Novelists don’t have to use their families’ real names.
Agents don’t wear a cheesy smile and declare that a novelist’s true-life narrative “cannot be differentiated from others in the market.”
By creating names, places, people and events (and, well, whatever they want), novelists build a bulwark of invention to keep their agonizing, lived experiences at bay while concealing them in their fictions.
Novelists don’t create in a genre tagged with terms like “naval gazing” or paired with adjectives like misery as in misery memoir.
Agents don’t shake their heads and explain that novelists’ life stories don’t have enough of a “hook.”
Novelists don’t workshop their manuscripts in mixed-genre groups only to be neglected—
“I couldn’t really write my opinions or leave comments. I just wasn’t comfortable. After all, yours is so personal.”
When someone asks, “Come on, did that really happen?” Novelists answer, “Of coursenot.” (Whether it did or not.)
When novelists compose outrageous fictitious scenes, readers don’t flinch. When a memoirist records an outrageous real-life scene, readers complain—
“No way this happened!” “I don’t believeit.”
Novelists don’t confront questions like—
“What is a memoir, again? Okay, and who wrote it? But, who is it about? Shit, you must have had a really amazing life!”
After their books are published, novelists aren’t in jeopardy of family and friends ostracizing them or of being disowned. They don’t witness their families and friends sob and dodge others when their lives are exposed.
Author and activist Elizabeth Smart—who first gained national attention at age fourteen when she was kidnapped from her home by religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee—will be at Changing Hands Tempe (6428 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, AZ 85283) on Thursday, March 29 with her new book Where There’s Hope: Healing, Moving forward, and Never Giving Up.
About the book
Author. Activist. Victim—no more.
In her fearless memoir, My Story—the basis of the Lifetime Original movie I Am Elizabeth Smart—Elizabeth detailed, for the first time, the horror behind the headlines of her abduction by religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Since then, she’s married, become a mother, and traveled the world as the president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, sharing her story with the intent of helping others along the way.
Over and over, Elizabeth is asked the same question: How do you find the hope to go on? In this book, Elizabeth returns to the horrific experiences she endured, and the hard-won lessons she learned, to provide answers. She also calls upon others who have dealt with adversity—victims of violence, disease, war, and loss—to explore the pathways toward hope. Through conversations with such well-known voices as Anne Romney, Diane Von Furstenburg, and Mandy Patinkin to spiritual leaders Archbishop John C. Wester and Elder Richard Hinckley to her own parents, Elizabeth uncovers an even greater sense of solace and understanding. Where There’s Hope is the result of Elizabeth’s mission: It is both an up-close-and-personal glimpse into her healing process and a heartfelt how-to guide for readers to make peace with the past and embrace the future.
In 2009 I finished my first memoir. I’d worked on it for a few years, performing copious amounts of research on international garden design, horticulture, psychology, landscape theory, as well as interviewing a few family members. Well, I actually only interviewed my mom, and that was a two hour heart-wrenching session where for the first time in my life I got to know her as a person more terrifyingly real than I ever imagined.
During a visit home I was anxious. I didn’t want to broach the interview we both knew I wanted to do (and that would be the key to my memoir), but as the visit was ending she finally asked when I was going to get around to it. She often asked this of me as kid when I had the stomach flu – I held in my vomit until the very last minute, resulting in a big mess nowhere near the bathroom. Sorry. Too much info. I am a memoirist you know.
I felt awkward during our interview. I shook. I felt sweaty and cold. It was strange. I wasn’t ready for this kind of memoir – the one where you speak the deep truth by having confronted it in your lived life. A few weeks later my mom emailed me the deeper, deeper truth, saying she’d never speak it in person to me. It was the story of her siblings being beaten and molested, of her stepfather spiking her vanilla malt and trying, unsuccessfully, to molest her, too. I learned that for my family the garden was an escape, a place to center and come to grips with life.
I edited that memoir, Morning Glory, in 2010 because I knew it lacked structure, and a big part of the reason it lacked structure was because I was afraid to dig as far I needed to. It still lacks structure, and has sat idly in an external hard drive ever since. But my new memoir, which I began working on in 2009, is risking more. It’s bolder. It’s asking big questions. It’s taking a stand. All because I’m putting more of myself on the page.
I’ve taken four trips to Oklahoma to interview family and experts about state history, about homesteading stories from 1894 to the 1940s, about prairie ecology, about Mennonites and Cheyenne beliefs. Exploring my love / hate relationship with my birth state has helped me find the pain that Oklahoma represents for many cultures, human and plant and animal. As an accelerated microcosm of manifest destiny, my family helped destroy the prairie — I want to right that wrong I’ve felt in my bones longer than I’ve known how to name it.
But I’m terribly afraid that in saying the above, I’ll alienate the older members of my family who see the Plains in rose colored glasses, or that I’ll be accused of not honoring the sacrifice of my immigrant family who spoke only German. But the more I read, the more I travel, the more I remember my childhood in the hot, red dirt, I know what my truth is and that I have to speak it loudly – so loudly it hurts people’s ears and hearts. If I can’t risk my life here, on the page, alone in my office, how can I ever risk it out there? How can I live with myself if my inner and outer selves don’t merge? These questions have become my second memoir’s structure. Through a failed first book and much more active research than I ever did in nine years of grad school combined, I’ve come to gain confidence and faith in my writing and my life. At 37, it’s taken me many failures to write boldly, to write and trust my truth – and if Turkey Red is ever read by family, I will surely fail again. But I will have profoundly succeeded, too.
Summer 2012 Social Networking intern John S. Martinson shares how Superstition Review gave him the impetus to pursue his interest in creative nonfiction writing.
My stint as Summer Blogger for Superstition Review was the impetus I needed to move forward toward finding a graduate degree program. I have always enjoyed writing, but other than English 102, a blogging course taught by Trish, research reports in Sustainability, and weekly posts in Sociology and Rhetorical Studies, I have had no assignments to write. I had thought about applying for a Masters of Arts in the School of Sustainability because I found the subject matter compelling—the kind of science policy I could rap about. I had started a sustainability blog in the blogging class (ecocanyon.org) and fed it a few posts, but, alas, it has wallowed since. Nevertheless, working in a literary environment, albeit an online environment, was stimulating. I was especially drawn to creative nonfiction. For years, I have been an avid of reader The Sun Magazine and The New Yorker.
The other kick in the pants came from a gentleman I met on Facebook (a friend of a friend), Marvin Kupfer, a professional TV writer who lives here in the Valley. We had lunch on September 13 of last year where we discussed my search for a graduate program. I explained my dilemma: although I was interested in sustainability, I did not see myself as a scientist. My real passion lay in writing, especially creative nonfiction. Marvin encouraged me to follow my passion; I could always write about sustainability. This echoed encouragement from my wife in the same direction.
After our lunch, I immediately searched writing programs at ASU. I have a business and
I am a hands-on Dad so a full-time program like an MFA was out of the question, especially with my wife working on a Masters of Gifted Education at the same time. I needed flexibility. So, I decided on a Master of Liberal Studies with a concentration in Creative Nonfiction Writing at ASU Online. I started the program in January, with a course in Memoir Writing from SR Nonfiction Advisor Rebecca Byrkit. I have written six memoir assignments so far. I am home.
Until I was asked to write a blog on famous muses, I really never gave the idea much thought. I’ve always used my surroundings or circumstances to rev up my creative juices. But it didn’t take me long to recall those who held my hand as I began my love affair with the written word, as well as the ones who paved the way for me on this journey of self-exploration. Or, my life as a writer.
Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, is the first author whose words challenged me to break free of the excuses and “take it bird by bird.” In her book, she speaks about her older brother who procrastinated on a book report about birds which was now due the following day. The task ahead of him appeared insurmountable when Lamott’s father “sat down beside him, put his arm around [her] brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Currently, I’m in a season where my writing revolves around blogs and articles. I haven’t sat down and written my novel just yet. So for me, I’m taking it blog by blog. And I’m also avidly following guidance from another one of my muses: Stephen King. In his book On Writing, he reminds writers to read a lot and write a lot. I tend to go in spurts — right now I’ve been reading a lot. My muse was recently rediscovered in between the pages of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain and Blake Crouch’s Snowbound. Consequently, I’m feeling one step closer to sitting down and tackling the writing a lot part of King’s advice.
Another writer, Lee Gutkind, ASU professor and managing editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine, also incites me to explore life’s next adventure. In his essay, “The Five Rs of Creative Nonfiction,” he encourages writers to seize our sense of wonder by immersion, or the “real life” aspect of the writing experience. The four remaining Rs include reflection, research, read (this cannot be stressed enough!) and “writing.” Simple but sage counsel.
With his sardonic, humble wit, David Sedaris inspires me with his edgier pieces, touching on off-the-wall topics that both entertain and challenge. My daughter and I once waited six hours in line to meet the man in person and receive an autographed copy of his book Squirrel Meets Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. He did not disappoint; neither did the book.
But I’ve also discovered that even the underdogs may rise up among the famous. One such muse of mine is a close friend incarcerated for the next few years. He tutors other inmates in math, takes college courses while serving his sentence and studies the craft of memoir writing late into the evening hours. And then he pounds out his daily observations on a typewriter, the kind with ribbons, platen and correction tape. He motivates me as he devours book after book, doing what each of the successful writers who have gone before us have done and continue to do.
I read because I love it. I write because I cannot help it. So I grab onto the shirt tails of those who make it look easy and hope a little of their spunk (and a whole lot of talent) rubs off on me. They are the ones who have paved the way and carved a niche in the literary world. The guiding spirit(s) for my truth.
Do you have a famous — or not so famous — muse that inspires?