What kind of book are you writing?

“Jason, what kind of book are you writing?”
“It’s a creative non-fiction memoir made up of essays, autobiographical stories and interviews all around the topic of photography.”
“It sounds like you’re writing a memoir.”
“That’s what I think too, but…”
“But what?  What is holding you back from saying ‘memoir’?  What are you afraid of?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re writing a memoir.  Just tell yourself that from now on and own it!”

That’s the advice that I got recently.  It’s sound advice and I felt good about it…that is, until I actually let people know I was writing a memoir.

I have had a few people tell me, “You’re too young to be writing a memoir.”  And this is one reason why I opted not to tell anyone that I was even writing for quite a while – too many people have opinions.  Constructive feedback, great – single-minded shallow opinions – keep them to yourselves.

If you don’t like the word memoir, we can call it something else then, say, a creative non-fiction book broken down into episodic tales.  This book will feel and sound like a memoir, but, shhhh, it’s not a memoir.  How’s that?

Many of the memoirs that I have read in the past two years come from authors who are in their late 30’s and early 40’s – and I fall into that demographic.  Do you think that you have to be famous to write a memoir? No!

Artistic License gives us freedom.  Freedom to do what?  Let me come up with something and I’ll put it the book that I’m writing that’s disguised as a memoir.

You Won’t Have To Hold My Hair Back

I am feeling sick to my stomach.  No, I don’t have the flu, nor am I drunk.  You won’t have to hold my hair back while I pray to the porcelain god or feed me Pedialyte freeze pops until my electrolyte levels are back to normal.

It’s only my nerves acting up because I just sent my manuscript to an editor to read for the very first time.  I guess this is what it feels like when you send your kid off to school for the first time.  I do not have any kids, so it’s only a guess.  I never had this feeling when I use to send slides and CD’s to galleries to look at my photography.  The writing world seems foreign to me…it’s like starting over, in a way.  I have to network with a different demographic of friends, peers and mentors.  I know hundreds of people in the photography world, but in the writing and literary world, I can count who I know personally on just my two hands.  I have a lot of work to do.

But this is my quest and it’s part of the process.  I have a lot more ideas and more essays to write.  There were 65,500 words in the manuscript to my memoir that I sent out today.  I am in awe when I look back and see what I’ve accomplished.

Field Notes

Sticking with my photography/writing themed posts, I bring to you these images by photographer Rachel Phillips.  Her series Field Notes is comprised of paper houses that she constructed from letters, postcards and envelopes that she found in old shoe boxes in her grandparent’s attic.  She took the process a step further by printing images directly onto the vintage envelopes – each envelope now becomes a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of art.

Old stamps, script and cursive penmanship, and dates – going back as far as the 1800’s stand out for me.  She brings new life to what was once the only way to contact a loved one, or reply to a message, or pay a bill.  Remember those days?

rachel phillips, field notes, photographer, envelopes

My introduction to Grub Street

Now, let me clarify.  There are two Grub Streets – one is a website about restaurant and dining suggestions – (a foodie’s wet dream), and the other is a literary haven for people who are interested in writing.  I am writing about the latter.

Grub Street, located on Boylston St in Boston is a non-profit organization that hosts writing and publishing workshops for people of all ages.  They make people better writers and assist writers who are set on making writing a career.

I was introduced to Grub Street by my friend Debbie Hagan, former Editor-in-Chief at Art New England Magazine.  She knew I was very serious about my writing and knew I was looking for a little guidance on my memoir.

Last week I attended my first two workshops at Grub Street.  The first: So You Want to Be a Writer in 2013 and Beyond with Ethan Gilsdorf (twitter = @ethanfreak)

The second was: Writing the Killer Nonfiction Book Proposal with Katrin Schumann (twitter = @katrinschumann).

The classes here are small (8-12 students) and run the gamut with students who were just starting out and others who have finished manuscripts and needed direction.  I fall somewhere in between.  Both classes were great and were led by published authors who had real world experience.  Since I have already gone to school and earned a B.F.A and a M.F.A. I wasn’t planning to re-enroll in another degree-seeking program.  These workshops are designed to give a lot of information in a short amount of time.  The first workshop was only three hours long, while the second was six hours long.  Listening to my classmates talk about their books got my creative juices pumpin’ and I am ready to get back to work on mine.

I dreaded writing my Master’s thesis and that was only twenty-two pages long.  I’m guessing that it had to do with the structure because the content – photography – is my passion.

I’ll be posting more on Grub Street in the future.  It was cool to see this as soon as I exited the elevator onto their floor.  I knew I was in the right place!

Grub Street