Saturday, July 30, 2016
POLITICS: LEFT, RIGHT, MIDDLE, MUDDLE
Americans are strongly divided politically: some on the left, right, in the middle, and in a muddle. There’s lots of interest in politics, and that interest will increase as we approach the presidential elections in 2016.
Feel free to write about your convictions, but know that your voice is likely to be drowned out by the multitude of experts, pollsters, commentators, editorialists, candidates, and past and present political advisers.
If you have celebrity or even renown, or if you have a reasonable hope of becoming known, then by all means write your political polemic. Those who agree with you will tend to rate it favorably, and those who disagree will tend to disparage it. Perhaps some independents will be swayed.
I recall a study that showed the same material branded as either “Republican” or “Democrat” received higher or lower marks depending on whether the readers classified themselves as Republican or Democrat. “Where you stand often depends on where you sit.”
As with much nonfiction, this genre will include a mix of facts and opinions, with, hopefully, some logical connections.
Although it has been said that we cannot each have our own set of facts, the truth is that there is such a multitude of data comprising our world that, between what we select and what is pushed upon us by the sources we know and trust, we end up predominantly with the facts that support our preconceptions.
I’ve watched the controversy over man-made global warming for the past many years. Being a retired scientist, as well as somewhat of a political junkie, and recognizing the cost and potential importance of controlling carbon emissions if they have to be controlled or enduring a significant change in the climate if that’s what not controlling them would cause, I have been amazed by the ability of each side to cherry-pick the data so as to present plausible cases for and against stringent controls of fossil fuels in order to prevent anthropogenic global warming. Are we warming naturally, as we emerge from the Ice age of ten thousand years ago? Are we warming dangerously because of emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases? Are there feasible solutions? Pick your expert, pick the periodicals and newspapers you typically read, pick your political party, and you’ve picked your answer.
To go from facts to conclusions, one needs logic. Sometimes fallacies are evident. Sometimes the technical analyses of the data, often statistical analyses, are baffling. Experts in the field will disagree on how much significance to give to small changes in measured quantities. Some will see the changes to be within the range of random variation, while others discern the troubling or reassuring trend.
Conclusions follow from facts and analysis, but even there we have to add another step in order to reach opinions: valuation.
Opinions are often based on values, rather than simply being the restatement of conclusions supported by facts. As anyone who has argued with someone from the opposing political philosophy knows, even agreement on facts and conclusions does not necessarily produce agreement on policies, because policies involve trade-offs, balancing values among competing parties.
One of my writing partners, Judith Axtell, whose But…at What Cost I edited, wrote of her gradual move from being rather traditionally liberal and Democrat to being rather solidly conservative and Republican, over the course of her 70+ years of life. She hoped that her example and her arguments would encourage those on her side and perhaps move some who disagree with her to reconsider their positions. She especially hoped that members of her own family would more clearly understand where she is now coming from. At the least, she got what she had to say “off her chest.”
Another of my writer-coaching clients, Shaun Adkins of West Virginia, is finishing his Squashing Liberalism, with hopes of following the trail blazed by conservative stalwarts Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, et al. He already has gotten an Internet radio show, so he may be on his way to fame. Having published his book won’t hurt.
Excerpted from my recently published Write Your Book with Me, available from Outskirts Press and from online publishers like amazon.com and bn.com.
See also my writing and coaching site, http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Creativity can be the key to a fuller, more enjoyable life. One dictionary (Microsoft’s Encarta) defines it as “the ability to use the imagination to develop new and original ideas or things, especially in an artistic context.” Writing for Psychology Today online (posted March 30, 2009) Dr. Shelly H. Carson noted “the aging brain resembles the creative brain in several ways…more disinhibited… [and more likely] to make novel and original associations.” Whether harnessed for art or literature or music or simply for living day-to-day, the creative brain finds novelty where others miss it.
Recently, an excellent book by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, summarized ten habits research has revealed are typical of the creative mind, habits we can cultivate in ourselves to improve our own creativity.
Creative minds often ask themselves, “What if?” Like children at play, they put themselves into unusual, fictional situations. The Wired to Create authors quote George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Our roles as parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or even baby-sitters, can offer opportunities to continue childhood play, too.
A passionate interest fuels creativity, and the results reinforce the passion. We see that passion in child prodigies, like cellist YoYo Ma, but also in mature artists, like Grandma Moses. Steve Jobs urged us to do what we love, as have many others. Sometimes, we have to immerse ourselves in the endeavor to become passionate about it. Your garden may be the “canvas” for your “work of art.”
After retirement, we often have more time available to just daydream, a characteristic of many creative people. Associations are made that would not develop without our letting our minds wander. Creative solutions are often the joining of seemingly contradictory elements. Sweet and sour pork, anyone?
Creative people often prefer to be alone, and they don’t feel lonely. The “noise” of the world is reduced, so they can think more clearly, make more creative connections. Kaufman and Gregoire quote Henry David Thoreau, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” We can turn absence into advantage.
Reason carries us only so far, and then we tend to rely on our intuition, which is somewhat a product of our experience, and as we mature, we have more of it. “I just know….” Intuition allows us to think unconventionally, creatively, outside of the now-proverbial box. Such feelings often guide us and may have sources in our unconscious minds. Steve Jobs is quoted in Wired to Create as calling intuition “more powerful than intellect.”
Openness to Experience
Experience…we have plenty. Paradoxically, we need to be open to getting even more of it, in situations unlike those we’ve already enjoyed or endured. We can seek out these new situations, new people, new endeavors, and we can also just decide to view our current circumstances in new ways. “What if…?”
“Mindfulness” is awareness coupled with curiosity, attentiveness. Look outside of ourselves, but also within, Socrates is credited with affirming, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” While certainly an over-statement, this has more than a grain of truth. The mystic Ram Dass urged, “Be here now,” more profound than Nike’s “Do it now,” though the latter has merit, too. Note: mindfulness seems to be opposite of “daydreaming.” Each in its proper time?
When I say something that particularly pleases my wife, I maintain that I’m a “sensitive ‘60s guy,” attributing my sensitivity to the period when we were encouraged to “get in touch with our feelings.” Heightened awareness can lead to creative responses. However, “any virtue can be overdone,” someone said or wrote, I think. Being sensitive is a bit like turning up the volume on the television; you hear some things you might otherwise miss, but at the risk of overwhelming your thinking. Others may not appreciate your sensitivity. Having a thin skin leads to unnecessary inter-personal friction.
Turning Adversity into Advantage
With the experience of maturity, we’ve learned the wisdom of “this, too, will pass.” Moreover, we can creatively find ways to turn lemons into lemonade because we remember how we did that once or how someone we knew did it. “Every knock is a boost,” we mutter, as we pick ourselves up and learn from what just happened, from an altered perspective.
When you reach a certain age, you are more likely to be willing to “march to the beat of a different drummer,” be a non-conformist in thought if not in dress or speech. Original thinking is characteristic of creative people, and your willingness to non-conform, coupled to the lessons you’ve learned produce viewpoints that can be unusual. “Where you stand depends on where your sit,” and the accumulation of our unique experiences can put us in positions from which we get unconventional, creative viewpoints.
Go Ahead, Be Creative
The message? Harness your inner novelist, memoirist, poet, painter, sculptor, composer, choreographer, actress, and pursue an artistic hobby… or simply find creative ways to improve your life and the lives of others.
You’ve got the mature, creative brain to do it.
Is there a creative endeavor you have started recently or hope to start? Have you found ways to be creative in everyday life?
A former Harvard science professor, Dr. Cooper still publishes, and he helps others write and publish their books, via his http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. His life's central theme has been a half-century romance (http://TingandI.com) with Tina Su Cooper, his wife, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis and receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed at their website here.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
HOW-TO BOOKS: STEP-BY-STEP
I checked Amazon today for books in the category “how to….” 655,335 entries came up. We know these books are popular and there are lots of them, including How to Survive the End of the World as We Know it, and the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. As our little secret, a potentially profitable writing niche, note that “how to build a gazebo” got only 23 hits.
I went beyond Amazon: Googling “how to” got 3.48 billion results. As with so many such searches, I did not venture past the first page.
Knowing something about a topic and knowing how to do a particular thing within that general topic are very different. Understanding bicycles is not knowing how to ride one. I’m reminded of the joke told about one of my fellow physicists, who was said to know a hundred ways to make love to a woman, but he didn’t know any women. I digress.
Let’s go back to the example I gave near the beginning of the book and fill in that “how to…” outline:
What you are trying to do.
Your potential reader is likely to search for a book or article that starts with “how to…” and continues to name the particular goal. If you Google some topics, you will be amazed at the variety you find.
Here, I will show how to walk your dog, based on my interactions with our rescued Chow-Retriever, Colette. No, she is not “part Chow” because of her voracious appetite for only the choicest canned food. She is genetically part Chow and part Retriever, but fully “Daddy’s girl,” having me wrapped around her not-so-little paw.
Why it is important to you.
Try to think of all the reasons why doing this is important:
1. I’d rather walk the dog then clean up after her because I had failed to walk her.
2. I usually enjoy taking a bit of a walk, unless the weather is bad.
3. I know it makes Colette happy, because she makes a big fuss just before we go out.
4. She looks sad if I don’t take her out.
Note the ordered, numbered list. People like lists. Specific, clear, finite, lists rule in the how-to genre.
Materials you’ll need.
List what is needed and where to get it.
1. A dog. Call or capture yours. [See Figure 1, not shown here.]
2. A dog collar, attached to the dog.
3. A leash. Purchase one that is strong, hard to chew through. [Figure 2.] (On an early trek, our part-Chow chewed through hers.)
4. A little plastic bag to pick up feces. Buy at grocery store. [Figure 3.] (Carry this conspicuously, to reassure the neighbors, even if you don’t always use it when you should.)
5. A dog treat, optional. (To reward good behavior, if it occurs and if it is observed. Note: praise is almost as effective and does not leave crumbs in your pocket.)
6. Clothing for dog walker, suitable for weather and neighborhood, and clothing for the dog, if you have that kind of dog.
Step-by-step instructions for accomplishing it.
0. Check the weather, by opening the door or window, or by listening to the radio or TV.
1. Call the dog. Example: “Come, Colette. Come, Colette. Colette, where are you?”
2. If calling fails, bring leash with you, attach it to dog’s collar and gently lead the dog up to and out the door.
3. If calling succeeds, praise the dog [“Good dog, Colette!”], attach leash to dog’s collar and gently lead the dog out the door.
4. If this is a “business trip,” walk the dog where this will not cause angst in your neighborhood.
5. If necessary, remove excrement from ground and deposit in bag, praising dog for urinating or defecating outdoors rather than indoors.
6. Return home, walking as little extra or as much more as you deem appropriate.
7. Congratulate self and dog. Example, “Good dog, Colette.”
What the outcome should be.
1. Dog will have done her “business.”
2. You will have obtained exercise.
3. Floors indoors will not require supplementary cleaning.
4. Your “significant other,” if there be one, will approve.
Sources of information and materials.
List them here, as appropriate. Numbered list, of course.
Surprisingly to me, how-to pamphlets and videos and books are big sellers, so go to it, providing somewhat more value to your readers than this brief example provided.
For extra value, and possibly extra money, produce a video.
Excerpted from my magnum opus, the recently published Write Your Book with Me, available from its publisher, Outskirts Press and from online booksellers like amazon.com and bn.com in paperback and ebook:
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Suddenly, You Need a Nurse at Home
Recently published on the ezine SixtyandMe.com:
“Each year, millions of older people---those 65 and older---fall. In fact, one out of three older people falls each year….” [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
The consequences are sudden and serious. For example, the CDC notes that each year a quarter of a million older people in the U.S. are hospitalized for hip fractures, and more than 95% of these are caused by falling.
My own mother fractured her hip from a fall in 2010 at the age of 93 and was thereafter virtually bedridden, with continual nursing care at home, until her death five years later. We hired our own nurses to give private duty care for her and for my wife, quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent due to multiple sclerosis.
As employee hiring consultant Stan Dubin notes in his How to Hire the Right People, mistakes in hiring lead to lost wages, theft, loss of privacy, poor performance, and bad morale. In the home care setting, poor choices can also lead to patient injury and depression, along with family disruption.
First, How Do You Find Nurses?
We started by advertising in the Help Wanted part of the classified section of the local newspaper. We briefly described the situation to give some clue as to the challenge and the environment. We stated the hourly wage and noted that Social Security and Medicare would be deducted, this to eliminate those who want to work “off the books,” a sure-fire invitation to later troubles.
One could also advertise in other local publications and on the Internet. You can also ask people who have employed nurses before and ask your family doctors.
Second, Manage the Interviews
During the first week we ran the ad, we got so many calls that scheduling the interviews became a challenge, and we started asking and answering questions that would enable the caller and ourselves to get a quick idea of whether the caller was likely to be a good match, a pre-interview to save each side some trouble. For example, we required flu shots, to protect the patient, and some nurses would not agree to get them. Some sought to work “off the books.” No. That’s an invitation to trouble.
After this pre-screening, you should schedule some to come for an at-home interview. You will want to see if they can find your home, come on time, and behave suitably in the home setting. Have a third person (besides the candidate and yourself) present during the interview.
Third, Make Salary and Conditions of Employment Clear
We offered the same wage for RNs and LPNs, although typically RNs get significantly more than LPNs. Our wage was high enough to attract local RN candidates and to attract LPNs from farther away. Other things being equal, we would give preference to the RNs, better-trained than the LPNs, although an experienced LPN was sometimes preferable to a new RN.
Make the conditions of employment clear: wages, deductions, hours, scheduling, vacations, sick days, taboos…have a list and go through it with the candidate. If an issue arises after hiring, you will be glad you did.
Fourth, Clarify What You Need from a Candidate
Have them bring a resume and a copy of their nursing license, along with their driver’s license and Social Security card. Make copies for your records. The resume should be neat, virtually error-free. Gaps in employment need to be explained by the candidate. Explore their reasons for having changed jobs. Responsibilities should have increased over their career and should include the duties you will ask to be handled.
We developed an interview form, to enter information about the experience and training of the candidate, and we asked each about allergies or morbid fear of dogs (we had a Golden Retriever), and we noted that there could be no smoking on the job (fire safety). We discussed why the candidate was available, for what dates, days, hours, how she viewed home care, what problems she foresaw in the situation, and we obtained her references and often a resume. We made sure their English language skills are adequate.
Fifth, Explore Attitudes as Well as Skills
Dubin has suggested discussing of what it means to be “responsible:” coming on time, reliably; performing all required duties; going beyond the required duties occasionally; alerting management to problems; cooperating with co-workers; suggesting improvements to care; being loyal to the patient and the family; respecting their privacy in the home and outside. While getting paid is an important reason for working, it should not be the only reason; some element of desire to perform nurturing, personal nursing care should co-exist with it.
Sixth, Follow Up after the Interview
After the interview, we gave them a subjective (and not revealed to them) grade that reflected both objective elements as well as subjective elements, trying to assure both technical competence and interpersonal acceptability. Intelligence and positive attitude were prized, though education and experience counted too.
We found it important to check references. The best nurses were usually enthusiastically praised by former employers, but others were given lukewarm evaluations or our calls were not returned.
We called back all those we interviewed, informing them of our decision to hire or not to hire. Those not hired were just told we found someone who fit our needs better.
This process resulted in a staff that received many compliments from the medical professionals with whom we interacted, a staff whose members averaged many years of service with us.
Do you know people who have hired nurses for home care? How did they select them?
A former Harvard science professor, Dr. Cooper continues to publish, and he helps others write and publish their books, via his http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. His life's predominant theme has been a half-century romance with Tina Su Cooper, his wife, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis and receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed at their website here.
Recently published on the ezine SixtyandMe.com:
Monday, July 18, 2016
My thanks to Dennis DeRose, bibliophile and eagle-eyed editor.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Ethos, Logos, and Pathos are not Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers [Athos, Porthos, and Aramis], but rather the Greek for, approximately, character, logic, and emotion, three elements long identified as crucial for successful persuasive communication, important in our business and personal lives.
First, I must give credit where credit is due. I recently finished reading a fascinating and informative book: The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively, by Helio Fred Garcia (2012), available in a Kindle ebook edition and hardcover through amazon.com. The lessons and examples are priceless, although I picked up the Kindle ebook for a song. I wish I could have read it when I was a debater in college eons ago.
To be persuasive, you must be credible. This is ethos. You must seem likely to know the topic you are addressing and to be committed to telling the truth about it. If you are attractive, in looks and personality, that helps. Dress appropriately. You seem likely to know the topic if you have the right credentials, including training, experience, and achievements. You seem likely to tell the truth if you have a history of honesty and no obvious reason to lie. If you are an interested, rather than disinterested party…if you will gain something by what you are “selling”…then you should admit that up front and hope that the power of your presentation will over-ride the tendency for your audience to doubt you.
Evidence and logic, the tools of rationality, help persuade others. “Logic” derives from logos. You can start from principles that your audience shares with you and proceed to show, by “deduction,” that they support your case. Some people will find this highly persuasive. Another approach involves “induction,” giving examples, evidence, leading to the conclusion you are offering. Often we try to do this with analogies, indicating that this is like that. The problem arises that no two situations are truly identical, so your audience may not find the comparisons compelling.
I have listed pathos, emotion, third because I am a retired scientist and I think that authority and reason should predominate, but psychologists tell us that emotional connection, empathy, must come first if we are to persuade others in daily life. We are ineffective if we approach them from “a mood apart.” We need to “feel their pain” or seem to, “rejoice with them” if we can…. In his book, Garcia gives the example of the BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward who, at the time of the major BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, said, “…there’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.” Hayward was widely criticized for seeming to be more concerned about his discomfort than the suffering of the Gulf Cost victims of that monumental oil spill. Here, displaying the wrong emotion doomed Hayward, and six weeks after this, he was removed from his CEO position.
To be persuasive, employ all three: ethos, be the kind of person who deserves to be believed; logos, present evidence and logic to justify your position; and most importantly, pathos, connect emotionally with your audience…be empathetic. You can do that, right?
Excerpted from my recent Write Your Book with Me, published by Outskirts Press and available from OP and other online booksellers like amazon.com and bn.com. The Amazon link is:
Friday, July 15, 2016
“In the United States, about 40 million people provide unpaid care to an ill or disabled adult.” (AARP, 2015) Many of the readers of Sixty and Me are in this situation now or might be in the future. Usually, the patient and caregiver would prefer this care be given at home, if possible.
In June of 2004, my wife, Tina Su Cooper, and I were given a medical choice: home or hospice. Tina had waged a 100-day battle against a near-fatal respiratory infection due to her multiple sclerosis. She had entered the hospital near death and paraplegic. She emerged near death and quadriplegic, on a ventilator and fed and medicated through a gastric tube.
Choosing hospice care would mean that efforts would be limited to easing her transition to death. Choosing skilled home nursing care would allow us to fight to keep her alive. Our memoir, Ting and I, (http://tingandi.com) tells our story in much more detail.
Together, we decided to continue the battle for Tina’s life at home. This involved setting up the equipment, hiring personnel, and establishing procedures mirroring those of the hospital’s critical care unit. We have succeeded at this for a dozen years.
In this article I will discuss our earliest challenges in giving her the round-the-clock care she needed in our home. Finding the right nurses is very important for any caregiver who wants to provide the best care possible at home. Staffing problems arose. We soon had to decide whether to continue with the nursing agency we had or hire and manage the nurses ourselves.
In a separate article I will talk about many tips for selecting a home care nurse. Here I will focus on the two options you have for finding nursing staff: use an agency or become “the agency” yourself.
Benefits of Using a Home Care Nursing Agency
Unless you have done this before or are a medical professional, you will have little idea of the complexity of providing skilled nursing care. Our head nurse (Diane R. Beggin, RN) and I have spent the past year working on a book, How to Manage Nursing Care at Home, due out in late 2016. It is filled with material we learned from this experience; some of the lessons having been hard-won.
If you start with an agency, as we did, you will get immediate staffing, and the agency will set up procedures for assuring that proper feeding, treatments, medications, toileting, exercises, etc., are instituted and recorded. They will assure that the nurse is certified (as an RN, Registered Professional Nurse, or as an LPN, Licensed Professional Nurse), and bonded or otherwise insured as trustworthy. You will pay substantially more for the nurse than she will get, as the agency has its overheads. One challenge is that these nurses take direction from their agency, not you.
The agency takes care of legal issues and will make sure that various governmental regulations are met, including wage reporting and tax-paying. If the need for nursing is “temporary,” using an agency will likely be preferable to hiring and managing the staff yourself
Consider Becoming “the Agency”
The agency we got started with was recommended by the hospital. It did a pretty good job of finding suitable nurses and staffing our initial round-the-clock needs. However, the quality of the nurses was inconsistent. We found that we could pay the nurses about 50% more than they were getting and still charge our insurer less than what the agency was charging.
What We Concluded
Eventually, we found that managing the nursing care ourselves gave us a better selection of nurses and greater control of what was being done, but it required our developing procedures for managing the care and then implementing them.
Factors favoring separating from the agency included my being retired, thus having time to devote to care and management; the possible long-term nature of Tina’s need for nursing, thus making the investment in setting up the procedures more worthwhile; the availability of skilled nursing help obtainable through simple advertising; the help of both legal and accounting experts to guide us. If these conditions apply for you, then managing nursing care at your home may be the better choice than relying on an agency.
Managing Nursing Care at Home
Once we became responsible for hiring and managing our staff, we had a whole new set of challenges. We will discuss this in a follow-up article.
Have you or anyone you know ever had to organize nursing care in the home? What were some of the challenges faced?
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.
A former Harvard science professor, Dr. Cooper continues to publish, and he helps others write and publish their books, via http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. His life's dominant theme has been a half-century romance with Tina Su Cooper, his wife, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis and receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed at their website here.
I am pleased to have become a Featured Contributor at SixtyandMe.com ezine.
This piece was published athttp://sixtyandme.com/home-or-hospice-making-the-choice-for-home-nursing-care/,
which link also has comments associated with it.
My articles for SixtyandMe.com are collected at
I recommend you visit this fine ezine.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
In their excellent You Should Really Write a Book, Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson put memoirs into six categories:
1. Coming-of-Age Memoirs
2. Addiction and Compulsion Memoirs
3. Transformation Memoirs
4. Travel and Food Memoirs
5. Religion and Spirituality Memoirs
6. Outlier Subgenres
They write, “It has been said that the only good thing that ever came from having bad parents is that they make good memoirs.” This is a subset of the rule that “bad times make good stories,” or at least make interesting stories. Sadly, lots of sad stories exist, such as the memoir by Mary E. Seaman and myself, Kidnapped Twice: Then Betrayed and Abused. Though published right before Christmas, the book could not be promoted then as likely to contribute to holiday cheer.
Fortunately, happy memoirs exist, too, such as our High Shoes and Bloomers by Alice Conner Selfridge (2014) and our Home Is Where the Story Begins by Kathleen Blake Shields (2015), both books being fine fare for holiday giving.
Addiction and Compulsion
Brooks and Richardson note that more than an eighth of the population is addicted to drugs or alcohol, and many celebrities are in this group. I reviewed for Amazon a memoir, Needle, by a recovering addict, and I found little to like. If the addict takes responsibility and cleans up his act, well and good. If we just get a series of excuses, what does that contribute? Still, such books sell, and the descent and recovery make a natural story arc, like a U. These are what were once called “cautionary tales,” though some authors seem to revel in the celebrity that attends them. B & R have a how-to section on writing these.
Transformation or Survivor
The more harrowing the better; the more dramatic the crisis, the more impressive the survival, and one had better learn something from the experience. You get the idea. B & R give lots of good advice. See them for it. The best of the books in the sub-genres in this category all share: inevitability of something terrible survived, bonding between the reader and the author, suspense, character development, victimization, empathy, and insight. The down side of such works is that the situations the protagonists are in often disgust the reader, unless leavened with humor and fascinating unique details and unless the author is capable of getting the readers immediately and deeply involved.
The variety of perilous personal predicaments as memoir material astounds. I’m partial to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death, written by Jean-Dominque Bauby (1997), paralyzed to such a degree by the neurological “locked-in syndrome,” that he communicated his memoir to a patient nurse-secretary by blinking his left eye. Shortly after the book was done, he gave up the ghost. Suffice it to say, your difficulties in writing your book will pale in comparison with Monsieur Bauby’s. Take heart from that.
Travel and Food
Yes, I know travel books and cooking books are popular, but I have little taste for them. Brooks and Richardson report what publishers are looking for, and here I summarize: a protagonist with a strong desire, who is opinionated and fairly outspoken, likeable, capable of describing the sensory experiences (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling), who uncovers unfamiliar aspects of the locale, giving historical and cultural context, with both a strong story line and an insightful interior monologue, ending the journey with a transformation, growth, and some lessons for the rest of us. Easy, right? Just don’t forget to have a plot! And add some humor.
Again, see B & R for lots of detailed advice. Later.
I cannot advise you on food memoirs. I am on a rather restricted diet, and the subject of food, especially exotic food, either nauseates me or bores me or both. My usual dinner fare is meat and salad, lots of dressing, hold the carbs. Some live to eat. I eat to live.
Still, “each to his own taste,” or as the Romans said: de gustibus non est disputandum.
Religion and Spirituality
This topic needs to be handled with great care. Politics and religion are explosive. Because of its great importance, religion is often a source of heated contention; unfortunately, one person’s allegory or parable is another’s literal truth. There is a large market for books about God and about religious experiences. Over $1 billion a year is spent on such books in the U.S. alone.
A classic in the genre is Thomas Merton’s (1948, 1978) The Seven-Storey Mountain, his struggle in the World War II era to find God. B & R summarize a plethora of religious memoirs.
Brooks and Richardson list: biblio, canine, comedic, family saga, gardening, grief, incarceration, information-based, parenting, romance, venture. They describe each in detail. As is often written in reference lists, op. cit.; see the B & R book itself.
Regardless of the memoir genre, Judith Barrington advised memoirists:
Your reader has to be willing to be both entertained by the story itself and interested in how you now, looking back on it, understand it.
In order for the reader to care about what you make of your life, there has to be an engaging voice in the writing – a voice that captures the personality. In all kinds of informal essays including the memoir, the voice is conversational.
To keep the voice “conversational,” you will write in the first person, using “I” and “we” to refer to yourself as the subject of your sentences. When talking to others about your book, you would often indicate, “the narrator….” Thus, you might tell a friend, “I chose to have the narrator make that information public.” You will sound quite author-like, and you are becoming one.
Judith Barrington advises that we lose our reluctance to make judgments, as these spice the memoir and add value. Because the “other side” does not get to answer, however, try to be fair and even to indicate what the other point of view might be.
Knowing what you want to write about includes knowing what to leave out. “To be effective, be selective.” To make a point, an example or two will suffice; more will bore.
Barrington warns us to avoid special pleading:
The tone of such pieces may be serious, ironic, angry, sad, or almost anything except whiny. There must be no hidden plea for help – no subtle seeking out of sympathy. The writer must have done her work, made her peace with the past, and have been telling the story for the story’s sake. Although the writing may incidentally turn out to be another step in her recovery, that must not be her visible motivation: literary writing is not therapy. Her first allegiance must be to the telling of the story and I, as the reader, must feel that I’m in the hands of a competent writer who needs nothing from me except my attention.
I must feel confident that the writer is not using me to enhance her status or that of her family…with this “improved” version of her past. Bad Blood by Lorna Sage is one of the many examples of a memoir that avoids this pitfall.
I must also feel confident that I’m not being used by the writer to get revenge on one of the characters in the story.… On the other hand, anger, when it is perceived by the reader to be justified, need not be disguised or watered down.
Don’t whine. Don’t brag. Choose your targets carefully, sparingly, justly.
We’re done here. More help can be obtained from the books by Barrington and by Brooks and Richardson (2012), among others.
Excerpted from my own recently published opus, Write Your Book with Me, from Outskirts Press and available online through OP as well as amazon.com and bn.com. See also my site, http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com