Skywriting

by Alice Winston Carney


Alice for bio 3Writing is like being in the pilot’s seat of my single engine airplane, trying to recover from a stall, the ground rushing faster and faster towards me.

The flying lesson starts well. I am in the pilot’s seat; Eric, my instructor, beside me.  I taxi onto the runway, call the tower, “8330X-ray, ready for take off”, loving the sound of my confident, female voice.

I give the engine full power, pull back on the controls when the speed reaches 70 knots. The little plane rises off the runway into the clear California sky. I level the plane, execute a smooth turn, reporting to the tower, “8330X-ray at 1500 feet, turning right, heading towards Tahoe.”

Below us the green and yellow agricultural fields checker their way across the great San Joaquin Valley, bisected by the American and Sacramento Rivers. All the world is blue, gold, and deep green as we head towards the foothills, Folsom Lake a sparkling dot below us.

Then Eric says, “Reduce power to engine, pull back on the controls,” two acts that go against logic when you are 2000 feet above the ground in a small tin can.

“Time to practice stalls.”

My pounding heart overpowers all sound, color drains from around me. “No!” I want out of this airplane.

But I am training as a pilot. I must learn to fly in all situations. I cut power to the engine. We float through the sky in an eerie quiet. My hands sweating, I pull back on the controls, raising the nose of the airplane until all I can see is sky. The nose goes up, up, then gives a dip down. A warning buzzer goes off. I have put us into a stall.

“Push the controls in, fast,” commands Eric. This is the third, most illogical step. Pushing the controls in, away from me, aims us towards the ground, causes the airplane to gather speed, dive, straight at the tree tops and rocks.

“Push, push,” Eric, yells. “Keep the wings level.”

As I write this, many years later, my fingers quiver on the keyboard, my breathing is shallow, and my stomach lurches. I remember the fear as I pushed the controls fully forward, forcing the plane faster and faster towards the earth. All I wanted to do was let go, to have Eric take over, to be out of there.

To quit.

But I stayed with the airplane. As our speed increased, Eric said, “Pull back, nose up. Watch the wings. Give it full power.” I did. And there we were, flying level, the engine purring, the wings lifted by a cushion of air and motion, Folsom Lake blinking its blue eye up at us. Only then did I feel the dampness on the back of my shirt, the sweat flowing down my sides. Only then did I breathe.

This is how I feel about writing some days: that I can’t write; that I don’t know how to write; that if I do write, the words will fly out of control and I will be hurtling towards the earth; that I want out of the desire to write.

I have learned that if I hold on, keep writing through that fear, I will level out again, I will go to a place that teaches me lessons about myself and fear. Writing is the lift under my wings, navigates me through the huge blue sky to where I want to go. Writing can make me as proud as I was when I became a pilot.


Cowgirl cover72Alice Winston Carney is director of Hermit’s Peak Press, which publishes original voices of Northern New Mexico. In 2010, she published A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse, a memoir of growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Along with the authors Gerald and Loretta Hausman, Alice runs the annual Green River Writers Workshop in Las Vegas. You can visit Alice at greenriverwritersworkshop.com and on her Facebook page: greenriverwritersworkshop.


This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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The Right Kind of “I’m Sorry”

Seth Godin is the author of 18 bestselling books that have been translated into more than 35 languages. He’s also the founder of squidoo.com and The Domino Project. I’ve been following his blog for several years, and I appreciate his insight into business, marketing, and leadership and his passion for trying to change things, especially how our thoughts and actions affect others. The following article was posted on his website in March 2015. As usual, his insight hits the mark.


Sorry confusion by Seth Godin

ID-100294190There are two kinds of, “I’m sorry.”

The first kind is the apology of responsibility, of blame and of litigation. It is the four-year old saying to his brother, “I’m sorry I hit you in the face.” And it is the apology of the surgeon who forgot to insert sterile dressings and almost killed you.

The other kind of sorry is an expression of humanity. It says, “I see you and I see your pain.” This is the sorry we utter at a funeral, or when we hear that someone has stumbled.

You don’t have to be in charge to say you’re sorry. You don’t even have to be responsible. All you need to do is care.

In this case, “I’m sorry,” is precisely the opposite of, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” which of course pushes the other person away, often forever.

As we’ve been busy commercializing, industrializing and lawyering the world, countless bureaucrats have forgotten what it means to be human, and have forgotten how much it means to us to hear someone say it, and mean it. “I’m sorry you missed your flight, and I can only imagine how screwed up the rest of your trip is going to be because of it.”

“I see you,” is what we crave.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Memories and Dreams

Never Let Your Memories10

Never let your memories be greater than your dreams.
~ Doug Ivester

This New Mountain Gets a Makeover

TNM_NewCover_10Last June I mentioned that a new book cover was in the works for AJ Jackson’s memoir This New Mountain. From the initial planning to completion, it’s taken almost a year, but it’s finally ready for the world.

In redesigning the cover, we wanted to keep the colors of the sunset/sunrise, stick with an image of Shiprock, New Mexico as a focal point, and give the tow truck a more prominent role (since being a repossessor was such a big part of AJ’s life).

We also wanted to bring in elements that weren’t present in the initial cover. We aimed for movement and strength with hints of what a reader would find inside the covers of the book.

Because the memoir follows AJ Jackson as she learns the private detective trade and, in the process, learns to face her fears, I searched for an image of a woman climbing a mountain and reaching out to take the next step.

Rock climber at sunset, Kalymnos Island, GreeceI found hundreds of quality photos of mountain climbers but none so fitting as this rock climber at sunset taken on Kalymnos Island, Greece. (I can’t imagine having the physical strength or the courage to hang upside down from a rock face.) Flip the image from horizontal to vertical, apply a bit of photoshopping, and there you have it — a climber in silhouette.

TNM_NewCover_Icons10The last thing we did to hint at what the book is about was to include a line of icons at the bottom of the cover. I wanted to bring in symbols to represent the private detective profession, such as sunglasses, revolver, camera, magnifying lens, as well as the Southwestern motifs of a Zia sun symbol (from the New Mexico flag) and a desert with cactus.

This New Mountain final cover

2012 Cover

2015 Cover

2015 Cover

So there you go — a new book cover for This New Mountain. Which do you like more? Which one do you think is the more compelling cover?

Memoir Writing: Lessons from Jeannette Walls

by Sherri Burr


The Glass CastleWriters who have contemplated crafting memoirs, but were too afraid, can learn lessons from Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle. She feared that if she revealed her impoverished childhood with eccentric parents, who lived on the streets of Manhattan and dumpster dived for food, people might cease to speak to her. One day she quizzed her mother, “What am I supposed to tell people about my parents?”

“Just tell the truth,” her mother said.

Walls did just that in her 2005 memoir that has been translated into 23 languages and sold over 3 million copies. In The Glass Castle, you can open any random page and find a gem. On page 39, Walls explains why she doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Her parents disillusioned their four children from expecting expensive gifts on Christmas morning. “Try not to look down on those other children,” Mom said. “It’s not their fault that they’ve been brainwashed into believing in silly myths.”

Turn to page 56 where Walls explains that her mother didn’t like cooking. “Why spend the afternoon making a meal that will be gone in an hour,” her mother asks, “when in the same amount of time, I can do a painting that will last forever?” Walls describes how her mother would make a pot of beans to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a week or more.

Then there was the time Walls and her brother Brian found a two-carat diamond ring, which her mother refused to sell. Walls writes, “But Mom, … that ring could get us a lot of food.” “That’s true,” her mother replied, “but it could also improve my self-esteem. And at times like these, self-esteem is more vital than food.” When Walls reminds her mother, “We haven’t had anything to eat but popcorn for three days,” the mother said, “You’re always so negative.”

Walls’ portrait of her mother is a testament that she is sensitive to people’s feelings. Like all memoirists, Walls was concerned with violating her loved ones’ privacy. She recommends sharing the manuscript. After doing this, she found it brought her closer to her family, not farther apart.

Her brother Brian was astonished she remembered the story of their father taking him to a whorehouse. Brian said at the time Walls looked far away. That she recalled enough detail to write the scene flattered him.

Walls believes that writers can tell stories without hurting loved ones. “If you are looking to understand them,” Walls says, “you might be surprised how supportive people will be. Be open to changing names to protect privacy.” Walls did that in The Glass Castle on the recommendation of lawyers who vetted her book.

Perseverance is another lesson from Walls’ life. She first tried penning her story as a teenager, then again in her twenties and thirties. It wasn’t until she was 40 and encouraged by her second husband, the writer John Taylor, that she set down in earnest to write. “I needed perspective,” she says.

She created a version in six weeks and then spent five years polishing it. “Just sit down and write,” she counsels. “Tell the story from beginning to end. Read it out loud. It takes a lot of work to seem spontaneous.”

It was in the revision that Walls threw out material from her New York experiences, which she initially thought compelling, and added scenes she had dismissed as unimportant. One of the turning points in the book was when Walls discovered her mother owned over a million dollars worth of land containing oil and gas rights. When confronted, her mother refused to sell despite their dire poverty. It was Taylor who urged Walls to include that scene.

Walls warns writers not to read other memoirs while writing their own. Walls started reading Angela’s Ashes during the midst of her revisions and noticed blarney creeping into her story. Once she realized she was channeling another writer’s voice, she put the book down. Even for her own books, Walls instructs to read and set them aside. “Don’t try to copy me. Everyone has her own story. Listen to your own voice.”

In her second book, Half Broke Horses, Walls found the voice of her grandmother Lily Casey Smith and spins the tale of a woman with true grit. Lily, who grew up breaking horses in New Mexico, left home when she was 15 to become a teacher in Arizona. Eventually she would learn to fly. But because Lily wasn’t around to interview by the time Walls wrote the story, she invented dialogue and calls it a True Life Novel.

Though writing fiction, Walls follows her mother’s advice, and tells the truth.


SherriBurrSherri Burr is the Regents’ Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico School of Law where she teaches Entertainment Law, Intellectual Property Law, and Art Law. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, and the Yale Law School, Burr has authored or co-authored twenty books, including A Short and Happy Guide to Financial Well Being (West Academic, 2014). Sherri is also a long-time member of SouthWest Writers and a regular contributor to the organization’s newsletter, SouthWest Sage.


This article was originally published in the March 2011 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Keep Your Eyes on the Goal

Obstacles2


Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal. ~ Hannah More

Creative Nonfiction Calls for Submissions Through April 2015

Are you looking for inspiration for an essay or short memoir piece? Read on to find calls for submissions with specific themes for Creative Nonfiction and Chicken Soup for the Soul publications. Have you already rewritten, reworked, and polished your true stories but don’t know where to go next? I’ve found a few paying markets looking for your writing, as well.

Creative NonfictionCreative Nonfiction is seeking submissions for several themed publications, previously unpublished up to 4,500 words. Stories should be well-written, rich with detail and a distinctive voice; compelling, evocative, vivid, and dramatic. All submissions must tell true stories and be factually accurate. Multiple submissions are welcome, as are entries from outside the United States. Submit online or by regular mail – a $3 convenience fee is charged to submit online. Payment is a $50 flat fee and $10/printed page, plus a copy of the magazine. The following are their current themes with deadlines through April 13, 2015:

Beyond “Crazy”: True Stories of Surviving Mental Illness
Although many people experience mental illness, either firsthand or through a family member, friend, or colleague, the stigma surrounding mental illness remains. Creative Nonfiction believes the most important tool we have for defusing the power of this stigma is sharing true stories and revealing the real people beneath the labels. The deadline for this one is very close (sorry!), but I include it here in case you have a piece ready to go. Deadline: February 9, 2015

Becoming a Teacher
This anthology will present readers with the world of education – true stories from the perspective of elementary and secondary school teachers, recalling and reflecting on the most salient moments of their careers. Deadline: March 9, 2015

The Weather
The weather affects everyone, and talking about the weather is a fundamental human experience. Send your true stories – personal, historical, reported – about fog, drought, flooding, tornado-chasing, blizzards, hurricanes, hailstorms, or whatever’s happening where you are. They’re looking for well-crafted essays that will change the way we see the world around us. Deadline: April 13, 2015

Chicken Soup for the SoulChicken Soup for the Soul has published anthologies, filled with motivating and inspiring true stories, for over 20 years. Submit stories that are exciting, heartwarming, or funny, written in first person, about yourself or someone close to you. Start “in the action” and draw in the reader. Speak from the heart. You may use a pen name. Online submissions only and not previously published. Up to 1200 words. Payment is $200 one month after publication, plus ten free copies of the book your work appears in. Follow the detailed guidelines to help focus your submission. As of the date of this post, they’re accepting submissions for five topics with deadlines through April 30, 2015:

♦ Volunteering & Giving Back
Share your true stories about how you found purpose, passion, and joy in your life through volunteering, or how a volunteer helped you. Volunteers are unpaid positions – save those stories about paid heroes for another book. Deadline: February 15, 2015.

♦ Dreams & Premonitions
Tell your stories about your dreams or premonitions and the impact they had on your life. What have you learned from your dreams? Did they come true, strengthen your faith or help change your life’s direction? Did a premonition warn you about something about to happen? Deadline: March 15, 2015.

♦ Make Your Own Luck
Luck is not always just chance. You have to be ready and willing to seize the opportunities in front of you. How did you take advantage of chance events and make the most of what life has to offer? How did your positive outlook change your life? They could also be amazing stories of plain serendipity. Deadline: March 31, 2015.

♦ Stories about the Christmas Season
They publish a new edition every other year, and 2015 is the year they’re collecting stories for their Christmas book. Share special tales about the holiday season – including Chanukah and Kwanzaa – from inspirational and joyous, to heartwarming and humorous. Only “Santa Safe” stories will be accepted so the magic isn’t spoiled for children. Deadline: March 31, 2015.

♦ Think Possible
Almost anything is possible if you think you can. You can dream big, overcome challenges, and turn adversity into opportunity. You can change your outlook, listen to your heart and move forward into the life you want. How did you “think possible” and how did it change your life? Deadline: April 30, 2015.

Here are three publications accepting any theme in creative nonfiction.

Malahat ReviewThe Malahat Review looks for stories strongly based in reality that enlighten or educate the reader through fresh insights, powerful use of language, and compelling storytelling. They accept all forms of creative nonfiction, including personal essay, memoir, narrative nonfiction, social commentary, travel writing, historical accounts, and biography, all enhanced by such elements as description, dramatic scenes, dialogue, and characterization. Online-only submissions. 1,000-3,500 words. Payment is $50 per published page, plus two copies of the publication in which the work appears. Response time is up to nine months.

The Masters ReviewThe Masters Review submissions for their New Voices category are accepted year round. New Voices is open to any new or emerging author who has not published a work of fiction or narrative nonfiction of novel length. They accept simultaneous and multiple submissions. Up to 5,000 words. Pays 10 cents/word up to $200.

Tishman Review2The Tishman Review is looking for personal essays, memoir, lyric essays and literary journalism of up to 3,000 words. Previously unpublished, original works. Accepts simultaneous submissions. Response time up to 90 days. Payment on a sliding scale between $10 and $75 based upon content and word count.

I’ve got a Christmas story I’m going to polish and submit. How about you?

Dance in the Rain

dancing-in-the-rain

“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” ~ Mikhail Baryshnikov

Writing a Memoir Like a Novel: Evoking Emotions

Sketch Of Woman CryingReaders of memoir, like fiction readers, come along for the ride because of the promise of being swept into someone else’s world, which is often different from their own. And they expect everything that goes along with that undiscovered land – setting, history, character struggles, victories and defeats. Even though a memoir is nonfiction, it shouldn’t read like a history book. Adding emotion to our writing will help ensure readers are engaged in the journey we’ve promised them.

There are a lot of crimes a writer can commit – the torture of sentences, the mangling of meaning, the wrecking of words through using the wrong one at the wrong time. However, the greatest of these is the crime of lack – to forget to put in the emotion. ~ Shannon Donnelly

Six basic emotions are found in all good writing: anger, love, sorrow, joy, fear, and surprise. The situations that elicit these feelings may be different, but the feelings themselves are common to all of us, at one time or another and to differing degrees. Expressing these effectively in our memoirs will touch the hearts of those who read our stories.

But evoking the emotion is not the same as telling it. Saying, “I was angry,” is one way to express how we feel. But wouldn’t it be more powerful to show our anger in physical reactions or dialogue?

Emotions are one place where the author should “show, don’t tell,” or “show, then tell.” Show, Don’t Tell, refers to the idea that fiction should create the emotion in the reader by zooming in and giving enough details for the reader to feel as if they are in the story itself. ~ Darcy Pattison

In regard to Show, then Tell, Ms. Pattison explains that “once you have Shown the emotion, you can also – not all the time, but selectively – also name the emotion.” As a rule, the best writers avoid “telling” as often as possible.

How to Evoke Emotions Without Telling

Through Actions
Did a child stomp a foot when he was angry? Stare at her feet when ashamed? Did you slam a cupboard door in anger? Bounce for joy on a bed when you won the lottery? Did your dad sit on the edge of his empty bed, staring out the window for hours, after your mom died? Some people yell when they’re angry, others whisper. We cry out of joy, frustration, and sorrow.

Through Physical Appearance
Facial expressions show our emotions and so can slumped shoulders and jagged fingernails. Our hands shake when we’re nervous, or afraid, or angry. Faces flush out of embarrassment. Eyes widen and lips might become pale from fear. How does jealousy manifest in our outward appearance – a sneer, clenched fists?

Through Setting Description
How we feel affects how we see the world at a particular moment, and we can use that to color our descriptions. A child might describe a new playground as huge and inviting with so many playthings to choose from, but an adult who has just lost a child might hear the screeching swing and see the place as empty and grey.

Through Dialogue
Conversation can show a lot about how a person is feeling. Often it’s not what we say but how we say it that gives us away. Our words come out angry, sarcastic, cutting. Our speech might be halting if we’re unsure or manifest as stuttering or stammering. Sometimes we don’t say what we mean or only speak in half-truths. We blurt things out when we’re excited or choose our words too carefully to hide our anger. The sound of our voice changes, too – growing deeper or high pitched.

Through Writing the Hard Stuff
Writing is hard work. Period. Including emotion in our stories is something we all need to master, but writing a memoir comes with a unique challenge. A fiction writer can pour her truth onto the page without the world guessing how true it is. As a memoirist, you expose your life and your heart to the world, and there’s no hiding those truths. Even a lighthearted story will have its sad or bitter moments. At some point you will face the stark white page that demands a sacrifice of blood. My advice? Shake it off and write as honestly as you can. Straight on. Simple language. It will be powerful.

Through “Contradictions and Convulsions,” “Brambles and Beatitudes”
Truth in writing naturally evokes emotions. Aren’t we often conflicted about our choices or our feelings? We are not perfect robots, or dutiful children. When we read fiction or memoir, we experience someone else’s life. We see how they deal with hard choices, and we rejoice or cry along with them. Their pain is our pain. Maybe we like to be reminded we are not alone.

The following excerpt from the article “Touch the Hearts of Your Readers: Entangle Their Emotions” by Tom Bentley speaks about conflicting emotions common to all of us:

I felt such relief knowing my mom wasn’t to be expelled from her home, such dread that she might outlive the [mortgage] contract, such guilt that I actually hoped she would die in her home before the time is up. How can you hope for your mother to die?

Those kinds of mixed feelings – love, guilt, pride, shame, regret – can pull at a reader as much as they pull at the characters in your work. If you can find a way to use those kinds of feelings, their contradictions and convulsions, richly and honestly, your writing will be the more rich and honest for it…

[We] need to chase down our characters and pull them into all of life’s brambles and beatitudes, and sometimes all at the same time.

If you’ve taken on the task of writing a memoir, leaving out emotion should not be an option. Decide why your stories are worth remembering and retelling. Grab hold of their importance and write from that place of truth. Evoke time and place and relationships with honest emotion. Straightforward or subtle, sharing your feelings (the good and the bad) will enrich your writing, and engage and impact your readers.


Image “Sketch Of Woman Crying” courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Road to the Sun

Today I’ve pulled a post from my archives (December 2012), inspired by an awesome trip to Glacier National Park. If you have time, please check out a new article at my Wanderer website titled “Dare. Dream. Write. More.” about why I decided to break my pledge not to make New Year’s resolutions.

GlacierNP_2The Going-to-the-Sun Road wound upwards around the ice-carved mountainsides of Glacier National Park in northern Montana. Forests of evergreens, patches of fading wild flowers, and the yellow-orange of still-changing foliage spread out before me along the road on three sides. Even the cliff face on my left, climbing toward an autumn sky, held beauty in its grey hues, and jagged lines and shadows. Mountain buttes hid the foothills of ridges. Ridges bowed before peaks. Each layer a darker shade of blue to purple-grey. All filled the horizon above v-shaped valleys.

I went around a curve, the traffic slowed to a standstill, and there, blocking the panorama, was a rocky outcrop with a rough-hewn tunnel leading through it. In comparison, the harshness of the lifeless stone and the spiny, leafless trees here didn’t hold the same beauty as what I’d just passed. Behind me, the view was still so awesome I could have stared at it for hours, if not days (so different from the grassy mesas and the looming shoulders of barren mountains I often hike near my home 1250 miles away).

Glacier_4On through the tunnel, and the vista was again wondrous ahead, this time less so behind. And so, The Going-to-the-Sun Road shifted before and behind, in varying degrees of glorious – because, really, even the views that held too much brown and grey or not enough mountain or sky, still held perfection in their own way.

During one of those moments in my ascent when I just had to stop and try to take it all in, I thought of how much looking back can ruin my present and my future. The landscape of my past is filled with both beauty and ugliness. But living in the past – whether glorious or gritty – has often been a trap that keeps me from living in the present. At the same time, working busily for tomorrow (even if tomorrow means the end of the day) without enjoying this very day, seems as much of a waste.

I don’t make true New Year’s resolutions, but one thing I’m going to try very hard to do this coming year is to enjoy my every today and hope more in the future.

What changes do you want to make in the new year?