A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Winds of Change Without Awareness--A New Year's Eve Once Upon a Time

The Moon is the most common major object viewe...Image via Wikipedia

          I try to remember but I can't.  It's the exact year that I don't remember, or most of the details of that evening.  I do know it was New Year's Eve.

          I was married to my second wife, Susan, at the time.  We were in Tennessee at my parents' house.  This is where we typically spent New Year's Eve.  It was the more happening place between going to Richmond, Virginia, where her parents lived, and being with my family, who were the more fun party people.

          My father was still alive at the time, our kids were still babies, and my wife and I were still in our thirties.  The house was aglow with lights and music and chatter and laughter as the festivities pressed on toward the turning over of one year to the next.  Everyone was having a grand time.

         At one point Susan and I decided to go out into the dark quiet of the night to take a break from the activity in the house. It was unseasonably warm that end of December night.  Strangely and unseasonably warm--more like a summer night, but with the crisp dryness of autumn.

         In silence, we strolled into the expansive back yard to a point that was about fifty yards from the house and sat down side by side in the desiccated winter grass.  Wordless, we smoked a joint under a cloudless starry sky and basked in the comforting balminess of the evening breeze.  Gazing upon the big house with lights in every window silhouetted against the black night sky, I slipped into a meditation.

        Here from where we sat in the back yard, the lights, the house, the people seemed so far away, and it was only Susan and I with our life together beautiful and filled with so much promise.  A feeling of serenity and security enveloped me as I clutched Susan's hand.  I felt that now was forever and this moment would have no end.

         Then a whoosh of warm wind swept over us and I felt exhilarated.  With a deep breath I leaned forward to breathe in the moment.   It was only Susan and I.  Our world was perfect.  A mental image of a distant future filled my mind--a place peaceful and beautiful where my wife and I would grow older together and watch our grandchildren grow and we would fade into the twilight years happy with the satisfaction of dreams fulfilled.

          That was then, one moment on a New Year's Eve many years ago.  Not too many years after that night it ended.  Things changed and became different.   I'm not even sure what happened or why it happened, but only that it did happen.   Susan left and what we had was over.  Any dreams she had once had about us were simply shrugged off as she moved on, leaving me to shoulder the burdens of memory and the confusion of questioning why things had come to the point they had reached.

        It was one New Year's Eve when things were weirdly warm and sublimely wonderful.  It was only an illusion--my personal illusion I guess.  The winds bring change that we don't even realize, things we don't understand even after they've blown past us.  Life sweeps us forward to where the next adventure awaits.  There is time for memories, but no real time for memories.  The memories are only illusion.

       A new year is a new year and an old year is an old year and all of the years just blend together.   Our minds capture certain memories isolated without reference other than the years that came before and the years that followed, whichever those years might have been.  And even then we sometimes don't know which years or why.

      Capture this moment in time.  Savor it and breathe it in deeply.   This is the last time you will ever be here.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Assembly Required--A Christmas Memory

christmas 2007Image by paparutzi via Flickr          Once I'd become old enough to have some semblance of intelligence, which is to say I could sort of read and follow directions, I became the official Christmas eve assembler for the toys that my younger brothers and sister would be greeted with the following morning.  I was Santa stand-in after my Santa dreams were shaken into reality.

           My dad was a good dad, but he was not good at mechanical and handyman sorts of projects.  He was a bookkeeper by day and a professional juggler in his not particularly secret other life outside of work.  Forget fixing broken things around the house or do-it-yourself car repairs or any of those types of jobs.  

          When I was little I just figured Santa's elves had assembled all of my toys and the big jolly guy just delivered them while I was sleeping.  Actually come to think of it I don't know that I ever got many gifts that needed assembly.  My mother must have had some sort of arrangement about that back then.   But once she figured out that I could figure out stuff, I became the handy kid of the house.

          My mother would go all out at Christmas when it came to buying toys for my younger siblings.  I usually went on the shopping trips and egged her on as I looked for things that I could have fun playing with.  Then Christmas Eve, my closest sister in age and I would help my mother wrap the presents as we listened to Christmas music or had some special holiday program turned on the television.

           Each year, the gifts that required assembly became bigger and more elaborate.  My father would retire early leaving me with the chore of putting together the crazy stuff my mother had bought.   My mother, sister, and I would be up late wrapping, chatting, and laughing.  At times I might let out a scream of frustration when my Christmas projects were not fitting together like the instructions showed, but I was committed to fulfilling my yuletide mission.

          I suppose those Christmas mornings back then were worth the effort, all of us in pajamas watching the wonderment of the younger ones.  My father watched with good-nature and perhaps a smug satisfaction that he hadn't had to put any of the toys together.  And though I put on airs of reluctance on the eve of toy assembly, it always gave me a certain sense of pride in the part that I had played in those Christmases when I was younger.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Memoir Through Journaling: guest Teresa the Journaling Woman

            Today I'm pleased to welcome one my earliest blogging friends.  Since Teresa often blogs about memoir related topics on her blog Journaling Woman and has a blog devoted to memoir topics--The Ruralhood--I knew she would have to be one of my guests here on Wrote By Rote.  The day has come and I'm proud to introduce Teresa and her Journal.  Be sure to leave a comment to be eligible for Teresa's special giveaway.  Details follow this post.

 Dear Diary, um Journal,
I’ve never written a memoir, but I’ve journaled for years and it all began with my girlfriend “Dear, Diary”.  It’s my personal belief that it is beneficial to record our life experiences for ourselves and for future generations. Trust me on this.
“Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into.” --William Zinsser.
My parents are excellent recorders of our family history and their own daily activity through writing, photographs and orally.  I can’t tell you how many times in the past 10 years, I’ve asked my mom and dad to retell stories and family facts to me. Why the repeats? I didn’t pay attention the first time. And, I may have taken those family stories for granted and the storytellers.  

          Along with journaling, I record my life experiences through blogging.  I am the author of two blogs, The Ruralhood and Journaling Woman.

           The lovely "Thoughts" journal that you see pictured here will be given away to one lucky person who leaves a comment for Teresa.  Details at the end of this post.

The Ruralhood blog is where I reminisce about my life as a rural person both as a child and an adult. It’s important to me to leave memories for my children and grandchildren.  My intention is to create a blog book of The Ruralhood.

Journaling Woman is the blog where I post about my writing, practice my short story skills, and share my own kind of humor.  I reserve Sunday to post about my Christian faith and belief in God and hopefully inspire others along the way.

“Writing the story of your own life is a bit like drilling your own teeth.” -- Gloria Swanson

If writing about your life seems as unsettling as a Stephen King movie, it doesn’t need to be.  Preserving your history can be done easily through various formats and inspired by easy activities.  Voice Recorders can be used to record family stories and conversations. Video Cameras can also be used to record your family stories, facts and history.  Don’t forget to make copies for your children and grandchildren. You can never go wrong carrying a small notebook in your pocket or purse to jot down memories and events to write in detail—later. Revisit family places where your parents or grandparents lived.  And don’t forget to trade stories with your siblings and cousins. Memories come at all times of the day and night and from every day exposure. Being prepared to note the memories is important.

There are numerous ways to share memories with your family.

My grandparents may have used these instruments to pass on family information:
·         Cassette or spool recording
·         Typewriter
·         Handwritten journals, diaries, tablets
·         Storytelling
·         Handwritten letters
·         Telephone

My grandparents would not have used these instruments to pass on family information, but you can:
·         Blogging  (Family, public or private)
·         Blog Books (Did you know you can make your blog into a book?)
·         Ebook of family recipes, stories, photos
·         Photo CDs
·         Home movie DVDs
·         Emailing
·         Social Networking sites
·         Cell phones
·         Electronic tablets

Your ancestors did it, and you can do it too. Now, get started recording your thoughts and life experiences.  Your family history should not be forgotten.

Can you think of other fun ways to create memories for future generations?


             Yes, Teresa is giving away a journal that you can use to create memories of your own.  To be eligible,  leave a comment here with an email so Teresa can contact you if you are the winner.  You can also leave a comment on her blogs Journaling Woman or The Ruralhood--a comment at any three sites will make you eligible.  Whichever way you choose, please check out both of Teresa's sites so you'll see what she does.  The journal winner will be announced on Monday December 26th on Teresa's Journaling Woman site.  

             Thank you, Teresa!

             Next week a fun Christmas memory of my own and a bittersweet New Year's story the week after that.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Writing a Memoir: Not for the Faint of Heart -- by special guest Linda Hoye

           Today's special guest is Linda Hoye.   Linda's  A Slice of Life Writing blog visits many topics including writing memoir.  One primary area of focus that Linda writes about is the subject of adoption.  Today she tells us a bit about her personal story and the process involved in bringing that story to the pages of her soon to be published Two Hearts: An Adoption Memoir.

Writing a Memoir: Not for the Faint of Heart

I’ve written off and on for most of my life and about four years ago I decided to get serious about it. My husband and I were empty-nesters and had recently relocated to Washington State from Canada.  Since all of our family and friends were back in Canada I found myself with extra time on my hands. I took a few online writing classes, joined the Story Circle Network and the National Association of Memoir Writers (Both organizations excellent resources for writers.), started a blog, and began writing about my life growing up in Saskatchewan.

I didn’t originally start out to write a memoir. At first I thought I would just write some vignettes about my childhood and document family history for the benefit of my children and grandchildren. It was my husband who encouraged me to write about my adoption experience, and convinced me I had a story that others might be interested in.

I had no way of knowing at the time just what I was getting in to!

I refer to the first few drafts as “Dragnet Drafts” because they contained “just the facts” and no emotion. Even though I had already done some grief work related to having been adopted, I was still very stoic and shut down, but I realized that in order to write about emotion I would have to feel the emotion, and that was not easy for me.
Family photo

I used photographs a lot during the process. I pored over pictures from my childhood, trying to remember how little girl Linda had felt back then. I had tiny photographs of my birth mom that I scanned into my computer so I could enlarge them and see her face more clearly. I had a lot of suppressed anger toward the woman who gave birth to me and seeing her face on a regular basis forced me to come to terms with it. I put pictures of all of my eight siblings up on the wall next to my writing desk, at one point I put a large sheet of paper up on the wall in my office and taped photographs of key people on it so I could see everyone all the time.
Mother and child

I read journals and poems I had written during dark times in my life and I compiled reams of documentation from my search and reunion. It was during the process of pulling those documents together when I realized there was something missing. I won’t go into the details (I hope you’ll read my book when it comes out to find out the whole story!) suffice to say I took a step that ultimately and unexpectedly led to finding peace about my adoption experience. If I hadn’t been writing a memoir it’s possible I would never have gotten to that place.

Aside from that, perhaps the greatest benefit I gained during the writing process was the opportunity to step back and objectively look at people, places, and events and see them in terms of a bigger picture. Much like the individual threads of a tapestry are woven together to make a design much more beautiful than any of the threads are by themselves, threads of situations and people are woven together to make up the unique picture of our lives. Oftentimes we aren’t able to see the beauty without stepping back, and it is in this stepping back and impartially considering the experiences of our lives that we find truth. We are able to let go of our preconceived biases toward people who have done things that hurt us and see them in a different light—a light of understanding, acceptance, and perhaps even forgiveness. We are able to see ourselves in a new way too, and understand reasons for choices we’ve made, and see how our choices changed our life.

Three sisters
       Today, four years after embarking on my memoir writing journey, I’m considering publication options for Two Hearts: An Adoption Memoir and my husband jokes that he has his wife back—without his support and understanding I could not have written this book
I hope my story will help other adoptees understand that if we are willing to acknowledge our issues and do the work we can find our way to the other side of the silent grief many of us deal with. Maya Angelou says: “You did then when you knew how to do. When you knew better, you did better.” I pray that Two Hearts will be a resource to help us know better so we do better regarding adoption in the future.

               Find Linda's blog at http://lindahoye.com/.   Thank you, Linda,  for this touching and informative post.

                Next week we will be visited by Journaling Woman who also writes wonderful memoir vignettes on her blog The Ruralhood.  

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Meandering With Memoir: Guest Post by Deanna Hershiser

        My guest today is Deanna Hershiser who can be found at her blogs deanna hershiser on the unexpected avenue and From the Third Story awakened again.  In this post she tells us about her experiences in writing memoir and offers some helpful advice about getting memoir writing published.

        I want to thank Lee for hosting me today at Wrote by Rote. He's got a great blog thing going here; we who are interested in memoir writing need more places to go to be inspired.

       Since before I could read and write, I've been presenting stories. I'm grateful to parents, teachers, and friends who encouraged me. Editors, too, helped guide my process, as I contributed to their projects in collaborative ways. Especially I appreciate my husband, who exhorted me to work toward publication, and who has listened to many rough drafts involving himself as a character. He's quite a guy.

       While I love print publications, writing online gives me good ways to practice and experiment. Five years ago I started blogging, and I keep up fairly well at my main site, which you can sample here. Lately I also blog, here, about my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. I've spent valuable time in a nonfiction group at The Internet Writing Workshop, a helpful space for those willing to receive feedback from various other writers.

Meandering with Memoir

       I first wrote about a friend, another young mother, who died when we were both in our thirties. My initial story sold to a national Christian magazine. The friend's death, my reaction to it, and the reaction of the Christian community I was then part of affected my life, my faith, and my writing. Years later I completely rewrote the story, revealing questions that, in my forties, I felt freer to ask. This piece, "An Overture's Turn," received an editor's choice award from Relief: A Christian Literary Expression and was my launch into creative nonfiction (CNF).

       Next I worked on a book-length memoir about my marriage of 32 years. Like most couples, Tim and I've had our ups and downs. Unlike many wife-writers, I feel compelled to relate through essays our failures. The reasons for this, perhaps a psychologist could fully untangle; I only know they involve God's gift of compassion toward me, and how our marriage journey has made me grateful for this mercy.

      With Tim's blessing, then, I wrote. As it turned out, the first third of my marriage-book manuscript became another essay for Relief, titled "Memorial Day." Later I resold the essay to Mike O'Mary at Dream of Things. Mike's people regularly put out calls for CNF submissions. I was fortunate to be part of the Dream of Things' anthology, Saying Goodbye. My marriage's turn-around story fit their theme of "Saying goodbye to the people, places, and things in our lives." The book has received good reviews and is available here and here.


   After my parents retired, I began interviewing my dad. He and Mom returned to his hometown, Eugene, Oregon, where Tim and I live. With gusto, Dad took up his favorite pastime, fishing. He invited me along. This brought back childhood memories -- early mornings out at first light to join Dad in his element. The fish never mattered; I just loved being with Dad. He used to speak sometimes about his fishing friend, Richard Brautigan. The two of them parted ways in the mid-50s, before my birth. Brautigan went to San Francisco and became famous for his weird, whimsical novel, Trout Fishing in America.

      My most recent essay, "From A Damselfly's Notebook," is based on Dad's stories about fishing with Brautigan. It landed in the print journal Rosebud (Issue 51), one of a few publications I used to buy from Barnes & Noble and study. Dad has kindly welcomed other published memoir pieces involving himself, such as a brief essay you can read online at Camroc Press Review and another at The Shine.

       Web journals like these offer submission guidelines. I recommend studying what they publish, giving their guidelines an attentive read, and sending them your own shorter memoir offerings. While they pay only in recognition, such a thing can be quite a boost. You can even link on Facebook to your published essay and wow your friends.

Why Memoir?

       People craft narratives from their lives in different ways. The diversity is great. I loved Frank McCourt's three memoirs, even though I wouldn't write the same way regarding most anything -- religion, sex, etc. He found a poetic voice for what meant most to him. Like music, his prose remained in my mind and drew me back to his pages. Other favorite memoirists of mine include Philip LopateAbigail ThomasGary PresleyTim Elhajj, and a fellow Oregonian, Lisa Ohlen Harris. Very different authors, but each captivated by real grit and beauty from their life stories.

      Connections between myself and the lives of others -- my people, my characters -- fascinate me. Fiction would be one way to explore such connections. Some people naturally make it all up to find the truth. Other folks, though, those of us engaged in our dances with memoir, are compelled to begin with stark reality and weave from it meaningful tales.

      The places and the ways I have been with people reveal much to me. Remembering is a sensory experience. It can involve adventures, such as sharing a leaky rowboat with my dad. It involves another sort of effort some days, returning in my thoughts to books that shaped my childhood, to music I clung to during dark seasons. However recollections happen, working with them is one of my most valued efforts. Finding the next ways to do so (assuming my hubby remains patient) will occupy me for years to come.

        I want to thank Deanna for providing us this wonderful look into her writing life and her tips on life writing.  Please be sure to visit Deanna at her memoir blog and see what else she has to say about the topic.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cool Cat Chat with Susan Kane

          Today I'm pleased to be joined by Susan Kane of thecontemplativecat and  Susan Kane, Writer.  I've enjoyed reading her contemplations and stories on her blogs and she has left frequent comments on mine.  It's good to get to know a little bit more about her.  She's stopped by to share some of her thoughts about writing memoir.

The family photo was taken in 1967.  Dad insisted that we would not smile.  Consequently, we all had giggle fits, and the photo shoot took an hour. 

Arlee:  I guess one question writers should get asked is:  When did you start writing?

Susan:  In third grade, I had grown into a voracious reader and absorbed books.  The only books available were the classic books, biographies, and Readers’ Digest Books.  The language level was challenging and intriguing.  When I finished all the third grade books, the teacher let me go to the fourth grader’s library.  By sixth grade, I had read all the books in the school, and was working through the Britannica Encyclopedias.

     Part of reading for me was responding to the book.  I wrote in a journal as I read, recording unknown vocabulary and copying down great sentences.  This was how I always read.  My writing branched off on its own, and I wrote the most awful love stories and mysteries. But I wrote volumes.

Arlee:  What inspired you to write as an adult?

Susan:  My paternal grandmother died four days before I married.  She was a brilliant gifted woman, who had told me stories of her generation, 1890s - 1972.  Five years after her death, I wrote a few pages about things she had told me about her fascinating life.  I typed on an old manual Smith-Corona, with my children playing/fighting around me.  It was great.

Then I wrote a romance novel (packed in a box in my office).  That showed me I could write anything lengthy.  I also got pregnant with our last child—too much research, I guess.

I have kept journals about everything:  trips, thoughts, prayers, everything.  Just the habit of writing as a response to life formed my own life as a writer.
My paternal Grandmother Amy is in her rocker; she was a highly educated woman, and loved to write poetry.

Arlee:  Your current work? What inspired this work?  

Susan:   In Preacher’s Creek takes place in a small rural farming town in the early 1950s. The time period is important because WW II is over, veterans have come home, and there is tremendous growth—in number of children and economically.  The town of Preacher’s Creek was established in 1820 and most of the residents are descended from the original settlers. 

       Family history and stories are part of life in this town.  The main character and voice is Ellen Jo Carter, with her brother Kent James.  Both are young children and are blessed with vivid imaginations, adventurous spirits, and insatiable curiosity.  The sleepy town that was content with its predictable life is faced with the issues and unspoken prejudices that the Carter children discover and uncover.

       I am a child of this era in America, born and raised on a farm, and part of the ‘Boomers’.  The events in the book may have a spark of truth in them, but mostly they come from my life experiences.  As an elementary teacher, I do know children and the actions they would take in any given situation. 

      The book is finished; I am currently editing.  This is the most frustrating part of writing, I think.

Arlee:  Why did you decide to write this book now?  Why not years ago?

 Susan:   I was teaching until 2008, and that consumed my creative passions. Two of my brothers died unexpectedly at ages 46 and 44.  My youngest brother’s death pulled my feet out from under me and dragged me in the sand.  Grieving for them and then my husband’s father, “Dad”, had left me emotionally numb. 

        Finally, my pastor suggested that I write, like I always have-- in response to life.  That was the genesis of this book. 

Arlee:  Is there any particular piece of literature that impacted you, as a writer?

 Susan:   Actually, there is one book among all the influential books I have read: The Source by James Michener.  This was published in 1965 just as I was heading into high school.  I had never read such a huge book.  I had study hall in the library; every day I would pull that monster of a book down from the shelves and be carried away by the quality language and events.  History can grab me and amaze me. 

      It was the idea of “layers” of archeology as applied to the layers of writing in a piece of literature that was an epiphany.  Characters are really complex people, multi-dimensional.  Going back in time through the archeological dig was parallel to discovering the characters through their ancestors. 

      The importance of understanding history—our own family’s history, as well as world history—is vital to growth as a person.  I am beginning to appreciate that more and more as I ‘mature’.
The Mark Twain Cave photo was taken in 1959; we were so eager to run to the cave entry, and instead forced to get the photo taken.

Arlee:  What personal characteristics affect your writing? 

Susan:    My sister has informed me that I am positively “dripping with empathy”.  It is true.  I am also compelled to write, not as an obsession, but as a way to make sense of being.

Arlee:  Well, the time is almost up.  Last question:  What can writers do to improve their own writing?

Susan:   My suggestions:  Read quality writing; and, read literature outside one’s own genre.  Too many writers limit themselves to their own area of interest, and that can make their prose stutter to a stand-still.

Arlee:  Well, then.  Let’s stop here.   I gotta go check my dashboard.

Susan:   And, I have to go to the bathroom.  Great talking with you.

        That was abrupt, but when ya gotta go ya gotta go.  It was nice having Susan Kane join us here today.  Be sure to visit her blogs and become a follower if you like what you see there.  

          Thank you, Susan Kane.

           Next week I have a visit from memoir blogger and author Deanna Hershiser .  Please come back to hear Deanna's take on the topic of writing memoir.   


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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lessie Nell and Essie Dell

Main Street todayImage via Wikipedia
Main Street Roswell, New Mexico

          In my Tossing It Out posting from yesterday I mentioned that I had relatives in Roswell, New Mexico.  The following is what I know of this part of my family according to what I was told to the best of my recollection.  There may be some inaccuracies and if there are perhaps I will be able to rectify these later.  To my knowledge the information is at least mostly true if not totally true.

          My grandmother was a twin.   Lessie Nell and Essie Dell Wilson were born in 1903 near Morgantown, West Virginia.   In the early 1920s, shortly after the sisters graduated from high school, their family decided to move to Sweet Grass, Montana.  My grandmother chose to stay in West Virginia and marry Paul Hough Trevillian.  Also staying behind and marrying were two other sisters, Flossie Lanoe, and Lovie Ethel.  My grandparents lived in Morgantown until my grandfather died in 1972.  My grandmother remained in Morgantown for several years after that, later moving to Philadelphia to live with one of her daughters--my aunt.

           But this story is about my Great Aunt Essie.  After moving out west she only returned to West Virginia once in about 1935 with her husband and two children.  My mother, who would have been about seven at the time, vaguely recalls the visit, but does not remember how they got there.  She's pretty sure they came by car--probably from Montana--but she can't say for sure.  Other than that the sisters never saw one another again as far as I know.

          I'm not totally sure why they moved, but I would imagine it was for economic reasons.  Perhaps Mr. Wilson was taking advantage of the oil boom that was starting up in Montana in those days.  Essie met Roy, the man who became her husband, after moving to Montana.  I'm pretty sure that Roy ended up in the oil business as he and Essie eventually uprooted their young family first to Wyoming and then finally to Roswell, both places with strong ties to the oil industry.

           I don't know whether they moved to Roswell before or after the alleged UFO crash in 1947 that has brought such fame to the city, but it was probably somewhere around that time when they settled there and lived for the rest of their lives.

          During the eighties when the show I was managing had yearly bookings in Roswell, I would always find some time to visit Aunt Essie.   Her husband Roy had died in 1983, so since I never met him I know my visits started after that year.  My wife, daughter, and I would go to the house where she lived with her son, Roy Jr., who was probably about sixty years old.  We would always be joined by Essie's daughter Phyllis and her husband.

           We'd share stories about the family members in the east and the west who rarely had opportunities to see each other.  Aunt Essie would pull out photo albums to show me a pictorial family history of the side that I rarely heard anyone on the more familiar side of the family discuss.   These were pictures of strangers who had been separated by distance and time.

            It was kind of funny that though Essie Dell and Lessie Nell were twins, they were not identical twins.  They looked nothing alike and behaved in very different manners.  My grandmother Lessie was a tall, thin woman who looked dignified and spoke like an intellectual.   My Aunt Essie was short and had a down-home air about her.  They both had keen senses of humor and were just as sweet as they could be.  If you'd met them you'd never known they were from the same family.

          Visiting Aunt Essie and her family became a yearly event for me and my family.  I don't remember ever going to see the UFO museum in Roswell.  In retrospect I wish I had brought the UFO crash topic up with my relatives to see what their take on the story was and if they had anything to add to what I'd  heard about it.  Folks in Roswell probably find the tourists' focus on UFO aliens a bit amusing, but I'm sure they welcome the influx of dollars spent in the community.

           My last visit to Roswell was in 1988.  My grandmother died not long after I visited Aunt Essie.  That visit would be the last time I would see Essie and her family.  After that final tour we would settle down in Tennessee for a few years.  A second child had been born to us and our oldest was now of school age.  The road life had ended and so had our yearly visits to my various relatives around the country.

             Aunt Essie died in 1993 at age 90.  I would imagine that Roy Jr. and Phyllis still live in Roswell, but I don't keep in touch so I don't know for sure.  It seems like an odd place to end up, but if you've been somewhere for years why move?  It's kind of a shame that I haven't kept in touch.

            Sometimes it happens.  Families move away and drift apart.  It's like branches being cut off a tree and replanted elsewhere to grow new trees.  One family tree is the beginning, but then it turns into a whole bunch of family trees growing all over the country.  Throughout the country I have family that I know about and probably some that I don't even know exist.

           The nice thing about traveling was that I got to see some of those kinfolk sometimes.  The bad thing about not traveling is not traveling, just being at home, missing those family times. But I guess that can be a good thing too.  You just take the good with the bad and then realize that the bad isn't really always all that bad.  Nothing stays the same anyway.

            Next Saturday Susan Kane from thecontemplativecat and Susan Kane, Writer sits down for a fun and  informational chat with me.   I think you'll like this interview a lot.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Guest Post: Ann Carbine Best

          In this installment of Wrote By Rote I am honored to have memoirist Ann Carbine Best.  Many of you have read her current release In the Mirror: A Memoir of Shattered Secrets and have raved about it.  I have asked Ann to give her take on a few topics of memoir writing.

Are we ever too young or too old to write a memoir?

I definitely don’t think we’re ever too old. I was seventy-one when I wrote my first one. Harry Bernstein was ninety-six. To quote his obituary: “Harry Bernstein, whose painfully eloquent memoir about growing up Jewish and poor in a northern English mill town earned him belated literary fame on its publication in 2007, when he was 96, died on Friday in Brooklyn. He was 101.” Then he wrote two more after that one.

I’m glad I didn’t have to wait that long. Twenty-five more years! I don’t think I could do it.

The point, of course, is that age doesn’t matter. I think that what matters is the experiences you’ve had, and if you have the ability to write powerful prose.

The late great Southern writer Flannery O’Connor is quoted as saying, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

But it takes time to accumulate experiences, and time to absorb them, and time to learn the craft of writing. I do believe that an unhappy childhood is a goldmine for a writer--or a childhood that was filled with colorful characters; with obstacles, emotional and/or physical; with a passion for life.

Writing about Difficult Topics.

Or about sensitive topics. I know one writer who is finishing up a memoir. I’m not sure how old she is, but I’m guessing in her forties or early fifties. She’s struggling with family members, some of whom don’t like what she’s writing. The late Frank McCourt got backlash from some people in Ireland where he grew up. So what are you going to reveal to the world?

One advantage of writing a memoir at a “later” age is that many of the principals are dead, as was my case. J I felt less constrained where they were concerned. But for the living, one has to be more cautious, and there were some names and details I had to change. And all of my children except my disabled daughter Jen didn’t want me to use their real names. As my youngest daughter (Megan in the memoir) said, “It’s spooky to read about yourself.” But I doubt she’ll ever read the book, even though she has been one of my best promoters, because the memories are painful. And that’s okay.

How Can a Memoir Writer do Research?

I’m currently ghost writing a memoir for a friend who has an extremely disabled son. Ghost writing presents some issues you don’t encounter when you write about your own life. My “research” involves constantly calling my friend. She lives in Los Angeles. I live on the opposite coast, in Virginia. Technology is amazing. If I had tried to write her memoir even twenty years ago, there would have been no email, and no unlimited long distance on my landline.

Hooray for the Internet. When I start writing “stories” of my childhood, it will be an awesome resource to jog my memory of the Forties and the Fifties when I grew up. About fourteen years ago, I also put together a detailed Life History of my parents, with pictures and text. My ancestors are Mormon, and Mormons are big on keeping photographs and journals. I have many stories, written in their own hand, by ancestors I’ve never seen. My mother had them all, and now I do, too; all valuable resources for the memoirist.

As with any genre we want to write in, we need to read, read, read as much as we can. For memoir I would say also read a lot of fiction because good memoirs utilize the tools of fiction. I’m especially partial to dialogue. It moves the story forward in a way that exposition doesn’t.

All my life and for a while in graduate school I wrote fiction. Then I turned to memoir, when I was forty-five. One of my favorite memoirs is This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. He uses scenes and dialogue, and the occasional memoirist’s comments. I would often skim through his memoir when I was writing mine.

But exposition is powerful too, as in Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. The beginning of the memoir I’m ghost writing for my friend is filled with dialogue, but I think as it continues there will be more exposition. The material dictates the method.

If you want to write memoir, start recalling memories. Sometimes I lie in the quiet dark and meditate on my past. I see scenes as if I’m back there in the center of them. I’ve started a journal that focuses on these memories. I write the “entries” in scenes so that when I’m ready to write my childhood memoir, or stories based on my childhood--whichever I decide to do--I’ll have lots of material to choose from.


Thank you, Lee, for letting me be a guest on your new blog. I love memoirs, and was excited when my first one came together, thanks to a good small press, WiDo Publishing. I was very impressed with my blogger friend Karen Walker’s memoir, Following the Whispers, and I know other bloggers, three of them WordPress bloggers, who have finished or almost finished a memoir. Memoir is my favorite genre, next to murder mysteries, and I’ll spend my book money first on memoirs if I find one that sounds intriguing. A lot of great ones have been and are being published!


Chat with Ann at her blog: http://anncarbinebest.com.

Her memoir, In the Mirror: A Memoir of Shattered Secrets, can be found online at:

WiDo Publishing. (S&H for a printed copy is less here than at Amazon)