Memoir or Revenge

Memoir is among my favorite work to read and write. Apples_01
No matter how ordinary, there is something quite wonderful about a life well lived, well loved and well told. That’s a great thing about memoir; interesting stories are not the exclusive domain of the powerful, rich or famous.

Writing memoir makes you vulnerable. Like all writers, you put yourself out there as an artist, for people read and critique. When you write memoir, you also put your life out there. You invite people to read about the choices you made, your mistakes and your successes. Telling your tale opens the door to admiration, condemnation and everything that lies between.

But what about the people you met along the way? While you choose to tell your story, your family, friends, colleagues and enemies didn’t. They didn’t ask you to bare their souls or share their wins and warts. So … should you write about these people?

Of course, you should. The people you’ve lived with, played with and worked with are an integral part of the stories that make up your life. Instrumental in shaping you, it would be impossible to tell your stories without them. If you enjoyed an idyllic childhood, a perfect adolescence, wonderful marriage and children, stellar job history and, and, and … well no problem. But few of us live perfect lives; we have good years and bad. We meet a multitude of people, remember some of them fondly and some we’d like to forget. So what about the painful stories and difficult relationships? Should you write about them too?

Still yes, but take care. Good memoir is rarely, if ever, about revenge. If your goal is to finally get back at everyone who ever did you wrong; think again. Good memoir uses real events to illustrate universal themes. Revenge is not a great theme.

No one likes a bully and a memoir dripping with vengeance will turn you into one. Ironic isn’t? Your diatribe against the mean kids, the evil boss or despicable whoever can turn you into bully. Memoir is your story, told from your point of view. Guilty or not, the people you denounce cannot defend themselves or give an account of their actions.

Survival, perseverance, fortitude, discovery, forgiveness, finding joy, finding friendship and love, these themes inspire readers. Instead of ranting and raving at your evil stepmother, share your story of surviving that poison apple. Tell us about the friends who helped you, the inner strength that guided you and the love who saved you. Focusing on each and every detail of when, how and where you were maligned is not nearly as interesting as how you not only survived but flourished.

I’m sure there are exceptions; there are always exceptions. If you have a razor sharp wit, your evil stepmother tales or bad boss stories could make you a star at parties. If you’re very good, I suppose you might land a column, create an award-winning blog or become a standup comedian. If you name names, no matter how clever, it’s still revenge. Whether it’s over cocktails, on-line or in print, the communication is one-way and people you blast can’t defend themselves.

When you write about someone, the story, and how you choose to tell it, is as much about you as your antagonist. A revenge tell-all will show a poor, pitiful or spiteful you. Wouldn’t you rather share the thriving you with the world?

It’s okay if you’re not there yet. Several years ago, most, if not all, aspects of my life were pretty much in shambles. My brother sent me an email with the simple words: Everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end. The story isn’t over until you come to terms with it, maybe learn from it, and find closure or let it go. Take all the time you need to find your strength and peace. Then, if you still want to, you can share the entire journey, the story from start to finish.

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Susan Nye is a corporate dropout turned writer, blogger and teacher. She is a regular contributor to a variety of New England magazines and author of two short stories published in the NH Pulp Fiction Anthology Series. Feel free to visit her award-winning blog Susan Nye – Around the Table. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

Writing Memoir – It’s Not All about You

Everyone has a story to tell. Are you ready to tell yours?

Susie_John_Brenda_1962_03I love memoir; the intimacy of it, the truth of it. Memoir shares a life and time. Good memoir is both more and less than a history lesson or autobiography. The writer’s thoughts and feelings unfold with the story to reveal something larger.

More than simple facts, memoir shares the writer’s interpretation of events. My sister and brother are often amazed at both my memory for detail and my bald-faced lies. A poor, pitiful middle child, these are my truths and I wear them with pride. Each of us sees the world through a unique set of filters. There is no single reality. Facts are relative because our experiences and observations are filtered through our individual history, strengths and foibles.

For the past two years, I have been leading a memoir writing group. These writers’ experiences and observations span more than six, seven or eight decades so they have an almost infinite stockpile of topics. As they read their stories every week, I suspect that their eighth grade English teachers beam down on them with pride. Technically, their writing has been solid from day one. However, while those technical skills continue to improve, their immeasurable growth has been in their ability to identify and share stories that are bigger than they are.

Good memoir shares an event or series of events while simultaneously illustrating a universal theme. A camping vacation is more than logistics and an itinerary; it is a story of family love. A business deal is more than widgets in exchange for dollars; it reveals the good, the bad and the ugly of human nature. An illness in the family, physical or mental, reveals our fortitude, fragility or both, usually both.

No matter how ordinary it may, at first, appear on the surface, a powerful story will reveal something beyond a anecdote or colorful character. As you sit down to write a story, draft it, edit it and polish it, ask yourself, “What is this story about?” If it’s a good story the answer will be more than, “It is a story about the summer I spent with my aunt.” It might be something like: “This is a story about determination as illustrated by my aunt’s campaign to save the wetlands.”

The first story could easily devolve into a list of activities from a not particularly interesting discussion with a governmental agency to a hot, dull afternoon on a picket line. If you are witty and clever, the stories will be fun and entertaining. In the second approach, you will share what you learned from and admire about your aunt. It may even show how that summer helped transform you into the person you are today. This story will have depth and meaning and it can still be witty and clever.

So yes, memoir is personal but it’s not all about you. Good memoir goes beyond events and personal musings to share a universal truth. To resonate with others, the story must be bigger than a single individual and transcend the writer’s life. There are many truths to share; love and loss, courage and cowardice, family and friendship and more. A whole lot more.


Susan Nye
is a corporate dropout turned writer, blogger and teacher. She is a regular contributor to a variety of New England magazines and author of two short stories published in the NH Pulp Fiction Anthology Series. Feel free to visit her blog Susan Nye – Around the Table

© Susan W. Nye, 2014

Live Free or Ride! – Try Your Hand at the Next Installment of the New Hampshire Pulp Fiction

The New Yorker not returning your calls? Likewise The Paris Review? Don’t despair; New Hampshire Pulp Fiction might just be your ticket to fame if not fortune. Okay, when it comes to fame, make that at least a few, local minutes of it.

The brainchild of Rick Broussard, editor of New Hampshire Magazine and George Geers, owner of Plaidswede Publishing, three volumes of NH Pulp Fiction have already been published. Another is due out in February. Their goal is to produce enjoyable, highly readable collections of short stories while providing a publishing opportunity for both established and new writers. All stories take place, at least in part, in New Hampshire.

Having stories in two of the books, Live Free or Die, Die, Die and Live Free or Sci FiLFDDD_02I can testify that the project has been both a lot of fun and personally rewarding. While I had published numerous magazine articles, Murder on the Mountain was my first foray into fiction. It was a thrill to get the thumbs up from Rick and then see the book with my story in the library and bookstores. (The books make great Christmas presents!) The public readings have provided a nice opportunity to get out of my home office and meet other writers. Not to mention, the friends and family I brought along treated me to dinner afterwards to celebrate the achievement.

The next edition of New Hampshire Pulp Fiction was recently announced and Rick is eagerly awaiting submissions. After zombies, detectives, science fiction and romance, it was time to give western pulp fiction a turn. However, it’s hard to ride the range in a state with few, if any, cowboys and tall pines instead of tumbleweeds. Instead of importing Tex and Rowdy to the Granite State, Live Free or Ride only asks that writers include that quintessential vehicle of the Wild West, the Concord Coach, among their cast of characters

For lots more information and Submission Specs, visit the New Hampshire Pulp Fiction blog.

Good luck!

Susan Nye is a corporate dropout turned writer, blogger and teacher. She is a regular contributor to a variety of New England magazines and author of two the NH Pulp Fiction short stories. Feel free to visit her blog Susan Nye – Around the Table for seasonal stories and recipes.  

© Susan W. Nye, 2013

Creating Hyperlinks

In some recent trips through the blogosphere, I have discovered that  many bloggers have yet to figure out hyperlinks. If you’re one of them, read on!

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“How easy is this!?!”

I thought with delight when I began  blogging almost four years ago.  Fortunately or unfortunately, the more I blogged, the more I read up on blogging protocol. That’s when I discovered that while not difficult, blogging was deceptively simple.

There was all this nagging discussion about creating proper hyperlinks. It was nagging because real bloggers used proper hyperlinks and I wasn’t. In my early blogging days, I entered all my posts in visual (WordPress) or compose (Blogger) mode. Wasn’t that good enough? I hesitated to even think about HTML.

Happily, the cyber gods smiled on me. She-who-built-my-website dumped me in a fit of melodramatic ire. The story is both long and quite dull so I won’t share it with you but, from one day to the next, there was no one to add my weekly newsletter to my website. I was sunk … but not for long.

After pouting for a few months, enter Meghan. Just out of college, a technical wiz and teacher at heart, Meghan agreed to update to my site and then teach me how to do it myself. (Something I’d wanted all along but She-who-built-my-website did not believe in DIY.)

I am not a fan of any kind of programming. It is so exact. One < or ” out of place and boom, the whole thing falls apart. In spite of my almost allergic reaction to the meticulous placement of commands, I managed to get the hang of it. In a couple of hours Meghan declared me competent. I’d learned enough HTML to make my weekly updates.

It took a while but it finally dawned on me that if I could add a hyperlink to my website, I could add a hyperlink to my blog. It was simply a matter of cut and paste. You can too.

How do you create a hyperlink? There are two possibilities:

You can open a new window (definitely preferred) or replace the current page with a new one (not a great idea because your readers might not return to your post).

To open a new window:

Go to your blog editor.

If you’ve been fearfully wondering what that HTML tab is all about, it’s time to find out. Throw caution to the wind and click on the HTML tab.

Now simply type in the link as follows:

<a href=”https://nhwn.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/friday-fun-why-did-you-start-blogging/&#8221; target=”_blank”>New Hampshire Writer’s Network’s latest Friday Fun!</a>

And voila …

New Hampshire Writer’s Network’s latest Friday Fun! will appear on your post! And when you click on New Hampshire Writer’s Network’s latest Friday Fun!, a new window will open with our latest Friday Fun post.

Now you could simply add https://nhwn.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/friday-fun-why-did-you-start-blogging/ to your text … but isn’t that ugly? Especially in the middle of your expertly crafted essay?

If you want to send your readers to a new page and simultaneously close this one … then you type

<a href=”https://nhwn.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/friday-fun-why-did-you-start-blogging/”>New Hampshire Writer’s Network’s latest Friday Fun!</a>

(But again, this type of link is not recommended.)

So again, here’s the simple template for you to cut and paste:

<a href=”paste the url here” target=”_blank”>paste the link text here</a>

Now that you know how to create a hyperlink – go at it. Just don’t go overboard. All links should make sense and add not detract to your story or distract the reader from your message.

 

Susan Nye is a corporate dropout, writer and chef. Feel free to visit her food or photo blog. © Susan Nye, 2012

When a Publisher Asks for Nonexclusive Rights to One of Your Articles …

We recently had a bit of excitement behind the scenes at New Hampshire Writers’ Network. The publisher of a new textbook asked Jamie if they could reprint one of her L2W-W2L posts. Her very popular 10 Ways Journaling Makes You a Better Writer to be exact.

This was no small self-publishing effort. The publishers were planning a first print run of 150,000. More good news, they were not looking for exclusive rights and were willing to pay. Without suggesting a figure, Jamie was asked to submit an invoice. Maybe they forgot or maybe they were being coy but the company never specified a figure. The word token was bandied about in describing said payment.

As we often do, the Writers quickly held a virtual discussion via email to exchange a few ideas. After a few woot-woots! for Jamie, her good work and good fortune, we all agreed that token could mean anything. So first and foremost, we agree if anyone offers $$$ but asks for an invoice without agreeing a figure, go back and ask for a figure first and send the invoice later. Jamie was glad she asked and was well satisfied with their answer.

During our email discussion we shared some of our experiences with nonexclusive contracts to help Jamie evaluate their answer and proposed payment. In case you are wondering what we came up with … here goes:

Syndication is the ultimate in non-exclusivity. You sell your work to many, if you are lucky thousands, of publications. Maybe you have a gardening or technology column that you’ve been selling to your local newspaper for peanuts. If that’s the case, you may be thinking of syndicating or selling the column to every newspaper within a 1,000 mile (or more) radius and websites from here to infinity and beyond.

When you syndicate your work you retain the rights and the individual payments are small. If you self-syndicate you can expect payments of $10-15 per article. If you work with an agency, they will take a percentage but don’t begrudge them their cut. If they are any good, they have considerably more marketing, sales and admin muscle than you have on your own. You may make less per insert but you should more than make it up in the volume.

But what about what about Jamie’s situation … non-exclusive rights to an article? A non-exclusive contract saves a publisher money so many don’t mind if you re-sell it. Of course there is a catch. (There’s always a catch.) While a text book may pluck articles from blogs and magazines, most magazines want first dibs to your work.

They don’t mind if you re-sell but their contracts usually stipulate exclusive first North American Serial Rights. The period of exclusivity will be stated in the contract, usually three, six or twelve months. At the end of the exclusivity period you are free to re-sell the material to another client.

However, it can be difficult to re-sell a piece without a significant rewrite or new hook. As much as the next editor loves your idea, chances are her contract will also insist on exclusive first North American Serial Rights. Her ardor for your story will quickly cool when she learns that another magazine ran it verbatim six months ago.

But don’t despair, you’ve done some research and put a story together. You can always rework and reuse parts of the original story. Plus quotes and information that didn’t make it into the final version might come in handy in a new story. While it’s not instant money, it’s better than starting from scratch.

For this short-term exclusivity, regional magazines are apt to pay 25-50 cents per word. However as little as 10 cents per word (and unfortunately sometimes even lower) is not unheard of. On the plus side, national publications will usually pay more (and sometimes much more).

What’s your experience with non-exclusive contracts? We’d love to hear from you?

Susan Nye is a corporate dropout turned writer. Her favorite topics include food, family, marketing, small business and green living. Feel free to visit her food blog Susan Nye – Around the Table or Susan Nye 365 her day in a life photoblog.
© Susan Nye, 2012