"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Keeping up with it all

This is what I do: I run a bed and breakfast, I write 4-5 hours a day, and I read and research a lot. Yes, I have help in the bed and breakfast so that I am free to think and write. I also have four blogs of my own and maintain a blog for the Louisville Bed and breakfast Association. I occasionally blog on She Writes and BlogHer. In addition, I write for the following online magazines: Examiner.com, EyeonLife.com, Hub Pages, Pink and Salon. I also guest post on a lot of websites.

I started a memoir about a year and a half ago and have written around 56,000 words so far. I am now on my third re-write. I have a Beta reader who is reading my chapters and giving me lots of feedback. And I belong to a critique circle of writers, who are giving me critiques chapter by chapter. Recently I hired a professional editor to help with the final editing and polishing.

You probably think the first thing I’m going to say is that the answer to keeping up with this kind of schedule is organization. And, that is partly true. But there are some other components that are just as important. I’m referring to: flexibility, work ethic, and the ability to stay and to switch focus easily. Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to have a good sense of humor, a positive attitude, and the motivation to keep going day in day out. Let me add one more thing here, despite the fact that I am eighty years old, I am in great health, get a little excersize, get 7-8 hours sleep every night, and socialize occasionally...but only occasionally, and always with close, positive friends. Most of my socializing is with guests who visit my Inn. I meet a lot of interesting people from all over the world.

Do you have to give up anything for the sake of your writing? The answer to that is a rousing yes!
I have given up friends and acquaintances who drain me or who are totally negative. I have, for the most part, stopped watching TV, gabbing on the phone for extended periods, going to business meetings, and shopping in stores. Except for groceries and meds and sundries, I do everything on-line. In place of those activities, as breaks from the writing, I run a business, play word and brain games on the computer, go to the gym, and read a lot. Right now I am reading mostly memoirs and books on fictive techniques.

I have people ask me all the time how I handle writer’s block, how often do I blog, and how do I come up with ideas for posts. Amazing as it sounds, I never have writer’s block. I try to post on all of my blogs at least once a week, sometimes more. Finally, the secret to coming up with compelling copy for posts and/or articles is to be compelling and interesting yourself and to focus on interesting things. How do you do that? By reading magazines, books, newspapers, other peoples blogs, on line articles, etc. There's a wealth of information out there...the world is full of it. Also, traveling, engaging in conversations, watching TV and listening to the radio will generate ideas. Another place to look is at yourself: Do you have hobbies and talents? Are you a good mom? a good cook? and so on.

You absolutely do not have to come up with something thought provoking for every post. You can post a recipe and talk about how your baby wont eat vegetables and what to do about it. Or post a video. Or do a book review or review a TV Show or movie or a new CD just out and why you think it's awful. If you’re new to blogging or have not tried it yet, try this: Just start writing about the things that interest you...the thought provoking stuff will come later after you get used to blogging. The more you write, the easier it gets. Jot down ideas for blogs as soon as they pop into your head. Good luck! I'll be looking for your posts.

Finally, the reason I emphasize blogging is that it will definitely help your all over writing. You can experiment with various styles, find your “voice”, and start feeling comfortable about putting your writing out there for all the world to see. This is how I got up the courage to start a memoir. This is also how I found my “voice”, the one I’m using to tell my own personal story. If you don’t have a blog already, I suggest you go to Blogspot or Wordpress and start one. You’ll never regret it.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On-line critique of my query letter.

For those of you who are still working on you query letter and looking for more feedback, here's a idea you might want to try. I thought the following might be helpful.

I started writing my query letter a year or so ago, around the same time I was nearly finished with my memoir and also working on a proposal. Since I'd never written a query before, I spent a lot of time reading books and searching on-line to learn as much as I could about writing good queries.

After I had a handle on it, I began posting my letter in places where writers could read it and give me feedback. One of the best places, a place where I got a lot of feedback that helped me end up with my final copy, was SheWrites.com.

I spent a lot of time re-writing the letter, incorporating the best suggestions from other writers, and finally got it to a point where I was just about satisfied. I say "just about" because I don't think any writer is 100% satisfied with her writing. She always feels  like it could be better...and this may be true.

A couple of months ago, after the letter had been sitting on my desk for a while I decided to submit it to Marla Miller, a writer and editor who has her own on-line query critique page at Writer's Magazine. Below I've posted my query letter and then the video of Ms. Miller critiquing it.

Query Letter
Dear Agent, 

Demanding divas, naked Irishmen walking in their sleep, and amorous honeymooners leaving remnants of unforgettable wedding nights are all part of the parade of flamboyant guests who came in and out of my life as an innkeeper.

Despite being a reclusive, retired schoolteacher with no business experience and little start-up money, I took a risk, purchased a turn-of-the-century mansion, and turned it into into a charming bed-and-breakfast. Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen: An Innkeeper’s Tale is the humorous and sometimes poignant story of my 17-year journey through a minefield of contractors, housekeepers and eccentric guests looking for Southern hospitality and gourmet breakfasts. I have included recipes reflecting the content of each chapter and descriptions of how and why many of them were developed at our inn.

I am co-author and editor of Room At The Table, a cookbook written for the Bed and Breakfast Association of Kentucky, for which I won the president's Award in 2009. In addition to maintaining several websites and several blogs, I write online for examiner.com, eyeonlife.com, Pink Magazine, Salon,  and Hub Pages. A teacher of music and English, I have taught and written creative nonfiction, poetry and lyrics throughout my adult life.

Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen, a 65,000-word memoir, combines wit and humor with delicious recipes, a subject that may appeal to a wide audience—more specifically, to women ready to reinvent themselves, whether they are starting a second career late in life, coming out of a divorce, or forced by the recession to stop mid-career and rethink their options. In addition, it may appeal to the same audiences of books by Ruth Reichl and Maya Angelou.

A manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your kind consideration,

Query Critique

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Should we, as writer's, ever experiment with narrative form?

I actually started writing my memoir a couple of years ago without even realizing it. I joined a writers site and began posting as often as I could, which was just about every day. I wrote articles on every topic I could think of. I even wrote poems...a whole slew of them. I got hooked on writing short pieces. I wrote about Johnny Depp, how to plant and take care of an herb garden, and how to make Christmas cookies. I had the attitude there was no topic I couldn't write about. I was encouraged by all the good feedback I got from my readers.

Then I started writing about things that were closer to me;  my interest and expertize in music, my work as a teacher and as an Innkeeper, and closest of all, my family. I wrote about my mother and how she translated everything in life into something positive. I wrote about my father who was a jazz musician. And I wrote about my grandmother, who was the rock of the family. The only family I didn't write about were my daughters. They both told me they were off limits.

When I wrote my first post about my bed and breakfast, I received a lot of feedback...all positive. Readers said they wanted more. By this time, I was more relaxed in my writing and felt extremely comfortable writing first person narratives and publishing them on-line. So I continued writing about my experiences in the bed and breakfast and started grouping them under the title, Tales From an Innkeeper's Crypt. Pretty soon I had quite a following just waiting for new tales. After a while they started encouraging me to make a collection of all my stories.

I thought about it. And thought about it. I wasn't real sure I was up to it, but one day, I decided I would write a memoir of the seventeen years I'd been an Innkeeper, rewriting the basic stories I already had and adding more.  I just wrote and wrote, not paying much attention to the format. I finally ended up with around fifteen chapters, in no particular order.

I've been working on my stories for over a year and although they are coming together individually, I'm still not sure how to group them. Right now they are not grouped chronologically and I think they'll stay that way. Although most of the stories have a story arc, some do not. And I'm not sure I want to change that. The all-over narrative form does not seem to meet the traditional model. But I'm wondering if I should, as the title of this post suggests, experiment with the form.Would you?

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Friday, November 4, 2011

The narrative hook

"The narrative hook - also known as a literary hook - is the literary device whereby you hook the reader's attention and intrigue her enough so that she'll keep reading.

When a reader (whether a beta reader, or a literary agent or publisher, or hopefully a real-life genuine member-of-the-public reader) - picks up your book, you literally have only seconds to impress him or her.

There is so much competition for that reader's attention - whether it's the slushpile, (in the case of agent or publisher) or all the other books in the bookshop (in the case of the end-use reader).

And so, he or she will only allocate a very short period of time - maybe as few as thirty seconds! - to deciding if your work is worth reading.

Therefore, your job as the writer is to make absolutely sure that the answer to that question (“Is it worth my while reading on?”) is an absolute categorical 'yes!' - and the narrative hook is one way to do that.

The most popular way to use a narrative hook - and the easiest to carry off too - is to pose a question in your reader's mind, so that she just has to read on to find out the answer to that question.

There are two options here. The first is to pose the dramatic question early (e.g. Will the hero save the world?). The reader will have to read the whole book to find out the answer to that one!

The other option is to pose a smaller question (examples are given below, in the list of opening lines of famous novels). And, of course, by the time you've provided the answer to that question, you'll already have posed another question to keep her reading to find out that answer, and so on. As I often say: a writer's first job is to keep her readers reading!

Popular advice is to begin in medias res, which literally means in the middle of things. This surely has the advantage of intriguing and hooking the reader. It's not without its difficulties though, as whatever happened to get the characters in that situation then becomes back-story with all the challenges that entails."

excerpt from: www.fiction-writers-mentor.com/narrative-hook.html

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Interesting Question

I found this question on a writer's site the other day and thought it was somewhat interesting. I decided to post it here to see what the rest of you thought.

Question:  "...do you think that you can spend too much time in one day working on the same novel? I've got all this energy to write, but I'm thinking what if I get to a certain chapter and I take the story off on the wrong tangent because I didn't have that plot developing revelation in the shower three weeks from now. Will those magical unforeseen developments unfold as you write faster? Or do you have to wait for them?"

My Answer:  "I think the amount of time spent writing on a novel in one day depends completely on the writer. If the story is gushing out and you're trying to get it all out and it doesn't tire you, and you can keep going, I say go ahead.

Even if the story goes off in the wrong direction, let it go. You don't want to be editing yourself , especially on a first draft, as you go along. That's what re-writing is for. And cut and pasting! Never stop yourself from writing. You may squash some amazing stuff.

Faster is not necessarily better. Learn to just go with the flow. Some days will be faster than others. Stop thinking about how fast you're writing and just write. You will re-write over and over, revise and craft later."

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Roxie and Alfred: A love story

 "Alfred, there you are." Roxie appeared at the doorway. "I've been calling you. It's dinner time. Come on girls. Your mother will pick you up later."

Roxie was tall and beautiful. As a young girl, she had shiny black hair, a gift from her Cherokee herb doctor grandmother. She and Alfred, my grandfather, met in North Carolina where they were born and married.  Both were raised in large God fearing Baptist families; the kind that stuck together through thick and through thin and were slightly rigid and dogmatic in their thinking. But Roxie
was amazingly liberal.  She eventually rejected her Baptist upbringing for the Unitarian Church. She had a strong personality, was assertive, and outspoken. She definitely ruled the roost at home. Alfred complained a lot but usually, although grumbling loudly, did everything she asked.

Roxie pulled on both oven mitts, opened the oven door and lifted out a delicious looking roast chicken, and baked yams. I could see there were two pies in the back of the oven, probably apple and cherry. Both my favorites. Bebe and I washed our hands and seated ourselves close to papa who was already at the head of the table. Roxie returned to the oven and came back with a huge bowl of rice and a covered baking dish full of collard greens and salt pork. Bebe and I hated cooked greens, but they were always the first thing that papa reached for.

When I was around seven or eight, Roxie owned four boarding houses in Detroit. They were popular in the '30s and '40s. She cooked breakfast and dinner at one of them and was responsible for all of them. The house I remember best was huge. It had three floors and the building itself was a red brick, sort of an eclectic Georgian revival-Arts and Crafts bastard of a style with a huge back yard. There she would set up a very long table and feed boarders, family and friends just about every evening. Sundays would always be special. Although she had help, she did most of the cooking and there was always plenty to eat. My sister and I and our cousins would play hide and seek and run all over the yard. Roxie cooked in the basement where Papa had put in a full kitchen for her. 

She needed a large space to work because she was usually cooking for 20 boarders or more who had rooms upstairs. At that time, papa's tiny room was way up in the attic. No matter where they lived, he always had his own little room hardly bigger than a closet. That's the way he wanted it. He smoked and Roxie didn't. And he didn't want to have to listen to her go on about what a nasty habit it was and how he should stop. Being an excellent plumber and carpenter, he had no problem building extra rooms in all of our houses or customizing them the way he wanted. 
ALFRED with his parents

By the time I got to high school, they had moved to Tampa. Papa built the house they lived in.  I would go down and spend all of my summer vacations with them, helping him finish building the house and palling around with him.  Eventually, when I graduated, I lived with them for a year and attended Tampa University. When I didn't have classes, Papa would wake me at 5:00 in the morning and we would go digging for clams by ourselves. He would pack a lunch, grab his clamming equipment, hitch his row boat to the back of his truck, and off we would go on another adventure.

I still remember those wonderful early daybreak mornings walking on wet sandy beaches, my summer pants rolled up, the morning air filled with the  fishy smell of the salty sea. There was always a warm breeze brushing against my skin blowing my hat away so that my hair would be flap around and tickle my face. The tide was on it's way back out and seagulls were swooping back and forth screeching overhead. As soon as the tide was out we would clamor for clams in one of the little alcoves or along the shore, where there always were other clam diggers doing the same thing.

We'd put on our old sneakers so the sharp shells wouldn't cut our feet. and wade out into the water. The water was clear enough so we could see down to the sandy bottom. The clams could tell when there was danger near, so they would start to burrow down beneath the sand. The object was to grab on to the clam and pull it out before it disappeared. Sometimes we would use clamming tongs, which were easier for me, but Papa was used to using his hands.

Another place we looked was on the wet beach just a ways beyond the water's edge. There would be small holes all up and down the beach. Papa could tell which ones had clams hiding underneath. We'd use our hands to dig through the sand until we found the clam and throw it in our pail. After a couple of hours, we would have a bucketful of clams and a very red sunburn. We'd then find a shady spot, under a weeping willow and have our lunch. It was only 8:00 in the morning but lunch hit the spot.

We'd ride home, sandy, wet feet and all, with the windows down and the wind blowing our hair around and playing havoc though out papa's truck. What a glorious start to the day. Roxie would be waiting at the door for those fresh clams to make her famous clam chowder.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Started a new memoir

I've been thinking about writing a second memoir for some time now. I adored my grandparents, on my mother's side and knew that some day I would want to write about them. They were such an interesting couple and my relationship with both of them was like no other. They adored my sister and me.

I couldn't help myself today and started writing about them. The words poured out and I ended up with 4000 words. Here is an excerpt, the first I've posted:

Roxie and Alfred: A love story
(excerpt from a WIP)

My grandfather could be very cantankerous and argumentative, but not to my sister and me. To us, he was kind, generous, and funny. He told us stories...sometime the same ones over and over but we didn't mind. We would go into his smelly little room and jump up on the bed and he would take us away into a land of his imagination. His stories would be mostly about the sea. He had been a seaman and a cook on several different ships.

The strong smell of pipe tobacco swirled around our noses whenever we entered his room. It was very small with a brown metal single bed, built high off the floor, and pushed into one corner. It was covered with a home-made quilt and a khaki army blanket. Three pillows were stacked one on top of the other at the head. There was nothing on the small window above the bed except a tan paper shade.

Next to the bed, was an Oak table with spindled legs. The large square table top was littered with everything from fishing tackle to car keys to newspapers. His favorite silver lighter glistened in a beam of sunlight which had somehow made it's way into the dark room. Linoleum covered the floor and an open closet with no door stood across from the foot of the bed. Homemade pale yellow curtains were pushed to one side revealing a scant collection of worn clothing.
We would peek our heads in the door.

"Papa, can we come in?"

Papa jumped up, shuffled to the door and opened it wide, letting some of the stuffy pipe tobacco-tinged air escape. His brown leather bedroom slippers clicked against the linoleum and he loomed, all 6 foot 2 of him, in the doorway. His beautiful full head of white hair nearly reached the ceiling.

"Good afternoon, ladies. Do come in."

"We came to hear some stories" I said.

"And to have our backs scratched," my little sister chimed in.

"Okay" he said. "But first, let's see what we can find in my little leather purse."

We scrambled up on the high bed, grabbing on to the army blanket and bed posts to steady our climb.

"What's in it? What's in it?" We both giggled, as papa opened up the silver clasp on the tiny leather change purse he always kept with him for occasions like this.

"Well, let me see now." He would always take his time so as to build up the suspense.

I slid as close to papa's side as possible and Bebe jumped up on the bed and ran around to papa's back, grabbing him by the shoulders and peering over one side to get a look into the change purse. She was so excited, she nearly toppled forward over the edge of the bed. But papa caught her just in time........to be continued

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Friday, October 14, 2011

My work in Progress

I am just about finished with my memoir. I'm actually a little sad. It's been a great experience and I have learned a lot. This is the first major piece I have attempted. I am a non-fiction writer and have been writing journal articles for years. I also consider myself to be a blogger. I started blogging over two years ago and now have four blogs of my own. I also maintain and post on the Louisville Bed and Breakfast Blog.

I have completed 56,000 words on my memoir and am aiming for 65,000. I have completed three re-writes on it so far and have decided to send it to a professional editor for final edit and polishing. When she returns it, I will do any revisions I deem necessary and then turn my attention to my proposal. I wrote the proposal nearly a year ago, but know so much more about it now so I will have to do a rewrite on it too. My query letter is in pretty good shape. I've gotten a lot of feedback from other writers.

As soon as I feel all three of these are the best I can make them, I will attempt to find an agent. My genre is non-fiction narrative, so I will need all three (MS, query, & proposal)  ready to go. I just finished an article on the process I've gone through since the beginning and how it changed from beginning to end. The beginning was so easy. It all just flowed out onto the page. After that first draft, the real work began. I'm hoping it'll all come together soon, as I have an idea for another book, and am anxious to start it.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Valuable info gleaned from editor Brook Warner

In the first two sections of her radio broadcast, Brook talked about how we sabotage ourselves so that we keep ourselves from going forward with the writing and the publishing processes.

The second section was on how we use time to get out of doing what we should be doing to finish our manuscripts and move on. She offered a way of scheduling time in such a way that we create windows of time in which we can write on a regular basis.

I do not have a problem with either of the above.. I'm pretty disciplined when it comes to writing. The problem I have now is re-writing my entire manuscript from the beginning. I'm at the point where I am doing nitty gritty crafting. It takes so much more time than the initial creative phase where everything is flowing onto the page. I've written a query and a proposal. They are both in the oven and from time to time I go a take another look and maybe do a little expansion or revising.

In the meantime, I'm still reading a lot of memoir to stay in the narrative mode. I do have a pretty good platform including 5 blogs, several online mags I write for, several social networks, a website for my B&B, and a 17-year list of customers who have frequented my bed and breakfasts. My memoir is about the 17 years I was an Innkeeper.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Running out of things to blog about?

This post is in response to the following questions posted on the site A Bit Backwards: "Can one person really produce creative/thought-provoking/worthwhile/carefully edited content every single day - or even every other day for that matter? Am I cut out for this? So much thinking...to be a successful blogger...you need to write something - anything -as often and consistently as you can."

My response:
I say yes to all your questions. First of all, the secret to coming up with compelling copy is to be compelling and interesting yourself and to focus on interesting things. How do you do that? By reading magazines, books, newspapers, other peoples blogs, on line articles, etc. There's a wealth of information out there...the world is full of it. Also, traveling, engaging in conversations, watching TV and listening to the radio will generate ideas. Another place to look is at yourself: Do you have hobbies and talents? Are you a good mom? a good cook? and so on.

You absolutely do not have to come up with something thought provoking every single day. You can post a recipe and talk about how your baby would or wouldn't eat it. Or post a video. Or do a book review or review a TV Show or movie or a new CD just out and why you think it's awful.

Try this: Just start writing about the things that interest you...the thought provoking stuff will come later after you get used to blogging.

BTW, I have four blogs of my own, maintain a blog for the Louisville Bed and Breakfast Association, blog at SheWrites, Hub Pages, Examiner.com, Salon, and will soon start blogging at BlogHer. The more you write, the easier it gets. Jot down ideas for blogs as soon as they pop into your head. Good luck! I'll be looking for your posts..

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Blogging Challenge

To give my self a little boost in the blogging direction I've joined a blogging challenge. Details of the challenge and information on the originator can be found at: Blog.Writing Spirit.Com/ the site of Julie Isaac who is initiating the second of these challenges. She has challenged anyone who can commit to a given number of posts on their blogs within 100 days from today (September 20, 2011). I have decided to post one blog per week on each of three of my blogs every week. And this is the first one...starting the ball rolling on the site. Hope you will come back each week and check up on me to see if I am living up to my commitment.

I blog as often as I can right now, but it's really not on a regular basis. I'm not the kind of person who is very structured. I do have some structure in my life otherwise I wouldn't be able to run a small business and blog and write a memoir all at the same time. But that structure is quite loose and I'm very flexible so if I have to make changes I can do it in a New York minute. I always have a plan A, B and C and I am an excellent problem solver, having been a mother, a teacher, a business owner and an enthusiastic liver of life with all it's unexpected twists and turns. I just dive right in and if something goes wrong and presents a problem, I solve it. No questions asked.

I have recently committed to exchanging pages, as a Beta reader, with another memoir writer as a way to try to learn from her and do some heavy re-writing on my own manuscript. I want to get it ready for a final professional editing and polishing before I look for an agent and attempt to have it published. In the past three years, writing has become a big part of my life. I can see the more I do,  the better my writing becomes. It is a never ending cycle that I am totally happy with.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

SW Radio Show: How to grab an agent's attention

Today at 4:00 pm the following radio show,  How To Grab Them In Your First 2000 Words, was broadcast on She Writes Radio to help writers thinking about publishing and contemplating the all important query letter, synopsis, and proposal. Kamy Wicoff, founder and CEO of  She Writes, interviews agents Sally Wofford Girard, and Elinor Jackson along with editor Sara Weiss in a  discussion of one important part of the publishing  phenomenon.

I listened to the show and found it incredibly enlightening and useful.  Although, they were directing most of their comments to literary and commercial fiction, all three accept non-fiction as well and many of their comments were apropos to both categories. I thought I'd share this with my readers, who are mostly writers, and may be in the midst of or thinking about publishing themselves. If you are a She Writes member and missed this show, I really think you'll be interested.

Listen to internet radio with She Writes on Blog Talk Radio

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rodney and The Boys

short excerpt from Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen

I can't remember who gave me [Rodney’s] name but I think it was someone in the neighborhood, 'cause he lived just around the corner from me.

One day he sauntered down to my bed and breakfast and knocked on the door...When I open the door, he was slouching against the white wooden entrance way,  looking like a cross between one of Hell's Angels and a Hard Rock musician about to smash his guitar across someone's head. He assured me he knew all about putting up privacy fences. Despite outward appearances, Rodney was intriguing, especially to the writer in me.

After the many unfortunate experiences I’d had with local handymen and contractors, I refused to give him any money up front. No, we'd have to discuss the project thoroughly before that happened.  I asked for a written estimate of the total cost. That was fine with Rodney. He put together a small crew of seemly looking rednecks who rambled into my back yard and began putting up my fence.

The next morning, I walked out into my back yard and found Rodney planted on the deck in one of my plastic lawn chairs. He was barking orders to his crew, who were scattered all over the back yard, his tattooed arms waving back and forth. A blue and white bandanna was tied around his head keeping his long hair in place. Steaming ribbons of hot sweat were running down his suntanned forehead onto his neck, settling into and soaking the rim of his “Motorcycle Boys” T-shirt.  He looked at me through Aviator sun glasses, shielding his eyes from the strong morning sunlight with gnarly hands.

“Hi Babe” He gave me a wave as he turned his head in my direction.

The strong smell of marijuana nearly overwhelmed me so  I found a chair on the other side of the deck and joined him from afar.

“Hi, Rodney. How’s everything going?”

“Fine. The boys are doing great”

I glanced around the yard. The only thing I saw that looked like the beginnings of my lovely privacy fence were ten holes waiting for fence posts. There were five on either side of the yard.

“Rodney, what about along the back? I don’t see any holes there.”

Guzzling down a whole can of cola, he informed me that I had said nothing about the back of the fence.

“We don’t have enough slats for that part” he said.

“Well, we’ll just have to get some more, wont we? Rodney, why would I want a fence that only went three fourths around my yard? First of all, the dog could get out...”

“Lady, that was all you asked for.”

Now I was lady, instead of babe. A warning signal went off in my head.

“ Okay...Okay. But, Rodney, I’m going to need the fence to go all the way around the yard. Can you do that?”

“I suppose so, but we’ll have to wait until I can get some more money, to buy more slats,” he said.

Uh oh, here it comes.

“Don’t worry about that”, I said. “ I’ll just put it on my credit card. You and I can go to the lumber yard this afternoon.” That part, he didn’t like but he went along with it.

Since he only had a motor cycle, I told him I would pick him up at his home in a couple of hours. He was not out in front when I arrived, so I walked around back to where he said his apartment was and knocked. A black skull was carefully painted in the center of the door. Suddenly it opened. There stood Rodney with a can of beer in his hand beckoning me to come inside, his hulking frame completely filling the doorway. I stepped inside. The rancid smell of pot and alcohol immediately accosted me..

Dishes were piled in the sink and I could see that his bed, pushed against the far wall, hadn't been made in a while, if ever. Several guitars lay around the room and a double-barreled shotgun hung from the wall. There were books, magazines and newspapers everywhere and a black leather jacket with nail heads thrown across the faded flowers of the sofa. A large pair of blue jeans lay in a circle on the floor where someone had stepped out of them and just left them there. The TV was playing General Hospital in the corner as loud rock music blasted from a small plastic radio.

“Sorry, Rodney, but I just remembered I have someone checking in in a couple of hours, so we have to get this thing done fast. I’ll just wait in the car”

My heart was pounding as I turned, headed straight for my car, and jumped into the front seat. Taking a deep breath, I leaned my head back against the car seat and tried to relax. Just then, his back door slammed shut and he stumbled out from between the bushes at the side of the house. He staggered slightly and made his way down the path and around to the passenger side of my car.

We made it to the lumber yard and bought some extra slats. It was only after we got back home that I noticed the difference. The slats Rodney bought were rougher and had a lot more knot holes than the ones I picked out .They were obviously inferior and cheaper. But by that time I didn’t care. I just wanted to get the damn thing done...

That evening, the crew left after sticking the posts in the holes, leaving thick gravelly cement oozing out from all sides. I knew it wasn’t going to be the best fence in the world, but it was all that I could afford.......

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How I became a food snob: An excerpt from a memoir in progress

...My mother did a lot of canning. If you walked down the basement stairs into the cool, dark concrete, you would immediately encounter giant cocoons of cheese cloth hanging from the ceiling. Underneath each one was a pail into which thick, purple, syrupy stuff dripped for hours. The  smells of plum, grape, and blueberry mingled and hung in the air like a sugary veil. She would make the most delicious jams and jellies from the sweetly sour stuff. I can still taste that special  flavor on my tongue making my mouth water like I’d just eaten a fresh lemon.

  Sometimes the smells changed to the more pungent aroma of vinegar and tomatoes or the sweet comforting fragrance of fall apples as they boiled in huge metal pots on the stove daddy had moved down stairs and planted against the far wall. Shelves lined the wall across from it, a repository for rows of canning jars filled with jams, jellies, beans, corn, and beets all in a row. I can taste the delicious chili sauce and apple sauce.

 During the war, we had an huge Victory garden with everything imaginable growing in it, including canta­loupe and watermelon. In the summer, my sister and I would gather lapfuls of plump, ripe tomatoes and sit in the cool green grass with a salt shaker eating and laughing. We also had a peach and a plum-tree. It was then that I first developed a love of fresh fruits and vegetables ripened in the summer sun.

Although I had been a “food snob” most of my life, staying a purest was next to impossible when we became really busy at the Inn. I just didn’t have time to make everything from scratch, or to can and make fresh bread and granola.

Some of the other Innkeepers had started using mixes, pre­cooked bacon and even precooked omelets. I couldn’t bring myself to do the omelet thing, but I did try a few mixes and started using precooked bacon. I held out to the end on whipped cream from scratch and home-made granola, but eventually gave in. One of our signature dishes is a Quiche that started out as a simple spinach Quiche, but we kept adding more to it and tweaking it so it would taste better. Now it has herbs, spices, and sauted onions and mushroom and is abso­lutely wonderful. My guests tell me it’s one of the best Quiches they’ve ever tasted..........

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Repost: Good advice for beginning fiction writers from someone who writes non-fiction

I do not write fiction, but that doesn't mean that I don't use many fiction techniques in my non-fiction writing. Fiction writing fascinates me. I have even tried it a time or two but I have to say I find it very tedious...all that character development and dialogue...It's just takes too much time and effort, like sculpting a statue or like my She Writes on-line author friend, Meg Waite Clayton, puts it, "...like......making a jigsaw puzzle."

No. I'll stick with non-fiction. I prefer writing journal articles... in and out fast. Maybe do a little research...but that's easy with the internet, Amazon, and the library. And personal essays...writing about something you know and/or feel. For me, that's easy and satisfying, but making up stuff? What a chore. You might think I have no imagination but that's not the case. I can write fairly decent poetry, paint or draw a vase of flowers in the style of Picasso, write and perform an original song, and turn out a pretty good evening meal from left-overs. But I just don't enjoy making up stories.

I like to tell stories, stories about people and events that really happened. And so, when it came time for me to try my hand a larger piece of writing, I decided upon a memoir instead of a novel. Writing a memoir has been a joy. My main goal was not to get published, although I've deviated from that decision since I started writing it a year and a half ago. I'm still not sure which way to go, traditional or self-publishing. Maybe I'll format it for Kindle.

And by the way, the advice on writing fiction I mentioned in the title of this post, a title not geared to the memorist, can be found in the following straight forward, useful and well written article.

Don't Write What You Know by Brett Anthony Johnston: An essay on Fiction written for The Atlantic

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Repost: Fledging: The birth of a memoir

March 10, 2010: "I have started formulating in my mind an approach to writing a memoir, but haven’t come up with anything concrete yet. I’ve been running a bed and breakfast for 16 years and want the memoir to be about my life there. I do not want it to be focused on  my family, but rather on the interactions between me and my guests, employees, and colleagues. At this point, I don't know the  best way to go..."

I wrote the above almost a year ago, when I made the decision to put all my stories and blogs posts about my years as an Innkeeper into memoir form. I had never written a memoir before and had no idea where how to start. But, like most of my new experiences in life, I just jumped right in. I started gathering information and talking to every writer I knew about memoir and what they thought it was. There was a lot of controversy and many were not able to give me a definitive answer. So I went to the dictionaries, online and off. I started formulating definitions and writing about them on my blogs, my writers sites, and all my social networking sites. I got a lot of feedback.

On one of my writer's sites, I posted regularly about what it was like being an Innkeeper, the challenges, the interaction with guests,and  the running of a small business. I began getting lots of comments and interest in what I was writing. Many of my virtual friends suggested that I collect my posts into some kind of book form. at first, I laughed off the idea. Up to that time my thoughts about writing books were that they were too time consuming and required too much from me in the way of commitment and dedication. Never did I think that I couldn't do it. I just never thought about it at all....until one day, out of the clear blue.

I went to a place on line called Fast Pencil. I registered and started posting my stories as chapters into the program. It was free unless you wanted to self publish. I came up with a bland, working title and starting spending more and more time there. I still wasn't thinking about publishing; I just wanted to see what all of my stories and events looked like as an organized unit. My writing strategy was to organize the stories and information about the Inn I had already posted into chapters, then write a preface and afterward,  I decided that, if I didn't have enough stories to produce 70,000-90,000 words, I'd dig down into my memories of the past 16 years and add some more. I just wrote whatever came to my mind planning to re-write later. I wrote five to six hours a day...everyday for months.

I changed the title three times, and may not stop there. The first one was: Tales From An Innkeeper's Crypt. I used this one to post my stories when I first started writing about my inn keeping experiences. After studying the memoir market a while, I discovered there were too many "Innkeeper Tales..." out there and I needed to come up with something more original. Eventually, I adopted A Memorable Time of My life as a working title. The third and present working title came from a line out of the book: Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen, a little off beat and more interesting.

Where am I now in the process?...and it has been a process, from which I've learned a lot. I'm over halfway finished with the first writing (approx 60,000. words), I'm working on a query letter for agents, and a proposal. I've had several readers look at it, have posted my query and excepts from the manuscript on several writer's sites for feedback, and have self-edited and re-written parts of it many times. It is now stewing on line, waiting for me to get back to it with fresh eyes,  to rewrite again, finish the chapters, have an editor friend look at it then re-read it through for clarity, flow, voice, etc.etc.

The process is complicated, many layered, and at times intensive...but for me, it's more comfortable than writing fiction. I actually discovered I am truly a non-fiction writer through this process. Few writers cross over very well and I guess I'm one of the one's who prefers not to. Non-fiction is the category of writing I've been drawn to all my life. I prefer reading biography and memoir to fiction as well, and enjoy satire. I don't like Sci-Fi or Fantasy. I like reality shows and prefer real life stories to made up ones. Since "voice" is an important part of any piece of writing, I have infused my book with humor and good-natured sarcasm, which is characteristic of my particular voice and style.

To anyone who wants to write a memoir, make it honest, authentic, and reflect the real you. You can make it creative, by using techniques from fiction writing, but get to the truth and flush it out. And remember this, it's not as easy as it seems.


Description: OPERATIC DIVAS AND NAKED IRISHMEN is a humorous and poignant account of how an admittedly asocial retired school teacher with no business sense reinvents herself as an Innkeeper. The reader is taken on a  sixteen year journey as the author deftly wields her way around cantankerous contractors, harrowing housekeepers and no shortage of strange and interesting guests.  Through her collected stories, the author gives the reader a personal, in-depth, and honest look at what it's like to be an Innkeeper and not lose one's sense of humor.

Excerpt from Chapter eight: ...I opened the door to a barrage of people., having no idea who they might be. The only person scheduled to check in that night was a single, elderly lady.

"I am Madame Rosalina Capriani!, " the woman announced, "and these are my suitcases".

I scanned the four men accompanying her and, sure enough, each one was carrying a suitcase...

She extended a long, well rounded arm covered in silky, red, purple and green, part of a flowing cape encircled heavily in dancing Majenta fringe. I stood there in awe, as she flamboyantly glided through the doorway, motioning to her walking suitcases to follow her...

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

This is an excerpt from Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen: an innkeeper's tale (a work in progress)

If you take the time to read the following except, I would really appreciate any feedback you can give me. I'm just about ready to submit the memoir to an editor for a third and final edit. Thanks...........Nancy

Thanks for all the feedback. It was very helpful. I have removed the excerpt
in order to re-write:  Chapter 16, Jasonspeak

Friday, June 10, 2011

Welcome our the Blog Hop

 Meg always has great ideas and this is one of her best. I've been having such a great time visiting  all the sites of the writers attending the Ball. It's really nice to read all the personal info and connect it to the blogger.

I am a non-fiction writer...have tried fiction but find it too tedious for me and it just takes too long....all that character development and dialogue writing. I find writing topical articles and essays so much easier.

Almost a year ago,  I gave myself a challenge by deciding to write a memoir about the 16 years I have been an owner/innkeeper of a bed and breakfast in Louisville, Kentucky. As it turned out, writing a memoir is much more of a challenge than I realized and just as tedious and time consuming as writing fiction.

I am in the process now of re-writing the whole manuscript and trying to infuse the pages with my own unique voice.  I've actually discovered the humor and sarcasm lying behind that perfect grammar.  In addition, I'm adding dialogue, some character development, and a lot more description....all fiction writing techniques.

Thank you all for visiting my site. I look forward to seeing more of you soon.

Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

On writing books

" I love books. My late father Donald, who taught Wordsworth and Melville to inner-city kids for decades, used to read Ulysses to me while he carried me on his shoulders. Perhaps it was inevitable that I grew up to be a writer. Now, after years of investigative reporting for Wired and other magazines, I’m finally writing a book of my own" (Steve Silberman).

Check out tips from 23 different authors

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eight secrets writers wont tell you

 by Ranjith
 A few years ago, I’d look at published writers and think that they were somehow different from me. After all, their books were gripping and fluent – unlike my stumbling attempts at first drafts. Their blogs had hundreds or thousands of readers.
They were real writers. And, deep down, I was afraid that I could never really become one of them.
But as I’ve taken more and more steps into the writing world, I’ve realised that my perception just doesn’t match up to the reality. Writers – at all levels – have just the same struggles as you and me.
I’m going to go through eight secrets. Eight things which all writers know – but which you might never hear them admit......read more on Ranjith's site

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Guest Post by Valerie Nieman

Editing Book Camp – and Beyond
by Valerie Nieman
I spent many years as a reporter at a small daily, staring into the blinking green cursor of a weary terminal, with the clock ticking toward deadline and an editor with coffee breath hovering at my shoulder. Then I became that editor.
I bless journalism for training me to write. Not just report. If you come out of journalism, you know there is no room for writer’s block, no allowance for an off day. You will get the story down – whether you have to start at the beginning or the end or the middle. “Finish what you write” is good advice from Rudy Rucker and others.
 And daily journalism is likewise good practice for editing. This is the world of the quick and the ruthless – cut repetition, cut passive voice, cut padded phrases. Use one word in place of three.  Kill those darling chubby babies, the beautiful sentences that distract from the real task of communicating.
I quit being a journalist several years ago, but the editing discipline I learned at the city desk remains part of my writing life. So here goes, nine guides to editing lore accumulated at the city desk and my writing.
I’ll begin with the one luxury not allowed in the daily J-grind, but one that I recommend: Let the work cool. Like iron, it needs to temper before being subjected to the heat of reworking. Come at the work with fresh eyes. Recently I had a poem accepted by a handsome little magazine. I had written it years before, and had edited and reedited several times. It had been out of my hands for some months. When the editor sent the galleys for review, I wondered, why had he made so many changes? A little steamed, I went for my original submission – and found that the meddling editor was, in fact, me. To pause your itchy fingers, send your work to trusted readers for their insights. You’ll be ready for them after this cooling-off period.
Don’t edit as you go. If you are a slow and meticulous writer, that’s a tough thing to ask, but it’s more important to get the work out. “Get black on white,” in the words of Guy de Maupassant.
Don’t tinker. Look at your work structurally first – you don’t start the interior decorating of a new home until the roof is solid. One wise saying I’ve gathered is, “Don’t polish a mess.” That is, don’t line-edit a piece that doesn’t hold together.
Cut 10 percent. Period. You can do it, and you’d be surprised how much it improves the pace and direction of the writing. A good test: Find a contest for a short story no longer than 2,500 words, and trim an existing story that is 15 percent longer. It will be clearer and better for the pruning.
Look at the beginning and ending. This is where you want the most punch and power. Have you been throat-clearing on the way in, or summing up the way out? What happens if you cut off that first paragraph or scene? Sometimes you will find you were working your way in, learning the story.
Refine. Once the structure is tight and the pace solid, start looking at the paragraph and sentence level.  Are your sentences repetitive in form or length? Are you plagued by passive construction or “backing in”? Be rigorous about transitions and consistency in point of view, time, and tense.
Listen to your dialog. Do as playwrights do and have a staged reading of crucial scenes. Does the dialog flow realistically? Returning to the page, does your dialog have too many tags? Do you use action and description to keep the reader in the moment, rather than relying on he said/she said? And are you consistent in how you signal dialog?
Your characters are important. So treat them that way. Does the plot unwind based on what your characters want and the obstacles in their way? On the lighter side, make sure they don’t change hair color as they develop. Use care in their naming –Sarah, Sandra, Sally are quickly confused. Consider what names say about your character in terms of age, race, ethnicity, the dreams of their parents and how they fulfill or defeat a moniker such as “Zenobia.”

Valerie Nieman’s third novel, Blood Clay, was published this past spring by Press 53. She is the author of a collection of short stories, Fidelities, from West Virginia University Press, and a poetry collection, Wake Wake Wake. Her fiction has appeared in many journals including The Kenyon Review, Green Mountains Review, Arts & Letters, and the recent anthology Degrees of Elevation. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, New Letters, Blackbird, 5 A.M., and West Branch, as well as two chapbooks and several anthologies. She has received an NEA creative writing fellowship and the Greg Grummer Prize in poetry. A native of Western New York State, she graduated from West Virginia University and the M.F.A. program at Queens University of Charlotte. She teaches writing at N.C. A&T State University and is the poetry editor for Prime Number.

Blood Clay is a profoundly moving and beautifully written novel about a community torn apart by tragedy. Valerie Nieman is a writer of remarkable talent, and she has given us a book that, once read, will be hard for any reader to forget .— Ron Rash, author of Serena

WINSTON-SALEM, NC, May 6, 2011—Press 53 announces a new novel by award-winning poet and writer Valerie Nieman. Blood Clay delves into the ways in which we each claim home, testing those invisible lines that connect people and places and the territory of memory.
Blood Clay has it all,” writes Elizabeth Stuckey-French. “The novel’s audacious and gripping plot begins with a shotgun-blast of a scene in which a horrible dog attack sends reverberations through a small North Carolina town and the rest of the book. Val Nieman has written what is destined to become a classic novel of Southern life.”
The novel, called by Jane Alison both a tense, plot-driven story about complicated issues of race and guilt, and a meditation on solitude, history, and ways of living,” centers on Tracey Gaines, who has moved to rural Saul County to escape the wreckage of a divorce, becoming a teacher at an alternative school. She devotes herself to renovating an old farmhouse but finds she can’t as easily build connections in this new place. When the tragedy splits the community, she finds an ally in Dave Fordham, a native son who struck out for new opportunities, only to face his own trauma and a forced return home.
 “I grew up in rural New York State, homesteaded a hill farm in West Virginia, then started a new life in the Piedmont. I know how difficult it can be to establish oneself in a settled community,” said Nieman. “Working for more than two decades as a small-town journalist, I covered deaths and trials, stories of human connection and disconnection. Those events have informed my writing ever since.”
The author of a collection of short stories, Fidelities, and two earlier novels, she has received an NEA creative writing fellowship, two Elizabeth Simpson Smith prizes in fiction, and the Greg Grummer Prize in poetry. She is a graduate of West Virginia University and the M.F.A. program at Queens University of Charlotte. Nieman teaches writing at NC A&T State University in Greensboro, NC, and is the poetry editor for Prime Number magazine.
          A study guide has been prepared for classroom use and discussion groups, and Nieman will schedule visits to book clubs and classes in the region, or do Skype chats upon request. Her book tour schedule is available at http://www.valnieman.com/ as well as Authors Round the South and Book Tour. You can catch updates by following valnieman on Twitter or Facebook.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Blogger Ball Redux writers: Welcome to my blog and thanks for visiting

Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!
I am a non-fiction writer...have tried fiction but find it too tedious for me and it just takes too long....all that character development and dialogue writing. I find writing topical articles and essays so much easier. Almost a year ago,  I gave myself a challenge by deciding to write a memoir about the 16 years I have been an owner/innkeeper of a bed and breakfast in Louisville, Kentucky. As it turned out, writing a memoir is much more of a challenge than I realized and just as tedious and time consuming as writing fiction.

I am in the process now of rewriting the whole manuscript and trying to infuse the pages with my own unique voice.  I've actually discovered the humor and sarcasm lying behind that perfect grammar.  In addition, I'm adding dialogue, some character development, and a lot more description....all fiction writing techniques.

I love to blog and have four of them; each one dedicated to a different topic. A Memorable time of My Life is a writer's blog with information, examples of and focus on memoir, journalistic writing, essays, poetry, stories and blogging. It includes links and tips on getting published, agents & editors, exemplary writers, and related topics. Guest Posts from other writers,  book reviews, and lists of helpful publications for writers of both fiction and non-fiction can be found here.
*Guest posts on topics of interest to writers and poets are welcome.  Contact me, if you're interested. Please feel free to post comments and feedback. 

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Writing Tips Gleaned from Some of The Best writers

1. When you sit down to write, the most important person in your life is the reader.
2. Do not write to impress.
3. The first sentence you write will be the most important sentence in your life. and so will the second, and the third.
4.  Simple words, clear ideas and short sentences are vital in good writing.
5. No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.
6. Remember, nobody has to read your writing.
7. Never make the mistake of assuming that the reader is stupid, or overestimate what he knows.
8. Life is complicated, but your writing should not be.
9. The reader will be grateful to have at least one concept or idea explained clearly, because nobody ever reads stories that say "What follows is inexplicably complicated ..."
10. A story should only say one big thing. You may weave bits and parts together, but do not depart from the one linear narrative you have chosen.
11. Don't even start writing till you have decided what the one big thing is going to be, and then say it to yourself in just one sentence.
12. There is always an ideal first sentence – an intro, a way in – for any article. It really helps to think of this one before you start writing, because you will discover that the subsequent sentences write themselves.
13. Write information that slides down easily and quickly, without footnotes, obscure references and footnotes to footnotes.
14. Good journalism should give you the sensation of humor, excitement, poignancy or piquancy. something gleaming, flashy and – yes, trivial.
15. Words have meanings. Respect those meanings and use them properly. Don't flaunt authority by flouting your ignorance.
16. Clichés should be avoided, except when they are the right cliché.
17. Metaphors are great. Just don't choose loopy metaphors, and never, never mix them.
18. Beware of street language. it has its own rhythms, body language, and own signalling devices. The language of the page should have no accent, no helpful signalling tone of irony or comedy or self-mockery. It must be straight, clear and vivid and contain appropriate grammar.
19. Do not use long and preposterous words or  jargon.
20. English is better than Latin. Don't exterminate, kill. Don't salivate, drool. Don't conflagrate, burn.
21. Remember that people will always respond to something close to them that they care about.
22. Read lots of different things.
23. Beware of all definitives. There will almost always be someone who turns out to be bigger, faster, older, earlier, richer or more nauseating than the candidate to whom you have just awarded a superlative.
24. Remember, there are things that good taste and the law will simply not let you say in print.
25. Writers have a responsibility, not just in law. So aim for the truth. If that's elusive, and it often is, at least aim for fairness, the awareness that there is always another side to the story. Beware of all claims to objectivity.

This article was amended on 21 January 2011. The original referred to Dashiel Hammet. This has been corrected.

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