HistoriansToday my haiku is from July 8th of my book A Haiku Book of Days for Historians, Storytellers, and Other Guardians of Truth, one of a 7-book series. The haiku topic for today is “Names”:

look for the stories
behind the names we’ve assigned
maybe you’ll find Truth

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

If you’re interested in the story of how The Haiku Book of Days series came to be, check out my previous blog post here. You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

Compost: Ghosts Tell the Truth

Hamlet's ghostAuthors find the literary device of the ghost rather handy. Think about the ghosts you’ve met in literature, such as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Their role is often to speak a truth that has been previously disregarded. Ghosts don’t mess around; they go right to the heart of the matter, cutting through all the bullshit evasions, rationalizations, and lies that the characters tell themselves in order to avoid what scares them.

This is the role of the ghostwriter too. When I listen to non-writers tell me their stories and ideas, I ask questions designed to winkle out what’s really going on inside their heads and hearts. So many people want to water down what really happened or what they really thought and felt.  They want to hedge, belittle, or downright refute their own selves, especially when they know these thoughts and feelings will be written down. Writing makes them real, and so much harder to ignore. Writers already know this. But non-writers, who are the people who hire ghostwriters to help them tell their stories, have to be guided through this process.

Although ghosts stand outside of time and space, they paradoxically claim their space inside your head and they don’t waste your time with anything but the unvarnished truth.

Compost: Writing Takes Guts

ANatomy of human digestive systemIt’s my birthday (actually yesterday was my birthday, but I’m taking a long weekend in celebration). Anyway, I am taking a day off so I’m presenting an article I wrote some years ago. It is still true and it bears repeating. Maybe you missed it the first time.

My ghostwriting clients are not writers. If they were, they wouldn’t need a ghostwriter, and they wouldn’t be my clients. So I am glad to work with non-writers – just because they can’t or won’t write, doesn’t mean they don’t have great stories. They do, and those stories deserve to be told.

But here’s a frustration with working with non-writers. Writers know that writing exposes you and makes you vulnerable. The more real and truthful you are, the more vulnerable and exposed.  But non-writers don’t know that – until they get their manuscript back from the ghostwriter they hired to write their story, and they read their words and thoughts and feelings on paper. And then they get scared. They want to hedge and soften, and turn specifics into safe generalities, so they will feel safer.

Of course, this will kill their writing.  Readers respond to gut-level stuff; that is what makes stories compelling and readable.  But it’s not just the readers who get shortchanged when the story is “softened.” So does the author. By softening those rough patches, by hedging their truths and telling instead of showing their pains and joys, they have dramatically reduced the biggest benefit of writing – healing their wounds.

It is the role of the ghostwriter to guide non-writers through this scary jungle. Ghosts don’t mess around; they go right to the heart of the matter, cutting through all the prettifications, evasions, rationalizations, and sometimes even lies that the authors tell themselves in order to avoid what scares them.

Writing something down makes it real, and much harder to ignore. That’s what a ghostwriter is after – the real truth about what happened and why and how the author feels about it. A ghost claims a space inside the author’s head and does not waste their time with anything but the unvarnished truth.

And that’s where the frustration comes in. It’s not my story; it’s theirs. If they don’t want to tell the truth, I can’t make them. All I can do is offer my tools, and hope they use them.

Compost: More Adventures of a Memoir Writer

Last month (June 18th to be exact) author Maria Ross shared her insights about writing her memoir, Rebooting My Brain: How a Freak Aneurysm Reframed My Life. Here is more of this interview:


Q: What was the most challenging part of your memoir to write? Why?

Maria: You would think it would be revealing my innermost thoughts and struggles, but that was surprisingly easy. What I worried most about what depicting real people from my life in a way that was authentic but was still acceptable to them. I had good things to say about everyone in my story, but I was still worried about how they’d feel about my descriptions of them and how I see them. I asked permission to include their real names and everyone agreed – and none of them have unfriended me on Facebook yet!

The other challenging part was figuring out how to tell my story in a way that was not about me. Meaning, someone reading my book could get something out of it and it wouldn’t seem so selfish or ego-centric. I think having your audience in mind as you write is a good check for this – and so is having an editor who will be honest and tell you, “Look, you’re coming off like a prima donna in this chapter. What is the reader supposed to get from this?”


Q:  How long did it take you to write your memoir? Did you write every day?

Maria: I actively started sifting through old blogs I’d written and documenting all the stories I’d heard in February or March of 2011 and the book published as an eBook in late January 2012. I had deliriously thought I’d be able to get it published by August 2011, but I had to search for a fantastic developmental editor (cue applause for Kim!) and I interviewed several candidates which took a while. Plus, the writing, research and approvals took way longer than I’d hoped. I did not write every day, but most days. I really just tried to “make progress” each and every day. Whether that was writing or emailing my editor or finding a piece of research, everything was forward progress each day.


Q:  What is your favorite memoir, other than your own? Why?

Maria: Oh boy.I really liked  Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs  by Chery Peck for its vignette style. I had been working on a more comprehensive memoir about growing up Italian American before this aneurysm hit and it was going to be that style. Shockingly, I had not yet read David Sedaris which everyone tells me is exactly what I wanted that other memoir to be. Need to get on that.

I also adored Eat, Pray, Love. While the book is either loved or hated, I just loved the idea of starting over, cleaning the slate and taking off to these exotic locales. It inspired me. I felt I understood Gilbert even though I’ve never been divorced: I understood her longing for something else, even if she wasn’t sure what it was and trying everything she could think of to find it. We’ve all been in relationships or places like that at one time or another. As a travel lover, I guess I just loved the fantasy of running away for a year to these three amazing countries.


Q: Which element do you think is most important in a memoir – setting of time and place; underlying theme or focus; storytelling plot; characterization?  Why?

Maria: I think its storytelling and character.

I have read books about subjects I thought I’d have zero interest in or watched biopics on TV of famous people that bore me to death – and still been riveted. I think that has to do with how you tell the story. Is there drama, excitement, humor, emotion? Is it a story that will grab people?

I also think it’s about making sure you see yourself as a character, a protagonist that people like and root for. Just because it’s real doesn’t mean the rules of writing do not apply. I’ve read two memoirs which had rich stories and exciting concepts, yet I hated them. Mostly because I hated the main characters and thought they were spoiled, egocentric and narrow-minded. I’m sure that wasn’t the intent, but that’s what I came away with. I worried very much about making sure I was an overall likeable character in my own story, even when doing unlikeable things. I still had to tell the truth.


Thank you, Maria, for sharing your adventures!

Compost: Spilling the Beans

I’ve always had an itch to know the truth. The itch torments me even though I know that truth is a mirage – nothing but hot air waves reflecting your own fears and desires. But even though there is no truth, there are lies. That is called paradox, the principle that runs the universe.

My search for the truth – and the lies – is why I love storytelling. It’s why I write my own books, and ghostwrite books for others. I look for the truths under the lies, so when I find them, I could spill every last bean for all to see. If I write the story, I can ensure it has an ending and does not lie. Right?

The problem is there’s no end to the beans, or just one last definitive bean. I cannot write a story with a tidy ending. And I know that everyone may tell a lie.

I have as little control over the creative force that moves through me as I have over anything else in my life. Creativity, after all, is the mother of lies. Or at least the auntie.

Whatever. I don’t know any answers. But I’m write all this stuff down anyway. It’s what I do.

Every morning I scribble in my cheap notebook, which shouldn’t be dignified by the name “journal.” I call them my “compost.” They are just me doing writing exercises, starting with whatever phrase appears that day in my head, and going on from there, never lifting my hand from the paper, never stopping until I fill three pages in longhand. Most of these scribblings, of course, turn out to be garbage – that is the nature of compost. But sometimes my compost produces flowers of enormous beauty. That is also natural.

That’s when I write all those haiku, at the end of my compost. One haiku every day — every day for nearly 20 years. Their quality, too, is quite variable. As one of them goes:

So many haiku
some may breathe or even sing
some are just stupid

Stupid or not, I often think those haiku keep me sane. I know they keep me writing, and that is the same thing.

Yes, but what the hell do I do with them? They contain a lot of beans, and I just cannot bear to throw them out. Maybe they will be good for something. Maybe they will enlighten someone, or fertilize some unplowed ground. Who knows?

Compost: Itchy White Lies

Last Friday I shared my haiku about lies, in which I suggested that even white lies are to be avoided, because if you trust in the healing quality of truth, all will be all right.

Searching for truth through the thickets of lies told in our societies and families is one of my life passions. It’s long been my belief that not even the whitest of white lies is ever necessary or justified. I think lies of any color are like submerged icebergs, certain to rise one day and sink your ship – and hurt a lot of innocent people in the process.

Today I googled “white lie.” To my delight I found a passage from The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1741, which suggested that maybe, just maybe, there might be a good reason to tell a little white lie:

A white Lie is That which is not intended to injure any Body in his Fortune, Interest, or Reputation but only to gratify a garrulous Disposition and the Itch of amusing People by telling Them wonderful Stories.

I must confess I often suffer from that Itch to Amuse People by telling Them wonderful Stories. After all, that’s what this blog is all about.

So now I will think of white lies as wonderful Stories, and all will be well.

Technorati Tags: white lies, truth, google, societies, families, stories

Haiku Friday: Lies

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

At the end of each month I’ll gather up the haikus in the “Haiku Comments” that meet the criteria and pick one at random in a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing one of my e-books: your choice of Haiku for the Seasons I, or Haiku for the Seasons II.

Today’s topic is “lies .” Here is my haiku:

it’ll be all right
don’t believe your own white lies
truth is far kinder

Technorati Tags: haiku, writing, syllable, topic, lies, believe, white lies, truth

Compost: Laura the Wise

More from my Muse, Laura:

You know that Laura is a Witch, the name once given to a woman wise in all the arts. She is strong and beautiful, but terrible for the guilty to behold. She speaks the truth of the land and she sings the truth of the air and she dreams the dreams of water. She wears the fire on her back, and when she dies, her hair burns. And a great beacon of light streaks the black sky red.
©2000, Eating Mythos Soup: poemstories for Laura

Technorati Tags: writing, muse, Laura, wise, witch, strong, beautiful, fire, truth, dreams, poemstories, Eating Mythos Soup