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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Journal With Impact: Memoir Theme Non-Fiction

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

Excerpt from Puerto Rico, Feb 23, 1968, by Denise Levertov
“…You see how it is—I am angry that they feel no outrage. Their feelings flow in the wrong directions and at that wrong intensity. And all I can bring out of my anger is a few flippant rhymes. What I want to tell you—no, not you, you understand it; what I want them to grasp is that though I understand that Mitch may have to go to jail and that it will be a hard time for him and for me, yet, because it’s for doing what we know we must do, that hardship is imaginable, encompassable, and a very small thing in the face of the slaughter in Vietnam and the other slaughters that will come. And there is no certainty he will go to jail.”

The well-known guidelines for solid nonfiction are still the basic who, what, when, where, and how, but the undergirding purpose is why.


Nonfiction sings when curiosity begins a dialogue of interest. When an author has a connection with their topic and a desire to share, then trust is built.

Focus on the heart of your topic, your potential audience age, the questions you need to research for clarity, confirmation of truth, vocabulary, and the impression you desire to share from your specific experience.

“People are always interested in other people.” Jane Fitz-Randolph

Find the Angle. For example, Deloris Jordan wrote a memoir story for children of her famous son when he struggled playing basketball at the neighborhood park one particular summer, and how his commitment turned his despair into success. This one specific insight into this gifted athlete opened up a whole new generation to recognize love, family, perseverance, and faith through this true story.

Be interesting to a broad range Audience. Regardless of your immediate intended audience look for the themes that are universal and ageless, and their truths will cross age, race, and culture. Life matters.

Be Authentic. The research needs to be solid. If you include interviews be sure to get permission. If you are doing historical research and find conflicting material give the reasons for the discrepancy and why it is an issue.

Find fresh material or Application. For example, women played a much more dangerous role in many battles, such as World War ll, that were not acknowledged or revealed at the time due to danger for them and their work.

The movie Hidden Figures unveils the three women math geniuses that played such an important role in NASA. Why did it take so long to release their stories? What factors will connect to your specific audience and age group? What do you want to be made open that was hidden?

Action Steps:

Begin to ask the questions now. Use the italic outline to write down potential ideas.

1. Who is your intended target audience?

2. What will be the reader expectations be that you need to include?

3. What overall effect do you want your readers to leave with?

a. Hope? What kind: emotional, physical, spiritual?
b. Solutions? What kind: cost, time, and/or relational?
c. Entertainment: Why? Long term—short term?

4. Write up a sample outline for an interview to fill in either in person or for research material.

Share: What did you choose in step three and why?

Read deep, marcy

A Few Interview Suggestions

1. Be clear regarding what you want to discuss.

2. Do the interview in a location that will make both of you comfortable and at ease without interruptions.

3. Be clear on boundaries and time commitment.

4. Ask if you can record.

5. Don’t interrupt but note where you would like more details and ask later for clarification.

6. Build up to any difficult questions. Wait until the end to ask them.

7. Be considerate of any emotional trauma your questions create and be sensitive.

8. Offer to show share the material once you have written it to be sure it’s acceptable to your interviewee before you publish.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Journal With Impact: Memoir Theme Fiction

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

As I mentioned earlier one approach that Michael J Bugeja suggests through vignettes is over-arching threads for perspective and voice and theme. For the next three categories of memoir I’m sharing a few of his examples using the theme of protest as theme joins perspective and voice in memoir delivery.

Bugeja notes that “protest poetry, songs, stories came, I think, in greater quantity and public awareness during the sixties when anti-war, anti human rights, anti discrimination became a more public voice. Not that these issues or advocates had not existed before but the ability or resolve to act upon protest spread. Some of the protests came in unaccustomed ways, and in fresh voices not seeking personal gain.”

Whatever theme we discover in our journals and memories we are looking to share a fresh voice from one heart to another. Each delivery has its own special strengths and weaknesses. So first we prepare our musings and then choose which format best expresses our insights. Fiction—non-fiction—poetry each captures theme in a different way.

“Fiction often allows a glimpse into hidden motives or perhaps silent protest. In Invisible Cities, by Italo Cavino, Marco Polo shares stories of cities with Kublai Khan.”

Here’s a sound bite from the city Valdrada that speaks volumes.

            “At times the mirror increases a thing’s value, at times denies it. Not everything that seems valuable above the mirror maintains its force when mirrored. The twin cities are not equal, because nothing that exists or happens in Valdrada is symmetrical: every face and gesture is answered, from the mirror, by a face and gesture inverted, point by point. The two Valdradas live for each other, their eyes interlocked; but there is no love between them.”

And a more personal example from Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street in the chapter My Name.

            “And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.”

Sometimes when gathering together your experiences, emotions, and expectations to choose through which lens you want to present, it is helpful to look at it through a fictional stance. This way you can view your story as if a reader to gain a neutral opinion. Then when you have chosen your focus and voice you can return to nonfiction.

Or another reason some authors choose a fiction format for their story is if there are too many missing parts, if for example, you are including family history before your time and have large gaping holes. Fiction enables you to do research into the era and events current then. And still be completely engaged emotionally as the example My Name captures the atmosphere and circumstances.

Action Steps:

1. If you have discovered a theme of protest in your perspective maps and voices then use the following action steps to develop them further. Or choose another theme that has become more relevant and substitute it for protest and show it through a “glimpse into hidden motives.”

2. Make a list of times you have protested in different categories: personal issues, spiritual prayers, anti-……  for community or worldwide issues.

3. Which ones did you protest silently and which out loud?

4. Choose one that had the most positive outcome and one the most negative and write each of them as a vignette in either fiction or non-fiction or both.

 Share: Which example on your list touched your heart with the strongest desire to change?

Read deep, marcy

Note: You can approach these questions for a real person as well, especially if you are looking back to a specific time period. Think of them as character development set in a narrative scene.

What If Questions For Fictional Characters

Who is the main Character?
Who or what is the antagonist?
Who are the other people in the story?
What does the main character want?
How important is it for him to get it?
What does the antagonist want?
How does he/it prevent the protagonist?
Results-initial action
Struggles lead to (crisis)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Journal With Impact: Memoir Vignette Voices

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“We tend to think of voice as something we hear; it can be squeaky or mellow, loud or soft. But in writing, voice is what we hear in our head: the medium.”    
                                                                                                                             Barbara Drake

These excerpts are a character study to capture voice. Whereas in fiction or memoir we have the luxury of developing characterization over a long period of time, there are sometimes where we only have a brief sentence or paragraph to highlight a particular characteristic, especially in secondary characters or for a moment’s insight into a situation. Also our style of characterization needs to be true to the character. We find our voice—yes—but it is experienced through the character themselves.

As you continue to build your material, working with vignettes will help focus the voice you choose and the key perspective. For example, if sharing from your own personal voice is too raw or complicated to see through, then use a fictional format to give yourself some separation. The main character is still you, but by sharing as a third person narrator you can be more objective alongside sharing your heart.

The following are three different approaches to discovering the significance and value in relationships and experiences: as fiction, as interviews, and as memory. Watch for which words or emotions you respond to, or are curious about.


“The Hero and the Crown,” by Robin McKinley

“Katah was not the only one that the passing of time did not heal. Galanna’s hair had gone grey during the first winter, and was white by the time the second spring after the battle came. She was quieter, and slower, and while she looked with no love upon Damar’s new queen, she caused, and wished to cause, no more trouble.

Non-Fiction Memoir

“What She Couldn’t Tell,” by Patricia Hampl

“I took her to Mass now and again. I got in the habit of taking her grocery shopping. She was a wily shopper, her purse bulging with carefully scissored newspaper coupons which she paid out at the checkout counter like a stack of chips at a casino. She was gleeful about her strategic buying, by turns petulant over the price of peaches and contemptuous of what the supermarket thought she would pay for a cut-up chicken. Ha! She’d cut up her own chicken. I drove her all over town, stalking deals, running up mileage on my mother’s car.”


poem on my fortieth birthday to my mother who died young
by lucille Clifton

well i have almost come to the place where you fell
tripping over a wire at the forty-fourth lap
and I have decided to keep running,
head up, body attentive, fingers
aimed at darts like first prize, so
I might not even watch out for the thin thing
Grabbing toward my ankles but
i’m trying for the long one mama,
running like hell and if I fall
i fall.

What differences, if any, do you notice between these three genres in the way a character is portrayed? Which one most appeals to you as a voice or style?
Over the next few blogs we’ll look at each style separately so you can choose your narrator’s voice.

Action Steps:

Choose one or two people either from your own experience, or from photos, for a verbal vignette snapshot.

1. Write each of them up in three ways. A) As a brief line description. B) As a non-fiction description memoir style. C) And as a fictional character in a brief scene.

2. Take one of your descriptions and rewrite it as a poem.

3. Examine what differences you discovered in tone of voice between the examples.

Share: Which style connected the most to the voice you identify with in your memories?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Journal With Impact: Memoir Perspective

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“For to remember is to make a pledge: to the indelible experience of personal perception, and to history itself.”                                            Patricia Hampl

Now that you have developed some sensory language, and defined character attributes and physical locations, the next stage is to extend your seedlings to focus on relationships, memories, and communication. Look for specific threads where past history can connect with present history in your personal world.

We want to be able to connect emotionally with our readers—sometimes across barriers of language or age or culture. However, often, we first need to understand how we connect with ourselves. In her study on memoir Patricia Hampl also notes that it is a landscape bordered by memory and imagination.

Art and imagery can become a separate language of communication. One way to begin to explore some aspects applying autobiographical premises and techniques is to use vignettes, a self-contained prose passage, according to Michael J. Bugeja, which then can be developed later into narrative, or poetry, or essays, if so desired.

Consider vignettes as a series of verbal photographs. These mini snapshots can be seen through your own personal autobiography or through a fictional character. Sometimes it helps to lay the groundwork for memoir through a character in order to set up a scene, especially if you are exploring sensitive issues where healing still needs to take place. In this situation a certain emotional distance helps ‘see’ into the truth behind the memory.

One approach that Michael J Bugeja suggests can also become an over-arching thread for perspective and voice and theme.

Poet as a Visionary can be a veteran of an experience—someone who has participated in or been an involved witness or someone who hasn’t—yet gives an overview of events, sometimes by imagining what it would have been like or has an opinion on the whole process.

Poet as an Eyewitness has the experience and gives a first hand account of some aspect. The emphasis is on impact of the experience whereas the visionary’s emphasis in on perspective or opinion.

We’ll examine some examples in the next blog as we discuss voice, but for now look over your maps and see if the words you chose fit either as a visionary or eyewitness voice.

Action Steps:

Begin the shaping process towards an outline and possibly a working table of contents. Choose one perspective to develop a possible theme thread.

1. Make a list of your key words so far.

2. Next to each write a very brief sentence that focuses it’s meaning to you then.

3. Next to each mark whether the key is a location, or a relationship, or a inner revelation. Do any repeat more than others?

4. Take whichever focus repeats and then set up a practice outline using that as the foundation.

Share: Which perspective did you choose and why?

Read deep, marcy

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Journal With Impact: Memoir Maps

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“All this time the Guard was looking at her, first through a telescope, then through a microscope, and then through an opera glass.”  Lewis Carroll

The lens through which we view or relive our memories will focus the story we want to share with others. First we take all our brainstorming and look for the connections. The memories begin to form a shape, a map, from which to outline and track the journey we want to relive and then to share. Both figuratively and literally maps can help us go deeper into memoir and give us new insights.

Drawing maps can combine the brainstorming and concrete research at the same time, whether you use an existent map to copy from, or design your own. It is another way to focus on the time, place, and experience that you are exploring. 

Here are some suggestions to experiment with and choose which lens you want to share from—a long distance reminiscence, a day in the life, or an internal life-changing experience. Then once you know the style that captures your voice focus on the action step versions below to fine-tune your story.

Possibilities. Draw your own setting map, or trace one. Take an old atlas and cut and paste to make up your own country or local setting. Mimic a tourist map. Take a map and turn it upside down or backwards. Make a collage of landscapes and buildings.

Research old maps in a library, make copies, and then turn them into your own. Several years ago a friend sent me an historical map of a small town in Holland around the 12th Century. It has figures on the streets showing where commerce was done. One youth is leading sheep down one path. On another a wagon is loaded with produce. The people in the village are included along with the street names.

Any map can be adapted to your personal visual memories.

Here is a word sample memory map that is a combination of memoir and creative process that author George Ella Lyon suggested for beginning poets in her book “Where I’m From.” 

I am unable to copy, sadly, but she took a piece of a traditional map of a geographic location and then placed the word YOU in the center. Then she scattered words all over—near the highway, along the river, and in the various neighborhoods. Here are some of her words—“Town or Street Names, SMELLS, Central Events, Wild Card, TASTES, Objects, Church Experience, Parent’s Work, and Hiding Place.”

Action Steps:

1.     Choose a literal map, antique or present, or a photograph of a particular landscape, or draw your own version with multi-colored pencils, or in black and white with pens. Or try all three to see which atmosphere most resonates with your memories.

2.     From whichever map shape or style you chose to work with, make at least three different versions. A) Literal objects or site names. B) Emotion words or phrases only. C) Themes or symbols as representatives of your main impressions. Have fun and draw your own personal emojis.

3.      Then from your three approaches mix and match them as in the sample by George Ella Lyon.

Share: What one key word did you post on your map that you didn’t expect?

Read deep, marcy

"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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