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Dialogue in Memoir
I sit and listen to news of blisteringly cold gales, snow falls, and marvel at photos of these dumps of snow on Facebook and Instagram. We are still in summer here with no evidence of autumn being around the corner and no doubt those in the northern hemisphere will be wondering if they will ever come in from the cold.
This puts me in mind of memoir as a genre. Will it ever come in from the cold and be given the value it deserves. Despite Frank McCourt and Mary Karr who are credited with being the first to move memoir up a notch in people’s estimation, memoir is still talked of in hushed tones. Writer’s of memoir often seem a little embarrassed that this is the genre they write. Other writers might quickly say, “I don’t write memoir.” What is the problem with owning our own story? Is it a lesser story because it happened to us? Does it say something about us because we want to tell it? No story has to be told and if yours is one that you don’t wish to share there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We do share our stories though. Every anecdote we relate is a small memoir told in an oral tradition. I researched memoir for my masters and discovered that memoir as a genre is new to scholarly examination. I also discovered that not many realise that memoir is captured in the genre creative nonfiction.
What is creative nonfiction? Lee Gutkind, the father of creative nonfiction, describes it as a “true story well told.”
The best creative nonfiction in Gutkinds opinion is where the public (books such as True Blood, The life of Henrietta Lacks) moves closer to the private end by giving some personal detail and the private end (which includes memoir and personal essays) includes some public information.
If we are looking at ‘true stories well told’ where does the creative come in? It does not mean making the story up. Once you do this, you have moved from nonfiction to fiction. The creative has been found to cause some confusion, and other names (narrative nonfiction, literary nonfiction) are often interchanged in the hope of giving a little more clarity. The creative is referring to using storytelling techniques from fiction to tell the true story. There are three major elements used: 1) dialogue; 2) high definition descriptions of scenes and 3) manipulation of time. It was these features that McCourt and Karr used skilfully creating a true story that people wanted to read.
In memoir writing, it is now widely accepted that all these elements are acceptable despite being made up elements. Dialogue serves the same purpose in memoir as it does in fiction. It develops or reveals the people who are in narrative, moves the plot forward and gives immediacy to the moment being described. From the readers perspective, it puts them in the scene. For memoir, it is accepted that the dialogue used will be of a style an in a manner of what would have been said. The essence of the dialogue must be true to memory even though the words are not remembered. At the time I was examining dialogue for my thesis I was reading many purists and questioned if dialogue was used, did it change the genre from memoir to BOTS. Painstakingly I counted how much dialogue was in a large number of memoirs – Frank McCourt used the most with one book 22.64 percent and another a whopping 47.74 percent. Most used less than 10 percent in a first memoir and less than 20 percent in a subsequent tome.
A similar finding is possible for high definition description of scenes. Mary Karr was a master at these descriptions such as her description of the doctor: “He wore a yellow golf shirt unbuttoned so that sprouts of hair showed in a V shape on his chest. I had never seen him in anything but a white starched shirt and a gray tie. The change unnerved me.” Despite these types of vivid description Karr could not remember everything and had huge gaps in her memory:
“Because it took so long for me to paste together what happened, I will leave that part of the story missing for a while. It went long unformed for me, and I want to keep it that way here. I don’t mean to be coy. When the truth would be unbearable, the mind often blanks it out. But some ghost of an event may stay in your head. Then, like a smudge of a bad word quickly wiped off a school blackboard, this ghost can call undue attention to itself by its very vagueness. You keep studying the dim shape of it as if the original form will magically emerge. This blank spot in my past, then, spoke most loudly to me by being blank. It was a hole in my life that I both feared and kept coming back to because I couldn’t quite fill it in.”
The two different memories don’t gel, and yet we accept the doctor scene as true. It gives us an entry into how Karr felt as a child. Again, these high definition scenes are now accepted as belonging in a work of memoir.
Next month I will look at time. I’d be interested to hear what you think about the inclusion of dialogue and high definition scenes in memoir. Do you think that the inclusion of these elements make the writing come alive? Do you feel you get to know the author better through dialogue? Do you think there is a point where there is too much dialogue? I look forward to hearing what you think.
Please join Irene Waters at her blog Reflections and Nightmares with a monthly memoir writing prompt that gives us social insights between generations and geographical locations. Along with your response, give your location at the time of your memory and your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in can be seen at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments (here or at the current Times Past Monthly Prompt) or by creating your own post and linking to Trees: Times Past.
Irene Waters is a writer from Queensland, Australia, whose pastimes include dancing, reading, and playing with her dogs. Her main writing focus is memoir. Her writing has appeared in Text Journal and Idiom23 magazine. She is the author of two memoirs, Nightmare in Paradise, and its sequel After the Nightmare which she wrote as part of her thesis. Her Masters is a research degree, examining sequel memoir from Central Queensland University. Irene is a Rough Writer and contributor to The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1, including an essay on memoir.
I write within a porch in the heart of the Keweenaw. It looks out over a bustling village street, an old railway line, a ball diamond. There’s a Veteran’s memorial down the lane, flags flapping, begonias blooming. One name listed there belongs to a relative I never met, though I knew his Grandpa, my great-uncle. That memorial connects me to half of my family, to mining immigrants, to this place. That’s the way it is around here.
It is in this porch I sit each day, beside a patchwork bird on a wooden pedestal and a tabby cat who lounges in the sun. It’s a feminine space. An old space. Once cold and dark, it has undergone a transformation in recent years. A transition. The walls and floor have been insulated, the thin window replaced, the door repaired. It’s been painted and papered, received fresh lighting, a sturdy boot box, and a line of aged-bronze coat hooks to hold outerwear. It has become a conglomeration of the passing times. Just as I am a conglomeration of ancestry.
I imagine this old porch was once like many Keweenaw porches. Or sheds. Or mudrooms. The walls were probably lined with wooly coats, peas of ice melting from their cuffs, scant puddles forming in rings below. I envision galoshes strewn about on its bare wood floor, rag rugs soaking up the slushy weep from their soles. Somewhere in its past lies the smell of damp dog. Of coal. Of firewood. Maybe even pasty or pannukakku. There have been times sitting out here I swear I can almost hear the voices of past residents coming from interior rooms—the Finnish or the Cornish or perhaps the French Canadian—chatting over morning coffee or afternoon tea. I imagine the clink of their cups. The slurp of liquid from their spoons. They speak with confidence, with pride, with identity. Unhindered, they raise their voices in their mother tongue. They laugh, sing, whisper. They are who they are and are licensed that freedom.
There are days I sit and think about that. I think about the freedom to speak the language of one’s choosing, and I act upon it. Though on most days I may be writing or editing from this porch, there’s at least one day a week reserved for the study of language—Anishinaabemowin, the language of the Ojibwe people, my maternal blood. I log in remotely to a makeshift classroom hours away. I don my headset, turn on my camera, and join a group of others like me, students of all ages hungry for the words of their ancestors.
It is in this porch once built by immigrants that I’ve come to understand the beauty of an Indigenous language. And the value. It is here, where European descendants have stomped their boots and hung their overcoats, that I have learned another side of me. Beyond the French Canadian that contributed to my father’s blood. Beyond the Cornish of his mother.
My journey began over a year ago, in stutters and stammers. I could hardly speak. I saw my face in a small square on the screen. Other faces, too. Strangers, all of them. All of us wondering who we were. Why we’d come. What had drawn us to that virtual classroom. “Aaniin, boozhoo,” I said, my voice timid, the words foreign. And that was the beginning.
These days I introduce myself in the language with greater ease, a rhythm gradually developing, though still far from adequate. Like a graying toddler, I pick up syllable by syllable, word by word, the elders my teachers. Each week I grow in the culture, learn history, hear stories. The elders tell jokes and tease one another. And we laugh. “We don’t want to make it too heavy,” they say.
Though each member of our class comes from different walks of life, from different locations across the country, many share a similar linguistic history: Our Anishinaabe grandparents didn’t pass down their language, because they feared for their children—and their children’s children. They feared they would be taken away, feared they would be punished, as that is how it was back then. And so our parents grew up hearing the language, but not speaking it. They grew up understanding some of what they heard, but not storing it away. And we, as their children, grew up without it.
So, that is why we gather.
I sit on this porch on a Thursday morning caressed by wisps of mashkodewashk, the scent of wiingashk in the air, nibi at my side. Sage, sweetgrass, and water ready me for the day’s teachings. We’re reading a story during this lesson, each slide on the screen a page of the storybook. I review what I see before I’m called on. To my surprise, I recognize the words, understand their meaning. There are tears in my eyes. A lump in my throat.
“Giinitam,” the elder says to me. Your turn. He wants me to read out loud what I see on the screen.
Before this day, I’ve never understood as many words grouped together. I’ve never passed a slide without relying on the English translation for clarification. I’m excited. In disbelief. “Before I begin,” I say, “I just want to tell you that I understood some of this before I read the translation. And that almost makes me cry.” My cheeks are warm. My heart glows.
“Nishin,” the elders say, nodding. “Nishin.” They are happy with my progress, proud of their student, grateful that Anishinaabemowin will not be forgotten from Aki, this Earth. I feel in this instant that somewhere in the distance my Ojibwe ancestors are smiling and nodding, too. En’, they are saying. Nishin, n’doozhisheninaan. Yes. Good, our grandchild.
It is Wednesday now, a writing day. Beyond my Keweenaw porch cars pass, children call, neighbors mow their lawns. My keyboard clacks amidst the delicate snore of the cat. I often grumble about the noise, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. I know, if I wait, there’ll come a lull in the din. The cars will quiet. The children will go home. The lawns will be tidy, and the cat will rouse herself and wander off in search of kibble. I’ll pause my typing in those moments. The click-clack of the keys will fall silent. And I’ll listen. I’ll listen for the sounds of those familiar voices—the voices of the Keweenaw immigrants. The miners and the railway workers and the lumbermen. The Finnish. The Cornish. The French-Canadian. But these days, if I listen close enough, I’ll hear another voice, too. One fresh to my ear, like a robin’s spring call. It rises from an inner space. Claims a place in the dialogue. Adds to the melody of my history. “En’,” I’ll say, for I know who it is. It is the voice of my other half. The voice of the Anishinaabeg. And I’ll smile.
Born amidst the copper mining ruins of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, T. Marie Bertineau is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of the L’Anse Reservation, migizi odoodeman. Her work has appeared online with Minnesota’s Carver County Arts Consortium; in Mino Miikana, a publication of the Native Justice Coalition and Waub Ajijaak Press; and in the annual journal U.P. Reader. Her debut memoir The Mason House (Lanternfish Press, 2020) was named a 2021 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan. Married and the mother of two, she makes her home in Michigan’s Keweenaw.
The Work of Memoir
By Irene Waters
As you read this I will be sitting on the high seas, nearing the equator, out of range of the internet so I will start by apologising for what will seem my tardy response to any comments. Don’t worry I will get there and look forward to coming back to a conversation in full swing.
Initially, I was planning for this post to discuss what memoir is but decided that I have already written a post on the difference between memoir and fiction so instead I will direct you to that and write instead on the work of Memoir.
Have you ever thought about why you read memoir? Have you ever noticed that you read memoir differently to the way you read fiction? I know I do. I am supercritical with memoir if I find what is written to be unbelievable. If I discover after I have read a memoir that it is not true – I feel angry, duped, used. I never feel that way about reading a fictional work. We feel this way because we read believing the story to be true.
For the reader, a memoir can be a guide through the human experience. It may be an experience that the reader themselves is undergoing and they are looking for an insight into another person’s experience on which they can draw strength for what they are undergoing or give us an understanding of a different kind of life. We can learn from another’s true life experience as we know these real-life characters lived, and we can get guidelines from them as to how we can live our own lives. For the inarticulate, a memoir may offer expression of what they are feeling but which they find impossible to express. It lets the reader know they are not alone with what they are experiencing. Predominantly in reading memoir, we are looking for how the narrated “I” deals with situations to become the “I” of now. We are looking at identity creation. We are honing in on the reflection of memoir.
This brings us to what I find fascinating with memoir – all those different “I” characters. Have you ever thought about how the author – the narrating “I” is telling his/her story and yet is a different person to the person they are narrating – the “I” then or narrated “I” who is a constructed “I”. There is also a past or historical “I” who is the person who can be verified as having lived but this “I” cannot be reproduced exactly as they were in the past. Finally, there is an ideological “I” who knows the cultural rules of the time. Identity is embodied in all these “I”s that we meet with memoir. P. Eakin said: “We learn as children what it means to say ‘I’ in the culture we inhabit, and this training proves to be crucial to the success of our lives as adults, for our recognition by others as normal individuals depends on our ability to perform the work of self-narration.”
If you are writing memoir are you aware of your “I” characters? I believe this is why people read memoir and why memoir is written. It is the biggest difference between fiction and memoir – the narrating ‘I’ as the present day person who does the remembering and offers reflections and interpretations of the past events allows us to see how the author’s “I” character has changed. If the memoir is a ‘coming of age’ story we will read how one ‘I’ changes to another. In a conversion narrative the ‘I’s will be separated by a chasm. It is not unusual for there to be circumstances where the “I”s don’t like each other or understand each other. This is one circumstance where third person can be used in the writing of a memoir (past tense first person is normal) as it shows the disconnect between the ‘I”s.
The modern way of writing memoir using fictional techniques I believe (and remember this is my opinion) detracts from the reason people read memoir. If you use all show, not tell you are allowing the reader to construct their own thoughts on how you got there, how your identity changed and they lose that important part of memoir – the reflection by the narrating ‘I’. This loss leads to the loss to the reader of the author’s gaining of self- awareness and the impact this has on their identity creation. This is one of the fictional techniques that I am loathe to encourage to the exclusion of telling. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Next month I will look at dialogue in memoir.
Please feel free to join in Times Past. This month thanks to a suggestion from Charli, we are going to stay at school and examine learning to write. Write a post of your own and link up to my Times Past Page, leave a comment in my comment section or in the comment section when Charli posts her memories of learning to write. Don’t forget to put where you lived at the time of the memoir, your generation and whether it was a rural or city area. Look forward to reading them on my return.
April 23: Flash Fiction Challenge
Now, I remember. It’s purple flowers first. Crusty snow holds on in the northern shadows and grit covers yards, unraked mats of maple leaves, and driveways. Spring arrives dirty to the Keweenaw, but that doesn’t deter the first flowers emerging. Purple crocus and grape hyacinth spear upward and bloom barely inches above all that remains of winter’s onslaught of snow and sand. No wonder romance favors spring with its hope and optimism. Snow can’t stop the love flowers have for the sun. Any additional snow squalls at this point are pure moisture for unstoppable hardy blooms.
Cabin fever often gives way to gardening delirium. I admit to frequent lurking at Geoff Le Pard’s (virtual) place to drool over his gardens and coo at Dog. At a distance, my daughter and I have been garden-scheming, though mine is small-scale. She’s growing five years of food to feed and cider the Keweenaw. I’m plotting (hey, there’s that writing term) a potager garden with plans for a W-shaped series of five towers of morning glories, scarlet runner beans, purple-pod peas, and climbing clematis. I’ve yet to sort out the mix of flowers and veg, but it will include nasturtiums, cosmos, marigolds, beets, broccoli, lemon cucumbers, squash, potatoes, and garlic.
I can get as lost among the seeds of a garden as I can the scenes of a novel. When it comes to writing, I’ve heard the voices of my characters and their stories come to me in scenes. The idea behind a potager garden is that flowers and herbs are planted with kitchen vegetables to enhance the garden’s beauty. I’m also learning that craft elements added to scenes enhance a novel. It takes dreaming and planning; experimentation, and knowledgeable guidance; and the guts to see it through all the hardships of pests, weather, and work.
What can I tell you about a scene? Think of them in terms of plants. Just as you build a garden plant by plant, you build a story scene by scene. A potager garden is like a type of story — short, creative non-fiction, novella, memoir, novel. Whatever form your story takes, you build it through scenes. Each scene has action or emotion (or both), which furthers the plot or character development. Writers craft scenes through elements, including dialogue, tension, foreshadowing, tone, world-building, and themes. The more you push into writing a novel, the more complex your scenes become. We can write scenes and rearrange them, but at some point, for a longer piece of work, we have to make sure the scenes carry the story from opening to conclusion.
It’s been a while (or feels like it, but quarantine warps the sense of time) since I’ve shared articles from my coursework. Not that we’ve advanced, most of the articles we are reading are scholarly and behind the gates of ivory towers. This disappoints me because I can’t make these readings accessible to you. You could see if your local library has access, and if you are interested, contact me for titles and authors. However, I can share this online post about what should go into a scene. It’s a bit like a guide to planting a potager garden — certain craft elements can be companionable in a scene.
If you regularly write 99-word stories, you are routinely practicing scenes. You can focus on one or more craft elements, explore a story, complete a story from beginning to end, connect a series of stories, explore characters, and even write the backstory to your works in progress. Flash fiction is both an art and a tool. It’s versatile and instructive. Something that has come easily to me in my coursework is the crafting of scenes, and I attribute that to frequent flashing. In a recent assignment, we had to write a scene in ten sentences, and then rewrite it in a single 100-word sentence. The more you can challenge yourself to write a single story or scene in multiple ways, the better you will become at managing your writing.
A potager garden doesn’t manifest in a day or a season, but the more you plan and combine and learn from those who have successfully raised one, the closer you will be to having a thing of function and beauty.
Speaking of beauty, love is in the air as always, despite COVID-19. Maybe thoughts of gardens and flowers emerging stir the romantic vibes. Looking for uplifting stories from our strange and isolated days, I came across a New York Times profile of an octogenarian pair of lovers on opposite sides of the German-Danish border. It will lift your spirits to read about their determination to date no matter the distance they must keep. This got me thinking about love lives in the age of coronavirus. So we are going to navigate romance. Your story does not need to be a romance genre, but it will be part of the topic.
Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.
April 23, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about distance dating. It can be any genre, era, or setting. Who is dating, and why the distance? How do the characters overcome, accept, or break up because of the distance? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by April 28, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Captivity by Charli Mills
They captured her in the spring of 1904. Her long stride couldn’t save her, though she fled across the high desert basin, nostrils flared, mouth dry, making for a canyon where she could drink from the creek. What she didn’t know is that they set a trap, blocking her exit. Exhausted, she relented and followed the men into a captivity of fences.
He visited her often, staying back at a distance, the one true love of her life.
“Hey Cap, there’s that stallion again.” The young man who rode her back pointed.
She whinnied and pranced, thirsting for love.
Tips for the Memoir Rodeo Contest
This past year, Irene Waters has led us in thoughtful discussions of what memoir is as a genre. You can search her essays at Carrot Ranch under “Times Past.” Irene is one of several talented memoirists who also write flash fiction, and has published an essay in The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1 about writing across both genres.
With the Rodeo coming up in October, it’s a good time to mention what we consider “flash fiction” at Carrot Ranch. Weekly, we write 99 words, no more, no less. TUFF includes the ability to free-write, master the constraints of 99-words, 59-words, and 9-words, and to revise those constrained pieces into a polished story less than 1,000 words. Therefore, “flash” represents a shortened word count.
“Fiction” stands broadly for any kind of creative writing. Flash fiction can be any genre intended for any audience. It can be based on a true story (BOTS), an observation, a memory, an experience. Fiction is a general term that covers a variety of techniques, including dialogue, exaggeration, story-telling structures. While fiction covers imaginary people or events, writers are welcome to base their stories on true events, too from history to memoir. What matters is the art a writer creates with words.
To further discuss differences between genres is for another post. Suffice to say that Irene Waters often leads us in those discussions. And she’s going to lead us once again in a flash memoir contest for the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo. I’ll turn it over to her to give you all some tips and a what to expect from her and her judges.
RODEO #2: MEMOIR
Contest runs October 10-17
By Irene Waters, Rodeo Leader
Memoir is a passion, so I’m thrilled to once again host the memoir section of the Carrot Ranch Rodeo Contest. Hoping you’ll tighten your saddles and put on your spurs and join in. Last year we had Scars – this year? –make sure that you check in at the Ranch on October 10th when the topic will be revealed. I’m looking forward to reading your 99-word entries that tell a full story on the prompt topic. This can be a happy memory, a sad memory or a wherever the prompt takes your memory. It should be a true story given that this is a memoir contest.
Tips for the contest can be found in the memoir articles I have been writing for Charli over the last few months. Particularly pay attention to “dealing with others,” and consider using dialogue and high definition description.
I will be joined by fellow judges Angie Oakley who returns to again take the reigns and Helen Stromquist.
Angie Oakley. Originally from London, Angie moved around a great deal and worked as an English teacher in schools as far apart as Nassau in the Bahamas and Daylesford in country Victoria. She now lives in Noosa, which she finds a lovely place in which to do the things she loves: writing, reading, thinking, talking, and walking and skyping her far-flung family. She’s written a couple of novels, lots of articles and is always interested in the work of other writers. As well she has been known to offer her thoughts in a blog at http://spryandretiring.wordpress.com
Helen Stromquist. After finishing her nursing training in Brisbane, Helen worked in London where she met her husband which saw her living in Sweden for many years before eventually returning to Australia. Helen loves the arts and although she does not write herself, often finds herself editing articles for her family – one writer and one artist. She is an avid reader and is the convenor of a book group in Mosman, Sydney.
For those that do not know me – I’m Irene Waters, a memoirist whose first memoir Nightmare in Paradise is soon to be published. In the long road to publishing, I completed a MA, researching the sequel memoir. Until recently, when a creative hiatus hit, I have been a regular at Carrot Ranch since its inception and found writing flash a good way of honing writing skills. I enjoyed trying my hand at fiction and learning the creative writing skills that are part of that. I am also a keen amateur photographer and this along with my writing can be found at my website Reflections and Nightmares.
So saddle up October 10th will soon be here with the deadline for entries October 17th. The winner (and second and third place) will be announced November 16th.
Rules and prompt revealed October 10, 2018, at 12:00 a.m. (EST). Set your watches to New York City. You will have until October 17, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. (EST) to complete the Memoir contest. Irene, Angie, and Helen will announce the prize winner plus second and third place on November 16. Carrot Ranch will post a collection of qualifying entries.
Rodeo 1: Dialogue led by Geoff Le Pard and judges Chelsea Owens and Esther Chilton/Newton
Rodeo 3: Travel with a Twist led by Sherri Matthews and judges Mike Matthews and Hugh Roberts
Rodeo 4: Fractured Fairy Tales led by Norah Colvin and judges Robbie Cheadle and Anne Goodwin
Rodeo 5: The Sound and the Fury led by D. Avery and her judge Bonnie Sheila.
The Tuffest ride starting September will see 5 writers qualify to compete in October and is led by Charli Mills. For Info
Times Past: What is Memoir
I started off this series for Charli saying that I had already written about what memoir is and at the time I chose not to repeat it. However, in summing up for the last post in this series, I thought it is probably worth revisiting what a memoir is.
Firstly, memoir belongs in the creative nonfiction genre. These works are described as true stories that are well told. They generally utilise the fictional techniques of dialogue and high definition description of scenes. The truth is told in a way that is compelling for the reader.
Memoir is derived from the French term for memory. Memoirs also come from this word, but memoir and memoirs refer to two different things. The plural form is interchangeable with autobiography (the complete life story of a person in chronological order). Memoir, however, refers to a modern form of life writing that looks at only a part of one’s life and is told in the compelling way discussed in the previous chapter.
Although both autobiography and memoir are true, an autobiography tells facts that can be found by researching the life. The information should be verifiable. It is the history of a life. Memoir, on the other hand, is coming from within. It is the story of self and is how one person remembers a portion of their life. These memories are true to the author but are not necessarily verifiable by anyone else. When I write a memoir it is true to my memory but not perhaps to others. We all approach an event with a worldview that is our own, and the memory we will take from that event will be influenced by it, thus giving us different perceptions of the same event. This does not mean that anything can be made up. There have been a number of fraudulent memoirs written such as famously by James Frey and Norma Khouri. In these, the incidents in the book did not occur or were grossly exaggerated.
There has been an explosion of memoirs since Mary Karr and Frank McCourt each wrote their memoir, both of which are credited with being the start of the modern memoir boom. These paved the way for anybody to write their own story – we have misery, travel, dogs, celebrity, grief, illness memoirs and the list goes on and on and on. Memoir is often similarly seen in the nonfiction world to the way romance is seen in the fiction world. Why is this? Most likely because everyone has a story to tell and many who aren’t diligent in editing and writing publish. Sometimes people see it as narcissistic – to my mind, this is usually an unfair assumption. Those writing feel they have a story that may help others by the knowledge that they gleaned in their processing of what happened to them. This reflection is an integral part of memoir. Others write because they feel they have a good story to tell but again there will be a change in the person because of the event, and this reflection will be shown in the narrative. For those that want revenge or a cure for self, publishing a memoir is not the way to go.
How do you tell if it is fiction or memoir? The name of the author should be the same as the ‘I’ character in the narrative. Phillipe LeJeune coined the term “The Autobiographical Pact” whereby the author is the ‘I’ character and pledges to the reader that the narrative is a true story. The reader reciprocates by agreeing to believe the narrative is the truth. Reading memoir is different from reading fiction, and that abuse of trust hurts if the memoir writer does not tell the truth.
As for writing memoir – know your audience, know your theme and keep the focus narrow. Use dialogue and high definition descriptions of the scene, use small detail that only someone that was there could have known. Use your voice. Personally, I think there should be a combination of telling and showing so that the reader is left in no doubt as to how you changed as a result of the events being told. Always show unsavoury characters – let the reader be the one to decide that they are not too nice – don’t label or condemn. As a result, time may have to pass before writing. Time should be played within the narrative.
Before sending it out for publication – make sure that it has been copyedited and proofread. I hope in the writing you enjoy owning your story. Thanks Charli for giving me the opportunity over the last few months to talk memoir. There have been some good discussions, and although I have never wished to change anyone’s thoughts on memoir, I hope that it has given everyone some food for thought.
Times Past will continue monthly. Join in Times Past where this month we are looking at Horses and Childhood Dreams.
Rodeo #1: Dialog
By Geoff Le Pard, Rodeo Leader
Writers are notorious people watchers. It’s a small miracle we don’t get done for stalking more often. Part of that idea — thieving we do involves listening to what people say — phrases, the modes of speech, dialect, etc. People convey ideas and feelings with words. [READ MORE…]
So, those pesky rules:
- Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit.
- It’s dialogue only. Everything inside speech marks, please. (American and British styles both accepted.)
- Any genre, time, place, just let us know via words. If you can world build a fantasy, hats off! (Oh, by the way, I bloody loathe the overuse of the exclamation mark. Be very sparing or my prejudices may show through.
- It’s a conversation so you need two characters at least. But can you have a conversation with yourself? With an inanimate object? Go for it. There’s a prompt at the end for you to use, but use your imagination. It doesn’t have to be anyone in the picture who’s speaking, does it?
- I don’t mind what English spelling or slang you use, just make it recognisably English.
- I want emotion, but I want fiction. Not memoir, not a personal narrative and no non-fiction, though dialogue non-fiction sounds a challenge in its own right.
- You must enter your name and email with your entry using the provided form below. If you do not receive an acknowledgement by email, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 10, 2018. Entries are judged blind and winners announced November 9, 2018 at Carrot Ranch. Please do not compromise the blind judging by posting your entry before the winners are announced.
- Go where the prompt leads, people.
- Have fun.
JUDGES (read full bios at SPONSORS)
Geoff Le Pard
Find Geoff’s books at Amazon US or Amazon UK. Follow his blog at TanGental and on Twitter @geofflepard.
Whether it’s an edit you’re after, some advice about a market, writing in general – in fact, anything and everything, you can get in touch, and she’ll try and help you. To find out more, visit her blog: https://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com. Or contact her: email@example.com.
When not cleaning (an infuriatingly large amount of the time), eating, sleeping, parenting, driving, reading her blog feed, budgeting, and cooking; Chelsea breathes in and sometimes out again. She also writes daily on her blog: chelseaannowens.com.
In judging we will apply the following criteria:
- Word count: 99
- Pure dialogue.
- Use of the prompt.
- Emotion: does the piece convey feeling? Do you generate a reaction in the reader?
- Ideally we want a story, something that makes us think. Where’s this going? What’s happened? Engage us in your tale.
- We love any clever tricks, to make us go ‘ah ha’. Include something to make us wonder and up the slippery pole you go.
- Just remember, in real life, we don’t say everything, we finish each other’s sentences, we talk over each other. Use that. Make it feel real. Make us hear it, and you’ll be a winner.
And the picture prompt?
Oh come on, it’s me. Wadyaexpect? The inside of Starbucks?
Thank you for entering! The contest is now closed. Winners announced November 9, 2018, at Carrot Ranch.
Travel to the Rodeo
Sherri Matthews has kept her feet in the stirrups at Carrot Ranch while riding hard to revise her memoir. She’s one of our premier memoir writers who also pens a hapless village werewolf character who first debuted here in flash fiction. Her fiction can turn a dark twist as deftly as a rodeo bronc.
This year, Sherri seeks inspiration from travel. It’s not her first rodeo, so as a leader she’s going to shake up her event. Her husband Mike Matthews and friend and fellow writer, Hugh Roberts, joins her in the judging. Here’s what she has to tell you to prepare for her event.
Rodeo #3: Travel with a Twist
By Sherri Matthews
In July, I had the good fortune to spend a week’s holiday with my husband on the Italian Amalfi Coast. I say good fortune, because hubby won it, thanks to a random prize draw. We couldn’t believe it. Who wins those things anyway? Surely it’s a scam? But I can report back that it’s no scam because I’ve got the pics to prove it.
The holiday was as filled with twists and turns as it was unexpected, not least of all thanks to hurtling along Amalfi’s hairpin coastal road in a taxi driven by an Al Pacino lookalike who, for no good reason, suddenly pulled over to check something in the back of his car. Though the beautiful Tyrrhenian Sea sparkled far below us, I couldn’t get ‘The Godfather’ out of my head and hoped we wouldn’t end up swimming with the fishes.
Which got me thinking: how about a Travel with a Twist prompt for the Rodeo?
Think of the story behind the smiling vacation faces many of us find on Facebook. Chances are they’re no more than that, no drama, just a snapshot of a happy moment caught on camera. But what would change our perception of those perfect, happy pics if we knew something nobody else did? What if the man in the photo had just taken a call from his neighbour back home warning him that his house was broken into? Or the grand-children, all milk teeth smiles and ice-cream sticky cheeks, missing their Mum, who’s away on honeymoon with her new husband?
If travel stories have you dreaming of your own private island with palm trees and sandy beaches and an ocean as warm as a bath (the only kind you’ll catch me in), then go for it. But maybe in your story, it’s a woman travelling in thought when she finds an old photograph from that holiday taken years ago with their husband, who has since left her for a younger model.
Perhaps your holiday is a bus trip to the next town over, just for the day, a scenario that makes me think of one of my favourite films. A story of unrequited love, the characters played by Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins finally meet again on Blackpool Pier after years apart, but it’s too late for their love. It’s early evening, and the lights come on, and everybody claps. The favourite time of day, Emma Thompson’s character notes, giving the film’s title: ‘The Remains of the Day’.
Wherever you go on your travels, keep the judges guessing to the end. And those judges…? As before, Mike Matthews and Hugh Roberts will be assisting me with what I know will be a hard task if last year’s Murderous Musings entries are anything to go by.
Huge thanks both: Mike, lovely hubby and fellow traveller, my sound-boarder, proof-reader and keen observer of life and writings. And Hugh, lovely friend, blogger, and author with a delicious flair for writing sizzling short stories, published his first collection, ‘Glimpses’, last year, the second volume of which follows this Christmas. Hugh also won first place in Norah Colvin’s, ‘When I Grow Up’ competition in last year’s Rodeo.
That’s us packed, then, ready to go. How about you? Whether near or far, will it be holiday heaven or holiday hell, funny or sad, romantic or dangerous? It might be a BOTS (based on a true story) or wild and wacky from the deepest depths of your imagination. We don’t mind. Go where the plane/train/automobile takes you, but remember, it must have a twist. We can’t wait to find what’s hiding in your suitcase.
Rules and prompt revealed October 17, 2018, at 12:00 a.m. (EST). Set your watches to New York City. You will have until October 24, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. (EST) to complete the Travel with a Twist contest. Sherri, Mike, and Hugh will announce the prize winner plus second and third place on November 30. Carrot Ranch will post a collection of qualifying entries.
Rodeo 1: Dialogue led by Geoff Le Pard and judges Chelsea Owens and Esther Chilton
Rodeo 2: Memoir led by Irene Waters and judges Angie Oakley and Helen Stromquist
Rodeo 4: Fractured Fairy Tales led by Norah Colvin and judges Robbie Cheadle and Anne Goodwin
Rodeo 5: The Sound and the Fury led by D. Avery and her judge Bonnie Sheila.
The Tuffest ride starting in September will see 5 writers qualify to compete in October and is led by Charli Mills. For Info
Times Past: Themes and Focus
Although memoir is a true story of a particular part of your life, it must still have structure if you intend for others to read it. Firstly you have to decide what is the story that you want to tell. For most memoir writers it will be the most exciting, heart-pounding, significant time of their lives. For some, this may be their childhood to their coming of age (known as a bildungsroman) whilst for others, it may be an illness, an experience that happens later in life or it could be the relationship you had with a particular animal or a business venture you had undertaken. In reality – it can be any theme you choose. These days there are even immersion memoirs where a person will undertake some task or live amongst, e.g. footballers, for months and then write a memoir on this experience. For most of us, we know our story, and we know what has had the most impact on us, and that is what we decide to write about. For me – it was when my husband and I, as newlyweds, went into partnership with the paramount chief of an exotic island in the Pacific in the running of a small resort and tour business.
Early in the writing process you also need to decide for whom you are writing. Is your audience only yourself, your family or are you planning to publish and sell your memoir to the public. When I started writing my memoir the plan was that it was being written for my family. I included detail that interested them as they knew the friend that helped us load a pile of timber into a container that was eventually to be the house we built on the remote island. As I ventured further into the story my focus changed and I decided that this was a story that had wider appeal than just my loved ones. However, this change meant that the chapters I had already written had to rewritten to remove information that no-one, other than my family and friends, would have much if any interest in knowing. If, however, you are writing for your family then lots of detail about the family will be of interest to that readership. Early in my blogging I came across a chap that had published his memoir. I purchased it on Amazon only to find that this was a story that had been written for the family and had little appeal to the wider audience. It may have been worthy of some blogging of the more interesting aspects but I don’t think it should never have been put up for sale to the public without a lot of editing. If you are writing just for yourself then you can be free with details of a personal nature that might be therapeutic for you to acknowledge but should never be let into the public domain.
Having decided on a theme and a focus the writing begins. How you do this is an individual choice. Some people free write their first draft, just putting down all thoughts on paper. In the second draft, they add the structure. Personally, I write in a structured way from the start, but in second drafts I may change my starting point. Lee Gutkind, the father of creative nonfiction, suggests that you should open with a scene as it is crucial to draw the reader into the narrative immediately. Scenes are active. They show instead of tell and have dialogue and high definition scenes. Scenes and reflections on the effect that this has had on the author’s life should be put into the structure of the book. Again, this can be done in numerous ways either intermingled or set apart from each other.
Once the first draft has been written it should be re-read looking for the themes, focus, scenes, and reflection. If part of the narrative has nothing to do with the theme, even if it is a great story, get rid of it. If it doesn’t suit the focus, edit so that it does. Rewrite to create scenes where necessary and add reflection where there is none.
I would also suggest, as has Stephen King, Lee Gutkind, and many others, that reading memoirs that are of a similar theme to your own is a helpful exercise. Doing so allows you to see what works and what doesn’t work regarding structure. Sometimes the ones you don’t enjoy teach you more than those that you think are fantastic. Analyse what works and what doesn’t work. Reading is also useful when it comes to selling your book to a publisher as they will want to know – where on the bookshelf would this sit? Be able to tell the publisher who your memoir will appeal to. Mine will appeal to those that like travel memoirs, true-life adventure, small business and those wanting to make a change in their life. Knowing the themes and the focus will tighten your writing. I’m looking forward to joining in the discussion on your views of themes and focus.
The prompt for this month’s Times Past is a little different to those normally given. This month I am asking you to reflect on the biggest change in your lifetime. This can be a social change or a technological one or even one of both. Please join in giving your location at the time of your memory and your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in can be seen at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments or by creating your own post and linking. Looking forward to your memories.
Once Upon a Rodeo Time
(GRAPHIC UPDATED TO CORRECT DATES)
From the remote reaches of northern Idaho, the Carrot Ranch Weekly Challenges launched in March of 2014. From around the world, Norah Colvin accepted the first challenge from Australia. She’s held a special place at the Ranch ever since.
Norah cultivates the kind of growth mindset that marks a life-long learner. But she’s also a teacher. Norah frames her entries in posts that focus on education, giving her readers new points of learning or discussion. Last year she launched readilearn (a sponsor of the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo, so be sure to check out the site).
You can always expect to learn something new from Norah, and her Rodeo Contests is no exception.
Rodeo #4 Fractured Fairy Tales
By Norah Colvin
Do you love fairy tales? Chances are, unless you are a parent or grandparent of young children or an early childhood educator as I am, you may not have encountered a fairy tale for a while. Well, I am about to change that by asking you to fracture a fairy tale for the fourth Carrot Ranch rodeo contest.
What is a fractured fairy tale you ask? It’s a story that takes a traditional fairy tale and adds a new twist. Sometimes the twists are dark and sometimes humorous. Sometimes they are dark and humorous. They may even be sinister or subversive but rarely patronising or preachy.
A fractured fairy tale usually takes a character, setting or situation from a well-known fairy tale and presents it from a different angle or point of view. Sometimes characters from different fairy tales appear together. A fractured fairy tale is never simply a retelling of the original story with characters painted black and white. In a fractured tale, the lines and colours blur. But the characters or situations are recognisable.
Roald Dahl sums it up well in the introduction to Cinderella in his book of Revolting Rhymes.
I guess you think you know this story.
You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.
The phoney one, the one you know,
Was cooked up years and years ago,
And made to sound all soft and sappy
Just to keep the children happy.
In preparation for the contest, you may like to re-familiarise yourself with some traditional fairy tales, and read some fractured ones; for example:
Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told to Jon Scieszka by A. Wolf
The Wolf the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett
The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
The Little Bad Wolf by Sam Bowring
Tara Lazar, author of Little Red Gliding Hood, has some helpful suggestions in this PDF.
Details about the prompt will be revealed on October 24, and you will have one week in which to respond. Judging your stories with me will be award-winning novelist and short story writer Anne Goodwin and children’s picture book author and illustrator Robbie Cheadle. Both Anne and Robbie were co-judges with me last year, and I appreciate the generosity of their support again this year.
Anne has already published two novels Sugar and Snails and Underneath, both of which I recommend as excellent reads. She has a book of short stories coming out soon and a third novel in the pipeline which I am eagerly waiting to read.
Robbie has published five books so far in her Sir Chocolate series of picture books. Her books are unique with their wonderful fondant illustrations. She also recently co-wrote While the Bombs Fell with her mother Elsie Hancy Eaton, a memoir of her mother’s wartime experiences.
The three of us are looking forward to reading your fractured fairy tales next month.
Here’s one from me to get the ideas rolling.
No Butts About It
I hereby repudiate rumours the Billy Goats are spreading. They accuse me of bullying, but they show no respect for me and my property.
All summer while I slaved to secure winter supplies, they gambolled frivolously. When their grass was gone, they proceeded to help themselves to mine.
I’m usually a neighbourly fellow, but when they come every day, trip-trapping across my bridge, scaring away my fish and eating my crops, it’s too much.
When asked politely to desist, the oldest one butted me into the river.
I ask you: Who is the bully?
Rules and prompt revealed October 24, 2018, at 12:00 a.m. (EST). Set your watches to New York City. You will have until October 31, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. (EST) to complete the Fractured Fairy Tale contest. Norah, Anne, and Robbie will announce the prize winner plus second and third place on December 07. Carrot Ranch will post a collection of qualifying entries.
Rodeo 1: Dialogue led by Geoff Le Pard and judges Chelsea Owens and Esther Chilton
Rodeo 2: Memoir led by Irene Waters and judges Angie Oakley and Helen Stromquist
Rodeo 3: Travel with a Twist led by Sherri Matthews and her judges: Mike Matthews and Hugh Roberts.
Rodeo 5: The Sound and the Fury led by D. Avery and her judge Bonnie Sheila.
The Tuffest Ride starting in September will see 5 writers qualify to compete in October and is led by Charli Mills. For Info