Is A Group Memoir For You?

Memories are the stuff of great stories, warm feelings, and learning opportunities. And when those memories are collected into book form, the reading is a real treat. Yes, David Niven’s Moon’s A Balloon comes to mind, as does Len Goodman’s Better Late than Never. Have you read any good memoirs? There are thousands out there, and I find they emotionally draw you in, no matter how well or poorly they are written.

photo of Al and Frieda Braun

Al and Frieda, mom and dad, as seen through the eyes of their eldest three children.

I couldn’t resist, therefore, a wonderful memoir where I was mentioned in it. Over the past few days, I’ve enjoyed reading Growing up in the 1950s by three of my eldest siblings. It is a private publication, so you won’t find it on bookshelves at your local Barnes and Noble, but I was able to purchase a copy by ordering from my sister and picking up this “photo album” at a local Costco. Talk about total joy. I loved reading about life in my home before I was hardly a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

One of my sisters, Linda Gidley, was kind enough to share a few minutes with me talking about the work.

“This project helped us get together and talk about Mom and Dad,” said Linda.  While the siblings had often done so in the past, I think enough time had elapsed (my parents died in the early 1970s) that they could take on this big project with kinder eyes. Another observation Linda made, “We met regularly and it was definitely a positive experience.”

Photo of Growing up in the 1950s

A project to share with future generations of Brauns.

The reason this was important to me, is that these women, now approaching retirement years with a vigor you don’t expect, live hundreds of miles from each other, have an entire spectrum of political viewpoints, and childhood memories that many people cannot or will not face.  Our parents were alcoholics and unprepared to do more than delegate the raising of siblings to these three strong women–while they were hardly more than babies themselves. The responsibility was apparently both the girls’ joy and tremendous burden.  In writing the memoir they had to face a lot of memories I’d rather forget, but they worked through them and wrote a story each of them can easily share with grandchildren.

As my mom had nine children, describing the birth of one of those children was a fitting start to the book.  “I liked that start too,” said Linda. “It showed a healthy memory of some of the trauma we lived through.”

In writing a memoir with multiple authors the big phrase, said Linda, is “gentle compromise.    You can’t just say, ‘well okay. You insist on this, so we’ll go with it.’ You need to be able to say, ‘okay, let’s put it that way.’ Of course, if there’s some memory that’s hard to believe, you need to either prove it or leave it out.”

One sister claimed to go to school right across from a nuclear missile site and the other two authors rolled their eyes over what surely must be an inaccurate memory.  Then Linda looked up the situation on Google, and sure enough, the silo was mentioned.  That story stayed in the memoir.

These three women are very special people in their own right.  I remember them being labeled (behind their backs) as “the big three.”  Detroit may have been referring to the car industry, but the rest of us knew where the real power rested in our family.  We were at once drawn to their charisma and power of being older and wiser, and scared to death of the retributions for infraction of rules they passed down from our parents.

For the memoir, they worked together and with a more gentle spirit towards the world they wrote about.  Again, their maturity shone. If I had written this book, I think a certain lack of discretion may have made my effort less kind.  But there you have it.  Their wisdom shines again.

Perhaps there are memories you can capture–with the help and hard work of family or friends.  I’m hoping the next set of three siblings in my family might take on the task of writing about life in the 1960s. Could be cool.

What will you write today?  Best to you in all of your creative efforts.  And thank you to three wonderful women for a great trip down memory lane.+

Cultivating Clues – A Fun Hobby

You’ve heard the expression, “he doesn’t have a clue.”  I feel that way often–especially when it comes to writing the next mystery along.  I love reading mysteries and watching them on television, but I never really sat down to ask “what is a clue all about?”

Recently, I started a new ideas notebook and one of the sections is all about lists. List the things that bother you in life. List the places you’ve lived (and could possibly write about). List all the best restaurants you’ve eaten at.  The list of lists goes on, limited only by your interest and imagination. So I sat down the other day and jotted down “types of clues” on one of my list pages.

photo of evidence-iStock_000038589296Small

Get a clue–mysteries are built on them!

I sat for a while with no more than two or three ideas.  I’m trying to stick to the kind of things an amateur sleuth like Daisy Arthur would stumble upon and recognize.  Then it hit me.  Something this important requires research and study.  Immediately, I felt that bubble of excitement that comes from a great new adventure.  So I re-listened to a CD from the Colorado Gold Writing Conference–Become a Clue Master: How to Plant Clues, by Kris Neri. Kris does on-line writing classes as an extension of UCLA, and if you get a chance to work with her, I’d recommend it.  I really liked this class and get a lot out of it, each time I listen to the CD again.


Let’s start with a clue mindset.  A few of the authors I looked up (after listening to Kris) mentioned that clues are like magic shows–they lead, manipulate, and misdirect the reader in order to create suspense and final satisfaction when you work out or read the climactic “who done it” scene.  Guess what subject I’ll be studying next.

For me, though, clues are a great way of playing hide-n-seek. You remember, don’t you?  As a kid did you hide in a spot so well that you almost fell asleep waiting for siblings and friends to find you?  Didn’t you give clues? Didn’t you say “beep” every once in a while?

And how about the “you’re getting warmer, no, you’re getting colder” game? Isn’t that all about leading and directing people with your clues? And admit it. Wasn’t it at least tempting to think of sending someone in the wrong direction by saying “warmer” when they were really getting “colder” all along?


Okay. Spoiler alert. If you like reading mysteries and don’t want clues to jump out at you, you may want to stop now.  Here are a few specific models that help make writing more fun:

  • The list clue–Detective walks into a room and starts jotting down the contents of a closet: pair of black dress shoes, a work boot, four tennis shoes, three belts, six pairs of pants (on hangers) and a sweatshirt dropped on the floor.  Much later in the story that detective might piece together that a work boot footprint outside the victim’s window might match the one from that closet way back. He retrieves the boot only to find that it’s from the wrong foot, and the right boot is missing. Dun-duhn.
  • Parallel Logic–Some expert the detective talks to, gives an in-depth explanation of how something works. You, the reader, can’t get through that page fast enough. Talk about your blah, blah, blah moment. You might even find yourself saying, “I could write better than that!” Then, a few chapters later, a situation comes up where you have the same structure in logic being used, and the detective needs to remember what boring old expert said (was it the red wire or the green that you clip in order to shut off the timer on the bomb you’re tied to?) Tension plus moment.
  • Access clues–This one is so straight forward, I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t used it before. Pick an object, a setting, or information and ask yourself “who had access to this at the time of the murder, abduction, theft, etc.?” A person can’t be guilty if they have no access to what’s important in your scene.
  • Last One; I’ve got a secret–In writing a mystery almost everyone should have something they’d rather keep to themselves.  And if that something happens to make them look guilty even when they’re not, so much the better. What’s your secret?

Do you like puzzles and clues as much as me?  What’s your favorite kind of clue? If you’re writing a mystery I hope you have a writing session devoted to clue-making. It’s so much fun.

IMPORTANT P.S. I will be doing an extra post on Monday, August 18th as part of an author’s blog hop.  Please look me up then.