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, June 29, 2013

What Oscar Nominated Biopics can Teach You about Writing Memoirs

       A big thanks to my dear friend Nicole Ayers, no stranger to my blog readers as she has filled in for me a number of times on nearly all of my blogs.  In this post she connects her specialty--movies--with writing memoir.

What Oscar Nominated Biopics can Teach You 

about Writing Memoirs

       Biopics and memoirs have one of the most powerful elements in common that makes a huge difference in how someone’s life is presented to other people – stories. From childhood to adulthood, we tend to migrate toward the telling of real-life accounts by everyday folk, unsung heroes and famous faces from all walks of life. They can be as thrilling as “Catch Me If You Can” starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, as insightful as “Boys Don’t Cry” starring Hilary Swank and “Hotel Rwanda” starring Don Cheadle or as triumphant as “Lincoln” starring Daniel Day Lewis -- so long as these narratives place us into a world that we can either relate to or one in which we are eager to explore.
Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

         Any author who is seeking tips on how to structure his or her memoir can borrow a page from Hollywood’s playbook of biopics – the magic is in the delivery of a story, or two. As a writer, your job is to figure out what story you want to tell readers and then decide how it will play out on paper. While great memoirs span the author’s entire life – or at least a large portion of it – some of the most inspiring memoirs are centered on one particular aspect of his or her whole story. Many biopics that come out of tinsel town illustrate this bull’s eye approach very well and you can do the same thing with your memoir.

Write Your Life, In Point by Point Replays

       Make a list of certain milestones or points in your life when something big happened that shaped the person that you have become. If you won a top honor, traveled the world while raising children geniuses, figured out how to co-parent long distance, or successfully switched careers during a mid-life crisis, etc. whatever it is, add it to the list. Include anything and everything that stands out, rather than placing sole emphasis on the gains or positive experiences.

       Some of the events that played a major role in where you are today could be among difficult, painful, embarrassing, hopeless, sad or outright negative moments that you want to forget. Those memories, if any, however, can shed light on a larger matter that is bigger than your own personal experience or even inspire someone to take action towards creating a better world for future generations. Your trials and tribulations also have the ability to help another person realize that he or she is not alone in their challenging times – and can survive adversity – or at least find a way to deal with it. When your list is complete, pick one of these items to use as a point of reference and then build your memoir around it.
My week with Marilyn

       “Lincoln” directed by Steven Spielberg focused on one story and one story only -- the President’s efforts to end slavery while fighting a war. This movie wasn’t about anything else – not about Abraham Lincoln’s eating habits, his recreational activities, how he wore his clothes, and so on. “My Week with Marilyn” starring Michelle Williams is centered on filmmaker Colin Clark’s story about his experience babysitting and being a go-fer for a movie production starring iconic actress, Marilyn Monroe. It does not span Clark or Monroe’s entire careers nor does it delve into the screen siren’s red carpet appearances or thoroughly examine her personal life. Both “Lincoln” and “My Week with Marilyn” are biopics that tell a story about one particular event, memory or experience that stands out in the life of the main character(s).
Ken Ilgunas

         Duke University graduate Ken Ilgunas’ memoir “Walden on Wheels” is a prime example of how a single experience in your life can be expanded upon to create one story that reads just as well, if not better, as a book containing several different stories. In “Walden on Wheels,” Ilgunas chronicles the two years he spent traveling and doing odd jobs to pay off his student loans, before living in a van on Duke University’s campus while pursuing a Master’s degree. Instead of taking readers on a ride through his birth to where he is today, the author tells us the story that takes place around how his frugal practices and bare-bones circumstances helped him tackle debt.

Write Your Life, In Chapters

        We all have different “chapters” of our life that start and end; some that even begin again – identified with and filed away under all sorts of labels such as age, career growth, menopause, relationship status, marital status, parenthood and related stages that shape our whole story.  Wrap your memoir around several major events by creating a story for each chapter, or sub-chapter, in the book -- if the aforementioned one-story approach just won’t do justice to the legacy you want to have. Hollywood’s more standard biopics seem to have this method down to a science and we need not to look any further than films such as “Ray” starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington and Regina King, to understand how it works.

       This biopic about musician Ray Charles shows his life experiences from childhood and on, all the way on up to the man that music fans around the world listened to on their radio. Scene by scene, audiences are shown stories about his battles with blindness, raising a family, drug addiction, juggling different women, signing record-breaking deals with music executives, touring in the segregated south, racism and friendship turmoil. Just as the notable and life-changing events in “Ray” show various aspects of this singer’s story, the chapters in your memoir can take readers through the many life experiences that you’ve had.

        A single chapter could span the process of how you got from point A to point B, such as “When I got Cancer,” “The Day He Killed My Dog,” “The Fabulous Sister I Never Knew I Had” or “How I Gave Birth in a Gym Locker Room” before moving on to the next chapter of “When I Bought the Homeless Guy Coffee and Learned to Stop Being in a Hurry,” or something like that. In Brad Warner’s memoir “Zen Wrapped in Karma, Dipped in Chocolate,” he shares his experiences on traveling as a punk rock musician, Japanese movie studio representative and Zen monk who encounters a dwindling marriage – all in one book. The memoir, however, is one in a series of books that share stories about some of the wildest, unbelievable, shocking, confusing and funny events that you’d likely not ever see in a movie – at least, not an R-rated one.

       Warner breaks his chapters down in easy-to-digest chapters that cover one story that is sometimes a direct result of the previous one and a prime lead-in to the one that follows. He even has a specific chapter about the time in which he had to hold his urine for 40 minutes or so before finally going to the bathroom. Although this chapter is not solely focused on needing to pee badly, he uses the experience to explain some of the protocols and insights about sitting meditation that readers might not have known before picking up the book. Let this be a tip that you can use small stories to support a larger story in your memoir – especially if the bigger one is difficult for readers to understand or involve concepts that they have yet to get a handle on.

What kind of stories would YOUR memoir share with its readers?

Nicole Ayers writes about mainstream and independent films at The Madlab Post. She is also a Co-Host of the #atozchallenge and the Post A-to-Z Road Trip. Find her @MadlabPost on Twitter. 

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Vacation Memories

postcards (Photo credit: petit zozio)
        Most of us have some great vacation memories.   We may even have some that are not so great.  Whatever the case may be, vacation times provide out of the ordinary experiences that can transfer well to memoir topics.

           As a child I always accumulated many souvenirs on any of the trips I took with my parents.  My favorites were post cards.  I set aside a goodly portion of my vacation allowance to buy postcards that depicted places we visited and states we passed through.   Whenever they were available as freebies, I would also acquire as many postcards as I could find for the motels, restaurants, or other establishments that offered them for promotional purposes.

           In addition to the postcards, I would also collect brochures, matchbooks, soap, or whatever else would become available to me during our travels.  Road maps were often offered at gas stations for free back in those days.   I'd get maps for everything I could find so that I could look ahead to where we were going and retrace our routes after we had returned home.  I still find maps to be a wonderful resource for traveling in my imagination.

           Many of the souvenirs  are now gone after so many years have passed.  The pennants that I had displayed on my bedroom walls have long since faded and been discarded.   Most of those travel brochures were thrown away many years ago.  Maybe I still have a few of the knickknacks packed away somewhere, but most are lost to the ages to who knows where.

           When I do run across some old piece of memory my thoughts go back to when it was first acquired.  I have my postcard collection in a shoe box in my office closet.  I haven't looked at them in many years, but I know they'd revive many recollections of vacations long past.  Somewhere in my garage is a box of maps and travel guides.

             And I can't forget about photographs, videos, and 8 millimeter movies.  My mother still has many of these and I have many of my own that come from the travels my own family has done.  Photo albums are usually the biggest treasure trove for seeing ourselves and others from our lives having fun in out of the ordinary circumstances.

             What types of travel memorabilia do you have around your house?   Do you take a lot of pictures when you are traveling or on vacation?   What has been your favorite vacation experience?    What was your most unique vacation experience?

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Memoir Research Via Telephone

SingTel phone booth
SingTel phone booth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
      Remembering is often a difficult task.   We can sift through scrapbooks, photo albums, and other memorabilia in order to gather information about family histories, but occasionally more details are needed.  Sometimes those who might know best are no longer with us and cannot be asked to recount stories and other data needed to fill in blanks, but there is always help even if you live far from old family home places.

        Long distance phone calls used to be an expensive affair, but now most of us have calling plans that allow for unlimited long distance calling.  If we know a phone number--and those numbers are often very easy to find if we don't have them already--we can call relatives, friends and others who can help us find out more about our family history.

        Some folks are a bit hesitant to call strangers or people they may not have talked to in years, but in reality it's usually not all that bad.  I may have an edge on some in that I spent many years in a job that required me to call people on a regular basis.  Sure, I was nervous about it at first, but what's the worst the person you're calling can do to you?  After all they can't even see you and if they don't want to talk to you it's not the end of the world.

         I've found that most people are more than willing to chat about themselves and the things they've experienced in their past.  Often you'll find yourself getting more information than you ever expected.  And some of that info can be downright interesting.  The stories from others can take you to places you never imagined and provide unexpected details.  A good story-teller can hold your interest and provide you with research data that you're looking for.

         If you're writing memoir, don't forget those far away people who know part of the story you might need to make the story you're writing more complete.  You might just be in for an entertaining as well as educational conversation.   And you might also be making new friends or rekindling old relationships that are as good as gold.

          Do you like to talk on the phone?   Have you ever called a friend or relative who you haven't spoken to in ages?   Have you ever called someone you've never met in order to retrieve some research information?  How did your conversations go?

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Do You Keep an Idea File?

Idea file is in center of photo.  Larger file in corner was
acquired later and is used for personal and business

          Years ago when I was in high school and still living at home with my parents, one of the items on my gift wish list was a file cabinet.   It was on the birthday of either my junior or senior year when my mother got me the file cabinet that I had specifically picked out from the Sears catalog.  The cabinet consisted of two standard size file drawers on one side and a compartment with shelves and a safe on the other side.  This cabinet remained in my parents house for the next twenty years.

          Since childhood I had always had an interest in organizational fixtures in which to keep my belongings.   Usually I resorted to cardboard boxes.  When I began collecting stamps I acquired an index card size two drawer file and some metal storage boxes.  However, my storage capacity for papers and such was sadly lacking.  The official file cabinet made a world of difference for certain aspects of my ability to organize things that were mine.

          In the cabinet I kept mostly things that pertained to my writing and my personal memorabilia.  One drawer held file folders of newspaper clippings and papers that served as story ideas and prompts and other articles that pertained to my life or people I knew.  The other drawer was mainly for various publications, photos, personal documents, and other data that was important to me.  After I moved out of my parents house, the file cabinet was moved to their basement laundry room where it remained for the period of over a decade when I was on the road in the entertainment business.

         Eventually after I returned to Tennessee to settle down to a regular life, I retrieved the file cabinet contents from my parents basement and transferred them to a new file cabinet that I had purchased for my apartment.  The old file cabinet had rusted away at the bottom and had seen its better days.  As I looked at the cabinet by the curbside where I had hauled it to be removed by the sanitation department, I recalled those many years it had safely kept my files in an orderly fashion.  The old piece of office furniture had served me well.

         Now my newer more stylish looking file cabinet sits in my California writing office.  It's now over 20 years old, but having been kept in a dry environment it still looks almost like new.  My newspaper articles and other odds and ends are there waiting for me whenever I need a prompt or a memory.

         Do you keep an official "idea file"?    What types of things do you hang onto for purposes of writing research or records?   How do you store your writing files?

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Born in the Shadow of the Computer (Part 5): The Last Installment, but not the end of the story

Illustration for "Story of your Life"...
Illustration for "Story of your Life", by Hidenori Watanave for Hayakawa's S-F Magazine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
        When I started this "Computer" series I didn't actually intend on it becoming a series.  At first I was going to do just one post, but then it turned into a second, then a third, and a fourth.  Then, as I continued writing the story, I realized that this is a saga--a story of not just my life, but of modern history in some ways.  My experience is similar to that of many of you.  My story is the story of many people of my age and older and younger.  Computers truly shadow over us all and provide the setting of the world in which we live.

         But isn't this what memoir is in many ways?   Life doesn't happen in a vacuum.  My life touches your life and your life touches the life of the person who hears your story.  We are all interconnected.  The lessons you have learned can be valuable to another in the same way each of us learn the lessons that others have learned.  My story is not relevant unless the story has some universal meaning and is something to which others can relate.   If you don't know what I'm talking about in my story then how can my story interest you?

       Of course it's up to the writer to clarify the story so a reader can understand and thus identify with it.  The writer has to show the reader what happened and put the reader in the middle of the story.  The life lived should be in turn lived by the reader vicariously through the reading of the story brought to life bigger than life.  The story should exist in every dimension in the reader's mind so that the reader can almost feel that they'd been there, that they'd lived the life alongside the characters portrayed on the pages.

       So what's this have to do with my computer story.  The story never ended on this blog.  When we last left the narrative, my father had died.  After that I got another job that involved computers.  Then this happened and that happened and a whole lot of other stuff happened.   As I dwelt on all of this I realized that my blog is not this computer story.  The story could go on and on and take over Wrote By Rote.  That's when I came to a realization.  The "Born in the Shadow of the Computer" story is more than a blog series.  It could be a book.

         Now don't get me wrong.   I'm not saying I'm planning a book about my life with computers.   But I'm not saying it will never be a possibility.  The story will go into my computer files as seed for some future project perhaps.   The story will germinate and grow perhaps.  Or it may lie dormant.   Whatever happens, I see that this story is organic.   It is a living thing that will grow if I nurture it.

          Do you have a story that you need to tell about your life?   What types of life stories are you most interested in hearing?   If you were following my story, did it interest you?   If so, what about it interested you?

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