Content Tagged ‘Cheryl Strayed’

Structure & style

October 14, 2015 | 13 Comments

My blog turns six today!

July 17, 2014 | 14 Comments

After my previous post, about quirky personal posts I recall fondly, my blogger friend Shirley Showalter asked me to discuss the benefits and difficulties of blogging in my life. In the past year I’ve struggled for the first time to post—the long energy-producing effort of drafting my memoir over. Plus having to face the What’s next? question. For most people, probably me too, blogging is a phase. For all I know, this is my last post.

So that’s the difficulty part. But the blog has helped me as a writer—kept my prose and my persona down to earth, underscored obsessions, given instant gratification. It has forced me to create something on the fly that turned out to please me and has inspired me to laboriously craft a post that has likewise surprised me. Sometimes I’ve thought, I should have done that for a real publication. But the truth is, without an existing affiliation, like this blog, I wouldn’t have.

The blog made me do it. Paul Thorne, the Mississippi blues-soul-rock musician says it best: “Whatever expression you have in you, instead of thinking about it all the time, do it. Make it tangible, you know? That’s what art is, it’s creativity made tangible.”

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Ancient stories . . .

June 18, 2014 | 15 Comments

“It has to be about the reader,” began Philip Gerard. “If not, what am I doing with your book?”

Gerard’s keynote that Friday opened the recent River Teeth Nonfiction Conference at Ashland University in northeast Ohio. His opening words hung in the air. I tried to claw my way back to them. Yes. That’s it. Talk about that. Only he moved on into his focus, the allure and the power of research. He’d stated a profundity—in practice, a paradox— about writing and publishing and just as quickly left it. Upon reflection, his intended connection was obvious: give good content.

But what’s good? What does serving the reader mean? “Why should I read your story?” haunts writers, especially those of personal essays and memoirs. (And even if writers can answer for themselves, editors and publishers will rule before regular readers can.) How many celebrated books have you not finished? What did most readers like? At base maybe there’s character, or at least personality, that we respond to. Before that, there’s technique. Hence the endless discussions about craft at Ashland in those last days of May.

Before the writing conference, I’d ended my teaching year, undergone 2.5 weeks of Hospice volunteer training, and attended a camp for schoolteachers on how better to teach English to non-native speakers. Pedagogy was much on my mind. I’d had my own best teaching semester ever. I’d marveled at the information, enculturation, and student involvement fostered at Hospice and at the way my Otterbein University colleagues taught a classroom full of teachers. At Ashland, there were those thrilling flashes of insight between presenters and audience.

Just people helping people, trying to teach them—always a compelling meta-narrative. Maybe the oldest story in the book.

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Breaking Bad’s prologue pays off

September 18, 2013 | 13 Comments

In literature, prologues establish a story at some wiser remove, as in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. Or they promise the reader an exciting story by jumping into a dramatic moment, as in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild (analyzed). Often a prologue does both, offers a survivor’s perspective and a taste of the drama of his surviving.

A few weeks ago, AMC’s hit series Breaking Bad opened its fifth and final season with a revelatory and risky prologue, puzzling for what it revealed. By last Sunday ’s episode—with only two more to go—viewers have seen the power and utility of this move in intriguing them and shaping their reactions. The prologue that has weighed on our minds exploded like a time bomb Sunday night.

Breaking Bad is the story of how Walter White, a meek, resentful, and broke high school chemistry teacher from Albuquerque, becomes a meth-maker after he’s diagnosed with cancer. In the past four seasons, viewers have watched White edge into evil as he becomes a drug kingpin. We see him learn to live by the cruel parameters of his criminal world. And become trapped by his own ego—a brainy man who underestimates others at every turn—as his intelligence turns to hubris.

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My top 12 books of 2012

December 15, 2012 | 11 Comments

From 30 finalists, a dozen memoirs, novels, how-to & history. While reading sixty-something books—those re-read I listed and counted again—I picked thirty favorites. I’ve now winnowed them to my top twelve. They’re listed here in the order I read them. I Knew You’d Be Lovely by Alethea Black. Black’s short stories are funny and wise. Readable from this collection on line is the fine “The Only Way Out is Through,” about a man trying to help his furious, disturbed son by taking him …

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Those best books lists . . .

December 11, 2012 | 8 Comments

Strayed’s Wild my top memoir; Ford’s Canada my top novel. I’m on track to have read some sixty-seven books in 2012. I know that because for the first time I kept a reading log, which is heavily weighted toward memoir: thirty-plus read, including re-readings. Maybe that’s because memoir’s been my own writing project, though by now I’m a true fan of the genre. The rest are a smattering of history, theory, short stories and novels. There were standouts and duds …

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An alphabetical memoir

September 5, 2012 | 7 Comments

Marcia Aldrich explores a suicide via an unusual structure. Companion to an Untold Story by Marcia Aldrich. University of Georgia Press, 262 pp.  It’s a gorgeously written, geniusly structured tale about a friend of Aldrich’s who committed suicide. I loved it.—Cheryl Strayed, in an interview A straight-ahead chronology may seem the natural way to tell a tale. To convey experience by showing it unfold. But as many a memoirist learns—and many a novelist, for all I know—chronology is a hard …

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