"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)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Your Life in a Jar

I spoke at a Senior's Group in Salt Lake about my process of writing Farm Girl, and gave a few tips on writing from life. One of the ladies in attendance talked about something their group is doing called "Your Life in a Jar."

They meet once a week, and draw a topic from the jar, such as games played as a child, radio programs listened to, trips or vacations, meals, etc. Then they write on this, and they're ready for another subject the next week.

This is a great idea that eliminates one of the biggest problems in writing one's history-- feeling OVERWHELMED!! Most of us can write quite a bit about one topic, but when faced with the idea of writing an entire memoir, or personal history from birth to present? It's overwhelming to the most avid writer!

So there you go! Get a jar, start adding slips of paper to it, and when you have time to write, just pull a topic out of the jar to write about! Brilliant idea!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

All about me, me, me and thanks for stopping by!

Welcome to new followers Patricia, Angela and Myrna, and thank you for your kind comments on my essay post.

How does anyone find this quiet, hidden blog? I don't promote it. It has a lot to do with my books and how I write and my interest in writing from life, but I don't try to get followers like I do on my other one. However, when you show up it's always a thrill!

Lately I've been on twitter a lot which has given me a huge headache. I'm involved with starting a website for published authors and needing to network via twitter. It's exhausting. Here are a few words I never thought would be in my vocabulary:





Marketing & Promotion

Designing & developing a website

I knew the words, but never cared. I wanted to write and let the 21st century go its merry way while I --

Rearranged my furniture

Pulled weeds in my flower beds

Had parties with my many children & celebrated their various stages of life

Watched the koi in the pond and counted their offspring

Cooked when I felt like it

Read a million books

Worked when I found a job after Costco....

Oh yes, and write. Who would have guessed what the writing would lead to? Back to the twittering, the networking, the website...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summertime is Magical

I am enjoying this summer so much for no particular reason. Here's an essay I wrote years ago that was published in the local paper. It may be included in my current wip, as the main character is a writer who gets essays published in the local paper LOL.

I grew up in one of central Illinois’ small towns; and if I let the years roll back, I can see a typical summer evening.

It was a sweltering day in mid-July and the blazing sun had finally dropped like a red hot coal below the horizon. Our supper eaten, my sister and I had no desire to stand, dripping seat, in a steamy kitchen helping with the dishes. We sneaked out the back and ran to the green coolness of our “hideout” in the yard.

At the far end of the lawn sat a wooden tool shed crowded on one side by two abundant lilac bushes. There was just enough space between them for two young girls to sit side by side, backs against the rough, white-washed boards. Beneath us grew a dense, natural carpet of tough grass and delicate clover that felt cool on bare feet.

I chewed on a clover leaf, pale green and nearly transparent. It tasted both tangy and sweet, like the lemon and honey mixture mother would give to soothe a cough. There in our shady shelter, my sister and I hunched like two rabbits, nibbling on clover leaves and tender grass shoots.

One’s own backyard seems like another world when darkness takes over. As the evening light gradually dimmed into dusk, the foliage around us blended into one shadowy blur, and our hideout became a cave. We were explorers hunting for lost treasure buried here years ago by pirates.

Unseen crickets chirped loudly, sounding very near. Lightning bugs winked at us merrily. I caught one, pretending it was a fairy sprinkled with gold dust. Holding it in my cupped hand, I felt the tickle as it fluttered to escape. It soon crawled out from beneath my fingers, and I watched it stretch out secret wings and take off, blinking its way into the night.

The evening breeze felt cool and damp and smelled of green, growing plants. Mosquitoes like the night air, too; and soon we were slapping ourselves where we felt their itching stings.

Before long we heard mother call us in, so reluctantly we dragged our way into the house to get ready for bed.

Twenty years later, I am the mother standing at the back door calling my little adventurers back to the “real” world of baths and beds and “put your sneakers in the closet.”

As they troop up the stairs, I step outside just for a moment, before they realize I’ve gone. I need to catch a lightning bug and feel the sprinkling of fairy dust in my hand.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To Record a Life History for Personal Use

This post is to answer Donna, who has collected mountains of information for her father's memoir. Since I'm in publishing, I tend to use literary terms that may not be helpful to those who want to write a life story rather than write for an audience. Terms like voice, narrative flow, tone and point of view don't matter in that case.

So this post is for those wanting to record a life history for family and posterity, not for publication. If that is you, and you already have the collected records, photos, letters, journals, not to mention your own memories-- then you are half way there. As I've said before, it's the collecting that takes the most time, but it's where the work should begin.

Then you must organize your material into usable files, either on the computer or in envelopes, folders or boxes, whatever works best for you. Word perfect is one of the easiest programs to use for those who are used to the "typewriter." Haha, remember that old thing? Oh how I have loved the typewriters of my life! This looks like the one I wrote my stories on as a child.

And then there's the last one I owned, that I started Uncut Diamonds on ten years ago, back when it had a different title, different POV, different tone and wasn't even a novel lol! It was just excerpts from my old journals, organized in a way that I thought might make a story.
This is an IBM Selectric. Pretty cool, huh? Mine got donated to charity when I finally was able to let it go. Now I love my laptops. I'm on my fourth, and the only one that was bought new.

But let's say you have files of diaries and letters-- what will you be writing? I would suggest keeping those for later and starting with recording your memories. Just write and let it flow, in whatever format feels most comfortable. You might start with arranging them into "chapters," such as childhood, teen years, school days, vacations, meals and home routines, games and recreation, illnesses.

When you have poured everything out and have a huge file of your written memories, you can add to it from other files, like letters, photos, and whatever else is in your collection. The main thing is to get the words down, without worrying about how they sound, or grammar, or anything like an English teacher or an editor might frown upon.

This is your story, so write it in your way. It may take awhile to get past the mental roadblocks:

*this sounds stupid*

*I don't know how to use commas*

*this is too much work*

*who will ever read this?*

*does it even make sense?*

*I wish I were a better writer*

Let me assure you that even those who write for a living have these doubts about their work on a regular basis.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Writing a Memoir-- where to begin?

So you want to write your life story, or the memoir of a loved one-- a worthy endeavor, but where to begin? First you need to collect information. I posted about that earlier so go here and read then return.

Okay, once you have collected, what next? Organize! Think subject matter not chronology. When I wrote Farm Girl, the organization fell into place since my mother's memories covered the same topics over and over. School, Home, Family, the Community, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression. And because it was about her growing up years, the chapter organization could be somewhat chronological without being the dull routine of born in 1917, and then what happens each year after bla bla bla.

And this brings me to my next subject-- go for the gold, which in literary terms according to moi means to go for the story. Information is all very important, but only as it is useful for the story. I just finished reading the  memoir, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. She does an incredible job of drawing characters, creating tone and setting, giving background-- all leading to the story of her and her sister's imprisonment at Ravensbruck and what they learned there. And up until that point, she tells story after story to draw you in and keep you reading. Not in a random way, but brilliantly designed so that each event, story, chapter, and character in her narrative is necessary to the whole.

So there you have the three steps. One Two Three!

  • Collect information
  • Organize it
  • Build a story

Sounds so easy doesn't it? Well, I never said it would be easy. I only said it would be worth it!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why I Do Not Sing

See that picture above with the two blonde girls in their cowgirl outfits? I'm the one on the left. This photo brings back one of my earliest memories of vacationing camping as a family.

We had made friends with some other little kids in the campground and one of them came up with this idea to sing for our parents. We practiced a song called "Lilies of the Valley," hiding back in the woods, over by the stream where no one could see or hear us. A girl, not one of my sisters, was in charge of practices, organizing everything and setting up the performance.

Really most of the details are fuzzy until I get to the actual performance, which is a clear and vivid memory. Our little group singing in front of half a dozen adults. The adults smiling and laughing, probably because we were so cute, but what did I know about the workings of the adult mind? I thought they were mocking us. I had been chosen to sing a brief solo, which I did, all the while in agony due to the laughter. I remember cracking on the last couple notes, unable to focus, knowing how terrible I sounded, hating their eyes on me, feeling intense shame and humiliation.

We finished "Lilies of the Valley" to grand applause, which didn't come close to making up for the laughter at the beginning. They begged for more, and we complied, singing two other songs we had practiced. I say "we." Not me. I never wanted to sing again. I stood there like a stone, just watching the audience. They didn't laugh as they had at first, but it didn't matter. The damage was done. Music and I were not friends from that moment on.

I could continue with other episodes involving singing, embarrassment and the torture of having to participate in choirs, up until recent years. Now I'm done. I will sing in church if my husband opens the hymnbook and holds it in front of my face. Then I'll sing about half the notes. Maybe.

And it all goes back to "Lilies of the Valley." I must have had a fairly good voice and tone or the bossy girl in charge wouldn't have picked me for the solo. But that one event shaped me for a lifetime of not singing. No loss. There's plenty of music in the world without my contribution. Interesting how our earliest experiences make us who into we are.