Tag Archives: Writing memoirs

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 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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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Bloggimg, Only child, Only child memoir

Only Child says focus and it might happen

Only child in doorway to her office

Only child in doorway to her office

Last week I blogged about Karma – what goes around comes around, something I firmly believe in even if I don’t see it. But there is also the belief that if you put it out there, the Universe, God or whomever might deliver.

No, I’m not turning into a believer here, but by accident I discovered a twist to this.

As many of you know I have turned into a very cranky angry person, thanks to all the crap that has been shoved my way and thanks to that, all the areas in my life where I feel cheated. So it has made me push a lot in my complaining. Besides the health area (which I will stay off this time), I have been complaining loud and clear about my financial position, about living below the poverty level. I just did my income taxes for 2015 and that confirms it – even lower income then for 2014 and 2016 was looking even worse, what with the powers that be at Service Ontario cum CPP, cutting back on my monthly CPP income and adding insult to injury by deciding to take off all the “extra” in May. Of course, I filed a dispute.

Along with this bad financial situation is the lack of sufficient work coming in for the first part of this year. I am teaching a fiction writing workshop at the S. Walter Stewart Library branch later this year in October.

So, I’ve been yelling about these two – financial and lack of work to bring in money – but also putting my invisible money where my mouth is, so to speak. I’ve been pitching both my writing workshops and speaking engagements for my Beyond fiction books to various branches.

Voila.

Late last Friday afternoon I received an email from a librarian at the North York Public Library branch. The writer/editor who usually teaches their four-session Memoir Writing Course in June has had to suddenly cancel (why is her business). So the librarian who looks after programing there emailed me and asked if I would like to teach the course and there would be financial compensation.

He had received my name from another librarian, Janet Nanos (and I don’t mind mentioning her name and you’ll see why in a sec) who is instrumental in my East End Writers’ Group meeting almost monthly at the S. Walter Stewart branch and also for that October fiction writing workshop. Turns out the NYCC librarian and Janet used to work together so he emailed her and she recommended me. And yes, I thanked her.

I have since talked with Val, the NYCC librarian and we have firmed up what I am to teach (pretty much up to me for the content) and he confirmed my fee (same as I get at other library branches per hour). This is for June. The write-up about it will soon go on their website and I’ll post that in future when that happens in case anyone is interested in taking this course. It is free to library patrons – the only catch being you can’t have taken another version of the course previously at that library branch.

So, sometimes putting it out there will bring in some help. Sometimes you just have to yell and complain a lot to be heard.

Now, I just have to figure out how to afford to get through May with no extra income and less CPP. I have gardening and yard supplies to get, trees to be trimmed, and one of my handyman to be here to do some tasks.

Plus I have a horrendous water bill – over $230. and a lot of that has to do with the City not billing often enough. Last bill was in December and this one that just came is due May 9. Plus there is a property tax bill, etc. etc. etc.

Looks like a few health-related issues may have to be put on hold.

But all that is for another post.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

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Filed under finances, God, Home and Garden, Librarians, Libraries, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Poverty

Only Child on gardens back then and now

Only Child's new garden tool area on the patio

Only Child’s new garden tool area on the patio

In April, when the first tulip showed its face in the flowerbed under the living room window, Mom had to get out in her garden and do her vegetable, fruit and flower business. In the beginning, Mom and I moved in tandem with the garden and religion like we found parallels in them – both had beauty, filled us with awe, seemed to bring some order and ritual to our lives: plant seeds in spring and be rewarded with beautiful flowers and bountiful vegetables and fruit in summer; go to Mass and communion on Sunday and be rewarded in life with only good. (Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2014 Sharon A. Crawford)

So starts that chapter of my memoir. That was in the early to mid-1950s. Compared that to this April, 2014.

Mark Cullen about sums up the havoc of the worst winter in memory in his weekly Toronto Star gardening column. The gardening expert and lecturer takes readers out to his large garden. Except for the crocuses popping up, the sights do not show a happy spring. He writes about winter burn on evergreens such as cedars, yews and boxwoods, snow and salt damage on soil. See http://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2014/04/17/damage_control_in_your_garden_begins_now.html for the full article.

My garden echoes his on a smaller scale size-wise. I don’t have any cedars and my yews have only a few brown branches. But my precious boxwood’s south-facing side is brown while the rest of the boxwood is turning green.

To top it off, Sunday when I finally opened the tool shed I found some water had seeped in- despite having put plastic around the bottom where walls meet the floor. The carpet was damp and the floor underneath wet. Fortunately in the fall I had enough sense to place the push lawn mower on top of something and wrap it in plastic. My experience has taught me not to trust that all will be okay.

This spring is not our usual spring, thanks to God and his weather. And for those scratching their heads at that comment, I am well aware of global warming. I also know that God gave us humans free will. Might it be that he doesn’t like what humans are doing with that free will so he is either letting the weather take its course and/or not looking after us and listening to our prayers? How many besides me prayed to have the ice storm not descend on us in Ontario last December 22 and afterwards?

And you can forget that Mother Nature stuff. No such person. Even if there were, the name “Mother” and destroying the earth just don’t go together…in my mind at least.

So after giving God a good scolding about the tool shed and telling him he owes me extra funds to pay someone to help me remove the heavy stuff (so I can dry it all out) and seal around the bottom, I got to work.

I removed what I could from the tool shed including patio and lawn furniture which (hopefully) can stay out until late fall. I turned the carpet back as far as I could, then dried its underside and the wooden shed floor with my hair dryer. It worked – what I could get at. Now, on warm days when it isn’t raining, I open the tool shed door and spread the carpet back out so some of the top can dry.

Of course someone with more muscle and know-how will have to remove the heavy stuff and do the sealing. Meantime, I tried to bring some beauty and joy to all the deadwood and brown still outside. I arranged the lawn/patio furniture, placed some pansies in pots around, and removed more of the dead branches from plants and shrubs in the backyard so the new could grow in – if it will. Some has and now, almost a month late, the tulips, irises and day lilies, some left over onions, and the rhubarb stems and leaves are surfacing. The small backyard grass area is beginning to turn green. No hyacinths, peonies yet though. Just a few crocus flowers but I’ll take those and try to breathe in some joy. My umbrella is up and on sunny warm days I can sit at my patio table to eat my meals. I also created a new area setup for my rakes, watering cans and other gardening “tools” on the patio. It shows good colour contrast and cohesion and exemplifies my purpose.

No matter what God shovels at us, I’m going to garden and get some joy out of it. It (along with my writing) is what saves any sanity I have left. The robins have finally returned as well as some of the other birds and I am enjoying their singing. Squirrels are back too and as long as they aren’t too rascally, this year I will try to live with them. The racoons are another matter.

Inside on my bedroom window sill I have tomato, peppers, basil, marigolds and other plants started and on their way to readiness to go out in my garden…whenever that will be this year.

May your garden grow well and bring you joy. And if you don’t have a garden, then adopt a park with flowers and spend some time there.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

Sharon A. Crawford teaches memoir writing workshops and courses in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Her next workshop, Getting Your Memoir off the Ground is Saturday, May 10, 2014 at Hugh’s Books and the Studio @ Hughs in east end Toronto. If you are in the Toronto area and want to learn more about writing memoir, this might be the workshop for you. More details on at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/SpeakersBureau.html

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Filed under 1950s, Garden Destruction, Gardening, Memoir writing, Only child memoir, Spring, Toronto, Weather

Only Child focuses beyond the four-letter words

Only Child  rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

Only Child contemplates then and now

Last week I posted dark. Maybe because a lot of what I’ve been experiencing lately is what is described as “going to hell in a hand basket, ” although the basket keeps increasing in size that it is now too big even for the Jolly Green Giant. My postings, my feelings, are a micro reflection of what is going on in the world today – from terrorism to wars to the weather. I’ve posted about that before, too.

Back in the “good old days” when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s life was simpler but not perfect. In the macro realm, most women stayed home with the kids and didn’t work; there was a lot of racism, and the extreme weather conditions were flukes not every-day occurrences. The only extreme weather I lived through was Hurricane Hazel. Our house didn’t experience any flooding. My late Mom said it was because we lived on a hill.

We also didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, and other social media that get abused today (think cyber bullying) and no Internet. The latter, along with email would have been useful. Instead we had landlines (rotary dialing which I couldn’t do now if you paid me), and transportation – we actually had trains going into rural areas carrying people not oil tanks that exploded.

But I’m a railway brat. My late Dad worked for the CNR so Mom, Dad and I got free train rides, a bonus for our holiday travel.

Behind all these good things in the past, there was underlying darkness. I was bullied but it was the in-your-face type of bullying and despite my intense shyness (thanks to being an only child of elderly parents), I did fight back, often more like a clown. In my memoir which I am currently rewriting, I write:

Mom’s uses subtler tactics. How else to explain our silent collusion when one day the Bully and I get into it with words?

I don’t remember the issue, but we’re standing outside on my front veranda. The Bully is letting me have it; I am burning hotter and hotter inside. Mom must hear us because when I run inside to get a knife, she hands me a ruler. The Bully knows she’s in trouble and she runs down the steps. Brandishing the ruler like I’m Zorro without the mask, I tear after her down the stairs, down the street, and around the corner. I’m steaming with how good it will feel to whack her one across the back and head, but she is too far ahead of me. Unlike Zorro, I have no horse, only my short eight-year old legs. I go right up to the side door of her house after she dashes inside. I yell and shake my ruler. I wish I had the nerve to run into her house and finish the job, but what will her mother think and do?

Maybe Mom is trying to protect me by teaching me to stand up for myself. (excerpted  from You Can Go Home, Copyright 2014 Sharon A. Crawford)

And maybe that has something to do with why I became a journalist.

The biggest darkness of my childhood was when my Dad got cancer. I was almost 10 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It spread to his brain. Six and a half years later he was dead. Compounding living with this was living with betrayal – I found out Mom had lied about the lung cancer – Mom said Dad had TB. The Bully told me the truth.

So, life is never 100 per cent rosy or 100 per cent crappy.

But the balance of rosiness to crappiness has changed drastically since we entered the new millennium. Something is off there and hence the big big (and growing “basket) taking us to hell or whatever you envision as hell.

Shouldn’t the good be more than the bad? Or am I relying on life “back then” instead of  “life now?”

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Family and Friends, Life demands, Mom and Dad, Only child, Only child memoir, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford, Train travel, Uncategorized, Weather

Only Child says winters no longer fun and Memoir Writing

Only Child  rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

Only Child contemplates winters back then and now.

As we drag ourselves kicking and screaming through this horrible winter that keeps on dumping, I can’t help remembering normal winters like the ones when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s. Actually even up to the last nine or 10 years, winters still were somewhat normal. But to go back to “then” as we do when writing memoir, here is an excerpt from my memoir about what winter had to offer and how Mom, Dad and I enjoyed winter. It’s about ice-skating also appropriate because of the current Winter Olympics at Sochi.

When I was six, Mom and Dad did collaborate when they decided I needed to learn to ice skate. Dad made the ice rink and Mom got me moving on it.

Dad turns on the hose and out pours cold water. Overnight it freezes on the dormant grass in the backyard. I never think how the water passes through the hose. Wouldn’t it be frozen? Did Dad put his ear to the radio and listen to the weather reports to see when the daytime temperature sat around freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit then) or just below? When night falls, so does the temperature and in the morning – magic – instant skating rink.

Then Dad turns it over to Mom. Like a dance instructor trying to teach steps to a nervous wannabe, she grabs my hands and tries to get me in motion.

“Come on Sharon. Just slide your feet, one foot in front of the other.”

My feet, tucked tightly into new white figure skates, scrape and totter along the ice and my fingers dig into her hands, my mittens no protection for the hard petrified squeeze they give her. I do not want to fall. I might break a leg. I’m terrified of losing control, so I continue to cling to Mom as she steps backward, sometimes in her rubber boots and sometimes in an old pair of Dad’s black hockey skates. I follow forward like a drunken clown.(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, Copyright 2014, Sharon A. Crawford)

You can see how I felt then about skating on ice. But it was a positive experience. So, let’s put it forward to compare with my feelings on winter today.

This winter, especially the great ice storm that hit southern Ontario from Dec. 22, 2013 has left me feeling that our world is no longer safe – anywhere. We constantly have to be on hyper-guard, especially with the weather. I felt scared to panicky, and yes very angry that this is what got thrown at us (and you can take your pick where/who to put the blame for this). Skating was not something to look forward to as everywhere you went there was ice. I no longer have my ice skates and probably in my senior years would wobble around and fall.

So the only positive spin I can put on winter is the Olympics at Sochi, especially the figure skating. And I wish Patrick Chan, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had won gold, but I’m still proud they won silver.

If you are in the Toronto, Ontario Canada area and want to learn more about writing a memoir, I am teaching a memoir writing workshop, Saturday, February 22, 2014, 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m..  Here are some details:

Getting your Memoir off the Ground:

Presented by the East End Writers’ Group

Always wanted to write your family’s story or your story but need some motivation and guidance? Sharon A. Crawford, who conducts Memoir Writing workshops for the Toronto Public Library, will teach this one-day expanded workshop on Memoir Writing. After a brief review of kick-starting your memoir using the senses, this hands-on workshop takes the writer into the nitty-gritty of writing the memoir. You will learn how to organize your memoir’s content, do research and work it into your memoir, deal with family flak, and not only start writing your memoir, but write an actual chapter and have it critiqued.  Handouts provided. Bring photos and other memorabilia, pen and paper or the electronic equivalent.

Check out the full details on my website at www.samcraw.com (click on Speaker’s Bureau).

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Ice Skating, Ice storm Toronto, Mom and Dad, Only child memoir, Winter Weather