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Black Sheep and Memoir: February Newsletter

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

Shortly after an ice storm a few weeks ago, I headed out for a walk. (No, I don't let a silly thing like ice stop me.) My neighbor stabbed at the nearly inch thick layer of ice under two inches of snow with a look of hopelessness. She said, "How's it going?"

"Alright," I said, "for the longest month of the year."

But here we are much closer to the end than the beginning and the hope of spring is everywhere. A friend is traveling in Italy, sending photos by Instagram, and I'm surprised that they wear only light jackets. We've had a spate of sixty degree days before the next storm comes on Thursday, or is it Friday. And when I walk at 7:00 a.m., light peeks over the horizon in shades of soft pink and baby blue.

And yet, February has been a great month to work on my writing. Forging ahead on the projects at hand swallows me in worlds beyond my front window and hopefully into the world of publication soon. I've taken a step back from teaching semester-long classes so that I can finish some longer pieces and work with my clients. If only there were more hours in the days of this longest month, (smile).

A couple of opportunities are on the radar that you may want to take advantage of: this one-day workshop with Women Writing for (a) Change and the next Writing in the Alley series. Check them out here. And don't forget, about the one-to-one opportunities. Six weeks of mindfulness writing, three sessions of exploration about what's next. Do you have a larger writing project in process? Need help shaping it? I can help. Is there a story in you that needs to see the light of day? Teaching others to write is a great joy to me.

Writing Memoir: Practical Advice on How to Write Your Personal Story

Don't miss out!

There's still time to take advantage of the one-day workshop.

Saturday, March 5, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM,

In this intensive, interactive, all-new workshop you will get the tools to start and organize your personal story.

Learn how to:

  1. Determine why you want to write this book.

  2. Identify the point of the story.

  3. Write book jacket copy.

  4. Outline your story.

  5. Write a killer first sentence.

  6. Choose a title.

  7. Determine when to end the story.

Class is filling up, don't wait!

A few slots remain for our next Writing In the Alley:

Saturday, March 26, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM,

Kennedy Alley, Bellevue, Ky.

Starved for in-person, creative events? We meet in a clean, practical space behind my house. Our time is filled with fun activities centered around creative writing. Start a story, write from the heart, cultivate a stage act, song lyrics, jokes. We write, we talk, we laugh, we cry, and in the end perhaps you will feel just a little happier and hopeful. Cost: $35. Space is limited. Email to reserve your spot.

Black Sheep: My Mother

Their faces are what I remember most: the looks of dismissal; eyes downcast, lips pursed, a tug of an ear, a twist of pearls at the nape of a neck. They didn’t mean to be cruel, only to admonish, yet their judgment of Louise helped define her as the black sheep of the family.

Her sisters, her mother erred on the side of righteousness, a place that Louise rarely gravitated towards, following a path of risk-taking and unpredictability. Sometimes she felt pride in her difference and other times she carried it like the chains of Jacob Marley.

She believed the world kept secrets from her. My mother's attempt at telling me about the birds and the bees went like this: “When I was twelve, I thought if I kissed a boy, I’d get pregnant.”

How did that idea germinate? How did she prove or disprove the theory? Did she hold the secret in a mingle of guilt and pleasure? She didn't tell me anything I didn't already know about the physiology, but her explanation spoke volumes of the guilt and shame she must have felt when she did kiss a boy.

She said her mother called her Deeny Blitzen, German translation? Tiny Lightening. Her sisters followed rules that Louise could never get. She butted up against her mother’s wishes, followed the risk-takers, and found her way to trouble.

This is a snapshot of my mother. She, or some semblance of her, figure into my work. I've taken a step back to attempt to answer some of the questions that bubble up about her, motivations, behaviors, emotions. It is the black and white stills of her impression that she was different and asking the question, why?

Can We Talk About Character Development in Memoir?

Characterization in fiction is one of the five components of great storytelling. In an article entitled: Character in Literary Fictional Story, William H. Coles says:

“The goal of character creation in fiction is complex but creating a unique character—one that is not stereotypical—is the essence of great fictional stories. The character will be adopted by the reader and the characters will drive the momentum of the plot.”

To develop a character rich in meaning you must encompass their backstory, flaws, goals, personality, philosophy, physical traits, morals/ values, and spiritual beliefs. The task is to work toward a well-rounded character who jumps off the page and into the psyche of the reader, provoking them to care about the individual and their story.

How do we apply the techniques of character development to memoir? From a personal perspective, the exercise of interviewing someone who figures into my story, either dead or alive, brings a further understanding of the interplay between the parties within the story, present at the event, usually siblings and other close relatives.

I liken this to the story of four blind people who are led to different parts of an elephant and asked to describe the animal. One will talk about the trunk, another the tail, another the ear, and the fourth a leg. You catch my drift. Each will have a different view. The key for you to remember though is that the other viewpoints can enhance your own but not replace it.

My mother, Louise, has been dead for twenty-five years now. I have revisited the stories she told me of her own life as well as our shared stories. When I metaphorically began the interview process through writing, I uncovered some striking things about her.

Think about this, I am so much older and more mature than I was when she died, which means I have lived experiences that shed light on her past experiences and perhaps motivations for the things she did that may have hurt me in some way. It’s a kind of generational memory that I see when I can examine her life in light of the choices I may or may not have made. This exercise is so important to fully understanding the character that, while it may not change your perspective of the events, it may actually foster better understanding and acceptance.

Here are a few sites to visit and start your character assessment to enrich the story you want to tell:

Grabbing the Sunshine

February seems to be the longest month of the year, doesn’t it? Yet, here we are closer to month’s end than its beginning. I challenge you to find your place in the sun, take time to ponder the good gifts, pick up a pad of paper and take down the details around you. Maybe you’ll uncover a little more of who you want to be.


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Love the piece about Louise. "She believed the world kept secrets from her." This must have pushed her out beyond the normal boundaries. Thanks for sharing

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