Friday, August 25, 2017

Memoir Your Way

Memoir Your Way, Tell Your Story through writing, recipes, quilts, graphic novels and more was written by the Memoir Roundtable.

CHAPTER 1 - "We say scrap it, quilt it, write it or cook it up so the family can have a tangible piece of their heritage," is the basic advice of the Memoir Roundtable, a group of six writers, crafters and workshop leaders. "When we turn memories into memoir, we build the bridge between the past and the future."

They describe the memoir as two stories - what you remember and what it means to you. Each author gives specific steps you can follow.

The book is easy to read and gives lots of information with photos showing what they are describing. It was copyrighted in 2016, so it should contain up-to-date information.

CHAPTER 2 - Five Simple steps to tell a true story was written by Joanne Lozar Glenn, an award-winning writer and memoir workshop leader. She believes in following author Anne LaMotte's advice to write small.

"Show us the moment," she advises. Think of yourself as a camera, focus on your theme, and arrange the scenes in an artful way.

Glenn gives us ideas on how to start, include the smallest details of your life in your own voice when crafting your story. Then treat your writing like play doh and re-shape it as you edit.

CHAPTER 3 - Around the Table: food and cookbook memoirs by Dianne Hennessy King, public television producer, cookbook editor, and cultural anthropologist, includes information on theme and finding your voice.

She offers 10 questions to jog your memory as you put your collection together. She gives various ways to present items that can be used to link the family generations, such as CDs, videos, books, articles or blogs.

CHAPTER 4 - Reinvent your Scrapbook by Katherine Nutt, memoir teacher, educational game inventor, and scrapper. She writes about what future generations may like to know and capturing these life events through photos, drawings and old scrapbook items. This might be a good way for visual thinkers to show and tell their stories. She briefly mentions digital scrapping and that mini memoir scrapbooks make nice gifts.

CHAPTER 5 - Create your Memoir as a Graphic Novel by Natasha Peterson, a content producer, author and graphic novel creator.

This is a fun chapter. She explains elements of graphic novels and stresses that there are no hard and fast rules. Do it your way.

CHAPTER 6 - Memoir Quilts, A Way to Celebrate Lives by Linda Pool, nationally known quilter and American Folk Art Museum winner. She says memory quilts are a lot more than casual quilts we had as children.

I can relate to this as my mother used scraps of old clothing and would embroider dates or short information in the squares. But these were made to be used, not saved, and they did not survive our childhood.

Pool mentions themes for the quilts, such as special moments, pets, trips, careers and many more. Memorial quilts can preserve family history and honor special people.

CHAPTER 7 - In Nuturing the Young Storyteller, Nadine Majette James, (children's literary expert and speaker) recommends involving children in family memoir projects. Help them tell their tales, she writes and gives suggestion for different age groups. Share your memoir projects with them. This gives them a sense of family history.

I now have a young grandson, so I am paying special attention to this chapter.

CHAPTER 8 - You Are the Bridge: Traditions and Heritage by Dianne Hennessy King.

A memoir is simply telling your story. You can start getting more family history by contacting family elders and friends. If you want to go further, this book gives print and digital resources for each type of memoir project.

She stresses that as you honor your ancestors' stories, you need to include your own. "Today is tomorrow's history."

Memoir Your Way includes sample projects, lists of needed supplies, hints and guidelines for each type of memoir. It is definitely a "how-to" book, full of great ideas, yet easy to read and understand.

As a writer, I have been making notes on my family's background and also have kept scrapbooks for years, so I have a start, but I also plan to try some of these different ideas myself.

I also agree with what Glenn writes near the end about getting over your fear of writing. Remember, there is no wrong way to tell your story.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Elements of Style

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White today is often taken for granted, almost lost in the libraries of most writers, but it still offers specific help and is a helpful reference tool.

William Strunk Jr., an English professor at Cornell University, had the book privately printed in 1918 to help his students with grammar. Often referred to as that “little book,” The Elements of Style originally was 43 pages long and sold for 25 cents. It was published by Harcourt in 1920. 

Later, author E. B. White was commissioned in 1957 by Macmillan Publishing Co. to update the book, so it was available to the general public. It was titled Strunk and White Elements of Style.

He wrote that he could almost hear his professor giving commands about writing, such as “be concise,” omit needless words,” and “use the active voice.”

The elements of style One of Strunk’s former students, White is known for writing Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and a column for The New Yorker. He was commissioned in 1957 by Macmillan Publishing Co. to update the book, so it was available to the general public.
White wrote that he could almost hear his professor giving commands about writing, such as “be concise,” omit needless words,” and “use the active voice.”
In 2011, Time named it one of the 100 best and most influential books written on English.

The Elements of Style offers lots of good advice and is still important today. It offers a good review of basics. Sometimes it is fun to just browse through it and find words misused or unnecessary. It can remind us of little rules we may have forgotten, even after years of writing.

A bit of humor – Dorothy Parker was supposed to have said, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

One of the first blogs I wrote in 2012 was about The Elements of Style. That blog shared information from two books written about that little book. Each author had a different view. You can check out their thoughts in the blog I wrote in 2012.

  • Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style by Mark Garvey. I noted that he might have been slightly obsessed, but agreed that it was a must-have book.
  • Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style, Arthur Plotnik, gives reasons why he thinks Strunk & White is too rigid for today’s changing world.

As I wrote back then: “Isn’t it great that we have access to such variety.” We have more information from which we can make up our own mind about how much we want to use from the various books and other writing advice.

Besides enjoying reading of these two books, I was thrilled to get a comment from Arthur Plotnik saying “It's always inspiriting to know of a balanced, thoughtful reading of my book, especially in relation to the iconic "The Elements of Style." Thank you, Jo. You blog spunkily and with bite. ---Art Plotnik

What an inspiring comment. Whether you ask a question, offer additional information, or just want to keep in touch.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Stephen King's Advice On Writing

Stephen King’s, On Writing, is very different then the three books I mentioned in my previous blog. It is primarily a memoir of the craft and written in a grittier, down to earth style.

In the forward, he states, “What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job; it’s about the language.”

The book starts with information about his childhood and early career. Like most writers, he received plenty of rejection slips. After page 103, he discusses the basic tools of the writing trade.

He states that most books about writing are nonsense. “One notable exception to the bullshit rule is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E. B. White.” His favorite rule from that book is “Omit needless words.”

As a reader, I agree with his following two comments:

  1. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
  2. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”

To him (and to many of us) books are portable magic. Whether you prefer reading or listening, you can take books with you almost anywhere.

About nouns and verbs, he writes, “Take any noun, put it with any verb, and you have a sentence.” Easy, right? But he continues. “We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style … but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.”

Later in the book, he repeats that idea. “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

I have to admit, I am not a fan of books that frighten me and King’s generally do that. I have read a few, besides his writing book. He definitely has a way with words.

I don’t think it is necessary to list Stephen King’s books. More than 350 million copies have been sold. He has written horror, suspense, science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction, as well as approximately 200 short stories. Many of his books have been international best sellers.

He has written under pen names and also plays in a band with other writers.

Again, I will ask if you have any favorite writing books you want to mention, feel free. I love to learn more and may write a blog about recommendations later.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Favorite Books about Writing

Besides reading a wide variety of books, as part of learning their craft, writers also read writing books. This blog and my next include brief information from some of my favorite books about writing.
Anne Lamott
I loved Anne Lamott’s unusual sense of humor and use of personal experiences and embarrassments in her book, Bird by Bird, Instructions on Writing and Life. She said that some of the advantages of being a writer  if you are shy, is that you get to stay home and still be public.

“You don’t have to dress up “and you can’t hear them boo you right away.”
Lamott used the quote, “A critic is someone who comes onto the battlefield after the battle is over and shoots the wounded.” She could not remember right then who said it, but I googled it and the quote was from author Murray Kempton.

This book was written with a casual approach. You feel like she is talking to you, not teaching.
She wrote about her father dying and later her best friend Pam’s losing battle with cancer. She was able to let each of them read the books before they died. They were like love letters, she said, part of their immortality.

Despite the sad subjects of her first books, she sprinkled her advice and opinions with humor.
When looking for help about parenting her son, the only books she could find were “nicey-nice” and rational. They didn’t work for her.

 “Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate, like having Janis Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come to stay with you,” she said.
Searching for a book that was more realistic, she was discouraged that she couldn’t find one.

“So I went ahead and started writing one myself, as a present, as a kind of road map for other mothers,” she said.
Lamott is the author of seven novels and 10 non fiction books. She received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985 and was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2010.

 Natalie Goldberg
Another book I enjoyed was Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within, by  Natalie Goldberg

A practitioner of Zen, her writing is low key, yet humorous. She taught seminars on writing as a spiritual practice for several decades. She reminds people that writing is inexpensive. All you need is pen, paper (or computer) and the human mind.
Her short chapters have unusual titles such as Writing is not a MacDonald’s Hamburger, Composting and Don’t Marry the Fly.

Goldberg recommends keeping notebooks and writing every day, especially what she calls “first thoughts.”
“First thoughts have tremendous energy,” she said, suggesting:

·         keep the hand moving 

·         don’t worry about spelling , punctuation, grammar

·          lose control

·         don’t get logical

·         go for the jugular

The book includes lots of good advice, including “practice, practice, practice,” and “just get it on paper.”
I’ve read several of her books. Another one that stood out for me was Long Quiet Highway. I loved the sentence length variations, especially a long road description that made me feel like I was on the trip with her.

“You are alone when writing a book,” she wrote. “Accept that and take in any love and support that is given to you, but don’t have expectations of how it is supposed to be.”
Lynne Truss
Okay, I have to mention one more book, just briefly. Years ago, I read the British bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. Hilarious! It is unusual to find the words proper punctuation and funny in the same description of a book, but this one has both.

Truss showed why the comma is important when she used the title phrase Eats, Shoots & Leaves, There is a big difference between a panda bear that eats shoots and leaves and a bad one who eats, shoots (someone or something) and leaves the area.
She has many other hilarious examples throughout the book, but she is serious about the use of correct punctuation. Keep in mind that this book is British, and may include some punctuation rules that are different from those in the U.S., but most are the same.

What an enjoyable way to remember the importance of correct punctuation.
If you want to recommend a writing book, please do. I enjoy reading different types of books.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


A CURIOUS MIND, The SECRET to a BIGGER LIFE by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman was published in 2015 by Simon & Schuster.

Although, He had always been curious, Glazer said he spent the two years before publication learning more about curiosity.

Curious myself, I was drawn to this book, although I didn’t know anything about Brian Grazer at that time. When I read the list of movies he produced and some of the people he spoke with, I knew I had to read it.

Grazer was planning to go to law school when he learned about a summer job at Warner Bros Studio. He called immediately, joining the world of show business. His first real, full time producing job was with Paramount Studios.

There he met Ron Howard, who had been a famous child actor, but now wanted to be a director. Together the two produced several successful movies, established Imagine Entertainment and produced many more movies. 

Grazer was nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 149 Emmys. He was one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. His films include A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Splash, Friday Night Lights, The Grinch who Stole Christmas, American Gangster, J. Edgar, Frost/Nixon, and Liar, Liar.

He credits his success to curiosity. He also produced television series such as "24."

For 35 years, Grazer had “curiosity conversations” with people in and outside of show business, such as Jonas Salk, Condoleeza Rice, Michael Jackson, John McCain, Amy Tan, Edward Teller, Steve Wozniak, Deepak Chopra, Jeff Bezo, Norman Mailer, Muhammad Ali,  Anderson Cooper, Tommy Hilfiger, Isaac Asimov, Charlie Rose, F. Lee Bailey, Barrack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Andy Warhol.

You can find a list of them and a brief description on pages 231 to 258. I found the variety of people and their interests amazing. He also met Princess Diana, Fidel Castro, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and many others.

“Curiosity is what gives energy and insight to everything else I do,” he wrote. “For me, curiosity infuses everything with a sense of possibility.” He links curiosity with success in business and storytelling.

“We’ve been telling stories for 4,000 years. Every story has been told,” he wrote. “Good storytelling requires creativity and originality; it requires a real spark of inspiration.”

“Where does the spark come from?” he continues. “I think curiosity is the flint from which flies the spark of inspiration.”

Theodor Geisel (Dr Seuss) had his first book rejected by 27 times before published by Vanguard Press. What if he had stopped at the 20th rejection? Today his books are still selling approximately 11,000 each year in the U.S. and many of his 44 books remain best sellers.

Curiosity has to be harnessed to at least two other key traits:

1 – the ability to pay attention to the answers.
2 – the willingness to act.

Grazer said curiosity gave him the dream.  “It quite literally, helped me create the life I imagined back when I was 23 years old,” he wrote. That life has been even more adventurous, interesting & successful than he had hoped.

When you know more you can do more. Besides curiosity, Glazer stressed the importance of discipline, determination and persistence. “Persistence is the drive moving you forward. Curiosity provides the navigation.”

The cover art is by artist Jeff Koons, who first asked what the book was about, Grazer told him it was to inspire people to see how curiosity could make their lives better.

Koons produced and Grazer used “a seemingly simple line drawing of a face that conveys exactly the joy, openheartedness, and excitement that being curious brings.”

Various ways curiosity is useful:

·         As a tool for discovery.
·         As a spark for creativity and inspiration.
·         As a way of motivating yourself.
·         As a tool for independence and self-confidence.
·         As the key to storytelling.
·         As a form of courage.
·         As a way of creating human connections.

I first listened to this book as I drove back and forth to Baltimore, but I was so intrigued that I had to get the printed version and read it again. I think anyone who is curious would enjoy this book.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

So you want to write a book

“So you want to write a book.” That was the title of an interactive workshop I attended recently given by Julie Castillo, author and instructor.

She often is asked by students – Do I have what it takes to write a book?

Of course, you do, is the first answer. You can't know if you have talent until you try. 

But before plunging ahead, she recommends asking yourself other questions, such as:

Should I write that book? Will it hurt me or will it hurt someone else?

Who am I writing for? You should know your audience, but at first, write to please yourself.

Do I have the talent? You don’t know until you try.

How do you know whether your idea will work in the commercial marketplace? She said you need to have something unique and fresh. If you are writing non-fiction, you need to ask, what new information does my book bring to the marketplace that isn’t there?

How do I get started? One way is to write in a journal. Tell your own story. You may find the extraordinary in your every day life. Also, freewrite on a subject, just get your thoughts down on paper. This helps you dig deeper).

How do I get it written? You need structure. Three acts – beginning, middle and end is the basic step. Outlining your idea will help you structure your book or story.

How will you promote your book to ensure its success? There is a lot you can do and you should start early. Your book is only considered new for a year.

Julie speaking at a 2013 meeting of
the Carroll County Chapter MWA.
There were more questions asked. Also, a lot more detail was given for the questions listed above. If you want to learn more about writing, I would recommend taking one of Julie’s classes or another class by an experienced writer. 

I wrote previously about Julie. Check out my August 15, 2013 blog, if you want to see what she discussed at that presentation.

Julie Castillo is a fourteen-year veteran of the publishing and film industries, co-writer of two novels and thirteen nonfiction books—including two New York Times bestsellers, biographer for Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, and chronicler of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! 
A recent book is Eat Local For Less.

She is a college anthropology instructor, writing instructor, enrichment curriculum designer, entrepreneur, writer, and futurist. She holds an MA in sociocultural anthropology from Catholic University with a specialty in gender studies and ethnopsychology.

Julie has taught creative writing and publishing classes at local community colleges since 2007, including Carroll and Frederick county colleges.

There is much more to writing a book than just sitting down and putting pen to paper, or pushing computer keys. Whether you take a college, community college or other class, learn online or through books and writing friends, it is important to continue to learn the craft of writing. That is one of the reasons I am writing this blog, sharing what I learn and learning from others.

I hope you keep learning and keep writing.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why join a writing group

Writing books and magazines encourage those interested in writing to join a writing or critique group. But what type of group should you join and where can you find one?
There are various types of writing groups just as there are a wide variety of writers.  You can find online, national, state and local writing groups, as well as genre groups such as Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Horror Writing Association, National Association of Writers, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Garrett County writers

Each can be a help and I have been, and am still in some. On a more personal level, a local writing group can help you fine tune your writing and get you used to having people read it and comment.
I was in a writing group in Garrett County, Maryland, called the Wednesday Writer’s Guild. We generally met on Wednesday evenings. We were amateurs interested in writing. We learned from each other and had fun.

Each writer, who wanted to participate, brought copies of a short piece to the meeting. Someone else read the piece, so the writer could hear how it sounded. If the reader paused or stumbled while reading, there might be a problem. When we read our own work, we tend to see words that aren’t there. We know they should be, so we automatically “read” them.
During the discussion, the author was not to speak or defend their work. Members offered suggestions, mentioned where they may have been confused, pointed out errors and asked questions. After the discussion was over, it was okay for the author to explain. Then we returned the papers, with comments and suggestions  to the writer.
Joelle Jarvis, Kerry Peresta, Lona
Queen at Balto. Book Festival
At monthly meetings, we critiqued partial chapters of novels, newspaper articles, short stories and poetry. One member introduced graphic novels to the group. Occasionally a topic or prompt was suggested for the next meeting. I enjoyed writing a short piece about a different topic. It was surprising the number of ideas that would come from the same sentence.
Many members were published in the area literary magazine, Ginseng, newspapers and in other media. Some also have published books.

Now I am with the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers’ Association,  (CCMWA) which focuses on education and socialization.  Writing can be a lonely profession. It is encouraging to meet with others of like mind. We have speakers at most of our MWA meetings, but also encourage writers to attend other writing events, book festivals and conferences. Members also participate in write-ins such as National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo).
Betsy Riley at Gaithersburg
Book Festival
The CCMWA supports the Carroll County Critique Group. Participants can bring in what they want to read, but need to keep it short, depending on how many people attend. Again, prompts are occasionally suggested to encourage writers to try something new.

The Carroll County Novel and Short Story Writing Group published an anthology, Christmas Carroll, in 2015. It featured area writers and artists. Also, member Betsy Riley of Blue Dragon Press published the anthology, One Left Shoe, which included local writers.

The CCMWA is currently hosting a contest for Flash Fiction, which is a story of less than 500 words that includes a beginning, middle and end. If you are interested, email for details.

Writing groups encourage each other to write and publish. Each one can be unique, so look for one that meets your needs. You can check out to find a group in your area and contact information.