Thursday, September 9, 2021

A Different Sort of Writer’s Conference - What's Right for You?

What do you look for in a writer’s conference? Workshops, feedback, panel discussions, agent-editor talks? That’s what I usually look for. But not this year. As a writing instructor, I wanted the immersive experience and sense of community I found while studying for an MFA at Fairfield University here in Connecticut. I’m pleased to say I found it.

As a writer, an educator and an advocate of lifelong learning for diverse writers, I found myself longing for a summer writing experience that included three key components: pedagogy, craft and community. And I wanted a certain level of experience in those elements. What I found was the Postgraduate Writers’ Conference (PWC) at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA).

When you’re looking for a writer’s conference, you often get a lot of advance hype that isn’t fully realized in the actual event. That wasn’t true here. Described as a “haven for serious, emerging practitioners seeking to connect, recharge, and lift their process and craft to new levels,” the PWC at VCFA was exactly that.

I have to admit I hadn’t heard of the conference before this year. One reason is that over the past eight years I’ve been involved in planning the Ridgefield Writer’s Conference. Since the Ridgefield conference ended its run last year, this year I was free to find an event that offered the same core elements. I started the search in May.

While looking through the Poets & Writers Magazine classifieds, I found a listing for the PWC at VCFA. While the August 9 through 14 timeframe worked with my summer teaching schedule, what drew me most was the conference model description of small workshops of five or six writers led by a faculty member. I recognized the format because it was the same as the MFA at Fairfield and the Ridgefield conference. But the PWC didn’t stop there.

Besides five days of workshops, each writer had an individual instructor consult. And there were faculty and participant readings, craft talks, generative writing sessions and social events. The PWC was so community-oriented, the fact that it was held remotely didn’t detract from the event. For me, it was a plus because it enabled me to attend the conference while working on projects here at home. The other benefit of a virtual event was that the writers and instructors came from across the country.

The one aspect of most writing events that wasn’t part of the VT conference were agent, editor and publisher panels. Honestly, I didn’t miss them. I already keep up with this aspect of the writing life and cover it in my own instruction so it was a breath of fresh air not to have to focus on the industry side of writing for a change.

Another affirming differentiator of the PWC was its focus on writers with graduate degrees. It was a significant benefit to be in workshop with experienced writers who respect each other and offer high-level critique. A further positive was that the conference instructors are both gifted writers and compelling teachers. And teach they did.

As I searched all those online and print conference listings this spring, I was hoping for a safe place where I could improve my writing and connect with other writers. The Postgraduate Writers’ Conference at Vermont College of Fine Arts offered exactly that. While this type of conference may not be right for everyone, whatever your needs, it’s important to know what you want before you sign up. Of course, research helps clarify what you’re looking for and what's out there. Just make sure you don’t settle for less. With all the venues available, you shouldn’t have to.

For more on the conference I attended, visit Postgraduate Writers’ Conference at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

For more on events and conferences for writers, visit:

AWP Directory of Writers' Conferences & Centers

NewPages Big List of Writing Conferences and Events

Poets & Writers Conferences and Residencies Database

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Wisdom of the Ages: Knowing and Growing Your Characters’ Knowledge

One of the joys of writing is when we become so immersed in creating the world of our story that we forget we’re working. But we can’t afford to check out on how much our characters know about themselves and the world around them.

Let’s consider the things characters know. To some extent, they know themselves and their motivations, what’s happening around them, and the other characters in the piece. One aspect of creating a believable character arc is paying attention to the person’s (usually) increasing awareness of these elements and their consequences. 

While characters may not know everything they should know about themselves, their world and the others in it, there’s a huge difference between intentionally keeping a character in the dark and not realizing that by now they should know more (or less) than they do.

So how does a writer manage a character’s awareness?

First, we have to pay attention to what our characters know at the start of the story, and whether and when they should know more or less. To check your characters’ knowledge at each stage of the piece, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is this person’s age at the start of the narrative, and what age is the individual at each major turning point?
  • What will this person’s main stages of development be over the course of the story? 
  • What does the character not know now that they’ll need to know at each new stage?
  • If the character doesn’t know something, such as why he betrays someone, is it due to a flaw that fits the character or because I’ve forgotten to develop the person’s awareness?

If you're wondering whether you’ve given a character more insight than is believable at a particular stage of life or point in the story, ask yourself these questions:

  • Has enough happened in this person's life for them to know this, and have they paid sufficient attention to realize it?
  • Does my prose accurately reflect the character’s personality, age and stage of life?

To add texture to both characters and story, consider charting what a character does and doesn’t know at key points in the story and the consequences of this knowledge or lack thereof. It can be daunting to do this for each person in your piece so start with your main character.

Two other points to consider in character development are how the person’s voice and wisdom mature (or devolve) as they move through the storyline. This can be trickier in middle grade and young adult fiction, where the characters usually start out young in age and/or maturity level.

Even if you're not writing for younger readers, your story may include a younger character who matures over the course of the piece. While maturity results from the passing of time, the gaining of experience or both, we need to make sure that what the character realizes about their life and how they express that knowledge match who they are at each main point in the story.

Last, sometimes we don’t realize that we've expressed a character’s thoughts, emotions or dialogue more eloquently than the character would at that point. So when we read a particularly well-expressed insight, we need to make sure we haven't given the character more wisdom than they would have at that age or stage of life. While this is a common problem with main characters who are young, some protagonists are wise beyond their years. That’s fine, as long as we give the person room to grow and develop their insights at a believable rate.

There's nothing wrong with having smart characters who read that way at any age. But we can’t go on autopilot about how much our characters know about themselves and the world around them. Instead, we need to make sure that the wisdom we’ve put on the page matches the person's age, maturity level and stage of life.

For questions on writing, email Adele Annesi.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Take the Goldilocks Approach to Effectively Parse and Use Feedback

At some point in our writing life, we’ll likely seek out other writers and organizations for support, networking, learning, resources and perspectives on our work. Many entities combine some or all of these elements. As to feedback, one of the nattiest aspects of critique when we’re asked to provide criticism is striking a balance between encouragement and analysis. When we’re receiving comments, the challenge is parsing and implementing what we hear or read in response to our work.

You may remember the children’s fable The Story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a tale with several iterations and outcomes. Here, we’ll consider the version where young Goldilocks enters the home of three bears and starts sampling what she finds. A fine example of the literary rule of three, the story shows Goldilocks learning that much of what she tries is either one extreme or the other and that only one element in each category is just right. Effectively parsing and using feedback is like that.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a group or workshop where your writing is supported and so are you, you’re off to a great start. Even then, many observations may be overly solicitous on the one hand or too severe on the other. Comparatively little is “just right”.

In reality, even scathing criticism can include a usable point. After that sort of critique, warm and fuzzy feedback feels like balm, making us reluctant to examine it lest it evaporate. Yet, the usable content of a harsher response can have as much merit, or more, than what we derive from a warmer reaction. Either way, it’s wise to note what we hear or read in response to our work and save the comments for future consideration. Time not only heals most wounds, it provides prospective.

Then there’s the critique that’s just right. How do we know when we hear it? What do we do with it afterward? And what do we do with those other notes?

Usually, the critique that’s just right expresses what’s working in a piece and why. It’s the “why” part that differentiates a valid viewpoint, and the maturity of the writer offering it, from other perspectives. The just right critique also points out aspects of a piece raise questions or confusion and why. Again, the why is critical.

The other element of just right feedback is that it fits your vision for your work. In this case, an insight’s validity isn’t determined by the writer so much as by the work. So ask yourself these questions as you sort through what you hear, whether scathing, sentimental or sensible:

  • Is there any part of this feedback I can use now or later?
  • When in doubt, create a list to revisit later. Is the warmer feedback overcompensating for a real problem? If so, add the underlying point to the list.
  • Did I not figure this insight into my work because it occurred to me but I didn’t think it would fit my vision?
  • Did I not figure this idea into my project because I wasn’t sure it was valid or how to implement it?
  • Did I not figure this insight into my work because it didn’t come to mind?

Once you’ve answered the questions answer this: What is true now?

The questions are valid for any project at any stage of a writer’s life. But they’re especially important for large-scale work and/or work the writer started a while ago. Larger projects require a meticulous approach to drafting and revision because of their many elements. Works that began a while ago change over time, as do writers and writing styles, so it’s important to be realistic about where things stand today.

When parsing critique, keep this in mind—CReDIt: Consider the whole, retain what works, discard what doesn’t, implement according to your parameters and unique style.

When in doubt, remember, you’re the writer and the decision maker. Don’t decide for or against an idea based on anything other than the best interests of your work and you, the writer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Second Sight: How a Novelist Crafted Her Second Book in a Murder Mystery Series

Before writing fiction, JC Clark worked as a public relations and marketing communications professional, starting as a publicist in the GE News Bureau. While Clark grew up and resides in Connecticut, she spent a number of years in Massachusetts, first at Merrimack College in North Andover, then working at a technology company in Waltham. During this latter period, she became enthralled with the area’s rich history and set both her novels in the Boston area. A long-time participant in the Westport Writers Workshop, JC Clark has studied advanced fiction. Sanctuary is her second crime/murder mystery novel, picking up where her first novel, The Incident, left off. Here, Clark talks about writing the second novel in a series and the decision to publish the work independently.

Tell us a little about Sanctuary, your second Hannah Hart—Mike Gavin murder mystery.
Sanctuary, my second novel featuring Hannah Hart and Detective Mike Gavin, is a crime/murder mystery that takes place in and around Salem, Massachusetts. The story begins when a fire on Jack Easton’s 40-foot sailboat, Sanctuary, leads investigators to discover Easton’s body. Based on seemingly incontrovertible evidence, police suspect Alex Hart, the owner of a neighboring boat. Alex’s sister, Hannah Hart, a novice private eye, struggles to prove her brother’s innocence with the help of Mike Gavin, a Boston police detective she helped solve a previous case. Their shadow investigation leads them into the dark corners of the murder victim’s life where they discover others with motives for the crime amid shocking revelations of who delivered the final blow.

How long did it take to write the novel from start to finish, and how does this compare with how long it took to write the first novel in the series, The Incident?
For Sanctuary, I began drafting an outline and high-level plot treatment in April 2018. The entire process from first draft to finished product took about three years, taking into account a short writing break along the way. During this period, there were many Westport Writers Workshop sessions where I received line edits, peer reviews, editing and then, of course, first reads and proofing final copy before publication in e-book format. My first novel, The Incident, actually flowed a bit easier as I had the plot pretty much in mind from the outset, whereas Sanctuary’s evolution was a surprise even to me, with a few unexpected twists along the way.

How did writing Sanctuary differ from writing The Incident?
I knew from the start I wanted to tell the story behind The Incident, since much of it was based on actual events and sitting in my head for a while. Having only written technology copy during my business career, I soon learned that creating a novel was a very different beast. My second novel also stemmed from a real-life experience when our boat was damaged from a fire that took place on a neighboring vessel. That was the inciting moment for the development of Sanctuary. From there, the characters, setting and plot took off.

What challenges apply specifically to writing a second novel in a series?
Since I wanted to carry The Incident’s main characters, Hannah Hart and Detective Mike Gavin, into the second novel, I needed to incorporate backstory into Sanctuary. This can be tricky as I wanted to weave in enough history without retelling the whole book. Also I wanted Sanctuary to be a standalone novel.

How did you work through these issues?
As most authors will tell you, if you want to write, read a lot, especially in your chosen genre. I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, from Stephen King and PD James to JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith and Tana French. They never fail to inspire and instruct.

What did you enjoy most and least about writing this new novel?
The history that imbues the Salem area is fascinating, from its maritime past to the infamous witch trials. Also, Margaret Press’s nonfiction book, A Scream on the Water, was a great inspiration and excellent read, with its details about the investigation into the tragic death of Salem’s Martha Brailsford in 1991. My college roommate, a longtime Salem resident, offered her recollections of Martha and other local insights that were useful in informing my story.

Getting into the details of an investigation from the time of the murder to the arrest of a suspect can be challenging, requiring attention to police procedures. I wanted to make my story as compelling and credible as possible, so I put a lot of time into relevant research. I also run my books by a legal professional, which helps ensure that I have the legal aspects of the story right.

What do you feel is unique about writing this particular genre of fiction, compared with other genres?
A mystery requires fitting a lot of pieces together to create a believable, satisfying conclusion. You need to lead the reader down several paths and plant just enough red herrings without giving away “who dunnit”.

What aspects of the writing process would you like readers and other writers to know?
It can be difficult keeping all the elements that go into writing a mystery straight, so I use a spreadsheet that outlines the book chronologically by chapter and date. This makes it easier to add, move or delete sections or entire chapters to keep the plot, characters and overall timeline consistent and credible.

How did you decide to publish the novel independently in general and via Amazon in particular?
After completing my first novel, I wrote targeted query letters to some 200 agents. I also attended ThrillerFest in NYC, participating in the PitchFest session where I could meet in person with about 10 agents with 5 minutes to present my book to each. While I got some interest and requests to send pages, ultimately nothing came of the effort. I ended up self-publishing The Incident as e-book on Amazon for Kindle, which, by the way, is not an easy process either, but at least you have control. Fortunately, I have a tech-savvy friend who managed this effort for me.

When it came to my second book, I contacted only a few independent publishers who didn’t require an agent. Two used Submittable, where considerable details about the book were requested. While an interesting, albeit time-consuming, exercise (reminiscent of a college exam), nothing came of these queries. Even if the publishers had bought the novel, it would have taken at least a year to see the book in print due to a lengthy editing/publishing process. Rather than write for money, I write for the joy and satisfaction of creating a story that will entertain my friends, family and other readers. Something Phillip Roth’s biographer said about him resonated with me: “He never had children, so books would be all that would survive him.” The Incident, Sanctuary, and whatever might come next, will be my legacy.

JC Clark holds a bachelor of arts in English from Fairfield University and lives in Redding, CT, with her family, which includes Rusty, their very demanding cat.

Clark's novel is available on Amazon at Sanctuary.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Spring Into Spring Fiction at the Westport Writers’ Workshop

 If you’re looking to get into writing, get back into writing or keep writing this spring, check out the following at the Westport Writers’ Workshop. 

Ongoing: Mentoring Program: Intermediate to Advanced Fiction

This innovative, one-on-one program combines personalized instruction in the craft and art of fiction with inspiration toward your writing goals. Based on the mentoring segment of the MFA in creative writing, the program provides support for your project and you as a writer from a writing professional who understands publishing and the writing life.

Here’s how it works. Every week and a half you’ll email one submission of up to 10 pages of short or long-form fiction in Word.doc or .docx format. You’ll receive your commented pages back within one week, unless otherwise noted, with feedback in the form of line editing, comments and queries, and an overview of the pages with particulars on craft elements. The program is suitable for literary, upmarket and genre fiction.

The program goal is up to 40 pages of new and/or revised work.

Also included/planned are:

  • Three Zoom Meets: The first occurs at the start of the program to discuss your project and goals. The second occurs around the program midpoint to review any questions or considerations. The last occurs at the program close to answer remaining questions and plan next steps.
  • Readings: With each commented submission, the mentor will include suggested readings on craft elements that need further development.
  • Resources: Handouts on craft and writing resources, a bibliography tailored to your needs and project, a checklist that defines key craft elements and questions to consider for each element.

March 18 (One-Day Workshop): Scene by Scene: How to Create Compelling Scenes in Fiction

Scenes are the building blocks of fiction, but what makes a scene strong, fully realized and effective, and why do some scenes fall short? This workshop explores all these aspects and more. We’ll consider such key elements as backstory, interior and exterior dialogue, the role of setting, and how to develop character and advance plot at the same time. We also examine how to structure scenes in a section or chapter to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. The workshop is suitable for short and long-form fiction of all genres. We’ll also explore aspects of scene revision so writers should bring their current projects to share and for Q&A, examples and discussion.

April 1 (Seven Weeks): Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Find and Write the Story Under the Surface

Fiction writers often ask how to convey their characters’ emotions—the real question is how to provide readers an emotional journey of their own. Using The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, by longtime literary agent Donald Maass, we’ll consider the three modes of conveying emotion, the emotional world, the meaning and arc of emotion, emotional plot, the reader’s emotional journey and the writer’s emotional journey. To explore how to find, write and revise for the emotional story, we’ll also use examples and exercises, and each writer can submit up to five pages weekly to the group and instructor. Why is it important to consider emotional experience when writing fiction? Because readers don’t just read, they respond, and in ways all their own. Join us to discover the deeper emotional connection with your writing, your story, your audience and yourself.

Required for this workshop:  We will read The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, by literary agent Donald Maass. You can purchase the book through Amazon.  Please read Chapter 1 for the first workshop session.

April 20 (Nine Weeks): Novel Writing Master Class

This nine-week master-level class is for writers seeking to bring a novel to completion by a comprehensive exploration of their work on a deeper level. Each week one writer will submit up to 50 pages to the instructor and group who will read the submission outside class and share their insights in class. The submitting writer can ask the group to focus on specific aspects of craft, and the group will read for those elements and others they notice. The aim is for writers to receive three sets of constructive feedback from peers and the instructor on the larger arc and structure of their stories and their components, including character development, for up to 150 pages per writer for the season. The class is suitable for existing drafts and robust generative efforts in the categories of adult, commercial, high-concept, upmarket, women’s and literary fiction. The class includes a bibliography of reference works and a handout on craft elements.

*This class requires a three-page writing sample for acceptance.

For more, visit Westport Writers' Workshop.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Mood Indigo: Crafting Mood to Suit Your Story

Ever noticed how easily your mood can change, with the weather, good news or bad, a new idea, fear or concern for the future? Our moods shift as often as light and shadow, making a huge difference in our outlook. The ability to create and change mood can make a big difference in writing, too.

“Mood Indigo”, by jazz great Duke Ellington, was Ellington’s first tune written for microphone transmission. Originally titled "Dreamy Blues", the 1930 piece drew such rave reviews after airing that lyrics were added, and the piece was renamed. Notice that, in the works’ very renaming, its mood is evoked. The same principle applies to writing.

Mood in writing is when the sound of the prose sets the feel of a scene or section, or the entire piece, and few writers make sufficient use of it. Why bother with this oft underrated element of craft? Creating the right mood can enhance setting, underscore theme, foreshadow events or signal a change in a character. So how can writers optimize this multipurpose writing tool?

The first step in using mood to the full is to pay close attention to scenes and settings. You can begin by reading a small section of a story, for example, the opening paragraph. Ask yourself what feeling is evoked as you read. You may be describing a wintry day, but the question is, how are you describing it? Is it with a feeling of warmth at being inside when the weather outside is foreboding? Or are howling wind and stinging sleet pelting a driver changing a flat on the shoulder of an interstate? Whether you realized it or not as you were writing, your word choices created a mood. The question is whether the mood works best with your storyline.

Once you read your work with mood in mind, consider whether it’s most effective use is as complement or counterpoint to your story. For example, if you’re writing suspense, you may want to build tension by increasing the feeling of foreboding as events unfold. Returning for a moment to our stranded driver, what if she’s not on an interstate but on an unfamiliar winding mountain road en route to an inn in the Berkshires? As her problems mount, readers will sense the situation will keep getting worse. If you’re looking to underscore impending disaster via surprise, you might set the scene with the woman dressed for the occasion and knowing something of the area. She knows what to do. She’ll get the jack out of the trunk and … By considering the immediate context and the overall goal of the story, you can consciously select the best setup, drawing readers in either by prompting them to suspect or to be surprised by scene’s outcome.

So how do you make the most of opportunities like this? First, consider what’s happening in a scene or section and what kind of story you’re writing overall. Then consider several possible approaches. To find out, write the scene several times using a different approach each time. Once you see which option is best, consider your word choices; prose is paramount. That’s why it’s best to begin with a smaller section of the story. Once you get used to going through these steps with bite-sized pieces, you’ll start doing it automatically throughout the project.

One key reason mood is overlooked is that writers don’t consciously consider it; they write a scene or section based on what’s happening with mood baked in. But if you listen to Ellington’s piece, you’ll hear that it sounds precisely like what the title “Mood Indigo” evokes—not a dreamy blues ballad or a blue mood but a long, deep and introspection. Take the time to read your work with mood in mind, consider the best choice for your context and be intentional in your word choices, and your writing can have the same effect on the reader. An old Italian proverb says the world is beautiful because it’s varied. Your story’s beauty can be enhanced by a variation of moods, a continual play of shadow and light.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Writing Into the New Year With the Ridgefield Writers Conference - Tuesday, December 29

Writing Into the New Year
If you're like most of us, you're looking forward to seeing a close to 2020. But what's ahead for writers in 2021? How can we juggle our busy lives and writing plans in the coming year in a way that’s both inspiring and realistic? The Ridgefield Writers Conference on Tuesday, December 29, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., on the Ridgefield Library Zoom platform, presents inspirational and practical tips from keynote speaker Adele Annesi on how to plan for and succeed in your 2021 writing goals.

Join us for an interactive seminar on workable strategies and tips for how to make a writing plan, set reasonable goals, create an action plan for meeting those goals, review achievements and consider next steps. Included with the program is a writable Word document with ideas, tips, references and examples to help you make the most of the coming year that you can customize to start the New Year off right. Also bring your questions for our Q&A portion of the forum.

Our keynote speaker this year is award-winning writer, editor and teacher Adele Annesi. Co-author of Now What? The Creative Writer's Guide to Success After the MFA and a founder of the Ridgefield Writers Conference and Muse & Music, Adele is a book editor for Word for Words, LLC, and a former development editor for Scholastic. Her work has appeared in 34th Parallel, Authors Publish, Fresh Ink, Fringe Blog, Hamline University’s Lit Link, Hersam Acorn Media, Midway Journal, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Washington Independent Review of Books and Southern Literary Review, where she served as managing editor. Adele’s work has been anthologized for Chatter House Press and Fairfield University, where she received an MFA in creative writing. Her essay on Italian citizenship is among the Clarion Award-winning Essays About Life Transitions by Women Writers, and her sudden fiction has been adapted for the stage. Adele currently lectures and leads creative writing workshops for the Westport Writers’ Workshop.

Our Gift to You
Sponsored by Word for Words, LLC, and hosted by the Ridgefield Library, this year’s virtual conference takes place on Tuesday, December 29, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., via the Ridgefield Library Zoom platform. The event is free, on a first-come, first-served basis, and prior registration is required. To register, click on Ridgefield Writers Conference Open Forum. For more on the conference, visit Ridgefield Writers Conference.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Speak, Memory: The Narrative Pull of Remembrance

One of my favorite book titles is that of Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiographical memoir Speak, Memory. As both directive and decree, memory speaks, and it’s one of the most powerful muscles for narrative pull in all of literature.

In the same way that an olfactory experience evokes recollection, memory stimulates story. A turkey basting in the oven, coffee brewing over a campfire, an evergreen bough warmed by sunlight … These olfactory recollections may evoke the holidays or hiking in the woods or family gatherings or images of good times gone bad. No matter what remembrances they call to mind, the memories that accompany the sense recollections are powerful links to the past that open doors to discovery, and the journey of discovery can generate enough wattage to propel a story, whether real or imagined and perhaps a bit of both.

For me, November is a month filled with memories, not all of them pleasant. In this month, my father died, my mother and I moved from a home we shared for over 40 years, other family passed away … It’s a tough time of year, and although autumn is my favorite season, November is a prelude to winter, and I don’t relish the cold as much as I used to.

In writing, memory, even when unpleasant, can function in a variety of ways. It can spark a scene, provide a flashback, reveal a character or personality, propel the story, reinforce conflict, force clarity, reveal pain, provide pleasure or comfort, offer a moment of rest, create context by providing history, create a link to the past and to people who aren’t around anymore. Memory, whether manufactured on behalf of a fictional character or remembered from real life experience, can do all these things and more, long as we’re paying attention.

In real life, one interesting quality of memory is that the body often realizes before the mind that something is happening under the surface. Something is up, and that something often is a memory, a thing remembered or a thing that wants to be recalled, often so that it can be explored and dealt with. In writing as an aspect of healing, one reason to write is to explore the memory for precisely these reasons, but we can’t do that if we don’t acknowledge the recollection or don’t allow our characters to do so. Once we do, we must spend time with these people, our characters, others and ourselves.

One caveat: Don’t be surprised if the deeper the memory, the more emotions arise, strong emotions that may yield other memories and other emotions, often of a painful experience. Yet, exploration yields discovery, and discovery can bring a sense of peace, closure, that aha moment that allows us to realize something we didn’t know before and enables us to move on from there.

The same is true for us as writers and for those we write about. The key is taking time to explore the memory and ask questions of it. What does it look like? Where is it happening and when? What is happening? Who is part of this memory, and why are they there? Why is it important? What might we learn from it? What does the memory want to tell us?

As a month of anniversaries, November is a difficult month. But it’s also a month of transition, of barren trees whose branches scrape the bright sky, of smoke curling from chimneys, and footprints on snow-dusted doorsteps. I may not always want to hear what my memory wants to tell me, but I generally find myself better off for having listened.