Tuesday, September 24, 2013
I Could Tell You Stories
“We store in memory only images of value.”
Memoir is one of the most poignant forms of storytelling and so akin to a novel that both have been mistaken for each other at times. Reading and studying memoirs offers a banquet of human experience. Where to start? Where to recommend? With a bookcase overflowing with excellent memoirs and how to write memoirs, I felt that choosing only one book would be impossible.
Then I realized that whenever anyone asks me about writing a memoir, or in the workshops I teach, this is the first book I hand them—literally. Hampl shares the quality of memoirs by telling stories with rich meaning. It’s the perfect place to start craft whether for memoir or fiction writing. Our personal stories within our circle of family and friends will be enriched and our fictional characters more multi-layered.
In her study, I Could Tell You Stories, Patricia Hampl notes that memoir is a landscape bordered by memory and imagination. “For to remember is to make a pledge: to the indelible experience of personal perception, and to history itself.”
As Hampl explores the realm of memory she points out that both Kafka and Rilke saw memory, “not experience”, as holding the sovereign position in imagination.
For herself Hampl discovered: “The recognition of one’s genuine material seems to involve a fall from the phony grace of good intentions and elevated expectations.” What a fresh perspective on motives.
Although she shares specifically via the route of memoir, this door of recognition applies to all forms of writing. If we are unable to infuse our memories, or perhaps our search for our memories into our work then we rob it of honest quest and discovery and an imagination that connects. Each person’s voice is unique and bears witness to life. But in order to share, we first need to identify what really matters to us so we can build our stories, real and imagined, with genuine impact of heart.
“How did I come to believe that what I knew was also what mattered? And, more to the point for the future, is it what matters?”
Share: What is your favorite memoir?
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Pacific Coast Justice
Trying to dive into the mystery genre is like trying to decide what to eat at a lavish banquet. The range runs from light-hearted cozy to deep psychological mind games. And even within a category, such as a cozy, the intensity can run from low pulse to heart pounding marathon.
Then, once in a sub-category, what criteria can be applied to quality, for both writers and readers? Details. I read so many mysteries that it is a pure delight when I find a series that not only keeps me up at night reading but also can’t wait for the next series, by that author.
Inspirational crime novelist Janice Cantore’s Pacific Coast Justice fulfills both. Main character Carly Edwards is a dedicated police officer in Las Playas, California. She is ‘real’, a woman who struggles with relationships, faith questions, and integrity in the workplace. Carly could be our neighbor, friend, or sister. The shifting clues flow through the plot from the beginning to the end with increasing stress just where they catch a reader by surprise. In addition, as an ex police officer herself, Cantore brings an added layer of authenticity in procedure and protocol without overpowering the reader with extensive explanations but instead with confidence. That sense of accuracy extends to the locations as well. As readers we see what Carly sees and feels and hears—an in the moment ride-a-long.
Mystery writer Elizabeth George says that the details that show a person’s landscape “imprint an impression of a character in the reader’s mind.” The external and internal are achieved through specific and telling details. These are details with a message attached to them, the kind of details that no reader forgets. She keeps her characters real and grounded in daily life.
Those specific and telling details are threaded unobtrusively throughout Cantore’s series. If you are an aspiring mystery writer, find an author that incorporates those telling details in your specific sub genre and study the aspects of how thoroughly they are presented. Don’t settle on only recent publications too, but go back and see how the author started off. Or perhaps you need an assortment: one author that describes location well, and another voice, and another plot.
Personally as a reader, I prefer challenge, curiosity, and nail biting without adrenalin terror or graphic sensory overload. I had to stop watching one of my favorite TV series Bones when I found myself needing to close my eyes more and more with each episode. However, I recognize my squeamishness is in the minority for that genre style. And in reality, it’s not a category I am drawn to. The acting and script quality kept me watching even though from the onset I had to close my eyes, at least for the opening incidents. Although I consider myself a qualified viewer to assess Bones, as a writer I could not possibly pen any material.
Find the “imprint impression” that impacts you first as a reader, and then write your own quality stories that keep fans asking for more. Enjoy!
In alphabetical order, here are a few more published series that have kept me up past midnight so far this year:
Colleen Coble: Rock Harbor Series and The Hope Beach Series
Earlene Fowler: Bennie Harper Mystery Series
Jenn McKinlay: A Library Lover’s Mystery Series
Ramona Richards: Jackson’s Retreat Series
Share: What favorite series have you read recently? What details draw you to read that particular author?