Having been asked to share the story of my writing life, I should start off by explaining (though I know this is not what she had in mind) how I got involved in one of Allyson’s memoir writing courses, for that’s where the inspiration — the confidence — came that was to result in my memoir, Just a Face in a Crowd.
Sorry to say, the only answer I have to the question of how I learned of her course is a brief three words long: I don’t remember. But I’m so glad I had that experience!
So too can the inspiration for a piece of writing often be forgotten. Do I remember that childhood journey to the zoo, or just the subsequent part of the visit when I was stung by a bee and rushed to hospital? Do I remember the joy at three years old of seeing my mother again after thinking I had lost her in the Christmas shopping crowds? Or the sight that followed of her terrified, tearful face as she smacked me for “running away’?
Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
Life Without Agenda: author Marleen Rechsteiner on writing, and raising a son with Williams syndrome
“Writing [in the first person] was a painful process since it exposed me and made me feel vulnerable. All my feelings became so much more real. The rewriting caused me a lot of tears.”
MARLEEN RECHSTEINER is the author of Leven Zonder Agenda (“Life Without Agenda”; Artemis & Co, 2009), which explores the challenges of caring for a special-needs child. Her book combines memoir, research, interviews with other parents, and advice.
Marleen writes from personal experience: her 15-year-old son Emile has Williams syndrome — also known as Williams-Beuren syndrome — a rare neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by an “elfin” facial appearance, developmental delays, learning disabilities, and cardiovascular disease, but also strong language skills, high sociability, and often, an affinity for music. Estimates vary, but according to the Williams Syndrome Association in the United States the condition affects about 1 in 10,000 people worldwide.
I met Marleen in Santiago, Chile, where she was living at the time (her family has since returned to the Netherlands). She participated in a two-day workshop I led on memoir writing following my teaching at Los Parronales Writers’ Retreat. I spoke to her recently about her published book, currently available only in Dutch.
Wednesday, August 15th, 2012
Here’s a spring roundup of recent publishing and writing-competition news from my former students and workshop participants, along with details of a new contest for poets (see HEIDI STOCK, below). I share these success stories here to celebrate these writers’ accomplishments and also to encourage other emerging writers.
The opportunities to reach a reading audience through memoirs and other forms of creative nonfiction, fiction based on life stories, poetry and fiction are almost limitless. As you’ll see …
(Names appear alphabetically.)
CHRISTINE BARBETTA’s memoir “The Party” is second-prize winner in the recent writing competition co-sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women (Aurora/Newmarket) and The Era/The Banner, with the topic Life Lessons. A reception for winners and finalists will take place April 17. Christine’s story was one she’d begun writing in my University of Toronto Memories into Stories course.
SHARON BROOKS-WALLACE’s memoir “Keikikane” (Son) is a finalist in the CFUW/The Era/The Banner competition. Her story is a mother’s reflection on the near-drowning of her two-year-old son on the island of Kauai.
Sharon, a student in the Fall 2011 session of Memories into Story, has founded the writers’ group OMG (Online Memoir Group) with others from her class: Ruth Fitzsimmons, Stephen Goldberg and Sarah Calvert. A fifth member will join this spring. Sharon’s current project is a book about her Scottish great-grandmother, Nellie, who sailed to Canada at age nineteen, and she is writing an article for the Troon Ayrshire Family History Society about her research and writing process.
SARAH CALVERT’s memoir “Eat, Pray, Songwriting … Keep It Simple,” about the pleasures and perils of being on tour as a songwriter, has been published online on the Songwriters Association of Canada website (6 Feb 2012). Also: Watch for an interview with Sarah here on my website soon.
JAN CSILLAG’s poem “Missing at This Time” appears in the Canadian Jewish News Literary Supplement (April 2012). Her poem is about the joyful expectancy of the Passover seder when the family gathers as well as the feelings of loss over loved ones who are no longer here.
STEPHEN GOLDBERG’s memoir “Silence Isn’t Golden,” a surprising story about his son’s speech therapy, has been published online at The Write Place at the Write Time. Steve told me and his fellow students that he enrolled in Memories into Story so he could get one work published and call himself a writer. And so he has, and is. (Don’t stop now, Steve.)
TILYA GALLAY HELFIELD’s memoir “Shame” appears in the recent Canadian Jewish News Literary Supplement (April 2012). “Shame” is an excerpt from Tilya’s memoir collection Metaphors for Love, currently seeking a publisher. Tilya’s describes her recent experience recording another of her memoirs, ”Sweet Adeline,” for CBC’s The Sunday Edition in “On the Air.”
AMY MATTES’s memoir “10 Years of Skirtboarders” has been published in Color Magazine. Amy is an original member of this Quebec-based group of female skateboarders. Her piece celebrates the Skirtboarders’ decade of accomplishments, which include making movies, organizing contests, and touring California, Sweden and Mexico to showcase their talent. The Skirtboarders range in age from 17 to 40 and are still thriving. Read more about them here.
MARY E. McINTYRE will see her short story “Kidnapped” published in Whispered Words, the latest anthology by Writers’ Community of Durham Region. “Kidnapped,” one of two stories by Mary to make the semi-finalists’ list, is about a young woman, distraught from a still birth, who steals another’s baby and hears her guilty conscience whispering in her head. The anthology is the published result of WCDR’s annual short story contest and comprises stories from the top 25 semi-finalists.
Mary’s memoir “Harmless” received an Honourable Mention in the CFUW/The Era/The Banner competition mentioned above. In the story, a farmer forces her to confront her irrational fear of cows.
VICTORIA SCHELE, of Santiago, Chile, is the author of Iron Horses: The Forging of Old and New Paths, a book of photo essays about the history of South American railroads that launched March 21. Iron Horses is published by Ceibo Ediciones. You can read more about it, and about Victoria, here:
LORYNNE SCHREIBER’s memoir “Internal Compass” will be published in the upcoming anthology Living Legacies IV: A Collection of Writing by Contemporary Canadian Jewish Women, edited by Liz Pearl and published by PK Press of Toronto. The story is about a gift from her grandmother that influenced her life.
SUSAN SIDDELEY read this week from her book Home First: A Memoir in Voices at the Parliament Street Library as part of the Toronto Public Library series “Keep Toronto Reading.” She’ll read soon as well at the Ryerson University Library & Archives. Home First, which begins in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, is a memoir of “three generations spread over three continents.” Find out more about her writing and self-publishing journey here: Writing “Home First”: A Memoir in Voices. Susan is founder of Los Parronales Writers’ Retreat in Santiago, Chile.
HEIDI STOCK recently launched the Canadian Aspiring Poets Contest, a competition for as-yet-unpublished writers. The contest opened April 1st, the first day of National Poetry Month and closes June 1, 2012. Evelyn Lau, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, is the contest’s honorary patron, and poet Catherine Graham is judge. Winners will share $1,000 in prize money to be directed toward individual online mentoring with Catherine, and I’ll interview the first-prize winner here on my website. Contest guidelines can be found here.
Happy spring, everyone, and keep writing.
Writers mentioned above have participated in one or more of the courses or workshops I’ve led for University of Toronto [in partnership with the New York Times Knowledge Network; online], Koffler Centre of the Arts, North York Central Library (Canadiana Department), Otter Lake Writers’ Retreat in Ontario, Canada; Los Parronales Writers’ Retreat in Chile; Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat in Arizona; and Namaste Gardens Writing & Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica.
Friday, April 13th, 2012
Announcement by Arleigh Fanning
Kory Shillam has always been a writer. Daughter of William Albert Tutte, the front page editor of the Vancouver Sun during the Second World War, she came by her love of the written word honestly. As one of her six daughters, I have many memories of my mum taking courses and sitting at her desk writing stories.
In addition to crafting wonderful tales for children, and poetry and articles for magazines, she wrote two books on our family history based on twenty years of research. People Like Us Are We, a history of my father’s family, goes all the way back to the 1600s. I remember searching for her one day while she was at work on one of these histories, calling to her and hearing from the depths of the basement, “I’m down here with the dead!” — followed by laughter. Our family has been blessed with the legacy of these two books. I hug myself every time I pick one of them up to read a date, a name or an event about which I wouldn’t otherwise have known.
Monday, February 13th, 2012
Guest post by Tilya Gallay Helfield
“I kept thinking of the movie The King’s Speech and worried I might develop a stutter. . . .”
I was thrilled when I received the first e-mail from Karen Levine, producer of CBC Radio One’s The Sunday Edition, on November 21st, telling me that there was a lot she liked about the short memoir I had sent her five days earlier.
It wasn’t quite ready to be broadcast yet, though. Acceptance was contingent on my making certain revisions. She wanted the piece to be more than a straight story, a mere recounting of memory. She needed to know why the experience mattered to me and how it had changed my understanding of the world. Was there a lesson here for me? A new perspective?
She indicated two paragraphs in particular that she felt needed work and told me that if I was willing to incorporate her suggestions, she’d be happy to take another look. Of course I agreed.
I had written the first draft of “Sweet Adeline,” for Allyson Latta’s writing course at Koffler Centre of the Arts last year. The story about my beloved Aunt Adeline was originally about 500 words. I made some revisions based on reactions from Allyson and others in the class and later expanded it to over 1,000 words, then cut and rewrote it two or three times more. It was this third (or perhaps fourth) version that I had submitted to The Sunday Edition.
Three days after our initial e-mail exchange, I sent Karen a revised version of the story. Soon after that, she sent me a second edit. I was moving in the right direction, she said, but she questioned one premise in the story and pointed out that there was too much dialogue, which would make it a difficult piece to read on the radio. She suggested I call her to discuss it, which I did that afternoon.
Thursday, February 9th, 2012
Guest Post by Susan Siddeley
I love writing: fashioning sentences, crafting a tale, getting feedback. A nightmare for me is to be stranded in a queue with no pen or paper, where nothing is moving, yet life suddenly makes sense.
Backing sixpenny notebooks with brown paper and scribbling about blackbirds, bluebells, and earwigs when I was eight was the start of a lifelong urge to write. The need to explain and collect — partly lest I forget — became a driving force. Later, this meant striving for the English teacher’s approval, turning the loss of three gloves and two boyfriends in as many days into comedy and noting how dads only became animated talking about big ends and gaskets.
Friday, November 4th, 2011