Category Archives: Only child memoir

Using Fiction Tools to Write Memoir (continued)

Only Child in Grade 12

In our last memoir writing session this week, we covered the topic of using fiction techniques when writing your memoir. Today, we discuss setting. There are similarities with using setting  in memoir and in writing fiction, with a few differences.

Always, you need to remember, memoir is not fiction, so you can’t make stuff up. True, settings in fiction often are real settings – at least countries, cities and the like. But sometimes the city or town is fictional, as are the residences and businesses and of course the streets.

Setting in memoir can give the writer an advantage, though. For example, you can write about the place you grew up in – as it was then (and a lot of that is how you remember it. Look at those old photos) and you can go back and see how it is today. Is the house you grew up in still standing? Or is it now a huge ugly condo or a paved parking lot?

But the narrative of setting in both fiction and memoir is stronger and more interesting if you skip writing it like a travel piece and put your character (you, in the memoir) right there. Show yourself going into that high school for the first time – how did you feel? Who did you meet? And blend in what you saw? For example, when my friend Nancy and I switched high schools for grade 12, (in the mid-1960s),  we had a heck of a time finding the most important classroom – the study hall. I don’t know how many times we walked around the whole top floor of the high school (it was walking in a square – that’s what it felt like and the actual shape of it). Finally another classmate with a study period helped us find the room.

So, you can see how that could generate the setting of just this school floor as Nancy and I wandered around lost. And the emotions, some dialogue and the actual study room when we finally found it and entered it.

Here’s one of the exercises I had my class do for setting. If you have time, you could try it.

  1. Exercise: Take a scene from your past and write about it with you in it. This could be the backyard of the house you grew up in, your bedroom, the kitchen, the street where you live. Note: if your memoir is about a particular time in your life use a scene from that as opposed to a scene in your past that won’t have anything to do with your memoir. The purpose is to create the atmosphere as you remember it in one location important to your life and learn how to show it to the reader from your unique POV. For example, if you were terrified of thunderstorms and hid under the covers when one came, and your brother liked to run outside in thunderstorms, the two of you would definitely have differing points of view. (copyright 2017 Sharon Crawford)

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

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Filed under 1960s, classmates, Friends, Memoir content, Memoir writing, Only child memoir, School days

Only Child says Memoir reads like fiction

Only Child and Dad few years later

In today’s Memoir Writing session I deal with the different ways you can write your memoir. It can be humorous, serious (or both), in chronological order (or not), but most of all it contains emotions and feelings and people. Although the people are real, from your life, there is a resemblance to fiction – in the way you write your memoir.

You don’t just want a list of events. You want to engage your reader. You want your reader to see your life and the family, friends, and enemies, too, in it.

So write it fiction style. Emphasis on the word “style.” The difference here is memoir is not fiction, it is your truth, your story. So the characters, the people, must be real, and the events must be real. Unlike fiction, you are not making it up. The emphasis is on how you tell your story.

Probably the best way to see how that is done is to read published memoirs. The list of memoir authors would cover several blog posts and I’m not going to post my starter list here. Just Google “memoir writers.”

Below is an excerpt from my memoir-in-the works, but I have shortened it and reworded it some, so it is not exactly as in the memoir. This particular piece of prose deals with being bullied as a child. But it covers a lot more as you will see.

The Bully Gang – Vera, Mare, Shannon (the Bully’s younger sister by two years), and the Bully – line themselves against Dorothy and me. They pursue us up and down the street. Then we run throughout the Harmon front yard, onto the street, back to the yard. This time Dorothy and I chase the others and we trap them inside the yard.

They are jumping up and down, and through the steel gate, yelling, “Nah. Nah, Nah.” I am rolling on a high and nothing and no one can stop me. I pick up a fist-sized rock from the ground, glare at them, squeeze the rock as if it is my new best friend. You’re in for it, Bully. I raise my arm over the gate and throw the rock… smack into Mare’s forehead.

No. No. Not Mare. I like Mare. I can’t understand why she’s hooked up with the Bully. I stand still and shocked. We seem lost in this sudden limbo second. The rock falls to the grass and we jolt into screamland.

Then the Bully Gang breaks free.

“You’re in for it,” they say. “We’re gonna get you now.”

Dorothy and I turn and fly towards my place. The Bully Gang is a posse on our tail. My Dad, on holidays from work, shoves Dorothy and me downstairs. He locks the outside doors for our safety. I look up and peek towards the basement window. The Bully and her followers shake their heads and waggle their hands. Then the Bully flattens her face against the window and ugly intent and uglier looks mesh into what could pass as road kill. I shiver and turn to Dorothy. If we looked in a mirror, our facial expressions would show us resembling twins. We back away and I wish Mom had made curtains for the window. But there is no bright light, no feeling of freedom in running around inside an unfinished basement with its white cement pillars and tarred concrete floors. Dorothy and I are the victims. Why are we the ones confined inside?

Excerpted and shortened from Chapter 4, Protecting the Princess – from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2017 Sharon A. Crawford).

What are some of the fiction techniques used in the above passage?

Until next week.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

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Only Child on using photos for memoir writing

Only Child and friends

One way to remember your past is to look at old photos. The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” can be translated here to “a photo is worth many memories.”

Take that photo here. I am on the right and two of my friends are beside me. The fourth in our summer play group isn’t in the photo because she took it.

If you are writing a memoir – whether you are trying to figure out what to focus on, or trying to remember the past, look at your old photographs – or those from family members – you never know what is lurking in their drawers, photo albums or yours. Remember, we may be going back before digital and before selfies, although many of us scan our old photos.

Look at the photo and identify who is in it. Go from there and see what stories about the people and their relationships, the location of the photo. The possibilities are endless. Write them all down in a list to start and then write a short scenario – dialogue included – about what the picture conjures.

For more detailed information about photos and writing memoirs, go to one of my much older blog posts right here.   That one says a lot more.

Now, I have to get moving to teach the first session of my Memoir Writing Course.

Out into the rain – yech! We get more rain, too much (so I’ll be on basement watch) Wednesday overnight and Thursday.

And rain can also bring back memories.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Family and Friends, Memoir writing, Only child memoir

Only Child teaching Memoir Writing Course

A week from today, I start teaching my Sharing Your Stories: Introduction to Memoir Writing Course at the Toronto Reference Library. For four Tuesday afternoons in April, the 20 participants and I will share some of our personal stories, share the joys and roadblocks we are encountering to even get started writing. I will share how to actually get on your butt (at the computer) and get going at writing your story.

I taught this course last year at another library branch, and many short workshops on Kick-starting Your Memoir. Yes, I have written (and rewritten) a memoir . It has not been published yet, but it has been pitched a few years ago. I got sidetracked because I started getting my mystery fiction published in 2012, but have plans to do some more rewriting (and change the title) of my memoir. Meantime, I pull short excerpts from my memoir and rewrite them with more text pertinent to short or longish memoir pieces for print and online magazines. And I teach memoir writing.

We can all (participants and instructor) learn from each other. As this course is full and not everyone reading this blog lives in the Toronto, Ontario area, I plan to post snippets from each session in the next four or five blog posts. That way I can share some information and suggestions with readers of this blog. After all, one of the original criteria of this blog is the memoir aspect. And I know I have deviated somewhat into posts about weather, religion, gardens, seniors, my parents – well even those are related to being an only child growing up Catholic in the 1950s and early 1960s, the only child of middle-age parents. Our past has a lot to do with our future. Of course, we can make changes, if we choose to do so.

And posting some info here avoids carting around a bunch of handouts. Although I use Power Point for part of the first two sessions, it is still hard copy and a lot of dialogue. Which might be appropriate for a course on writing about the past.

Today, I will just add the overall information about what I plan to cover in this course.

First the blurb used:

Always wanted to write your family’s story or your story but need motivation and guidance? Author, editor and writing instructor, Sharon A. Crawford will get you writing your story. Using prompts such as the six senses to kick-start your memory, sharing your stories, looking at published memoirs, and doing fun exercises, these four hands-on sessions will take you into the nitty-gritty of writing the memoir.

Broken down briefly (for now), sessions will be:

Session 1 – Getting started – often the big bugaboo. And often it is because we can’t decide what to write about. So, we will get some ideas and tools on this and do some writing exercises. Lots of discussion as well.

Session 2 – Research and Writing Your Memoir Beginning:

It’s not all online searching. We must not forget the “rellies” (as a friend calls her relatives). Dialogue, dialogue as well as documents, documents. Again exercises, including writing a draft memoir beginning and sharing our stories.

Session 3 – It’s all about Form and Using Fiction Tools to Write Memoir

Memoir is written in many forms, but the bottom lines are: they read like fiction, but are not fiction. Again lots of discussion back and forth and writing exercises.

Session 4 -Using Fiction Tools to Write Memoir (continued), Truth or Dare, Q and A

The actual memoir writing (and I only promise to get everyone starting their memoir) takes more than one session. In fact a whole six to eight week course would be more realistic and then you would have to write some more. And rewrite and rewrite. So we will continue with this, including writing and sharing our stories. We will also cover something most memoir writers run up against – the rellies wanting to keep family secrets secret.

Are you writing a memoir?

I’ll close with a couple of suggestions of memoirs to read – maybe you have already read them. Both describe family life – but two completely different situations. The books are Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Gildner and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

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Travelling public transit then and now in Toronto

Toronto transit streetcar

Toronto transit streetcar – College route – end of the line High park

Sunday, I got the big run-around (literally) with travelling on public transit in Toronto. I avoided the subway route where part was closed to subway trains due to maintenance. But when I had to take a bus from a subway station to get to a grocery store, the bus took a detour. Sure, the sign on the bus said “Detour on route,” but not where. No signs at the subway station and the driver made no announcements. Imagine my surprise when the bus suddenly make a right turn off its schedule – one stop before I had to get off.

I charged up to the front and asked the driver if we would be getting back to Pape at Cosburn. He said he would be getting back to Cosburn. The detour continued around and up Donlands Ave. and when we got to Cosburn (and a red light) I asked if he was left turning onto Cosburn. He didn’t know. The bus ahead of us at the light continued straight on and so did “my” bus. Furious, I demanded to be let off on the other side of Cosburn. He let me off and I walked back to Pape (a short walk) in case there was a problem with the regular bus on Cosburn Ave.

What caused the detour? A street festival on Pape.

Why couldn’t the bus have a sign indicating where the detour was? Why didn’t the driver know about it?

So many unanswered questions.

Of course I later filed a complaint online at the TTC website. Seems that I do many of these lately.

I find travelling on Toronto public transit – bus, streetcar, LRT or subway can be a challenge sometimes. Despite the TTC website postings for times, delays, postings at subway stations, sometimes I feel like I travel public transit at my own peril. A little disclaimer here – I do not have a Smart phone (can’t afford one) so once I leave the house I can’t check updates that way. Before leaving I do trip planners online, check for any delays, and make note of the four bus routes where I can board a bus near home. I am grateful for this proximity.

But..

Anything  can happen. Sometimes the buses are late or early.  I used to enjoy subways rides. It gave me a chance to read or observe people. Now, when I get on I wonder if I’m going to make it to my destination on time and without mishap. Subway fires in stations sometimes  flare up on the tracks; signals malfunction; there are medical emergencies and police investigations of incidents (these latter  two are necessary), and of course there are scheduled subway closures on weekends (we get lots of warning about those). The irony here is these closures are usually for track and signal repair and upgrades. So why do these track and signal mishaps still happen? I’ve also noticed that the subway closures for maintenance are often repeats of areas where it was supposedly done in previous’ months closures. What does this tell you?

Shuttle bus service is put on for these weekend scheduled subsay closures. But no matter how many buses are in service, it doesn’t come near the space on the subway trains. So, you get long lines of commuters patiently waiting to get on a bus (if  lucky) or angry groups of people crowding on the street outside the subway station waiting for a bus to get to work. The latter occurs more often when pop-up emergencies happen – such as a fire under some of the tracks at the Yonge subway station last week. That is Yonge-Bloor – the major subway transfer station in Toronto. The subway was closed for three hour during rush hour.

I’m glad I don’t commute to work every day.

But I used to years ago and yes, subways were crowded, but it didn’t seem as bad.

Taking it back even further (we’re in the grey years now folks), when I was a small child I used to travel a lot on buses, subways, and streetcars with my mother. I never worried about getting where we were going because Mom was leading the way. Sure we had to wait for buses and subways and streetcars, sometimes in the snowy cold; sometimes it seemed like hours. There was always something to look forward to – such as where we were going – our weekly shopping trip to the Danforth for fresh vegetables and fruit and wanderings in the old Kresge, Woolworth and Metropolitan stores. I would often let my imagination and sense of adventure take over (yes, despite being a shy kid, I liked some adventures, although not real scary).

And yes, it wasn’t all convenient. Here’s a very short excerpt from my memoir in the works about getting a bus from home – which was not too far from where I now live.

The bus stop closest to 139 was around the corner on O’Connor Drive – that is if you walked left and the TTC hadn’t moved its trademark red and white sign to the far side of Don Mills Road. If we saw the bus coming, we played transit roulette with the streetlights at Don Mills Road and the driver’s whim to wait for us and the alternative – making a hasty right turn and sprinting to the next bus stop.  Once we boarded the bus, we continued with the rest of our travels. (excerpted from You Can Go Home – deconstructing the demons copyright 2016 Sharon A. Crawford)

 Ironically bus service in that area has increased in bus routes but the old Broadview 8 bus route mentioned above actually runs more infrequently then back in the 1950s and 1960s. Another paradox, service slowdowns seem to happen more frequently than back then on these routes, old and new. I know that with the subway and streetcar routes aging infrastructure is often to blame and a lot of that is being fixed – at least work is being done on it. But sometimes it seems as if the work is being repeated in the same areas.

And the timing seems to be bad. Lots going on in Toronto on weekends in the summer – from Blue Jays games, to street festivals that close streets, concerts and all those runs and walkathons. It is a nightmare, but more signage and information would be a start to help.

So would upgrading and fixing those subway signals and tracks the first time round.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Sheppard subway station entrance and exit

Sheppard subway station entrance and exit

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Life demands, Mother and Child, Only child, Only child memoir, Public Transit, Toronto public transit, Toronto transit detours and maintenance

Only Child searches for Dad’s history

Only child's Dad when he worked for the railway

Only child’s Dad when he worked for the railway

I am trying to piece together my late father’s history – his ancestors and his life in Toronto before I came along. Not too easy when Dad was born in Montreal and the family moved to Toronto when he was a child.

A year ago I began this quest – one of my cousins had started a trace on the Langevin (and Verey – the latter her direct family connection, not mine) ancestry on www.ancestry.ca. I’m not on there yet but one of my friends is and she offered to do some checking there. She found my cousin’s partial family history and also an anomaly – further digging by my friend found another last name (maiden one) for my paternal grandmother. Which is the correct one?

I am not close to my Dad’s side of the family and it has been over five years since I talked to some of my cousins. But I emailed the family genealogist using an old email address. You guessed it – the email bounced back as no one at that address.

However, life jumped in, including dealing with the horrible boarder living here last year, house and house-related problems, plus one pleasant thing – finishing rewriting my first mystery novel Beyond Blood (published fall 2014 – Warning: plug coming. See my publisher’s website www.bluedenimpress.com for more info and my other blog www.sharonacrawfordauthor.com).

As 2014 drew to a close and 2015 rushed in, I feel much urgency to continue on this quest for Dad’s history. I have been spending some Saturday afternoons at the Toronto Reference Library looking in old City Might Directories to find where Dad lived and to try to nail down when the Langevin family did move to Toronto. (I had some idea what street so that was a start.)

And found myself on a very enjoyable but puzzling journey.

Picture me sitting at a table on the library’s second floor with Might Directories piled up in front of me. The shelves where they are stored are behind me, but I can only carry four books at a time. It is difficult with my health issues to get down to the floor to pick out the directories on the bottom shelf but I am compelled to do so.

You are not allowed to photocopy the contents – not a copyright issue but the delicate nature of the pages. These are old directories, circa early 1900s (Dad was old enough to be my grandfather) and the pages are amazing. Almost like parchment with back to back pages which appear glued together. Back then, the “technology” did not allow for any other way to do this. The print is around the same size as print telephone directories, perhaps a smidgeon larger. With my bad eyes and old glasses I have to use a small magnifying glass to read the type.

It is worth it – this going back and forth from the street listings to the name listing and I finally find my late grandfather. Thanks to my cousin’s information on ancestry.ca I now know his first name. But another Langevin surfaces in the Might Directories – a Charles Langevin and I have no idea where he fits in, except my grandfather and grandmother and their offspring lived with him for a few years. My grandfather (Eugene Langevin) shows up in the street address listing at some point and then in a later year, Charles has disappeared. Then my aunts and uncles and my dad show up living at the same addresses, including my cousin’s great grandfather (she is a cousin once removed to me). And it lists where they worked and the position they held. The listing criteria seems to be it didn’t matter if you were male or female as long as you held a job.

I find my father not only worked as a clerk at Canadian National Railways but that previouslyhe worked with the Grand Trunk Railway before CNR gobbled it up. I finally find where his office was located – as I suspected right in Union Station in Toronto. One of his brothers, Uncle Paul also fought in World War 1, which I never knew. The directory has him still at the address but they classify him as “away on service.” And yes, he came back from the war. I also discover the Langevin family moved to Markham St. (where my cousins, their parents and my late maternal grandmother lived when I was a child) many years earlier than I suspected.

Then I get carried away and start to trace my mom’s time from when she moved to Toronto from the family farm near Mildmay, Ontario. Not sure which year so I’m working back from 1938 the year before she and Dad married. The address she lived at then (renting in a house) is in the area of Toronto where she and Dad lived when they were first married. Next investigation is to find out if the addresses are the same. An old photograph I have might give me the answer.

I can see my memoir will need some changes.

And I finally realized why I am compelled to do this family history investigation now. 2015 (November) is the 50th anniversary of Dad’s death.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

Only Child and her late dad on the veranda of 139 in happier times

Only Child and her late dad on the veranda of 139 in happier times

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Filed under Beyond Blood, Beyond the Tripping Point, Canadian National Railway, Dad, Family, Hereditary, Libraries, Memoir content, Mom and Dad, Nostalgia, Only child memoir, Railways, Research memoir writing, Toronto

Only Child Prepares for winter

Magnificent juniper as it once was - slowly coming back some

Magnificent juniper as it once was – slowly some came back

The big bad winter is approaching too fast and I still have too many issues with house and garden. They must get done before the ground freezes and the snow comes.

First, what is done and getting there. The air conditioner is covered. It might as well have stayed covered with our almost non-summer. Most of the leaves from the neighbour’s two walnut trees have been cleaned from the eavestroughs. That’s two cleanings and one more to go. One of the two handy guys I “employ” is looking after this. I’m out there whenever I can (read not working, promoting my book, doing house chores, sleeping, etc.) to rake the leaves from the lawn, garden, patio and walkway on one side of the house. This is a continuous job. But that is the price I pay for having much needed shade in the summer, so I accept that.

What I don’t accept is winter – all five to six months of it (as last year’s was). I don’t think winters were that long when I was growing up. I remember Mom and Dad out digging in the garden in April. For fall, Mom and Dad were kept busy. Dad had to literally take down the screens and put up the windows. Mom had to clear out the garden and finish up the canning – she made some green tomato sauce which I wouldn’t eat because the tomatoes were green. Not sure if she made red tomato sauce but she made a mean pickled mustard beans, rhubarb jam (sometimes with strawberries), black and red current jams and jellies, and huckleberry apple, which was for pies. That’s what I remember. She would put them all in the root cellar in the basement and bring the jar(s) up when needed.

I don’t can anything. I’m afraid of food poisoning. And sometimes home canned foods can go bad. As I write in my memoir, Mom could open the canned jam, etc., sniff it and just know it was bad. We never got food poisoning.

Instead I dry herbs and blanch and freeze excess vegetables = when the garden produces them. This year when the carrots grew large for a change I didn’t plant enough to freeze. I had some beans for a change but only enough for a few meals. I did get some from the farmer’s market and froze them; same for corn-on-the-cob which I don’t grow – partly because of space and partly because the racoons stole the good crop of corn my ex-husband and I grew in our Aurora, Ontario garden in the mid-1970s. There are enough racoons in this area that even the meanest-looking scarecrow wouldn’t frighten. It isn’t called “scarecrow” for nothing.

The main outside issue is the big juniper tree in front – the one destroyed by God’s horrible winter weather. The juniper has come back somewhat and is still continuing to do so but not fast enough for next winter. God didn’t listen here so now I need to find someone knowledgeable to do something to protect this juniper so it will survive and next spring continue to comeback. I know what has to be done – burlap wrap, not against the tree but on high stakes around it, plus spray something (I don’t know what) on the tree to prevent winter burn on the green parts. The so-called arborist (retired) who promised to help me with tree damage kept putting it off. Yours truly had to do some trimming back of the boxwood and silverlace, with some help from Alex next door on the dead silverlace on his side of the fence. Some of the silverlace on another fence and the gate to my garden from the driveway came back somewhat and was looking nice with its white flowers as it twined through the part of the dead tree (from years ago – it was a silverlace prop) that I hadn’t cut back.

Finally a couple of weeks ago this fellow who I had called the Good Samaritan (GS)came and trimmed off the dead boxwood which I hadn’t been able to do – he did a good job of that, but really messed up the silverlace and took down most of the dead tree under it, except for the main stem (narrow) and two branches. He left it leaning over into the bushes (more juniper) nearby. I had to tie it with bungie rope to the fence. It will act as part of the stakes for that low-lying juniper – and that is something I can do, but not the big juniper.

The GS also left a mess of branches by the boxwood and at the back of my driveway. I had to pay one of my handyman to collect it and tie it all up.

The GS’s actions has taught me another lesson. Trust few people in your life. Be wary; be suspicious. I usually am (except for those close to me I know I should be able to trust), but this time I was so thankful that God had sent someone to help. Obviously the wrong person. Now God has to make it right for the winter with my trees, especially the big juniper in front – without me having to fork out a lot of money.

Then there is all the stuff inside but I won’t go into that now. I would like to go to the last weekly Farmer’s Market near me before it closes today for the season.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Gardening, Life demands, Mom and Dad, Only child memoir, Sharon A. Crawford