I’m spending more of my time writing again and it feels wonderful. I had started several pieces along the way these last couple of years that I’ve spent marketing Becoming Alice. They were pieces that I intended to be short stories but after I’d written about a dozen pages, I reached a dead end. I aborted all of them.
And then I got the idea that I should write an and then what happened piece to my memoir. So often when I’d done presentations about my book to various groups and often was asked what happened to this character or that character from the book. It reminded me of the time I was reading bedtime stories to my kids and when time ran out the kids begged, “But, then what happened?”
So, I decided to write about the period of time following the end of my memoir. It wasn’t going to be a sequel. I’ve always thought sequels usually aren’t as stong as the original work. An example is Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis which is in my opinion not at the same level to Angela’s Ashes. So I started writing an and then what happened short story.
Well now, I am not the kind of writer who makes an outline and has the whole storyline down pat before even writing the first word. I start writing and the work sort of takes me places which I may never have thought about before facing that blank page. For me it is more creative doing it my way.
So I began my short story and with the creative process in full bloom, my short story got too long to be a short story. I was not about to erase what I thought was quite interesting and read pretty well. I needed to do something quickly before I brought this story into the novel category.
The light bulb went off above my head and I came up with the answer. I am writing a novella! I dashed off to Wikipedia and learned that the definition of a novella needs to have a word count between 17,500 and 40,000 and can run as high as 70,000 words.
Perfect! I think that I will fall into that category. And … the icing in the cake is that I will be in good company with a novella. English language novellas include Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Herman Melville’s Billy Bud, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and many more.
Now, let’s hope I make my novella as good as ony one of theirs.
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In my last blog, I’ve talked about a memoir writer whose story turned out to be totally fabricated. But in thinking about this subject, I wondered if a memoir had to be entirely truthful and to what extent. Does every scene have to have happened? Does every word in a dialogue between people have to have been spoken word for word? How true to the actual occurance does memoir have to be?
When I began to study this genre intensively, I had a professor make a profound statement that stayed with me throughout the entire time I wrote Becoming Alice. In her class a student asked her how he could recall the exact words that were spoken beween his father and himself. The incident he was writing about occured many years ago. My professor smiled and answered, “Make it up.” She explained that it wasn’t necessary to recall every word exactly, you only needed to impart the meaning, the feelings, the emotions of the reparte. What you need to do is to draw the characters as they were. You could do so without parroting each word as it was said so many years ago.
I’ve written about a period in my life when I was quite young and I am often asked about how I could possibly remember it. Well, I remember precisely what occured. I remember the panic my family felt. I remember the character of each of my parents. I remember how each of them handled the threat to their lives. I remember all that.
But do I remember each word that was spoken beween all of us? No. I don’t. I did what my professor told us to do. I made up the words, but the incidents really happened and the meaning of what was said was the truth. I believe that this is what all memoirists do.
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Posted in Becoming Alice on August 6, 2010 |
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Whoopie!!! Becoming Alice is now available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com … for only six dollars.What a deal!!
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I’m moving out of a home I’ve lived in for thirty-six years. There is no rush to get out of the house since it hasn’t sold yet, but I am doing the job in bits and pieces so that I won’t be overwhelmed when the final date of occupancy is upon me. Being a pack rat by nature, I am disposing of boxes and boxes of items that are going directly to the Goodwill Industries every week. I have left the hardest part of dismantling my house for last, i.e. is going through all the pictures we have taken, and even pictures our parents have taken over the years, and getting rid of them. There are pictures everywhere: in drawers, in albums stuck in bookcases, and in boxes on the top shelves of closets that haven’t been touched in years. This project may just take the rest of my life to complete.
While going through this exercise, I’ve looked at pictures of various family members and I was struck by how much they say about that persons’ personality. There is the gentleman who is seen over and over in swim trunks or other athletic attire showing off what is obviously a well sculptured body. When fully dressed he is seen in the company of one or more young women. He works hard to impress others that he is someone special, maybe a little too hard.
The most telling characteristic of all is the smile, or the absence of a smile. There is my aunt in one picture after another with either a scowl on her face or with her chin lifted upward in an attempt to look aristocratic. There is my Uncle Jack smiling in every picture. He never said a cross word about anyone, thought everyone in the world liked him, and in fact, they did. Pictures of my mom and dad back in Vienna are serious, first because they had no money and second because they were busy trying to escape from Nazi persecution. Not until they were in America did I find any pictures of them showing their teeth in a broad smile. By that time mom was able to purchase a fox fir stole around her shoulders to show off her good fortune. As to my mother-in-law, not one smiling picture, not as a young woman, a young bride, a well-to-do-middle-aged woman, or a comfortable older woman, even while catered to by a caring husband. No comment.
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