From memory to memoir

writinghomesmallTo kick off its three-part Spring Writing Series, the Royal Oak Public Library is featuring my workshop, From Memory to Memoir: How to Write and Publish Your Life Stories on Monday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m.  Focusing on personal essays as well as book-length memoirs, well discuss how to avoid the common pitfalls of this popular genre. Copies of my personal essay collection, Writing Home, will be available at a special discount. The event is free to the public — but reservations are required.

NEXT WEEK: I’ll be part of a professional panel discussion on blogging for writers. Contact the Royal Oak Public Library for details.

A cookbook memoir

Sometimes I suggest family recipes as points of entry for writing a memoir. Does your Italian grandmother’s pasta sauce stir up memories of holiday gatherings? Do you recall your kid brother’s grin every time you bake the oatmeal cookies he loved? Using this approach, some writers end up compiling cookbooks laced with treasured family stories and traditions.

IMG_1219Anyone can turn a memoir into a work of art by combining keepsakes and recipes. For inspiration on how to start this type of project (shown at left), you might want to visit my new art blog. Please click here to learn more.

Speaking of memoirs, I’ll be teaching an evening class on memoir writing at the Royal Oak Public Library on March 24, and participating as a panelist in a discussion on blogging on March 31. Complete details on the ROPL’s Spring Writing Series (including how to register for the classes) are included in this feature on Royal Oak Patch.

Photo: “House Wife” (an altered book) by Cindy La Ferle

 

Fly your own bird

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde

DSCN0126One of my favorite episodes on the hilarious Portlandia series is the one that popularized the phrase: “Put a bird on it.” Now listed in urban dictionaries, the expression refers to any creative trend that’s become so common that it’s a cliche. If you haven’t seen the episode, think of the times you’ve visited a boutique or gallery and noticed how many items are embellished with a bird. You get the idea.

On the topic of originality, freelance writer Pam Houghton recently posted several excellent tips on building a satisfying career. For me, the tip that resonated most was the one emphasizing the importance of listening to your own voice — instead of following trends.

“Some people make success look easy,” Pam wrote. “The times I tried to imitate them never worked even after repeated attempts….I had no choice then but to step back and ask, what is it that I do well?”

Pam’s post got me thinking about my early years as a journalist in the 1980s. I was a huge fan of New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen, whose “Life in the Thirties” pieces were so fresh that I wished I’d written them. I wanted to draw “aha!” moments from my readers, like Quindlen did every week. I wanted to be a family columnist, but how could I hold a candle to Anna Quindlen?

Then there was Anne Lamott, who wrote the exquisite memoir, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, and lots of juicy essays for Salon. Add to the fact that I also admired essayist Annie Dillard, and you’ll get why I considered adopting my middle name, Anne, as a pen name. The Annes and Annas were rocking the writing world.

On one hand, I learned something about my own taste — and writing goals — when I examined the nuts and bolts of their work. Quindlen spun the personal into the political; Dillard brought both depth and poetry to her nonfiction; Lamott broke rules and made me laugh out loud.

Luckily, I stopped short of stealing their pet adjectives or mimicking their styles. But it took a while to feel confident in my own voice.

It’s tempting to reach for something quick and easy — a bird? someone else’s idea? — when we’re timid or lazy. (As a mixed-media artist, I’ve been guilty of pasting too many birds on my collages.) Of course, it’s natural to follow trends when we’re starting out, whether we’re designing furniture or writing poetry. And while it’s true that we learn by observation, the trick is to avoid getting stuck in copycat mode. (Plagiarism is illegal, period.)

Being an original is twice as hard in the digital age. Everyone is chirping for attention, building a platform, following trends. The biggest challenge is to keep stretching your wingspan, then landing on something that’s truly your own.

— Artwork by Cindy La Ferle; copyright 2012 —  

My art in a magazine

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.” — Seth Godin 

DSCN4958I’ve been publishing my essays and articles since I was in college, yet I still get that little thrill each time I see my byline in a glossy magazine or a newspaper. Until this year, though, I didn’t have the nerve to submit my artwork to publishers — so I was honored when two of my pieces were chosen to illustrate the Rust Belt Rising Almanac this spring.

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Another exciting “first” for me: getting my work published in Cloth, Paper, Scissors, a full-color national magazine for mixed-media and collage artists.

The January/February 2014 issue of CPS includes my essay on struggling to call myself an “artist” — a theme that speaks to writers and artists alike. My essay is illustrated with a full-page color photo of “The Importance of Ancestors,” a mixed-media piece of mine that’s been displayed in juried art competitions in Michigan. You’ll find the magazine at Michaels craft stores or Barnes & Noble, in the art magazine section.

TO SEE MORE OF MY MIXED-MEDIA ARTWORK, PLEASE VISIT MY new ONLINE GALLERY 

Home for the holidays

DSCN2880Now in its second printing and available on KindleWriting Home is a collection of my published magazine essays and family newspaper columns. Awarded several prizes for creative nonfiction, it’s been dubbed “a love letter to home and family life.” If you enjoy my personal blog and current newspaper essays, you might appreciate this collection of earlier memoirs, too.

To read excerpts, reviews, and the new introduction to the Kindle edition, please click this link and visit the book’s page on Amazon.

To purchase Writing Home locally, visit The Yellow Door Art Market, where you’ll find a wonderful selection of other Michigan books and gifts for everyone on your list.