Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

Work-in-Progress Blog Tour | My Memoir-in-Progress — January 27, 2015

Work-in-Progress Blog Tour | My Memoir-in-Progress

The holiday season brought to mind the impact of community. Community with which we gather to celebrate various seasons of the year are part of who we are. My online writing community became my support in 2014 during some difficult times, and without them, I would not carry out nearly as much as I do day-to-day.

Primarily, I want to thank Madeline Sharples, author of the memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, her story of living with her son’s bipolar disorder and surviving his suicide. You can read my review of Madeline’s memoir here.

I am also grateful to Madeline for tagging me to take part in this blog tour. Madeline’s tag simply jarred me out of the doldrums of the Pacific NW winter and back into the life of writing. Read about Madeline’s work-in-progress here.

So here goes:

My Work-in-Progress

Synopsis and story idea :

My memoir is the age-old story of a dysfunctional and abusive mother-daughter relationship. However, my story has a surprising twist, one I never expected and I doubt my readers will either.

Until I was 57, I believed my mother despised me and did everything within her Southern matriarchal power to destroy my dreams and aspirations. Suddenly, however, everything changed at a point when she found herself in need of finding a way to escape abuse herself.

My husband and I became her salvation and in a matter of months, she died peacefully. However, a silent, invisible gift was left as she gained the home she always dreamed of.


The first draft is finished. Upon reading it, I made the earth-shattering discovery it did not read well and needed major revisions. Not surprising, I’m told by other writers.

In the meantime, a local Portland author led a workshop I attended in August 2014. I enjoy her books and writing style. Her teaching methods and background tempted me to sign up for a course an artists and writers’ collective sponsors. As luck would have it, I fell ill two sessions into the course and had to drop out. I will be able to start over in April and hope this course equips me to write a stronger story line and develop characters forging together my story in so readers will not want to put it down.

Here are brief excerpts from my first three chapters:

Mama’s Toolbox [working title]


For some time, I ruminated over writing my story down. What would family say or think? What would friends of our family say or think? Should I change peoples’ names? Should I write under a pseudonym? And then the last question, why obsess?

It is, after all, my story and my mother’s. And yes, it is a story written many times by many different people. Yet every story is different. Each one defines a difficult mother/daughter relationship differently, especially those of the abusive kind. And I believe each one has something in it to help another, maybe more than one person.

Chapter One:

September 2000

I picked up the phone as soon as I’d sat down a couple of bags and checked for voice mails. There were a couple from my boss, but also one from an older brother that put into motion unexpected emotions at my end of the line.

“Hi, there! Thought you’d want to know what I did with your mother this weekend. Call me.”

That was it. What he did with my mother? She was his mother too. What was that all about? And what could he have done? I held power of attorney for our mother’s health care and finances, so he couldn’t have legally done anything with our mother.

Chapter Two:

December 2000

As I flew toward home in Oregon and all things comfortable, I considered the events leading up to this trip.  So far, it had not been an easy one.  Several weeks of anguish over my mother’s confinement in a nursing home and her allegations of abuse had pointed me toward resolution of my mother’s situation.  It is said “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), and I clung to the hope this was true.

In many ways, however, I felt that perhaps the truth was about to imprison me.  My plans surrounding Mama’s situation were indefinite from this point forward.  No detailed, step-by-step recipe showed me where I’d be in a day, a week, a month, maybe in years.

The work-in-progress blog tour rules:

1.  Link back to the post of the person who nominated you.

2.  Write a little about and give the first sentence of the first three chapters of your current work-in-progress (I overdid it a bit on this one).

3.  Nominate four or more other writers to do the same. (Unfortunately, many of the writers I would select had already been tagged, and at the end of the day I came up with only three takers.)

Tag. You’re it!

I’m so pleased to recognize and introduce you to friends and writing colleagues who have agreed to take part in this work-in-progress blog tour. I hope you’ll stop by their sites and get to know them and their work.

Dorit Sasson is an author, blogger, teacher, blog talk radio host, mentor and coach. Basically, Dorit is a busy woman. Dorit’s writing appears in Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Timenow part of a best-selling series, and she has published two books on teacher collaboration for K-6 ELL students. Dorit’s work-in-progress is a memoir.

Luanne Castle is a woman of varied talents. Her bio shares her educational background but getting to know her through her blog and her poetry and memoir writing has shown me she can juggle many styles of creative arts at one time. Luanne’s first full-length collection of poetry, Doll God, hit bookstores January 10, 2015. (Congratulations, Luanne!). Luanne is also working on a memoir.

Jade Reyner and I met when I reviewed Jade’s first book in her Twelve Days series. The first and second books, Twelve Days: The Beginning and Twelve Days: The Future, are now under editorial review and will be re-released soon. The third in the series is still a work-in-progress, and Jade has plans for at least two others in this series. If her writing doesn’t keep her busy enough, she is mum to two boys and volunteers at the local school.

Dorit, Luanne and Jade for so willingly agreeing to take part in this WIP blog tour. I look forward to reading your posts in the future.

How about you? Do you have a work in progress you’d like to share? Share in the comments and perhaps someone will tag you!

Tips for Rewriting Your Manuscript, Part 1 — June 11, 2014

Tips for Rewriting Your Manuscript, Part 1

Via Flickr | Nic McPhee
Via Flickr | Nic McPhee

I often have friends and family asking me a burning question:

Is your book finished yet?

I smile and say, “No, not yet. There’s a lot of work that goes into writing a book, you know.”

In a recent post, I talked about rewriting the first draft of my memoir. I never imagined this rewrite could bring enjoyment to my writing life, but also the simple act of learning new things delights me.

Today I’m sharing a few tips I’ve learned about rewriting. If you already know them, please share them with a first-time writer (like me) or a younger writer (not so much like me) who may find them helpful.

Tip 1: Taken from the Hemingway Archives

Can you even imagine The Old Man and the Sea being rewritten by Hemingway? Likely, as many other manuscripts have, Hemingway’s book saw many revisions and drafts. This assumption may be underscored since Hemingway is attributed with this reference to first drafts:

“The first draft of anything is shit.”(via Goodreads)

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

Even if given the opportunity to shuffle through Hemingway’s work, both unfinished and finished, a full record of every revision he made from one project to the next was kept so would there be time enough to look through it all? But how or why would someone like Hemingway rewrite so often?

Contemplating the quote above, it isn’t too surprising for most great writers, including Hemingway, to experience little, if any, grief in killing their darlings or sacrificing their first-born to the fires of revisions and rewrites in order to support the truth of the story.

I learned this lesson the hard way writing my first draft. I believed so deeply in my story and the words flowed so fast and furiously that nothing could keep this from being the first manuscript to pass muster with the first draft. Was I ever wrong! My story was boring and the truth did not shine through in my first draft. It was, in a word, shitty!

Lesson Learned: Do not be concerned about writing the perfect first draft. Allow the mind to tell the fingers what to type to just get  your thoughts on paper. Refining the telling of your story comes later — with rewriting.

Tip 2: “Never Look Back”

Before beginning the process of rewriting, I did a little research on the dreaded rewrite. A great deal can be found in blog archives on the topic. A plethora of advice rendered by editors, teachers, authors, and publishers. How to know who is right looms as the big question on the horizon.

Not too long ago I read a post by Michelle Gagnon, an author with several successful crime fiction novels as well as a YA dystopian thriller. Michelle also writes with James Scott Bell, award-winning suspense author and bestselling writing coach, on Bell’s blog, Kill Zone. No, I am not taking you on a wild goose chase; these people are good at what they do and in offering solid writing advice.

Reading Michelle’s post pointed out one thing I had done wrong during the first drafting of my manuscript: I looked back. Quoting Michelle is the best way to share her thoughts on this tip:

In my opinion what separates published authors from people who have been working on a book for years without completing it is this: never look back. I don’t start editing–at all–until the entire book is written. A lot of people get fifty pages in, then go back and start editing chapter one. The danger in this is that while you might end up with a perfect first fifty pages, by the time you finish those there’s a good chance you’ve lost the thread of the story.

It’s also discouraging to suddenly realize you’ve spent three months on fifty pages, and another three hundred and fifty remain to be written (of course, that’s discouraging whether you’ve stopped or not–I call it the “interminable middle”). I never even re-read what I’ve written until I’ve finished the first draft. (I also spend most of that draft thinking that what I’m writing is the worst junk ever committed to page. But I forge ahead, because I know the next draft will be better.) And then when I do go back, the bones of the story are in place.

Lesson Learned: Never look back!

Tip 3: Write, Wait, Edit

Via Pixabay
Via Pixabay

During my time writing this blog, I have met many writers, many of whom have published their memoirs. I consider many of them mentors in guiding me down the path of writing my truth and protecting family members and myself while considering publishing options.

One of my memoir writing mentors is Madeline Sharples who blogs at Choices. A little less than a year ago Madeline posted a blog on the topic of “My Memoir Revision Process,” and as soon as I read it, I clipped it into my Evernote files under “revision process.”

It was in Madeline’s post I learned to WAIT before editing. I am inherently an impatient person wanting things to be completed quickly and done now. Waiting is hard for me. But I knew if Madeline could wait, then I should try. Here’s what Madeline says about waiting:

Leave your work alone for as long a time as you can before sitting down to edit it. While I spent over two years querying agents and small presses, my manuscript laid dormant. So when I finally got my book contract, I read it front to back, chapter by chapter, with my revision plan in hand. I marked up a hard copy with a red pen. Also I made no electronic changes to any part of my manuscript until I completed this first round of edits. And surprise, surprise, I found lots of things to edit, including typos, awkward sentences, repetition, and inconsistencies. Unbelievable! After all the times I had gone over it! During this first edit pass, I also looked for places to insert the new material necessary to my story and where I needed to update material that was clearly out of date.

I did not wait two years while querying agents and small presses, primarily because my mind has not reached a decision about the publishing process or even if I publish. Whether I publish or not, I want to complete this process just as I would if publishing.

Also, I initially chose not to print out the manuscript and instead to edit on-screen. Don’t do that! So much can be missed as the edited manuscript on-screen quickly becomes confusing, especially if you are inclined to using a marking tool. Working with a paper draft, red pen and a highlighter in hand, seems to flow much more smoothly for me. Thanks to Madeline for posting her revision process.

Lesson Learned: Follow the instructions provided by those you call mentor and friend–and wait.

Today I’ve covered three tips in a rather lengthy post. And I have more to share with you in Part 2 next week.

What about rewriting or revising the first draft would you like to share with other writers? Part of our reason for being online is to support and encourage one another. Your thoughts are welcome in the comment section below.

Too Old to Write? Proof the Answer is “NO!” — September 11, 2013

Too Old to Write? Proof the Answer is “NO!”

Today I am sharing blogging space with Madeline Sharples on her blog. It is my hope that you’ll follow me over to Madeline’s to talk about when a person becomes too old to write. I think you already know my answer!

* * *

Lately I’ve been asked by friends and family what I’m doing with my time in retirement. Since I left my position with a local law firm in 2006, I’ve spent a lot of time with expensive surgeons who have corrected my eyesight and repaired a lot of bones. I discount those months as paid medical leave (paid by me and my retirement fund) and explain that I’m at last fulfilling a lifelong dream of writing.

The responses I have received are jarring, startling and some even painful:

  • Aren’t you too old to be writing a book?  (Excuse me?)
  • At this stage in your life, do you really want to deal with the burden of writing and then publishing a book? (I really love it!)
  • What if no one wants to publish a book by a retired legal secretary? (I beg your pardon?)
  • What do you have to write about? (Stories – lots of stories.)

And the list goes on.  I try to smile and make polite comments. However, I didn’t realize there was an age limit on when a person could write a book.

At a workshop I attended last winter, one of the workshop coordinators took a moment to announce a regular attendee was no longer with us. (Read the remainder of the post here . . .)

Benefits of Writing Your Story — June 24, 2013

Benefits of Writing Your Story

Today I am honored to be a guest at Madeline Sharples’ blog, Choices.  I hope you’ll join me as I visit with Madeline and share my thoughts on the many and varied benefits of writing your story.

* * *

In 2001, when my mother died, the story of our lives together had traversed many years and battled many storms.  Yet at the end, something unusual and unexpected happened.  I tucked that memory away knowing it was possibly the core for a memoir.  When I retired in 2006, I remembered how often I had said, “When I have time, I want to write a book.”

Little did I know when I began accumulating my memories on the computer and sorting through family photos the benefit writing this story would give.  Never had it occurred to me that writing could be a restorative, healing process.

With each word typed, I felt changes taking place.  The invisible scars created by years of verbal and emotional abuse seemed to loosen.  Old hurts seemed to soften despite the painful process of remembering.

I am not here to tell you that writing memoir is easy.  It isn’t.  Writing your own story may dredge up painful memories.  Alternatively, writing your story will likely be cathartic.

(Please come with me to Madeline’s blog and read the rest.)

Leaving the Hall Light On by Madeline Sharples (A Review) — November 27, 2012

Leaving the Hall Light On by Madeline Sharples (A Review)

What parent can imagine living through the horrors of a child’s battle with bipolar disorder ending in suicide several years after diagnosis and attempted treatment?  Likely no one’s imagination works at this level.

Madeline Sharples, author of Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, has lived this nightmare.  And amazingly, she and her family survived this traumatic period.

Sharples’ memoir chronicles her elder son, Paul’s descent into the terrors of bipolar disorder and his eventual suicide.

In writing her story, Sharples addresses issues faced not only by her family but also by many other families.  In so doing, she offers insight into her own experience and provides a frank and open discussion of some of her most painful moments.  In her own words, she tells us:

My goal in writing this book is to tell my story in the most truthful and real terms possible.  Otherwise it won’t be of any use to anyone – including me.

Sharples has done exactly that by sharing an account which includes a mix of advice, education about bipolar disorder, a desire to remove the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder and similar mental illnesses, and hope for families living with similar tragedies.  She digs deep into her own story to share her belief that each victim in such a tragedy has choices:  a choice to move on, a choice to take care of him- or herself, and a choice to be the best husband, wife, father, mother, child possible.

Because of Sharples’ gift of descriptive detail, her reader learns a great deal about Paul from infancy.  The reader meets a precocious, piano playing, curly-headed and happy toddler, and several photographs underscoring this part of Paul’s life are included.  Later photos share a Paul who is happily smiling whether alone or with a relative.  These photos connect the reader to Paul in a visual way, allowing you to watch Paul grow and thrive.

Growing into adolescence, Paul showed an innate ability to connect with children, experienced continued successes with the piano, and developed a knack for repairing computers.  All the goodness of this son shines through. If not for these details about Paul highlighting the goodness in him, Leaving the Hall Light On could only be classified as an angry and furious assault by a distraught mother who is not only heartbroken but also confused and hurt by Paul’s choices.

Madeline Sharples began writing her journey with Paul through poetry.  Not always a fan of poetry, this reviewer became intrigued by the author’s poems and appreciated an exposure to poetry that actually spoke to the heart.  Perhaps that is because the reviewer is a mother.  Yet one realizes in her poetry as well as her memoir narrative Sharples has shared her journey using raw, intense emotion coupled with truth and love.  Her story is alive and beats with a heart torn asunder and yet healing.

Although difficult to read at times, I found myself unable to put this book down.  Others have mentioned needing to step away and come back.  I felt drawn into a relationship with Paul, his parents and his younger brother Ben, as if I were a good friend standing in the shadows as this nightmare played out.  This is due in part to Sharples’ unique style of writing – comfortable, conversational, and filled with truth and emotion.  I wanted to be there for them all.  I needed to know where this journey took them.

As the stepmother of a young woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder and complicated by attention deficit hyperactive disorder, perhaps my fascination was also rooted in the continuing search by our family for answers.  Madeline Sharples provided some answers for us, and for this reason alone I highly recommend this book to families in similar situations.

Because of her unique use of narrative and poetry and her treatment in this family’s story of not only her own emotional trauma but also that of her husband and their son Ben, I recommend this as a memoir worth reading as a unique example of superior memoir writing.

Madeline Sharples has shown those of us writing memoir the way to successful storytelling based in truth written from the heart.

* * *

Madeline Sharples studied journalism in high school and college and wrote for the high school newspaper, but only started to fulfill her dream to work as a creative writer and journalist late in life. Her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicidewas released in a hardback edition in 2011 and has just been released in paperback and eBook editions by Dream of Things. It tells the steps she took in living with the loss of her oldest son, first and foremost that she chose to live and take care of herself as a woman, wife, mother, and writer. She hopes that her story will inspire others to find ways to survive their own tragic experiences.

She also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1 and 2, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems have also appeared online and in print magazines.

Madeline’s articles appear regularly in the Naturally Savvy, PsychAlive, Aging Bodies, and Open to Hope. She also posts at her blogs, Choices and at Red Room and is currently writing a novel.  Madeline’s mission since the death of her son is to raise awareness, educate, and erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide in hopes of saving lives.

Madeline and her husband of forty plus years live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small beach community south of Los Angeles. Her younger son Ben lives in Santa Monica, California with his wife Marissa.

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