and as an ebook in 2011. She’s working on her first novel, historical fiction set during World War I.

Tweet @CABodensteiner

Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl is available in paperback and ebook from:

Barnes and Noble