Thursday, May 30, 2013

WRITING FROM LIFE, by Molly Best Tinsley

Memoir, like any narrative, requires a strong story line, well-rounded characters, and intense, richly detailed scenes that surround the reader with your remembered world. There are also challenges peculiar to the writing of memoir, and here are some tips for surmounting them.

Memoir is not autobiography. Unless you’re a celebrity, readers need more incentive to engage with your life than simply a blow-by-blow chronology that begins at birth. Memoir requires a sharp focus, a specific topic; it pulls a single thread from your life and sticks with it, letting go of any characters and incidents that don’t pertain. In crafting Entering the Blue Stone, I had to say no to countless threads of family dysfunction—what family doesn’t hide plenty?—in order to spotlight the process of helping my parents navigate the final chaotic decade of their lives.

The author of memoir is the implicit protagonist. Although your inclination may be to hide behind the easier role of witness, it’s important to identify your active role in events, your needs and wants, your strengths and most important, your flaws, in order to bring out your own arc—in other words, how you changed over the course of the story. As the protagonist in Blue Stone, I learned, for example, to accept my inability to fix everything. It wasn’t until I began writing the narrative, though, that I realized how much my own anxiety, rather than my parents’ comfort, had driven my decisions.

Scenes are the power source of memoir. I took copious notes during my parents’ last years—it was my defense against insanity. When it came time to write the experience, I could recreate scenes verbatim. If your memories are less precise, don’t worry. Readers of memoir don’t expect tape-recorded dialogue. With your thorough knowledge of the people in your past, you can trust yourself to recreate the sort of language they might have used and craft scenes of emotional truth, if not verbatim records.

To get past the fear that the real people in your life may object to their portraits in your memoir, examine your motives in writing. Flattery or revenge or even writing just to prove a point—these motives lead to flat characters and one-dimensional stories. If your goal is to recreate a portion of your past in all its fullness and complexity, you will do your characters justice. You won’t need to apologize to anyone.


Molly Tinsley left the English faculty at the US Naval Academy to write full-time. Her story collection Throwing Knives won the Oregon Book Award; her most recent release is the memoir Entering the Blue Stone. Three years ago she donned the editor/publisher hat, co-founding the small press Fuze Publishing ( She facilitates the workshops, Crafting Lively Dialogue and The Second Draft.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Willamette Writers Registration Open

Willamette Writers It's that time of year again, and the buzz is starting about the Willamette Writers Conference. This year's theme is "Fresh Brewed," and it's all about percolating new ideas, fermenting those that we’ve already got to make them even better, and brewing up a unique writing experience. Portland, home to coffee roasters and breweries, is the perfect source of inspiration.

Included this year is a workshop that builds over the course of three days. John Ellis, of Portland Internet Design, will be teaching a Web Warrior series of classes. Whether you're going the traditional route or self-publishing, these classes are all about learning how to get your writing on the web...successfully. John will focus on SEO writing mechanics, increasing site performance, using keywords, and mastering Google+. And yes, he fully expects you to bring your iPad, laptop or smart phone for some hands-on learning.

Other classes include those from popular workshop leaders like Jessica Morrell, Cynthia Whitcomb, Danny Manus, and Larry Brooks, as well as new faces like Seth Jaret and Debra Gwartney.

And the consultants will be there in full force! On the film side, some perennial favorites coming are Luke Ryan, Jacqueline Gault (who is already working with local screenwriters), and returning managers Josh Kesselman and Marc Manus, fresh from the sale of a spec script. For those interested in literary agents and editors, there's a wide and varied range interested in every genre, including Annie Bomke, Linda Epstein, Angela Rinaldi, and John Cusick.

The keynote speaker at the Saturday Night Gala this year is Kelly Willams Brown, the author of Adulting and conference success story. Lunch speakers include Dennis Stovall of Ooligan Press; screenwriter and director Gordy Hoffman, and author Jennifer Lauck.

FiLMLaB has been a huge success this year so far. The Script-to-Screen competition doubled its entries over 2012, and not only will the winning script be made into a movie, but it will also be shown during the FiLMLaB event after the Friday Night Reception. Judges this year included Erik Bork (Emmy and Golden Globe winning writer/editor of Band of Brothers), Stacy Chattaway (Executive Director of Development at LAIKA Entertainment), Zach Cox (Manager at Circle of Confusion – Walking Dead), Mary Cybriwsky (Manager/Producer at Scooty Woop Entertainment), and Luke Ryan (Executive Vice President at Disruption Entertainment). And just to show that even when it’s over it’s not really over, a new opportunity has opened up. A Northwest production company that features short films in many of its projects wants to see vetted scripts from FiLMLaB, so those from the semi-finalists and finalists (both this year's and last's) will be passed on to them.

So come and get inspired! The conference is three days of learning about the craft of writing, getting excited about writing, practicing writing, seeing great accomplishments in writing, talking about writing, and then...yep. Writing some more.