Category Archives: On Writing

When Memoirs Are Challenged

When Memoirs Are Challenged

This blog first appeared at Select Authors and is republished here with permision.

Memoir writers run the risk of being challenged. Unlike authors of fiction, who can cloak their characters in the anonymity of imagination, memoir writers write about real places, real events, and real people. Unless those people and everyone connected with them are no longer around, there is often disagreement about what really happened. Even when there is undeniable evidence of who said what to whom, people may dispute the memoir’s account.

Read the whole blog here.

Belva Plain

Belva Plain – It’s in the Details

The talented and prolific writer Belva Plain was my cousin. Her first book, “Evergreen,” was written when she was in her sixties. She went on to write more than twenty best sellers. Sadly, this beautiful woman recently passed away at age ninety-five.

I recall an incident cousin Belva described about writing and making it personal. She said to watch a piece of paper fall to the floor in the middle of a crowded room. Observe how people treat it, walk around it, kick it or step on it, notice it or don’t notice it, pick it up, look at it or ignore it, crumble it, put it in a pocket or stick it in a trash receptacle. Details. Details. Details.

Honorably I shared Belva Plain’s last name until I married. Her husband, Irving, was my cousin so I couldn’t inherit her writing genes. Some people in her famous first novel could have been my ancestors too. Was it all fiction? What makes great fiction? Is it the ability to bring people and places to life with carefully chosen descriptions that include the tiniest details? What do you think? Share your ideas.

Wanna be a writer?

Wanna be a writer?

Wanna be a writer? Then write. Read. Read about writing. Our writer’s group meets every Wednesday. We read our stuff. We tell each other what we like and don’t like. Some of us make changes, some don’t. The best book for writers, I found, is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She sympathizes with our problems: writer’s block, bad first drafts, hangovers, loneliness and even dirty laundry waiting to be washed. She also tells you how to be the best you can be.

What prevents you from writing?
What keeps you writing?

The Quest

NO SEX IN SAINT TROPEZ: The Process

 

 Write a book? How do you write a book? Why write a book? 

My husband Ed and I went to St. Tropez thirty years after I was employed as an au pair in the Dorel house. I wanted to revisit the amazing southern France village that claims, rightfully so, to be the most glamorous natural beach resort and harbor in the world. Ed had to see it, and I had promised myself that I would return one day and stay at the elegant Byblos Hotel. Voila!ed-boat 

Ivan, the concierge at the hotel, spoke English. I told him my story, that I had lived with the family Dorel during the summer of 1974, taking care of the children while trying to learn their language. It was an unusual situation. Ivan heard the story again that day from Monique Dorel. Before we left, he said, “You must write a book about your experiences in St. Tropez. If you don’t, I will.” 

I’ve been a writer all my life, keeping journals and writing stories. Eventually, I got paid for writing, as a copy writer for television stations and advertising agencies. But, a book? That’s another story. 

Ed introduced me to Peg, the wife of a former colleague. Peg wrote children’s books and she invited me to join Ohio Writer’s Guild. “Bring something you wrote to read,” she said. I was nervous about sharing my writing with the group. I was the last person to read, and as I waited, I wondered. Would they like it? When my turn came, I shared a chapter of what would become No Sex in St. Tropez. They liked it! I was encouraged, and I kept writing. 

Five years after I started No Sex in St. Tropez, I thought I had finished…all 300 pages and thirty-six chapters. The most fun was writing the first draft, writing with childish innocence, thinking ‘It’s down on paper, I’ll send it off, get a big advance and see it in book stores everywhere.’ I didn’t realize that I’d have to edit, edit again, rewrite, edit some more, rewrite and edit, edit, edit. I joined a second writer’s group, went to writer’s conferences locally and in other cities…some lasted a day, some two or three days. I listened to successful authors, agents, editors and experts on how to write everything from a query letter to the inside flap of the book. 

I was so naïve. A friend of mine has a nephew with a big job in the publishing business. She told him about me and about my book. Being the nice guy that he is, he said he’d talk to me. He did, and he told me to send him some pages. I sent him more than he asked for and as I look back in embarrassment at sending him that awful first draft, I cringe. I blew it…the best lead a writer could have, and I blew it.

 I’ve kept all sixty query rejections. Some agents don’t respond at all. I change my query letter with each seminar or webinar I attend—whether in person or on line. One agent I met at a conference asked for five pages and promised she’d get back to me. She didn’t. Most rejections are form letters. Occasionally one may write, “Thank you for your query, which I read with interest. Unfortunately….”

 sign2The “Aha!” moment came at a Writer’s Digest Conference in Cincinnati. Once signed up for the two day event, we were instructed to send fifty pages for an editor to read and critique, then we would be scheduled for a one-on-one session the last day of the conference. I was assigned to the editor of Writer’s Digest Magazine.

 The 9 AM meeting was her first of the day. I expected nothing…well, nothing good. We sat at a small table. She was quiet and academic, appearing competent and believable.

Unsmiling she said, “I like your book.” I could have kissed her. She went on, “I think it’s commercial, marketable and has a good hook. The lively cast of quirky characters make us want to get to know them better. Interesting and well-established time period and setting. People love stories of travel and personal adventure. You have a unique, humorous voice and a story to tell.”

 She went on to suggest a few things I should change along with a list of 5 publishers who might be interested in No Sex In St. Tropez. When the one-on-one was finished, she handed me the critique with strengths at the top and areas for improvement further down the page. She had validated me as a writer.

 So, here I am. I’ve written a book. I’ve edited and re-edited it. I’ve put my heart, soul, and cherished memories on paper for all the world to read. Will they like it? There’s one way to find out. Buy the book and let me know what you think. Also, please visit my blog.

No Sex in St. Tropez is available paperback and Kindle versions. To get it, click “Buy!”on the menu above.