Tag Archives: memoir

The Journey from Aerospace Writer to Creative Writer

big sur

by Madeline Sharples

I worked as a writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business for a total of twenty-eight years. I had a reputation for being a good writer so I got some of the plum jobs – working on newsletters, websites, award applications, and even ghostwriting letters for top managers, but the writing style for any of those tasks was nothing near creative.

However, I learned a lot about writing and revision while working on deadline-oriented, and super stressful proposals. We wrote a little, we edited, we reviewed, and then we revised. And we’d repeat that sequence many times throughout a typical three-month proposal effort. I also taught proposal teams how to write their text, emphasizing the importance of keeping their fingers moving until the writing is finished, then stepping away from their prose for a bit before editing it. I think that advice works for all kinds of writers. If you don’t have another person’s eyes to look at it and edit it for you, leave it be for a while, make yourself a hard copy, take out a red pen, and move to another location in your house. It will be like having a fresh pair of eyes looking at your work.

All that is practical advice. But the actual difference in writing to address technical requirements and writing a creative story or poem or essay is harder to address.

I think the main requirement – at least for me – is that I wanted to make the transition. I had wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school. I studied journalism in high school and wrote feature articles for the high school newspaper. Then I took all the course work toward a degree in journalism in college though I ended up with a degree in English because I transferred schools just before my senior year (that’s a story all its own). So, when I got out of college I wanted in the worst way to write for a magazine or newspaper. After a few attempts I turned to the aerospace industry. I got a positive response after one call and asked, “Do you ever hire people with a degree in English?” Easy, right? But hard on my dream to become a “real” writer.

And though I never gave up on that dream, for the next several decades I took creative detours. I learned to draw and paint, I learned to sew, I made needlepoint pillows, I quilted and gardened. And, I co-authored a non-fiction book, Blue Collar Women: – a little less technical than my work in aerospace. Anything to keep my hand in creativity, until finally I could stand it no longer.

I took a workshop called, “Writing about Our Lives” at Esalen in Big Sur, California in the late 1990s. It was there that I wrote about my misgivings about ever being able to make the transition. Here’s what I wrote: “My writing is so factual, so plain, so devoid of descriptors, feelings, and imagination.” Later I learned that was okay. Once I discovered a private instructor in Los Angeles who taught me to “write like you talk,” I knew I was on my way.

Madeline Sharples1During her 30-year professional career, Madeline Sharples worked as a technical writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business and wrote grant proposals in the nonprofit arena. She started to fulfill her dream to work as a creative writer in the last few years. Her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, was released in a hardback edition in 2011 and released in paperback and eBook editions by Dream of Things in 2012. 

She also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1,2, and 3, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems appear online and in print magazines, several appear in the Story Circle Network True Words series. The 2016 Porter Gulch Review and the Yellow Chair Review’s 2016 ITWOW (In the Words of Womyn) anthology will publish two new poems this year.

Madeline’s articles appear regularly at the Naturally Savvy and Aging Bodies websites. She also posts at her blogs, Choices and is currently writing a novel. In addition, she produced a CD of her son’s music called Paul Sharples at the Piano, as a fundraiser to help erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide. It was released on the fifthteenth anniversary of his death in September 2014.

Madeline studied journalism in high school, wrote for the high school newspaper, studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin, and received a B.A. degree in English from the University of California at Los Angeles.

 

Beyond Rain Man Gives Unique Insights: Excerpts from an Interview with Anne K. Ross

By B. Lynn Goodwin

Rainmancover

It takes courage to write a memoir about family. An author exposes herself and her loved ones to observation and criticism as well as appreciation. Anne K. Ross has taken a close look at her family’s unique situation in Beyond Rain Man. She looks at his condition as both a mother and a school psychologist.

An accomplished writer who looks at the diagnosis from a unique perspective, Ross brings a full gamut of emotions to her observations. She compares her own reactions to the parents of students on the spectrum. This is the story of how they cope, survive, and come to terms with a condition that was barely recognized when her son was born.

LG: Tell us a bit about your writing background. When did you become a writer and how do you balance the lives of a school psychologist, a mom, and a writer?

AKR: I’ve always written, starting with a diary in fourth grade and then writing for my school newspapers. Later I got busy with my career as a school psychologist and always wanted to get back to writing creatively (school psychologists write thousands of words a year crafting psycho-educational reports, but it takes a different part of the brain to do that writing).

Then I had my kids and it was even harder to find time to devote to writing. But my eldest son’s behavior was so challenging—tantrums way past typical ages for them and resistance to certain types of clothing—so I started writing again, in a journal. I wrote it all down because I felt like I was a bad mother and I was going crazy. But as I learned more about the autism spectrum through my work, I became a better mom. And as I understood my son more and more, I became a better school psychologist.

LG: What is Beyond Rain Man: What One Psychologist Learned Raising a Son on the Autism Spectrum about and why was it important for you to tell this story?

AKR: It’s about my partner and me raising our two boys, our eldest who finally got the diagnosis of Asperger’s at age eleven, and our youngest, who is neurotypical (doesn’t have an autism spectrum disorder). It’s about all the things we learned along the way, how we did cope, how we raised two boys who have turned out to be wonderful young men.

I wanted to tell our story in order to help other families who are going through this extra challenging parenting journey so they wouldn’t feel so alone and so they could learn how to get the supports and services their children might need at school and in the community. Since I’m a school psychologist, I know the ins and outs of special education and wanted to share that knowledge.

I also wrote Beyond Rain Man in order to help educate professionals in the field—pediatricians, therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists—about the breadth of the autism spectrum and how not everyone on the spectrum fits the type made famous in the movie, Rain Man.

LG: What was the most challenging part about writing this memoir and what was the easiest?

AKR: Probably the easiest part was writing it all down in my journals. The harder part—and it took me about eight years—was to form that writing into a true memoir, with a solid structure, well-developed characters, and a narrator with an appealing voice who has some distance from the events and who could look back with a balanced perspective and be both self critical and forgiving.

AKR: Be ridiculously tenacious. Find a writing community in person or online. Ask for and accept feedback. Write for the pleasure it brings you and not for any dreams of fame or riches.

LG: Where can people learn more about Beyond Rain Man and where can they purchase a copy?

AKR: The Beyond Rain Man website (www.beyondrainman.com) has links to reviews, an excerpt, and ordering links. Beyond Rain Man is available as a print and ebook.

LG: Thank you for sharing and inspiring, Anne.
Read more of this interview at http://www.writeradvice.com.

+++

BlynnPB. Lynn Goodwin is the owner of Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com, and the author of both You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing) and TALENT (Eternal Press). Her blog is at http://blynngoodwin.com. Goodwin’s stories and articles have been published in Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; The Sun; Good Housekeeping.com and many other venues. She is currently working on a memoir about getting married for the first time at age 62.

Talent CoverLynnG2

Aside

by Susan Wittig Albert Brooke Warner is the keynote speaker at Stories From the Heart VIII. She is the founder of Warner Coaching Inc., publisher at She Writes Press, and author of What’s Your Book? A Step-by-Step Guide to Get … Continue reading

Why We Must Tell Our Stories

a-jernberg-swedish-peasant-woman-writing-with-a-quill

by Susan Wittig Albert

As women, we have always found ourselves in story. From the beginning of human existence, while we planted and harvested and prepared food, spun thread and wove cloth, tended our babies and cared for our elderly parents, we told one another the stories of our lives, and the lives of our grandmothers and mothers and daughters and granddaughters. Our shared stories became a many-voiced chorus singing the same song: the story-song of women at work and women at play, women loving and living, women birthing, women dying. Those stories were full of pain because human lives have always been like that. They were full of joy because lives are like that, too. Pain and joy were woven like golden threads through the full, rich, round stories of women’s lives, passed from mother to daughter to granddaughter through the generations, so that the experiences of women would not be forgotten.

Of course, the urge to shape our lives in story is not just a woman’s urge. As women remembered themselves in story, so did men, telling tales in which men worked and played and fought and died, honorably and dishonorably; tales in which men governed, wisely and unwisely; tales in which men loved women, fathered children, revered parents.

Then men learned to write and wrote these stories down so that they could share their experiences with other men and pass their knowledge of themselves from generation to generation. When writing became printing, these stories, oral and written, were gathered into books, so that men’s triumphs and tragedies would be remembered.

medieval-woman-writing-detail-150x150But what happened to women’s stories when men learned to write? In one sense, nothing happened. Women still remembered themselves in story as they worked, played, and rested, and those stories still echoed through the generations, from heart to heart. But through the centuries of recorded history, far fewer women than men were initiated into the mysteries of writing, and those who did learn to write did not often write about the lives of women. Because ordinary women couldn’t write, their stories of ordinary life were lost or misremembered or changed. It was the same cycle of decay we find elsewhere in the oral tradition, in primitive tribes or among the enslaved in assimilated societies, overwhelmed by the rush to technology. Because the stories weren’t valued, they weren’t written. And because they weren’t written, they weren’t valued. They were just . . . well, women’s stories. Tittle-tattle. Old wives’ tales. Idle gossip, created to pass the empty hours when men weren’t around. Not worth writing down. Not worth much in the coin of the realm.

This is not to say, of course, that women’s stories vanished. A few women could write, but the stories they preserved were mostly the stories men taught them, or wanted them to write. Women appeared (often in starring roles) as characters in men’s stories, first orally, then in writing, then in print, and much later in movies and television. But these were (and are) women’s lives seen through the eyes of the male storyteller. Men told what they knew about women, what they had been taught, what other men expected to hear. That Adam was evicted from Paradise because he listened to Eve. That women are unclean (and dangerously mad) during their menstrual periods. That women can’t participate in business or government because they have inferior intellects. And until women began to have unmediated access to the printed page, we had no way of crying out, “Wait! These are not our bodies, or our minds, or our lives! They are only men’s imaginings of us!”

So men’s stories about women were accepted, uncorrected and unchallenged, as true stories, and everybody was fooled. Including women. For writing is such a persuasive medium that most of us believed that we were (or ought to be) like the women in men’s stories. We should wait patiently at home, while men discover new continents. We should love men, while men love ideas. We should give birth to children (preferably male children) while men give birth to writing and the electric light and the airplane and the bomb. Of course, there were many women who did not want to wait for men, or love men, or give birth to men’s children, but their refusals were scarcely heard and rarely heeded. Theirs were the deviant voices, singular, sinister, frightening. For many women, it was necessary (and easier) to be agreeable, to be what they were expected to be—at least on the surface.

But underneath the facade of conformable docility, beneath the appearance of a life shaped by men’s stories of how women ought to think and act, there has always echoed a different story, a true story. My story. Your story. Our stories, our real, true, different lives.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Susan Wittig Albert, founder and current president of Story Circle Network, is the author of several books including the long running China Bayles mystery series, two nonfiction books, and two memoirs. She currently blogs at Lifescapes

Home for Henry Blog Book Tour: Slow Writing

By Anne Kaier

AnneKaierphotos 008

Note: We are pleased to be hosting a blog book tour stop for author and Story Circle member Anne Kaier’s delightful memoir, Home With Henry.  For more information on the book, visit http://www.annekaier.com/content/home-henry-memoir .

 

Do you write best under deadline?  Can you sit at your laptop, bring all your wiggly brains to bear on a subject and just spit something out? Come up with five hundred words of deathless prose in a zippy half-hour? I have a very accomplished friend who works as a speechwriter for a fortune 100 company. She routinely writes complicated speeches for the CEO in no time. Sits down on a Friday morning and has a draft of a half-hour speech ready for review by all the corporate muckety mucks by lunchtime.

I cannot do that. I need to ponder, contemplate and rewrite. It takes a good year for me to write a long prose memoir piece. This includes walks and dreamingtime and –my personal favorite—writing down brilliant ideas on scraps of paper as I am driving.  And I live in Philadelphia—a big city with crazy drivers. They don’t scare me. I can easily steer with one hand and scribble with another. But deadlines drive all the good ideas right out of my head. As the great Romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge admitted:  “deadlines stun me.”  Now Coleridge wrote, possibly while stoned, several of the best poems written in English, including the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” So I am comforted by this. Great minds can, it seems, think slowly. Anyway, mine does. Great or not, that’s how it works.

AK&cats 001When I wrote my new memoir, Home with Henry, about rescuing a feral cat, I kept a journal, written in longhand, mainly at work, when I should have been doing other things such as writing sales brochures. I took my time about it—and didn’t tell anyone I was keeping the journal. So I could write in it with a feeling of freedom, every day—or whenever I wanted to. I certainly didn’t have a deadline. I was writing for myself, because I was interested in Henry’s progress from hiding under a spare bed to coming downstairs and showing himself to be a sweetie. After about a year, I put the journal aside. I didn’t go back to it until a publisher asked me for a manuscript and I convinced her that my cat tale would make a good book.  Even then I was able to take some time in revising the story.

In our fast-paced life, there’s a premium on being able to multi-task—and do things quickly. Efficiency experts rule. But I need to take my time and dawdle, let my mind wander where it will. I need to sleep on my drafts, mosey out into my garden and stare into space when I’m writing something. I believe in slow writing. Like slow food, good writing, for some people at least, needs to simmer, bubble, and stew.

henrycoverFINALpublicityHow about you? Are you a dawdler? A master multi-tasker? Let us know in the comments below, and please support Anne by checking out her other Home with Henry Blog Book Tour stops. 

 

 

June 29 http://redwhiteandgrew.com/

June 30 https://storycirclenetwork.wordpress.com/

July 1 http://judyalter.com/

July 2 http://www.MochasMysteriesMeows.com

July 3  http://consciouscat.net/

July 4 http://www.bloodredpencil.com

and

www.marianallen.com

July 5 http://joyceboatright.blogspot.com/ 

July 6 http://maryannwrites.com/

July 7 http://womensmemoirs.com/

July 9 http://www.thecatonmyhead.com

 

Sweet Mystery of Life: the scent of possibility, naming, responsibility & choice

Essay by Janet Grace Riehl

This is the 75th post for Creative Catalyst.

The Power of Possibility Photo by Janet Grace Riehl

The Power of Possibility
Photo by Janet Grace Riehl

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible… what wine is so sparkling, so fragrant, so intoxicating, as possibility!” ~Søren Kierkegaard, Diapsalmata

 As the holiday season recedes, a time devoted to reveling segues to a time of resolutions. As we know resolutions for a new year or at any time require resolution.  I want to write about that.

Where do we find this resolution in the reaches of our being? How do we greet the New Year with courage and vulnerability? I want to write about that.

But then, I also want to write about:

The power of possibility. It would be so easy to write a tips article: 15 Possibilities for the New Year. What are yours?

I also want to write about:

  • The power of naming. It would be so easy to write an article challenging you to investigate how the power of naming holds you back and propels you forward—both in your work and in your life.

It would be so easy.  But sorting through this list of possible themes—and so many others—is not so easy. Possibility confers power, yes, but to harness that power requires responsibility. The pull of putting possibility into form requires choice. Oh, goodness, how can we possibly resist the pull of the plethora of possibilities that beckon? It would be so easy to write a tips article: 15 Possibilities for the New Year. What are yours? What choices will you make?

But, I don’t what to write a tips article. Is it possible to write something thoughtful and insightful that brings together:

  • Possibility
  • Naming
  • Resolution
  • Choice

I don’t know. Let’s see. I’ll do my best. That’s all I can promise.

Oh, wait! I also want to write a review of “Birdman” which I saw last night and continues to reverberate within me. So many layers! So many themes: art, identity, reality, social culture, sanity…that’s a Master’s thesis for literature, philosophy, sociology. This is just a column. Isn’t that asking a lot of a column? But, that would definitely bring together possibility, naming, resolution, and choice.

Heck, that’s beyond me. I want to write about my father. That’s always a crowd pleaser. I could tell the story of how my father views my smart phone.

1) A thing that finds out what you don’t know when you don’t know what that thing is;

2) A jukebox

3) A mystery

4) A magical something that does things impossible to understand, but grants wishes.

Before our New Year’s family brunch he sat in his lazy boy recliner with his eyes closed. Is he asleep? Is he dreaming? Is he ruminating? These days it’s hard to tell because he can barely see. Then, he eyes opened, and he said, “Janet, have you ever heard the song ‘Louisiana Purchase?” It’s from the light opera ‘Naughty Marietta.’ I haven’t heard that in years.”

I hauled out my smartphone and inserted a quarter into its jukebox app. I found the song he wanted and held the phone up to his ear. His face relaxed; its lines of character and strength softened and purred.

I could also look up it history on this piece of equipment that grants his wishes.

  • The operetta opened on Broadway in 1910
  • Which led to the classic 1935 MCM film version that first paired Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Never heard of them? Look it up on the time machine, and listen to their fine duettes.
  • I could find out its plot and the history it was based on as reported by that invaluable tool “Wikipedia.” (Don’t forget to donate!)

 Set in New Orleans in 1780, it tells how Captain Richard Warrington is commissioned to unmask and capture a notorious French pirate calling himself “Bras Priqué” – and how he is helped and hindered by a high-spirited runaway, Contessa Marietta. The score includes many well-known songs, including “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life”.

  • I could find out if “Naughty Marietta” continues to be taught, performed, and sung today. It does! It’s a staple of light opera workshops even today.
  • I could look up the lyrics of “Sweet Mystery of Life” one of the best known songs from “Naughty Marietta.”Ah, sweet mystery of life
    At last I’ve found thee
    Ah, I know at last the secret of it all
    All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning
    The burning hopes, the joy and idle tears that fall
    For ’tis love and love alone, the world is seeking
    And ’tis love and love alone that can repay
    ‘Tis the answer, ’tis the end and all of living
    For it is love alone that rules for aye
    Love and love alone, the world is seeking
    For ’tis love and love alone that can repay
    ‘Tis the answer, ’tis the end and all of living

    For it is love alone that rules for aye.–Music and lyrics by Victor Herbert

 Now I think that’s all I have to say for now about the power of possibility, naming, resolution and choice.

___________

Creative Catalyst is written by Janet Grace Riehl. She does her best to choose among the possibilities and impossibilities of her life. Sometimes she can name them. Sometimes she responds to them and chooses. See her blog-magazine Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century  with its mission to create connections through the arts and across cultures.

Daddy Care: Still Here

Pop and Janet

Photo by Diana McGraw. Text by Janet Grace Riehl

If we’re not eyeball to eyeball, my friends ask me “Where are you?” rather than “How are you?” Midst the back-and-forth whirl often I’m not really sure.  But this morning my buckwheat pillow under my head crunches the answer.  I’m in my bed in the city—in the home I made for myself. My father is in his bed in the country—in the home he’s lived in all his life with time out to almost get killed in World War II. Two generations before him and three generations after him have lived on this land. Soon, later today, I’ll travel across the Mississippi once more to resume my place on the homeplace. But not yet.

I sleep alone with pillows on either side. No matter which way I turn in the night there’ll be a comforting something there. I’ve seen mothers secure their babies this way away from home. Away from the cradle, away from the crib—before high-tech baby carriers—mothers improvised. I take my comfort where I find it.

My digital travel clock says 4:30 a. m. It’s too soon to get up; I’d be wrecked for the day. I will myself back into the softness of sleep. Later a dream comes to visit. It’s one I’ll remember upon waking. These remembered dreams are so few they jerk me to attention. In the dream my father and I stand in line inside a church. The seats fill up on the near side of a balustrade. By the time we get to the front of the line—by the time we must choose and take our seats—there are no seats together any more. My father takes his seat on the other side of the rail. I sit behind, but lean forward. I whisper to his neighbor, “Take good care of him, would you?” I know Pop won’t be alone. But I don’t want to be alone either. When I wake, the dream cradles me between the pillows.

Finally it’s a decent time to get up. I cross the round rug and lean over to set my tea on a basket from Ghana. Upside down it serves as a side table. My writing nest beckons. The gold chair wants me. I yield.

I haven’t written anything of note for a long time. But now I settle in a cozy gold chair surrounded by a circle of art and artifacts. It’s like the pillows. These objects comfort and hold me in a circle of memories. This circle hints of life before me, reminds me where I’ve been, and reassures me there’s a future.

Writing by hand frees me from a computer screen and keyboard. My hand grips a 0.7 zebra roller pen that reminds me of the fountain pens I filled as a young woman. Before ink cartridges for printers, there were plastic ink cartridges for pens.  As I refilled the cartridges with a syringe, the ink streamed in like blood or squid ink. When my frugality backfired, the ink leaked onto the knuckle of my writing finger and splattered onto the page. This morning the ink from my fat pen sinks into the soft paper of my Moleskine journal. That better writers than I used these is no mystery to me. They are the world’s most perfect friend to listen to whatever words come.

At 9 o’clock I call my father. Our ritual greeting of “How did you sleep?” echo village exchanges in Botswana that translate: “How have you risen? I have risen well.” My father’s characteristic response is delivered in a gravelly voice tempered with age. “Well, I made it through the night. I’m still breathing. Nothing to brag about. I aim to make it through the day as gracefully as possible.”

Later when I’ve made it to the other side of the river I’ll cook dinner for us and he’ll nap. Then I tiptoe beside his bed to see his chest rise a bit. His fingers twitch. He’s still breathing. Maybe it’s nothing to brag about, but he’s still here, and so am I.