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Archive for March, 2010

The power went out early this morning for no apparent reason. The skies were calm. Last night I had promised the kids I’d make them crepes this morning. With no power, they served themselves cereal. It was soothing watching the kitchen light up as the sun rose, the natural light casting a peaceful glow, a mellow start to the day. I should do this every morning I thought, even though I knew instantly I wouldn’t. The best part of losing power was that I could forgo my work and lounge around reading a new book, ‘The Journal Keeper, by Phyllis Theroux.

Theroux edited her journal to tell an honest story about daily life: love, financial worries, thoughts of growing old, taking care of her mother during the last years of her life, children, divorce — it’s all there. Throughout, Theroux worries that she is hard-hearted and prays for a more open heart. When she meets author George Crane for the first time she opens up to him, ‘Things I rarely confess about what I truly feel about myself, such as my fear of being hard-hearted, came pouring out. How often have you opened up to a complete stranger or a new friend?

The journal entries also describe Theroux’s fears as she’s writing ‘Giovanni’s Light’, her honesty refreshing for any writer. Her insights into life as a mother, a caretaker and a writer help organize my own thoughts.

Theroux touches on her divorce and difficulties with her children. She says, The past is material for the present, but if we save it to justify ourselves or to hurt others we weigh the present down.’ How true. Let it go, I say. Theroux’s quest to make sense of her life, often through clever metaphor is inspiring. For example, ‘The long summer drought is a good metaphor for the value of putting down deep roots. The trees remain green for that reason. But the grasses have turned to toast.’

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After lots of feedback from my wonderful writing group at Ashawagh Hall, I’ve taken a week to look at ‘A Yankee Down Under’ from an organizational viewpoint. When I started, the book was simply a bunch of essays. Then I became ambitious and thought I’d link these essays into a story about my family’s time in Australia. This turned out to be harder than I imagined. The book has now morphed into a memoir which challenges me to think about the following:

– Is there enough tension in the story? The book is boring as a series of travel stories about a happy family overseas. Did I have any epiphanies? Yes, once I thought about it, I did so these must be woven into the story.

– Did I meet any interesting characters over there? Absolutely. The big question is, how much do I want to disclose? This poses a big problem for any author of memoir. I want to tell the truth, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Mary Karr vets her book with her major characters before publishing. I may consider doing the same.

– Am I communicating my perspective to the reader? This is harder than it sounds. I’m used to keeping my inner thoughts, well, inside. They must come out to make the story interesting.

– Have I considered an overall theme for the story? This relates back to the tension and epiphanies. Why did my family leave our comfortable suburban life in Connecticut? What did we hope to achieve by moving across the world?

My research was framed by talks kindly posted by Cheryl Klein, a senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books.  Writing Talks – CherylKlein.com My favorite of her lectures is called, ‘A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter’. Cheryl was the continuity editor on the last three Harry Potter books, so she knows a thing or two about the boy wizard. Thanks Cheryl! All of your insights have been truly valuable.

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One of my writerly resolutions was to submit at least one piece of work to a literary journal. The Southampton Review is looking for submissions based on the theme of ‘water’. I chose to write about our experience of drought in Canberra, Australia in a 1400-word piece called, ‘Drought Down Under’. Ok, so I’ve finished a final draft and I’m letting it breathe overnight and THEN I’ll mail it to Southampton, which is about 15 miles down the road from where I live. Wish me luck!

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