by Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam BarryAugust 2011
On memoir, poetry and craft
With more than 25 years of experience, Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry have the inside scoop on writing and publishing. Together, they are the authors of Write That Book Already!: The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now. Email them your questions (along with your name and hometown) about writing and publishing.
FACT OR FICTION
Dear Author Enablers,
I have written over 100 stories of growing up poor during the Depression and World War II era. I’m 76 years old now, with cancer. Because many of these events occurred some 60-70 years ago, many of the names, dates and places are hazy at best. My question: Should I treat this writing as fiction or memoir? Do you think there might be an interest in reading of a farm boy growing up without electricity or indoor plumbing?
Binghamton, New York
To answer your last question first: It’s all about the quality of the writing. Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes, was so compelling that it took the world by storm. The question of whether you write this as a memoir or fiction is not as easy to answer. There is freedom in writing fiction, allowing you to use your imagination to improve the story. On the other hand, you may be more interested in capturing the actual time, people and places of your past. You could start by including a disclaimer indicating that you have used your memories to capture events to the best of your ability, and that some names and details have been changed.
Dear Author Enablers,
My siblings and I have created a company to market our deceased mother’s large collection of short, spirit-based, uplifting, often whimsical poems. In my research I have discovered self-publishing, e-publishing, and have been told to get an agent. The first two choices may be our only option, but we had hoped to avoid do-it-yourself. How do we find an appropriate agent? How do we get noticed?
Your story inspired us to write a little verse:
Poetry is a pretty tough sell
But if you try, you can do well
The first step—publishing just one poem
Then another, till your book finds a home
Your mother, no doubt, was a better poet. Start by submitting her poetry to literary magazines and journals. Once her work has appeared in print a few times, try approaching small presses that specialize in poetry. There are a number of well-respected first-book contests for poetry, such as the Walt Whitman Award sponsored by the Academy of American Poets.
Writer’s Digest publishes an annual journal called Poet’s Market that includes detailed information about book publishers, magazines, newsletters and journals that publish poetry. Make sure you carefully follow the submission guidelines for each publication.
CRAFT OF WRITING SPOTLIGHT
We asked Patricia Albers, author of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, how she establishes a sense of place in her writing.
“Establishing a sense of place begins with prowling around,” Albers tells us. “To write about the childhood home of painter Joan Mitchell, I walked Chicago’s Streeterville district with my eyes on the 1920s and 1930s. It was like spending time with someone to get a reading on her deceased mother.
“I observed the light, got a sense of distances, and felt the presence of Lake Michigan. But instead of the Mitchells’ small Tudor apartment house I discovered the John Hancock Building, whose monster Cheesecake Factory precluded even imagining old Chicago. I dug up a letter that mentions the elms that once lined East Chestnut and a 1928 real estate prospectus that brags about the private silver vaults in the Mitchells’ building. I used such tangibles to establish a sense of place. The clincher unexpectedly came in a list of 190 East Chestnut residents in the 1932 Social Register: Mr. and Mrs. A. Badger Shreve, Mr. and Mrs. J. Beach Clow, and the like. Ah, so it was that kind of place!”