Friday, July 31, 2015

This Week's Wanna Read: Irritable Hearts by Mac McClelland

When Mac McClelland returns home after witnessing horrifying events in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she begins to experience strange and disturbing psychological symptoms, among them dissociation, nightmares, and hallucinations. After being diagnosed with PTSD, she researches the disease while trying to heal, traveling the world, and falling in love.

Now that sounds like a story. Read an excerpt of Irritable Hearts here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Calls for Nonfiction Submissions

Here are the recent calls for nonfiction submissions filtered through New Pages. Check out their excellent site for calls in other genres.

Remember to read some of the work in each publication that interests you. Send the pieces you've worked so hard on to the places where you think they'll be a good fit. Read the submission guidelines very carefully and follow them to the letter.

Latest calls for nonfiction:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Today's Happy WTF But Kind Of Sad Too

I was searching for the correct kanji for the word "sakka," which means writer/artist.( Kanji are Japanese ideograms adopted from Chinese characters.) I clicked on "images," and this was one of the first pictures to pop up:


This is obviously hysterical, and my first reaction was "Kitty!" My second was "Nimoy!" My third was "Nimoy with a kitty!" Pretty awesome pic, even as a kanji search result.

And then I got sad, because he died earlier this year, and I really enjoyed having him on the planet. But I'm happy I have the internet to unexpectedly remind me that we still kind of have him.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Emotional Physicality in Gail Caldwell's Let's Take the Long Way Home

Read this.
This memoir is gorgeous and heartbreaking. Some people define it as a "grief memoir," but I believe it is first and foremost a friendship memoir, as the subtitle states on the cover. That's what I think of when I think of this book.

Caldwell creates such a close emotional connection with the reader that our empathy kicks into high gear. She does this partly by describing her physical response to emotion which invites us into the immediacy, the urgency of the scene.

Near the beginning of her story, Caldwell and her dog are taking a long walk in a park--where she and Caroline Knapp often walked together with their dogs--and is suddenly overwhelmed with grief from the loss of Caroline, her closest friend: “I felt a desolation so great,” she writes, “that for a moment my knees wouldn’t work.” The attachment between her and Caroline has been ripped apart by Caroline's death, and the result is a profound, physical grief.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Non-Writing-Related Coolness: Awesome Mom Helps Alanah Pearce

Some people aren't just fabulous, they're also really smart.

Alanah Pearce, popular video game reviewer, has received ugly rape threats in her comments because--wait for it--she's female. The comments were so disturbing that she wouldn't even repeat them on HuffPost Live, where you can say pretty much anything.

Because she's really smart and these anonymous-posting cowards aren't, she easily tracked them to their Facebook profiles. What she discovered is most of them were just idiot boys posting idiot comments because, I don't know, they're idiots? No self-esteem? Weird-ass peer pressure? They think it's cool? They're sociopaths? Some girl dumped them and this is their twisted revenge? It makes them feel like a big man?

Really, this behavior is so cruel and so messed up that I have a hard time understanding it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

This Week's Wanna Read: On The Move by Oliver Sacks

Easy. Oliver Sacks, guys.

This man knows how to blend precise command of the English language with elegant craft to create beautiful, readable prose. He never talks down or condescends in any way. He weaves medical terminology into his writing, defines it for the layperson, while still respecting the reader's intelligence.

His autobiography, On The Move, was released in April of this year. It's on the back burner because I have so much work to do right now, but I know I'll get to this one.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Four Crucial Differences Between Memoir and Autobiography

Two cats who symbolize the difference
between ... oh whatever. Kitties!
The differences between memoir and autobiography are crucial to the experience of both the writer and reader. Many people, however--including writers--don't understand how they differ in in terms of craft and storytelling technique.

I keep these four ideas in mind as I write my own memoir so I can keep the focus and clean story arc I need. They also help guide me in creating myself as a character on the page.

1. Time Span

An autobiography tells the story of a whole life, whether the writer has lived a long time (Oliver Sacks, Roger Ebert) or not so long (Drew Barrymore). If you want to write an overview of your entire life, including all of the significant events and lessons learned, then you want to write an autobiography.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Six-Word Memoirs and a T-Shirt Maybe

Just discovered this book titled Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. (Should six-word be hyphenated? Does it matter? It's distracting me.) The title grabbed me the way flash fiction does: it's short! I can read it easy! I know that's illogical, considering how dense good short writing has to be, how much it makes you think. Maybe I just want to think sometimes instead of read.

Exercises that have helped me a lot over the years involve strictly enforced word counts. Recently I answered the question "Why did you attend your first writing workshop?" I had to write it in 100 words or less. Doesn't sound like a big deal until you actually try to do it, and the discipline it requires makes the writing sharper, clearer, and more succinct. It also works your brain in a different way, which feels refreshing after long sessions thinking about craft, content, or character.

Here are a few examples. They sound a little like haiku when you read them out loud.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Three Celebrity Memoirs That Are Worth Your Time

In the previous post, I expressed hope but skepticism about Shonda Rhimes' upcoming book, Year Of Yes. I really want it to be good and honest and engaging and not consumer-driven "inspirational" claptrap. But I do have hope, because I have read memoirs by celebrities that are elegantly written, insightful, and tell a great story.

Here are three of my favorites.

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

De Rossi honestly and poignantly recounts her life in the business of modeling and acting (and why she changed her name). The main thread of the book is her struggle with body image and eating disorders. It's wonderful reading because she captures the narrative within the frame of the dysfunctional mind. She's a subtly unreliable narrator when it comes to her body.

One revealing example occurs while de Rossi is being photographed for a magazine. The photographer complements her body, saying how beautiful and healthy she is, adding that he sees a lot of sick bodies in the studio. Hearing this, de Rossi thinks to herself: I gotta get me one of those sick bodies.

From the Los Angeles Times:
In prose as simply elegant — and as powerful — as a little black dress, De Rossi weaves together three themes — the impact of a loving, but lonely girlhood as the child of a single mother, the corrosive effect of constant doubts about her appearance and the internal struggle over her sexuality

Monday, July 20, 2015

Please Don't Be Ghostwritten

Photo via Billboard via Hollywood Reporter
The multitalented Shonda Rhimes has written a memoir, Year Of Yes, slated to be released this fall. It's apparently about her decision to "say yes" for a year to any surprises that came her way, and what happened when she did:

From Variety:
In December 2013, the “Gray’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” creator, who was also a self-proclaimed introvert, was challenged to say “yes” to anything unexpected for an entire year. Rhimes’ book is a result of her transformative journey into agreement.
 So, could be fun! Interesting! Maybe inspirational! If I'm feeling cynical, I think it could be yet another ghostwritten consumer-driven celebrity "memoir" designed to enhance their "brand" and make lots of money. If it's some kind of self-help book, I will surely rip my hair out.

But, hey, I'm interested.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

M%ms in Memoir

I'm going with the elephant mom. It's not easy to look at photos of moms when you're the child of a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder. Just typing the word "mother" can make my stomach flip.  Anyway, I like elephants.

I'm reading two memoirs for this submission term: Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick and Warm Springs by Susan Richards Shreve. In each, the author's mother plays a prominent role.
Gornick describes a woman whose psyche revolves around the early death of her husband. Her mother defines herself by her grief. She's self-absorbed, difficult to reach, and inattentive. I get this. It sounds familiar.

Shreve's mother seems ideal--loving, intelligent, involved. She's emotionally available and kind. It always surprises me when I read about a mother like this. What a gift! What a way to begin your life, with such a wonderful person to guide you. It makes me think about what I've lost, what could have been, which makes me reflective and a little sad. That's okay. That's how it is.

I'm writing a craft annotation on each of these books. I can't write about the mothers, per say--I have to write about the author's craft--but I can't help but be struck by the difference. Since I'm writing about my own mother in my memoir, I'm always looking to see how others have accomplished this difficult task with honesty and grace.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Workshop Weariness

Just finished a memoir workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown with the writer Patrizia Chen. I hadn't counted on the burnout factor--that doing an MFA would take so much workshopping bandwidth out of me. I did fine while I was there, being myself, as another student said, "intense." I suppose I am. I'm passionate about writing, passionate about text itself, about reading it, analyzing it, making it work, finding meaning. I love it all. Words. Language. The art of making books.

But I did struggle a bit during the off-hours with fatigue. I needed a nap almost every day. My brain felt drained. I didn't sleep very well. I never once went to the water, a first for me in all of the times I've been to Provincetown.

It was worth it, though. If you ever have a chance to work with Patrizia, take it. She's a generous, intelligent instructor and just a great person.

Weird Food Adventures in Oxford (With Bonus Risotto Interlude)

See? Lots of people drink them! Item One: A Beverage Tragedy I just spilled my nearly-full dirty chai all over platform three at the ...