Yes- I am reading some novels right now but I’m heavily submerged in craft, since I’m teaching it. My biggest gem lately emerged: Robin Hemley’s Turning Life into Fiction. Why is this text such a big deal? It doesn’t only apply to fiction. In fact, I applied its exercises to Memoir.
The “M” word. It’s fiction backwards. It’s reconstruction of a story given only half of the painter’s palette. So why do we continue to write memoir? I believe for the same reason we write fiction: to send a message to the souls who need it.
Hemley is practical in his direction. He describes the focus in your writing as the “handle.” In fact, “Anything can be a handle. What we’re ultimately after is focus. Your handle is simply your focusing element.” But besides the handle, Sue Silverman (of Fearless Confessions – More of this in a later post) calls this authenticity “writing along the bone.” The story of our lives emerges from our bones. Both Hemley and Silverman refer to that focus but also that it might not emerge “organically” until after you have written the entire memoir.
I always direct students to go to the emotion and exploit it until drained. Go to the bone. Or it doesn’t have to be dark. Go to what you remember. Hemley champions mining the childhood “places” of our past. He writes, “Lift your grandmother’s teapot off the mantle – you know, the teapot that played ‘Tea for Two’ when you lifted it. Notice the aromas. What’s your grandmother cooking? Take a peek outside. It’s a fair day, take a walk. Go through the neighborhood. Wave to your friends and acquaintances. It’s been a long time.”
This might seem like memoir 101, but go and do it. You’ll be surprised at what you get by remembering one room in particular.
Robin Hemley is at LitFest Lighthouse this week. If you can get a chance to see him, please do.