Category Archives: Memoir Writing

Finishing Book Projects Top of My New Year’s Resolutions

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It’s a new year, and a time to reflect and make resolutions. For me, 2016 will be the year I finish my book on moving to Atlanta and my historical novel. Both of these projects are special for different reasons. I last wrote a book in 2005, after losing my mother to lung cancer.

 From Mother-Daughter Memoir to Moving Guide to Historical Romance

A Breath Away: Daughters Remember Mothers Lost to Smoking, my anti-smoking memoir, was A Breath Away cover (hi-res)written while grieving the loss of my own mother as I was becoming a mom.  I find myself saddened that many of the daughters in my book have been stricken with cancer, including my friend  Jackie Graff, who passed away last month from lung cancer.  At the time my book was independently published, and it it didn’t benefit from today’s social media environment, where you can create an author platform and connect with your readers.

My next book is called Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide, It came about by a chance meeting with Newt Barrett, publisher of Voyager Media in Estero, Fla. We met through a mutual friend right before my family’s move back to Atlanta this past June. I learned that Newt, a fellow Ohio buckeye, was a successful publisher of city moving guides, mostly in Florida and other Southeastern cities. Why not Atlanta?

High Res M2A coverWe agreed that I would be able to tackle this since I was moving back to a city where I’d lived for 16 years — and also the place where I had met my husband, had a family and started my writing company. I’ve enjoyed researching what makes Atlanta such a cool place to call home…and have met and interviewed some amazing Atlantans along the way, including Ryan Gravel, the visionary behind the Atlanta Beltline.  

I included a spotlight on key intown and suburban communities, where I interviewed residents on what makes their neighborhood unique. I believe these firsthand accounts set my book apart from other guides. Expect to see Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide on bookshelves this spring.

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I also intend to finish my historical novel, Torrential, set in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, at the time of the 1913 flood. The last year of relocating to one city and coming back made it difficult to do the final editing of this turn-of-the-century love story focused on an Irish seaman who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic only to find himself facing a catastrophic flood after moving to Dayton to start a new life.

I fell in love with this story, partly because it was loosely inspired by my grandmother’s family, who owned a boarding house in Dayton at the time of the flood. My grandmother met and fell in love with a boarder, a theme that I bring to life in Torrential I wrote this manuscript in 2013 and 2014, received feedback from numerous advance readers and even had it evaluated by a professional editor. Many people think this story is made for the Big Screen, including a screenwriting coach who I’ve consulted with. I will begin the final content edits for Torrential this month.

One thing the last few years has taught me is that I am happiest when I can write stories about people and events that resonate and inspire me. Atlanta is fertile ground for this exercise, and so is my historical novel.  What a great time to be a storyteller!

Author Bio

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Anne Wainscott-Sargent moved to Atlanta in 1998. She is a writer, blogger and strategic storyteller specializing in the tech and education sectors. An avid history buff and movie-goer, she loves following Atlanta’s growing film industry, connecting with other writers in the Atlanta area, and enjoying the natural beauty of the Chattahoochee River’s many bicycle paths.  She and her husband live in Roswell with their two children. She hopes to finish her first novel, a work of historical fiction, in 2016.

Visit Anne’s consulting website at: http://annewainscott.com/writing-consulting-services/ or her blog, The Writing Well, at: http://annewainscott.com/blog/. Connect with her on Twitter: @annewainscott.

Connecting with God through Prayer: One Author’s Journey

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More than 75 percent of Americans believe in the importance and power of prayer. But, how many enjoy it, look forward to it, and feel equipped for the task?

That’s the primary question Atlantan Tawana Lowery wants to answer with her new spiritual self-help book, Five Easy Steps to Life-Changing Prayer.

Based on her own struggles with faith and personal tragedy, the book serves as a heart-felt and engaging guide for those who want to pursue prayer practice using a proven process.  Tawana believes people first must give their burdens to God – and in the process, they will liberate their hearts and minds.

The part memoir, part spiritual coaching guide is chocked full of practical tips and inspiring stories targeted at “people who want to pray but don’t feel equipped or don’t believe their prayers matter,” explains Tawana.

“It’s for anyone who is hurting, wounded, exhausted and confused and need a way to connect with their creator for answers and solutions, or who feels lost, forgotten or disconnected and simply wants to connect with someone who cares about them,” she adds.

prayereaglesTawana frequently speaks at conferences and to groups about her book. The PR-trained entrepreneur and former single mother started her own company, Prayer Eagles, to provide team effectiveness training, community outreach strategies and prayer skills coaching.  In early August, she was a featured author at the She Speaks women’s conference in Atlanta.

Below she shares more detail on her tightly interwoven faith and writing journey and what she hopes readers will get out of her book.

Q. What made you decide to write this book?

Tawana: In less than 10 years, I endured two bankruptcies, the loss of all my investment property, watched two business go belly up, dealt with years of unemployment, gave up three beautiful homes, moved 8 times, was blindsided by betrayal and experienced the death of  both parents. I like to describe it as a Financial Tornado, followed by an emotional Hurricane, followed by a personal Tsunami.

During those tumultuous years I was desperate to connect to God. Being a very practical, bottomline person I didn’t want to wait for someone else or hope that a minister might accidently say something remotely related to what I needed to hear. There were days when I neede to experience God in less than 10 minutes or die. I seriously thougth about killing myself on numerous occassions.

Through that experience I began to notice ways I was sabotaging my prayers and what I could do to reverse it. Once I began to incorporate the principles I share in my book, dramatic changes took place in my life and my relationship with God. Soon I was able to hear God’s voice with clarity, and experience his grace that enabled me to carry on. But it came about from doing what I share in my book on a consistent basis.

As I began to share what I had learned, others were also experiencing dynamic changes. So much so I was asked repeatedly to write a book about it. I even had one person tell me to quit my job and write a book so other people could know how to pray.

The truth is, most people want to pray. But they feel so ill equipoed they stop before they even get started.

What we pray about is already difficult. So why make the act of praying equally hard? My goal for writing this book was to offer an easy-to-understand prayer-coach approach to the most important and deeply personal activity of our life. I’ve tried to make it as easy and as simple as possible. I even included several plug-and-play tools that are easy to understand and easy to implement. Meaning you can apply what you learn to effectively pray about anything, any time, any place for yourself and others.

Q. What does success in prayer mean to people?

Tawana: For most people success in prayer means:

  • Ending the cycle of uncertainty and frustration that often describes most people’s prayer experience.
  • Being able to improve your ability to hear God’s voice and enjoy a stronger relationship with the person who loves you most.
  • Having insight to understand what brings about transformational thinking, rest for your mind and peace for your soul.
  • Knowing how to pray in a manner that produces lasting healing for wounded emotions and relationships.
  • And learning how to notice divine invitations for prayer you might be missing out on.

Q. Have you found that the topic of prayer is something that is a big issue for people? What has been the response to the book?

Tawana: The response has been very positive. So many people tell me that the book and my writing style have helped them cut through the complications of religious rhetoric so they can experience an easy, enjoyable connection with God. They tell me the topics and illustrations in my book address issues and problems they have struggled with. It gave them clarity and hope. It gave them a sense of being connected and understood.

Those answers don’t surprise me at all, because the research supports the feedback I hear.  According to a 2012 Pew Research survey, more than 75% of Americans agreed that prayer is an important part of daily life. Surprisingly, that percentage has remained consistent over the past 25 years. Even among those who say they don’t believe in God, 12 percent admit they pray, as reported in The Washington Post in June, 2013.

It seems a lot of us believe in the importance of prayer. The question is how many of us actually enjoy it? How many look forward to it? How often does prayer strengthen our relationship with God or make us feel more intimate with our Creator? As I said before, most people don’t feel equipped for the task.

According to an Ellis Research survey for Facts & Trends, less than 20% of church leaders say they are satisfied with their prayer lives. That means close to 80% are either completely or partially dissatisfied with prayer. That’s an astounding figure, yet probably very representative of most people.

I just don’t believe it has to be that way. I found something better and my goal is to help as many people escape from Prayer Fail Jail as possible.

Q. What did you learn in the process of producing this work?

Tawana:  One of my biggest challenges while I was going through my seasons of difficulty was trying to make sense of it. I was plagued with the thought that my trials would be in vain unless something beneficial came out of it.

During the process of writing the book, I began to see the upside to all the downside. What I learned about God and prayer during those painful dark days laid the foundation for my book.  My prayer is that it will strengthen the foundation of other people’s lives as a result.

Sometimes we try to put as much distance as we can between ourselves and our painful experiences. That’s what I was trying to do. And moving forward is important. But the trials are important also. They have value because they show us what where we have need, and that’s a good thing. It makes us human.  It makes us real. It makes us relatable. It gives us a story to share.

Q. What lessons learned can you share with other writers of non-fiction/memoir type writing?

Tawana: My advice would be to share your story because it’s yours to share. It means you value your own journey enough to write about it.

Q.What was the hardest part of this experience? The best part?

Tawana: Because I also work a full-time job, I had to write on weekends and holidays. My schedule was very strict so as to maximize the time. But it was something I always looked forward to.  It was also a challenge to curate years of experience in to something simple and consumable.

The best part was knowing that I was giving others something to help them; knowing that I was making a positive impact on the world and sharing my struggles with others in hopes of inspiring them to persevere.

 

I’m often referred to as “The Prayer Chick.” It started by praying with a porn operator who had no hands.

The truth is I love to pray with anybody about any issue. I’m not easily offended. People trust me because I can relate to their pain and struggle without judging them. I truly believe that comes across in the book. People feel connected to me and they know I understand their struggles because I’ve lived them.

Q. What’s next for you?

Tawana: I am considering investigating the possibility of hosting a women’s conference of my own in the fall of 2016.

About the Author

TawanaTawana Lowery is following her true passion as a writer, inspirational speaker and prayer coach. Her debut book, 5 Easy Steps to LIfe Changing Prayer, was published in May 2015. As founder and director of Prayer Eagles, she enjoys helping others succeed with prayer and in their relationship with God.  Visit Tawana on her website, www.PrayerEagles.com, or follow her on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/@prayereagles/. 

 

Memorial Day Post: Author of ‘Dear Mark’ Honors Brother’s Sacrifice in Vietnam

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Today in honor of Memorial Day, The Writing Well features Susan Clotfelter Jimison, whose book, Dear Mark, has just been published in time for this holiday honoring our fallen servicemen and women.

Forty-five years ago, Susan was a 14-year-old Florida teen preparing for her sister’s wedding when she lost her only brother, a pilot in Vietnam. She has mourned him ever since, and over many years, has pieced together a beautiful tribute to his life. Susan shares her journey uncovering her brother’s final months through the men Mark served and sacrificed with four decades ago.

Susan at her book signing pictured with her writing coach Jedwin Smith (L) and husband Mike Jimison (R), a Vietnam pilot.

Susan at her book signing pictured with her writing coach Jedwin Smith (L) and husband Mike Jimison (R), a Vietnam pilot.

I met Susan when I joined Jedwin Smith’s writers group. It’s been an honor to come along on her courageous journey — the group has shed tears along as we’ve come to know Mark and his fellow Pink Panther pilots, who risked their lives daily to save others in harm’s way.

Jedwin, who wrote Our Brother’s Keeper, about losing his own brother in Vietnam, put it best in his note on her book jacket: “Courage—that’s what it took to fly those fearsome Cobra gunships into the hellfire that was the Vietnam War, and it’s what author Susan Jimison calls upon as she opens her heart and reflects on her heroic aviator brother Mark, who died piloting his Cobra along the Laotion.”

God bless all our soldiers past and present, and God bless Susan for the gift of this story. 

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Mark Clotfelter

Mark Clotfelter

When I began to write Dear Mark I struggled with my writing to not sound like I was trying to tell a war story—a war I was not in. It wasn’t until someone in my writing group suggested I tell my story and Mark’s in letters instead of traditional chapters that I finally began to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Epistolary Style: consisting of letters

Susan reading an excerpt of Dear Mark at her May 18 book launch.

“Write him just like you did when he was in Vietnam,” and when I did, it felt natural. And I saw such progress where before I struggled with every chapter. The more progress I saw, the more inspired I became to finish my memoir.

I was able to write about the dangerous missions Mark flew in an attack helicopter, I merged the past and the present, and I “told Mark” about future plans of my next book. Sometimes the writing was tricky with past and present tenses. Occasionally, there were tears even though it’s been forty-five years.

Going forward, I feel a tremendous amount of pride to have written a book to honor my brother who was so brave, so young, and missed so much!

I’m enjoying the letters I have received from people who have read Dear Mark. But as any author will tell you, the real work begins after it’s printed. Marketing has become my full time job for Dear Mark.

Stoicism in the Face of Unspeakable Loss

In the late 60s and early 70s no one talked about the war in Vietnam. Not the neighbors, not

The Clotfelter family.

The Clotfelter family.

the schools, not even family. Almost as if we didn’t talk about it—it wasn’t happening.

In 1997 I tracked down the men who flew in Vietnam with my brother. A true band of brothers who have never forgotten the fallen or the sacrifice of the families.

During my discovery of learning about my brother as a adult and a warrior, something unexpected happened. You never know where the roads in life will take you. I met and fell in love with one of Mark’s comrades in 1999 and we were married in 2006.

In a letter to Mark:
“…So the guys know my story—which is really your story. From day one they understood. They get it. There haven’t been many places I’ve been since 1968— back when you deployed to Vietnam— that people “get it.” If the subject of Vietnam came up, and it was rare if it did, people didn’t really understand it.

These guys do. They understand your courage. They understand your missions. They understand your sacrifice—and they understand mine. Their understanding is like no other.
It isn’t just that these guys all get it. I get it too. I know they look at me and know how different it could have been. I could be their little sister.”

About the Author

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASusan Clotfelter Jimison resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Mike and the best dog in the world, Dude.  Her book debut entitled Dear Mark, is the culmination of a ten-year project to piece together her brother’s final days during the Vietnam War. Jimison is currently working on her second book Letters from John (projected completion date: April 2015) Historical letters and pictures from her cousin, John Donovan, provide a personal lens to glimpse the final days of the officer-turned mercenary life of the world-renowned Flying Tigers. Jimison’s work aims to shed light on the far-reaching effects of the loss of family members in war and the profound insight John had of the present and the future he was shorted.

Visit Susan’s author page to purchase her book and learn more about her book research and work with Vietnam Veterans groups.


Augusten Burroughs’ Literary Voice: ‘My Most Personal, Deepest Self’

awc100The Atlanta Writers Club recently celebrated its centennial as the Southeast’s leading club devoted to the writing craft.  More than 100 fellow members gathered to look back on the club’s history and hear from past and present presidents.   A highlight of the evening was an appearance by New York Times‘ bestselling author Augusten Burroughs, who kept everyone entertained with his own brand of humor and insights from his writing life and battle with alcoholism.

Burroughs, who was born Christopher Robison, is best known for his 2002 book, Running with RunningwithScissorsScissors, which details his bizarre childhood after his mother sent him to live with her unstable and unorthodox psychiatrist.

In 2006, the book was adapted into a film starring Annette Bening and Alec Baldwin. The accuracy of Burroughs’ depiction of his traumatic early years has come under fire in the media and in a lawsuit that has since been settled out of court. To the assembled Atlanta writers, he was steadfast in the truth of his memoir, sharing that he kept detailed journals.

No one can doubt Burroughs’ talent for putting readers into his frame of mind, or his ability to move people emotionally. Consider these excerpts of his writing;

“Suddenly, this word fills me with a sense of sadness I haven’t felt since childhood. The kind of sadness you feel at the end of summer. When the fireflies are gone, the ponds are all dried up and the plants are wilted. It’s no longer really summer but the air is still too warm and heavy to be fall. It’s the season between seasons. It’s the feeling of something dying.” ― Dry

• “I came to think that maybe God was what you believed in because you needed to feel you weren’t alone. Maybe God was simply that part of yourself that was always there and always strong, even when you were not.”―A Wolf at the Table

• “My mother began to go crazy. Not in a ‘Let’s paint the kitchen red!’ sort of way. But crazy in a ‘gas oven, toothpaste sandwhich, I am God’ sort of way.” ― Running with Scissors: A Memoir

The low-key yet charismatic author also was generous with his time, opening up his one-hour talk to questions from attendees.

“For an author and speaker famed for his humor and offhand glibness, Mr. Burroughs planned his talk to the Atlanta Writers Club (AWC) quite seriously,” observed George Weinstein, AWC Officer Emeritus and author. “He understood his audience and addressed us as literary colleagues. I was impressed by the amount of time he spent answering questions. While he did keep the mood light, he also provided thoughtful responses that revealed insights into the craft and business of writing, which is what the AWC is all about.”

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I enjoyed getting acquainted with Mr. Burroughs after his talk.

Burroughs urged all of us to “let the words flow” – and to not let self-doubt, self-criticism, or other distractions keep us from the work of writing.  After his appearance, I asked over email how he gets himself back on track during times when there is no writing inspiration to be had — something with which every writer struggles.

“When my writing isn’t going well, I try to understand why. Am I trying to write something that doesn’t belong? Am I approaching the material from the wrong perspective? And sometimes what i do is just continue to write anyway, knowing that I’m having an off-day and hoping that it turns into an ‘on day somewhere along the way,” he says.

When asked what has been the most rewarding part of his journey as a memoir writer, Burroughs said, “Meeting my readers, both here in the states and all over the world. That’s been a wonderful, amazing and humbling experience. It’s also made me more human.”

What should a writer wishing to succeed as a memoirist never forget?

“The truth. A memoirist must never lie to themselves,” Burroughs says. “How much they divulge is another matter. The process of discovering the truth is fascinating and best explored on the page, as opposed to arriving at the keyboard with what believes to be the truth preinstalled in the mind. Often, the truth of ones circumstances resides just behind what one believes our assumes or has been told is true. The memoirist much reach the deeper truth; the truth behind the truth.”

While unable tShelteringSkyo single out a favorite writer or filmmaker, Burroughs did admit to being a fan of actress Debra Winger and the book, The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles. It’s a story about three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II.  Bowles examines the ways in which Americans’ incomprehension of alien cultures leads to the ultimate destruction of those cultures. In 1990, it was adapted into a film starring Winger.

“I admire the masterful use of language in the book, the way the author creates such a powerful sense of place. It’s a fever-dream of a novel and it truly transports, which I absolutely admire,” he said. “It’s important to read books that fill you with awe.”

Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles

As for that intangible but uniquely distinctive writing attribute known as “voice” that many elevate above even plot and character in a story, Burroughs had this to say:  “If a writer has either created or released a voice that is so compelling and unique, yes, we’re more likely to forgive or even overlook a plot. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis would be an example. There’s not much — if any — plot to this book but the main character is so horribly compelling we continue to turn the page to see what he does next.  In my own case, my literary voice is simply my most personal, deepest self. It’s the voice in my head.”

And that, I believe, is why we will continue to be captivated by Augusten Burroughs’ brand of storytelling.

The Writing Well Honors Veterans: Most Memorable War-related Posts

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Today, as America honors those who have served their country, The Writing Well revisits this blog’s most poignant posts with veteran themes over the last four years.

Published on U.S. Memorial Days, the 4th of July and other dates of significance to the nation, these entries are examples of storytelling that underscore the power of words to move and heal. They include interviews with memoir, fiction and non-fiction authors who served or lost loved ones during times of war, an Army chaplain researching how a family member tended to the physical and religious needs of Civil War soldiers, as well as memorable war-time speeches and books worth reading.

Pulitzer Prize-nominated Author Jedwin Smith Talks about the Re-release of His Family War-time Memoir, Our Brother’s Keeper

Jedwin Smith’s memoir, originally released in 2005, details the loss of his younger brother, Jeff, the family’s “peacemaker,” during the Vietnam War, and his journey to find out who killed him. Since its release, Our Brother’s Keeper has been widely used by the VA and by the Wounded Warrior Project®, serving  to heal many veterans and bring closure to families still reeling from the sacrifice of their loved ones.

Lost Art of Letter Writing: One Sister’s Tribute to her Brother

Fellow writing group member Susan Jimison talks about her experience crafting her up-and-coming memoir about her brother, Mark Clotfelter, a pilot who died in Vietnam when she was only 14 years old: as a series Jimison_Mark_Suan_Wallof letters to him. “Writing about my brother’s heroic feats during the Vietnam War felt very unnatural for me. It was almost like I was trying to tell a war story. A war I was never in,” recalls Susan, “So, at the suggestion of fellow writer, Mari Ann Steffaneli, I tried epistolary style. Writing letters to my brother is exactly what I had done forty-three years earlier. And so, I continued writing to him, to tell his story, in letter form. It felt natural and that showed in my writing.”

Healing Soldiers: Civil War Devotional Back in Print 

Dr. Bill Nisbet, a retired Army Reserves chaplain who serves on the pastoral staff of my church, http://annewainscott.com/wp-content/uploads/blogger/-CAl993Uu9sY/T_MKAFoH1GI/AAAAAAAAA6g/iMmZ7OAheFg/s1600/Charles_Quintard_-_Brady-Handy.jpgshares his journey re-publishing The Confederate Soldier’s Pocket Manual of Devotions, a 1863 book compiled by Nisbet’s great-great-great grandfather, a medical doctor and chaplain of the First Tennessee Regiment, who cared for the physical and spiritual needs of soldiers as a hospital field surgeon.

 

 

Revolutionary Speeches to Rememberhttp://annewainscott.com/wp-content/uploads/blogger/-v3dX8-J7af8/TeI25IE0gGI/AAAAAAAAASg/266em4UipOI/s1600/fdr_congress.jpg

From American presidents FDR and Abraham Lincoln to esteemed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, these famous orators delivered patriotic speeches that have inspired generations, and made a lasting impact on the public during times of trial and times of healing.

Three Must-Reads of the War-time Experience

These three books — two works of historical fiction and one non-fiction work– memorably captured a soldier’s struggles and experiences in wars past and present. They include my all-time favorite historical novel, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

The other books featured are: A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin, and WAR by Sebastian Junger.  Helprin’s book focuses on an elderly Italian professor and veteran of the Great War, who is moved to tell the story of his life to a young, illiterate Sicilian industrial worker, as they take a long walk from Rome to a village in the mountains. Junger, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, recreates the experiences of an American infantry platoon he spent months shadowing in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2008. The story chronicles the 15-month deployment of a platoon in the Korangal Valley, considered the most hostile and dangerous valley in the country. The valley, the author explains, “is sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan: too ­remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off.”

Transformation & Redemption: A Conversation with Civil War Storyteller Robert Hicks

Book_WidowoftheSouthI relished this in-depth interview with Robert Hicks, acclaimed author of two engaging historical fiction books about the Civil War and its aftermath. The first, The Widow of the South, is the tale of Carrie McGavock, a headstrong wife and mother who, in November 1864, finds her plantation home turned into a field hospital during the devastating one-day Battle of Franklin (widely considered as among the five bloodiest hours in the entire war).

Robert’s second novel, A Separate Country, takes place in New Orleans in the years after the Civil War, and focuses on the life of John Bell Hood, arguably one of the most controversial generals of the Confederate Army–and one of its most tragic figures.

Books for Heroes – A Worthy Cause

No soldier should be without a book — that sentiment formed the inspiration for creating this charitable foundation that ships books to soldiers free of charge. Thanks to the generosity of numerous book publishers, bookstore customers and trucking firms, Books for Heroes has shipped thousands of books to armed forces in Afghanistan, VA hospitals, and U.S. military bases. The charity got a major boost when bestselling author James Patterson donated  200,000 of his own books to the cause.

 

The Lost Art of Letter Writing: One Sister’s Tribute to her Brother

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In a box in my closet, I have letters from my mother, who passed away nine years ago this past August. I also have letters from my grandmother and a beloved aunt, no longer living, who wrote me for more than 20 years.

These letters are precious, among my most prized possessions. The creased pieces of stationary and cards represent time capsules from their lives. I still hear my mother’s and other loved ones’ voices in my ear as they convey their thoughts about everyday events, their concerns for the future, and above all, their love for me.   

There’s something about a letter that is so much more personal than receiving an email. Maybe it’s the time it takes to craft a letter – and the fact that it’s a form of storytelling.  That’s why I love the technique fellow writing group member Susan Jimison is using to Jimison_SusanPortraitwrite her memoir about her brother, Mark Clotfelter, a pilot who died in Vietnam when she was only 14 years old: as a series of letters to him. It’s powerful, touching, and gives a personal authenticity to her story that I don’t think would have been achieved through a traditional narrative.

Susan paid tribute to her brother on The Writing Well in May 2012. She also was featured in a nationally syndicated AP story that ran last Memorial Day about how family members are remembering loved ones lost in war.  Below, she shares her journey writing “Dear Mark,” which is now in the book-proposal stage with potential publishers.

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Q. Why did you decide to write your memoir of your brother in the form of letters?

 I began writing a traditional memoir and struggled. I had never done anything like it before. Writing about my brother’s heroic feats during the Vietnam War felt very unnatural for me. It was almost like I was trying to tell a war story. A war I was never in. So, at the suggestion of fellow writer, Mari Ann Steffaneli, I tried epistolary style. Writing letters to my brother is exactly what I had done forty-three years earlier. And so, I continued writing to him, to tell his story, in letter form. It felt natural and that showed in my writing.

Q. How old were you when you lost him?

Jimison_MarkI was fourteen when Mark was killed in Vietnam. He was the only boy out of the five of us kids.  Our family was never the same since the summer we lost him.

 Q. What is it about letter writing that is personal, enduring compared with today’s more common form of communication – email? 

Jimison_Letters         Emails are not personal. Dear at the beginning and Love at the end is nonexistent. That is not to say that the emails to our loved ones couldn’t have those endearments but as a rule they are not used.

But that isn’t all. I have a box full of letters under a bed — letters from an aunt in Alabama that used to write me every month until she died at the age of ninety-nine. I wondered the other day why I saved all those letters so I began reading them. I soon realized they were full of family history. In one letter she told me about her mother dying when she was very young and how her “Daddy let little Stella, too young to go to school, but she went because he had to work in the field. She wrote about being thankful she was still able to live on her own and walk across the street to church ever Sunday. Her handwriting got worse as she went from eighty-eight to ninety-eight but it amazed me every time I opened to mailbox and found another letter. When was the last time you opened your mailbox to get a letter from a ninety something year old?

I still have letters from my mother, father, sisters, husband, friends and yes, priceless letters from my brother.  Recently, I have decided two things though. I will begin writing my grandchildren regular, old fashion letters. They don’t have to be long. And I can add photos or an occasional five dollar bill for an ice cream cone.  My other decision is to burn personal letters that will serve no purpose to anyone when I am gone. Aunt Effie May’s letters? Mark’s? No, those are priceless. Letter with family history will be passed on to the next generation. My goal is to scan them into Ancestry.com.

Jimison_Mark_Suan_Wall

Q. Who are you targeting with your book? When do you expect to have it published?

The people who I feel will most be interested in my book will be anyone who has been affected by a war or perhaps was too young during the Vietnam War to understand. Present- day military and perhaps military buff will read it. I hope it will help those who have lost someone to war when they realize we had similar thoughts and fears — from my lowest level in grief to finally reaching the stage of understanding and acceptance.

 My memoir “Dear Mark” is in the book proposal stage and while I wait to hear back from those proposals I continue to write the final chapters. As you know, if I received a book offer today it will be at least a year before I will see it in print. It is such a long process.

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Learn more about Susan Jimison’s memoir about her brother on her author page, http://susanclotfelterjimison.com/.

Writing to Heal: Carolyn Graham’s Journey

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Today, The Writing Well’s guest blogger is Carolyn Graham, a writer and wellness coach who leads seminars on enhancing immune system function and teaches mindfulness meditation for relaxation. I met Carolyn through Jedwin Smith’s writers group in Atlanta two years ago. The “poet” of our group, Carolyn is an inspirational and generous spirit, who just returned from a solo canoe trip through Utah’s Green River.

She’s currently writing The Gift of the Circle, where she tells of her healing journey and the strategies she used to reclaim health after eight years of suffering from the catastrophic effects of chronic Lyme disease. She hopes sharing her story will help others suffering from Lyme disease and from the scars of childhood trauma.

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The Gift of the Circle, the book I’m writing using prose and poetry is the story of my healing and robust living — a legacy — a crucible of inspiration wrought from tragedy.

          

  Peaks of glistening triumph

                         sparkle in the aire.

            Canyons of my soul,

                        array my eyes with splendor.

                                    Shadow sculpts exquisite beauty.

———

            Healing in tandem from chronic Lyme disease and childhood sexual abuse may seem like a puzzling challenge. Yet, the Adverse Childhood Experience research conducted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control shows a strong link between childhood trauma and the manifestation of serious illness in adults.

            In my case, the secret I held about being sexually abused as an adolescent compromised my immune system and opened the door for the attack of an autoimmune disease in the form of Lyme.

            After suffering for eight years from the catastrophic effects of chronic Lyme disease that contributed to mental illness, I discovered a long-sought method to heal myself.

            On January 4, 2010, I was shown the pathway to health — a way to heal the past in the present while riding myself of a debilitating sickness. In You Can Beat the Odds, Brenda Stockdale describes research-based strategies to enhance immune system functioning. I knew, as I finished her book on a sunny winter day, I’d been given a process for getting well — a Divine Gift.

            At once, even before I was fully recovered, I knew I had a calling to write my story of healing — a mission to offer hope for others seeking well-being.

            While writing The Gift of the Circle, opening up about my trauma of sexual abuse, was a significant step in my overall recovery.

            Other than with my therapist, the first time I publicly shared my abuse experience was during a writers workshop led by author, Jedwin Smith, when I read aloud my story. When I started to read, I was scared no one would like me after that. When I finished, I felt triumphant; better than that, I was warmed by the compassion extended to me by Jedwin and the other writers. Shame about what happened in my past began to evaporate.

            Through my writing, therapy, and using strategies for enhancing my immune system, I’ve reclaimed my well-being — wholeness — my birthright.

            In The Gift of the Circle I call the process of reclaiming my birthright my journey homeward.

Reflections

            On the eve of my 70th birthday, at the end of a fifty-mile solo expedition on Utah’s Green River, Divine Destiny orchestrated a miraculous grand finale to my journey that ushered me homeward to bid my past farewell:

                        I’m a child of the earth.

                                    A child of shimmering light.

                                    A child of death and shadows.

                                                I’m clothed only in tanned, wrinkled skin.

                                                Story lines score my face.

                        I am the seeker and the sought,

                                    Homeward bound — closer than I know — tiring from the journey.                                                  Lost.

                        I’ve few belongings, plying a river in a simple craft,

                                    Destiny my compass.

                        The river carries a secret on this day full of light and sky.

            Indeed, the river of life carried a secret — a birthday gift I’ll never forget. The story of my homecoming will end The Gift of the Circle in a grand pas de deux with Divine Light.

             In the kaleidoscope of human experience, reality has no boundaries and miracles are borne in the mystery of Divine Inspiration.

            And so I write.

            I write to continue my own healing.

            I write to foster hope in those seeking a pathway to freedom of the soul.

 

 

This Coming Memorial Day: Time to Reflect

 
Army helicopter pilot Mark Clotfelter.
 
Today marks the final Friday I’m hosting a guest blogger from my writer’s group.  Susan Clotfelter Jimison, a full-time book store owner and part-time writer, is working diligently on a war-time family memoir. Her brother Mark, an Army helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam, and her cousin, John Donovan, a WWII Flying Tiger, paid the ultimate price for their country and coincidentally, were lost 1,000 kilometers from each other in the same country.
 
Jimison’s family story was first published in the October 2005 issue of Vietnam Magazine. She hopes to keep the memory of her two family members alive by telling their stories and preserving their legacy.
 
                Growing up, I think we take our siblings somewhat for granted. That is until something snatches it away from you. Your life is forever changed and you can’t get those “taken-for-granted” days back.
            I grew up in South Florida with three sisters and one brother. In the 60’s we didn’t lock our doors, we played outside until we couldn’t see anymore because it got too dark. We were not allowed to say “shut-up!”  and we were happy just having an A.M. radio!  Seems like a long time ago considering locking our doors is now not enough— we have alarm systems connected to people who will alert the police for you, if need be. Children don’t play outside as much anymore because of all the gaming and computers hooked up to wireless connections. No one listens to A.M. radio unless it’s talk radio with politics or classical music.
            It was a long time ago that I lost my only brother in a war that was fought in a country we had trouble locating on a map. Every night the war played out on out television through the news accounts of anchors like Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite, who told us the good, the bad and the ugly going on in Vietnam. At thirteen years old it is very hard to understand the why’s and where’s of war until someone comes to your door to tell you that your brother is never coming home.
            If only I had “said this” or “said that” has been with me for forty-three years — almost twice as long as my brother Mark was alive.
            On this Memorial Day, I hope you will take a moment out of your busy holiday weekend and remember our fallen from past and present wars. That really is the reason behind the three- day weekend, not sales and BBQs. Our war dead were all a member of someone’s family and there is someone still grieving at this loss, whether it was a year ago or forty three.
            And when you get to that family cookout, I hope you will look at your siblings differently and maybe not put off telling them how much you love them.
           

The Bond of Sisters and Moms

 
An early photo of Mom and Aunt Bob.
 
Mother’s Day for me is a mixed blessing — I have two beautiful children and a devoted husband to share this holiday with. I don’t cook on Mother’s Day. I avoid housework. I do something that’s rare these days: relax. 
My cousin Teri, Mom, Aunt Winne and Aunt Bob.


This holiday is about celebrating. But if I’m completely honest, it brings both smiles and sadness. That’s because I don’t get to spend the day with the one person who understood me better than anyone — Mom. It’s hard to believe that she’s been gone almost eight years. I know because she passed away three weeks after the birth of my son in the early evening of August 3, 2004. Unconsciously I mark the years of her passing by my son’s birthdays.

Last year on Mother’s Day I wrote a tribute to Mom. And this year, she’s more on my mind than ever. That’s because a month ago — on April 14th — we lost her beloved sister Winifred (Winnie for short).

Aunt Winnie was the second oldest of seven children born to Mary and James Siler. I never knew my grandfather, but his kindness was legendary in our family. He died from Black Lung when my mom was only 16. His passing devastated my grandmother (Mama) as well as Mom and her sisters, who worshiped him.

Aunt Winnie and my mother were incredibly close…more like mother and daughter than sisters because of their 20-year age difference. Mom was born in September 1939, and by the time she was three years old, World War II had broken out. As a young bride and mother to a newborn daughter, Winnie came to live with Mom and their parents while Winnie’s husband, Alfred, served overseas.

Later, as a young woman, Mom lived briefly with Alfred and Winnie when she first came to Dayton. She had been in the Air Force and began working as a telephone operator at Ohio Bell. A favorite aunt to Winnie’s kids, Mom would spoil them by taking them to the movies and baking them little birthday cakes. 

 Three sisters and Uncle Bill — with the Smoky Mountains in the distance.
Aunt Winnie with my kids.

 
Once Mom met my dad and they married, the sisters remained close — they lived one town apart in northern Dayton, Ohio. Another sister, Bob (short for Barbara), the family’s “storyteller,” was also very close in their hearts but lived farther away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.


There are many happy memories of the Siler sisters together. My siblings and I spent part of our summers in Tennessee visiting Mom’s family. I can still see my mom and her sisters sharing coffee on the  patio at Aunt Bob’s house, laughing, reminiscing and making up for lost time. There never seemed to be enough time. I loved sitting with them, hearing the family stories and how gullible my mom, the baby of the family, was to the pranks of her brother and brothers-in-law.


I was so lucky to have had a chance to see Aunt Winnie before she passed. She outlived both her younger sisters — Aunt Bob was 69 when God claimed her; my mother a month shy of her 65th birthday when she passed. Both exited this life within two years of one another — from lung cancer.  I felt both of their presence with Aunt Winnie on my final goodbye.
My kids and husband came with me to her hospital room, and she visibly perked up and smiled as my five-year-old daughter sang “Amazing Grace.”    

It was obvious to all of us that Aunt Winnie was ready to leave us and be reunited with her Lord and her family in Heaven. She passed away a week after I returned to Atlanta. She was 88, and was survived by her son and daughter, many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. I miss Aunt Winnie dearly. Her letters. Her simple faith. Her kindness. Her love of gardening. Her shared memories of my mother. I think of her kids, my cousins, spending tomorrow — their first Mother’s Day — without their mom.   

But, even as I write these words, I can almost see Mom and her sisters in my mind’s eye… sitting around that porch with the eastern Tennessee mountains over their shoulders, laughing — their eyes crinkled in merriment. Their spirit still lingers — built over a lifetime bonding as sisters, mothers and friends.

Guest Blog: Betty June’s Gift

Today’s guest blogger is Mari Ann Stefanelli Perusek, an aspiring author and a member of my writer’s group. Mari Ann and I share a common sorrow – the loss of our mothers too soon from the ravages of cancer. We also have found healing through the power of writing.   As we head into Mother’s Day weekend, Mari Ann shares what her mother meant to her and how that loss has led her to the path she’s on now. I hope you find it as touching as I did.

Mari Ann with her mom Betty June (left), her former brother-in-law Dave Luke, and her dad Bob Stefanelli.

I wish I could send my Mom a Mother’s Day card.  I always seem to find a perfect one, and there’s so much to tell her.  If I only knew heaven’s address…

Betty June Stefanelli passed away December 9, 2001.  She was an amazing, fun-loving, compassionate and youthful 65-year-old woman, so cherished in her roles as daughter, wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, aunt and friend, that it’s sadly ironic only a rare cancer–gall bladder–could extinguish her singular flame. Gall bladder cancer is horrendous, second only to pancreatic cancer in nasty severity; my beautiful, imperfect, but kind mother–loved by everyone who met her–suffered a grueling, painful two-year battle.

Ten years later, her loss is still a raw wound in my heart and, all this time, I’ve felt a relentless urge to chronicle how her passing affected my life.

I didn’t write.  But I felt that I should.

That urge to write was so strong that in February 2010, I pitched my book idea to Jedwin Smith, respected author of several books, including Our Brother’s Keeper.  I felt an instant connection–a communion of loss, perhaps–while reading Our Brother’s Keeper.   That connection solidified when I met him in person.

Jedwin loved my idea.  But I didn’t write.

Yet that compelling urge was still there, gnawing at my subconscious and conscious alike.  Although I didn’t know why, I knew I needed to write.  A few months later, I attended author Jessica Handler’s inspirational workshop, “Writing Through Grief.”  She asked, “What obsesses you?”

Oh, that’s easy.  My mom.  Why didn’t I talk to her about dying? How did she feel?  That’s it–I don’t know how she felt, and it eats at my heart.  I let her down.  Oh, how I let her down.  How could I not do this for my mother?

Jessica tells us to stop thinking and start writing.  As I clutch my pen, words pour on the paper, flowing easily, like my pent-up tears.

Why didn’t I bring tissues? 

In one way, the workshop was successful–I finally had a few pages written–but I also felt guilty.  I wanted my mother with me, alive, but that felt like a betrayal to God, whose loving presence in my life has always been a constant.

Since Mom’s passing, I feel her, too.  Her gentle presence keeps nudging my subconscious.  Somehow, I know exactly what those two want.

My mother and God want me to write a book.  About them.

Seriously?

Yes, I loved writing.  In my former public relations career, I loved my clients, loved their products and services, but what I loved most was sharing their stories through my writing.  Now, as a stay-at-home mother of two kids; the vision of breaking into the shimmering mirage that is the writing industry seems overwhelming.

Still, a few months later, I pitched the same book idea to Jacques de Spoelberch, a respected literary agent.

Jacques loved my idea.  But I didn’t write.

It was summer now; the kids were out of school, and it was “too hard” to write.  I told myself I’d begin in the fall.

School began in August.  I still wasn’t “ready” to start writing.

In September, after being misdiagnosed by two different doctors, I was admitted to the hospital with a life-threatening bacterial infection, which necessitated open-heart surgery in January 2011.  I am lucky to be alive.

Okay, God.  I thought you were furious at me for not listening.  But you and Mom were trying to save me.  That’s why you’ve brought all these people into my life. Somehow, writing will heal my heart and help me understand her death.   As much as I miss Mom, I want to be here on earth for my children.  Like she was for me. 

I write, knowing that it’s no longer optional.  Writing isn’t easy.

That’s not entirely true.  Sometimes, the words come in a downpour; my fingers fly over the keyboard at warp speed to keep pace with the torrent. 

Most of the time, though, I still fight doubts about my ability to write and my ability to persevere.  I’ve since joined a writers’ workshop led by, ironically, Jedwin Smith.

Jedwin tells me to trust God’s plan.  “Just write.”

And so I do.  Writing is healing me.  Tears, a constant accompaniment to my keyboard clicks, release years of toxic anguish.  As they leave my body, I become stronger, my heart lighter.  With support from my new writer friends, I find confidence and opportunities to share my voice, perhaps even opening doors to a new career.

I’ve stopped questioning this journey.  My way is becoming clearer.  Just walking, even slowly, creates a path if I do it every day.

I smile as a Bible verse drifts into my subconscious:  “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”

I feel Mom’s gentle hands touch my heart, hear her words in my mind: “This is my gift to you.”

Maybe I don’t need heaven’s address after all.  Mom knows how to reach me, and I now know how to listen.  It has taken me a long time, but I am writing regularly.  My memoir, Finding My Peace of Faith, is my medicine.  I understand my mother and my Father:

Just write.


            And your heart will be healed.

She is with me.  God is with me.  That’s quite a gift.

About Mari Ann Stefanelli Perusek

A Florida native, Mari Anngraduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and loved working in the industry.  Her career ran the gamut from managing local level politics, to helping cancer patients at the American Cancer Society, to launching life-saving new drugs at Hill and Knowlton.

As much as she loved her clients, Mari Ann loved writing about them even more.  She now lives in the Atlanta, Georgia, area with her husband, daughter and son and is launching a second career as an author.   Reach her at: mariann.stefanelli@yahoo.com