riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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What You Are Now Enjoying – an Interview with Sarah Gerkensmeyer

What You Are Now Enjoying, a new collection of short stories by Sarah Gerkensmeyer

What You Are Now Enjoying, a new collection of short stories by Sarah Gerkensmeyer

I am so pleased to introduce you to author Sarah Gerkensmeyer. Sarah and I met during our January writer residencies at the Vermont Studio Center. Since then, she has published a collection of short stories entitled What You Are Now Enjoying and is currently making the promotional rounds. I asked Sarah if she would be interested in discussing her journey here at Riding Bitch and am thrilled she said yes! I think you’ll find a lot of information and inspiration in her answers. Be sure to read the excerpt at the end.

Q. Sarah, can you tell us about yourself: who are you?
I am a mother, writer, teacher, wife… Everything in my life feels like a juggling act at this point. Because of this, I immensely enjoy a glass of red wine and an episode of New Girl. I have always loved to write (I know that’s cliché–but it’s true).

author Sarah Gerkensmeyer

author Sarah Gerkensmeyer

Q. How do you describe your book?
From Wonder Woman as an angst-ridden teenager to ghost twins to monster catfish to the secret relationships between polygamous wives, the stories in What You Are Now Enjoying approach the familiar in unfamiliar ways, allowing us to recognize and claim the unordinary moments in our own often ordinary lives. I’ve found myself using magical realism and fabulist elements to try to tell everyday stories about everyday people.

Q. Where do the stories come from?
I absolutely love this question. And I’m thrilled to be able to answer: I’m not sure. Lately I’ve realized that this is okay–a sense of mystery and even confusion in my writing. I’ve found myself trying to talk to my students about this–how any element of the unexpected, the unknown, the mysterious is a gift to our writing, not an annoying roadblock.

Q. That’s a great piece of advice! Did you approach the book with a theme or did you find the theme as you wrote?
All of this was very much a gradual (and even surprising) discovery for me. I wrote the extremely short (and especially strange) stories that are in my collection just after my youngest son, Charlie, was born. I was desperate to return to writing but couldn’t face the huge project of my novel. And so I thought of these little pieces as a distraction and guilty form of procrastination. I had no idea that they would end up cementing together a book. But when I stepped back and looked at them, I realized that they held threads of some of the things in my other stories–loneliness and a feeling of inertia.

Q. What was the hardest thing about writing your book?
For a few years, it was trying to figure out when/if I had a book. Beginning with my time in graduate school, I over thought the project (I think only one of the stories that I wrote in graduate school made it into the book). I think I was especially self-conscious in this regard as a writer who was dabbling with surreal and fabulist elements. I had to recognize that those weren’t the things I was writing about. Rather, I was using them to write about very real and very ordinary people.

Q. How long did it take to write? Did you write it full-time or while doing other things?
This book has been coming together, bit by bit, since about 2002. I always wanted it to come together quickly, but now I’m glad that it had plenty of time to stew. I needed time to figure things out.

Q. How did you get it published?
It’s very hard to sell a collection of short stories as an emerging author. The big houses want to buy novels, because that’s what sells. Smaller presses have become a champion for short story collections, but many of them only consider submissions via their annual prizes. And so I sent my book off to a few prizes and was lucky enough to catch the eye of Stewart O’Nan, the novelist who judged Autumn House Press’ Fiction Prize.

Q. What did you learn from the experience (of writing and publishing)?
As for the writing: it will come when it wants to come. And when that book does finally come together, love it. Even if it isn’t the creature that you originally intended it to be. As for the publishing: authors are expected to do a lot of leg work these days, even at the bigger presses. I was part of an inaugural program called the Launch Lab at Grub Street in Boston. We learned how to direct our energy in ways that fit our personalities and our work. The program helped me realize that I need to find pockets of PR that feel intimate, where real conversations can occur. Because of this, I’ve really enjoyed participating on various blogs (thanks, Niva!) because this is a world of passionate writers and readers who want to have a real conversation about books.

Q. What are you working on now?
I’ve returned to the novel that I set aside when my second son was born. And I think the strange stories in my new collection really gave me the fuel to return to it with fresh eyes. I’ve done a lot of intense research on congenital heart disease for this novel. It takes place in the Northern Minnesota wilderness. There’s a pregnancy, and somebody has blue skin… Maybe that’s enough of a tease.

Q. What lessons will you apply from this one to the next one?
I’ve discovered that a sense of urgency (and even anxiety and panic) can be put to good use. As a mother especially, this has been a good thing to learn. My children, and my teaching, and all the other things I love don’t need to be set aside so that I can write. The rush (and even the anxiety) that I get from trying to juggle all of these things can be harvested and can provide an exciting sense of momentum in the stories that I tell. These things aren’t in the way of my writing. They can be helpful.

Q. How is writing short stories different (for you) than writing a novel?
When I write a short story, (especially a very short story) I know that a breath of fresh air isn’t too far off. And so I’m able to pull myself into complex and strange worlds with a great deal of abandon. There isn’t as much hesitancy as when I sit down with a longer project. And sometimes I think stories can be more immense than a novel. They can create a sharp sense of echo, or what ZZ Packer calls “resonance.” I think that’s why I’m working with a much more fragmented structure in the current draft of my novel–in an attempt to simulate that same kind of feeling that I get from a short story.

Q. Do you have any advice for other writers who are moms and/or teachers?
While I do think parenting and teaching can inspire and fuel writing in unexpected ways, I still think it’s so incredibly difficult. They aren’t necessarily completely separate things, but sometimes you do need to find a way to step into only your writing. I’ve found writing residencies (like Vermont Studio Center, where Niva and I met) to be invaluable in this regard.

Q. Last question – will you share with us an excerpt from one of your stories?
Sure! This is from the beginning of “My Husband’s House”:

I didn’t go looking for my husband’s new place until after his fourth or fifth late night visit, after a long day when the sun had set without much color. I couldn’t believe what he had told me that first time he showed up in the middle of the night in our bedroom a few weeks after he had gone missing, a living ghost. Yet the first place I tried was the river. The further you follow the river back into the woods, the further back in time you go. Kirk’s favorite noodling spot is beneath an old railroad bridge that must be at least eighty years old, a bunch of broken timbers running across the water. When I got there that night, the water was slow and not too cold. It came up to my thighs when I reached Kirk’s spot nestled into the far bank.

I stood in the dark water, my feet shifting in the silt, and continued to not believe my husband. I crouched down—the water pulling at my old blouse, seeping up its seams—and cursed him for telling lies. Reaching with my right hand, I closed my eyes and felt my chin hit the water. I didn’t believe him. But I’d been drinking, and that was enough to make me curious. It was enough to let me change my mind once everything started to happen, the tugs and the pulls and the sinking shift. I was relieved and tired when I realized that my husband had been telling the truth, that there was no way to stop what was happening. I could feel it then: all of Ohio, its towns and its churches and its roads and its rivers—this old, snaky one especially—swallowing me up.

It makes you feel like singing, like burping after a fine meal and then closing your eyes, because who cares if anyone heard.

Awesome! THANK YOU Sarah. I can’t wait to read your book.

If you want to learn more about Sarah or find out how to purchase What You Are Now Enjoying, please visit http://www.SarahGerkensmeyer.com


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Darcy Thiel Talks Publishing

If you’ve been following the Industry Friday series, you are familiar with guest blogger Darcy Thiel. Darcy has written a book about losing her husband to cancer in 2010 and up until now she and I have been discussing our experiences with caregiving (her interview with me is here http://helpforhealing.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/guest-blog-part-2/). Today we discuss the process of writing the actual book and getting published. The timing couldn’t be more perfect because tomorrow is her book’s launch party! I’m very excited for her.

Q. What has been the most challenging aspect of writing your book Bitter & Sweet?

A. It feels sometimes like “grief brain” is permanent. So accomplishing anything can be hard on some days, much less a huge project like writing a book. Two things were hard. One thing, were the days when a wave of grief hit. I could talk/write/process for days and even weeks like I was just telling someone else’s story. Then for no reason that I could identify, it would be a crying, grieving day and the subject matter was larger than life. The second part was learning new things. I would have given up at least a trillion times if my dear friend Brigitte wasn’t working with me full time. She does all the research and information finding. She has the patience of a saint coupled with a brilliant mind!

Q. How did you secure publishing?

A. We have actually “self-published”. First, we had to form a publishing company, which meant forming an LLC. It is called Baby Coop Publishing, LLC. Once you do the research, it’s tedious but not difficult. You fill out forms and then do legal notices in the paper. Total cost is about $350. After that, we did our research (ok, Brigitte did) and came up with what we thought were the best options. Lightning Source is the company that distributes our softcover book. All of the files were downloaded to them. They have certain companies they distribute to, but it’s most of the biggest in the industry. When they get orders, they print and ship. It’s called “print on demand.”

For the ebook versions, we went with a company called Book Baby. We are still in the process of downloading and revising with them. I thought this would be easier, but it has different challenges. Every reader (Nook, Kindle, Kobo, etc.) looks different. So it’s very hard to design something that looks good in every version. We are hoping to have that released within another two weeks.

Q. What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?

A. My dream is that my book will be useful and helpful to people in the same way that other books helped us. You have listed a bunch of books and what you have gotten out of them – I’d like to be on that list some day. For a person struggling with cancer, they can find inspiration in the way that Tim dealt with his illness. For a person handling the tasks of being a caretaker, it is full of helpful ideas of how to be a patient advocate. For loved ones and family, it is full of practical ways of how you can truly be a support to the people you care about.

Q. What do you hope to achieve with your book?

A. The previous question answers the more spiritual goals of the book. On a practical level, I would love to pay off the mortgage of the house before my social security runs out! But the reality of how much money you make on a book is very small indeed. When you realize how many books you have to sell to really make a living, it’s almost impossible.

A much for practical goal for me, is that I am hoping that the book will help generate more referrals to my counseling practice. That is my main profession and passion and I will be doing that for many more years than I will be writing books.

Thank you, Darcy, and good luck tomorrow!

For more info on Darcy Thiel, please visit her at
http://www.marriageandfamilycounseling.net
http://www.helpforhealing.wordpress.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/helpforhealing

The very touching video trailer for her book is also available here: http://youtu.be/Xapeagk_5tE

Happy creating!


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Adapting Non-Fiction for TV and Film

You’re probably familiar with films based on novels, but did you know that many award-winning films are based on non-fiction books or articles? Here are eight such films:

On the Waterfront (1954) – Screenplay by Budd Schulberg, based on “Crime on the Waterfront”, a series of articles in the New York Sun by Malcolm Johnson, which won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Waterfront

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – script by Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George, based on the book “Red Alert” by Peter George

Into Thin Air: Death on Everest (1995) – screenplay by Robert J. Avrech, based on the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer

A Beautiful Mind (2001) – screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on the book “A Beautiful Mind: A Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr., Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics” by Sylvia Nasar

Iris (2001) – screenplay by Richard Eyre, Charles Wood, based on the book “Iris: A Memoir” and “Elegy for Iris” by John Bayley

Seabiscuit (2003) – screenplay by Gary Ross, based on the book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” by Laura Hillenbrand

Into the Wild (2007) – screenplay by Sean Penn, based on the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) – screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on the book “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby

In a lecture I attended last October given by Brad Schreiber, an accomplished writer/teacher/consultant who was kind enough to share with us the Writer’s Pledge (Industry Friday #8), I learned some interesting facts about adapting books or articles for film.

1. If you think your story would make a great film, here are some reasons to write the book first:
– You will have more control over the material.
– You will most likely automatically be a producer on the film.
– The other producers won’t be able to get rid of you.
– Adapting the book is usually a faster process than writing an original screenplay.

2. On the other hand, these are some of the challenges of adapting:
– Books have interior dialogue. In film this becomes Voice Over Narration, and too much narration is usually not a good thing.
– Books can have a lot of non-action. Film is all about action (even a non-action film).
– Books can be non-linear. Films are generally (but not always) linear.
– Books are culturally specific. Films are intended to have a global appeal.
– Books leave much to the imagination. Films rely on specific images.

3. Another important consideration is thematic focus. Generally, a film focuses on a certain aspect of the book or subject matter rather than the entire story captured in the book.

Two examples:

In the film A Beautiful Mind, the producers decided to leave out the fact that Nash was apparently bisexual and instead focused on the love story between him and his wife.

Dr. Strangelove was based on a non-fiction book about nuclear disaster. The director Stanley Kubrick thought it was so bleak to the point of being absurd, so he made into a dark comedy.

If you’re in the book-writing stage, you need not worry about these things now, but keep them in mind for later. If you’re a screenwriter, then think about what your angle would be on the non-fiction book or article you want to adapt. What is the central story and how will you approach it? If you’re a producer, realize that the person who wrote the book or article might not be the best person to write the screenplay, but they will probably be the most knowledgeable about the subject.

Happy creating!


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 3 of 3)

Wrapping up the Reading List, here are some books related to grief and/or caregiving which have been recommended to me but I haven’t read yet (all available on amazon.com):

The Truth About Death, Poems by Grace Mattern

Bitter and Sweet; A Family’s Journey with Cancer by Darcy Thiel (a guest blogger on this blog!)

Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude – Jim Perlman (Editor), Deborah Cooper (Editor), Mara Hart (Editor), Pamela Mittlefehldt (editor)

Nearing Death Awareness (A Guide to the Language, Visions, and Dreams of the Dying) by Mary Anne Sanders

Death and the Art of Dying by Bokar Rinpoche

I am currently reading Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (translation by Lydia Davis) and Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph. More about both in a later post.

Please feel free to keep sending recommendations or any thoughts you might have on any of the books mentioned.

Finally, here are some quotes which resonated with me from two books on Part 1’s list. I’ll refer to more quotes in other posts. Enjoy.

From MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Viktor E. Frankl:

“… Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.”

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

“… Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into triumph.”

From THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho:

“Sometimes, there’s just no way to hold back the river.”

“Everything on earth is being continuously transformed, because the earth is alive… and it has a soul. We are part of that soul, so we rarely recognize that it is working for us.”

“There is only one way to learn… through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”

“When something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well.”

“Death doesn’t change anything.”

“’You were always a good man,’ the angel said to him. ‘You lived your life in a loving way, and died with dignity. I can now grant you any wish you desire.’”


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 2 of 3)

I am sharing the books that I read after losing my husband, in the order that I read them, with a brief explanation of how they affected me. They’re not necessarily for everyone but they might interest you. Part Two compromises the books I read from six months onward. As before, the first line of the book is under each title.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”

I picked up this book shortly after befriending the author’s son around my birthday in October 2011. It is his father’s most recent book but by no means his most famous. That would be his earlier works Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude, which collectively earned Gabriel Garcia Marquez the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982. The plot of Memories of My Melancholy Whores is brilliantly encapsulated in the first sentence. But it’s about something else, namely the fear of death and the re-awakening of the heart. As the narrator, a retired journalist, tries to find his virgin, he reflects on his ninety years on earth, how he and the world have changed, and what the world will be like without him. It’s a beautiful, witty, wistful, strangely romantic story that ends in a way you don’t expect.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby
“Through the frayed curtain at my window, a wan glow announces the break of day.”

This book is a miracle in more ways than one. The author, Jean-Dominique Bauby, had been the editor-in-chief of French Elle when he suffered a stroke that left him completely paralyzed except for his left eye, with which he blinked every letter of the 131-page book. It is as succinct as it is rich in detail. I thought of Kaz a lot while reading this book, when Bauby describes the humiliation of having to be bathed like a baby, the immense pain of not being able to speak to his children or reach out and touch them, his frustration with not being able to eat French food anymore or lay with a woman or enjoy any of the things he used to. Talk about loss. But despite all this, Bauby manages to paint a picture of hope, endurance, personal strength, and the spiritual nature of human imagination. While his body is practically dead, his mind soars. His determination to not only live life fully in his thoughts, but also express them to us, is a testament to the human spirit. After I read it, I watched the movie, directed by Julian Schnabel, and loved that too. One of the rare occasions when the movie lived up to the book on which it was based.

Everyman – Philip Roth
“Around the grave in the rundown cemetery were a few of his former advertising colleagues from New York, who recalled his energy and originality and told his daughter, Nancy, what a pleasure it had been to work with him.”

Philip Roth was my mother’s favorite author and I thought of her often while reading this book. The story is told from the point of view of a man who has just died and is trying to process this reality. He does so by reflecting on his life, analyzing the decisions he made, the women he loved, his relationship with his children and so on. It’s a story of “loss, regret, and stoicism.” Ironic, witty and sad. I liked it very much.

Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Most people read this book in high school. But I read it for the first time last year, partly because Mr. Bradbury had just passed away and partly because he was one of Kaz’s favorite authors. The story is set in the not too distant future in a world where books are outlawed and firemen are sent to start fires instead of put them out. I’m not normally a science fiction reader, but I couldn’t put it down and kept talking about it to anyone who would listen for months. The story resonated on many levels, not the least of which because it felt so damn plausible.

The Disappearance – A primer of Loss – Genevieve Jurgensen
“You never knew our daughters, neither did you know me as I was when they were alive.”

Ms. Jurgensen writes about losing her two young daughters, age 4 and 7, on the same day to a drunk driver… and how she recovered from this unimaginable loss. I won’t say any more than that except that this book, along with The Diving Bell, made me cry the most. Perhaps coincidence, perhaps not, but both authors are French.

If you have any book recommendations, or thoughts about the books listed, please feel free to share.

Part Three will list books that have been recommended to me, as well as quotes from some of the books mentioned.


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 1 of 3)

If you are grieving, or even if you’re not, you might want to check out some of these books. They are all fine books on their own, but it just so happens I read them all after Kaz died. I have broken the list into three parts. Part One lists the books I read in the first 6 months (in chrono order). Part Two will list the books I read in the following year. Part Three will list some of my favorite quotes from these books, as well as what I’m reading now. I’ve included the first line from each book under the title.

A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

This book is such a classic, someone handed it to me at Kaz’s memorial. Author C.S. Lewis describes his experience of losing his wife after her long struggle with cancer. Amazon describes it as “a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.” Of course, when I read it, I related to the former not the latter, so the end of the book when he describes his renewed sense of faith annoyed me. But it is a beautiful book, very well-written and accessible. Might be interesting to read it again.

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

“Life changes fast.”

Described as “an unflinching account of the sudden loss of her husband which occurred while their only child was in a coma in a hospital, this book is considered another classic. The language is sparse, simple but expertly put together to place you in the mind of a woman who is in the midst of both a huge loss (her husband) and a huge crisis (her daughter). As she jets back and forth from NYC to Los Angeles, the story also jumps around in place and time.” Interestingly, I had the opposite reaction to this book than to A Grief Observed. I related to the end more than the beginning. It’s hard to articulate, but Didion’s writing style is both emotionally distant and emotionally powerful at the same time. I found myself unable to read more than a page or two at a time, and would have to leave the book alone for days in between.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

“The boy’s name was Santiago.”

I had read this book before and loved it. After Kaz died, I saw it on the shelf and decided to read it again. Honestly, I think this is one you can read over and over and each time find something new. The story is about a young shepherd who decides to leave the comfort of his simple life in a small Spanish town in search of treasure in Egypt. Along the way he meets all kinds of interesting characters, falls in love and learns about himself and life. It’s not about grief, but about accepting change, following your passion and “listening to the signs” the universe gives you. Because it’s told in a parable, it doesn’t feel preachy. I found it very inspiring and meaningful when I read it the second time.

Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

“This book does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again.”

Kaz’s best friend had recommended this book to us during the year of his illness, but neither of us read it. After he died, I decided to see what it was about. Frankl was a psychiatrist who lost his parents, brother, and pregnant wife while he was in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The first half of the book is about his experience in the camps. The second half is his philosophy on how he and others survived, which (put very simply) he says was a combination of luck and attitude. It’s a fascinating and surprisingly easy read. You might not agree with everything he says, but for a man to have gone through that much loss and still be able to see the positive in life, is really quite remarkable.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

“Sunday 1 January – 129 lbs. (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year’s Day), cigarettes 22, calories 5424.”

After reading those heavy books, I needed a break and read Bridget Jones’s Diary. It was highly satisfying. I laughed out loud many times. Then I watched the movie and laughed again.

If you would like to share what you read, are reading, or think we should read, please do so in the comment section.


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10 Tips on Writing Memoir

From a writer’s conference lecture last October and conversations with fellow writers at the Vermont writer’s residency:

1. The average length of a successful memoir is 260 pages. Some will be shorter, some longer, but this is the average.

2. It is okay to change people’s names, locations, relationships and other identifying characteristics in order to protect them and you.

3. It has to be the truth, but it is also “to the best of your recollection.”

4. There must be an arc. You’re a different person at the end than you were in the beginning. There must also be a change-lesson, a reason why people would care.

5. Know who your audience is. It will affect the language you use to tell the story. You are telling it to them.

6. Be careful with adjectives and adverbs.

7. Use both external internal dialogue. External for action, internal for emotion.

8. When looking for a publisher, start by finding the agent, publisher and editors for the memoirs that you love.

9. Three recommended memoirs (and links to their descriptions):

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/251789.A_Three_Dog_Life

Marrying George Clooney – Musings From a Midlife Crisis by Amy Ferris
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/marrying-george-clooney-amy-ferris/1100392892

Dancing at the Shame Prom, a collection of confessions from 27 women, edited by Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dancing-at-the-shame-prom-amy-ferris/1110873202

10. Four recommended books on writing memoir:

Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington
A very readable “textbook” that covers all the basics and also analyzes some memoirs and how the writers tackled certain issues.

Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser
Memoir writers like Frank McCourt, Toni Morrison or Annie Dillard write about how they wrote their memoirs: what they struggled with, what their goals were for the book, how they finally found their voice, how their families reacted, etc.

Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas
A memoir about writing memoir presented in little snippets of musing on writing, everyday life, and how she came to write her memoirs Safekeeping and A Three Dog Life.

Writing Life Stories: How To Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays And Life Into Literature by Bill Roorbach
Friendly instruction and stimulating exercises on how to turn life stories into vivid personal essays and memoirs by learning to open up memory, access emotions, shape scenes from experience, develop characters, and research supporting details.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on these or other books in the comment section. This newbie memoir writer is still learning and reading up all these great books and authors.

Happy creating!


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Query Letters – 30 Do’s and Don’ts

On Industry Fridays, posts will relate to purely professional matters, including writing, producing, directing, books, film and television. This week is about the Query Letter.

A query letter is a formal letter you send to an agent, publisher or editor to try and get them interested in reading your book manuscript or hiring you to write the book. The letter should include:

  • The topic of the work
  • A short description of the plot
  • A short bio of the author
  • The target audience

Based on your query letter, the literary agent or editor then decides whether to contact you and request to see the manuscript. The query letter is possibly the first (and last) piece of your writing the agent or editor will ever see, so it’s important to get it right. It is literally the first step towards getting your manuscript published.

There’s tons of information about query letters on the internet, but here is a great free handbook by Noah Lukeman that explains how to write a great query letter. http://www.lukeman.com/greatquery/download.htm  Did I mention it’s FREE?

Below are 30 simple bullet points re writing the query letter (that are explained further in Noah’s handbook):

1. Open the query letter with a reference to a book the agent sold

2. Make sure you have a clear “hook” or logline of the concept of your book

3. Mention the genre of your book

4. Make comparisons to other books in the genre

5. Explain why your book is different than these other books

6. Describe the plot in no more than three sentences

7. Do not use character names

8. Do not mention subplots

9. Describe your bio in five sentences or less

10. Only include relevant information in your bio

11. Do not mention minor credits in your bio

12. Do not make your bio overly personal

13. Put any publication credits in italics or caps

14. Do not pitch more than one book

15. Do not have more than three paragraphs total

16. Do not exceed one page with your query letter

17. Do not quote your own book in the query letter

18. Do not include small talk

19. Do not be self critical

20. Do not mention givens

21. Do not include endorsements from family, friends or barely known authors

22. Do not include lots of underlining

23. Do not include lots of bolding

24. Do not include lots of italics

25. Do not use a font that’s too big or too small

26. Do not use unclear or colored font

27. Use good quality paper

28. Use a good printer

29. Remember to date the letter

30. Use letterhead instead of including contact information in the body of the letter

Below are a few examples of successful query letters (i.e. letters that got agents to read the author’s work and/or led to publishing deals). You’ll notice that some of them break one or two of the above rules, but in general, they stick to them.

http://www.underdown.org/mf-sample-query-letters.htm

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/07/anatomy-of-good-query-letter-iii.html

Finally, if you’re curious how to find agents to send letters to, here is a link to the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents (available from Writers Digest, Google, Amazon and more). http://www.writersdigestshop.com/2013-guide-literary-agents?lid=cswdblog13

Happy creating!