Community of Stories

Annually in the spring, the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), here in Cincinnati, offers a creative writing workshop, Community of Stories (preregistration required.)

Yesterday was their fifth annual event of Community of Stories and my fourth year attending. Setting aside writing rules, this event’s focus is to share our diverse perspectives and life stories. It joins a cross-section of our community as we come together as one with hope, support, and encouragement.

Under the guidance of writing mentors, we divvied up into small groups, each with about ten people. We had groups in poetry, fiction, and I participated in the memoir group. Comprised with many students from its school and area high-schools, this event is open to the community.

Our day encompassed writing prompts, quiet time for writing, then sharing our writing with open discussion. I’m amazed how these young students can make a first draft look like a third draft. My writing feels choppy to me if I compare myself. Rather, I realize my writing is but a jumping off point for me. More so, I learn so much from these students. Their views of our society and community, their hopes and dreams, and their desire for growth in themselves and others is an inspiration to me.

Following this group time, we all came together in the school’s auditorium. Those who wished to, shared their writing from the podium.

Each year following this Community of Stories event, SCPA publishes a chap book. Those who wish too, have their writing included in this literary journal. And each year, we wait patiently for this journal, which comes out in print shortly before our next annual get-together.

My contributions to the Community of Stories literary journals include:

2015

A Community of Stories: Seeds of Change

“Sun Catcher.”

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2016

A Community of Stories: Dream of Change

“Who?” (fictionalized memoir).

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2017

A Community of Stories: On the Wings of Change

“Transformation is About Becoming Who I Am” (reflective essay).

(and)  “Forest” (poem co-written with Isa Walker).

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2018

A Community of Stories: Speaking Our Silences

(Editor’s choice, to be determined).

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A big thank you to those who shared their day with me!

 

 

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“I Remember”

This writing warm-up is adapted from Joe Brainard’s “I Remember.” (Granary Books 2001).

A few excerpts from this author’s book are:

  • I remember how much I used to stutter.
  • I remember Aunt Cleora who lived in Hollywood. Every year for Christmas, she sent my brother and me a joint present of one book.
  • I remember shower curtains with angel fish on them.
  • I remember one very hot summer day I put ice cubes in my aquarium and all the fish died.

Details from our memories often evoke more than mere facts. Reading that his fish died, I felt sad for those fish and sad for this author as a little boy. I feel he wanted to do good only for it to be the wrong thing to do. I want to know more about these fish. How long did he have them? What color where these fish? Were they goldfish?

From this list of “I remember” choose one.

  • Focus on details of these memories while recalling them.
  • Describe what is happening.
  • Show feelings during the unfolding event.
  • Was there any reaction to the event?

The “I remember” is a way to dig into the experience. We don’t want to just scratch at the surface. We want this memory to pop so that it affects our readers. By developing our own take-away from this event, our description will help us avoid clichés and blanketed statements.

Joe Brainard’s I Remember is a literary and artistic cult classic. As an autobiography, his method was brilliantly simple. He shared specific memories as they rose to the surface of his consciousness, each prefaced by the refrain “I remember.”

Like Brainard’s pieces in his book, we can keep each “I remember” piece short, at a few sentences. We can also expand further, treating this as the start to a longer piece.

Yesterday, I participated in the Community of Stories through the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), here in Cincinnati. Under the guidance of a writing mentor, and in a group setting, the above warm-up was one of our writing exercises.

Here is my “I remember” list from yesterday:

  • I remember being alone in the dark without my candy.
  • I remember being proud of a woman going into space. Sitting on the hardwood floor, I watched my TV, seeing the rocket go up. Then, the next moment I was devasted when the Challenger exploded.
  • I remember the sensors wrapped on my fingers seemed to tighten when the needle moved further than before, displaying a peaked line on the graph paper which kept spitting out of the machine.
  • I remember the stranger who walked up to my tent on a Tuesday morning. He told me of terrorist planes hitting the Twin Towers. My kindly stranger was as puzzled as me.
  • I remember Andrea’s firm handshake was warm when I was hired for my library job.

This “I remember” warm-up reminds me that memories are not as fixed as we might assume. Memories are more fluid and then become fixed when they are recorded and supplemented with details.

Which “I remember” memory will you write about?

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Home

HOME FOR WOMEN IN NEED

Ahead are the front doors of The Esther Marie Hatton Center and Shelterhouse for Women. Rain is in the air on this overcast day. Two women are sitting at a table, talking, in the courtyard I pass by. They look up and smile. I smile back. Inside, more women are congregating. Some are in the computer room, which has see-through glass walls. Some are waiting for dinner, more than an hour away. This place is their home.

The place sparkles with cleanliness. After checking in with staff, I join my friends in the kitchen. Savory spaghetti sauce is simmering on the stove top. Two of my friends have their hands in a big bowl of hamburger meat mixed with onions and stuff. I wash my hands then dig in to help make meatballs.

 

DINNER AND MORE

 

Come dinner time, women residents line up at our kitchen counter, eager for their home-cooked meal. We made so much spaghetti that there was enough for seconds for everyone. These women, each in their own way thanked us with words of heart-felt gratitude.

I’m thankful that today I have a home and I know I can eat when I want to eat. I’m thankful they invited me into their home, letting me help them. You see, I haven’t always had what I have today.

 

A fact sheet on the website for Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition,  says nearly 6000 women in my community are homeless.

 

This shelterhouse encourages and empowers those without resources to move from homelessness and destitution to shelter and stability.

If only I had this place to come to when I was down on my luck. But, I wasn’t in Cincinnati then. I was out west and in a town that only helped men.

I survived my hard luck times by putting one foot in front of the other (literally, ending up here). Any resources I could get back then were invaluable. As my friends and I joined these women, as part of the Feed the Need Program, it gave me a means to give back.

More than just meals, this place does so much more. On an individual basis to sixty women, it offers a social support system and connection to community services. And housing assistance and aftercare services. Medical care, too are part of the services, provided by a community area clinic (Deaconess Health Check Clinic) and other supporting health professionals.

 

HOW TO HELP

 

Nationwide, there are no less than 4000 shelters. We have a lot of homeless people in America. Too many! A great resource for discovering where in your community could use a helping hand is the website for Homeless Shelter Directory.

From its front page, click on the map, picking out your state. From there you will be taken to a page which lists not only places in need, but also the contact details.

 

HOME

 

The sun is out. It’s the morning after helping out at The Esther Marie Hatton Center and Shelterhouse for Women. Spring is finally here. My drapes are open. Birds are feeding in the bird-feeders right outside a window on my bright yellow doll-house.

My pet finches chatter back when the outside birds cackle. We had scrambled eggs for breakfast—I spoil my finches—they love their egg casserole with a hint of honey and crumbled egg shells. Across the street is a lake. Ducks squawk, also happy its finally spring-time.

 

RESOURCES

The Esther Marie Hatton Center and Shelterhouse for Women, Cincinnati.

Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition

Homeless Shelter Directory, a nation-wide resource.

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7 Steps to a Super-Spicy Title

Today’s tip for my writer friends is how to come up with a title. Okay, I admit, this post is as much for me as for you.

Seven Steps to a Super-Spicy Title

MIND MAPPING

1. Look for key words and names.

My keywords and names are:

  • Nana
  • Secrets
  • Yikes!

 

 

 

 

And themes. My themes include:

  • Earning my nana’s praise and my place in the family lineage
  • Homelessness
  • Overcoming insurmountable life difficulties
  • Reparation
  • Repetition

 

2. Consider subtitles. Include the category or genre in the subtitle. This will help readers when randomly searching for their next book.

My categories and genres are:

  • Memoir
  • Venture
  • Wanderlust

 

3. Consider length. One-word titles are popular and catchy. On the flip side, one word and only one word can leave a reader clueless as to what it’s about.

 

4. Thinking about keywords and names, themes, subtitles, and length, make a list of possible titles.

 

This is my list. It comes from what some of you have told me and from my publishing house, along with my idea or two.

  • From Nana’s Girl to Elle: A Transformational Memoir
  • Nana’s Girl
  • One Was Never Enough: A Wanderlust Memoir
  • One Was Too Many and Two Were Not Enough: A Memoir of Secrets
  • Secrets: One Was Too Many and Two Were Not Enough

 

(Okay, I know, I broke a couple rules in coming up with that list. So, moving on–)

 

WHITTLING DOWN

 

5. Eliminate misleading titles.

 

My editor suggests not to use a title with the word “secrets”. He says this could cause my book to be miscategorized.

 

I have a problem with “Nana’s Girl”. I’m fifty years old.

 

Many of you have told me you like “Secrets: One Was Too Many and Two Were Not Enough.” Problem, being, this is an awfully long title for an e-book cover.

 

“One Was Too Many and Two Were Not Enough: A Memoir of Secrets” could be better–it has the category in the subtitle. Again, though, it is long.

 

6. Any titles left over after scratching out what could be misleading, Google these titles. If a title is already in use with popularity, eliminate it. Then, look at the title options which have made the cut. Hopefully, one of these will be a great title.

 

Nana’s Girl. An Etsy shop comes up on Google.

 

STILL STUMPED?

 

7. Let readers choose the title. Okay, my friends, as you follow my writing journey, what is your vote for my title?

 

And if you’ve written a story or poem, what worked for you to name it?

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WIP (Work in Progress) April Update

First round of editing is finished.

With my editor, we tackled these issues:

  • Scene development. Welcome to my world, my reader-friends.
  • Parting with poetic language. Readers, what’s your take-away?
  • And showing the progression from chaos to a new way of thinking or a new set of actions.

Persistence — Power — Positive Attitude, a January post put forth what I was up against. My editor’s guidance in this editing process has been invaluable in my persistence. It has given me confidence. (Thanks, Brad!)

 

Going in to April, the copy editor with my publishing house is now working with me. This is the fine combing through word after word and phrase after phrase, while paying attention to comma and period placement, and so on and so forth. Yes, tedious. I don’t envy her job. (Thanks, Emily!)

 

Following copy editing, there are more steps ahead of us. I’m not going to future trip. Rather, I’m happy to say we are getting my book ready for you. A well-known quote by Aristotle goes like this: “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

 

Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist. Today, I am somebody. I did something to become who I am today. Criticism fell, and I pushed forward. Had I sat still, my life would have stayed in chaos and this book would not be happening.

 

Why I wrote my story:  People told me to get my story out in any way I could. That got me started. When recalling memories to put on paper, I couldn’t forget that when life was incredibly difficult for me, people said, “Keep the faith” or “It will be okay.” Read more, here.

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Brave to Share, Brave to Change Things

Recently I participated in a spoken event to help raise awareness, energy, and financial support in the fight against gender-based violence. Each person who stood at the microphone and podium shared their personal story with our audience. Our expressions in poetry and prose emitted daring honesty to reveal a time we had been powerless yet are now brave and confident.

Heartfelt words of encouragement from others gave me a level of pride, that yes, each of us can make a positive difference in our communities.

My personal experience with this issue comes from a dark point in my journey. As explored in my debut book, coming out soon, choices, and then consequences of those choices push me to the brink of changing my life for the better. Just when I thought I had it figured out, I’m faced with one more hurdle. When at this spoken event, I described this hurdle in my spoken prose.

An excerpt from “Living on a Fork in the Road”

I had no idea how to define [him] but had nodded anyway to their comment. I’d gotten my college degree in June [2010], then in April, still without a career job, I left Seattle with him. I had no family to help. We’ve traveled from Seattle down to San Francisco, east into Arizona and Utah, and west again, through Nevada. Six months out from Seattle, my goal now is to survive.

One woman at that campground had told me, “My husband and I can take you to a women’s shelter.”

Homeless shelters don’t keep people forever. That’s why I went with [him]— I believed it would lead to something permanent, unlike temporary solutions from agencies. He jumps another pothole, then swings his right arm towards me. I’m afraid in his reaction, but then he stops mid-air, damn-near hitting my face. “Ellie, why did you let me break the trailer door? Why?”

We bounce deep into a graveled stretch of road as he grabs his steering wheel for control.  I hadn’t noticed leaving pavement. Cacti and pine trees keep the world out. I can’t rule out he can pull over and kill me. He’s strong enough. And mad enough.

Dust kicks up. I grab my door handle for leverage, not that we’d crash into another car.  There aren’t any other cars [on our road].

He demands, “Stop that. Now, look—you’re upsetting Manny.” (Manny was his dog, at twenty pounds of white matted fur).

He swings his right arm again, this time pushing me deeper into my seat. He corrects his driving one-handedly, screeches to a stop, turns the ignition off and pockets his keys. “I hate you, Ellie…. I (expletive word redacted) hate you, Ellie.”

What difficulty has personally touched you? How can you share your story with others? What will you do to create positive change in our community? Please share in the comments.

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Helping Senior Citizens, Volunteering

Recently, I helped put together Senior Boxes, working at the warehouse for the Freestore Foodbank, here in Cincinnati. We filled several hundred boxes with essential food items. These boxes will be given to the elderly in our community.

Retirement, loss of a spouse, and increasing health care expenses can make a senior citizen vulnerable to financial struggles. These Senior Boxes help ease their difficulties by ensuring they have food to make their meals.

There is an abundance of ways we can help the older folks in our communities. Here are a few ways:

Visit someone who resides in an assisted living facility or a retirement home.

Bring along a board game or cards, a book to share, a home-baked treat, or a care package.

Or, if someone you know is elderly and lives in their own home, give them a call to see if you can stop by for a visit. Offer to fix little things around the home. If it’s winter time, shovel snow from their driveway.

In our busy schedules, even a quick hello can brighten their day.

Help those who can no longer drive. Take them to their appointments and help them run errands. You can even bring your briefcase or laptop and then wait for them in the lobby while they see their doctor. You can also bring them along as you run your own errands, so they can get out of the house and visit with you at the same time.

Rich life experiences determine our character, values, and sense of peace. Imagine the many cherished stories, lessons and experiences our elders can give us.

We can make a difference in their lives.                                                                   Sharing is quality time together.

xxx

 

If you’re like me, without a parent or grandparent of your own who needs some extra caring for, there are plenty of seniors out there who could use some company!

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Several organizations help match volunteers to senior citizens. If in the greater Cincinnati area, you can volunteer as I did, by reaching out to the Freestore Food Bank. Another great place to get involved is through the AARP Foundation, found in many cities.

How about you? Has your life been touched by helping a senior citizen in your community? Share your experience with us by using the comment box.

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Women are Changemakers: My thoughts on the Women’s March, Jan. 20, 2018

March 3, 1913, one day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, was the dawn of a new movement for women. On that day, more than 5,000 women descended on Washington D.C. to fight for legal rights for all women. Following activism spurred by this demonstration, it was seven years later, in 1920, that Congress passed the 19th Amendment, extending voting rights to women, nationwide.

xxIn 1913, my maternal great-grandmother was a little girl with choices to make in growing up to become a woman. By 1920, she was 16 years old, and likely saw opportunities unheard of in generations before her. She went on to become active in any community she lived, and then influenced my childhood.

Managing a transitional home for unwed pregnant women, writing an advice column for women, and owning a business were among her contributions. She instilled self-confidence, perseverance, and rightful thinking in me, thanks to the women who influenced her.

In 1970, my great-grandmother was in her sixties and a successful entrepreneur, when one of the more noteworthy rallies took place. It was the Women’s Strike for Equality, where an estimated 50,000 women marched in New York.

January 20, 2018 saw another large turn-out in fighting for women’s rights. My great-grandmother has since passed away. Her birthday had been on January 20.

Many cities nationwide participated in marches yesterday. In Cincinnati, more than 10,000 people marched. Different from the marches of 100 years ago, men too are coming out in droves to support this fight. 

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Yesterday, those who marched and those who supported marches did so for a variety of reasons.

Some are fed up with sexual misconduct. Some were hoping to create an enduring political movement that will elect more women to government office, and some want to encourage voter participation. No matter what our reasons are, it all means one thing: we demand equality.

If my great-grandmother were still alive, she’d be outspokenly angered by our current American politics, and so very proud of those who are fighting to make a change, to ensure women are treated respectfully, fairly, and with equality.

With a belated wish, Happy Birthday to Nana, my maternal great-grandmother, Marie (Conner) Schmidt, nee Gosney.

xxx 

 

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Persistence — Power — Positive Attitude…. (New Year’s WIP Update)

WIP (Work in Progress) Update

I’m starting this first month in the new year with my publisher. We’re working together in my latest manuscript revision. I’m assured I have a story to tell. My goal is to tell it well.

GOALS:

Scene

Scene development is key. I must bring readers into three scenes (on average per chapter), showing my perceptions, motivations, and feelings. How I’m doing this: outlining (again) to decide which plot points to keep and which to let fade. Infusing these points, I’m also letting go of any ramblings which follow.

Clarity

Poetic, and sometimes archaic language, tends to weasel its way into my unfolding story. (“Thanks, Nana”, I say in response to this.) To fix this, I’m replacing certain words with short punch lines to instill opportunity for my readers to have their own “ah-hah” moments.

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Understanding Action

My publisher brought forth a few questions, “Why?” or “Didn’t this happen because of this?” There, I need to clue the reader in. This can be challenging. As a true story, the “why’s and “why not’s” can seem illogical. My homework is to show how chaos evolved into a new way of thinking or a new set of actions.

WHAT I’M DISCOVERING:

Purging unnecessary crap leaves room to fall in love with the must-have and must-keep scenes.

Persistence gives me an incredible high, nearly indescribable. Words of wisdom from my late nana are showing their true face as I work toward my goals.

Power. My story is about choices and consequences and what these make of us. Overcoming obstacles are a part of my story. Describing through rich scenes show how I overcame, and like my late Nana had influenced me, my story is influential.

Positive Attitude. At times, I can allow myself to feel daunted by the current problems in our American society and other world-wide injustices. Yet, by sharing my voice, my concerns, and my answers, I know change is possible.

WHY?

I have a story to tell. You may, too. If you feel your story in your heart and bones itching to get out into the world, check out this recent past blog post: Writing Changes Things. Writing experience not required.

Join me in this journey. What are your thoughts in overcoming challenges? How are you influenced by others’ experiences? And how do you—or can you—influence others?

Please let me know in the comments.xxx

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Writing Changes Things

As writers, our stories, whether fiction or true, causes readers to feel emotions, form opinions, and become informed.

Since the latest political shift in our American society, people are taking a stand in unprecedented numbers.

Whether for or against our cultural changes, this latest wake makes it difficult to remain neutral.

Take for example, in January 2017, our Capitol’s front steps saw the largest political demonstration in fifty years; a plea for human rights and equality. Our country hadn’t had such a large turnout since the days of the Vietnam War protest, back in the days I was born.

As writers, we hold the power to influence and persuade our families, communities, and lawmakers as we live through this turbulent time.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a daily column for a syndicated newspaper. Her writing ranged from women’s issues to general humanitarian causes. She was not just another First Lady. She was a changemaker. Likewise, we needn’t be just another concerned community citizen. Through our chosen venue, we too can influence others through our writing.

My passions include equal rights, advocacy for the homeless, and support groups which don’t isolate members based on individual differences. I’ve been adversely subjected to these problems in society, yet overcame them through action. Not many people can say the same, but many people are affected by these concerns.

For example, the neighborhood I work in is in the heart of a big city, saturated with homeless folks. I put this concern in writing and it is now published in the inaugural issue of One Person’s Trash Literary Journal. I am also published in a national news magazine—even without any journalist credentials.

 

Like Eleanor Roosevelt, I believe I can make a difference, and I see differences all around me, thanks to my writing.

 

Here’s how to write for a difference:

1. Which “hot topic” do you find yourself “quick-tempered” over? Start here. This is your subject.

2. How has this concern personally influenced you? Write freely, in your own space and without forethought. Then revise to convey your emotions to readers.

3. Research. Which details in your personal essay could and should be backed up with supporting facts, numbers, and statistics? What suggestions can you offer for positive change? Are there certain organizations or support groups you can recommend to your readers? Transition this information into your written story.

4. Proofread, edit, and revise, as you feel is best. Then, be cognizant that your passionate message needs to be shared with readers.

5. Learn how to get your writing noticed by familiarizing yourself with community papers, regional and national literary journals, and your local newspaper. Magazines can be hesitant with “new” writers for feature articles, however many open their running columns.

Church bulletins and the newsletter with an organization you belong to are plausible. Self-publishing through Amazon and other venues are also viable options. Think outside of the box– do what you have to—get your work into your readers’ hands.

6. Be proud. By sharing your experience and concern, your are empowering readers  to create positive changes.

How will you influence change?

What will you write about? Let me know in the comments.

 

This post has been revised and was first published on 8/27/17 at Blogging my Writing Journey, found at NovElle.blogspot.com.

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