A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Write Your Memoir . Right Now. says today's guest Dana Sitar

Dana Sitar from http://danasitar.com/   

 Write Your Memoir. Right Now.
I never intended to be a writer. It was never my dream as a child, or in high school, or in college. I didn't study English or Creative Writing, or anything else that would lead me down this path. What I have always done is keep a journal. Since I was 11 years old, I have compulsively documented my life with no purpose or intention.

When I finally gave in to the drive that was always lurking deep inside to pursue writing professionally, I naturally turned to those journals for material. I started to turn old journal entries into blog posts and stories, and I started to keep my journal with me at all times to record everything that might possibly become a story.

I wasn't even trying to be autobiographical. I was just writing stories based on the greatest inspiration I could find: my life. But, when I decided to publish my first book, a collection of those stories, I realized that to call them fiction was not only inaccurate, it was confusing and didn't do the book justice. So, I call this book a memoir in short stories.

I felt a little silly at first telling people that my series was a memoir, because I'm only 25 years old. I've gotten over it, though, realizing through conversations with other writers that I've hit a nerve with the idea. Memoir doesn't have to be about digging through old journals and photo albums and piecing together memories of a life lived long ago. It doesn't have to include the wisdom you've gained with age, or your attempts to understand something that happened in your youth. It can just be your story. As it is. Right now.

Finding a story.


Bio

Dana Sitar is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger in the San Francisco Bay Area, and author of the ongoing memoir series This Artists' Life. She shares writing tips and anecdotes at her blog by.dana.sitar (http://danasitar.com).

Links in text:

I never intended to be [a writer]: http://danasitar.com
[my first book]: http://amzn.to/ShitShow


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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Your Story Here: guest Jane Shafron

        Back in December I ran across a fascinating story in the Los Angeles Times about my guest today.  After doing some research I found Your Story Here, the website of Jane Lehmann-Shafron.  I contacted Jane and she consented to visit us at Wrote By Rote:


Video Memoir: The Life That Got Away


This is the cover of a video memoir I never made for my Nana, Alice McJannet.

In my video memoir work, I sometimes think of my grandma.  I think of her especially now, in election season, because she was mad about politics.  She couldn't get enough of it – endlessly watching the candidates perform on her creaky old TV.  She was definitely crazy about politics, and it nearly made her crazy. 

Whenever the guy from the other party came on TV, she scowled, put her hands over her ears and looked away.  I saw her do that many times when I visited her at the nursing home she lived in - called “Jindalee” - just up the street from my folks. (I'm pretty sure she also did the “la la la can't hear you thing” thing as well – but I'm not 100% sure.)

Nana died a long time ago now, and she never knew the way my life turned out.  But she has been an inspiration, and a kind of perennial reproach, for my life's work. 

I make video memoirs for a living, you see - personal and family history documentaries detailing and celebrating the lives of (mostly older) Americans.  I have made hundreds of video memoirs now, won awards at film festivals, been featured in “Woman's World” and “Success” magazines, and even had a story about me and my work in the “LA Times”.  I have helped make hundreds of families happier, and more secure, by telling the life story of their loved ones.

But I never told the story of my Nana. 

I never made a video memoir of her Alice McJannet's life, as I have for so many others.  I never spent time getting to know her story, never researched her genealogy, never scanned and restored all her old photos.  And I never interviewed her nor edited her story into a fully realized personal history on video. I was too young, too busy, didn't know how, thought she had more time, didn't know about the technology.  All the usual reasons.

Here's a picture of Nana and me taken just before she died.  She had been in a wheel chair for years, ever since she lost one of her legs to amputation. But she never complained.  She had been a nurse and still had that “let's-get-on-with-it” optimism that so many good nurses have.

Dad would go up every Friday and collect her from Jindalee, scooping her up in his old farm-laborer's arms, and drive her down to our house where she would spend the whole weekend. Nana and I would always cook together, and I still have the recipes I wrote out – in my 9 year old hand – from the dishes we cooked together. Her lemon flavored cupcakes – we called them “little cakes” – were my favorite and they still are. Now I still make them with my own three boys.

My husband tells me I should be a little easier on myself.  The technology was nowhere then where it is now. I don't think we even had a video camera back then (when did they come in I wonder?). I certainly know that there were no video editing machines available – well, there were my husband says, but they cost $100,000 or more. 

But if I couldn't make a video memoir, I could at least have made an audio tape of an interview.  And I could have helped her write a life story...

Nana was never going to write her own memoir of course.  And I see this a lot in my business and have written about it in my blog.  I call it “The Problem of the Reluctant Subject”.  Some subjects, especially those who grew up in the Depression years, are just too darned modest to think that people want to hear their stories!  Vanity can play a part – none of us are as young (or as fetching) as we used to be.  And poverty, which we as the audience do not judge by, can still be somewhat shameful for the subject.  Add to which, a lot of older folks these days are just too busy doing other things!

No, if Nana's story was ever going to be told, it was going to have to be told by someone else.

I feel sad now that I didn't get to make Nana's video memoir. But I feel glad that I can help other people record their Nana’s stories.  My Nana Alice McJannet remains my inspiration, and a gentle voice in my ear encouraging me to continue my work.  And I thank Arlee Bird for allowing me to share just a little bit about her.

My PhotoJane Shafron is a video biographer who co-founded Your Story Here LLC Video Memoir, a video production company that specializes in preserving personal and family history. Based in Orange County CA, her award-winning films have been screened in festivals in the United States and Canada. Jane is on the Board of Directors of the Association of Personal Historians. She regularly writes to her blog Video Biography Central and can be contacted on 949-742-2755 or through her website.





         Thank you, Jane, for taking the time to visit us and tell your story.  And what an inspirational story it is.  I encourage readers to check out Jane's website Your Story Here.  It's packed with interesting information that I think you will enjoy.  Also visit Jane's blog Video Biography Central which again provides some great information for memoirists.


          Next week on Wrote By Wrote we'll hear a call to write from 25 year old Dana Sitar.  She has approached the art of memoir in a unique way.






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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dee Ready: It's a Cat's Life


          A pet's memoir?   Dee Ready offers her reasoning in today's guest post.


            I woke, suddenly alert, on the morning of July 8, 1989, and felt compelled to go downstairs to the computer. Once there, my fingers began to type. A few seconds later, I read the words given to me: “At the end all that matters is love, my love for my human and hers for me. I have planted the memories of our life together in her heart. She will find them there when I am gone and they will comfort her.”

            Momentarily, I sat puzzled. Why was I saying these words? Then I realized that it was Dulcy, not I, who was speaking. She and I had lived together for seventeen and a half years. Two days before, the vet had euthanized her because of kidney failure. And yet she was speaking through me. These words had to be coming from the deep center of myself where Oneness dwelt. And surely, Dulcy and I were one.

            This was the beginning of the book that came to be called A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. She channeled the book through me over a yearlong period. By mid-October of 1989, she’d completed the story of how she’d selected me, trained me, and turned me into a one-cat human. The following spring she gave me a number of poems to add to our book. They revealed her outlook on my foibles.

            A Cat’s Life was Dulcy’s final gift to the one she loved unconditionally.

            And my gift to her? Getting her book published.

            For a year I sent out query letters and received back only rejection of Dulcy’s story. Then, in April 1991, an editor at Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, suggested that I delete half of the 44,000 words and concentrate only on the relationship between Dulcy and me.

            Overjoyed by her words of encouragement, I needed only three days to prepare the 22,000-word manuscript. The fourth day I sent it to her. Several weeks passed and then on July 8, the editor called to offer me a contract. Oh, joy in the morning!

            A year later—in late September 1992—Crown published the hardcover of A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. It was then I responded to Dulcy’s gift by promoting her book in every way I could. I set up thirty-six readings and signings, five local television appearances on noon news and daytime talk shows, interviews with the three major newspapers, and a reading on Minnesota Public Radio. Later, a vice president at Crown credited me with selling most of the nearly 14,000 books that readers bought in the following months.

            I was disappointed when Crown did not choose to publish the trade paperback. So once again I sent out query letters. In December 2000, J.N. Townsend published Dulcy’s story in trade paperback. Once again, I set up signings and readings.

            A few years later, Townsend reverted the rights to me. At the same time, the publisher offered to give me the 670 remaining copies if I would pay the postage. This generous offer made all the difference, for it was then I realized I could sell Dulcy’s trade paperback on my blog.

            Beginning this past December, my blog has featured ten postings on Dulcy’s memoir. The postings relate all the intricacies of getting published and promoting a book twenty years ago. These postings end with the difference between getting published in 1992 and doing so now.

            Of course, one of the real differences now is the possibility of self-publishing and electronic books. Taking advantage of this, I hired one of my nieces to type the manuscript anew for me as all I had were the 1991 floppy disks. She also prepared the text per the directions on Amazon/Kindle.

            Thus far, readers have purchased thirty trade paperbacks through PayPal and twenty-three e-books. Now let’s admit that selling 30 paper books out of 670 doesn’t seem like much. But perhaps Dulcy’s book will continue to sell as new readers come to my blog. That, at least, is my hope.

            Having a little discretionary money is wonderful, but that’s truly not why I’m selling this book. The truth is that Dulcy’s story is a memoir that reveals the deepening growth of a relationship between a human and an animal. Between Dulcy and me.

            It’s her love letter to me. And until the day I die, I will do all I can to introduce readers to a cat named Dulcy who enriched my life for seventeen and a half years, gave me a story to treasure, and has abided with me since her death in 1989. I am blessed.


           Thank you, Dee, for your moving story.   Dee Ready can be found at coming home to myself



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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Harry Powers’ Saga

        A couple of years before my father died in 1990, he put down the story of his life in what he titled "The Autobiography of a Nobody".  I did not know about this until after his death.  He had loaded it onto a floppy disc, but none of us could figure out how to access the information.  Fortunately he had printed a few copies, one of which I have.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of my father's  Autobiography of a Nobody:
English: Mug shot of murderer Harry Powers tak...Image via Wikipedia
Harry Powers 1920

         Harry Powers and his two sisters owned the confectionery store one block from our house. Oh. the many times if we got a penny or two or more, how we would run to the store to buy candy from the store. Adjacent to the store was their living quarters. Harry had a coupe, one of the few that had an automobile in the neighborhood. On several occasions he would let me ride with him, and then deliver a grocery order to one of his customers. 
THEN THE NEWS HIT THE NEWSPAPERS! 
        Every few hours during the day an extra hit the streets. Since my father worked for the newspaper he saw to it that I got a big bundle of fresh extras to sell so I could have spending money. EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! HARRY POWERS MURDERS THREE WOMEN! 
       This was a devastating event that hit and shook Clarksburg (WV). It had a remarkable influence upon our neighborhood. It was being told that many of the neighborhood girls were on his list to be next. This had a temporary affect upon these girls whose names were on his hit list. 
       It bothered my mother. One night my mother had a terrible nightmare. She climbed out of her second floor bedroom onto the porch roof screaming that Harry Powers had her. The harder my father gripped on my mother’s arm the more she would scream thinking that Harry had her, She was very close to jumping off the roof. Finally my father was able to awaken her. Harry had a tremendous effect on other people in the immediate neighborhood. 
       What had happened was that Harry Powers, a heavy-set man, placed an ad in a lonely hearts section of a newspaper that attracted three different women at three different times, He owned a farm in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. They would come there!  I was too young to know exactly what Harry did to them, but I do know that he murdered them, and threw their bodies down the well. 
       A sort of a neighborhood scandal occurred in this case also. One of the more affluent neighbors decided to put a fence around a portion of the Quiet Dell Farm. He then pursued to charge admission to the curiosity seekers. The law didn’t like this, and quickly put a stop to it. 
      Harry Powers owned the house across the street from us. Authorities of the law dug up the entire back yard on the suspicion that he had buried people there. No bodies were found. 
      My older brother Tommy recalls the time he was rolling a tire from the top of our street. The tire got away from him, rolled down hill two blocks, jumped the ditch and hit a pillar that supported the front porch roof. The pillar was devastated. Harry came up and surveyed the damage. My father settled the matter amicable with Harry and all was satisfied. I don’t believe my brother was punished in any way for this matter. but I suppose he did learn his lesson. 
      Harry Powers was found guilty of first degree murder on all accounts. He was sent to West Virginia. State Penitentiary in MoundsvilleW.Va. where he was hastily executed by electric chair. 
     Today murders are everyday occurrences all over the world. In my boyhood days they didn’t occur that often. This was national news with a national following. Even then there were some sensational tabloids that came out stating Harry Powers is still alive. You know the story! Elvis is still alive. However I can assure you, Harry Powers was executed by electric chair.
      Just a note:  According to Wikipedia, Harry Powers was actually executed by hanging in 1932.  I feel very fortunate that my father had the foresight to create his autobiography for his descendants to read.  I can see some of my father's influence in my own writing.  I guess I should thank him for that as well.
        



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