Memoir as homespun fun and history

In a Facebook group, I discovered Rolland Love and his memoir, Born Dead on a Winter’s Night. How can you not want to check out a book with that title! Inside, I found delightful tales of growing up in the Missouri Ozarks back in the day, which would be in the 1940s and 50s or so, when kids were free to be.

BornDeadWhen looking up advice and information on how to write memoir, you usually find articles about how you’ve got to have some major conflict and how you dealt with that—like writing a novel. Not everyone has one big story of conflict resolution, and I think most people who are not used to writing would be completely intimidated to write about their life like that. Most people, however, have plenty of little stories about their lives that are entertaining or otherwise interesting due to the history, culture, or societal mores of the time. I like such stories, and I love hearing what life was like in the past and in different cultures or regions.

I asked Rolland Love some questions about writing and about Born Dead on a Winter’s Night, and I hope his answers and his book inspire others to write their collection of stories. Writing just for family, for them to remember you by and even learn some history from, is not difficult. Just write as though you are talking to a new friend. If you want to sell to strangers, though, you will need to read up on how to write well and how to publish and market your book–not so easy.

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Rolland, you have written a lot of books that are collections of your stories. What inspired you to write them, and why did you think strangers would like to read them?

I became inspired to write while living on a spring fed river in the Ozark Mountains when I was 15 years old and helping my uncle run a fishing camp. I spent endless hours sitting around a campfire listening to an old moonshiner who lived downstream tell stories. He was known as one of the best storytellers around. After spending my summer absorbing good old boy Art’s natural ability to spin tales and experiencing all that nature had to offer, I gained a natural flow of how to put words on paper.

What is your writing background, and what advice do you have about writing short stories to make them interesting to others? I do love the poetic descriptions you use, especially with the beautiful Ozark scenery.

The first book I wrote was an Apple computer software directory detailing where to find software for the Apple 11. That was long ago in 1980. I was inspired to spend six months of hard labor on the project after meeting Steve Jobs at an electronic consumer show in Las Vegas. The book had 1,000 pages and sold over 100,000 copies without me spending a penny on advertising. One of those right things at the right time.

After that and over the years, I have written 50 short stories about assorted happenings. The Ozarks, dogs, snakes, people I have known over the years, scary stuff, funny stuff, and most recently a story about a raindrop that becomes one of Mother Natures mystical best friends.

I loved writing Born Dead on a Winter’s Night, always interesting to relive your past. My favorite novels are Blue Hole and River’s Edge. If readers check out the reviews they will find endless comments about the stories being scary, scary, scary! However, like all of my stories they end well, which takes some doing after murders and mystical happenings in the deep, dark woods in the Ozarks.

I like how you use a lot of dialogue, which makes your stories come alive. Of course, you couldn’t have remembered exact conversations. Do you think dialogue is important, and are there any considerations about making it up?

A steady flow of dialogue is super important unless the writer wants to play like they are having a conversation with tree. There are a couple of things I do that help add interest for the reader. I simply play like I’m watching a movie in my mind and having a conversation with my characters, and periodically I back myself into a corner and force myself to write my way out.

Your short chapters each have a theme and generally flow by time, but one chapter can actually cover several very short stories or anecdotes from different time frames, and some chapters jump backward in time. Do you have any advice about which stories to include?

Especially the stories set in the Ozarks are simply reliving my past. As I mentioned above, movies in my mind lend a lot to what I type.

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Anyone who wants to write memoir should read memoirs to get ideas of how and what to write and how to structure the book. I highly recommend Born Dead on a Winter’s Night for those who just want to write about their smaller adventures and anecdotes and tell what life was like during their younger days. Roland’s stories could use better editing, but they have homespun charm, are fun and personable, and are beautifully descriptive without the descriptions bogging down the stories. He has had some astonishing adventures and has faced tragedies. Enjoy reading about outhouse excitement and how he went fishing for chickens, feel bad for Grandpa and the hog, and laugh out loud at Zig the not-so-good bird dog. But the snakes – eww! Reviewers have compared Rolland’s storytelling with Mark Twain’s and I can see why.

Rolland Love, besides being the author of many books, presents workshops on journaling, writing, storytelling, and life history. Many of his workshops have been for children who then interview their parents and grandparents and write their stories. Rolland has created monologues and performed as historical characters, and he wrote a play about Lewis & Clark. For more information visit his website, Ozark Mountain Stories.

 

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Fake news, media literacy, and your story

Thanks to Donald Trump, fake news is all the rage lately – literally. I’m talking about the real meaning of the word “literally,” not the fake one even the dictionaries are resigning themselves to since nobody seems to care about the truth. Exactly what is fake news? A local library held a panel discussion with media representatives that I hope everyone in the entire room plus the standing-room-only overflow room plus those watching the live stream on YouTube took to heart. It was such an important discussion that I’m going to summarize what they said, and also add a few comments of my own.

The program was moderated by Betsey, a retired Fox News anchor, with panelists Carol and Alvin, both with distinguished careers on TV and radio as well as with print newspapers; Julie, a professor of media literacy; and Don, a journalist and professor of media law, and the editor of a weekly newspaper.

Betsey started off by saying fake news is not new. She remembers it during the Vietnam War, and I’ve read we had it back during the Korean War, thanks to the then owner of Time magazine. Betsey reminded us our government, of course, has its own spin doctors, like all governments do. This is why we like to have a variety of professional media watchdogs who are not all owned by the same corporation, especially by a hands on type (hello, Sinclair). We want trained professionals and not your neighbor on his personal blog. Reporters are not perfect, but they can be held publicly accountable by media peers and their audiences and will lose their jobs if they outright lie. Carol reminded us there is a big difference between reporters and pundits.

So fake news is disinformation spread on purpose–for fun, to advance an agenda, or to attract readers and therefore make money. It is not news you don’t want to hear because it is against you or goes against your personal bias. If you are a smart person interested in the truth, you will not get all your news from one source—or only from sources slanted to your beliefs. You will not believe everything you hear about a situation unfolding, because no one actually knows what’s going on and people start speculating or giving one point of observation. The truth can take a long time to come out, so avoid pointing fingers and assuming. You will check sources to make sure they are not trolls or full of obvious bias. If a topic is controversial, a good news source will tell the whole story or explain both sides of the story.

Carol and Julie brought up points pertinent to the recent Facebook brouhaha. What you look at and post about on social media dictates what is fed to you. Google knows what you like and will show you other articles (and advertising) that it thinks you will like—news slanted to feed your bias. Also, news sources need ad revenue to exist, so we often  see emotionally charged headlines or clever titles used as click bait. Beware of articles and headlines that make you feel upset, because they are often slanted or not telling the whole story. Julie says to understand the point of view of the news source so you can be an aware consumer. Do not read or believe only what you want to believe. Don said do not be a person who thinks “this is my side and I’m sticking to it.” Open your mind, take everything with a grain of salt, and do your research! Don’t be a puppet.

How does this relate to life story and memoir writing? Your stories may have an agenda, too. How are you going to spin your story? Will you make yourself perfect? Will you make yourself a victim? Will you blame someone for all your troubles? Will you write someone as all bad? When you read other peoples’ stories, check for obvious bias and if the author is telling you what to think. Tell the truth as you know it, but let’s look at the whole truth, even if you don’t want to believe it.

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Old slides reveal hidden past

I spent Easter weekend examining my dad’s slides taken during the 1950s when he was in the Army, stationed in the US and Japan (no combat duty). Dad and I used an old illuminated screen to view the slides against and chose ones to save, and my sister used a device to view and save to computer. Dad loved reviewing his past, but I think he really loved that his daughters were so interested. I wrote down names and places and scribbled down the stories he told. Amazingly, with this teamwork, we went through all the boxes of slides—at least from this timeframe. The rest we’ll save for my and my sister’s memoirs.

I’ll be using the slides and my scribbles to write my dad’s memoir of his youth and Army days. This besides his family history book I completed late last year. I will also look through a stack of letters he wrote to his parents, but I already transcribed a couple audio reel tapes he had made in Japan and mailed to his parents. I was very happy with the work Memory Keepers in Naperville, Illinois, did at reasonable cost.

Many of our older generation have a lot of slides hidden away. We found some real gems in my dad’s collection. Fun shots of him and his Army buddies, beautiful ones of my mother as a young woman, happy gatherings of relatives. These were in color versus the black and white photos I had for use in the family history book. It is worthwhile to get the equipment needed to view and convert slides into .jpg format to save for easy viewing. Or, you can pay a company like Memory Keepers to convert and even clean up the images to remove dust specks and minor imperfections.

My sister and I loved seeing our father so happy and excited, remembering the old days and the stories behind the slides. We learned our dad was even more of an adventurer than we had thought, and that some stories we knew were not quite what we had been told. What a great bonding and learning experience! We were all quite worn out from too much fun (and squinting).

A great way to pull stories out of parents and grandparents is to go over old photos. Mostly people like to tell what happened, so ask questions to pull more information out, especially about what they thought or felt about the places they were in, the people, the situation. You might be astonished at the person you only know as a parent or grandparent.

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