"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"All things autobiographical"

One day this week as I was frantically scanning new blogs to follow and to be followed (over on the noisy blog, not this nice peaceful quiet one where I don't pay attention to such meaningless trivia), I ran across a blog from a woman who stated she was interested in autobiographical writing. "All things autobiographical" is how I believe she put it. Unfortunately I can't give you the link to this blog, or go back there myself because in my mad, clicking rush I lost it.

I want to find it again, because I love the sentiment of "all things autobiographical." Especially in blogland where most of the enthusiasm is for YA thriller paranormal romance and tear off the bodice romance and sci fi fantastical thriller killer romance. Hey, not that I mind a bit of romance in my life and in my books, but you get my point.

"All things autobiographical" brings to mind a home, a garden, two cats, green grass, a family which may or may not be dysfunctional, meals prepared, plain and fancy dinners, daffodils and tulips making their cheery appearance each spring, grandparents visiting, weddings, funerals, addictions, celebrations, vacations, tragic losses and joyful reunions.

Now I need to go find a really good book to read that celebrates these things. Eat,Pray,Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was like that. So is Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. So is Uncut Diamonds by Karen Jones Gowen. (hehe) I almost wish I hadn't written it. Then I could go read it. (hehe)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Women of the Nebraska Plains

One grandmother and two great-grandmothers had parts of their stories told in Farm Girl. I often felt my grandmother's presence during that time of writing the book. I knew this work was important to her and that she was helping it along.

Throughout her adult life, my grandmother felt the need to record what she had seen as a daughter of Nebraska homesteaders. She wrote about how to build a sod house. She wrote about her mother's experience in the Chicago fire. She painted oils of covered wagons crossing the Great Plains, sod houses, and one large painting I have in my home of men panning for gold.

During the typesetting of Farm Girl, the file was erased at one point. The typesetter was devastated, not sure how it happened. I felt peaceful and tried to calm him down. "There had to be a reason for this. It's okay. The book will come out better than ever." And it did. During that time, I sensed not just my grandmother's assistance, but the other two as well-- her mother and grandmother wanting to clear the way so their stories could be told.

Photograph below is of Sophie Stav Walstad, of Norway, who emigrated to Chicago with her first husband. When he died, she came to Nebraska with their small son and settled near the Walstads, neighbors from Norway. She married Hans Walstad. Their daughter was my grandmother. It was a hard life in those early days of living in a dugout. She missed the forests and streams back home in Norway. Here all was dry, windy, and harsh, with no trees growing midst the tough prairie sod. Sophie would often take her sewing down by the creek and cry so that she could not see to sew.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My quiet blog

For those of you who visit my other blog you may notice a different tone here. This is a quiet blog. I won't be posting awards, or shouting at the Universe, or putting a really long blog list on my sidebar. I currently have no blog list on my sidebar, although I plan on remedying that real soon. Because I want to feature story-teller blogs. The seanchai blogger.

Here's where I come to get away from the chase for followers and zillions of comments. This is my quiet garden. Coming Down the Mountain is hey, look at me! Listen to me! Follow me! (Embarrassing to admit, but yes it's true. I've gotten sucked in. I need an escape.)

I'm not even sure what all to do here. Right now I'm contemplating. Meditating. Let's just see what unfolds.

Thank you for being here with me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Brilliant Woman's Voice for Today

So finally I bought myself a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love. There was a waiting list at my county library of about 64 people ahead of me. Hello!! Library!! Buy another copy why don't you?

I was at Borders today and saw it on a buy one get one 50% table. So I bought it along with the bestselling book Columbine, published by the incredible new publisher called Twelve which only puts out twelve books a year. Anyway, I digress. Back to Eat Pray Love.

IT IS AMAZINGLY AWESOME LITERARY YET LIGHT FUN REAL SPIRITUAL DEEP PLEASURABLE BEYOND BELIEF. To use just a few adjectives that come to mind as I'm reading. (Sorry, didn't mean to shout at you with the all caps lol.)

I'm sure all of you have heard of it and I don't need to recap the story of the book here, but in a nutshell it is exactly what I'm talking about on this blog. Writing one's story. Although she's brilliant and had an agent already, not to mention a publisher who paid her a hefty advance to go to Italy, India and Indonesia to live for a year and get balance. Most of us aren't this talented or this far advanced in our literary careers-- ahem--Still, we CAN do it. We can write our stories. We can pick a theme or two and write about it. Her theme was that her life was a mess, and thus she went abroad to find herself.

See, she didn't try to write her entire life history from age ten until the present. She wrote about one period in her life and she did it brilliantly. Her voice is a delight. My life is completely different from hers in every way, yet I related to her as a woman and I understand her on a level so much deeper than age, marital status, financial standing, motherhood or not, religious beliefs-- none of these differences matter as I soak up her voice in the pages of this book.

I am so glad I found it. Do I miss my sisters or something? They live back east and I'm here in Utah. For some reason, I have been craving the sisterhood of the woman's voice. (That's way different from the sisterhood of the traveling pants, just so you know.)

So glad to find this gem of a book, a fast read, yet penetrating memoir of a woman in crisis who finds her soul.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Farm Girl Stimulates Readers' Memories

Yes it is true. My little book gets people thinking, remembering, wanting to record those vague memories and bring them from the shadows to the page. Here is Angela Schmidt's review from her lovely blog Letters from Usedom (Germany):

Donnerstag, 15. April 2010
"Farm Girl"
"Doesn`t everyone have a life worth telling?"
That was the entrance sentence of the book I once started writing (I got to page 69, then my blogging took over). I haven`t finished it, but I still believe so, and my clever blog pal Karen Jones Gowen did the same, when she patiently interviewed her mother, in order to save Lucille Marker Jones` memories.

What a life - born from Norwegian immigrants who settled in Nebraska around 1880, having grown up on a homesteader`s farm - and who of us can imagine such a life!? Or as Lucille puts it: "It has made me realize how drastically times have changed for children growing up today. Perhaps this will help my grandchildren and others understand history a little better... After all, history is just the story of people`s lives."
Women`s lives, I would like to add.

Can you imagine how it was, back in the old days, with no washing machine, no fridge, not even electricity, not all the things which come so natural to us nowadays? What hard work had to be done, just for the simple necessities of life?
Karen lets her mother recall her memories, without interrupting. It is a slow walk back on memory lane, you feel the rhythm of the time, the simple joys and the family bonds.

A lovely, quiet book. Now that I`m through I feel like I want to read it again, and take more time.

But what it did to me was more - it made me think back to my own childhood, and my visits to my grandparents whose life was really not that much different from Karen`s grandparents`. It was just a different time in history.

My grandfather was a horse-cart driver, what would be a truck driver today. He had a hand for horses, and maybe that was where I have my love for horses from. My grandparents had a small patch of land a bit outside of the city, and my grandmother had a sheep (called Lotte), a few pigs, and about 20 chickens who I used to love to feed. She grew potatoes, vegetables, had pear and apple trees and a few berry bushes. Besides caring for her small "farm" and her husband, she raised four sons, of whom only one survived the War. My father.

What a hard life...
My memories linger on, to my other side of the family. My other grandma whose family had lived in the same village for centuries, even in the same house. They all had large families, ten children were not uncommon.

If only one of them had written a book. I would have LOVED to read it now.
Karen, thank you for yours, in place of the ones that were not written. Maybe I will return to writing mine, even...

Angela, thanks for that wonderful review, and I hope you will go back to writing your book.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Women's Voices in Literature

Women's voices in literature are much too rare. Yes, there are more women being published now than ever but in what genre? YA fantasy. Paranormal. Teen angst and romance. Erotica. And can I say that YA anything is not a woman's voice, especially not as the genre currently exists. Much of it today is like a Barbie doll expression, where the female author creating the work has hidden her real voice behind a 14-year-old perpetual whine. Why? Because women's literature isn't selling, and YA girl stuff is.

I find this a great loss to our current literary culture. I love women's fiction, women's stories and women's perspective on life. Why do so many of us think our lives are dull and boring, not worth writing about, not worth reading? I understand the need for escapism in fiction, we all crave it. But I can read a book about a Jewish family in Brooklyn in the 1970's (The War of the Rosens by Janice Eidus), to escape in a story which embraces me with a (nearly) foreign culture.

Sigh. Of course we all don't read and write the same kinds of books. If YA paranormal romance is what rings your chimes, then go ahead and read them. Or write them. How sad that these are the silly books ringing the cash registers while the women's voices lie silent between forgotten pages.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Collect, Organize, Write or is it Collect, Write & Organize?

The first step to writing a memoir is to collect data-- memories, photographs, letters, journals. Gather and collect hard copies from anyone you know who might have such material in their possession. If they don't want to part with it, you can ask for copies. Old photos can now be scanned into the computer and copies made nearly as good as the original. The elusive and frustrating task of collecting memories that exist only in the mind of another can put anyone off, but there are ways to unlock that memory bank despite obstacles. I'll post more on that later.

Uncut Diamonds, my semi-autobiographical novel, came from my huge collection of personal journals. These contained memories, incidents, even the weather, which I weaved into the story, making stuff up as I went along. (Too much is fictionalized to call it a memoir.)

Farm Girl
came from two basic sources. 1) The memories of my mother, sharp and clear, as she talked and I typed on my laptop. 2) The written stories and reflections of my grandmother who was a writer as well as an artist and photographer.

Collections already exist in some form, and it's up to the writer (who in folklore terminology is called the "collector") to find and gather. Sounds simple and obvious, I know, but sometime it is the obvious things that escape us. Writing will come later. First comes gather and collect. Go through your closets and files, and gather the data all in one place. Call up relatives and see who has what and is willing to part with it, or at least share. Older people especially are often eager to talk about the past, and to share their memories and photos.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Do the Voices in My Head Bother You?"

Great movie quote from an Australian film "The Gods Must be Crazy." (Either that or "Crocodile Dundee," not sure which) but it deals with someone tired of the city and heading out to the Australian bush. Anyway, it's one of my favorite movie lines of all time. Do the voices in my head bother you?

Probably not, because if you're here at this blog, you've got voices in your own head saying things like: "Remember me."

"I may be dead but I'm still here. And my life still matters."

"Please don't forget. Write my story."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Lady in the Audience

I did a presentation and signing a few months ago. The women in this audience were from rural areas and identified strongly with Farm Girl. At the end, one lady sat there longer than all the rest, and with tears in her eyes she said, "I thought I would have more time to get my mother's story written. She died last year. She was only 72."

Since then, I have thought many times of this lady. And many others who have read Farm Girl and related similar sentiments:

"I have pages of my life story written, but I don't know how to organize them."

"We can't get my folks to talk into a tape player."

"Oh how I wish I could do what you did. But I'm not a writer."

"I don't even know where to start."

"My dad traveled all over the West. He was a cowhand. He told me stories of his life, but I've never written them down."

"You wouldn't believe my life. It would make a great book, if I could only get it written."

Common thread-- "I wish I had started sooner." But there is no sooner. There is only today. And tomorrow. Are you ready to begin?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Writing from Life

Is there anything more interesting than real life? Not to me. I love real life stories. From the time I was young, the biography shelf of the children's section in the library was my favorite. There was a series targeted to kids, and I read them all. Fantasy bores me. Give me a solid memoir any day. I like to know what people eat for dinner, where they work, where they go on vacation, all kinds of ordinary details that we all have in our everyday lives.

Writing it well in story form is the great challenge. When it's done right, you get Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. Or the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Sometimes you don't care about all that, you just want to get the information down in one place, in some kind of organized format to save it for posterity. Either way, we're talking lots of time and effort-- no easy task at all.

Where to start? With a collection of data: journals, letters, photographs, shopping lists, sales records-- anything saved that gives information about the life in question. You can start with a labeled box for your data, and later file and organize it. Collect it, keep it in one place, label and organize.