the lovely bones

excerpt from craft essay in October 2015 Brevity:

You could say I’m a ghostwriter. All memoirists are. We commune with the spirits of the past, inhabit old haunts, sift through the bones of the people we once were (and once knew) in an attempt to reanimate what was and illuminate what is.

Our ghosts are real. Or at least as real as we remember them. One thing we cannot do is make stuff up. And we don’t need to. We have more than enough material to conjure life on the page. But that’s part of the problem. What do you do with it all – all that experience, all that emotion? What spooks those of us who write from life the most is this dilemma: how to wrangle this vast, unwieldy life of ours into a well-shaped story.

Fiction writers have the old tried and true (and yes, trite) basic plot triangle to turn to for structure. Conflict leads to a crisis/climax point which forces the protagonist to confront something (either themselves or a foe). The outcome of this changes everything and leads to resolution.

While narrative nonfiction writers can borrow from fiction and use some of the same techniques, the very nature of the material we are working with dictates we approach storytelling in a different way. Fiction writers start with nothing and create a world.

Memoirists start with an entire universe that already exists. We are more like sculptors than painters, relying on the advice of Michelangelo, who supposedly said he made the statue of David by taking away everything in the stone that was not David. We create story by carving and cutting to the bone.

That means deciding who and what we want to pull out of the block of stone. When I sit down to tell a story, I have to ask, whose story is it – the child who longed to be accepted? The young woman who stood up to her fears? And what is the heart, the very essence of the story I want to tell? The answer to that question leads to structure.

To read the rest of the essay, click here.

 

sleeping beauty wakes up: breaking the spell of women’s silences

excerpt from essay in Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Vol. 91

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Let’s talk about the spell of silence. Or not talking about the things that we cannot stand to see. Things like rape. Incest. Murder. More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century . Yet we stay quiet. We do so to protect ourselves, to remain invisible so we will not be shunned, shamed or annihilated. These dark truths are taboo, a violation of the social order. To utter them is to rip the veil off the lie. To invite disorder. Chaos, even. But that is the only way to create change.

Judith Herman, in the introduction to her landmark book, Trauma and Recovery, states, “The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud; this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.”

The price we pay in keeping silent is considerable. Around the world, women are enslaved, tortured, murdered, kept ignorant, hidden, mutilated, raped, beaten, battered and stoned. Even worse, they made to feel responsible for their abuse.

It is this shifting of the blame on to women that helps keep the seal of silence intact and makes the crime much more palpable – both to the one who commits it and society at large. I am thinking of what my own father would say every time he beat my mother: “She asked for it.”

To read the rest of the essay, click here.

 

 

sight unseen, page 71

personal essay of growing up with a complicated father from Literal Latte: Highlights from Fifteen Years of a Unique “Mind-Stimulating” Literary Magazine
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2004 winner: Christine White Award
2005 winner: Ames Award for Essay
Selection for “Periodically Speaking,” a reading series presented by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and The New York Public Library to showcase emerging writers as well as the diversity of America’s literary magazines and the magazine collections of The New York Public Library.