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Five Tips for Getting Published in 2016

Question: Want to Get Published in 2016?
Answer: Yes. Then Check Out Pamela Jane’s 5 Great Tips
Pamela Jane sees the world in terms of tips, or at least that’s the way it seems. I love how she distills information and experiences and provides readers with terrific tips. If you are moving forward with your memoir and hope to get published in 2016, then be sure to read this article.

Pamela Jane

This is the first of a two-part series on strategies for publishing your memoir.  In this post, we’ll examine ways to find an agent or publisher, while December’s post will focus on new developments in the rapidly-expanding field of self-publishing.
Finding an agent or a publisher for your memoir can be a daunting task, but not an impossible one!  Assuming you have revised and polished your memoir to the best of your ability, following are five tips to help you get your book into print and to your readers:
1.  Agents online
There are several online resources for finding agents, but I have found AgentQuery by far to be the best.  As AgentQuery writes on its website:
“AgentQuery.com offers one of the largest searchable databases of literary agents on the web—a treasure trove of reputable, established literary agents seeking writers just like you…”
AgentQuery has recently expanded the website to include success stories, including successful queries, so it truly is a treasure trove of information and resources.  You can do a quick search, or a full (more detailed) search on the website for memoir agents.  You will be able to see what a partciular agent is looking for, his or her specific interests or tastes, as well as exactly what to submit (query, synopsis, sample chapters) and how to submit.  Many agents accept queries via email.  The website also features formatting tips and a free RSS feed for agent updates.
2.  Books listing literary agents
My two favorites are Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents (the 2016 issue is now available) and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents: Who They Are, What They Want, How to Win Them Over.  These books are overflowing with information to help you in preparing your manuscript, and finding an agent or a publisher.
3.  Small and University Presses
You can Google small and university presses and search for current listings; an excellent one I found recently is published by NewPages.  The current year’s listing of Writer’s Digest Writer’s Market also lists dozens of small and university presses.
4. Writer’s Conferences and Workshops
By attending a writer’s conference or workshop you not only get a chance to chat with or pitch to agents and editors, but the opportunity to have your work considered by them (in other words leap over the you-have-to-find-an-agent-to get a publisher-but-you-need-to-be-a-published-author-to-secure-an-agent conundrum). Here are a just a few listings of conferences I found online; you can find many more.
ShawGuides to Writing Conferences and Workshops
National Association of Memoir Writers
5.  Do Not Give Up
This tip is the most important of all. Do not give up.  This must become your mantra!  If you can’t find an agent, find a small publisher, and if you can’t find a small publisher, consider self-publishing.  Choosing one of those things to pursue doesn’t mean you can’t simultaneously pursue the others.

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney starred in a series of films about kids bringing their show to Broadway
There’s an old Midwestern saying:  “It’s one thing to put on a church musical, it’s another to bring it to Broadway.”  Bright lights and fame are seductive, but the good news is that today there are more stages or venues than ever before to see your memoir in print.
Don’t forget to check back next month for the latest information and news on self-publishing, and my interview with author Angela M. Sanders.

Pamela Jane is the author of over twenty-five children’s books. Her new Christmas book, Little Elfie One (HarperCollins, illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning) has just been released.
Here’s a review from Booklist:
In recent years, many picture books have used the structure, rhythm, and cadence of the old counting rhyme beginning “Over in the meadow,” but few writers have come up with a version that works as well as this cheerful text… A magical visit to Santa’s home base on Christmas Eve.”—Booklist
Pamela’s book for adults with co-author Deborah Guyol, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen Classic was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Booklist and BBC America, and has just been released in paperback.  Pamela has published essays and short stories in “The Antigonish Review,” “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” and “Literary Mama.”
Her memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing:  A Writer’s Story will be out in February 2016.

[UPDATE: Pamela Jane's memoir is now available for pre-release purchase. Be among the first to get your copy. Just click on this link.]
Five Essential Tips for Developing Characters in Your Memoir
Pamela Jane

Full disclosure: my characters, whether in fiction or non-fiction, tend to arrive alive and well, or DOA, and I have not had much luck in resuscitating the DOA ones.
At least that’s what I’ve always believed. However, through writing my memoir and closely studying other memoirs (and novels) I’ve learned there are specific strategies a writer can employ to bring a character to life (and even memoir characters are “characters” in the sense that you recreate them for your story).  Looking back, I think that without realizing it, I had stumbled upon these strategies when I succeeded in breathing life into a character.
Following are five tips for making your characters come to life, followed by three writing exercises to help you put the tips into practice.
Tip #1 The thumbnail sketch
By using one or two striking details to describe your character – clothing, gestures, idiosyncrasies – you can bring her vividly alive in the reader’s mind.
In A.L. Rowse’s memoir, A Cornishman at Oxford, he paints a portrait of his fellow undergraduates with a few deft strokes, such as in the following passage:
“… a year senior, Robin Burn, became a good friend. Full, even in those days, of fascinating and original ideas about early Greek history, he was also a devoted mountaineer and…was for ever climbing about the roofs of colleges.”
Simply stating that someone likes mountain climbing doesn’t elicit a particularly striking or unique image.  But adding that he is “forever climbing about the roofs of colleges” creates the impression of an eccentric and engaging young man who stands out on the page.
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From the Memoir "The Night Climbers of Cambridge" by Whipplesnaith
Tip #2 Rounding out your character
It’s fine to demand that we round out our characters, but how, exactly, are we supposed to accomplish this?
Most characters – even evil ones – usually have a contrasting hidden or less visible side (I believe that purely evil people exist, but that’s a subject for another essay). You can round out an unsympathetic character by revealing a universal dimension to his or her personality, something that everyone can relate to. The same goes for a sympathetic character. By presenting a darker or even a dippy aspect of your character, you make her more real. People are complex creatures, and your major characters should reflect the internal conflicts and contradictions that make us human.
Tip #3 Exaggerate one aspect of your character
Even in a memoir, it’s okay to highlight one trait in a character while diminishing others. After all, in life each of us sees an individual differently, according to our own personalities and perceptions. Adept storytellers intuitively cut out what is extraneous to a story while emphasizing or exaggerating what makes the tale funny, or sad, or memorable in some way. It’s the same with characters; highlight aspects of the character that serve your narrative.
Tip #4 Juxtapose contrasting personality traits
My stepmother, Pauline, was a gifted pianist, scientist, and gardener. But she was also wacky; juxtaposing her competence and iron-like discipline with her particular brand of wackiness made her more human, and my story more entertaining.
The next and last tip relates to you as the character.

Tip #5 Show your reaction at the time
Let yourself be in the moment you are writing about. I call it “long ago in the here and now.”
Following is an example from my forthcoming memoir. In this excerpt I am a young newly-wed, desperately trying to escape our apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I have just come across an ad for a country cottage for rent ninety miles north of New York City, but the ad is a month old and I’m sure it’s too late:
New York was overflowing with couples trying to escape their rat-and-roach-infested apartments on the Lower East Side and move to a country cottage, I imagined. This one must have been snapped up immediately. But I called anyway. Miraculously, the cottage was still available. There was only one snag.
“Lots of people have called, but their energy wasn’t right,” the owner told me on the phone. “I could tell just by talking to them.”
“How’s our energy?” I asked anxiously.
“I’ll have to meditate on it.”
I hurried off to Martine’s tall handsome cousin, Jim.
“Jim, you have to do voodoo to fix our energy.”
Jim scowled. “Voodoo is serious stuff. It’s nothing to mess with.”
“Please? We have to get this country cottage!”
I don’t know what dark rituals Jim performed, but later that night the owner called back to tell us the country cottage was ours.
In writing that section, I had to be who I was; a gullible young woman who will do anything to escape the city.  Of course, sometimes in memoirs we do reflect with our older, current (extremely wise of course) selves, but most of the time we have to be just who we were.  For your memoir, that’s exactly who you want to be.
Following are three writing exercises to further help you with character development:
Writing exercise #1: The thumbnail sketch
Chose a character and describe him (or her) in two colorful sentences. Make one sentence something visible, such as hair style or a way of dressing. The other sentence might be something physical – a gesture, tick, or mannerism. Combine these two sentences for a thumbnail sketch.
Writing exercise #2: Rounding out your characters
If you have an unsympathetic character in your story (and most of us do) make a list of her (or his) more appealing personality traits. You might describe a mean-spirited person who possesses a rich sense of humor, for instance, or a self-centered person with a surprising generous streak.
Writing exercise #3 Be in the “now” of the past
Close your eyes and mentally return to an episode in your memoir. Take your time setting the scene. Think of it as building and painting a stage set; try to recreate all the visual and sensory details as accurately as you can. Once you have the setting firmly in mind, visualize the scene unfolding around you. Feel, smell, see and hear what you did then. Notice who you are in the past, reinhabit your former self. If the scene involves another person or a conversation, have that conversation. Glance around you as you imagine it, just as you did then. Notice all the details (you may chose not write about all these, but being aware of them will enrich your recreation.)

We would love to hear your thoughts about developing character in memoir, so please leave us a comment.  And look for our post next month on how to be more you on the page!  Remember, you are a very important character in your memoir!
[Matilda's Note: If you would like feedback or suggestions for developing the characters in your memoir, Pamela Jane is available. You can even begin with just your first 10 pages to see if you have your hook and your characters already etched in the mind of the reader. You don't have to wait until you have finished your memoir to take advantage of Pamela's expertise. Click here for more information.]
Pamela Jane is the author of over twenty-five children’s books. Her new Christmas book, Little Elfie One (HarperCollins, illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning) has just been released.
Here’s a recent review:
In recent years, many picture books have used the structure, rhythm, and cadence of the old counting rhyme beginning “Over in the meadow,” but few writers have come up with a version that works as well as this cheerful text, or one that ties up so well in the end. Capturing the upbeat tone of Jane’s verse, Manning’s lovely watercolor illustrations are brimming with warmth, spontaneity, and joy. A magical visit to Santa’s home base on Christmas Eve.”—Booklist
Pamela Jane’s book for adults with co-author Deborah Guyol, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen Classic was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and BBC America.
Her memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing:  A Writer’s Story will be out in February 2016. She has also published essays and short stories in “The Antigonish Review,” “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” and “Literary Mama.”

Help I can't press the send button!

Memoir Writers Take Note: Help! I Can’t Press the “Send” Button

Post #219 – Memoir Writing – Matilda Butler

Note of Appreciation
Pamela Jane is one of those wonderful, generous writers who shares what she knows and provides tips and guidance for all of us. In last month’s blog post, Pamela posted her query letter that opened the door to a contract for her memoir. She had tweaked the letter over the months until she nailed it. Everyone knows they need a query letter if they are seeking an agent or a publisher. But most don’t know what one looks like. Pamela to the rescue.
I always tell Pamela, “You’re the Queen of Tips.” Her way of sharing involves taking what she has learned and turning it into a series of tips. Today, she tells us her own experience with sending off her finished manuscript. She has invited stories from other authors and gives us the benefit of their wisdom.
Thanks Pamela. I appreciate what you’ve shared today.
Help! I Can’t Press the “Send” Button
Pamela Jane
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Normally the “send” button is my drug of choice.  A little reckless abandonment, a hint of impulsivity, a dash of anticipated remorse – what a tasty cocktail!  There’s nothing quite as exciting as completing a children’s book or a personal essay, researching the best editor to submit to, and hitting the “send” button.  But when it came to submitting the final draft of my memoir manuscript to my new publisher, I found myself strangely reluctant to hit that seductive button.  I practically needed an intervention to go through with it!
This is understandable; I’ve lived with and in my memoir for many years.  Not only did I mentor my younger self through writing my story, but the writing process mentored me in turn, providing lessons on writing and life I could never have learned in a classroom or a therapy session.  Through writing my memoir I discovered who I was, and who and what had shaped me into that person.  The past become my “now” – the moment I lived in and cherished.  But the memoir was finished, and sitting at my computer with my hand posed above the “send” button, I felt a sense of palpable loss at letting go of a vital link to myself and my past.
So how do you survive pressing the “send” button on your memoir. Following are three tips.
Tip #1 You Can Always Resend!
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You can always resend!
If you receive constructive criticism or suggestions on your memoir (or query) or even rejections, you can always revise and resend.  Nothing is forever, except tweaking what you’ve written – and even that comes to an end when your book is published.
Tip #2 You’ve not Giving Up Your Child; You’re just entering into a different relationship with it
Once your memoir is accepted, and publication underway you will be initiating a new relationship to your book.  You will want to promote it, tell others about it, give readings, possibly create a website or book trailer.  You’ve gotten it out of you; now it’s time to get it out into the world.
Tip #3 You can turn your energies to something else
Once your child is out in the world, you can actually turn your energies to something else!  That’s liberating, when you think of it.  And before long you’ll be pressing the “Send” button on something entirely new!
Tips from Other Authors
I was curious about how other writers felt about sending out their books and stories, so I asked around.  Like the writers themselves, the answers were entertaining, funny, and enlightening.  Here is what prolific children’s author and indefatigable sender Kay Winters, wrote:
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For a writer, pressing the send button is like…
Sending your kindergartner off
on that big yellow bus
with other children
who are happy, sad,
boisterous, quiet,
leaders or followers.

After five years
of nurturing, correcting,
rejoicing, repairing,
delighting, despairing

Now comes the  waiting…

The endless…  toe tapping waiting.

For the big yellow bus
and the special passenger.
to return with a verdict.

All of us who are writers
who have pushed the Send Button
know this
and yet we keep on.
Just like the 5 year old…
We keep risking, hoping growing.

Kay Winters…who pressed the Send Button, once again, last Friday.
Kay Winters is author of 22 fiction, non-fiction books for children ages 4-14. Visit Kay’s website
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Author Deborah Heiligman (deborahheiligman.com) had this to say about her award-winning young-adult book, Charles and Emma:  The Darwins’ Leap of Faith:
I was scared to press send with Charles and Emma. I called my agent, Ken, and said, “Will you hold my hand while I press send?” He said, “Deborah, I’m in the doctor’s office, I’m on the examining table, I’m NAKED.” I said, “Oh.” Pause. “But will you still hold my hand while I press send?” He said, “Sure.”
I want to thank Kay and Deborah for sharing their stories. We send our books out into the world with hope, trepidation, and courage.  Then we create stories from the responses.  Even rejections are potential material for stories.  (For entertaining rejection stories, visit my website at Pamela’s funniest rejection stories.
More About Pamela:

Pamela Jane is the author of over twenty-five children’s books published by Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Harper, and others.  Her new children’s book Little Elfie One, illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning, will be out from Harper in 2015. Her book (for adults) Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen Classic was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and BBC America, among other places.
Pamela’s memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing:  A Writer’s Story, will be published in 2016. For more information, visit her at Pamelajane.com or Prideandprejudiceandkitties.com.
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"Little Elfie One" Pamela Jane's new Christmas book (Harper, ages 4-7)
[Note from Matilda: Here's additional information on Pamela Jane's new children's book.]
Little Elfie One
Sequel to Little Goblins Ten
HarperCollins Children’s Books
978-0-06-220673-2 hardcover
Illustrated by Jane Manning
Ages 4-8; Grades PreK-3
Coming in September 2015 -
Pre-order from Amazon
“Way up in the North
Where the reindeer run
A Big mommy elf
Called her little elfie one.”
“Santa comes tomorrow!”
“Hooray!” cried the one.
And he leaped and he laughed
Where the reindeer run.
“The classic children’s song “Over in the Meadow” moves to the North Pole in this Christmas-themed interpretation…Manning’s illustrations are simply irresistible, with appealing characters and strong compositions on each spread…this special story will be read or sung over in the library, over in the classroom, and over in the family room, next to the Christmas tree.”—Kirkus Reviews
The creators of Little Goblins Ten jump from Halloween to Christmas in this polar riff on “Over in the Meadow” … Manning’s dappled watercolors treat readers to comically exaggerated images—there’s almost a hint of mischief lurking in the narrowed eyes of her characters, be they human, elf, or animal—and deliver ample Christmas spirit. Ages 4–8 — Publisher’s Weekly
And Praise for Little Goblins Ten
“Trust the team of Jane and Manning to conjure up an impressive new vision in time for Halloween.” Kirkus, Starred Review.
“The classic counting rhyme ‘Over in the Meadow’ goes spooky in this Halloween riff, which should endure well past Oct. 31.” NY Times Book Review

- See more at: http://womensmemoirs.com/memoir-writing/memoir-writers-take-note-help-i-cant-press-the-send-button/#sthash.ATqpzHNS.dpuf
Memoir Writing Advice from Shakespeare and Four Other Authors

By Pamela Jane BellRegular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently finishing her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

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1.  Isak Dinesen:  Don’t wait for the perfect frame of mind to begin writing
“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, without faith and without hope…suddenly the work will find itself.–” Isak Dinesen.
When I searched on-line for the above quote just now, I found that the words “without faith and without hope” had been deleted, as though they detracted from what Dinesen is saying.  But to me, those words are what make the quote so heartening.  We can get ourselves worked up, stressed out and generally frustrated by trying to achieve the perfect positive frame of mind.  It’s reassuring to know that though a positive outlook may be a great addition, it isn’t indispensible.  It works just as well to sit down and write, regardless of mood.  The positive attitude will follow!
2.  Julie Andrews: Persevere
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Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music"
“Perseverance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth.” Julie Andrews.
I once submitted a children’s book to a major publisher who turned it down on four separate occasions.  Among the four who rejected it were the publisher, the vice president, and two senior editors.  A third editor accepted the book, and it has gone on to do very well.  But think what would have happened if I’d decided that the publisher or vice president was the ultimate authority on what would succeed, or even what to publish.
Failure simply means that things didn’t work out in one particular instance.  There is no larger meaning or significance, at least not one you should attach to it.
Of all the elements that make up success, perseverance is the most critical.  A writer with a slender talent accompanied by a robust drive will be more successful than one with a rich natural gift and no ambition.   Of course, it’s best have both if you possibly can!
3.  Toni Morrison:  Write the book you want to read
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison
Writers are people who see what is not readily visible to others.  They see humor in darkness (the light side of the dark side), the bizarre in the mundane, the possible in the dream.  Your memoir is the fullest, richest expression of yourself you can possibly put into words.  When you have finished it to your own satisfaction, you’ll find that it’s also the book you’ve always wanted to read.
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4. Anaïs Nin:  Create your own world
“I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me… I had to create a world of my own, like a climate.” Anaïs Nin
When you are writing your memoir, deciding what to put in or take out, or searching for the language to reflect your perspective and particular cast of mind, you’re creating your own world.  What could be more fun than that?  For me writing – the freedom to create my own reality – is the lollipop of life.  The rest is what you have to go through to get it.
5. Shakespeare: Tell yourself the truth
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet).
It’s impossible to be truthful to someone else when you haven’t told the truth to yourself.  But telling yourself the truth can be tricky.  We all have our own internal ministry of propaganda and if you aren’t vigilant, you can start believing your own rationalizations. George Eliot describes a chilling example of self-deception through the character of banker Nicholas Bulstrode in her novel Middlemarch:
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Shakespearean actor, Peter Jeffrey as Bulstrode in the BBC "Middlemarch"
“Mentally surrounded with that past again, Bulstrode had the same pleas…his soul had become more saturated with the belief that he did everything for God’s sake, being indifferent to it for his own.”
This is an extreme example (Bulstrode is thoroughly corrupt) but it is brilliantly perceptive precisely because he’s so recognizably human.
Once you have told yourself the truth, you can decide with confidence and clarity what to tell your readers.
Below is the trailer for Pamela Jane’s new book: Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic

- See more at: http://womensmemoirs.com/writing-and-healing/writing-and-healing-how-to-write-a-memoir-according-to-shakespeare-and-four-other-famous-artists/#sthash.DjYsYD10.dpuf
Pamela Jane is Back with Tips for Writing a Winning Memoir Query Letter
Pamela Jane has recently signed a contract for the publication of her memoir. Her’s was not an easy path and she learned a great deal from the experience. She wrote and rewrote and rewrote her query letter, learning from the feedback she received from agents and potential publishers. She finally “nailed it” and will see her book out next year.
I’m pleased that Pamela is willing to share her query letter with you as well as her top five tips she learned during the process.
Thanks Pamela.
Writing a Winning Memoir Query Letter
By Pamela Jane
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In the 1960s, my husband dreamed about starting a guerrilla war in the Catskills
I’m always interested in reading successful queries, especially memoir queries because they are so difficult to write–at least for me. I was so close to my story that it was nearly impossible for me to describe it with any degree of objectivity. It seemed easier just to write the book!
But after much revising and tweaking, I did write a query that ultimately sold my memoir, “An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story,” which will be published next year.  Enclosed below is my query and five tips to help you write your own.

“An Incredible Talent for Existing” is the story of a young woman who longs for an idyllic past even though, as a revolutionary, she believes everything that exists must be destroyed. The story is set in the 1960s, the era of love, light–and revolution. While the romantic narrator imagines a bucolic future in an old country house with children running through the dappled sunlight, her new husband plots to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills.
Their fantasies are on a collision course.
The clash of visions turns into an inner war of identities when the narrator embraces radical feminism; she and her husband are comrades in revolution but combatants in marriage. She is a woman warrior who spends her days sewing long silk dresses reminiscent of a vanished past.
After an explosive cabin fire, the narrator finds herself bereft of everything that once sheltered and defined her–material possessions, her writing, her home, and her marriage, as well as her political creed. She is terrified that, like Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot’s, Middlemarch, she will “sink unwept into oblivion.”
Unfortunately, it looks as though she already has a good head start.
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Meanwhile, I dreamed of a 19th Century country idyll (Painting by Carl Larsson)
“An Incredible Talent for Existing” describes a descent into a very particular hell, and the journey back to the world of love and work. From hearing voices that drive her crazy to writing her first children’s book on a sugar high during a glucose tolerance test, the narrator draws the reader into a turbulent personal, political and psychological adventure with wit, intimacy and humor.
Author’s Bio (included in the query)
I am the author of over twenty-five children’s books published by Houghton Mifflin, Simon and Schuster, Penguin, and others.  My newest book, Little Elfie One (Harper) will be out in September 2015. My first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen Classic, was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post and BBC America. I am a writer and editor for womensmemoirs.com, and have published short stories and essays in The Antigonish Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Literary Mama.  You can visit me at http://www.pamelajane.com or http://prideandprejudiceandkitties.com.
5 Tips for Writing Your Memoir Query:
1. Identify and Highlight the Central Conflict in Your Story
Conflict creates story, like rubbing two sticks together to spark a fire.  In my case, the following sentence embodied the main conflict:
A young woman longs for an idyllic past even though, as a revolutionary, she believes everything that exists must be destroyed.
If you are having difficulty identifying the conflict, think of your story cinematically. Close your eyes and imagine you are sitting in a theater watching your memoir as a film.  What is the drama unfolding on the screen?  How does the poster in the lobby describe it?  What image is used to illustrate the essence of the story?
2. “Un-Write” Your Query
If you’re having trouble writing your query, try to talk about it instead. Have a friend or colleague to ask you what your memoir is about. Describe it informally in a few sentences, then write down the words or images that most vividly depict the storyline and theme.
3. Write a Logline for Your Memoir
Returning to the movie theme, write a logline for your story–a one-sentence description. Remember that your query is essentially a sales pitch designed to entice an agent or editor and leave her wanting to read more. Here are some examples of intriguing movie loglines:
“An insurance investigator and efficiency expert who hate each other are both hypnotized by a crooked hypnotist with a jade scorpion who is into stealing jewels.” The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
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“A ditzy-blonde, California sorority president, dumped by her Harvard-Law-School boyfriend, leaves California and fights to succeed at Harvard Law to prove she is worthy of him.” Legally Blonde
“During a weekend jaunt at a British country house, servants–who must keep order and protocol–struggle to please their aristocratic employers until a murder threatens to disrupt the balance.” (And I would add, “and unearth long-buried secrets.”) Gosford Park
4. Play!
In your mind, play with the themes, the ideas, the storyline.  Mix them up, throw them in the air, and see how they come down.  Don’t underestimate the importance of play in creativity.
5.  Be Specific
Describe your memoir in specific, rather than general terms.  In early drafts, I wrote that I was in deep psychological trouble, but the query was more expressive (and more accurate) when I described a “turbulent personal, political and psychological adventure.”
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Little Goblins Ten by Pamela Jane
The more queries you read, the better!  So please send share your memoir query with us at womensmemoirs.com.  And if you’d like your query critiqued, you may want to consider WomensMemoirs FES program. (Details are below.)

More About Pamela

Pamela Jane is the author of over twenty-five children’s books published by Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Harper, and others.  Her new children’s book, Little Elfie One, illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning, will be out from Harper in 2015. Her book (for adults) Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen Classic was featured in ”The Wall Street Journal,” The Huffington Post, and BBC America, among other places.
Pamela’s own memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing:  A Writer’s Story, will be published in 2016. For more information, visit her at Pamelajane.com or Prideandprejudiceandkitties.com.
- See more at: http://womensmemoirs.com/memoir-writing-book-business/the-memoir-query-that-got-me-a-book-contract-%E2%80%93-and-5-tips-for-writing-your-own/#sthash.zr6zxYTJ.dpuf
by MATILDA BUTLER on JUNE 16, 2015

Post #217 – Memoir Writing – Matilda Butler
Interview with Author Pamela Jane
Today I have a special treat for you. You already know Pamela Jane. She is the author of more than 25 children’s books, a book for adults featuring Jane Austin and kitties, a longtime blogger on WomensMemoirs, and author of the memoir An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story.
I recently interviewed Pamela about her memoir since she has just been through so many of the steps you are taking as you move your writing toward publication. (Her memoir will be published in 2016.) I thought I’d share her wisdom and insights with you.

WomensMemoirs: Question #1. Pamela, I know that writing and publishing your memoir took perseverance, but what steps did you take along the way? For example, did you redo your opening and book proposal when you were ready to publish?

Pamela Jane Matilda, thanks for this interview. I always enjoy writing for WomensMemoirs.com. But being interviewed by you is a new experience. And yes, I’m glad to share some of my memoir writing experiences. As to your point about memoir openings…
I rewrote my opening dozens of times. I wrote literary openings, funny openings, ironic openings, mysterious openings! To me, they were all intriguing beginnings. An opening is like a front door–-it may be appealing and well-written, but is it the best entryway into the house you want to build?

So my tip here is that a memoir writer has to decide what type of memoir she is writing and craft the most appropriate (and the best possible) opening. This helps you not only with eventual readers but with potential agents and publishers.

WomensMemoirs: Question #2. I know it is fairly easy to come up with a small list of potential publishers. For example, you can look at the publisher of memoirs you have on your bookshelves. But how did you assemble the full list of agents and book publishers that you eventually used?

Pamela Jane I turned to multiple sources, such as agentquery.com and Writer’s Digest (2014) Guide to Literary Agents. I also did on-line searches for lists of university and small presses who publish memoirs. Writer’s Digest periodically publishes an on-line list of memoir agents as well.
These resources contain a wealth of information that is just waiting for you to utilize. For example, when you go to AgentQuery.com, you can choose Memoirs from the list of: Select Non-Fiction Genre. This currently gives you a list of 421 agents who say they represent memoir authors. As you scroll through the list, you notice that some do not accept email queries but will accept postal queries. Some are not currently accepting unsolicited queries. Pay attention to what they say so that you don’t waste your time. Click on the icon for Full Profile. This tells you about recent deals they have made as well as some personal information, such as where they went to college. All valuable information.

WomensMemoirs: Question #3. Did you always use the same cover letter? If not, how did you modify it?

Pamela Jane As your question suggests, even a really great query letter isn’t appropriate for every agent or publisher. Here’s what I did. I had a standard query letter that I modified according to what the agent or publisher was looking for. If I had something in common with an agent or editor–for example if we both lived in San Francisco at a certain time–I might mention that. This means I tried to learn as much as possible about the agent or publisher before sending my query. It’s easy to forget how many query letters these folks get each day.
Since different agents and publishes require different pieces in your submission package, it’s good to have them all ready to go: tagline (click here for the difference between taglines and loglines), query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters.
And though it sounds obvious, follow exactly what the agent or publish wants. Don’t send more and don’t send less. If they want online submissions, then do that. If they want paper copies mailed, then do that.

WomensMemoirs: Question #4. Pamela, this is when the gloves come off. I have a hard question for you. How long did it take you to complete your memoir?

Pamela Jane You’re right Matilda. I never like it when people ask me that question. Yet so many women spend years on writing their memoir that I don’t mind sharing with this community. It took me twenty-two years. Though this is not unheard of, I think it is unusual. I did a lot of slipping and sliding around before I found my footing, my story. Many writers write books more quickly and, in fact, I wrote my first children’s book on a sugar high during a glucose tolerance test (I don’t recommend this as a writing strategy however!)
The following excerpt from my memoir illustrates the process I went through to discover the story I wanted to tell–or I should say, the story that wanted to be told.
“Story is an elusive thing, and the search for it at times is perilous. You don’t know when you start out on that stony trail if you’ll make it back with a tale to tell, or if a fellow traveler will find the remains of your narrative bleached like bones in the sun. Irresistibly, the story draws you on, impelling you to discover what lies beyond the fixed images you’ve recorded. It’s like Antonioni’s film Blow Up in which a photographer takes pictures in a park of what appears to be a simple tryst between a man and a woman. He develops the film unsuspectingly, but then he begins to look closer. Hidden beneath the seemingly innocent images is a darker one–-a figure with a gun. The photographer blows up the pictures, larger and larger, and discovers what he actually recorded was a murder. The woman was not flirting with her companion, but leading him on, enticing him in front of a hidden assailant. This is what writing a memoir is like. You go back to the past and discover hidden, sometimes dark, forces in the images you recorded. You blow them up and examine them to see what is really there.
“It may not be a sinister figure waiting in the shadows you discover when you examine the past, but self-knowledge, hidden empathy, buried passion.” –Pamela Jane, excepted from her memoir: An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story

WomensMemoirs: Question #5. Thanks Pamela for sharing that snippet of your memoir. I especially love your phrase “a fellow traveler will find the remains of your narrative bleached like bones in the sun.” That is a wonderful visual image. I know I’ve left some narrative remains along the way.
Here’s my last question, Pamela. What suggestions or tips do you have for others working to write and publish memoirs?

Pamela Jane This is the fun part of this interview. I seem to always think in terms of lists. Here are my top four tips.
Memoir Tip #1. Know when to show others your work-in-progress, and when to keep it to yourself. There were times when I casually related an episode from my memoir to a friend and, in doing so, came up with a line or concept that I had been struggling with. Maybe it was telling a funny story to an appreciative audience, for example, that gave me the sense of “not really writing” and loosened up my voice. But if you don’t feel ready, if the moment doesn’t seem right, just wait.
Memoir Tip #2. The memoirs you love and admire are an open classroom on how to write your own; there is no better teacher, editor or coach. You can study others’ books analytically. What is the proportion of dialog to reflection, how are flashbacks or flash-forwards handled, what techniques are employed to keep the pace lively? You can even use colored markers to identify these different elements.

Memoir Tip #3. Memoirs can teach you more than the craft of writing. They can inform your sense of effective story structures. Annie Dillard said that the best memoirs forge their own forms, and this is true, but studying strategies that worked in others’ memoirs is like learning to lace up your skates before taking off on your own.
Memoir Tip #4. Most importantly, be yourself–a memoir is not only a story from your life, it is a reflection of the way you–-and only you–-think. In his book, To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction, Philip Lopate writes:
“The story line or plot in nonfiction consists of the twists and turns of a thought process working itself out…tracking the consciousness of the author.”
Your story is not just a sequence events, but how you looked at them, struggled with them, changed your mind about them, came to terms with them.

WomensMemoirs: Pamela, thanks for sharing your insider thoughts and tips on getting ready for publication. I especially appreciate your last tip. In memoir, each of us writes the story that only we can tell.
More About Pamela

Pamela Jane is the author of over twenty-five children’s books published by Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Harper, and others.  Her new children’s book, Little Elfie One, illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning, will be out from Harper in 2015. Her book (for adults) Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen Classic was featured in ”The Wall Street Journal,” The Huffington Post, and BBC America, among other places. Her own memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing:  A Writer’s Story, will be published in 2016. Visit her at Pamelajane.com or Prideandprejudiceandkitties.com.
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Pamela is a writer, coach, editor, and co-founder of First Editing Service for womensmemoirs.com.
Pamela and I recently launched an unusual editing service. We edit the FIRST or FIRST 10 pages of your memoir with the conviction that practicing what you are doing wrong just leads to bad practice. So let us catch problems that occur in your first one page (or ten pages) and we’ll give you a roadmap that will help you navigate the rest of your journey more smoothly.
We put you on the right path, right away.
To learn more about this innovative service, click here now.
Here’s what one client wrote Pamela:
I wanted to thank you for your insightful editing comments on the first page of my memoir along with the synopsis. … In terms of the memoir page, your comments actually solved a dilemma for me as I have toyed with the beginning for a while. I like the solution you offered and made the change you recommended in the order of the paragraphs and presto, problem solved! So thanks so much! M.G-W.
Are You Asking Yourself If You Need an Editor?
Every writer needs an editor. This is true of professional writers. This is true of occasional writers. WHY an editor? Here are just 2 of the many problems that writers face and editors can help clarify:
Problem #1. Writers get overly fond of metaphors, even failing to notice when they get tangled up with each other.
Pamela catches this in the FIRST 1 or 10 PAGES, and puts you on the right road.
Problem #2. Writers want to start at the beginning, even when that part doesn’t engage the reader. Back story can always come later, but we fail to notice.
Pamela provides feedback on your apparent story structure and your opening.
Learn more about EIGHT other problems that Pamela catches. Plus check out our FIRST EDITING SERVICE [click here] and see if it is right for you.
Here’s what another client wrote Pamela recently:
I want to thank you for your brilliant comments on my manuscript. I know that I am, at times, too close to the story and can lose the perspective of the reader. After all, he or she was not along for the journey! –C.L.

- See more at: http://womensmemoirs.com/memoir-writing/womens-memoirs-interviews-author-pamela-jane/#sthash.rdrgijF5.dpuf
“The best memoirs, I think, forge their own forms. The writer of any work, and particularly any nonfiction work, must decide two crucial points: what to put in and what to leave out…” Annie Dillard, author of An American Childhood.
But how do you know what to put in and what to leave out, especially when you’re so close to your story?
Following are a few guidelines:
DO Leave Out:
1.  Everything
To quote Annie Dillard again,
“You have to take pains in a memoir not to hang on to the reader’s arm, like a drunk, and say, “And then I did this and it was so interesting.”
As fascinating as a story or anecdote may be, you can’t throw everything into your memoir.  Notice if you’re veering away from what is essential to your story, and ask yourself how each passage or chapter adds richness, depth, or important information. Like a novel, a memoir has a theme, a plot, and a specific focus.  However, contrary to the venerable writing advice to “kill your darlings” – you do not have to kill all your darlings, just the ones that are running around unattached.
2.  Something that makes you deeply uncomfortable

Someone who read an early draft of my memoir, remarked, “I have the feeling that there was more going on between [me and one of the characters] than you’re letting on.”  She was right; there was more going on.  I thought about it for a while.  Did I want to tell that particular story?  Ultimately I decided I did not; it wasn’t critical to my memoir, and would not be missed if omitted.
If you are deeply uncomfortable about writing or revealing something, pay attention to that feeling.  Imagine yourself giving a talk about your book at a signing or conference. Do you feel comfortable talking and taking questions about what you wrote?
I’m not suggesting that you leave out everything sensitive or embarrassing. Those things are often the igniting spark, and carry great emotional impact.  But if you feel profoundly uneasy writing about something, think hard about whether it really belongs in your story.
3.  Relentless darkness
I like darkness.  Darkness is good – it contrasts with light; it glitters and draws us in.  But heavy, unforgiving darkness makes for tedious reading.  Contrast the darkness with something light, ironic or funny, (most comics have a very dark side). Don’t try to be funny or make something funny that isn’t, just attempt now and then to see your story from another angle, to vary the mood or pace.

4.  Casual reminiscences
Many memoirs appear to meander, as though the author is having a casual conversation with her readers while strolling through a garden on a summer afternoon.  A meandering conversation while strolling through a garden sounds ideal.  But a memoir tells a story – one specific story.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be fast-paced or terse, but it should be focused.
Some outstanding writers can get away with meandering or appearing to meander, such as Proust in his Remembrance of Things Past.  But this apparent meandering can be deceptive.  Even Proust has a theme.  Moreover, he’s a genius and geniuses can get away with things most of us cannot.
NEVER leave out:
What you are passionate about
A memoir is a record of something that happened to you in the past, and how you see it in the present­ – something that you feel intensely about and want to explore and find meaning in through your story. Whatever you do, don’t leave that out!
Finally, remember, there are no absolute rules for writing.  The only criterion is whether or not it works.
August 2014

Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma
We all have our favorite memoir or novel openings, those spectacular beginnings that draw us inexorably on and in.  And now we’d like to read yours!   Please send in your unpublished memoir or novel opening by September 3, 2014, and we will post the five most compelling entries later in the month. (Please see entry details at the end of this post.)
To get everyone in the spirit, here are a few of my own favorite openings along with my thoughts on what makes them great.
1. Emma by Jane Austen
“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived  nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”
The incomparable Jane –openings don’t get better than this!  We suspect that this young woman, blessed with natural gifts and great good fortune, has also been spoiled by both.  And we know that though she may have had little to distress or vex her in the past, she’s about to be very seriously vexed.
2. An Unquiet Mind  A Memoir of Moods and Madness By Kay Redfield Jamison
“When it’s two o’clock in the morning, and you’re manic, even the UCLA Medical Center has a certain appeal.  The hospital – ordinarily a cold clotting of uninteresting buildings – became for me, that full morning not quite twenty years ago, a focus of my finely wired, exquisitely alert nervous system.  With vibrissae twinging, antennae perked, eyes fast-forwarding and fly faceted, I took in everything around me.  I was on the run.  Not just on the run but fast and furious on the run, darting back and forth across the hospital parking lot trying to use up a boundless, restless, manic energy.  I was running fast, but slowly going mad.”
Through its galloping pace and overwrought imagery, Jamison’s opening illustrates the mania she is experiencing.   She catches you up in her frenzied mood, and then stops and acknowledges that she is slowly going crazy. “Running fast but slowly going mad” could be a tagline for her memoir.
3. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.  We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others.  He told us about Christ’s disciples being fisherman, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fisherman on the Sea of Galilee were fly fisherman and that John, the favorite was a dry-fly fisherman.”
Maclean’s dry humor and irony are evident, and in his image of “the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana” one senses this slim novel will be epic in scope.
4. An American Childhood by Annie Dillard

Pittsburgh 1950
“The story starts back in 1950, when I was five.
“Oh, the great humming silence of the empty neighborhoods in those days, the neighborhoods abandoned everywhere across continental  America– the city residential areas, the new “suburbs,” the towns and villages on the peopled highways, the cities, towns, and villages on the rivers, the shores, in the Rocky and Appalachian mountains, the piedmont, the dells, the bayous, the hills, the Great Basin, the Great Valley, the Great Plains–oh, the silence!”
Annie Dillard’s opening is similar to that of A River Runs Through It in the grandness of its imagery.  She begins with a sweeping cinematic tour of neighborhoods, towns, villages, mountains and hills across post-World War II America before narrowing her focus to one particular neighborhood, where her story begins.
5. Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
“Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn’t know my hometown was at war with itself over its children and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives.  I didn’t know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl, virtuous at least in spirit, could mend it on the same night.  And I didn’t know that the enthalpy decrease in a converging passage could be transformed into jet kinetic energy if a divergent passage was added.  The other boys discovered their own truths when we built our rockets, but those were mine.”
Hickam moves through a series of startling contrasts, from the town’s children to bloodless combat, from young heartbreak to the science of building rockets.  It’s clear that Rocket Boys is a coming-of- age memoir, with the building of rockets serving as both story and allegory.
6. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
“Toward a Topography of the Parallel Universe
“People ask, How did you get in there?  What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well.  I can’t answer the real question.  All I can tell them is, it’s easy.
“And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe.  There are so many of them:  worlds of the insane, the criminal, the crippled, the dying, perhaps of the dead as well. These worlds exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it.”
From Kaysen’s prologue you realize you are in the hands of a writer who will give it to you straight.  But there is poetry in what she says about parallel worlds ­– shadowy and nearly invisible yet so close, maybe even inevitable.  This is an irresistible beginning, combining eloquence with hard-earned experience and an unflinching vision.
It’s amazing how confident all these writers sound!  They know their story and, by Jove, they’re going to tell it.

I can’t end this post without mentioning Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which begins, “For a long time I used to go to bed early.”  This seemingly unassuming opening with its slow backwards glance intrigues me.  Somehow it’s comforting to know one can begin a great work of art so quietly – at least if you’re Proust, living in France 100 years ago.
Writing and Healing: The Fifth and Final Hurdle to Publication

Post #113 – Memoir Writing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

5 Hurdles to Publishing Your fMemoir

By Pamela Jane Bell
Regular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently seeking an agent her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

Last week I was walking in the Shawangunk Mountains of upstate New York, the dramatic backdrop of my memoir. (I have special affection for these mountains because I went crazy there and managed to survive the ordeal.) Since then, I’ve retreated many times to these mountains to walk and find the missing pieces of my story. But this time I came back with family and friends to relax and enjoy the spectacular wilderness.
As I walked the old carriage trails through the mountains, I thought about what a writer has to go through to see her memoir in print. (These stages or steps are not unique to memoir writers, but they do apply.) When the fifth and final hurdle occurred to me, though, I was surprised. And yet it felt right.
Following are five steps to seeing your memoir in print:
1. Completing the manuscript to your own satisfaction
For me, this step was extremely difficult. Maybe it was because I had never written a biography, much less an autobiography. Or perhaps it was because I had to slip and slide around quite a bit before finding my footing (story). But mostly it was because I had to think so hard to find the right words. You know how cliquish words are; ­they clump together like seventh grade girls at a school dance. This clumping or bundling of words offers a convenient escape from the hard work of thinking. But a memoir, more than anything else, is a product of your mind, a reflection of the way you think about what happened and how you shape those events into a story. There’s no escape; you have to think long and hard – and dump the word-clusters in the garbage can.
2. Finding an Agent
Writers know how difficult it can be to find an agent. If an agent isn’t reading queries at the moment, and if you can’t get a publisher without an agent, where does that leave you? It reminds me of when I was looking for a waitress job in my twenties. No one would hire me without waitress experience and how the heck was I supposed to get experience if no one would hire me? (Ultimately I lied about having experience and kept getting fired. After about ten one-night jobs, I had earned at least a little experience.)
Finding an agent (or editor) is like searching for your true love – that one person who will, if not love, then at least understand and commit to you. This takes a bit of magic (i.e., good fortune) and a lot of faith. So, believe! But should your faith waver, your submission schedule never should. Commit this to memory My faith may waver but my submission schedule never will.

A bit of magic is not unwelcome
Also, be sure your memoir package is polished and ready to go (this includes query, synopsis, proposal, and sample chapters). Agents will ask for various pieces of this package, and the less time you have to spend preparing your submission, the better.
3. Finding a Publisher
Of course, once you find an agent, the agent has to find a publisher. If he or she does, great! If not, or if you decide to change agents at some point, your book is now “contaminated” because other publishers have passed on it, and the pool of potential buyers has shrunk accordingly.
Such stories and statistics can be daunting. But don’t give up. If necessary rework your manuscript, shifting the focus, and try again.
I recently had a dream in which I went to my friend Kay for writing advice.
“Keep working,” she said, even before I had a chance to open my mouth. (Kay is a successful and extremely persistent writer.)
“But I’m happy with my memoir,” I told her. “I don’t want to change anything.”
“Keep working,” repeated Kay.
“I suppose I could work on my Italian book, or other children’s books,” I mused aloud.
Kay just smiled. “Keep working.”

4. Finding your readers
You want to find readers, thousands of them, who will love your memoir and tell others about it. To some extent this will come from your own efforts but (sorry!) once again there’s that elusive magic – or, to put it another way, TLF ­– timing, luck and fate. But though these things sometimes go against you, they can just as mysteriously show up to support you. Hopefully, you’re working on your platform and engaging in some social media to increase the chances of this happening.
5. The Fifth and final hurdle: Acceptance
You have to be sanguine – or at least flexible – if any of the above don’t pan out the way you had hoped. But although acceptance is important, it is most emphatically not resignation. Acceptance of obstacles and reversals allows you to reconsider the strategies you’ve put so carefully in place. In other words, Plan B. This can be anything from tweaking your proposal to self-publishing.

"An unexamined life is not worth living" – Socrates
Hopefully writing your memoir has been a rich and rewarding journey. And remember, whatever you may think about your life, one thing is for certain: it is not unexamined.

- See more at: http://womensmemoirs.com/memoir-writing/writing-and-healing-the-fifth-and-final-hurdle-to-publication/#comments

By Pamela Jane BellRegular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently finishing her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

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When compiling this list I realized that most of the recommendations are books about plotting.  This makes sense because good memoirs employ a sound story structure ­– one similar to yet distinct from novels (more about that later).  Though some of the books listed are unlikely choices for a memoir-writer’s self-help list, they have proved enduringly helpful to me.  Through the years each one has become an old friend and trusted writing companion.
1.         The Weekend Novelist
by Robert J.  Ray (weekendnovelist.com)
The Weekend Novelist lays out a plan for completing a novel (or memoir) in 52 weekends, a strategy the author used for writing his first book while teaching during the week.  But whether you are a weekday or a weekend writer, this book is a guide in that it provides a blueprint to help you articulate and direct your creative energy.  (I almost said “crazy creative energy,” but I don’t want to project here.)  The author’s diagram for plotting using Aristotle’s incline is especially valuable.  If nothing else it gives one side of your brain something to play with while the other side cogitates on possible story designs.
2.         Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
by Robert McKee  (mckeestory.com)
When I took Bob McKee’s screenwriting course years ago, the auditorium was packed not only with screenwriters, but with editors and writers of every genre.  All of us wanted a better understanding of the principle and function of story.  Bob McKee describes it this way:
“The source of all art is the human psyche’s need for the resolution of stress and discord through beauty and harmony…”
In my mind, any film or piece of writing that takes the mess of real life and shapes it into a story is a thing of beauty!
In Story, McKee elucidates the principles of story design, including “beats” which he defines as “an exchange of behavior in action/reaction.  Beat by beat these changing behaviors shape the turning of a scene.”  Beats, McKee explains, build scenes,  and scenes build sequences.
In my writing group, when one of us has written a scene that feels flat, it’s often because the scene is missing a beat or two.  Slow down, and give each character a chance to react to an action, even it’s just a double-take.
Another helpful device McKee defines is “opening the gap” between expectation and result.  To open the gap, ask yourself “What’s the opposite of that?” or “What’s off the wall from that?”  Of course you can’t force this kind of reversal to happen in a true-life story, but you can recognize when it does.  Here’s an example from my life:
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“In my women’s consciousness-raising group, which was composed of students and newly-weds like myself who met at the back of the health food store, we talked about how to rewire men biologically so they wouldn’t be pigs.  Love between a man and a woman was all bourgeois bullshit anyway.  I stopped shaving my legs and threw away my bras.
“And then, right in the middle of my most militant man-hating phase, I fell in love with Eddie.”
(As you may have guessed, Eddie was not my new husband.)  The gap was there, I just had to prune anything extraneous to the storyline to uncover  it.  And reflect; discovering the resonances and reversals embodied in the theme of your memoir requires much contemplation.
One last point – just because Bob McKee is talking about writing screenplays, doesn’t mean your story has to be big:
“Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly.”
3.  To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction
by Phillip Lopate (philliplopate.com)
My Pride and Prejudice and Kitties co-author, Debbie, summed this book up nicely:
Bookstore shelves are stuffed with excellent books on fiction and screenplay writing, but for years I searched in vain for a similarly excellent book on nonfiction writing. Then in 2013 came Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell, and my search was over.
Lopate covers all the issues: the need to turn yourself into a character, conflict in nonfiction, the ethics of writing about others, and on and on. His best bit of wisdom, though, is that the familiar “show don’t tell” dictum should not apply to essay and memoir; an essay should not read like a short story. “The story line or plot in nonfiction consists of the twists and turns of a thought process working itself out,” he observes. For my money this is all you need to know!
He also devotes an entire chapter to the importance of reflection in memoir. The memoir should have a double perspective, he says: one showing the experience as lived and one reflecting the wisdom of the author’s present self. “This second perspective, which takes advantage of a more mature intelligence to interpret the past, is not merely an obligation but a privilege and an opportunity.” –Deborah Guyol writingintothesunset.com and letsgowrite.com
4.  Your favorite memoir
Your favorite memoir is an invaluable blueprint, a map that you can study and return to as often as you like.
A River Runs Through It
by Norman Maclean is my own favorite*.  This is not a book you can dissect easily; it is unique in language, structure and story, and eludes analysis.  But I did consult it when I wanted to see how Maclean wrote so compellingly about the father’s reaction to the death of his son:
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“After my brother’s death, my father never walked very well again.  He had to struggle to lift his feet, and, when he did get them up they came down slightly out of control.”
The words are simple, matter-of-fact.  But the impact of the image is devastating, and much stronger than if Maclean had written, “my father became hysterical and threw himself on the floor yelling and pounding his fists.”  Or even “my father was shattered.”  We see that vividly in the image of his father’s stumbling.
5.  How to Write a Movie in 21 Days: The Inner Movie Method
by Viki King.
Like The Weekend Novelist, Viki King’s book provides a structure and schedule for getting the writing done.  But what I found most helpful is the concept of a “logline” – “your story reduced to an ad copy blurb that tells what your movie is about and makes us want to see it.”
I know, that sounds crude and commercial.  Who wants to reduce her memoir to a logline?  Who can?  (Try it; it’s really hard!)  But if you can do this before you write your first draft, the logline will help you define the parameters of your story, and prevent you from getting seduced by your own words – in other words, lost (unless that’s your process, but that’s a subject for another post).
When I was beginning a young-adult thriller based on Snow White, I came up with the logline “She can’t find peace of mind, until her step-daughter rests in peace.”  I love that logline!  (I never wrote the book, but I can’t help wishing there were a market for loglines.)
A cross-pollination of writing advice – i.e., seeking wisdom in different genres – can be highly productive.  A book on screenwriting
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can help you see your memoir more clearly, especially if you are a visual writer.  Your favorite memoir is a treasure map if you spend the time to decipher it.  But the best resource is yourself – your passion and resolve to tell a story only you can tell in a way only you can tell it.
*Though heavily autobiographical, A River Runs Through It is classified as a novel because Maclean altered the timeline and details of his brother’s death.

- See more at: http://womensmemoirs.com/writing-and-healing/writing-and-healing-5-outstanding-%E2%80%93-and-surprising-%E2%80%93-self-help-books-for-memoir-writers/#sthash.Lc9fMo1U.dpuf

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