37. Non-Fiction Bushel Basket

06/30/2021

The Rubery International Book Awards early results were in my mailbox today. I didn’t make the shortlist. Disappointed of course, and looking at the books that did , I discovered that my literary memoir had been thrown into the only category available—non-fiction, alongside the chosen ones which were Political Histories and cookbooks. (I’m sorry, but this is just so wrong.)

Books like mine (and possibly yours) that read like novels, with vivid descriptions, complex narratives, mystifying sub-plots, and small gems of hard-learned personal wisdom, are not like histories and cookbooks. This is not “apples and oranges,” it’s more like apples and battleships.

Why don’t Indy-pub and self-pub book contests (and other powers-that-publish) have a creative nonfiction category? How did Annie Dillard’s unique breaktrhough book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Pulitzer Prize, listed as General Nonfiction) ever get discovered? Did she know somebody? It was 1974. There were no bogs, and no facebook.

The professional advice blogs all say we’ve got to build a Platform and be already well-known before we can expect to be discovered. But I’m not 20-something or even 40 -something. I don’t have enough time  to blog myself famous first. If you too believe that there is likely a lot of good (or very good, or brilliant) writing out here that doesn’t have a category of its own, and deserves one, say Amen.


Victory Is My Name, Book One: The Burning Barrel
$15.95  PAPERBACK 978-0-9841730-9-9
$4.95 E-BOOK 978-0-9841730-4-4
Available Oct.1, 2020 from all online or brick & mortar bookstores.
See
More information:  Publisher’s Page & Sampler


36. Is Fiction Easier Than The Truth?

06/24/2021

I think fiction is easier than truth. Not the writing of it, that’s always hard for either. But when we’re choosing what to focus on when we write, I think it definitely takes more courage to tell the truth, and bare our scars to the world.

An idea occurred to me this week. I was thinking about my book’s genre, which is “autobiography and memoir.” I wondered out loud, Who reads memoirs? And What does the word “memoir” bring to mind? Maybe just an idea of the rambling memories of old ladies and old men.

Since my book is not selling like hotcakes (it’s self published and has no corporate marketing or advertising) I found myself wondering about this. Should I list my book as a novel? Might that get more of the kinds of readers who want to read what I write, as something contemporary, that matters to their lives, not some dusty volume of dates and times and stories with lace doilies on the sofa?

The memoir genre now is nothing like it was in our parents’ day. Ever since Angela’s Ashes and The Liars Club, This Boy’s Life, and A River Runs Through It, the literary form has completely redesigned itself. These writers and others have re-created the genre. It’s much more like a novel, or a film, with scenes and dialogues, multiple narratives, some just beneath the surface, and the most private and even raw emotional experiences rendered with shocking honesty.

My memoir definitely reads more like a novel than an autobiography. I suspect that the readers who are seeking this book won’t look for it under “memoir.” They will be looking for books that are fiercely alive with passion and compassion, tragic mistakes of youth and innocence, and survival of body and soul through truly dangerous challenges and adventures. Yes, Victory has got those things

And the next thought that came to me, absolutely stopped me in my tracks. It was a revelation. The only real difference between a great memoir and a great novel is that the memoir is factually real. It is true.

Many of us, these days, don’t really want too much truth. Life is complicated enough. The truth is scary and it doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, we need to escape for a while, or at least, take a break. Readers want adventures and experiences that will take them out of this daily life reality, and on a voyage to an unimaginably different life.

Tragically, most people under 50 right now are almost totally immersed in fantasy, second-hand social-media bits and random pieces instead of human conversations. Sci-fi, horror, blood and guts stories and movies and TV shows, and humanized comic book heroes. We want to see ourselves like that, in fantasy, so we can imagine ourselves as the hero, and not see our truth or our honest flaws. Memoirs don’t do that. Memoirs are not fantasy, not delusion, they don’t wear superhero suits, though they do sometimes inspire superhuman powers. Memoirs tell us about genuine life, why it matters, and they tell the truth.

Naturally enough, a lot of us don’t want too much truth. We get that on the news, along with so many wildly delusional lies coming at us from all sides, it’s more difficult than it has ever been to tell which is which, and the stress is overwhelming us.

But the truth, each other’s shared truth, is exactly what can save us from being swallowed up and lost in the noise and glittering bright colors coming at us from multi-media 24-7.  The truth is something else. It isn’t always pretty, and unfortunately it doesn’t always win. Only the bravest among us want to read the truth, even in another person’s life, and risk seeing it reflected in our own. Even if nobody else sees it, we will see it, and we can’t un-ring that bell. But the payoff is huge. The realistic possibility that we may be affirmed and uplifted by the connection with another soul through their experiences – on the page.

I believe there is truth in fiction too, because no one can write anything that is not already inside them before they pick up the pen. So what we write tells something about us whether we mean to or not. The biggest difference between a novel and a memoir turns out to be, basically, the memoir is the only genre that takes the risk of telling the truth on purpose.

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Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames. Publishers’s sampler: http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html

If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress, please contact me through email:  “Victory” at Darkhorse Press dot com. Thank you.


30. To Tell The Truth

03/14/2021

In a few days I will be sending out the email book-launch announcement about my book, Victory Is My Name, a Memoir. The introduction says, “This  book will not be everybody’s cup of tea.”

Most of us who love to read do have a favorite flavor and brew. Maybe it’s romance novels with passion, sex, and reliable happy endings. Or Sci-Fi that transports the mind to another place with different possibilities than this messed-up world we’ve let build up around us here on planet Earth. Or detective mysteries– I do love British period-mysteries like Inspector Poirot, to just enjoy trying to guess who-done-it, knowing that the odd little man will always figure it out. For others, maybe it’s “Thrillers.” They sell like hotcakes. Or murder tales of Blood and guts galore. (No thanks, not my cup of tea.)

This book is not about any of that. Not a beach-book, not a tell-all, not entertainment. This book is a sincere attempt at literature, and this story, at risk of failing to win the approval of a great many readers, is about telling the truth. It’s about making mistakes, and doing the best you can with what you get. Life is not an even playing field. It’s not always fair. But my granny told me “Life never gives us more than we can bear” and because I was innocent enough to believe her, in my life ahead, I did do more than anyone else thought possible.

Even though it must be said that every novel carries some essential truths at its core, only memoir is obligated, expected, and pledged, to tell the truth. I don’t write fiction, not because I disapproved of it, I just have never needed to, because real life is always exploding with stories begging to be told and shared. We learn about life, in the long run, from life. Our own and each other’s, the true stories about real life that we as a social species are usually constrained not to tell.

But I say, Why not tell the truth? You can’t please everybody anyway. Trust me, I’ve tried, for the first 25 years of my life. It never worked. I did that, trying to hide and protect myself, so people wouldn’t hurt me. They hurt me anyway. (But that’s another story…)

If you read this book, you likely at times will be offended, annoyed, or fed up with this person, the storyteller/protagonists/myself, who was so stupid. You might cry real tears when she makes the same mistake you did. But you will likely be inspired some too, and heartened by her courage and her large and small victories that defied the odds, and prove in the end a truth beyond dispute: girls can.

In the last decade, memoir has become recognized as a serious literary genre that can take many different creative forms. Since books like Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, authentic well-written memoirs are drawing a new crowd of readers, willing and even hungry for the truth.

I believe the world is ready for some truth. A different choice from the lies we are drowning in now. Many of us, like lemmings that have already gone off the cliff, are swimming in an ocean of confusion, longing for something we can believe in. Most of us have a disturbingly deep need to get our feet on the ground again, like back in the day, when ethics were clear, and we knew what was what.

But those days are gone. We need to start where we are, and meet each other honestly for the first time. That’s what Victory is about

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Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames.

If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress., please contact me through “Victory” at Darkhorse Press. Thank you.

________________________________________________________________

Victory Is My Name, a Memoir – Book One: The Burning Barrel
E-book available now, paperback available Sept.21, 2020
more information, http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html


24. Memoir Snapshot: 3 Women

06/12/2018
There’s a little photograph I keep on my refrigerator door. In it, three women are sitting in a porch swing on the plain unadorned wooden porch of a farmhouse, somewhere in rural Illinois. The women pose with proper grace, smiling for the Kodak camera, with their hands folded neatly in their laps. The house is quite small, made of clapboard neatly painted white. It’s summer. Emerald green fields of corn stretch out behind the house and seem to go on forever, all the way to the horizon. This is the front of the house, and the two windows that face the road are plain and functional too, and there are no curtains. The porch shade is more than enough from the midday sun, and there are no neighbors near enough to look in. It’s Sunday after church, and the women are my mother and my two sisters. They have traveled all the way from Dallas Texas to Bloomington Illinois for Mother’s 50th high school reunion. This house is a place where Mother lived a long time ago as a child, and the current residents have welcomed her to the old homestead and invited all of them to stay for dinner. In this small snapshot I can see through time, to past generations of strong farm women, practical, hard-working and generous. I love this little picture for its sweetness, its honesty and simplicity. Mother has left us now, gone from her place here on earth to a higher calling. Both of my sisters still live in Texas, both have grown children now. My own path has taken me from Texas to the East Coast, to the Midwest, and finally to the West Coast of Northern California where I call home, a long long way from Illinois. I take the picture down from its magnet on the fridge door and hold it in my hand for a moment. I hold these women in my heart forever. ________________________________________________

Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames.

If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress., please contact me through “Victory” at Darkhorse Press. Thank you.

________________________________________________________________

The book is Victory Is My Name, a Memoir. This is a trilogy, and the first section, Book One: The Burning-Barrel launched in February and is available everywhere in paperback and e-book. Publishers’s sampler: http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html

23. Query Letters and Cowboy Boots

05/07/2018
As I write my book, along the way I’m putting together the necessary “query letter” for potential agents/publishers– the first level of approach/sales-pitch to get published. I scribble bits of ideas that come to me at odd times. Today sitting in my little neighborhood church in Oakland, I was not thinking about the book and certainly not the query letter, when a new segment of “my readership” suggested itself:  Gay men… and everyone else who has a sensibility that’s strong but gentle and vulnerable, who probably has had to be on guard for most of their lives, even ashamed, lest that gentleness at their center might be found out, rejected, or abused. Though this will certainly be catalogued as a “women’s” book,  the fact of the matter is, all of us struggle to fit Who We Are  into What The World Expects of us instead, and usually demands from us. That’s one of the themes of the book of course, and truth be told, we all spend most of our lives trying to understand who we are, and then find the courage to dare to genuinely be that. The greatest obstacles are the deeply-embedded lies we were taught about ourselves when we were children, either by people who should have loved us but didn’t, or more often by people who did, and lied because they loved us, and wanted to protect us from life. The book is about a skinny little girl who loves horses and fire engines. She gets repeatedly told by the big people “You can’t have that, you can’t do that, you can’t be that” (about these and most of the things she wants) because you’re a girl. And what’s worse, there is the powerful unspoken mandate: “You shouldn’t want those things,” (because) girls don’t. “Who says?” She demands, to no avail. Again and again she asks, “Why not?” and gets no reasonable answer. “Those things are for boys,” they say. What the child hears clearly is: Who you are is not okay. It’s not okay to want what you want. It’s a big fat lie, and somewhere in every child’s heart we know this, but what can we do? We’re just a kid. Some of the same lies are passed along for generations, always  when we’re young and vulnerable and trusting, newly-learning about what life’s supposed to be. By words or actions, many of us were informed, “You shouldn’t be who you are, and it’s wrong to want to be.”  If you’re a boy, you’ve got to like baseball, not art or music or poetry. If you’re a girl, you must like dolls and dresses and tea-sets, not horses and fire engines. I remember with crystal clarity, the day my brother got cowboy boots. I got all excited and asked, “Ooooh! Do I get some cowboy boots too?” My parents laughed and said, “Oh no honey, cowboy boots are for boys. You can have some pretty ballet slippers…” I was four years old. “Ballet slippers?” I was stunned. “WHO wants THAT?” I begged for cowboy boots too. It didn’t do any good. Even now I can still feel the ache and sting of being so terribly wronged and cheated. I pleaded, in my own defense, “I couldn’t help it that I was born a girl! I didn’t get to choose!” For the next decade I was a closet-tomboy, sneaking out to climb trees and roofs and fire-escapes and gallop around the neighborhood pretending I was a racehorse. Eventually I grew up and turned out straight, which made things easier, especially in Texas in the 1950’s and 60’s. I learned to “act like a lady” and I obeyed the rules. I married and worked two jobs, the telephone company and a department store, to put my young husband through graduate school. I was a good wife. I spent the 4 1/2 loneliest years of my life like that, until finally I realized that I had no Life, and I had no Self. I was living in his shadow, and whoever I used to be had gotten lost somewhere in the dark. Not his fault– we both played the roles we were brought up to play. This works sometimes for some people. Not this time, not for me. Leaving was hard. It felt like more than a failure, it felt like a death, but I knew it had to happen. I got a divorce. I took my life back. I bought myself a pair of cowboy boots. ______________________________________________________

Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames.

If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress., please contact me through “Victory” at Darkhorse Press. Thank you.

Victory Is My Name, a Memoir. This is a trilogy, and the first section, Book One: The Burning-Barrel launched in February and is available everywhere in paperback and e-book. Publishers’s sampler: http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html

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