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Archive for February, 2010

Once my memoir Becoming Alice was published, I was asked to speak with quite a number of groups locally. I also have been interviewed for my own website and other websites. A question that has come up repeatedly was, “When did you become a writer?” Another was, “What made you decide to write your memoir?” 

I’d have to go very far back in time to tell you about the first time someone said to me, “You ought to write a book about your story.” The person who said that to me was my fifth grade teacher who asked our class to write our autobiography at the beginning of the school semester in order to get to know us better. There was no one in my classroom of second and third generation Italian kids who had anything like my own experience of escaping from Hitler’s Europe at the beginning of WWII.

My answer to my teacher was, “Perhaps I will someday.”

I didn’t know then that it would take me some seventy years to do so. In one of my prior blogs I wrote about how my grandson got me into gear. Still, I questioned my abilities to be a writer and so I took classes for over a year. My intention was to write my story well enough that my family and future ancestors would be interested in reading it.

My teacher at that time told us to get that thought straight out of our minds. She went on to talk about a student she had who had the same mind set. It was a lady from a small midwest town who wrote about her life as the wife of a very successful CEO at a large corporation. She was delegated to a second place position in the family and despite this, wrote an exceptional work about her experience: interesting,  sensitivite and with understanding. After it was published, she gifted copies to her four children. Even after several years had passed, none of them had read a word of it.

I am fortunate to know that two of my three children have read Becoming Alice. I think the third one may have skimmed it … I hope. But my point is … that it doesn’t matter. The words are there for whenever anyone, at any point in the future, has an interest in reading them. The book is there.

And how do you know that there might not be people out there outside your family who will find meaning in your words, and take pleasure in reading your story, and will identify with what you’ve said. I can tell you from personal experience that I did not anticipate what adventures would follow after Becoming Alice hit the marketplace.

If I’ve learned anything during my time as a writer, it is to let go of any self-doubts and write what you must write without thinking about who will read it, or when it will be read.

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reBlog from hrwritersguild.com: HR Writers Guild

I found this fascinating quote today:

  • Figure out if my book will need to become two, or even three books. Oh, I still don’t know that one. I probably have to be at least to the part where Riaone is living in Higa to be able to know this.
  • Write at least every other day–try for ten pages a week at first. My last two submissions were 15 and 18 pages each, at 1.5-line spacing. I am happy with that.
  • Blog about my progress (even regress–then the group can help). Today’s post accomplishes this! I have been more wrapped up in capturing my ideas in type as they pop up, so I am still thinking ahead.
  • Don’t stop and revise so much, so often. I have been doing well with this. When I do go back, it is to correct a fact or to reroute important dialog.
  • Don’t get shy and avoid explaining my book when I’m asked about it. I am an editor for another author, and we were having a meeting recently and he asked what I am writing. I got very shy and brushed it off. After establishing these writing goals, I explained myself and sent him a synopsis. His reaction was actually very inspiring! He told me to believe in my own writing and not to let others dictate my genre/what I write.
  • Decide my target audience and keep them in mind. I have decided that this will be a mature fantasy grounded as much as possible in realism. Whoever wants to read it, will!
  • Read more fantasy fiction (I’m on that one already–Karen Miller’s Godspeaker trilogy). I just finished this trilogy on Saturday. It is amazing. Pretty mythical and fantastical, but with a great religious structure that keeps you thinking.
  • Don’t guilt myself so hard for not getting it perfect the first time–just write my way there. I think I am doing great with this, very at peace hearing and implementing others’ critiques. I accept that I am not writing my final draft… I need my first draft FIRST!
  • Decide on a new title. Not there yet.
  • Create an outline–this will help move the plot and avoid fluff that doesn’t advance it. Writing the synopsis has been great. I also have a map that I created as a kid when I first conceived this novel. I am also keeping a running (day-t0-day) outline to keep me on track.
  • hrwritersguild.com, HR Writers Guild, Feb 2010

You should read the whole article.

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Taking Your Work to an Editor

You took the bull by the horns and started writing. Perhaps it is about yourself. Perhaps it is about someone in your life, someone you love, or someone you hate. Maybe you wrote about wanting your dreams to come true, or wanting the pain to go away. Or, some story popped into your head that came from nowhere, something that had been rattling around in your brain and only now was able to get out onto paper.

Isn’t it great. You feel proud of yourself … that you’ve finally done it. You feel better because it is off your chest. Many say writing is therapeutic; perhaps it is. In any case, you feel wonderful. You’ve accomplished something. You’ve finished your work.

But then what do you do with it? Most likely you want to share it with someone special. You might want to keep it confidential. Or, you might want as many people as possible to read your words, your thoughts, your feelings. But, is it any good? Will your friends look at you the same way? Will they judge you? Will they think you crazy, conceited, gifted, or com pletely off the wall?

You will need to check it out. What better way to go than to have your work edited. You might take it to someone who has been recommended to you as an experienced editor, and someone who would remain discreet about your subject matter. You are even willing to spend money, a considerable amount of money to get an impartial opinion about your work. Yes, an editor is the way to go. 

That is exactly what I did. I even spend more money than I thought it worth to get it appraised. Yes, I considered it like getting a piece of jewelry appraised. And that is when I learned that I had been burned. The editor I had chosen told me my work was good. I was thrilled. And the last paragraph said he liked it so much that he would love to publish it … for ten thousand dollars.

I wasn’t that needy. I realized that finding the right editor was almost as difficult as finding the right man to marry. I quickly got enough courage to join a writing group that I respected and essentially got more editing out of reading my work to them as I had from my high priced editor. Besides, I learned by person to person contact what impact my work had on others by reading it to them.

When I felt that I had rewritten it so often that I could no longer make it any better, I decided to publish it as is. In that process, I felt comfortable with having it edited again … for a much smaller fee. And even though I respected many of the comments that were made, I did not agree with all of them. After all, it was  my work, not the editors.

All in all, what I learned is that you abslutely must have your work edited, but you should be very careful in choosing the right editor for your precious words.

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So, You Are a Writer

You’ve taken the plunge and started writing. Most ususally it will be bits and pieces from your life. The pundits tell you to write what you know; and who do you know better than yourself? Well, perhaps you have chosen not to really look at yourself, but at least you know what has happened to that person that is you.

I should include in that group of first writers those who want to undertake writing a fictional work. Maybe they think they can pull off the next great American novel. Perhaps! I am more intrigued by the person I once met at a cocktail party who, when asked what she did, answered, “I’m a writer.” I actually knew her to be an exceptionally gifted tennis player. When I saw her next at the tennis courts I mentioned that I didn’t know she was a writer.

“I’m not,” she answered. ” I only say so at cocktail parties because I want to be taken seriously. I have to compete with other women who have become talented painters, successful real estate salespersons, or leaders in raising money for charitable organizations. How would it sound if my only claim to fame is being a tennis player?”

I thought about that for a moment and had to agree with her. Since I have taken up that lofty profession, I am amazed at how impressed people are if you call yourself a writer. They never go to the next step to find out if you are a really good writer or even a published writer. My tennis playing friend told me she could get several years of mileage out of being a writer without having anything to show for her efforts. Very clever, I must say.

I’ve wondered why so many people seem to admire those of us who call ourselves writers. Perhaps it is because they themselves are intimidated by the process, as all of us were before we took the plunge. Perhaps it is because it is not an easy thing to do. Or is it? I think if you take the cloud of  is my writing good enough away from hanging over your head, it is in fact easy and fun.

There are those who will say that one cannot call themselves a writer unless they are published, i.e. traditionally published. I do take exception to that. I think that the publishing industry today is so economically stressed that they take on very few books. It is left to the rest of the writing community to either give it all up or take the publishing of their book into their own hands. Some of these self-published books have done so well that the tradional publishers chased after them to purchase their rights. Even if that doesn’t happen, I believe the authors of these books, at whatever the level of sales they achieve, will have the self-satisfaction of being able to call themselves the author of a published book.

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Reed Magazine

Please note: In the Spring Edition of Reed (College) Magazine, a brief bio on page 35 of author Alice Fell Rene as a former student. On page 54, her book “Becoming Alice, A Memoir, is featured in the Reediana Section.

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So many of us decide to write our story and then stop before we even start. We feel we don’t know how. We think we are not good writers. We’re afraid others will think we’re conceited, egotistical, and self absorbed. I think if any of those things go through your mind you must push them away. They don’t matter. What is important is that you have something to say. It may not mean anything to anyone else, but if your story ever had meaning for you, then you have every right to put it on paper.

I think the most common reason people give up writing their memoirs is that they feel they don’t know how to write. My answer to them is: if you can talk, you can write. Of course, it is true that not everyone expresses themselves eloquently, or in what they call “the king’s English.” That is true. But how often have you read a book in which a person speaks like a truck driver or a prostitute which has made you see them as real people. How about the new best seller entitled “Help” in which the bulk of the book is written in the language spoken by African-American domestic ladies employed in the South before integration had taken place. It was their language, along with the description of the social climate of that day, that made the story come to life.

If you think you don’t know how to write, take a writing course in your local adult school. If that is not to your liking, join a writing group. They can be found through your libraries, community centers, on the internet, or by word of mouth. I especially like writing groups. That is where you will have an immediate feedback on whether or not your writing is hitting its mark. Also, you are among peers, none of whom consider themselves superior to you. Mostly, they will be only too happy to make suggestions to you. In time you will be able to return the favor, and that will be when you will gain some confidence in your writing.

Those that find you egotistical for writing don’t know that while you are taking your baby steps as a writer, you’re having more fun than they could every have imagined.

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Fashion for Women, not Girls

I don’t normally notice what women wear unless the outfit is so striking, creatively designed, and so attractive that it enhances the beauty of the person wearing it. I am much more interested in what that woman has to say.  I tend to focus on her face to see the emotion that comes with her dialog. Then the other night, my system was thrown out of whack.

My husband had a meeting at our house for a group of about twelve or fourteen people who share a common interest in one of his hobbies. Mostly everyone, men and women, attend dressed casually in jeans, chinos, or even sweatpants. Sport shirts, sweaters, or sport jackets might complete their outfits. Then a woman entered wearing skin tight jeans, fur-lined boots, a tight tee shirt with a brightly colored scarf wound around her neck, and …  a rhinestone studded chartreuse baseball cap. It was an outfit that I might have seen advertised on TV targeting a pre-teen audience. It would have been a stretch to think it was a teenage audience. It was worn by a lady who is seventy something years old. Despite several plastic surgeries, she now had a face full of wrinkles and sagging jowls.

The garrish outfit took me back to a time when I was a pre-teen and I thought my mother had no taste in clothes. In my memoir I wrote that I thought my mother looked like a kaleidoscope. The same would apply to the lady who attended my husband’s meeting. I wonder at the same time what it is in her character that makes her attempt to be child-like.

Which brings me to my second thought on fashion. I think that our magazines and advertisements encourage a lot of women to dress young. If you look at the models, most of them are in their late teens or early twenties and they are about twenty pounds underwieght. There are magazines that show fashions for large size women but I don’t know of any that target mature women or older women … until last week.

It must have been about ten o’clock in the evening when I was too tired to do anything except sit in a chair and watch TV and maybe leaf through some of the magazines that had come in the day’s mail. Voila! There was a magazine which showed models wearing sport clothes, fashionable today. But they offered styles that would be appropriate for three age groups. The first was worn by a young thing in low-rider jeans with boot cut legs, and layered skin-fitting tee shirts. The second group wore jeans or chinos, cut to sit slightly below the waist, with shirts that were form fitting but not skin tight. And then … drum roll … there was group three, modeled by gray-haired women, wearing chinos and jeans cut to the natural waist and loose fitting blouses, not tucked in. What a treat for ladies with bellies that no amount of crunches can control.

I am happy to tell you that I can actually fit into group one, but the thought of anyone thinking I looked anything like the lady that attended my husband’s meeting has made me a buyer of clothes that are somewhere between groups two and three.

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