January 27, 2009

Memoir & Writing: Jerry Waxler, author of Learn to Write Your Memoir in Four Weeks

The Author

Jerry Waxler, M.S. is a speaker, workshop leader and memoir coach, who specializes in helping writers achieve their goals, basing his techniques on his Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, experience as a therapist, and a lifelong love for writing. He has written two books, “Four Elements for Writers,” a self-help book to help overcome obstacles and harness motivation to write, and “Learn to Write Your Memoir in Four Weeks, a Step by Step Guide to Writing the Stories of Your Life,” both available from his website, www.jerrywaxler.com. He is also the author of a blog, Memory Writers Network, which contains 150 essays about reading and writing memoirs, including book reviews, writing prompts, and instruction. To read more of his essays about reading and writing memoirs, visit his blog at www.memorywritersnetwork.com/blog. Jerry is a board member of the Philadelphia Writers Conference, (www.pwcwriters.org) a member of the advisory board of the National Association of Memoir Writers, www.namw.org, and cofounder of the yahoo group, LifeWritersForum, groups.yahoo.com/groups/lifewritersforum.

The Book

Experiences come and go, trailing behind a string of memories, some fascinating, some ordinary, and everything in between. This workbook will show you how to reclaim those memories and turn them into stories you can share. In twenty eight lessons you’ll learn how to:

-Pull details from the tangled past.
-Describe scenes that engage the reader.
-Organize and shape your story.
-Navigate between truth and fiction.
-Cope with painful emotions.
-Get started and keep going.

“In bite-sized portions of advice and guidance, Waxler takes you through the process, beginning with giving yourself permission and advancing through all the stages of the process. Anyone thinking of putting down the bones – whether for posterity, notoriety, or therapy – will find much here to inspire, motivate, and validate.”
- Foster Winans, best-selling author of “Trading Secrets,” and co-author of “The Man on Mao’s Right” by Ji Chaozhu. http://www.fosterwinans.com/

"Jerry Waxler’s wonderful essay about my memoir told me so much about the way a reader has entered my story and enhanced it through his interpretations and consciousness. Thank you, Jerry, for reading my book and letting me and others know how it affected you. Blessings in all your work. You are a great gift to the memoir, storytelling, and healing world.”
- Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., president of National Memoir Writers Association (www.nmwa.org) and author of “Don’t Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother-Daughter Abandonment”

“Jerry is going to help a lot of folks open up and tell the amazing stories that are inside them waiting to be told. I highly recommend memoir programs to everyone – fiction and non-fiction writers- even poets. As writers, we all need to look inward at our own experiences in order to make we write as rich and real as possible.”
- Jonathan Maberry, writing teacher, coach, and award winning author of the thriller “Ghost Road Blues” www.jonathanmaberry.com

Click the cover above to order Learn to Write Your Memoir in Four Weeks today!

On Memoir Writing

What do you think is the lure of memoirs for readers?
I think many people in the twenty first century are tired of headlines about the sex and drug habits of celebrities. We’re waking up to the wealth of experience lurking within the stories of our neighbors. Memoirs let us learn about other people, what they see, what they think, and what their experience is like, inside their own mind. In my opinion, the memoir wave reflects the fact that we have collectively become more curious about each other.

Do you think there is a bit of egotism on the part of the writer who focuses on memoirs as a means to “tell stories”?
I don’t at all agree with the concern that writing about personal experience is egotistical. Of course, to write a memoir you have to talk about yourself. But I don’t have a problem with that. I love people and want to know all about them, and the only way I can learn is if they tell me.

Reading memoirs lets me replace the cartoon-like impressions I form when I look at people from the outside. Their hair, clothes, and vocal nuances tell me hardly anything about who they are and where they’ve been. By reading memoirs, I am populating my mind with actual human being. Memoirs shatter misunderstanding and ignorance. I’m convinced that as more people write and read memoirs, it will lead to world peace.

A good memoir, though, is not just “spilling your guts out” or “whining.” Even if the first draft contains those features, the book has a long way to go before it is ready for the public. During the revision process, the writer diligently polishes and shapes. As you edit, you discover within all your ups and downs a story that offers the reader intellectual, emotional, literary, and even spiritual satisfaction.

Why did you, as writer, feel compelled to write your story?
For years, my main interest was writing about my ideas, so I rambled in my journal with no focus on making my words interesting to the public. When I started writing in earnest, I submitted my work to critique groups. Their consistent feedback was, “Your writing feels too impersonal, as if your ideas are falling from the sky.” I decided that to connect with readers, I needed to put myself into the frame. And since I didn’t know how to tell stories about myself, or for that matter tell stories at all, I started learning.

Why did you feel compelled to share this story with others?
This is a huge question. Why does any writer want readers? Stephen King says in his memoir, “On Writing” that writing is a sort of magic that transmits ideas from one person’s mind into another. I love this idea. By writing, I can share my thoughts, initiating an intimate connection with people I can’t even see. That begs the question, “Why should I want to do that?” I’m not sure exactly of the reason, but I am sure of the result. Extending my writing to a public audience has turned into the most exciting project in my life. In exchange for the hours I sit at my desk putting words on paper, I am instantly rewarded by the pleasure of creativity. Over time, my world has become richer, thanks to a network of readers and writers. And part of my payoff is the fantastic notion that somehow, through my writing, I will be able to serve people.

I know this last goal is lofty. How can my writing help people? To answer that question, I look back gratefully on all the books that have inspired and informed me. I feel like I have been lifted by their river of culture, and now I too want to contribute my words to the river. Together we writers have a responsibility to the world.

As my lifetime has carried me into the Twenty First Century I find increasingly interesting opportunities. The internet has flung open the doors that kept us hidden in our homes, blasting through the barriers of distance, and magically expanded our ability to meet people. Through my blog and podcasts on www.memorywritersnetwork.com/blog, social networks like Facebook, Yahoogroups like lifewritersforum, that I co-host with Sharon Lippincott, and associations like National Association of Memoir Writers, founded by Linda Joy Myers, I strive to share myself, creating a micro-community of people who are passionate about turning their memories into the stories of their lives.

The Excerpts

From Chapter 9 of Learn to Write Your Memoir in Four Weeks: A Step by Step Guide to Writing the Stories of Your Life

Build a framework: The Timeline
Memory can jump anywhere it wants, so to tame it you need to apply an organizing principle. I suggest a timeline. By gathering the events and positioning them in the order they occurred, you will take an important step toward translating memories into memoirs. The timeline creates an order that lets you tell the sequence and lets readers understand it.

At first this may not seem possible – you didn’t keep extensive records. You’re not sure when things happened. Capturing a memory might feel like trying to catch a ray of light. Every time you think you have one, it slips away. Applying a simple timeline strategy will help you put them in place. Like a pointillist painter who adds a bit here and a bit there, soon the whole picture will start to take form.

Bonus Excerpt from Four Elements for Writers: How to Get Beyond “Yes-But,” Conquer Self-Doubt and Inertia, and Achieve Your Writing Goals

You’re already a writer
To gain deeper insight into writing, imagine a baby pointing at a ball. She hesitates, furrows her brow, and then says, “Ball.” She peers up into her father’s eyes. A smile crosses his lips. He reaches down to hug her, cooing, “That’s right, precious. It’s a ball.” Her word has a magical effect, opening the floodgates of love. From the very beginning she learns the intimate connection between words and love. That baby has a simple task – match the word to the object. As we grow, our challenges increase. We learn to infuse abstract ideas and emotions into our sentences. At each stage, our reward is the effective communication with our listener.

Writing simply extends our reach, allowing us to “speak” to listeners we can’t see. When we write a letter to a friend, we think of something we want to say, and then we form sentences to say it. Sitting at our desk, we are crafting missives to reach their mind.

We reach a higher level of complexity when we recount stories. From the first time we answer, “What did you do today?” our journey as story tellers begins. Storytelling runs so deeply in the human experience, it had already achieved astonishing sophistication at the dawn of western civilization. The ancient Greek epics of the Iliad and Odyssey were sung from memory in a live performance. Spoken words continue to be important for audiences. When we sit down to write a movie script, we offer audiences essentially the same thing Homer offered his. Whether we lift the audience with our words, inform them, or simply help them pass the time, we are offering them a few hours of our world.

Imagine yourself as a modern bard, telling your lover about your wild teenage years. You recall a time when you almost got in trouble with the law. You’ve never told anyone about this before, so it comes out in a flurry. You try to describe the events that lead up to the incident. You remember your heart jumping into your throat when you saw the flashing red lights. Your heart pounded as you pictured yourself calling your parents from the station. In desperation, you lied, and miracle of miracles, he believed you. And then you sat there in a puddle of elation and spent fear as you watched him walk back to his squad car and drive away.

But you get confused about the sequence. Your listener furrows her brow and says, “Slow down.” And you say, “Oops. I jumped ahead.” You go back and give a little more background. You reshape your words and continue.

The story appeals to you. It conveys powerful emotions, and has a good punch line, so a few weeks later you tell it to your lunch buddies. One of them says, “That’s fascinating, but there’s one thing I don’t get.” The next time you tell it at a party, it has more shape. It makes sense now from beginning to end. You get the desired laugh. You decide to write it.

Your initial draft flows easily, but as writing teacher Sol Stein says, first draft words come from the top of your head. They make sense but have no pizazz. You show the story to someone. They say, “That’s nice but I got a little lost in this one part.”

After a few tries, you appreciate the differences between speaking and writing. The reader cannot see your face or hear your intonations. You can’t answer questions to explain things you left out. And to help them understand where you’re coming from, you must somehow inject your enthusiasm and wit into words.

To accomplish this task you must improve your writing. It’s been years since you tried to increase your communication skills. It requires more work than you expected. Learning to show emotions this way feels like trying to tie your shoes while wearing mittens.

When you think you’re done, you send it to a fellow writer, with no explanation. Let the story speak for itself. You get feedback. It turns out you’re not done. You edit it further. You are preparing your story so a stranger can see and feel the things you desire to convey. In the end, the results are emotionally equivalent to what happened to that little girl who said “ball.” You want to transmit what’s inside your mind into someone else’s mind in order to close the gap between you, and somehow receive a spark of love in return.

January 25, 2009

A Change Came to America - Now CHANGE YOU!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009, marked a major milestone in America. It marked HISTORY. It marked the day America finally put on its big girl panties and became a grown up.

No matter what side of the fence you fell on in regards to the election, it would be hard to deny the magnitude of what took place that day as we ushered in our first African American President of the United States. It would be hard to deny where this country has been and where we are today. It would be hard to deny the truth of slavery. It would be hard to deny the truth of blacks seeking rights in American once slavery was so-called done away with. It would be hard to deny the oppression of an entire race in America after so-called rights were established for them. It would be hard to deny - in a world where a black man can still be beaten, shackled to a truck, and dragged down the street like a piece of meat to his death and we treat it like Tuesday, like it's nothing - that blacks still have a long, hard road to go in this "free" America.

Despite the sour-grapers who will cry that Obama is not all black (though we know that if looks like a black man and does the bump like a black man, then many behind closed doors still see him as a black man...and, unfortunately, derogatory terms, too) or that all blacks voted for Obama because he was black (and forget the many whites that voted for him and the many blacks who did NOT vote for him), Americans have put America on notice; we want CHANGE, and we want it now.

Now, what does any of this have to with writing...OR you?

January 20, 2009, marked for me a new chapter (pun FULLY intended). It resonated, and still resonates within me the chance to wipe my slate clean, see my dreams, and develop a plan to forge ahead and accomplish them.

If a black man can be MY president, then I can sure as hell move forward and accomplish my goals. He runs my entire COUNTRY; surely, surely, I can write a few books and screenplays and have them see the light of day, right?

Yes, nod your head, for the answer is RIGHT. Yes, I can. And yes, YOU CAN, TOO.

On Tale It Like It Is (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/samaraking) today, I talk about the CHANGE that is coming in our country and the change that should be coming in YOU to make this the year you begin or restart or continue moving in your literary endeavors. The whole show (which first features an interview with author Michelle McGriff before moving into my The Write Time segment) is featured on my LISTEN page at my shonbacon.com site.

Below, I want to showcase an arsenal of books, magazines, websites, and the like that serious writers should check out if it is their goal to make a real go out of their literary dreams.

If there are other resources that YOU love and YOU want to share, please leave comments, thanks!




  • Publishers Marketplace* - Welcome to biggest and best dedicated marketplace for publishing professionals to find critical information and unique databases, find each other, and to do business better electronically.
  • The Write Life for You - A monthly column dedicated to the craft of writing.
  • InkTip* - The mission of InkTip.com is threefold: help the producer easily find a good script, save time for the agent and manager in locating the right people for their clients' scripts, or new clients, and greatly increase exposure for the screenwriter.
  • Done Deal* - Done Deal Pro tracks the various script, book, treatment, and pitch sales and options made in Hollywood each day. Subscribers are able to search a sales database of over 9,300 deals and over 600 TV deals by title, writer, representation, company, genre, date, and more. This is an invaluable tool not only for industry professionals but for aspiring screenwriters who want to know each week what material is being sold and to whom, and to track the latest trends.
  • Backspace* - The Backspace Online Community is dedicated to helping writers navigate the often confusing world of Big Publishing. Regularly updated articles and columns from industry insiders make the Backspace homepages your first stop to a career in publishing.
  • Blood-Red Pencil - great resource for writers to see what what EDITORS think about writing.
  • Agent Query - need an agent? You can start here!
  • Fundsforwriters - Grants are FFW's specialty. Contests and markets that only pay in cold hard cash, too. To FFW, success means earning a living doing what you love. Our newsletters are our world. Free or paid subscription.
  • Writer-Reminders -Organize your writing with FREE Writer-Reminders (daily, weekly and monthly checklists, tips and resources). The weekly ezine gives sidetracked writers a road map to more writing time.
  • Writing Tips - The Write Way is a FREE, weekly ezine that has advice on how to improve your writing, so that you can write well - whatever the occasion.
*Paid-membership required for many of site's services


January 21, 2009

Memoir & Writing: Annette Fix, author of The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir

The Author

Annette Fix published numerous articles and editorials in her high school newspaper, located in a town full of trailer parks and meth labs. She moved on to write a campus lifestyle column for a community college newspaper until her 4.0 grade-point average propelled her into a private university.

Once there, she worked 40 hours a week in a government job, attended school fulltime, and cared for her beautiful toddler son (the direct result of a nightclub drinking and dancing accident). Annette dropped out of college 8 units short of graduation because she refused to rewrite her thesis. She still believes absurdist theatre is a vital contribution to world dramaturgy.

Annette went on to have grand aspirations of writing the next great American novelty. On her journey toward that lofty goal, she often found inspiration while busting her tail working as an exotic dancer to support her son and feed her writing habit.

She is currently designing ancillary merchandise such as T-shirts, chocolate-scented perfume, and an emaciated action figure to promote her memoir, The Break-Up Diet. These products will be sold in the alley after her spoken-word readings.

Annette lives in Laguna Niguel, California with her Prince Charming, teenage son, and two rescued dogs.

Wanna learn more about The World of Annette? There's a slew of places online to get the 411:

The Book

Annette Fix always believed in happily-ever-after and was busy working her Five-Year Plan: marry her golf-pro boyfriend, homeschool her preteen son, become a famous writer, and retire to Fiji. When her live-in boyfriend calls it quits, Annette finds herself on The Break-Up Diet, consuming vast amounts of chocolate and exercising by diving blindly into the shallow end of the dating pool.

Working as an exotic dancer to bankroll her aspiring writing career and support her son alone, Annette uses her blue-collar instinct to survive in the plastic jungle of The OC.

Annette’s adventures take her on a wild ride as she attempts find the perfect balance between her dreams and her day-to-day life as Supermom.

“The Break-Up Diet is delicious. Heartbreaking and humorous...any woman can relate.” ~ Jill Soloway, author of Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants, and writer for ABC's Grey's Anatomy

"In this delectable memoir, Annette Fix serves up a fresh, funny, honest, and insightful dish of sex and the single mom." ~ Colleen Sell, editor of A Cup of Comfort series

Click the cover above to order THE BREAK-UP DIET today!

On Memoir Writing

What do you think is the lure of memoirs for readers?
Personally, I love memoir. I find it so much more fascinating to know the characters are real and the events in the story actually occurred. I still read fiction, but in the back of my mind, I know the author is placing herself in the world of the characters and trying to imagine what she would do if she were confronted with the internal and external forces driving their actions. I don’t believe anyone really knows what they’ll do until they’re actually in any given situation.

For example, there have been two occasions when I was held at gunpoint. Once was an attempted kidnap/rape by a gang member when I was 18. The other was a murder suspect who had just shot and killed two people; I was 25 that time. I’ve discovered when I’m in potentially deadly situations, I become extremely calm, focused, and quite calculated about what I say and do to get away unharmed. Or maybe I’m just lucky… So, how does that relate to memoir vs. fiction? I’d rather hear the story of someone who really lived through those experiences than read an author’s speculation about what her character might do when held at gunpoint.

I think that’s why reality television shows have become so popular. People are curious about what other people will do and say, how they live, what they think, how they behave, what they’ve faced. Truth is often so much stranger than fiction. And conflict, a writer’s most essential storytelling tool, is automatically present in daily human interaction. Some of those real actions and reactions are so bizarre; you just couldn’t make them up.

I believe the choice to read memoir is the same reason why people slow their cars and crane their necks to look at traffic accidents. They have a desire to see what has happened to someone else.

Do you think there is a bit of egotism on the part of the writer who focuses on memoirs as a way to “tell stories?”
Funny, this question has come up in my mind several times since I began writing my book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir. Whenever people asked about the manuscript I was working on, I felt very self-conscious telling them it was a memoir. The tone of their “Oh.” response always left me to interpret that the unspoken rest of their reply was: “So, why do you think you’re important enough, that your life is interesting enough, or that anyone would care about your story?”

On those occasions, it may have been my inner critic doing what he does. But, your question does support the prevailing thought that memoirists must think their life experiences are somehow more story-worthy than the average person’s. A writer with a certain amount of humility may feel others perceive it egotistical to write memoir. I know that feeling occasionally causes me to pause whenever I’m asked to explain what my memoir is about. But, for me, it doesn’t have anything to do with ego.

I believe in the adage “write what you know”; a memoirist takes this advice literally. (Pun intended.) The key to writing a memoir is to find a message or an understanding of your life experience that makes it story-worthy. One person’s life is a microcosm of what’s happening around the world. There is no topic or experience that isn’t universal—it has happened, is happening, or will happen to someone else. Whether it’s a single mother bouncing back after a relationship break-up (The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir); a woman growing up with a dysfunctional family (The Glass Castle: A Memoir); a young woman forced to give up her child for adoption (Without A Map: A Memoir); a college student dealing with the emotional trauma of rape (Lucky: A Memoir), the sharing of these stories connects the reader and the writer on an authentic level.

The emails I receive from readers are an affirmation of that belief. I’ve corresponded with many women who have shared their personal break-up stories with me and told me how my story has given them hope that they will find Mr. Right. It’s the best feeling in the world to know your story has touched someone, and offered encouragement and hope.

I’m becoming more comfortable with the self-appointed title of memoirist and am coming to terms with the fact that if I was egotistical enough to write one memoir, I must surely be a megalomaniac for planning to write the next one. LOL


To read more about memoir writing, check out Annette's article, "Drawing from Your Life to Create...Your Story" @ WOW: Women on Writing.


Because she's just TOO cool, Annette was a featured author in our November talk on being a female writer. Check out her feature HERE!

January 17, 2009


Come check me out at BLOGGING IN BLACK [LINK] today for some quickie editing tips. Here's one below:


Characters often “think”.

I don’t want to see him tonight, Marcia thought to herself.

I hate thinking about this, Robert thought to himself. It always ends the same way.

See a problem with the two examples above? Check out the words “to herself” and “to himself”.

When people have thoughts, no one knows about the thoughts until the people express them in dialogue. “to herself” and “to himself” are redundant; we know Marcia is thinking inwardly - to herself just as we know Robert is thinking inwardly - to himself. End with THOUGHT.

To check out other quickie editing tips, head to Blogging in Black [http://www.blogginginblack.com] and LEAVE YOUR OWN THOUGHTS!

January 14, 2009

Memoir & Writing: K. L. Belvin, author of A Man in Transition

The Author

K.L. Belvin was born and continues to reside, in South Jamaica, New York. At 41, he is a father of four, teacher for the New York City Department of Education for over eleven years, a born again Christian, and is recently re-married. His lovely supportive wife is his strength, best friend, and editor of most of his work. Together they started and run Bravin Publishing, LLC. In June 2008, they released Belvin's first manuscript called A Man in Transition, a book of poems, stories and personal observations.

In the future, they hope to be able to give authors a home where they can have their work published and read without the worry of being taken advantage of, all while showing a united front in marriage and business. The creation of Bravin Publishing is Belvin's way of presenting himself as a role model for today’s youth and the African American community.

Belvin obtained his A.S. in business from Kingsborough Community College; City University of New York, a B.S. in education from York College; City University of New York, and he holds a master’s degree in education, specializing in curriculum writing, assessments and teaching from Walden University. He anticipates beginning his Ph.D. studies in 2009.

You can learn more about K.L. Belvin at his website, his MySpace page, and on his blog.

About the Book

Through K.L. Belvin's words:

What do you call a man who cheated on his wife numerous times, fathered multiple children, was driven by his ego, drank, and partied as if there wasn’t a tomorrow and even turned one of his children into the police? Through his new found life with the Lord, today he is a devoted husband who loves his wife with each breath, takes care of all his children, and honors his responsibilities. He holds a master’s degree in education while teaching today’s teens. He now spends his time trying to heal others who were on the same path he was to destruction. In each poem, you will see "A Man in Transition”.

Through poetry, short stories and observations, I offer you a glimpse into my life as misogynistic adult, turned master of education. Reared by my mother, grandmother, and for a short time great grandmother, I open a window into the interpretations of life from the perspective of a Christian educator.

Teaching today’s young black males, many growing up without their fathers or significant male role models, I use poetry to show masculinity instead of the usual choices offered to so many. “A Man in Transition" speaks to the center of this changed man’s heart while providing a glimpse into a past that will make you shake your head.

Click the cover to order your copy of A Man in Transition today!

On Memoir Writing

What do you think is the lure of memoirs for readers?
The lure of a memoir to readers is the self identification with the writer. Readers are a different type of person. They use reading as a means of escape. In a memoir, the idea that you stand in the place of the writer and live their life throughout the pages is too attractive for some to steer away from. I also think the lure is the judgment of a person and or their actions. People make decisions everyday based on judging the actions of others. To be able to do the same with an author is a sense of power. There is no one to tell you wrong or right with whatever you judgmental path you take. Each page becomes justification or renouncement of how you feel towards a particular author’s personal journey. For many there is no way to resist the opportunity.

Do you think there is a bit of egotism on the part of the writer who focuses on memoirs as a mean to “tell stories”?
I wouldn’t call it egotism on the author's part. There are times you want to use your life to simply tell a story so those that reader can get a clear picture of what you’re trying to offer the world. In some manner I believe it’s more therapeutic than egotistical. I don’t feel authors jump up and down and say see me, look over here, my story has to be shared or the world won’t keep spinning. I can’t see it being the motivation. In my book even with the use of poetry, I want my story to be taken in and understood. Not for ego sake but with an idea of helping others to learn from my own mistakes and triumphs. Ego can be held under the microscope with a memoir; however, I don’t see it being the force behind the motivation to write.

Writerly questions: Why did you, as writer, feel compelled to write your story?
Of course. Very rarely as a writer will you simply trust your story to another. You may ask for help but the task of being understood in the written form is a solo feat. A writer knows what parts of their story holds the greatest connection to their soul and that must be told by them in the way that it happen precisely so the reader can look at the words and travel to that moment in time with the writer, thus feeling exactly what they felt and then having to make their own choice of what action should have been followed. If it's similar you’ll get that little smile a reader gives the world. It’s that little “Yes I'm with you and I would have done the same thing.” If the choice is a different one they give another very familiar look; it’s the same look you had when you took a test in school - not of worry but a hint of confusion. The reader now wants to read more to see if you were justified in your actions. A writer knows this and has to make sure their reasoning is clear. That can only be done by writing their own story their way.

Why did you feel compelled to share this story with others?
Now my response is going to border on egotistical but it’s the truth for me. I felt compelled to share my story because I knew there were others who thought my words were going to offer a different visual to some common ideas. For instance, the idea that all men are dogs, my story shows that we can be, but we will change. Much has to happen for the change to occur; nonetheless, the change has still come. Show that there is hope for any man who really wants to make amends for his past sins. There is also the “Once a cheater always a cheater stance”. No we don’t all remain cheaters. My book is my testimony to the Love I have for my wife and how that sustains me now. There was a time it didn’t because I didn’t know how to love me. I share my story in poetry form to bring light to many men who truly want to be someone different than who they have been. The process required humbling myself and giving up the life I had and taking on more of spiritual and religious life. It’s what was needed to serve as an anchor for my wife and me to make it back to happiness. There are other areas that compelled me to write, and they fall along the lines of sharing my thoughts about my feelings for my children. The joys and pains of being an educator in an urban area compels much of what one does. There was also the need to show that poetry can become a means of expression to tell a story in an emotional way. There was a time when poetry was on top, but like tap dancing, it’s a lost art trying to survive. This is why I felt compelled to write. I want to share a piece with you and show how poetry can allow you in to the places of a man’s heart we hide from the world. If other men would reach into their own place and allow people in, so much would be revealed that could heal so many wrongs in the world. Call me a dreamer, but I believe that.


Perfect Woman
(If Only in My Mind)

I ask myself, why I am so lucky. Is there a reason I am so blessed?

But, you’re never supposed to question God’s work. I say God because how do you explain her patience with me.

There is something about the way she understands my needs.

Are there other women who would love another’s children like her own?

Would another woman be strong enough to trust God and take you back when you have tasted someone else’s fruits?

Her soul is pure enough to douse the evil that once filled my own.

My vanity, pride, and smugness have been replaced with concern, endearment, and gratefulness.

I now concern myself with more than just my own needs.

Her smile fills my heart with joy.

Her tears burn at my soul and demand my immediate attention or screams for forgiveness.

I am blessed with an equal, so again I ask why I am so lucky.

Does God see something in me I don’t see? He must.

She is sexy beyond belief, even when she sleeps.

Can that comfortable look come from what I have brought to her life?

The world is funny, one minute you’re all alone, next thing all your dreams are being answered.

Thank you, God!

Well, the only course of action is to leave all my worries, fears, and concerns at God’s feet.

Something about having the right woman makes each day, night, and morning special.

I really do have the perfect woman if only in my mind.

This is how I see my wife, for it is with her I am even a better man than the Lord has made. Combined with her soul, I feel there is nothing I cannot accomplish. That can only be done by submitting one’s life to the Lord and trusting that what He gives back is a perfect you, regardless of what others think and feel.

January 9, 2009

Memoir & Writing: Versandra Kennebrew, author of Thank God for the Shelter

The Author

Versandra Kennebrew is a successful entrepreneur, philanthropist, author and founder of the Touch Is Great national campaign to eradicate touch deprivation.

The Detroit city council presented her with the Spirit of Detroit award in 2004 in recognition of her dedication and commitment to enhancing the quality of life of Detroit residents. Her community work has been featured in the Michigan Chronicle, Detroit News, Massage Magazine, WXYZ and WGN morning news.

An advocate of holistic health, Versandra's written and hands on work not only educates it heals. With three e-books, an instructional massage video for couples, and a training program which trains trainers around the world to teach the art of touch to enhance relationships, Versandra hopes to fulfill her mission to touch the world with love.

In the spirit of giving, Versandra is raising money this holiday for the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS), which helps thousands of homeless Detroiters each year. Through the sale of her newly released book entitled, Thank God for the Shelter - Memoirs of a Homeless Healer, she hopes to reach this goal and touch lives with her true story of triumph over homelessness.

You can learn more about Versandra at her website, her Facebook page, and her MySpace page. You can also check out these sites: Books for Cots and Touch is Great.

About the Book

Thank God for the Shelter is a compilation of memoirs told by once homeless healer, Versandra Kennebrew who has a dream of becoming a successful business woman, but her dreams become a nightmare. She finds herself in a homeless shelter for women and children wondering what brought her to that cross road in her life.

As Versandra transitions from homelessness to self-sufficiency, she embraces eight life principles that put her back on track and allow her to not only dream of success again but to move toward a new goal of becoming a millionaire.

You will immediately connect with Versandra’s plight, because the issue of homelessness affects millions of American’s daily. You see it on television, on your job and maybe in your family. “Thank God for the Shelter” will inspire you and cause you to reflect on the blessings you may overlook each day.

Click the cover to order your copy of Thank God for the Shelter today!

On Memoir Writing

The lure of memoirs for readers is the same as that of reality shows. People want to know what’s really going on in the lives of our leaders, celebrities, and heroes. They want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly because it helps them see that they too have a chance at greatness.

Writers who focus on memoirs may seem egotistic; however, the contrary is true. It takes a humble and balanced person to share their non-fiction stories - their inner most thoughts. In them, they reveal their flaws and triumphs with the world.

I felt compelled to write my story because I recognized that it had encouraged so many people in my immediate circle, and I wanted to expand my reach of positively touching lives. I feel my story and the interactive way I shared it, will bring about healing and improve life-skills for many. I wrote Thank God for the Shelter to be a self-help guide for anyone going through a life transition.


Chapter 2 - Count Your Blessings

Blessings are gifts that bestow favor, prosperity and welfare. You can be on the receiving end or the giving end and experience great joy.

I had always been a giver and I had always felt fortunate. But on one snowy morning, I didn’t feel very blessed. I was freezing while walking to work because I didn’t have a car. The gloves and scarf a woman at the shelter gave me were just what I needed. I knew I had to stay focused on the cars speeding by me, splashing filthy water as they passed, but tears blurred my vision. It was then these words came to me: I have everything I need.

My tears immediately turned to tears of joy. I had pep in my step as I walked and contemplated the words rolling in my head and filling my spirit.

January 5, 2009

Camping vs. Marching in Stories

The Write Life for You

Becoming a Lifelong Learner of the Craft of Writing
By author, editor, educator Shon Bacon aka ChickLitGurrl™

The Write Life for You is a series of articles on the writing craft. Past articles have focused on building character, developing a solid plot, and harnessing a writing style. In the first article of the new year, I look at CAMPING VS. MARCHING IN STORIES.

Camping vs. Marching

This month, I’m talking about camping vs. marching. Before I pursued my MFA degree, I knew nothing about this “concept”.
Many writers, for fear of losing readers, will explain everything in their story, not realizing that they will definitely lose their readers this way. So, how do writers tell us everything? They might tell us everything a character has on, explain every piece of furniture that’s in a room, detail an entire conversation from beginning to end, relay every minute feeling that comes through the narrator’s mind, and bring us into every sight, smell, taste, sound, touch that occurs within a story – all in the name of making the story feel real to the reader. In the end, this may make the reader so full off “stuff” that’s unimportant to the actual story that he/she may close the book and find a less tedious (or as I like to say “less chewy”) book to read.

Want to learn MORE about camping vs. marching and how to know when to do both?

Then head to APOOOBOOKS.COM to read my latest article in The Write Life for You series!

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January 2, 2009

Memoir & Writing: Author CD Mitchell

The Author

CD is the Blues Brother holding the beer bottle.

CD Mitchell has experienced the justice system as a prosecutor, special judge, and a defense attorney. For the Union Pacific Railroad he worked as a tracklayer and a bridgeman. As a professional boxer, he finished with a record of 45-5 with 38 knockouts. He has owned his own construction company and bar-b-que stand. In 1999, CD worked on the locks and dams of the Arkansas River from the Toad Suck Ferry to Ozark. He has also been a pallbearer four times although he has never been a best man. He is marketing a story collection, an essay collection, and a memoir. For now he teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Alabama. He can be reached at mitchell461961@yahoo.com. You can learn more about CD by checking him out @ his MySpace and Facebook pages.



"The Sheriff of Jester County" Forthcoming Spring 2009. Natural Bridge. University of Missouri, St. Louis.

“Additions or Substitutions.” Tartt’s Anthology III: Incisive Writing From Emerging Writers. Livingston Press. December 2007.

“Additions or Substitutions.” Arkansas Literary Forum, Online Journal. October 2007. [link]

“Job’s Comforter.” The Julie Mango: International Online Journal Of Creative Expressions. Fall 2005. [link]

Creative Nonfiction:

"Sheila: An Elegy." Temenos, Central Michigan University. [link]

"The Tree." Christmas is a Season: 2008. Anthology. Ed. Linda Busby Parker. Excalibur Press, Mobile, Alabama. Forthcoming November, 2008.

“This, Too, is Vanity.” [link]

“Exempt.” The Southeast Review. Volume 26 No. 1. [link]

“My Jericho March.” The Appalachee Review 58. 2007.

“Metastases.” North Dakota Quarterly. Vol. 74 No. 1, Winter 2007.

“Memphis.” Big Muddy Vol. 6.1. 2006.

“Fort Pillow.” Arkansas Review August 2004.

Planet Weekly Opinion column and archives [link]

On Memoir Writing

The Lure of Memoir

In the introduction to his "Art of the Personal Essay," Phillip Lopate says:

The spectacle of baring the naked soul is meant to awaken the sympathy of the reader who is apt to forgive the essayist's self-absorption in return for the warmth of his candor. Some vulnerability is essential to the personal essay. Unproblematiclly self-assured, self-contained, self-satisfied types will not make good essayists.

Is it fair to claim that the art of memoir belongs exclusively to the narcissist? After all, memoir is self-absorbed writing that says, "This happened to me." So why should we, as readers, care about a writer whose ego eggs him on to write something about himself--something that he assumes we may find interesting? What does Lopate mean when he speaks of the "warmth of candor" and vulnerability" of the writer?

The answers I give to these questions are my personal answers that apply to my work.

Memoir is not the genre of self-promotion. In memoir, we do not take a podium and say "I did this! I am great!" We instead take the podium and say, "This happened to me. Please forgive my ignorance. I have learned from the experience and am a better person as a result. Forgive me for what I was before; learn from what I am now."

Memoir does not attempt to exalt the writer or to elevate the writer to some lofty, unattainable status over his reader. Instead, we seek to find common ground with our misery and mistakes. Instead of creating envy in our readers, we seek to establish a universal moment where the reader can see himself in the author's words and can say "I understand how you feel." The memoirist seeks to create empathy, common ground, and a realization that we all can do better.

Perhaps the memoirist's code should be the scripture that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

I write memoir to share with others my personal experiences, my personal mistakes, my personal failures. By writing of these, I hope to show what I have learned from the experience. By writing of these, I learn even more than I realized about myself. My writing deals with many different subjects—from racism to sex education in schools to how we care for our mentally ill. In those pieces, I have shamelessly exposed the mistakes and errors in my thinking and judgment; I have done so not to make me look superior, but to show that I am human and have failed. But I also attempt to show that even as failure is part of the human experience, so is the ability to overcome those failures.

I have written about being raised in an all-white community and not realizing that wearing Confederate emblems offended my students and friends; I have written about my naivety as a teenager faced with becoming a father; I have written of how I failed to support my sister because I did not understand her battle with schizophrenia; I have written of the mistakes I made while trying to deal with my son's battle with leukemia.

I have written of so many of my failures and flaws that I wonder why anyone would ever call me their friend! But I have also written of the epiphanies I had as a result of those experiences. An epiphany is a moment of enlightenment where we see or understand our world in a different way. Because of those moments, I am a better person. By sharing those moments, I pray I make the world a better place.

Although I write of the many mistakes I have made, I also write of the lessons I learn from those mistakes, and by sharing those lessons, I show that my hard earned knowledge is important to me.

I feel compelled to share my stories so that readers might see that others have had the same experience—and survived to see the sun rise another day.

I feel compelled to share my stories so that others may learn from my experience and find an even better way of dealing with their situations than I did.

Why Do I Write

Excerpt from a Planet Opinion Column

When I applied to the McNeese State University creative writing program in 2001, I had no idea of the path I would take that would eventually lead me to Louisiana, then to Memphis, and eventually to the University of Alabama. It is a path I am glad that I traveled.

Neil Connelly, the director of the fiction workshop at McNeese, called me one afternoon in December of 2001. I had applied to several graduate writing programs, and McNeese was the first to express an interest in my abilities. He was the only one to call.

Neil was professional and to the point. “Why do you want to write?”

I had never really thought of that, and the question actually caught me off guard. As a former attorney, I knew to carefully consider my words before I spoke, so I took a second or two and considered his query.

Of course, money would be nice. I have been to Anne Rice’s house in the Garden District of New Orleans; I have read of the millions of dollars that John Grisham donated to the hurricane victims in Mississippi; I know James Michener never has to worry about paying his rent or his electric bill.

But although I knew money was the wrong answer for Neil, more importantly, I realized it was the wrong answer for me.

So after thinking for a few more moments, I said, “I write because I have to. I have always written. I write because I want people to see things through my eyes. I want people to feel things through my fingertips.”

Neil Connelly said, “Good answer.”

The excitement I felt from the call kept me from remembering what we talked about for the next fifteen or twenty minutes. But after we hung up, I still thought of that question.

And I guess my answer is still the same.

I wrote my first story when I was ten years old, after watching The Dirty Dozen. Of course my story was about a commando raid into Vietnam to rescue some person who was really important, or something like that. But as terrible as the story was, my mother found something creative in it that was worthy of her praise and encouragement. That seed planted firmly, I have fancied myself a writer since that day.

Neil Connelly is still a trusted friend and mentor. He even stood as my best man when I married my fourth future ex-wife in Louisiana. And I hold no ill will for his not having talked me out of that mistake. For a year I studied with this young writer who had taken over a program that had lost a Pulitzer

Prize winning author to the big bucks offered by a larger program. At the time he began, Neil hadn’t even published his first book.

But I was soon to learn that publishing a book had nothing to do with Neil’s outstanding abilities as a teacher. Since that time, he has published two books and is now marketing a third. He has filled the shoes of his predecessor—a man who served as Neil’s teacher and mentor.

I remember sending him an e-mail and asking if I should wait till I got to Louisiana before I began writing, or should I have a thesis written by the time I got there. He had sent me back a message and suggested I wait, that he might have just a few things he could teach me. And he was right.

Neil taught me to appreciate the written word. I learned the importance of rhythm, and character and word selection. I learned how to craft a scene and to populate it with characters and to make them come alive and protrude right off the page.

I learned it at least. I am still trying to perform it.

I also began reading works by authors that at the time I could not appreciate. I have since gone back and reread those authors. Learning that Neil’s words carried wisdom, I began to trust his insight more than my own ignorance. Maybe that is the beginning of learning—realizing that we know little and that someone actually has something to teach us.

Sometimes I think that the students I teach do not consider how complex writing truly is. Since writing is a physical act, like walking, why should we study the art? We don’t study how to walk, we just walk. But after a while, I realized that writing truly is an art. I was introduced to the works of

Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Olen Butler, John Dufresne, Neil Connelly, Michael Martone, Terry Tempest Williams, and my all-time favorite, Scott Russell Sanders.

These writers showed me how to select verbs and images and themes. They showed me how a jealous husband could return in the form of a parrot, how the clan of one-breasted women would no longer submit to the misinformation of our government that caused the cancer that destroyed their bodies, how the curse of the Fontana clan had ravaged the last of an unfortunate family that settled the Louisiana bottoms, and how by committing suicide so that he could be forever joined with the brother he had never met, a surviving twin could atone for the mistake that left him on earth and transported his brother to heaven.

I learned of the beauty and poison of a buckeye, how one writer defines himself when writing his contributor's notes, how Alice Munro met her husband, how a blind man could truly help someone with sight to see something that they had looked at all their lives but had never truly seen, how a tattoo is never guaranteed to please a woman, even if the picture of Jesus it portrays is perfectly done.

Through my writing, I have learned to look deep within myself and peel back the layers of bravado that we as people show the world. In order to find that inner truth that lies so deep within, that inner truth that we try so hard to hide, one needs a keen eye—a writer’s eye.

In a world of internet quick fixes, tabloid gossip, and dime-store fiction, we are so fortunate to have literary writers who still know and realize that writing is an art. Through this art we will express ourselves and leave behind a legacy that will show others who follow how we felt about 9-11, how we felt about the war in Iraq, how we felt after Hurricane Katrina, how we felt after Virginia Tech.

One of my brightest students spoke of how she intended to use the written word as her weapon and express her dismay over our government’s refusal to fund stem cell research. Her rage is fueled by a helpless vigil as her grandmother succumbs to a disease for which a cure might be found if this research were funded. But this brilliant young lady’s willingness to take pen in hand and fight for something she believes thrills me.

Her words validated my desire to teach writing, to share writing, to expose everyone I come in contact with to the miracle of prose.

Our libraries and book stores are filled with priceless treasures waiting to be discovered. Our generation is blessed with writers whose works will stand the test of time. We will never know who of this generation will be the next Shakespeare, the next Chaucer, the next Dante. But they are there, waiting to be discovered. Their works will change your lives forever. I challenge all readers to find these works, select a quiet place, and enjoy a work of art that can transport you to another time, another place, even another world.

I thank you for taking your precious time and reading the words that I have so humbly prepared. My goal has always been to reveal a truth, to seek for knowledge, to share my frustration with our world and our government. And never to bore.

All I have sought to do was to make the world a better place by causing others to think. Once again, I thank you for reading my column. I hope I have caused you to laugh, to cry, to smile, to nod in agreement, to rave that I am a fool.

But most of all, I hope I have given you a reason to continue to read.