Content Tagged ‘Sue William Silverman’

Doubt confronts faith

April 22, 2016 | 7 Comments

Memoir or personal essay?

July 1, 2015 | 12 Comments

When I first started teaching essay writing I was a reflexive splitter or at least a classifier. In practice this means one who strains to distinguish between a personal essay and a memoir essay. Of course, the memoir is a personal essay. But for students, I felt compelled to distinguish between them in the way Sue Silverman does in “The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Creative Nonfiction.”

As Silverman says, “Instead of the memoirist’s thorough examination of self, soul, or psyche, the personal essayist usually explores one facet of the self within a larger social context.” Drawing such distinctions in the varied nonfiction genre can be important for teachers, depending on the class, and especially for college freshmen. Teachers had better be clear about what they want. As an editor, too, I sometimes find that pinning down an essay’s lineage can be helpful. For instance, the personal essayist does employ a persona—and who is telling the story and why is important—but she or he isn’t the main point. Whereas in memoir, s/he is.

But drawing such distinctions can also be crazy-making.

[Read More]

Book event lessons

October 31, 2014 | 12 Comments

At three book festivals this year—the Ohioana Book Conference in Columbus, the Kerrytown Book Festival in Ann Arbor, and most recently Books by the Banks in Cincinnati—I learned an author needs an elevator pitch.

I already knew this. I had an elevator speech, which I’d used on editors and agents. But the learning curve applies: competency plunges at first in new circumstances. I hadn’t faced prospective readers as an author. So I screwed up and had to re-learn what I knew. Lessons so basic and obvious that they’re mentioned by anyone with a nodding acquaintance with authorial self-promotion.

You need a few crisp phrases. People will ask you what your book is about. “It’s about the ten years my family and I lived on a sheep farm in Appalachia,” I’d say. Thus I learned that farming isn’t a sure-fire sales pitch. No one knows anymore what you mean by that, if anyone ever did. Farming’s become, at best, exotic. At worst it is associated with abuses like erosion, toxic chemicals, and animal cruelty.

People are confused—too many labels flying around—and their eyes dim as they try to slot you. Hard-fisted agribusinessman, crunchy homesteader, one of Joel Salatin’s better-than-organic grass-based acolytes? Pray tell? No, on second thought, don’t. People wonder what you’re going to inflict on them under this rubric. Are you writing about livestock that really were pets—mooning over them and boring my ears off? Or does this story involve animal deaths—because, forget it, I like warm and fuzzy, not bloody—don’t we have enough trauma to deal with as it is?

[Read More]

A new flash nonfiction manual

October 21, 2012 | 14 Comments

The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers edited by Dinty W. Moore. Rose Metal Press, 179 pp. They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale But when Pierre found work the little money coming worked out well C’est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell —Chuck Berry, “You Never …

[Read More]

Sue Silverman’s call to memoir

July 18, 2011 | One Comment

Everyone has a story.  And all our voices are important.—Sue William Silverman Melissa Hart on her blog Butt to Chair interviews Sue William Silverman about her latest book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir. The author of two memoirs, Silverman makes a strong case for a the validity of memoir as a form of confession: We’ve been accused of navel gazing.  The word “confessional” is used in a demeaning way, suggesting that we’re whining or complaining, along those lines. …

[Read More]