Author Archives: storycirclenetwork

Seeing Darkness in a Whole New Light

By Tina Games

My transformational work with creative mothers and spiritual artists came out of my own experience of connecting with the moon during a really dark period in my life. Shortly after the birth of my first child, and after making some fairly significant life changes at the same time, I fell into depression – a place that felt so foreign to me, a place where I felt like I had fallen into a black hole with no way out.

It was during this time, a period that spanned over two years, that I had disconnected from everything that made me happy. Because my son suffered from chronic illnesses related to serious colds and severe ear infections, I made a very difficult choice to give up a successful career in order to care for my son full-time. I hadn’t realized until this experience how much of my identity was tied into my chosen path of work. Without it, I felt very lost and very unhappy.

No one understood the pain I felt – except my mother. She was the one person I could speak to without censoring myself – and she became my confidante from that point on.

I also found myself falling back on a great passion of mine – journal writing. And as a mom of a baby who did not have a normal sleep schedule, I found myself exhausted and emotional much of the time. So night after night, after I’d get my son settled and after my husband went to bed, I’d grab my journal and retreat to my favorite chair – beside a big bay window where I caught a glimpse of the moon. It was the moon that taught me the meaning of transition. I’d watch this beautiful lunar goddess, night after night, move in and out of her various phases. And before long, I began to connect her phases with my own emotional tides.

I noticed that the moon always began in darkness and gradually, she’d move into full light – and cycle back around again. And I noticed the contrast between dark and light – the darkness of the night sky against the beautiful full moonlight. I started connecting to this – as if I was being divinely guided through my own transitions of dark and light. I began to notice the ebbs and flows of my emotions. There were good days and bad days.

So when I came to the point of writing my book, Journaling by the Moonlight: A Mother’s Path to Self-Discovery, I wanted creative mothers to realize that every human transition begins in darkness and gradually moves into light, where we get a glimpse of what is possible. And then we retreat, to ponder the many ways we can manifest these possibilities into reality. This requires deep work, where we step into our own truth and into our own power – and where we can emerge in the most authentic way possible.

This is what I call the Blue Moon phase – when we finally realize that we are here on this planet to be WHO we are, to put our personal thumbprint on the world in the most truthful, most authentic, most unique way possible – being divinely guided on our own purposeful path.

As creative individuals, we have the power to create great change in the world through our artistic endeavors. And this change has the most impact when we begin with ourselves – looking in the mirror and honoring the person who is staring back.

  • WHO is this person? Do you really know her at her core? If you were to remove every label that she wears – mother, wife, partner, community leader, business owner, loyal friend, etc. – who is she?
  • Pretend for a moment – that each of these labels is a blanket. Slowly remove each blanket, acknowledging the label it represents and set it aside. Continue doing this until you have no more labels except – SELF.
  • Who is SELF? Take a moment to describe SELF from the inside out. How do you feel when you’re not bombarded by what the world thinks you should be? What are your passions? What are your dreams? What makes you come alive? How does this person – from the inside out – want to show up in the world?

These are great questions to ponder in your journal, allowing yourself to answer them – truthfully and completely.

When we start chipping away at the exterior labels, what do we look like on the inside? What is our “diamond in the rough?”

Once we discover this, we’ve connected with our authentic self. And it’s from this place where purposeful, powerful, and magical masterpieces are created.

Tina M. Games is the author of Journaling by the Moonlight: A Mother’s Path to Self-Discovery. As a certified creativity and life purpose coach, and a master retreat leader and certified journal writing facilitator, she is the “Moonlight Muse” for women who want to tap into the “full moon within” and claim their authentic self, both personally and professionally.

Through her signature coaching programs, based on the phases of the moon, Tina gently guides women from darkness into light as they create an authentic vision filled with purpose, passion, and creative expression. She lives on Cape Cod in Massachusetts with her husband and their two teenagers.

For more information about Tina’s work, please visit her website: www.TheMoonlightMuse.com

Whose Secret Is It? What I Wish I Hadn’t Shared In My Memoir

By Linda C. Wisniewski

When my memoir was published, I didn’t expect everyone in my family to like it. I had written about growing up with unhappy parents, in a depressed industrial  town, in a punitive church school, and as part of a Polish working-class community looked down upon by many of our neighbors. That was a lot for me to push back against as I struggled to find my best life, and I knew some people might not share my perspective. I steeled myself for criticism.

But my cousin Angela’s letter came as a complete surprise.

“Where did you get this information about my mother? And what does this have to with your childhood?” she wrote.

I didn’t know I had exposed a family secret until I read those words. Angela’s Aunt Lucille was my mother, a woman who believed the Church’s promise that suffering would lead to everlasting life. I learned to suffer from her, and my memoir is about my lifelong struggle to create my own happiness. To show her self-centered pain, I used a story she told me when I was small:

“My mother said that soon after they returned [from their honeymoon], Dad walked in the door with a strange look on his face. ‘My sister tried to kill herself,’ he blurted. ‘They don’t know if she’ll make it.’ She had planned to run away with her married lover, but the man backed out at the last minute. In despair, Dad’s sister took an overdose of pills. For weeks, her hold on life was tenuous. When she finally pulled through, the whole extended family was still reeling. It didn’t seem right to be going off to Hawaii.” (excerpt from Off Kilter, Pearlsong Press)

I didn’t use the name of my dad’s sister, who was Angela’s mother. But to my surprise and horror, her letter seemed to say she never knew her mother had been unfaithful to her dad. She was now in her seventies and I in my sixties. We weren’t close but I still felt terrible.

The letter was otherwise kind and supportive. “I wish I had known what you were going through as a child,” she wrote. “I would have helped you cope.”

I felt bad for hurting her, but I also remembered Angela criticizing her own daughter-in-law for a suicide attempt. I hoped she’d now be more supportive, knowing what she knew.

I wrote back, apologizing for hurting her. I explained my purpose in including the story in my memoir was to illustrate my mother’s bitterness. I wrote her twice but never got a response. At the next family gathering, she didn’t come near me, and didn’t make eye contact. It could have been worse. To my great relief, her husband gave me a big hug.

Another cousin was pretty harsh when I told her what happened. “It wasn’t your secret to tell,” she wrote in an email.

I didn’t know it was a secret, and never suspected it could still hurt anyone. It happened in the 1930s and all the people had passed on long ago. Angela is in her eighties now, and I don’t know if or when I’ll ever see her again. We were never close. My mother told me she was a spoiled child. But I wonder now if that’s true, along with the other stories she told me.

If I had it to do over, I’d leave that story out. Though I didn’t use my aunt’s name, the family who read my book knew who it was. My dad had only one sister. My hope is that they’ll think twice about judging others after reading it.

No matter how careful we are to avoid hurting people with our writing, sometimes we make mistakes. Just like we do when we interact with people off the page. When we do, we can ask forgiveness. And we can also forgive ourselves. For writers, just like everyone else, are human. And that has to be okay.

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This piece first appeared on Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog on June 3, 2019 and is reprinted with permission from Dinty W. Moore, Brevity’s editor.
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Linda C. Wisniewski lives in Bucks County, PA, where she teaches memoir writing and volunteers as a docent at the historic home of author Pearl S. Buck. Her memoir, Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace With Scoliosis, Her Mother and Her Polish Heritage has been published by Pearlsong Press.

Making the Cut

by B. Lynn Goodwin

Ever wondered why your writing didn’t make the cut in a writing contest? Although you have no control over the quality of other people’s submissions, you can make yours as strong, professional, and accessible as possible.

Here are some criteria that help me pick finalists for Writer Advice’s Flash Contests. Though there is no formula, these clues may help.

• Tell a story that will engage readers because of its honesty, originality, and specifics.
• Leave room for me to care and to empathize.
• Avoid self-pity.
• Tell an original story.
• Or turn a familiar story into an original one.
• Make every word count.
• Use memorable, accessible language.
• Be specific, aka show – don’t tell.
• Expand the meaning beyond your own life if you can.
• Say something the reader has not heard before.

I’ve included some very short examples below and explained why I liked them. Usually flash prose, whether fiction or memoir, will be outstanding because of its overall effect, but that effect comes from a series of moments that work. See why these worked for me.

Short Excerpts I Loved:

“I have countless items of his I cannot discard – out of both love and respect: mugs, framed degrees, yearbooks, ties – even his old employee I.D. I’ve kept this collection close, as if throwing it away would somehow erase his existence.” —AW
So like me, though my collection is filled with driver’s licenses, dishes, candlesticks, a 1940s office stapler, and handwritten cards. Loved the specifics and hers triggered thoughts of my own.

“My parents spoke their own language: a series of snorts, harrumphs and silences that communicated a deep-seated hatred that none of us children could translate.” —DD
What a way to show an entire family dynamic in one sentence.

“Always in a suit, Mr. Knott has pin straight hair and an Adam’s apple that bobbles when he talks.” —JV
Love the description – especially “bobbles.”

“Some of the letters melt away. Others fly into the air curling upward toward the blackboard.” —VM
Shows a seizure described by the person experiencing it while she’s in front of a class. Vivid!

“…tossing out worries like pieces of banged up, mismatched luggage.” —SV
Love the spirit here.

“I’ve just finished a master’s degree. I don’t have enough money to move back out of Boston.” —CO
Common problem for so many recent graduates and I already care about the narrator and want to help him.

“Her husband was a lawyer in a white-shoe practice on Charleston’s tony Broad Street, she, a steel magnolia of the first magnitude and one of the highest-ranking people in our English Department. ‘That man must think there are no women professors.’” —PC
I like her cause and the way this lifts the memoir from a personal story to one with larger overtones.

“How many times did he pick the scab that was his memory?” —SC
How many times have I done the same thing? The emotional truth is so strong.

If any of this helps, please comment, telling readers what worked and why. Thanks!

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Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com. Her recent memoir is Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62. She’s also written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers and Talent, which was short-listed for a Literary Lightbox Award, won a bronze medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and was a finalist for a Sarton Women’s Book Award. Goodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers, Hip Mama, Dramatics Magazine, Inspire Me Today, The Sun, Good Housekeeping.com, Purple Clover.com and many other places. She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network, and she is an editor, writer and manuscript coach at Writer Advice.

Six Steps to Publishing in Magazines

In one of SCN’s online roundtable chat groups, Kathryn Haueisen mentioned that she had just submitted a magazine piece. Another group member, Doris Clark, asked her to say more about the process. Kathryn responded with six helpful suggestions that made everybody sit up and take notice. Here’s what she wrote.

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Six Steps to Publishing in Magazines (Print or on-line)

My first career was public relations. One journalism professor required us to submit an article a week with proof we had via a receipt from the post office. My first couple of jobs were doing PR for a small college and a large university. Writing feature articles was part of my job.
I’ve taught a six-week course about this and numerous workshops as well. Things have changed significantly since I started with an electric typewriter, carbon paper, white out and postage stamps. However, the basic approach and ethics are still in place. Here are the basics.

1) Get a copy of Writer’s Market (free at libraries, for sale at any decent-sized, general bookstore, or Amazon. If you buy the book you qualify for an on-line subscription that I find very helpful. You can renew that annually without shelling out the money for a new book every year. I get a new one about every three years.

2) Go to a decent size newspaper/magazine stand, or again your local friendly library, and browse. Which magazines attract your attention?  Sit down and flip through them to see what sorts of articles they publish and approximately what length. Study the front pages that list the editorial staff. See if any of the article by-lines match up with people on that list. If not, the article was probably by a freelance author. If it does, see if you can contact that editor by name, by e-mail or snail mail and send a SHORT note saying what you liked about the article. If you can’t find an e-mail address for a specific editor, send a note using their published e-mail address and put that person’s name in the subject line. The address the note to that person. Editors like to hear good things about their efforts as much as the rest of us.  DO NOT PHONE. It will just annoy an editor to get a cold call from an unknown writer. Editors are often overworked and underpaid and don’t want to take time to talk freelancers. Put it in a short e-mail. After you’ve sold an editor a few articles and established a connection, or the editor invites you to do so, a phone call would be alright.

3) Do your homework. Pretty much every modern magazine has an on-line version. Read through the sorts of articles they publish, which are often straight from their print editions. If you look up http://www.magazine.com [not a real URL] and add “ /submission guidelines” or “/writers guidelines” after the URL address, you will likely be led to where they tell you what they want and how they want to receive it. When you decide to send a query to one of them, make reference to an article or two you read. Again, editors like knowing someone read what they published.

4) Follow directions. If they say they don’t buy fiction or poetry, do not send them a short story or poem – no matter how many awards it’s won or how many people tell you that you should publish it. If they say they only want queries, do not send them the entire manuscript. And vice-versa, though – most editors do want queries. A few may want the full manuscript, especially if it is a fiction piece.  Most editors prefer submissions via e-mail; some no longer even accept USPS ones. I learned this next etiquette rule from an executive at Writer’s Digest:  DO NOT SEND AN ATTACHMENT until they ask you to submit a manuscript or previously published clips via e-mail. Like all of us in the cyber community, they worry about virus attacks. Keep the query short and to the point. A good query letter should fit in an e-mail.  If you send something in via USPS, make sure you ALWAYS include a stamped, self-addressed envelope or you won’t hear from them again. Also make sure your name and contact information are on the manuscript. Yes, people do send in items without this information on the manuscript.

5) If you have previously published articles and can provide links to them, include the links. You may have published samples of your work, but like many of mine, they were published before everything was also on line. Mention a couple of them and where they were published. I made a pdf of some of mine and put them on my website on a separate page. I give editors a link to that page. If you don’t have any published samples of your writing, not to worry. Everyone had to get published for the first time. Don’t mention that you haven’t yet been published; rather focus on your qualifications for writing the article and why you think it a good fit for The Magazine readers.

6) Write the most compelling query you can generate. There are oodles of articles on-line and in the front section of Writer’s Market to teach you how. Try to send it to a person, but sometimes that is challenging – especially if the magazine insists you contact them only via their on-line submission form. Hit the “send” button or release it into the care of the USPS. Then pray, or do yoga, or drink something and move onto the next item on your “to do” list for the week. It’s OK to nudge an editor if you haven’t heard after a month to six weeks. I recently did that and landed a contract to write the article I’d pitched six weeks earlier. Editors get overwhelmed with the volume of queries and unsolicited articles they receive on a daily basis. But only check-up once per editor per query. If you don’t hear after an inquiry about the fate of your query, move on to another publication. You may get an answer along the line: “Sorry, it’s not for us.” It’s not about you or the quality of your work. It’s about the competition, which is very intense these days now that anyone with a keyboard and Wi-Fi access claims to be an author. Send a sincere thank you note for taking time to review your idea. The fact they A) read it and B) responded, means you’re on to something. Try another topic for that publication or your idea with another publication.

I haven’t kept track, but I suspect my accepted to rejected query ratio runs about 1 out of every 10. Pitching freelance articles isn’t for the impatient or easily discouraged. However, for me, the thrill of a “I’d like to see it,” or a contract to sell it, make the effort worth it. I also enjoy depositing the resulting checks.

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Kathryn Haueisen writes, queries, and ponders her next freelance idea from Houston, TX where she lives with her husband and spoiled double-rescue poodle. She writes a weekly blog about people and projects making a useful contribution to society at www.HowWiseThen.com

 

Janet Riehl

Creative Catalyst

“Art is good, but craft will see you through,” is a motto Riehl recommends for all creatives. “Our muse comes when we’re at work.” The trick then, is to keep ourselves at work, as happily as possible. Creative Catalyst gives you seed thoughts, activities, and tips to keep your hand moving even when your brain or your life seems paused. You may write to Creative Catalyst with questions and concerns for Janet to respond to.


JanetRiehl
Janet Grace Riehl is an award-winning author, blogger, and conference presenter living in St. Louis. Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary is her down home family love story beyond death, told in story poems. Twice selected as finalist for Poet Laureate of Lake County, California and a member of Authors Guild, her poems, stories, and essays are published in national literary magazines, including Harvard Review and Cream City Review, and several anthologies. Her  blog “Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century” is dedicated to creating connections through the arts and across cultures.