The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Where YOU From?

        This week we began a poetry-writing unit. Our third graders are starting out with an "I am from..." poem. And since George Ella Lyon's is a classic, I thought I'd share it. (I would love for you to comment and write a line--or two or three or a stanza--about where you are from.)

Where I'm From

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I'm from fudge and eyeglasses,
          from Imogene and Alafair.
I'm from the know-it-alls
          and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I'm from He restoreth my soul
          with a cottonball lamb
          and ten verses I can say myself.
I'm from Artemus and Billie's Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
          to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments--
snapped before I budded --
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Power of Sharing

        On Saturday, I went to the St. Louis Writers Guild meeting. Several writers were sharing how to write nonfiction. They promised to share some interesting ideas... and they definitely delivered.

      Although I did a lot of zentangling (doodling) for part of the meeting, several of the authors inspired me. I was mainly there to listen to Gerry Mandel, because he's written a book on Charlie Chaplin. Unbeknownst to me, he has also written a man named Ron's "autobiography"--a man who was terminal with mesothelioma. 

      How did Gerry balance the known and the unknown (since he had never met Chaplin)? How did he handle the must-not-be-written-or-a-lawsuit-will-follow (since he was writing about family members and employers of Ron's who were still alive)?

     Gerry shared the following tidbits:

  • He wrote the "autobiography" in third person. That way, he could create composite characters and could condense some of the characters.
  • There is always one key thing (or event or relationship) that is central to a person's life. This of course will be a thread that runs through the entire piece.
  • Create some "fantasy scenes" which will allow you to get at the reality of a person. It will also be a way to get out of the rut and will ensure you change the rhythm of the story. For example, Gerry included a scene where Ron was in a bar, drinking root beer (Ron's favorite beverage) and talking to someone about religion (a major thread in Ron's life). Yes, you are writing about something that never really happened, but you're also getting at the true core of the person. 
  • If you're writing about a real people, show your manuscript to a lawyer before getting it published. Some of Gerry's best scenes in the book about Ron had to be deleted and watered-down. Apparently, Ron and his first wife had such violent fights, and if they had gone down in black and white the way they had really gone down, his ex-wife would have recognized herself and could have sued.
       I went to the meeting to get some ideas about how to proceed on my WIP (73,000 words long and some change so far) but what I got was an entirely different project idea.

      My half-sister has been bugging discussing with encouraging me to write down our mother's story. Our birth mother killed herself when she was still in her thirties. She surrendered two daughters at birth. She lost a third daughter in a court case when the little girl was seven. Two weeks after losing in court, my biological mother shot herself.

      I've resisted. Until now. Yesterday I realized that my sister and I can write a book together, and we can create some "fantasy scenes" to get at the parts of our mother that we do know about. My sister is thrilled. And we can each write from our own perspective, since we had very different families, despite beginning from the same mother.

      An added bonus:  Pat Wahler shared an idea that helped me a great deal, too. In a comment she left, Pat suggested I take a previous post and write the story for Chicken Soup for the Soul. I was so caught up in the experience, I hadn't even thought of that possibility (and usually, I'm all into taking life experiences and crafting them into Chicken Soup rejections submissions). I was wondering what in the world I would bring to critique group this week (I have several hot messes that aren't ready to share yet). Minutes after reading Pat's comment, I began a draft--a draft that I think will be ready to share on Wednesday.

     In this case, I was so fortunate to be the receiver instead of the giver. What have you "given" someone in the form of advice or help recently, or what have you received that was helpful? Grateful minds want to know.