Tag Archives: Challenge

Z is for Zombies

I know, kind of a stretch, right? This is my final post for the April A to Z Challenge, and hey, Z is tough. But let me reassure you – I am not into that whole Walking Dead thing. Zombies just never have done it for me. However, there is one way in which they relate to what I’m doing that I can discuss. And that is the old writing maxim: Write it like they’re dead.

This typically applies to nonfiction work: memoirs, biography and the like. Most of the time, someone writing a biography has the cooperation of their subject, so it’s not an issue. But what do you do when you want to write a memoir – ostensibly about your own experience – and in come all those other people in your life, and you find you have to write about them, too?

I went to an excellent panel at AWP (I know, really, this is the last mention!) on Privacy of Secondary Characters. If you are writing creative nonfiction, memoir, or even poetry, you have to consider this. Or if there’s a chance that your best friend will recognize herself in your novel, I guess it would apply there too. But the bottom line is, it really doesn’t matter.

If you are worried about how others will respond to your work, then you have two choices: either don’t write it, or write it like they’re dead. You can’t create this work worrying about what others will think, even if they are explicitly mentioned in the work. One quote from the panel stands out: “The only authorization is the ethos of art.” Which is to say, you will get no authorization, nor do you need to. Unless you are portraying someone as criminal, you can’t worry about it. (And if you are, that’s a whole different story.)

Other tidbits from this session (it really was excellent) include:
1. Make the writing worth the cost (if it’s that good, who’s going to argue?)

2. Don’t worry about defacing the Family Scroll (a hypothetical scroll of family history on which you don’t want to make a black mark)

3. There’s no such thing as writing honestly about yourself and not doing justice to others.

4. You cannot ultimately predict how anyone will respond (panelists had stories of responses very different than they had envisioned, some good, some from different people than they had expected)

5. Compassion + mercy + forgiveness can come back around to the authors.

6. The subject and writer are in this together, even if the subject has a lot more to lose.

7. We do it, we do it imperfectly, but don’t kid yourself there’s no cost to anyone.

I guess then it’s all about your risk tolerance. How much of a risk are you willing to take? What might the costs be of your craft? There is, of course, always a cost. How do you weigh that against not performing your craft?

As I said, this has mostly to do with nonfiction, but you might also consider this if you are writing fiction. I had an idea for a novel a while back that would have been very transparent to my best friend, about a woman whose dad was dying of cancer. The new book I’m working on is actually about my best friend, who herself died of cancer. It is nonfiction. I have considered how her mom might feel about it, or her husband or her son. But I honestly can’t worry about that. Also, they don’t read much or go to book events, or read reviews. So there is really little chance that they would actually know about the book unless I told them. I am torn.

What is your responsibility to your subjects? Is their story just out there for the taking? How do you reconcile that if your story is inextricably intertwined with theirs?

There are so many questions. It’s an ethical question, to be sure. And a good discussion could be had on ethics in art.

What say you?


April A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal

Some of you, if in fact you are still out there, may know that I have not posted in quite a while. You may remember that I had a hard time with some personal and health issues last winter. The health issues have persisted throughout 2014 and now into 2015. Last year, it was rounds of tests, scans and appointments that made going to the doctor seem like a part-time job. The persistence is that every couple of months, I lose a couple weeks to some medication reaction. It’s better now, as that seems to be the only issue. But it throws me and I am so far behind on so many things.

Well, that leads me to my admission that I have not taken my own advice. We should do this, shouldn’t we? Take our own advice. I always tell authors that if they are thinking of starting a blog, they should have enough material in the can to cover at least a couple of months. Well, I didn’t do that, did I? I also tell authors not to start a blog unless they are going to stick with it. I’m here to tell you that on that score, I mean to make good.

To that end, I am going to be participating in the April A to Z Challenge. What is this, you ask? It is me getting kick-started, a boot in the ass to make good on what I set out to do. But actually, no, it’s a blog-writing challenge where you follow the letters of the alphabet. Everyone writes a post beginning with A, and then on through the month (we get Sundays off) until you have covered all 26 letters. People sign up on the website and they are encouraged to check out each other’s posts. The organizers are heavily into Twitter and will be sharing post tweets and offering general encouragement to keep us going.

I have also volunteered to be one of the minions who helps out with checking blogs (we are called the Alliance). Because we are held to a standard – you have to actually post, or your blog will be taken off the website. This is meant to be a traffic boost, a great way to get to know other bloggers, and only those who are really making the effort will get the exposure. So I’ll be checking out lots of great blogs, and tweeting out my posts, and working my way through the alphabet.

Possible And Impossible Keys Show Optimism And Positivity

I’ll start with A is for AWP. We are having AWP in Minneapolis this year, and I have never been. I couldn’t pass this up, since it’s in my own backyard. For those who don’t know, this is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference. It is highly academic, but also offers a lot of information and networking for writers. I’m going as a writer, just for myself, never mind industry stuff. I want to meet editors of journals for my poetry and go to sessions on writing creative nonfiction for my book.

My focus for posts for the Challenge will be on publishing and writing, as befits the Publishing Bones, and I’ll toggle between the two. So if that’s a theme, then I am picking it. With over 20 years of experience in publishing and well, lots more years as a writer, I know I can come up with some helpful and interesting material here. My list of ideas includes distraction, fellowships, patience, Twitter, and lots more.

I know lots of other folks are doing all kinds of other themes, so if you are curious, head on over to the A to Z Challenge website and check out the theme reveal – which is today! I might get mine up there, but I’m a little late, so I don’t know. The complete list of participating blogs is at the bottom of the page.

Hopefully this will get me turbo-charged (with AWP right in the middle of April I am sure to be inspired!) to get my blog up and running again and to keep it going. I am looking forward to it! Please feel free to leave comments below if there is a topic that you want me to cover during the April A to Z Challenge!