But, she warned, “Once they get their fingers into your story, it will no longer be under your control.” She went on to intimate that they would twist and change and do what they wanted with it.
I’ve heard many writers get upset about this. Some writers in my own circle were offended for me when an editor from the Chicago Tribune’s Printers’ Row Journal asked if they could change a name in my story. The editor felt the nickname would confuse the readers. I responded – please change what you feel is confusing. My writer acquaintances took me to task on that – how dare I give them permission. I should fight for my story.
There are things I would fight for, things I have fought for. When the editor publishing West End wanted to change a slang Midwestern term, I didn’t agree. I argued that it made it more authentic and we had to trust the reader to figure it out in context. But small things like a nickname or a comma, I have no problem with those. Some writers do, however.
One publisher asked me to take one of my short stories and turn it into a long style poem. My first response, no, no, it can’t be done – but then, I was intrigued by the task! Picasso was once challenged to change one of his paintings to a negative – black and white inverse – he took that challenge and ran with it, changing the colors in multiple ways! The results of which line the halls of his museum in Spain. Sometimes change is not the enemy.
However, I do know what producers, directors, movie studios, and television does to novels and stories. They interpret into their own little idea. They change things for dramatic purposes, for comedy, for whatever reason may suit their purposes at that point in time. But – isn’t that what they’re paying you for? They are taking your characters, your setting, and they’re bringing new life to it. This may be a very different life that the writer intended. But that happens anyway.
Many people have misunderstood “The Ghost in her Room.” However, it didn’t stop them from enjoying the story. They just had their own interpretation of it. It brought something to their lives that I hadn’t intended. It didn’t make it wrong. I think that means I did something right!
When a reader engages in your story, identifies with your character or event, aren’t they changing it into their story or their idea of your story? Once we set the baby free in the world – that baby becomes something else and we have no control over it. It takes on a life of its own. It affects the world and the world affects it.
There are certain things I hope Our Gentle Sins will carry forth – the message of hope, of recovery, of leaving the mistakes of the past in the past, and building the strength as an individual to move forward in this world. We can only wait and see!
Think of a memory from childhood. What images do you remember? What stories do you tell?
When you take out a memory – do you or can you connect it to something more current? Why are you thinking about that? What brought it up? What did you learn from that memory? Or why do you enjoy it?
When you just take out a memory out and connect it to something present – you played with it, worked with it, in some way, possibly made it mean more or less, you colored it in, or made it pale in comparison.
Many Psychiatrists say every time we take a memory out – we change it, we try to make sense of it, we add details may have come from somewhere else. Many, many experts believe we have no pure memories. That they are all, in some way, corrupt.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, Professor at UCI who has published twenty-four books and more than six hundred papers, believes memories are reconstructed, not replayed. “Our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality,”… “It is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoeba-like creature.”
How many of us know someone who remembers something different that we do? My sisters and I used to walk in the cool night air; one night, the middle sister saw a jaguar – the car, not the cat – and pulled the little ornament off. We started to walk away, and she instantly felt bad, so she turned back and placed it on the car near the windshield hoping the owner would see it and be able to repair it. Hey – we were teenagers – don’t hate us.
Now, when my sisters and I get together, my youngest sister remembers it differently, she remembers jumping up on the car and ripping it off and bringing it home. She laments losing it and wonders where it went. My middle sister and I just look at one another because that does not match up with our memory.
When writing we can change little things, play with the memories. But how much of the changing and playing with can we do to memories or memoir before we need to change the label from memoir to inspired by actual events?
And… I think the answer to that is – how much have you changed? Who is reading it? And are you going to get sued?
I have a piece coming out that I originally labeled as memoir – but I fought with myself about that label because it’s about my dead brother. In this memoir, I’m talking to him. Obviously, I’m playing with memories of our conversations, of who he is and what types of things he said. I had a conversation with the editor about this who said – do you want to make it clearer you’re talking to a ghost?
My brother, sadly, can’t sue me – he’s passed. No one can sue you from beyond the grave, but their families can sue if the memoir defames any of the family. This piece does not defame my brother, but is it memoir? Or is it “inspired by an actual event”?
The memoirist’s first line of defense is: The first amendment of our us constitution guarantees us the right to free speech –
EXCEPT – there are some exceptions like you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater, you can’t say bomb at the airport… and you can’t say Johnny Depp abused you without valid, verifiable evidence.
The first amendment does guarantee that we have the right to our opinion, so when we’re writing a memoir, mostly, that is what it is – our opinion of events as they happened. Therefore, in most cases, memoirists are safe from prosecution.
The two biggest issues writers of memoirs face are defamation and right to privacy lawsuits.
Say you’re writing a memoir about your experience. You and your friend had a wild night of partying, you’re say 17, did somethings that you didn’t even put in your diary for fear someone would find out – but you’ve decided to write about that night – for whatever reason, you learned a lesson from that experience, it’s passed the statute of limitations for prosecution – ideally, yes, that is your story and you can write about it – but, wait, your friend swore you to secrecy. You guys had a pact. If you write a memoir or personal narrative or op-ed with a character that has your friend’s name, some variation of that name, character traits, walks like or dresses like your friend, was in the same place as you and that person can be identified, you can be sued.
If you want to write that story, change the names, change the locations, change your friend’s character traits, age, or leave your friend out completely.
Or – get your friend’s permission – IN WRITING!
Augustun Bourroughs, author of Running with Scissors, wrote a memoir about growing up – he changed the names, but the family brought a lawsuit against him and the publisher alleging defamation and invasion of privacy. The author maintains that it was and is his opinion and he kept journals throughout his childhood, and even some public facts supported some of the author’s claims, but the family alleged that events were changed to make them more dramatic – the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The publisher had to change the label from memoir to book. And the author had to add a note – stating that he hadn’t meant harm and that the family’s memories are different than his own.
If you look at the Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls the youngest sister Maureen has the least written about her. She was at a friend’s house for most of the West Virginia portion – there is some verifiable facts of her time in New York – she tried to stab her mother, she was institutionalized, and then she’s off to California, and in the book, nothing else is stated about her. She had her right to privacy. So whether the author didn’t get permission or she was being respectful or her sister threatened to sue her – who knows. You can find information about the sister if you google – I did, but there seems to be limited information about her.
Our Gentle Sins has a character who is a recovering drug addict – I know a few. One of my friends asked me if he was the inspiration for the character of Jack. It’s actually fiction, but it is inspired by experiences of many people I’ve known or talked too. I felt it was an important story, but I would never use someone’s personal story who dealt with such personal struggles.
Drug addiction is a serious issue. Recovery is very personal. I admire those who are successfully maintaining their recovery. Jack is my tribute to them.
If you’re local – stop by and talk with me! Enjoy Our Gentle Sins – a fictional novel with inspiring characters recovering from whatever life has thrown at them!
I’ve had skunks on my mind, mostly because they’re in my yard, successfully being trapped by a professional who seems to have gotten skunked recently. Beyond that actual getting caught in the crossfire of a skunk’s ire and ass, I think the odor is akin to smoking; after awhile the scent adheres to the clothes, hair, skin and, even though every one else can tell, the smoker or in this case the skunker can no longer detect the scent that has seeped into their being.
Therefore, my dreams of becoming a skunk skank, earning $$$ for hauling away critters who are relatively harmless other than their last method of defense which renders the person if not friendless then at the very least dateless, have been set aside.
However, I wonder about the skunkers and their lives. Do they have dates? Do their spouses get used to the smell? I read something recently that said we are attracted to people with similar scents. Are there skunkettes? Ladies who have taken to catching and releasing the cute little critters with the stinkpot defense? Or are there people who prefer the rough and rugged smell of burning brimstone and smoldering sulfur?
I’m more of a lavender and eucalyptus person myself.
The skunk and skunker smell lingered so long and loud in my yard and on my front patio, that I worried that it’d adhered itself to more than just the fine hairs of my nostrils, so I asked a mere stranger at the shop if I smelled like skunk. He laughed and said, “no or else I would have put on my mask to be polite.”
When a writer’s brain starts asking questions – handle with care – whatever happens next can spark, igniting a blaze of ideas.
Later that night, I was walking in the cool breeze with my dogs pondering the skunker’s plight. I returned and stood in the shade of a big sycamore tree when a homeless man approached my trash cans that lie in wait of the garbage truck. The recycling had been collected, so most of those persons who collect the recycling had come and gone. This man, however, reached into the black can, the real trash of old food and cat litter, picked up a bag, and carried it over to the emptied recycling can and upturned it. I stepped forward and said, “don’t do that,” to which he responded by grumbling incoherently before launching into a low growl similar to that of the Howler Monkey, then he rambled off to the neighbor’s trash and did the same thing.
Click, click, boom, boom – something sparked in my brain and a story began to form.
More tidbits – the neighbor appeared; sticks – a cat curved around the corner; leaves – a car backfires somewhere in the distance; fuel for the fire. My mind has been set ablaze.
Have you heard of Postpartum publication syndrome? It appears to be a real thing for many writers.
Many of us have heard of or referred to our “babies” when writing. The act of creation – creating – we are bringing something new into this world. A good book takes years of hard work, anxiety, and challenges.
Then it’s finished, it’s published, and we have to release it into the world. It is, in some ways, no longer ours. The precious little life we have brought into this world is out, and… well… I know we’re supposed to be excited, ecstatic, but somehow, for some reason, we’re feeling down.
It’s a gain, no doubt, but it’s also a loss. It’s a transition from one phase to another, and the hard work is not done yet. In some ways, it’s beginning again, in another way. We are no longer alone in the dark at a desk, but we got comfortable there. And this change from releasing our darling into the world is harder than we imaged.
Many writers go through a phase of mild depression once their work is published.
I’ve heard many “cures” for this postpartum publication syndrome, which include:
Start writing something new. (Of course, I feel writing is the best way to cure my blues.)
Talk to other writers. (It does seem to be a good idea to talk to those with similar experiences.)
If it doesn’t pass quickly, talk to a professional. (Yes. Good idea. There are a number of types of professionals who deal with writers (there has to be, we are a questionable bunch)
Absolutely know that you are not alone.
So – look at me – book’s not even released yet! haha. No worries! I’m okay. 🙂
(this post, by no means, insinuates that the very serious topic of postpartum depression new mother’s face can be solved easily or taken lightly)
It’s been a year since I’ve had caffeine – and it’s been HELL!
Specifically, my signature black tea, and more specifically, sometimes a half a gallon a day!
I was sitting back today, calm as a koala on eucalyptus, thinking I should be doing something – like writing. And it’s been a year since I’ve had real flow.
That flow where you sit back and the ideas come. That flow wherein you read the news and see how each story can become a hundred short stories, a disaster novel, and a rom-com.
I consider how I used to sit at the dining room table, hot cup of black tea mere millimeters from my fingertips, and type like a hamster on a wheel. Go. Go. Go!
It’s the lack of caffeine – of course- which has caused my caustic dry spell. I glance toward the kitchen, knowing, somewhere in there, lies a discarded tea bag at the bottom of an unused drawer.
Screw the doctors! To hell with anxiety! I shall abandon caution and dive over the cliffs of caffeine haven.
I hesitate, like I do now while strung out on herbal bounty, and consider, weigh the pros and cons, and question my decision. Damn chamomile.
A knock on the door steals my attention. (Caffeine improves focus – pro). I pop off the couch and spring toward the door. (No late afternoon caffeine drag – con). I throw open the door. There, on my patio, a tower of chocolates.
Some time during my teenage years, maybe I appreciated music so loud it pounded out reality and forced me to live in between the beats of the drum.
Mostly, however, I don’t want to live between those beats.
As much as I enjoy music, I enjoy the people around me just as much. When we are seeing a band or hearing a new song, it’s the conversation, ideas, opinions, and other things I want coming through just as evenly balanced.
Loud music subtracts – for me.
I know a number of artists, writers, and others who feel it is the very loud music that helps them escape and create.
But for me – the thrumping, bumping, strumming does not allow room for creation – or conversation.
I do enjoy the thick lovely tones of strong vocals belting out meaningful lyrics – but in moderation.
I’m a person who appreciates balance, creates within.
Life, however, can often be off balance – and I still must create. Maybe that’s why the things I can control – like volume – works around my creative efforts.
I stumbled upon a video of Stephen King last night. In it he stated that he had the idea for The Dome in 1973, but he didn’t have the maturity to write it. The idea, he seems to indicate, needed to marinate.
I believe that. Some ideas need to marinate, form, develop. And sometimes we have to wait for more experience or more education to be able to make the story real, believable, and relatable.
Stephen King says he doesn’t keep a notebook (or at least in the short clip I watched), but that good ideas stick around. I, personally, keep a notebook. I also have sticky notes, journals, notes all around the house, in my desk, my nightstand, and occasionally in the kitchen recipe drawer (I don’t know how they got there!), and in different files on my computer. I like to refer back – and sometimes I find that an idea I had 5 or 10 years ago has come stuck around and developed into a story.
After my book Eddy was published, I found notes in files from long before that I’d completely forgotten about. Good ideas do stick around. But sometimes the memory plays tricks!
It was suggested to me recently that I give up writing for awhile.
My mouth fell open and my eyes widened. “Give up writing?”
I was in shock. I jumped to defense, ready to tackle, grab the ball and run for the 50 yard line.
What would I do with all the voices in my head? All the characters who wrangle for a voice, the scenes that require breath to be brought to life? These are real things in writer’s heads. People, places, stories. Non-writers don’t readily understand that.
(I wonder what it’s like to live in a non-writer’s head? What goes on in there if there are no stories? Is there math? *Shudder).
Who in their write/right mind would “give up” their passion, their purpose.
She asked, “What does writing mean to you?”
I realize my defense is not really an answer. What does writing mean to me? I know what is used to mean – it was a survival mechanism. But it was more than that too.
I’m still working on it by the way – a current, present answer to what writing means to me. I just know I can’t not write.
Share with me please – what does writing mean to you?
This morning began as perfect set up for a good writing day. I walked the dogs in the cool air, rain dripped daintily from the sky, neighbors waved from their patios. I brewed a beach bellini tea and plucked a fig fresh from the tree. What could go wrong?
Paperwork of the financial type, grading essays, responding to emails.
Nails on a chalkboard.
The dream like setting beckons, the adoring characters wait. The world I was so lovingly creating has come to a standstill.
I am filled with liverwurst sandwiches.
This is why writers have phoneless, internet limited, no contact writing retreats – which are harder and harder to find.
Can you imagine even being disconnected these days? I used to say – “nothing is going to happen that you can’t hear about an hour later” – to my students to encourage them to put down their phones. But I, too, feel that same tug of addiction these days. The world moves fast. Don’t get back to someone and you lose an opportunity.
Our insta-world expects an insta-response or you’re history.
I just want to write. I want to sit down and not have to worry about anything else except the setting, timeline, character arc, beauty of language, reasoning of scene.
I’ll take the transitional cuppa, the stroll in the garden, anything to get back into my writing state…..