Me@20: Trial by Firelight

We pause in the True Stories Well Told “Season of Sports” to celebrate the Association of Personal Historians‘ 20th anniversary with a “Me@20″ post. Around the world, personal historians are blogging and posting to social media, reminiscing about our life at twenty years of age. Follow these links from my colleagues Kathleen ShaputisJill Sarkozi and Rhonda Kalkwarf to read other “Me@20″ stories. -Sarah White  

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In June of 1976 I returned to Indiana University, where my freshman year had been interrupted in 1974 when I became too groovy and floated away, resulting in my spending the next three semesters in the mental-hospital-like confines of tiny Franklin College. Improbably, on my return I repeated the actions of my first day at IU—I fell in with a strange band of costumed characters. (Described in Leon Varjian and Me: Class  Clowns.)

This time the group was the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA. Dedicated to recreating the Middle Ages “as they should have been,” this group’s activities consisted of assuming medieval personas, dressing in costumes, and fighting, drinking and wenching according to taste. Local chapters organized weekend events with sword tournaments, craft competitions, dancing, and banquets, all conducted in mock medieval form. Members drove hundreds of miles to indulge in this silliness.

On that June morning, having finished moving into my apartment, I wandered past a public park where I spied medieval action and, realizing I had just unpacked an Elizabethan costume (liberated in a prank on Franklin College’s theater department) I went home, put it on, and came back to join the revelry. In no time I was attending meetings of the local chapter and developing my persona as Eluned engen Elvedorn, an Irish maiden circa 1200.

The fall I turned 20 I was spending as much time on sewing and embroidering new costumes, practicing medieval ballads on my recorder, and learning flirtatious dances as I was on my schoolwork. As the business of the club unfolded around me—the election of officers, the undertaking of event planning—I recognized a parallel universe in which I could practice being a functioning adult without consequence if I got it wrong.

1977 SCA Oliver WineryIn early 1977, the chapter I belonged to in Bloomington was due to host an event. I was asked to be the “autocrat” or organizer  1977 SCA Oliver Winery seatedof it. Thinking that it could be a good management experience useful in some future unspecified career, I said yes. A date in late March was chosen and planning began.

And then the lights went out. Jimmy Carter begged the nation to conserve oil. In Bloomington, the city government decreed that streetlights be turned off except on major arteries. I walked through the newly dark streets to meetings where we perseverated on whether to continue with our plans in the face of this energy crisis. Would it be unpatriotic to encourage those hundreds of car miles? And think of the energy we’d consume at the church hall we’d rent. The lights! The heat! The cooking, all those ovens on for hours!

It was a new idea for me, patriotism. Up to that point I had mostly dedicated myself to being unpatriotic. (I had even desecrated a U.S. flag, sewing a surprisingly uncomfortable shirt from its flame-retardant fabric.) But one of the more remarkable aspects of the SCA was the way it brought people together from different circles and mindsets. There were born-again Christians, serious scholars, hippies, greasers, all mixed up in the colorful background of each other’s fantasies. The patriots among us strongly opposed hosting our event. I didn’t want to cancel, and neither did others cut from less patriotic cloth. But with the darkened streets and President Carter in his sweaters on TV, what was the right thing to do? Could we in good conscience continue with our obviously pointless recreation?

In a meeting where secret ballots were tallied, I was given permission to go forward, with instructions to pursue every possible way to conserve energy. We agreed not to use the heat, and hoped for warm weather—in late March in Bloomington, it could go either way. We agreed to light the hall by candlelight. We emphasized carpooling in our invitations (which attendees did anyway, being impoverished students). The cooking we couldn’t do without, but we’d minimize energy where we could.

Leading this group of misfits was like the proverbial herding cats. Delegation was not a skill I’d ever attempted—and turns out not to be one of my talents, then or since. Committees formed, more or less, around the needs of the day—organizing and judging various competitions, decorations, the evening banquet, entertainments for the revel to follow. The committees carried out their charges, to varying degrees.

The day of the event arrived, chilly but bright. The combat events—men in homemade armor wielding rattan bats wrapped in silver duct tape to simulate swords—were held outdoors. The rest of the event took place inside, in beams of natural light from the church hall’s windows. I scurried around like the organizer of any event down through the centuries—how can we get people to make room for us to set up the tables for the banquet? Where is the decoration committee? How are the cooks doing? (Nearly losing their heads, was the answer.)

That banquet remains a vivid memory. The candlelight was beautiful, shining down the long banquet tables from tall torchiers borrowed from the church’s Christmas decorations. The effect was more authentically medieval than any event in SCA history.

From an energy consumption standpoint, the net result of our patriotic intentions was probably negligible. But we cared enough to try, and that, for me, was a novel experience.

I received compliments for months on the splendid atmosphere of that evening. And I received my initiation into organizational leadership. Who would have predicted, based on that modest leadership success, that I would later spend a decade of my life on the Association of Personal Historians board of directors—most recently, four years as its president?

© 2015 Sarah White

Follow these links to more “Me@20″ essays by my friends in the APH.

Kathleen Shaputis, Gorham Printing

Rhonda Kalkwarf, My Stories Saved

Sue Hessel, Lessons from Life

Jill Sarkozi, Safekeeping Stories

For more links to “Me@20″ essays, check out this post on the APH blog.

About Me@20 Day:

Me@20 Day celebrates personal history and the 20th anniversary of the Association of Personal Historians on May 20, 2015. APH supports its members in recording, preserving, and sharing life stories of people, families, communities, and organizations around the world. 

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The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football

Every time I stumble on a line of inquiry, I discover “there’s a book for that!” With the “Season of Sports” opening on True Stories Well Told, I went a-googling, and found The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football: Sexism and the American Culture of Sports by Mariah Burton Nelson (Harcourt Brace & Co, 1994).

The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football- Sexism and the American Culture of Sports

If you grew up female in America: you heard this: Sports are unfeminine. And this: Girls who play sports are tomboys or lesbians. You got this message: Real women don’t spend their free time sliding feet-first into home plate or smacking their fists into soft leather gloves.

So you didn’t play or you did play and either way you didn’t quite fit. You didn’t fit in your body–didn’t learn to live there, breathe there, feel dynamic and capable. Or maybe you fell madly, passionately in love with spots but didn’t quite fit in society, never saw yourself–basketball player, cyclist, golfer–reflected in movies, billboards, magazines.

Or you took a middle ground, shying away at first but then later sprinting toward aerobics and weight lifting and in-line skating, relishing your increasing endurance and grace and strength. Even then, though, you sensed that something was wrong: all the ads and articles seemed to focus on weight loss and beauty. While those may have inspired you to get fit in the first place, there are more important things, you now know, than how you looked. No one seemed to be talking about pride, pleasure, power, possibility.

…What does it mean that everywhere, women are running, shooting baskets, getting sweaty and exhausted and euphoric? What changes when a woman becomes an athlete?

Everything.

And that’s just page 1, chapter 1. I think I’m going to enjoy this inquiry.

So here’s the writing prompt:

You didn’t play or you did play or you took the middle ground. You were male, or female, or transitioning between one and the other. What was the role of sports in your life as a young person? What has the impact of that been on your life since?

See guidelines for submissions here. Play along and send your sports story for publication on True Stories Well Told?

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Competitive Sports

I’ve been thinking about competitive sports lately. It started with musings triggered by plans to go see the Mad Rollin’ Dolls with a few of my fearless, peerless writer friends, with hopes of blogging about the experience. (We’re doing a “writing attack”–opposite of a retreat.)

Then at this week’s “First Monday, First Person” salon, Diane Hughes read a piece about her evolving relationship with the idea of competitive sports. It touched on the blankness or actual revulsion many women of my generational cohort feel: “I don’t understand the focus of sports. Why do people care about the position of a ball?” She pondered the competing claims that sports strengthens character by teaching us to lose with grace vs. the trauma of being the last chosen for teams. Her essay went on to explore how women have claimed sports as a feminist activity, and the outlet for emotions that sporting events provide.

This took my thoughts deeper about the upcoming women’s roller derby event, and my relation to sports throughout my life, which has pretty much been, “ooh, gross.”

Sounds of sports have been in my life since earliest memory–the playing fields of the Carmel schools were within a few hundred yards of our house. Baseball’s “ay-batta-batta-batta-batta” chant echoed through my summers. The football field was just as close, and the crowd’s roar under the Friday night lights was just as persistent. Sports were there, but they had nothing to do with me.

One summer of  rec-program day camp turned me off every form of team sports. If that weren’t enough, my spectacular dunk in the opposing team’s basket during the one time I took to the court in gym class basketball sealed my disgust for the whole deal.

My high school years coincided with Title IX but I snuck out just before its mandates began to change girls’ participation in sports. And by then, I had adopted the hippie rejection of organized anything–including the ritualized war that was competitive sports. (Yes, I joined a YMCA fencing team–but only because I needed to recuperate a broken ankle, and the swashbuckling appealed to me. Besides, it’s a 1:1 sport–you cannot let your team down in actual play, only in accumulation of points.)

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(That’s me with my foil pointed at the camera, in the halls of Carmel High, circa 1973.)

 

I get, in principle, how organized team sports brought opportunities for young women that have been life-changing. The goal-setting, the self-confidence, the physical strength, the ability to operate under pressure, the adaptability to environments and situations, the leadership lessons–all good. Even the ability to understand and use sports metaphors, a requirement in business.

But still, like Diane, I wonder why people care about the position of a ball when there is so much else of beauty and importance to attract us… so many causes needing our energy to change society… why so much time, energy, not to mention money, still going toward the position of a spheroid object on some arbitrary field of play?

So let’s go there! Bring it on, fellow memoirists and ponderers about life and the world! What has been the role of competitive sports in your life so far? What did you think about it then, what do you think about it now, and how far has that ball moved down that field?

Comment! Or better yet, send me your stories to publish here. Let the Season of Sport commence.

-Sarah White

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Tricks memory plays…

My memoir writing workshop spring season continues…  and so does my learning and growing, because I get as much from my students as they (I hope) get from me.

In class we’ve been discussing the tricks memory plays on us. Let me offer three examples, backed up by neuroscience.

1. Confirmation Bias: This is is the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses. You might remember Aunt Marge as a delightful doter, or Uncle Homer as a disturbing drunk. And yet, isn’t it more likely that Marge had some flaws and Homer had some good qualities?  For stories to be rich we need complexity – details good and bad! For proof of Confirmation Bias, take the “Monkey Business” test, here. As you count the times the players pass the ball (what you are instructed to observe) you quite likely missed other changes you were not instructed to observe. Take a lesson from the invisible gorilla–seek a deeper understanding of people and situations than first presents itself.

2. Repetition Overwrite: Writing about an episode in your life may cause you to lose touch with the original memory. You can even unwittingly replace an old true memory with a newer false one.

When we reminisce, we draw on portions of the brain involved in long-term memory. As we try to draw meaning from that story, or choose words to tell it artfully, it’s necessary to move it into short-term memory. Then when we “re-file” that story in long-term memory, it replaces the original memory with one colored by the more recent recollection.

If you work on that essay multiple times over a number of consecutive days, you are adding the “spaced repetition” effect–in essence using your brain’s neuroplasticity to learn a new version of that story. You may never be able to recall it again in all its original richness of emotion and detail. Instead you will remember struggling to write the essay, or getting a positive reaction from an audience, for example. (It’s like that with my and my Foxy story.)

Memoirists: don’t start changing names until the last minute when you plan to publish your work. And when you do start to work on an essay, mine your memory for every detail, every sense memory, every scrap of dialog–because repetition overwrite might rob you of that rich trove.

3. Positivity Effect: This age-related trait favors positive over negative stimuli in cognitive processing. Older people attend to and remember more positive than negative information, in comparison to their younger counterparts. This has been linked to emotional wellbeing in older people–overall, it’s a good thing! But for memoir writers, it poses a challenge: it may take more work to recall and write about long-past negative episodes in your life. You may find yourself recalling those episodes in a more positive light, being aware of the ways in which a negative episode helped you develop positive traits like resilience and wisdom.

Ultimately, why do we care about the tricks memory plays on us? Because we aren’t here to make this stuff up. As author Lee Gutkind says–creative nonfiction as a literary genre–one that includes memoir–demands a true story, well told!

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Archie Smith

By Doug Elwell

This piece was written in response to the prompt “characters I have known.” Doug describes it as creative nonfiction: “Each of the characters are real. The setting is real. Dialogue is in the voice of the characters and close to the actual.”

Given that this post appears during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it’s a good time to ponder Archie’s advice to Harry regarding sex and love.

Archie Smith and I lugged heavy pails of tar and mops onto the roof of Kemp’s machine shed. The sun was hot and the patches of old tar were soft under my boots. We went about opening the pails and stirring the new black tar. I watched my reflection in the pail disappear into a spiral as I stirred. It looked like I was being sucked into a black hole. Archie threw a cigarette butt to the ground below, “You’re quiet this mornin’son—late hours last night?”

“Not really—got in around midnight.”

“—feelin’ okay?”

 

It might sound like a contradiction, but Archie was a simple man in a complex way. He was the bumbling but lovable clown who seemed to fall into cartoonish mishaps like the night last fall he had too much to drink down at the VFW and got caught up in Retta’s clothesline in the back yard—couldn’t free himself. He lost his footing in the wet grass and landed his arms tangled in the lines. He fell asleep. Retta came out in the morning and between fits of laughter, freed him. That story made its way to the coffee shop by seven. He took the ribbing from the others like the good sport and gentleman he was—knowing that next time it could easily be one of them.

But a good sport was just a small part of who Archie was. He spoke the low English of the West Virginia mountain folk—the backwoodsmen and coal miners—his people. Some looked askance because of that, but he knew who he was. He was one of those rare people who had what my mom called the gift. He knew things, things about people, about human nature. He stood apart in that way. He had a kind of intelligence I guess you could call it, an intelligence I admired and knew I would never have. I believe it is a gift. I doubt he ever thought about it, because the gift, if you have it, is like breathing or having brown eyes or being left handed—it’s just there. It’s coded in the genes and cannot be learned. One either has the gift or doesn’t. My friends Tanner and Row had the gift too and I could talk to them about some things, but I could talk to Archie about anything.

 

“Yeah, I’m okay.”

We sat quiet for a few minutes—stirred our buckets of tar slowly.

“Mind if I ask you somethin’ Archie?”

He grunted, “Go ahead—don’ know much, but you free to ask.”

“How do you know when you’re in love?”

He stopped stirring. “Whoa, that’s a bigun—cain’t say as I ever pondered it—you got some dolly on the line there Harry?”

“I’m sorta leaning toward Liesel Brandt, but I don’t know if it’s real or not.” I continued stirring—wondered if I should have just kept quiet, but it was out there now hanging in the air between us so I had to finish, “—you know how to tell?”

Archie sat on an empty five gallon can, let the stick settle to one side of the thick tar, reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. He rolled it back and forth slowly in his fingers—squinted at it as if it was the first one he’d ever seen. He broke the filter off and flicked it to the ground—lit the cigarette and took a deep drag and when he spoke, the smoke came out of his mouth in spurts so I could see his words, “—met Retta when we was kids—used to play together, her’n her brothers ‘n me. When we was ’bout your age we got curious—if’n you know what I mean. She was a pretty little thing then—had a lot of spark she did—still does I reckon.”

I pictured Retta in my mind, smiled and nodded.

“Love, Harry? I dunno much ’bout love. We fooled around with each other for a while in the beginning.”

Archie took a hard look at me and held it, “—reckon I can count on keepin’ things ‘tween us on this here roof Harry?”

“Yessir.”

“Well it was like this, after a while I took to touchin’ her in places I probly shouldn’t but she didn’t seem to mind. Times when we were alone she would open her shirt and undo her ponytail so I could run my fingers through her hair—said she liked it. There was a spot in a creek we used to go to—take off our clothes and just sit in the water—next thing I knew she was gettin’ heavy with Row. We was doin’ that on each other, but I don’ think it was love then—least not to my mind. Guess we were just havin’ fun.”

“So you got married?”

“—had to. Her daddy marched her up the holler to see me and mine—said she was in a family way and what was my daddy gonna do ’bout it. Well there it was—nuthin’ to do but hitch up.”

“How old were you?”

Archie flicked an ash into the tar bucket, “Retta was fourteen and I was ‘most seventeen.”

“So you didn’t know if you loved her or not then?”

“Never thought ’bout love—that come later I reckon. I ‘spect love means different things to different folks. Retta’s a good woman—took care of me and Row real good and I ‘preciated it—least I could do was the same for her and the girl.”

“So you had sex before you knew if you loved her?”

“I think that’s the way it is mostly,” he flicked his cigarette off the roof and pulled his stirring stick out to gauge how the tar dripped back into the pail then stirred again, “Sex is easy son, it’s the lovin’ that’s hard—and they ain’t the same thing—least in the beginnin’ they ain’t.”

I stopped stirring and watched my reflection come back in the pail of tar, “How do you know when a girl wants to, you know, do it?”

“—dunno for sure—seems mostly wimmens hold back, say no at first an’ you cain’t ever force it on ’em—but sometimes they refuse ’cause they think theys supposed to even though theys willin’. I don’t reckon they want a boy to think theys too easy or sumthin’.”

“But how do you know for sure?”

“I dunno—guess you gotta push ’em a little—not too much, just enough to give ’em room to give in proper like. Some of ’em like to give in proper first.”

“So no doesn’t always mean no?”

“The first one can be like that, but if’n you push a little and they say no agin then they probly mean it—but at least you know where things are.”

The tar was finally right and Archie went to one end of the roof and I to the other. The gurgle of it splashing onto the roof and the slosh of mops were all that broke the silence.

 

In the weeks after homecoming, the only thing I wanted was to be with Liesel. Our first fumblings in the moonlight at the limestone quarry whetted my appetite for more of her, and I was more confused each time we were alone together. It was crazy but a part of me said not to care—just take her. But I was so unsure. I wanted to have every inch of her in my hands and mouth. I wanted to smell her hair and neck and breasts and feel the parts of her move against me. I wanted her to open her arms and legs and pull me in to her—feel her skin against mine. I ached for that—I wanted that without having to care. But something in me held back. She wasn’t an apple that when the meat of it is eaten the core is tossed out the window onto the roadside. It was the core of her that I craved too and when I thought about it I realized it was the most important part of her. I couldn’t just toss that out the window and drive on.

I wanted her to want me like I wanted her and I think she did. Our intimacies budded like the jewelweed and that hurt because we both knew how fragile the seed of it was. We couldn’t not care. That would have made it easy but Liesel wasn’t easy in that way and neither was I. Our intimacies and feelings fed off each other like to and fro and without both we might as well be rutting in the muck of a barnyard without thought or feeling. I couldn’t see my way through it.

I wanted to love her and when I realized that, I knew she had the strength to wrap herself around me and make me believe that we could be more—I knew she could draw me out and it scared me because I didn’t know how to do it. But she knew and she knew how and maybe I wouldn’t worry about that and she could make it work for us. It was all right there in her smile—the whole world was right there in her smiling eyes that pulled me in to her like a magnet. She knew me and was ready to give herself over and that had never happened to me—ever. How could I not care? She wasn’t a notch on a bedpost and I didn’t want that and that’s when I knew I loved her. It didn’t come easy.

Archie was right, ‘Sex is easy, it’s lovin’ that’s hard.”

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© 2015 Doug Elwell. Doug Elwell writes short stories and memoir that feature characters, lore and culture of the rural Midwest. His work has occasionally appeared in his home town newspaper, The Oakland Independent, two editions of Ignite Your Passion: Kindle Your Inner Spark, True Stories Well Told, Every Writer’s Resource and Midwestern Gothic. He can be contacted via email at: djelwell@mchsi.com.

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Early Memories

A writer in one of my memoir classes a couple of years ago posed an interesting writing prompt from her  training as a psychologist: “Recover three of your earliest memories with a feeling attached—then ask your immediate family to do the same.” Well, we won’t be trying that last part.

But here are two I came up with–

1. The light

I am maybe 3 or 4 years old. Every night I am tucked in my narrow bed in my little bedroom at 107 Audubon Drive, in Carmel. The head of my bed is against the wall opposite the window that faces the street. There is a streetlight outside.

There are curtains covering my window. When they were hung, someone missed the first hook at the center on one side, so they do not meet perfectly. Therefore, a beam of light from that streetlight enters my room and strafes across my pillow every night. Every night I fight it, turning my head left or right, scrunching to one or the other side of my little bed, to escape the relentless knife-blade of artificial light.

One day—in a fit of spring cleaning, probably—my mother takes down the curtains, washes them, and re-hangs them. This time, they meet properly. The beam of light no longer enters my room. I can finally sleep.

I feel surprise and wonder. Who knew that things in this world were mutable?

2. The Kitselman Party

I wake from sleep to find myself surrounded by fur. Lush fur above me, below me, silky fur to my left and right, plush feathery fur between my fingers still balled from sleep, a universe consisting entirely of delightful fur.

In the distance I hear adult conversation, the giggle of ice cubes, music from the record player. In this moment I am absolutely perfectly content and happy. I am so young I don’t even know how to get down from here and go find the people if I wanted to.

Here’s what I didn’t know at that moment: that my family arrived at this party with me asleep in someone’s arms; that someone laid me still sleeping among the fur coats piled on the pool table. I wouldn’t even remember this moment if a story hadn’t been told over and over again, about how my older brother Andy, himself no more than 4 or 5, spilled the crème de menthe on the carpet at the party at the Kitselman mansion. In that retelling I remembered but did not speak of my own memory of that night, of the loveliness of waking among the furs, secure and unbothered.

I have often wondered, as an adult, if that moment gave rise to my obsessive love of my stuffed animals. And if that moment gave birth to a certain (entirely unjustified) internal security that I will always have what I need in life; that I do not need to worry inordinately about tomorrow.

kitselman

These are good gifts from early memory: surprise and wonder, security and optimism.

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Who doesn’t love a good reading list?

Submissions to “True Stories Well Told” have slowed recently (hint, hint) so perhaps its time for some inspiration. Who doesn’t love a good reading list?  Here’s my suggested reading for memoirists.

 

diversity-education-book-treeGood books on writing memoirs:

  • Your Life As Story: Writing the New Autobiography, Tristine Rainer, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1997
  • Breathe Life Into Your Life Story, Dawn and Morris Thurston, Signature Books, 2007
  • The Memoir Project: A Throughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life, Marion Roach Smith, Hatchette, 2011
  • You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, Lee Gutkind, Lifelong Books, 2012
  • Braving the Fire, A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss, Jessica Handler, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

 Good memoirs to enjoy and study:

  • How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran (funny feminist rant)
  • Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Novella Carpenter
  • Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, Gabrielle Hamilton, Random House, 2011

Each of these is worth study because they don’t simply walk through life from childhood forward, but rather, follow themes within a life, demonstrating how memoir can differ from autobiography.

Terrible Childhood tales well told:

  • Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt, Touchstone Books, 1996
  • Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman, Simon and Schuster, 2012 
  • Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood, Kate Simon, Penguin,199
  • Glass Castle: A Memoir, Jeannette Walls, Scribners, 2006
  • The Road from Coorain, Jill Ker Conway, Borzoi Books, 1989

I’ve always been a fan of the Terrible Childhood memoir. Come to find out, my childhood wasn’t that bad.

Great Books to read in pairs:

Rick Bragg:

  • All Over but the Shoutin’, Vintage, 1998,
    Ava’s Man, Vintage, 2002,

The first is a tribute to Bragg’s long-suffering mother, and life in the south in the latter half of the 20th century; the second is the story of Bragg’s maternal grandmother.

Haven Kimmel:

  • A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana, Broadway, 2002
  • She Got Up Off the Couch and Other Heroic Acts from Mooresville, Indiana, (Free Press, 2007)

The first demonstrates you CAN make a boring small town childhood funny and interesting, while the second reveals the awful stuff she didn’t go into in the first book, proving you don’t HAVE to tell all, but people often love it when you do.

Alexandra Fuller:

  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Random House, 2003
  • Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Penguin Books, 2012

Fuller’s two books bear a certain resemblance to Haven Kimmel’s two books in that both pairs start with a book written from a child’s point of view followed by a book that covers the same events and people but with an adult’s insights.

Michael Perry:

  • Population: 485, HarperCollins, 2003.
  • Visiting Tom, HarperCollins, 2013,

How to keep writing after you’ve used up all your material. Perry’s first success came with Population: 485’s exploration of sense of place and the age-0ld question of “can you go home again,” further explored in his subsequent books Truck and Coop. With Visiting Tom, Perry recognizes that he’s mined all he can from his own material, and moves on to the neighbors.

This list evolves over time and welcomes suggestions. What are YOU reading?

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