April 2017 Inside: ▪ Catherine Magdalena on memoir▪ Join Kerry in the dark▪ Small grants from Soapstone▪ Total poempalooza!▪ Markets: Opportunit

Kickstart Your Writing Purple

April 2017


Catherine Magdalena on memoir
Join Kerry in the dark
Small grants from Soapstone
Total poempalooza!
Markets: Opportunities for outsiders
Comma misuse deadly, expensive
Showcase: “When Mom Went Deer Hunting” by Elizabeth Menche
Subscribe to Kickstart for free!

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Catherine Magdalena

Words from a memoirist

By Catherine Magdalena

Note: Kickstart student Catherine Magdalena has been writing memoir for years. Her recent work appears in the Woodshop Writers’ fourth anthology, BeLonging, which is available online at Lulu.

Everyone has a story to tell. People post, blog, and tweet about their lives. Everybody’s everything is suddenly a story, and more readers than ever have discovered that it is fascinating to read about real stuff that happened to real people—especially if those people know how to write.

Memoir vs. autobiography. Autobiography is written by the main character, tends to span a long time frame, and includes a detailed chronology of events and places. Facts are the foundation of the story.

In contrast, a memoir shapes life events into a story that communicates the author’s truth to others. This style of writing generally is less formal than autobiography, encompasses a shorter time frame, and is more concerned with emotional truth than factual events. Memoir generally is slanted toward a particular section of one’s life and how it makes the author feel.

Writing about your life is hard work. Making your story interesting and readable is harder than it seems. It is tempting to cram too many memories or events onto the page, instead of focusing on what the story is really about. It takes a lot of reflection and massaging to make the story flow and get your point across to your audience. Just figuring out what the hell your point is takes some work. And the experience of writing memoir can be harrowing and heart wrenching.

Reasons to write memoir
* It helps you identify the threads and themes in your life and make sense of what you’ve lived.
* It contributes to your own recorded history and provides a way to share your experiences, perspective, and learnings with others.
* It can help you connect with others who’ve experienced something similar, encouraging and inspiring readers (and yourself) so that they realize they are not alone in their experience.
* It can be a fun, lovely romp through some of life’s greatest hits.

The big reason. Writing memoir is a healing and transformative journey. It helps dissolve the hard knots of loss, betrayal, regret, and guilt that keep you stuck in the past, despite your best efforts to forget. Expressing your vulnerabilities through writing will set you free.

It is a gift to reach an understanding of what has happened in your life. Memoir writing is a take-charge kind of thing—not accepting what has happened but making sense of it in the bigger perspective of this thing called life.

Notable memoir writers. Memoirists Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors) and Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) have inspired me to write and to find power through being vulnerable. They each inspire in different ways: Maya as peaceful and Augusten as a self-proclaimed brutalist. You can find many interviews with these writers on YouTube.

Tips on writing memoir
* Keep a running list of thoughts and ideas. Write them down and then use what works from the list. Trust in your subconscious and its ability to make connections with the here and now. Each thought you write down could become a story.
* Do a lot of reporting. Bring in history to give the story a place and perspective.
* Pay close attention to what goes in and what stays out. What’s the focus of the story? What feeds that focus, and what steals the life away from it? What you leave out of the story is as important as what you leave in.

Kerry s typewriter

Join Kerry in the dark

If you like short, dark fiction, you will love Kickstart student Kerry McPherson’s revamped website. It features her own flash fiction about justice, vengeance, and the scary edges of life.

Join her there, where the scales tilt. If you’ve been bad, you have reason to be afraid.


Small grants available to celebrate women writers

Want to observe a favorite woman writer’s birthday? Lead a discussion of her work? Organize a reading of women writers on a particular topic?

Soapstone—our local grassroots literary organization that focuses on women writers—is ready to help. Soapstone’s small grant program provides modest funding to support public study groups or events that celebrate the work of women writers. Past awards have focused on the work of Adrienne Rich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sylvia Plath, Jane Austen and Sappho.

You have to come up with your own dough for food, alcohol, and reader or travel expenses, but Soapstone will provide funds for most of the rest: a venue, printed materials, other incidental expenses, and a portion of the organizer or study group leader’s time. The event must be new and open to the public, and not a book release or promotion.

If you submit your grant application by June 15, you could be the next person to host an event or study group. Share your love for Adichie Chimamanda, Zadie Smith, Emma Donoghue, Louise Erdrich, Amy Tan, Karen Armstrong, or whoever you read most eagerly.

National Poetry Month

Total poempalooza!

April is National Poetry Month. Organized by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world. Tens of thousands of people take part by reading, writing, and teaching poetry of all types.

But April, schmapril! Why not celebrate your own total poempalooza all year long?

Sign up to receive a poem a day, via email or social media.
Write a poem a day for a week, or a month. For inspiration, try these prompts.
Write a poem in a different form.
Throw the Haikube, a set of dice preloaded with poetic language.
Watch poetry movies.



Opportunities for outsiders

Writers feeling a little out of the mainstream these days might find a literary home at a journal that publishes work by people on the cultural margins. The choices are many (see below). If you submit to one of these and are accepted, let us know and we will feature your work in a future issue of Kickstart!

Mortar (a new online journal) publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by people who “exist on the borderline” and can “articulate marginalized experiences through new or undefined genres and forms.”

The Black Napkin publishes poetry by marginalized poets: “people of color, people who are disabled, women, people who identify as nonbinary, people who identify as neurodivergent, people who identify as asexual, immigrants, people who are undocumented, trauma survivors, atheists, agnostics, members of underrepresented religions—any poets whose voices are often unheard in the media.”

Queerlit publishes short stories, comics, and literary or personal essays by LGBTQ+ creators, about LGBTQ+ themes or with LBGTQ+ characters or settings.

Brickplight publishes poetry that explores unique identities. It seeks work by poets who “revel in undermining conventional thinking by giving voice to what conformity would have us bury and forget.”

The Geeky Press wants narrative essay, creative nonfiction, script, photo, and poetry submissions for a book on race in America.

Nerdy Words

Comma misuse deadly, expensive

By Ann Sihler

Ah, the mighty comma! Years ago I started to appreciate the outsized power of this humble punctuation mark when a friend pointed out the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma!” and “Let’s eat Grandma!”

Just this past month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit determined that the lack of a comma made a Maine law so ambiguous that truck drivers can now claim $10 million in overtime pay from a dairy company. (This class action lawsuit hinged on whether the drivers were exempt from overtime pay for distributing certain foodstuffs [which is what truck drivers do], or for packing the foodstuffs in preparation for distribution [which they do not do].)

In light of this legal decision, I have to take seriously the Maine Legislative Drafting Manuals description of the comma as “the most misused and misunderstood punctuation marks in legal drafting and, perhaps, the English language.”

If you have an important writing project coming up, check out these handy guidelines on comma use. They might save you some money—or even your life!

Student Showcase

“When Mom Went Deer Hunting”

By Elizabeth Menche

Elizabeth Menche has been a Kickstart student on and off for several years. Currently she is working on a memoir about her brother’s experience with polio. She started the project to help her sons understand more about their family, particularly their grandparents. “I feel this is a story best told on paper,” she says.

Through Kickstart, Menche has both improved her writing skills and come to enjoy writing more. She says that she finds it “especially interesting to write my thoughts down on paper and then see how they look when I read them back.”

When I was old enough to figure out that hunting meant killing, I was surprised that Mom—especially because she was a nurse—wanted go out and kill deer. I was even more surprised when I learned why she liked to go hunting.

Each year before hunting season, the family hunting group went target practicing. Mom said she didn’t try to be a good shot. In fact she made sure she was the least accurate shooter of the group. That way the group placed her up on top of a hill and changed her role from hunter to look-out. Her responsibility was to keep a watch out in the fields below and blow a whistle for the hunters when she saw a deer.

Though she took her gun (a 30-06 as I remember), she had no intention of using it. What Mom was looking forward to was sitting on the hilltop with her thermos of coffee and her pockets stuffed full of Hershey chocolate bars. She added with a shy grin that she really didn’t look for deer very often. She mostly watched the birds.

I still smile when I picture Mom sitting up on a hill, eating chocolate bars, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and watching the birds.

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A Nancy Woods production

Thanks for reading Kickstart, which is a publication of Nancy Woods—author and writing coach. If you have any comments about the newsletter, feel free to email them to Nancy or her newsletter sidekick (aka editor) Ann Sihler.

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