Opening Salvos #14 by Matilda Butler
Fun, always a good place to start.
Is memoir writing fun? Sometimes, when the memories and words and sentences work together in an amiable manner. But many days, writing is work, not play. So I thought we'd have a little fun today with a quiz to help your thinking about memoir openings.
Today, let’s have a bit of fun. Let’s ignore what we’re writing and instead think about what others has written, specifically what women memoirists have not only written, but published. Besides, a little fun will get us in the mood for the upcoming Story Circle Network Stories from the Heart Conference. It’s almost here. In a few days, I’m flying into Austin from California. Meanwhile, my business partner, Kendra Bonnett begins her drive from Maine in a couple of hours. We’ve planned our pre-conference workshop and will do our final coordination in Austin on Thursday.
Stories from the Heart V is sure to edify, inspire, and encourage us as we continue on our journey of telling our stories. Our pre-conference workshop is sold out, but there ample room for you in the Saturday and Sunday workshops. If you haven’t registered, there’s still time. Here’s the link for the list of workshop leaders and for registration.
My blogs always focus on Opening Salvos. I usually interview an author to get her ideas on effective memoir beginnings and then discuss what she said. Today I thought I’d do something a little different. I’ve chosen nine memoirs from my shelves (and shelves) of memoirs. You’ll find the opening to each below. Then I’ve given you a list of their titles and authors. The Quiz is that you have to figure out which opening goes with which memoir. I’ve posted the correct answers over on our Women’s Memoirs website.
Once you match the openings and the authors, I’d like you to ask yourself a few questions:
1. Based on this opening, would I like to read more of this memoir?
2. Did the memoir take me right into the story? If so, how did she do that? If not, what could she have done differently?
3. Was there a strong link between the book’s title and its opening? Should there be? Did I like it when the two fit together closely or do I want the link to evolve during the telling of the story? Which approach will work better for me.
The Quiz itself has correct answers. But the questions listed above have no right or wrong answers. They are simply prompts to help you think through what you like in other memoirs and therefore what you probably want in your own.
I hope to see you in Austin.
Nine Memoir Openings
Memoir Opening #1
“Two months ago I left my husband, and now, for the first time in years, I am neither scared nor angry. My heart is light. My career is blossoming. My child is happy. Life is full of possibility.
I am talking with a friend when my cell phone rings.
Janine? my sister Jane says. Have you heard from Amy?
No, I say, my skin already prickling from adrenaline. What’s up?
I got a call from Kimberly-Clark. Amy hasn’t been to work in three days.
Memoir Opening #2
The cats of my childhood came out of the alley. Alleys ran up the center of our blocks, as they often do in the Midwest, so that to a child, each house faced two ways. For me, the most important direction was the alley. I was an alley child, as my cats were alley cats.
Memoir Opening #3
Prologue: The early evening train pulled into Albert Lea with brakes squealing and slowed to a crawl alongside the Wilson & Co. meatpacking plant. The lamps at the corns of the parking lot cast the packinghouse itself in shadow reminding me of a prison-break scene in some movie I had otherwise forgotten – a Hollywood movie, not one of the foreign films I now preferred. As we cross the channel where I used to watch for giant goldfish while Mom waited in the car for Dad to get off work, I could see the depot glowing up ahead.
Memoir Opening #4
My father and I were in the laundry room and we were having a crisis. It was the strangest thing, but I couldn’t stop crying. And there were a few other weird things: I was wearing a yarmulke and a nightgown, for one, and then there were my hands, red and raw and wrapped in plastic baggies. My lip was split. There were paper towels under my feet. And weirdest of all, everything I owned seemed to be in the washing machine, whiles and colors, clothes and shoes, barrettes and backpacks, all jumbled together. Huh.
Memoir Opening #5
When I was seventeen, I found a job in what was then downtown Los Angeles in a store where dresses were sold for a dollar each The store survived through its monthly going-out-of-business sales.
Memoir Opening #6
Deep in an ocean. I am suspended motionless. The water is gray. That’s all there is, and before that? My arms are held out straight, cruciate, my head and legs hang limp. Nothing moves. Brown kelp lies flat in mud and fish are buried in liquid clouds of dust. There are no shadows or sounds. Should there be? I don’t know if I am alive, but if not, how do I know I am dead? My body is leaden, heavier than gravity. Gravity is done with me. No more sinking and rising or bobbling in currents. There is a terrible feeling of oppression with no oppressor. I try to lodge my mind against some boundary, some reference point, but the continent of the body dissolves.
Memoir Opening #7
As I have mused back over memories of my relationships with my mother and with my father and of their relationship with each other as far as it was accessible to me, I have become more and more sharply aware of how many other lives are linked with these three, and of how the threads to back before my own birth in 1939 and continue after my parents’ deaths in 1978 and 1980.
Memoir Opening #8
December 26, 2004
Khao Lak, Thailand
It brought me back to consciousness, a sharp, agonizing, throbbing pain racking my body, my legs.
I opened my eyes and looked down. Black filthy water covered the lower half of my body. I couldn’t even see my legs. My arms, bare, scratched, bleeding and aching, were wrapped around a palm tree. I was holding on, leaning against the trunk. Balck, oil-slicked, muddied water choked with debris was everywhere. I looked up. The sky was blue, clear, untroubled, the sun was shining. Where was I? Where was Simon? What had happened?
Memoir Opening #9
Age seventeen, stringy-haired and halter-topped, weighting in the high double digits and unhindered by a high school diploma, I showed up at the Pacific Ocean, ready to seek my fortune with a truck full of extremely stoned surfers. My father, I thought them to be, for such was my quest- a family I could stand alongside pondering the sea. We stood of the blue water surged toward us in six-foot coils.
(a) Sleeping with Cats: A Memoir by Marge Piercy (This is the beginning of Chapter 2 as Chapter 1 focuses on memory.)
(b) Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood by Jennifer Traig.
(c) A Match to the Heart: One Woman’s Story of Being Struck by Lightning by Gretel Ehrlich (National Bestseller)
(d) Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr
(e) With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson by Mary Catherine Bateson (Note: There is a Prologue before the opening I have used.)
(f) Packinghouse Daughter: A Memoir by Cheri Register (Winner of the American Book Award)
(g) If I am Missing or Dead: A Sister’s Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation by Janine Latus
(h) Love Always, Petra: A Story of Courage and the Discovery of Life’s Hidden Gifts by Petra Nemcova
(i) Borrowed Finery by Paula Fox
Match the openings numbered 1-9 with the book titles and authors indicated a-i. Follow this link for the answers.
Looking for the answers?
Just follow this link over to Women's Memoirs website and see how you did. More importantly, did you learn anything about memoir openings and book titles?