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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
FEB
02

Don't Want to Forget Come Daylight

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This week I found myself digging into my journal/personal history archives in preparation for a book chapter I was getting ready to write. I had planned to start writing that night after verifying a few details, but once I started reading, I just kept going. And going. Bottom line: I got no writing done this week. Because I spent all my writing time reading through my journals. I'd initially meant to look up something in the year 2004, but ended up reading almost everything I had written between the years 1998 and 2005. And when it comes to my life, I write a lot.

Much of this I hadn't read through in many, many years, and what I was amazed about as I read it this week was 1) how much detail I had included...sometimes much more than I really want to remember about certain events, and 2) how much of it I would never have remembered had I not written it down. I'm telling you, readers. So many of those pages, those events, those conversations I could not even remember happening. Or at least not in those ways, not in those sequences, not in those words. How important it is then to write down the things that happen to us. Not someday, but now. Now, people. You may attempt it some years from now, and that admittedly will be better than nothing, but it will not be as full and crisp and detailed as it would be if you wrote it down today. It's like that line from that song that I can't even name, nor its author, but it goes like this: "Every word you say I think I should write down. Don't want to forget come daylight."

I think it's appropriate to note here that I recently finished the last chapter of my third book. It's the only chapter of book three that I've written yet, and I usually prefer to write from beginning to end, but the events that inspired the last chapter happened very recently in my life, and I felt the need to get them written down while the version I could write was still at its most full and crisp. Didn't want to forget come daylight.

So write something down today. You won't regret it.

JAN
20

Typesetting with Cats

b2ap3_thumbnail_clem-jeweled.jpgThis is one of my favorite parts about writing books. When it's time to actually make the decisions about what the book will look like. I had several typesetting options to look over this past weekend, and as you can see, I need a bigger dining room table. I'm always so grateful in times like these to work with people who make my life easier, people who have the know-how that I don't (like how to go about getting the rights for a picture I like from an old Tiffany & Co. catalog).

And as long as I'm giving thanks, who wouldn't be grateful for such a diligent feline companion? Clearly she knows what title page she likes. If only I could be as decisive.

JAN
04

Record

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I've written over 2000 words for 4 straight days, 8500 total, and for me, that's a record. I know it might not sound like that much for those of you who write for a living, but for a girl who has a full-time day job that does not involve writing, I'm quite proud of this. Of course my cat gets annoyed when my lap is occupied by my computer, but lucky for her, this kind of writing time is the exception and not the rule. And now for my next trick, I'm hoping to break 10,000 by the end of the day.

SEP
05

Stranger than Fiction...and Funnier, too

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, one who I grew up with back in Oregon, and she was telling me about the book she's writing. It's about her life, and as she was telling me about some of the events that will be included in the book, I was shocked. Truth is stranger than fiction, everybody knows that--or at least everyone should--and I actually found myself at one point asking her, "He really did that??" when she told me about one of the scenes from the book. I honestly couldn't believe it, to which she quipped that it would not be possible to make this stuff up.

That's why I love real life. It's why I love reading about real life. And I know I say it all the time, but I just love memoirs for that reason. It's so satisfying knowing that what you're reading about really happened. And I think the potential for grand emotions is heightened. Real life has the potential to be more heartbreaking, more inspiring, more joyful, more hilarious, and certainly more unexpected than anything we can make up. That's probably why I'm sixty pages into a new novel right now (I know! I know! What am I doing reading fiction?) and can't seem to get into it but was in stitches when my friend read me the opening pages of her hilarious memoir. Life is just funnier. Now, back to this novel. Groan. (Watch, it will turn around any second and become the best thing I've ever read and I'll be eating crow for days. Which, incidentally, would also be pretty funny.)

SEP
03

Weekend Totals

4,400 words. That was my total written over the long weekend. Not too shabby. Although it definitely cut into my pages read total (this is the final month of the family contest), which was like 20. Of course that didn't stop me from picking up two new titles while at B&N this weekend. (You know, for all this reading I'm doing.) If I can read the book I just started as well as the two I just bought before the month is out, I'll deem September a literary success. And if I win the family contest, I'll deem this the best summer ever.

AUG
26

Three before Two

I have a confession. I started writing my third book. I know, I know, it's ridiculous. I only just barely made all the changes recommended by my editor to my second book and handed the manuscript over for typesetting. There's still so much time before book two is even out, and here I've gone and started on book three. It makes me feel like a mom who's robbed her baby of his babyhood by immediately upping and having another baby.

But the thing about getting books out there is it takes so damn long once the writing is done that you find yourself--even when in the thick of the book prepping and publishing processes--missing the actual writing. It's what writers like best, after all, and considering I finished the manuscript way back here, this means I haven't actually written anything in months. So I couldn't help myself. Not to mention the fact that one of the chapters that will go in book three is fresh on my mind and should really be written up pronto. At any rate, I've begun. It will be slow-going with everything else happening bookwise, but I don't mind. 684 words in, and I'm already hooked.

 

JUL
14

Guest Post!

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My friend Crystal Brinkerhoff, a fellow writer who hails from the same corner of Oregon that I do, is today's featured post. It's my first guest post and I hope to do more in the future. Enjoy!!

Gotta Fight for Your Right to Write
I rolled out of bed while the house was still quiet to work on this brain child that I keep obsessing over. (Why won’t characters leave you alone once you get them down on paper?) I avoided the squeaky floorboard in the hallway. Maybe I could have a few minutes alone. I swear the 3-year old has built-in radar that alerts her when I’m awake. I started typing when she appeared in front of me. 
 
“It’s morning,” she pointed out the window. “Cereal?” Fair enough.
 
I spent some time answering emails and other boring stuff. A task that was supposed to take a few minutes grew to three hours. (When I found the immunization record I was trying to track down, half the page was ripped and missing. Was someone hungry? For paper?)
 
My husband called needing a book and could I please bring it to him since he had a lunch meeting. I’m proud of the fact that we love books. But I considered downsizing today.
 
“What does it look like?” I asked.
 
“I’m not sure, but it’s 8 ½ x 11.”
 
“You know the size but not the color? Is it green? I’m picturing green.”
 
Pause. “Yeah maybe.”
 
Lunchtime rolled around later than normal. I’d been avoiding grocery shopping. Food schmood. So I dug through the bare cupboards until I found enough food to fake it. A package of six crackers, two fruit roll ups, and a bag of carrots. If I cut the roll ups in half then they can each have one. Desperation leads to genius in my opinion.
 
After lunch my youngest curled up to me with a book in her hand. I kept getting a whiff of something funky. Sure sign it’s time for a bath. But first I had to clean the tub.
 
I got around to getting myself ready for the day which meant I could deliver the book to my husband. Then realizing we had nothing for dinner I stopped at the store. I got home just in time to make dinner, get my oldest boys fed, and send them off to swim lessons. My husband took them tonight so I could get some writing done. He’s a gem that one.
 
I sat down in front of the laptop. I made the mistake of looking up. Dirty dishes on the counter. I’ll just do them really fast. Then my 5-year old offered to help. I’m not about to squelch an interest in chores.
 
By the time we were done my 7- and 8-year olds came in needing showers and then it was bedtime. Brush teeth, use the bathroom, get pajamas on, tuck in and smooch kids, turn off lights.
 
At last I sat down in front of the computer. Footsteps on the stairs. My toddler. I wasn’t going up the stairs again if I could help it. I let her curl up next to me.
 
I’ve been fighting since waking up this morning to write. There’s finally time tonight. It’s quiet. Everyone’s asleep. My youngest is sprawled on the couch next to me while I type, breathing soft snores.
 
I recently finished my roughest of all rough drafts. It was agonizing. It was amazing. Not the draft. The draft is garbage. But the process is magic, like delivering a baby without the blood and tears. Even if it’s ugly, the kid is still mine.
 
I let my oldest read part of it. He’s eight. That’s where my courage was.
 
“You wrote this? It’s awesome!”
 
I tried to play it cool, “It still needs lots of work.”
 
“Yeah but Mom, you’re going to be a famous author! Kids in my class would read this!”
 
His enthusiasm was sweet and I won’t lie, the praise is nice regardless of the age of the source. But the proudest moment for me was when he grabbed his own notebook, sat on the other end of the couch and got to work on his own story.
 
He gets it.
JUN
30

Advice...on dirty laundry

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Because my books are piddly and my well-knownness even piddlier, it's not often that I am asked for advice on writerly things. So I was pleased when someone got in touch with me recently who is preparing to publish a family history of sorts. Her questions centered around how does a person handle talking about others and still maintain those relationships, especially when some of the experiences published are somewhat negative or revealing.

I'm not an expert on the subject, nor can I say that all my relationships remained perfectly intact after my first book, so answering this woman's questions got me thinking about my approach on honesty and if it's changed at all with this second book. I believe it has, because even though I still believe in honesty (and in sharing even some of the not-so-flattering stories that make up our lives), there are things I have written differently, rephrased, or edited out of this second book completely that I otherwise would have left. Not sure what that means, so I guess make of it what you will. And best of luck to all you family history writers out there.

JUN
24

The Read-Through

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I did my first full read-through of the manuscript over the weekend. Of course I've been reading/editing for a couple months now, but this was the first reading that happened all in one sitting. And also the first reading since I've had the chapters arranged in their new order.

It went well (although there's a Saturday afternoon I'll never get back), but reading from start to finish like that makes you think, All this effort for something that can be read in a matter of hours? I guess that's the nature of the beast, and why only a handful of people out there are crazy devoted enough to write books.

JUN
12

Writing Letters

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It's a lost art, really. I remember one of my favorite things to receive as a child was stationary, all kinds, the more options I had to choose from the better. I remember exchanging letters with my little friends once I moved to Oregon, how excited I was when a letter arrived, how quickly I responded in the hopes that their responses would be just as quick. I remember how depressed I became one day when after opening the mailbox I found not a letter from one of my friends, but the letter I had put in the box the previous day, now with a note scribbled on the corner from the mailman: "Needs stamp." Epic fail. And now my forgetfulness had cost me a whole day.

Email has of course eliminated the old-fashioned letter almost entirely (as well as the company Christmas card), and now the days where I actually get a personal piece of mail are very rare. I'm sure we could all say the same thing. Which is why the last month has been a treat for me. I'm temporarily only able to communicate with my brother via letters, and in this day and age, what an experience that is. I look forward to his letters, knowing each one involved him taking the time to write out his thoughts on pen and paper. His handwriting, small and at times hard to read, is a piece of him, and at the risk of sounding gag-ably trite, I think there's something about writing letters that really bonds people. So write one. Today. And don't forget the stamp.

JUN
07

Torturing Confessions out of Poetry

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I typed the word "stopping" into google search this morning, and the first thing that came up was "stopping by woods on a snowy evening." Which, incidentally, was exactly what I was looking for. What a tribute to Robert Frost that is. Impressive. The poem has been on my mind since having a conversation with my brother the other day. He's in college and was expressing frustration over professors who insist upon a "right" meaning or interpretation of a piece of writing. I know what he's saying, and I can see both sides of the argument. It seems narrow-minded (and presumptuous) for us to assign a single meaning to a poem or story, but, then again, authors usually do have a particular meaning or theme in mind when they write. Especially these short mediums.

The first poem that came to my mind was Introduction to Poetry (Billy Collins), because it captures this frustrating sentiment perfectly; the idea that sometimes we just want to read poetry, revel in it, delight in it, relate it to our own lives, draw our own parallels. But in an educational setting, it's all about the meaning. The right meaning. I can remember several times in my college years when I suggested meanings or interpretations and was told, "No, he/she didn't mean that." Most times I was probably just wrong, but I also think that we can't assume we know everything about why authors say the things they do. Speaking of Billy, we were once given an assignment in a poetry class to take a certain poem of his and make an assumption based on the contents of the poem. It's the poem with the beautiful description of introducing a child to the moon, followed by the suggestion--if your house has no child--to "gather in your arms the sleeping infant of yourself." The description that follows, that of a sleepy infant-in-arms, struck me as painfully sweet. The assumption I turned into the professor was this: "Billy Collins has no children." To which the professor actually scoffed, claiming it was simply not possible for a childless man to describe so perfectly the limp and lolling head of a sleepy baby. As a childless person myself, I can tell you that this professor overestimates the difference between experience and circumstance.

So back to Robert Frost. I once heard a professor tell of a particularly unique student interpretation of Stopping by Woods which claimed that the narrator might be none other than Santa Claus. There are details in the poem (snow, nearly the darkest evening of the year...think about the timing of winter solstice, the "small horse," miles to go, etc). The poem is not about Santa, but the student got full marks on the paper, which, as I pointed out to my brother, is how I think writing ought to be approached. Your interpretation might be wrong, but especially if you can make a good case, your opinion is still valid and should be heard. These types of dialogues and questioning are healthy, keep us open to new ideas, and make literature that much more accessible. And isn't that the point?

JUN
03

The Best Kind of History

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I heard some remarks over the weekend from a woman who specializes in family history. When it comes to the benefits we receive from doing and learning about family history, it's not like I really need convincing, but still, days are full and time is precious and there's nothing I'm actively doing right now to learn about the lives of those who came before me.

Someone in the audience made a comment about looking forward to future generations, and this is the part I'm particularly passionate about. It's the reason I started writing about my life in the first place. Because it hit me several years ago that I didn't know much about my own grandparents (let alone the generations before that). At least not about their pre-grandparent life. So when I was lucky enough to get my hands on some essays written by one of my grandmothers, I latched on and read as if they were chapters in a best-selling novel. Because it's simply amazing the things I learned. It's amazing what I hadn't known. It's amazing the stories that come out of a single ordinary life.

Recent studies have found that children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being, so start telling them stories. Start encouraging them to ask questions when around relatives. And if nothing else, start writing things down. Even if only to those who come after you, your words will matter.

APR
24

A Few Words About Genre Fiction

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It's a funny thing, genre fiction. I always stayed away due to an assumption that it would be crappily written, and certainly beneath me and my English major tastes. Then one of my roommates in college gave me a John Grisham book, and I read it. Yes, I stooped that low. Here's the thing though...I loved it. I read several more JG books after that, and while nothing like the kind of depth and meaning that settles over me after reading a classic piece of literature, they were damn good reads. Hello, crow. Welcome.

Stephen King though is another matter entirely, because despite any (probably incorrect) assumptions I have about the writing itself, the bigger hurdle for me is that I do not enjoy anything in the realm of horror. I don't like feeling scared or disturbed or grossed out any more than I have to in this world, so the likes of Carrie and The Shining have never appealed to me in the slightest.

Even when given On Writing as a gift (a memoir-ish look at King's writer past as well as his writing processes and advice), I stalled for several months before reading it. Not being a fiction writer (and having never read a single word of any of his books), what could I possibly glean from his advice on writing? The answer is plenty, and I'll share a few gems once I've finished the book. In the meantime, go get yourself a copy of Grisham's The Partner.

APR
22

Honesty: Still the Best Policy.

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I got together recently with some friends, and the husband, who had just finished reading Schooled, asked me how I handled being so honest in the book. Particularly about my own thoughts and feelings. I guess some things I mention are pretty personal, but throughout the whole process of writing and prepping the book (and even in the time since it's been out), it's never really bothered me. I wanted an honest book, even if it revealed the oftentimes ridiculous, selfish, and self-pitying thoughts I had as an adolescent. This man said he wasn't sure he could do that, and several others have made similar comments to me, usually sounding something like, "Wow, it's sure gutsy to basically make your diary public."

The bigger concern to me when it comes to writing about real life is that you have to talk about other people. I mean, it's one thing to embarrass yourself, but quite another to potentially embarrass others. In writing Schooled, I wrestled with how honest to be at other peoples' expense. Not that anything about the book is vindictive, but I'm a nice person, and my desire to be honest has probably harmed a few relationships. It's something I've been reminded of as I'm re-reading manuscript #2. Because it means another list (although this one much shorter) of people in my life who are mentioned and may not appreciate everything I say. My defense (and this is my overall case for honesty in writing period) is that it's simply not realistic to have only ever had positive thoughts about and experiences with someone. In an effort to show a balanced and realistic depiction of life as I've experienced it, I'm not sure you can omit all of the less flattering details. Most of them, sure, but not all.

Yes, I will probably always worry about hurting people's feelings, and I will always feel gutted upon hearing that I actually have. But I will continue being as honest as I'm comfortable being, as I believe it is key when writing. I still think Betsy Lerner said it best...I quoted this passage a year ago in a post and I think it's worth repeating here:

"Let’s face it, if in your writing you lift the veil on your family, your community, or even just yourself, someone will take offense. . . . If you write what is most pressing, you are revealing thoughts, secrets, wishes, and fantasies that you (and we as readers) would never otherwise confess to. Most writers, like most children, need to tell. The problem is that much of what they need to tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who are determined to tell writer-children what they can and cannot say. Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story, you will be stymied in your effort to create. You think you can’t write, but the truth is you can’t tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch."

APR
17

Did I write THAT?

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It's an interesting process, editing. And one I enjoy immensely. When first out of college I had it in my head that I might want to actually be an editor. And not just because Betsy Lerner's book had changed my life. But then business happened. And now the only editing I do, prior to handing them over to a real editor of course, is that of my own manuscripts. I'm in the middle of my first post-writing read through, and can I just tell you what a strange thing it is, especially since much of the book was written quite a while ago. Some of the pages I can't even remember writing. Some of them are much more delightful than I originally thought, some are much less so. Lots of work to do, and while I am loving this first full read-through, I know from Schooled that by the time a manuscript is ready, you have read it so many times that you become a bit sick of it. But one step at a time. For now it's back to my red pen.

APR
10

Done.

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It's done! I've officially finished the writing for my second book. Still lots to do before it's in the hands of readers, but it's a tremendously satisfying feeling to be done. Now my writing posts will turn to the many post-writing to-dos as I begin the long and laborious (but also very fun) process of turning the manuscript into a book. First step, major editing. But tonight, I'm celebrating.

APR
05

One Year Later

A friend sent me this link, and it got me thinking about what my advice would be. Of course, I'm a baby writer, but this weekend will mark 1 year since my book came out, and in that time I've learned quite a bit. In many ways I've been disenchanted by how hard it is to get people to buy books, how hard it is to market yourself and your book when you already have a full-time job, how hard it is to maintain a blog that almost no one reads (and how sheepish you sometimes feel for doing it).

But I don't regret any of it, and despite this past year turning out very differently than I ever would have guessed, it's also been surprisingly rewarding. The fans I do have are more doting and loyal than I deserve. They warm my heart and make everything worth it. The events and signings I've participated in have helped sink in the fact that I wrote a book. That people can buy. No matter how much of a nobody I am, I've accomplished something significant, and one year later, I'm still reveling in satisfaction and gratitude. And I still love writing. All set to finish up the writing of my next book on this anniversary weekend, I can't wait to do it all over again

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APR
01

Birthday Week

Remember when I said this? I still believe that writing is like picking teams, at least the way I do it, but I've been surprised as I've been writing up the last topics on my list for book #2 at just how much I've had to say about them. And I'm just as pleased with the way these final pieces are turning out than the stuff I wrote at the beginning (ie. the things I picked from the list first). As a writer, it's a satisfying feeling. One that I hope can get me through what should be the final week of writing for book #2. That's right, people. My goal is to finish writing by Sunday. A perfect birthday present.

In other news...today officially kicks off Birthday Week!! I've got some great plans today including, well, let's see, coming to work....and, um, eating a brown-bag lunch at my desk. Here's to Birthday Week getting better. Clearly it's got nowhere to go but up.

MAR
27

Got Ink?

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One of my favorite errands to run is buying new ink cartridges. I'm not sure why, but I love looking over the wall of choices and honing in on the one that's compatible with my printer. It's like having your own sleep number. Another thing I love about the ink run, and this is probably more central to my writer-self, is that it means I've done enough writing to have done enough printing to have used up all the ink I have in my house. It's a surprisingly satisfying feeling. One that causes me to look adoringly over at the growing stack of paper that is my second manuscript. It's always entertaining to read through and edit, because the times when I ran out of black ink are evidenced by a few pages printed in red or blue text. This will of course be remedied in the next draft. Now that I've restocked on ink. Black #61.

MAR
12

Picking Teams

I'm down to the last few thousand words for my next book, and that's an interesting place to be. Not that I'm going to stop writing once I hit a certain word count, but I do have a target I'd like to hit, or maybe it's more an estimation of where I think I'll be once I have this all written out. The problem with being at the tail end of the writing is perhaps the writing system I use in the first place. It's a very sophisticated process in which I compile a shorthand list of topics to write up, and then pick a topic from the list whenever I have time to write. (Did I mention sophisticated?) Of course, I end up picking my "favorite" topics first, or at least the ones I'm most excited about writing up. And much in the way teams are picked in school in an order of descending skill, in the end you are only picking people because they are there. Because you are obligated.

So it's not that these final topics are bad, it's just that I am not as anxious to tell them. They don't sparkle in my mind the way so many others did. They belong in the book, but I am not as attached to them. And in the back of my mind is still this word count target, and the last thing I want to do is stretch these un-gems to be longer than they otherwise would be. I know, I know, if this is the extent of my troubles at this point in my life, I'm not in a position to complain. About anything. Especially authory things that bore the majority of the civilized world. But it's what's on my mind right now as I scrape together these last few thousand words from the handful of topics left on my list. Just the kind of challenge I relish.

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