Country vs. Laura Shaine Cunningham

Welcome Shewriters to bloggerball 7!

Spoiler alert: Country wins.  So often, when writing memoir, writers around me at writer’s conferences ask, How do I make my memoir less boring?  What I hear time and time again is that to write your own life, you almost have to be better than a fiction writer because you have to blend your real life incidents into fiction like prose.  Story.  Plot.  Character.  They all apply deeply to memoir.

Laura Shaine Cunningham has got the proverbial key in her novel “A Place in the Country.”  I study her light hand because my memoir continues to stop me at junctures with leaden sentences.  My stomach aches like I’ve eaten every last bite of a meatball sandwich.  I want my prose to stay with the story goal, but move to the overarching theme.  How to do such an elusive act?

Cunningham’s chapters begin like an arty essay thesis because the rest of the chapter continues the posed question.  In chapter six she begins:

An “out-of-town” college.  The expression lured me as “sleepaway camp” had–another pull north toward the great unknown of the country.  I didn’t quite grasp the distinction of an Ivy League college, but I wanted the Ivy.  I was determined to outdistance my fellow high school graduates, at least geographically.  Most of my friends were set to attend City–City College, a short subway ride away, in Harlem.  I longed to go farther.

This particular chapter, after our main character, because she is only a hyperbolic hybrid of herself, grows debilitating poison Ivy welts and goes back to the city, defeated.  Country 2, Cunningham Zero.  This passage shows us the goals, and unfolds a character who’s ideals burst over and over.  Theme is continued in physical manifestations.  In this case, the ivy league turns into poison in her hands.  The city is her home.

I can only aspire to such a light hand.   When each chapter asks a gripping question, and then sticks to answering with imagery and action, I’m hooked.  Through studying Miss Cunningham’s scenes, I’m getting closer to that elusive hand.  I’m learning to leave half the meatball sandwich on my plate.

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11 responses to “Country vs. Laura Shaine Cunningham

  1. Hi, I’m stopping by for the SheWrites blog hop. It’s nice to meet you. I hope you are having a great weekend.

  2. If your memoir is anything like this blog post, I think you’re onto something 🙂 Thanks for sharing, and all the best.

  3. OK…you’ve got my attention. I am a memoir writer and, of course, am taken in by your perspectives and by the suggestion that Laura Shaine Cunningham is worthy of perusal for writers like myself. Have already gone to Amazon to check out the price of “A Place in The Country”.
    I stopped by your site as part of Meg’s Blogger Ball and found much more than expected…thanks so much

  4. Stopping by on the Blogs Ball, and I’ve added you to my SheWrites blog page

  5. What a great way to express “heavy” – we’ve all been there with that same sandwich and could feel exactly what you meant 🙂

  6. You’re exactly right about writing memoir–it has to read better than fiction. When I wrote mine some years ago I initially thought that my more metaphoric writing style would detract from the fact that it was a memoir. In the end, it all came together really well and I’m grateful that I stayed true to my voice.

    I’m driving by from SheWrites. It’s great to meet you!

  7. HI! This is Laura Shaine Cunningham, author of the memoirs “A Place in the Country” and “Sleeping Arrangements”. Thank you for the lovely compliments on my writing. I am now writing a third memoir. and I am also Artistic Director of The Memoir Institute and offer memoir mentoring & editing services. so stay in touch at info@memoirinstitute.org or my personal email:
    laurashaine@gmail.com

    • Wow. I’m grinning ear-to-ear. Our little Beacon, NY library reading circle chose your “Sleeping Arrangements” last summer and I was hooked. Your writing inspires me and since I’m a Denver transplant, I appreciate all of the New York dichotomy you so smartly reveal. Thank you for stopping by and I will check out your Memoir Institute!!!

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