Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Writing Truths

20200310_103008

The memoir is a concentrated slice of an autobiography.

Negative (white) space can be a positive thing.

You can be a reader without being a writer, but you can’t be a writer without being a reader.

Real life doesn’t have to make sense. Fiction does.

Every character has a story, but some are better told in a poem, a short story, a novel, etc.

Writers are some of the smartest people I know, for what they don’t know, they research.

Write what you want, then edit out what you don’t want.

If your tweets aren’t entertaining, people will assume your book isn’t either.

Every time you submit a piece that’s been rejected, review it. It will improve each time.

Literature is the prevention, journalism, the cure.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Leann was not a kid person,
despite being in a Church that prized children
to the exclusion of everything else,
though Mother believed the Church would change her;
perhaps if polyandry were allowed,
Leann—who was like Scarlett O’Hara at the barbecue at Twelve Oaks,
writing to a dozen elders at a time—
would meet the one elder who had not been conditioned
to want what she did not.

We were so unlike the Jonas family,
which consisted of a half dozen teenaged girls;
“Greater by the Dozen” was their family slogan,
for they were of the Quiverfull movement.
Leann believed all they needed was a set of sextuplets
to make them “Cheaper by the Dozen,”
so they would get a spot on 60 Minutes.
To Leann, big families were overrated,
for they lacked the intimacy of small ones.

We were archetypes in a stage play,
even as I felt those around us were stereotypes in a TV series.
Leann was known as the pretty strawberry one,
Kath, the popular chocolate one,
& I, the quiet vanilla one—
a Neapolitan concoction that perfectly completed one another.
As for Donna Marley,
who was known as Twenty-Seven & Unmarried,
she was the hot fudge, whipped cream, & cherry,
all in one.

Kath’s African lineage made her one of the most popular girls in the ward.
To Mick, she was the “white chocolate sista” he liked to tease,
& though Kath replied that she may have been a freak of nature,
he was just a freak.

Leann Sweeney,
who had come as Scarlett O’Hara
in the white dress at the beginning of Gone with the Wind,
had the kind of charm that was disarming,
whereas I felt like Melanie Hamilton,
with Elder Roberts as my gentle, noble Ashley,
who was as loyal to the Church
as Ashley Wilkes had been to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.

An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Writing Tips

20200310_103008

There is no excuse for writer’s block. If you’re stuck on one project, work on another.

If you find a word in a thesaurus, look the word up in the dictionary to ensure it means what you want it to mean.

Keep everything you write. I used certain lines from an essay outline to write a poem on short notice for a contest.

People aren’t always what they seem. Multilayered characters that keep you guessing are the most interesting but don’t use the first chapter as an information dump.

If it seems like you have too much dialogue or narration in your short story, it helps to create a visual: I highlight all the dialogue/narration in mine and look at my story from a multi-page view. This helps me know where to break up the narration with a scene.

Avoid phrases like “he jumped in the shower” or “she hopped in the car.” People don’t jump in showers or hop in cars. Use “he got in/she got in.” The former is hyperbole and doesn’t read well.

Never use cliches. If a character in your story is prone to them, put a new twist on an old phrase to freshen it up (unless you’re writing about a real person). If you can make the cliche humorous, even better.

Make your title memorable, but don’t use too many complicated or unusual names in a story. It comes off as amateurish.

If you’re going to emphasize a seemingly insignificant detail at the beginning of your story, that detail should play a role in the end.

If you use a semicolon to separate two sentences, ensure the sentences relate to each other in some way.

Sweet Little Nothings

In the end we only regret the chances we didn't take chocolate

Because she believed
that she wasn’t smart enough for college,
she’d quit,
toiling away in dead-end restaurant & retail work,
soaking up life experience,
which was often greasy.
When a little bun was placed in her oven,
she found it in herself
to believe in herself
again,
or maybe even for the first time,
for being little more than the miller’s daughter
who turned words into gold.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Life was marked with holidays & celebrations,
with weddings & funerals,
& the seemingly endless baby showers
that happened in the Green Haven Ward.
In early October,
there was Trunk or Treat,
when all the members would line up their cars
in the Church parking lot
& pop open their trunks filled with goodies.
These weren’t our neighbors
but the same people we saw every Sunday.
In this modern era,
we knew those who lived across town
better than those who lived beside us,
for Mormons surrounded themselves with those
who understood their lingo,
their culture,
& their way of life.

Leann Sweeney,
the smiley-faced girl
with the Shirley Temple curls
couldn’t bear to say no to anyone,
whereas Kath Wakefield,
the black albino girl,
was brought up to say no
& to say it often,
& then there was I,
who’d simply wanted Mother to say yes once
after a lifetime of saying no.

I rarely thought of my high school days,
which were like a Gaussian blur.
I had befriended the sheltered, studious girls there—
the ones who ate from brown paper bags
& hung out with their parents on the weekends.
They had invited me to Mass
but never to their house,
& it had never occurred to me to invite them to mine,
for I hadn’t ever felt I needed a friend beyond the hours
I spent at Green Haven Catholic High School.
Commencement was the last time I saw any of them,
but now I craved the type of friends who knew me
as I knew myself at home.

We appeared as the perfect nuclear family:
mom, dad, 2.0 kids,
all of us well-groomed & well-mannered.
It had meant so much to Mother
that we attend Church as a family.
Mother went for herself,
David went for her,
I went for Elder Roberts,
& Caitlin went for Elder Carmichael.

Though I had known David’s aunt & uncle,
Mother’s family was still largely a mystery.
All I knew was that she had been an only, lonely child,
whose father was Irish & whose mother was Russian.
On the top shelf of a bookcase,
that held all of Mother’s crystal figurines,
their picture was as familiar to me as my mother’s face,
& years would pass before,
by chance,
I would take it down to dust it,
only to drop it.
When I removed the picture from the broken frame,
I looked at the back,
hoping for a date,
only to see the names Clayton & Marjorie Maynard
instead of George Francis McCarrick & Katerina Kasparkova.
Through researching my family history,
I would learn that these people were strangers;
when I looked up my grandparents’ names,
it was as if they had never existed,
& I knew that Mother had joined a Church
where family history was prized,
only to have made hers a lie.

An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Betty Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

A bottle of White Diamonds perfume
next to the last paperback you were reading,
left on your crowded nightstand
with something as completely random
as a piece of junk mail
serving as a bookmark;
a Coca-Cola in the fridge,
half-full—
“an accident waiting to happen,”
as Dad would say;
a half a pack of cigarettes
with the lighter inside,
every book written by Lori Copeland and Kathleen Woodiwiss,
a hutch filled with Coca-Cola memorabilia.
So many reminders
of the things you enjoyed in life
remain,
their disuse telling the story that
even though you don’t live here anymore,
your memory does,
for it is protected from the elements of decay,
even as it is preserved in the minds
of those who knew you best.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Journaling and Chapbooking

20200310_103008

Lists are a great way to spark creativity. They provide a framework you can fill in with details and make yours. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/07/the-seven-wonders-of-hannah-an-exercise-in-non-rhyming-poetry/

Metadata matters. Take time to appropriately label your work and categorize it for easier lookup, and go through your flash drive once or twice a year to clean house. Have a corpus file, where you put deleted scenes that don’t work in the work it was intended for but which might work as something else.

Journaling isn’t just about the product but the process. If you focus too much on the product, you’re editing, not writing. 

Keep several notebooks or journals handy—on your nightstand, in your purse, car, etc. Inspiration often comes when you’re unprepared. It’s also easier to keep up with several books rather than trying to remember to always carry the same one around with you. 

Have a theme journal. Joe Brainerd did an “I remember . . . ” theme. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/joe-brainard-i-remember. I am doing a “That extra moment . . . ” book for my daughter. Other ideas would be “What if?” (my favorite poetry subject), “If only”, and “Because.”

Freewriting is when creativity flows the best, as you are pouring out your subconscious on the page. Sometimes it’s hard to stare at a blank page or computer screen; some websites will give you a prompt to get you started. Some of my best poetry can trace its roots back to a prompt. 

Live to live, not just to record. Never let the magic of the moment be lost because you were too busy writing it all down.

Creating chapbooks for poems and anthologies for short stories help me organize my smaller works into more manageable forms.

Short-term memory holds a thought for about a minute (or less), so keep a scratchpad in every room in the house, in your purse or pocket, next to your work desk, in the glove compartment of your car, etc. Text yourself if you have to. I write over 100 poems a year and could not do this if I didn’t jot something down as soon as it came to me.

When you write from life, you become a data miner. I save emails, newsletters, photos of random things, fliers, quotes, links, obituaries/newspaper clippings, and even job descriptions. This piece, for example, was inspired by some of the event fliers I saw posted on bulletin boards around campus. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/04/14/poem-a-day-april-2018-writers-digest-challenge-14-theme-report/

Sweet Little Nothings

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations chocolate

Life had gotten hard
when her husband had gotten sick,
& their gender roles had,
out of necessity,
reversed.
There were the days
that he felt like he was
withering away in isolation,
becoming Mr. Mom & Mr. Dad;
there were the days
she felt like she was stuck somewhere between
Office Space & Groundhog Day.
But when they saw how far they had come
from almost becoming
cardboard-carrying members
of the cardboard box brigade,
saved only because they were not
alone in the world,
they knew they were each doing
what they had to do
to have the life they wanted—
not just for themselves
but for the daughter who walked between them.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

I was plunged into the water & arose anew.
I looked at my hands, which were still,
& that was when I realized the trembling was inside.

I had expected a sprinkling of water on the head,
not the immersion process I had just gone through.
Had one hair on my head come up out of the water,
I would have had to do it again.
I smiled at Elder Roberts,
for how wonderful was it that my future husband
had led me down the path?

He hesitated before baptizing David,
but my chaste young love knew it was the only way
to get Mother sealed in the temple
& on her way back to her divine origin.
It occurred to me then that
David had never loved God enough,
or even himself enough,
to give Him his soul,
but he loved Mother enough
to forsake everything
he had never believed in.
To get Mother to finally marry him,
he had to do it on her terms,
but when had she ever done anything on his?

David’s sparkling water glass was empty.
He held it, twirling it by the stem,
looking at it as though the answers
to all of life’s quandaries were there,
as crystal clear as the glass.
Caitlin was not with us,
for Mother, David, & I were connected in a way
that she would never be.
Her “otherness” set her apart,
& when I went to bed that night,
I realized had she never been born,
our lives,
as they were now,
wouldn’t be much different.

“To peace and love,” I said instead,
raising my tumbler in a toast.
“To love,” Mother said, smiling again.
“To peace,” David said,
& we lifted our glasses,
clinking them together,
the sound seeming to ripple through
the room in endless echoes,
signaling the beginning of the life to come.

An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.