Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Quality or Quantity: Which is More Important For a Writer?

By Patricia Gray

If you’re busy turning out bestsellers, quantity is the answer, right? But if you want to write a literary masterpiece, then quality is more important. Well, not exactly. These two writerly desires for most of us are inseparably linked, and here is why.

The more you write, the more you increase your chances for the really good pieces to emerge. Not only does writing a lot help you learn the craft, but writing proves to your subconscious that you are what you profess to be—and you have the pages to prove it. Once your subconscious gets the message, it won’t distract you as much when you sit down to write. And sitting down does help. As fiction writer Flannery O’Conner once said, “I sit at my typewriter from ten to twelve every day, so just in case something comes I’ll be there to receive it.”

To remind myself of all this, I promised a group of writers to finish a piece of creative writing every day in May 2018. We email our finished pieces to about six other committed souls before midnight each day. We do that without giving or receiving feedback. Every day there’s a feeling of having done what one was meant to do. It’s also a reaffirmation of what is important to people like us—actually doing the writing!

Though we may have to trick ourselves to do what our whole hearts want to do, the next step in the process—sending it out for publication—may also require some sleight of hand. LitHub author Kim Liao wrote recently about setting a high rejection goal. If you aim for say 100 rejections this year, you will have to send things out. In the process, you’ll up your acceptance rate and remove some of the sting of rejection, because, after all, isn’t rejection what you’re aiming for?

“Ok, ok,” you may be saying, “but I want to write really well, if I’m writing a lot.” The Writer’s Center has plenty of workshops to help you do just that—but here is something especially for poets that you might want to look into. I will be teaching “3 Poems in 4 Days,” June 4, 5, 6 and 7, 2018 in TWC’s temporary home. In this workshop, you will find that it is possible for you to write both often and well.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Poet Lore 2017 Pushcart Nominee - Julie Wendell

Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Julie Wendell about her poem “The Art of Falling.” Read it here and see what Wendell has to say about it. From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Poet Lore.


You fall from a horse enough times
and you learn how to fall—
like snow, rain or love,
all goose-down and no elbows.

He spooks at a leaf, knocking you
sideways, the saddle slips—and well,
you’re going down again.
Relax, you’ll get used to it.

Relax, you say to the lobster,
just before plopping him
into the roiling pot.

Relax, you say to a friend
on the eve of another bender.
Or to yourself, falling off a ledge
onto a concrete floor.

It’s easy when you imagine
a soft landing. But when your mother
sinks into her pillow in her final hour,
she knows she’s not falling the right way.

Blah, blah, blah, she mouths,
flicking the back of her bruised hand
as if brushing away a gnat,

when the priest lowers his head
to trace the thumbprint of oil,
first up and down, then sideways
on her glistening forehead.

*     *     *

Poet Lore: Your poem seems to be a treatise on handling loss. Do you believe there is such thing as a happy ending?

Julie Wendell: Fate is a series of inevitable accidents. You can't change that, but you can become good at the accidents. I have been falling off horses for years, and like anything you do a lot, you get better at it. There's a way to fall and not get hurt. You can practice the falls until you're so good at them your conscious mind doesn't even obsess over them anymore. But there are other falls you can't rehearse, like losing your mother. After some falls, you don't land the right way; you break your hip, you lose your life. Loss, you have to practice that too. Does anyone really want to say she doesn't believe in happy endings? I guess that's why some of us cry when we hear about a friend having a baby.

Julia Wendell’s most recent book of poems is Take This Spoon (Main Street Rag, 2014). She is the author of several other poetry collections, as well as a memoir, Finding My Distance (Galileo Press, 2009). She currently lives in South Carolina with her husband, poet and essayist Barrett Warner, and is finishing another memoir, Come to the X.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Poet Lore 2017 Pushcart Nominee - Frank Stewart

Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Frank Stewart about his poem “Light Work.” Read it here and see what Stewart has to say about it. From the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Poet Lore.


Desolation makes us peaceful
Makes us gentle with ourselves

For now, seeing the ragged
Pillage, their shoulder blades

Rounded and yellow as leaves
Some fall by the river, others

Remove their clothes and defecate
No infants except

A red-haired girl with inflamed skin
Villagers brought us hot broth and horsemeat

Then hid again under the earth
Three got down from the train without light

Except for some stolen candles
Which wasn’t enough

*     *     *

Poet Lore: Can you comment on “Light Work” in relation to our historical moment?

Frank Stewart: Forced human migration is among the greatest global crises of our time. Although men and women have been displaced in every era, we are conscious of individual suffering in greater detail than was ever possible before. “Light Work” is one of a series of poems that concern refugees and exiles; the pieces are set in a variety of locations and time periods, some recognizable as caused by specific wars, famines, or other traumas, and others not; some voices are those of real men and women.

Frank Stewart has published four books of poetry, most recently By All Means (El Leon Literary Arts). He edits Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing in Honolulu.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Poet Lore 2017 Pushcart Nominee - Steven Sanchez

Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Steven Sanchez about his poem “What I Didn’t Tell You.” Read it here and see what Sanchez has to say about it. From the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Poet Lore.


—for my brother

You can ask me anything,
even about my first kiss,
which was at your age
and tasted like stale beer.
I used to feel guilty swallowing
the pulse of another man,
but now I know there are many
ways to pray. There’s a name for
that most intimate prayer:
la petite mort—the little death.
If, when your lover rakes
your back, you recall
the flock of worshippers
surrounding you like raptors
when they learned you’re gay,
clawing at your shoulders,
squawking for your salvation,
remind yourself you have to die
before you can be resurrected.
Never forget what the Bible says:
when two people worship together,
they create a church
no matter where they are—
which must include
the backseat of a car
or the darkest corner
of Woodward Park.
These are some of the things
I wanted to tell you
that night in April
you called me for help
with your history report
about the gay-rights movement.
Neither of us admitted
what he knew about the other.
Instead I started
with the ancient Greeks,
told you it was normal for them,
that for one brief moment
they were allowed to shape
their own history and religion,
organizing the stars, forming
Orion, for example,
flexing in the sky, arms
open in victory, belt
hanging below his waist.
But he was punished
for his confidence,
a scorpion’s hooked tail
piercing his body
like a poison moon.
When I see Orion,
I think of you and remember
what it felt like
for my knuckles to sink
into your stomach,
for my fist to collide
with your face. Your voice,
your walk, your gestures
reminded me of myself,
your figure bright and fluid,
creating a reflection
I wanted to break.
And now I see
your body spill open—
Big Dipper hooked
to your ribs, North Star
nestled in the middle.
I reach for that ladle
and drink.

*     *     *

Poet Lore: Can you comment on the longing in this poem, which seems, to me, to be well satisfied with its deep expression of love?

Steven Sanchez: I like to think that the speaker gains power (and by extension, finds some small bit of happiness) by acknowledging, confronting, and challenging their internalized homophobia. However, I don’t think a person can ever truly finish interrogating the ways we internalize toxic cultural narratives. Poems can absolutely end with a moment of happiness, but I wouldn’t consider happiness an ending—rather, happiness seems like a place to rest before moving forward.

Steven Sanchez, a CantoMundo fellow and a Lambda literary fellow, was selected by Mark Doty as the winner of Marsh Hawk Press’s 2016 Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. His poems have appeared in Nimrod, Crab Creek Review, Assaracus, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry, among others.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Poet Lore 2017 Pushcart Nominee - Andrew Motion

Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Andrew Motion about his poem “The Edge of the World Twice.” Read it here and see what Motion has to say about it. From the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Poet Lore.



The first time I reached the edge of the world
I lay in the prow of my ship and looked down.
The water beneath me was now so shallow
I could very easily have dipped my fingers
and dragged them through the ocean floor.

As it was I preferred simply to take notice
of the way our gentle bow-wave magnified
the least yellow pebbles and white stones,
a single knobbly and sick-looking boulder
flying a flag of bright green oily seaweed,

and the miniature collapses of sand-grains
where a timid creature fleeing my approach
buried itself and waited for the threat to pass.
You have to see this, I called over my shoulder,
forgetting for a moment that I was now alone.


Or to put it another way
I might well be
and today the day
wind switches from the north
to north-north-east,
which makes my wicker basket
leap a yard into the air
and creak
exactly like the collie’s bed
whenever she treads round
then round again
and settles down to sleep.

Be that as it may.
A little change is all it takes
to let me climb away
and find immediately below
the moss-starred tiles
and chimney stack of home,
which as it shrinks and fails
appears to crowd my eye
like matter in a microscope
with my collie outside now
and barking in the yard.

While I consider that
and what it means,
I see the garden table
where my children sit,
which tells me among other things
I must be traveling through time
as well as space.
The boys as usual convulse
at something that escapes me,
but my daughter,
she is silent,
staring hard into the laurel bush
as though she meant to seize
that shadow slinking off the leaves
because she really thinks
it might be mine.

Then all this also falls,
or maybe I should say
it rises from my sight,
and after that the flight
begins in earnest.

Deer I notice
plunging through deep bracken,
and a farmer in his field
as shadows lengthen
calling home his cows.

Afterwards a mill-wheel
and the river driving it,
which sometimes shines like mercury
and sometimes darkens
with reflections of the roofs
heaped up like dirt on either side.

In this way daylight fades
but never quite gives out.
when I approach the coast at last
and hear long waves
hiss-hissing on a sandy beach
like human hands
arranging tissue paper,
I still struggle to believe
that sunset is already
hammering the water.

Only now does it occur
I should have left much sooner
I should have left tomorrow.
But I am where I am—
and for all the good it does me,
I continue looking down.
I wonder
which is one more thing among the many.
Are those lights below
reflections of the sun,
or are they—magical—
the fire of phosphorescence?

*     *     *

Poet Lore: Can you talk about how your poem navigates time?

Andrew Motion: ‘The Edge of the World Twice’ derived from an impulse (and then another one, which attached itself to a different little narrative) to explore the ways in which our sense of time passing intensifies as we get older. Intensifies, that is, to a point where our dismay at not having that much time left is held in more or less equal balance with our pleasure (admittedly sometimes mangled with regret) in remembering the times which comprise our past. The mingling of these feelings (and the tension that inevitably remains between them) is often painful, but it also gives our existence its salt and savour.

Andrew Motion was the UK Poet Laureate from 1999–2009; he is now a Homewood Professor at Johns Hopkins and lives in Baltimore.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Poet Lore 2017 Pushcart Nominee - Ruth Elizabeth Morris

Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Ruth Elizabeth Morris about her poem “Woman with a Postcard.” Read it here and see what Morris has to say about it. From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Poet Lore.


I stick the postcard to the fridge, writing-side down,
so the miniature version of Les Demoiselles D’Avignon

is visible. Each time I go for milk, the women
in the painting stare back at me with strident focus.

For years, Picasso called this painting my brothel
with affection. He observed his models for months,

confronting each angular cheekbone and sturdy muscle,
rendering each woman as colossal, nude, all hacked up

and somehow intact. They made eye contact as Picasso painted,
so even now, when you look at them, they don’t look away.

He plucked their unblinking eyes and reset them
in animal masks over bodies agape as windows—

above a head, a dismembered hand against red dirt.
Darker still, a fractured body, fused to a thrust of sky.

Arrested in brushstrokes, the disjointed women move
as if guided by unseen strings, like grotesque marionettes

poised before the point of collapse. These women
remind me of another version of myself, sleeping naked,

wholly open, as an ex-boyfriend sat at the foot of the bed
writing a poem about the parts of me he found most beautiful:

my sleep-hooded eyes when he woke me for sex, the cleft
at the center of my chest where he annexed his thumbs,

his hands sliding from breasts to spine
as if pulling apart the segments of an orange.

Picasso said his women had within them a savage magic
that thirsted to be captured and seen. I wanted to reveal

this magic in my flesh, to see what men could see
that I couldn’t—so when I left my old lover,

I kept his poem. But the woman he’d fashioned on the page
didn’t seem anything like me. Parts of her were close:

her stunted torso, the mole on the bottom of her foot,
her small mouth with its open smile. From this, I learned

a muse is only a woman cut to pieces.

*     *     *

PL: In what ways do you think “Woman with a Postcard” might relate to the #MeToo movement? 

Ruth Elizabeth Morris: “I became obsessed with this painting after a relationship ended with a college boyfriend who was also a poet. At the time, he was more accomplished in his craft than me, and everyone agreed that I should accept his opinions as expertise. When he wrote poems about our sexual experiences together and workshopped them with my teachers, I spent months walking around the campus feeling like my professors had seen me naked. If I expressed discomfort, I was reminded of the honor it was to be a muse, even if the woman I was on paper was only a body with male fingers that curled like a nautilus inside her. I kept quiet and tried to ignore it all. I like to reimagine his poem, sometimes, in a version where the woman on paper is more like the women Picasso painted: even in “his brothel” they look strong and sharp, and they don’t look away.”

Ruth Elizabeth Morris has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Marlyand, where she is a coordinator for Academic Programs. She was the first-prize winner of the 2015 Writer’s Digest Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared in The Seventh Wave, [PANK], and JMWW.

Pablo Picasso, Spain, 1881–1973Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
oil on canvas
244 x 234 cm
Museum of Modern Art
Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest
New York City

Friday, March 16, 2018

Inside The Writer's Center - Monthly Member Newsletter

Roof, Renovation, and Relief

Our beloved building is about to get some much deserved TLC! With help from the county, we’ll begin replacing the roof in March, so please expect some noise if you meet at the Center on a weekday. We will move as many workshops and meetings as possible to the lower level, which should mitigate the disruption. However, if you have ADA issues and need to meet on the main level, please be aware that the roof work will be in progress. This project should take 6 to 8 weeks to complete.

For a variety of reasons (one of which is the roof!), the date for breaking ground on our upstairs renovation has been pushed back to the beginning of May. The good news is that we can finish the Winter/Spring semester on-site. The bad news is that our re-opening date has been pushed back, as well. We will host our summer and fall workshops at the Regional Services Center in Bethesda, along with our regular Capitol Hill and Glen Echo locations. Once the plans are finalized, we will post details on our website and in a special email to our members.

NEW! Teen Classes Coming This Summer

In an effort to continue supporting the next generation of writers, we are expanding our workshop offerings this summer to include courses for teens (ages 14-17). This will include five new classes: Prepping for the College Essay, Techniques and Style for Contest Entries, Creative Writing for Teens, Virtual Fiction Camp, and Fearless Writing for Teens. Visit our website for registration starting in mid-March.

We’re Feeling Festive This Spring!

There are a lot of reasons to look forward to spring, and literature lovers have even more with a season full of festivals that celebrate the written word. We’re proud to partner with the Kensington Day of the Book on Sunday, April 22, and the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 19. Join us at these fabulous festivals, and stop by our table to say hello!

The New Issue of Poet Lore Arrives in April!

Like a dream—or a poem—the cover image of the next issue of Poet Lore unsettles the distinction between inside and out. The framework of doorways, shutters, and walls is called into question by a rowboat in shallows and clouds roiling overhead. Inside the magazine, you’ll find work that subverts expectations in much the same way—blurring boundaries between memory and perception, the self and the world. Maybe shelter’s less a matter of what we keep out than of what we keep close.

Subscribe now »

Front Desk Staff Needed

We’re looking to hire additional part-time staff to support the Center on Saturdays and weeknights. Primary duties include answering the phone, supporting instructors and guests, room set-up, processing registrations, and occasional special projects. The job offers $15 per hour, free parking, and one free class annually. Help us get the word out!

View the job description »

Interested parties should email grace.mott@writer.org

Monday, March 12, 2018

3 Ways to Access Your Writing Talent

By Patricia Gray, The Writer's Center Instructor

Some of us write using a different genre based on what we have to say—an essay to clarify an idea, a poem to capture a moment. Others use the same genre because it suits whatever we have to say. How do you discover what your best mode is? There is no right way to write, but here are some ideas for accessing your talent.
  1. Definitely keep a journal. Write something in it every day, even if you have no time. The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron is famous for her “morning pages” idea. She suggests writing three pages each day as a way to get past whatever hurdle crops up that day. Write without stopping or editing or putting the pencil down, she advises. I agree, no one need read your journal but you, so you are free to be absolutely honest. In the first few paragraphs you’ll probably write the commonplace—things you already know—but if you keep writing for about three pages, what comes out can be wonderfully surprising. It might even be used in your next story or poem.
  2. Consider your favorite movies (books or poems) and why you like them.  Was there a gut-wrenching conflict that got resolved in a totally unexpected way? If so, you might enjoy writing an action story with deep-felt emotions complicating the plot. Did you fall in love with the protagonist, the male or female lead? As an author, you could develop a character, the kind you, yourself, would like to meet and fall in love with (Hopefully, he won’t be Heathcliff). Was the movie full of exciting visual images? Poems often reply on creative visual images to give resonance to the lyric moment or the main metaphor.
  3. Have you noticed that in recounting true stories, the teller often builds interest or suspense the way a good novelist does? If you write about true events from your own life and master narrative timing in the process, you’ll have a very readable memoir.
To discover more about yourself and your style, consider taking The Hill Center workshop I’ll be teaching March 24 and 31, 2018. It’s called “Getting Started: Creative Writing” and meets on two Saturday afternoons from 1-4pm. Learn more and register »

Friday, February 23, 2018

5 Ways to Find Your True Story's Heart

By Jenna McGuiggan, The Writer's Center Instructor

Writing true stories is about more than reporting the facts; it's about creating art from real life. In memoir and personal essays, you want to go beyond what happened and into what it means.

Here are five ways you can write beyond the facts and into the heart of a story.

1) Create meaning, not morals.
Give your readers enough meat of the story and its implications to help them understand why the story matters. But don't turn a story into a Sunday School lesson. Nobody likes a moralizing know-it-all. (Trust me, I know; I've been one.)

2) Use details.
Great stories include details. But not too many. Or too few. And only the important ones. All presented in the best way. Yikes! So how do choose which details to include? Details should create texture and interest, and they should focus the readers' attention on what matters. Be selective: Don't try to capture the whole world at once, not even when you're writing true life stories.

3) Cross the personal-universal bridge.
Even when you're telling an intimate story about a unique experience, readers should find something in it to relate to as fellow humans. But again, beware of moralizing here! Don't build a literal bridge that points out the obvious or talks down to the reader. Oddly enough, the more specific your details, the more universal your story can become.

4) Stay focused.
The focus of a story determines the meaning, the details, and the bridge. I usually don't know a story's focus until I've written a large chunk of it. Only after sketching out and connecting ideas do I find a story's heart. I've rewritten essays many times before I found their real essence. A story can contain a lot of seemingly disparate elements, but you need to know how they fit together. If you don't know -- at least on some intuitive level -- your readers won't know either. Keep writing until you find that focus and fit.

5) Be True.
That's "True" with a capital "T." This may be the most important point of all. Your story needs to feel authentic on the page, in your mind, and in the eyes of your readers. I've written stories that are technically true by dutifully capturing my thoughts or the true-to-life details of a scene. But the scene fell flat and veered outside the heart of the story. Annie Dillard says it best in her essay "Notes for Young Writers": "The work's unity is more important than anything else about it. Those digressions that were so much fun to write must go

We explore these tips and more in the online class, Write into the Heart of Your Story (begins March 5. 2018). You'll learn how to use the building blocks of creative nonfiction to write stories with texture and depth. You'll also learn how to deal with some common challenges that hold us back when writing true stories.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Q&A with Author Neal P. Gillen, "Rendezvous in Rockefeller Center"

Rendezvous in Rockefeller Center is the newest novella, play, and short story by Neal Gillen. Author of twelve books, Mr. Gillen is a longtime friend, former board vice chair and benefactor of The Writer's Center. He sponsors the McLaughlin, Esstman, Stearns First Novel Prize that highlights a new novelist and up-and-coming talent ever year. We caught up with Mr. Gillen to learn more about his new work. What we got was a true gift -- a personal look into the mind and perspective of an accomplished wordsmith.

TWC: Your new story, Rendezvous at Rockefeller Center, is a novella, a short story, and a play. What brought you to sharing your story in all of those formats? Is there one you think works best?

NG: First of all, I thank The Writers’ Center for its dedication to the written word and for its availability to those in the Washington DC region who have found that inner spark to tell a story, be it be theirs, that of their family, or a work of fiction that their life experience, a particular person or event, or maybe a story that has inspired them to write.

In the case of Rendezvous in Rockefeller Center, it was the experience of an old friend, considerably embellished, that motivated me to write the short story that was published by the Veteran’s Writing Project in its literary review O-Dark-Thirty. Once it was published, I heard from a number of people that they wanted to know more about the characters. After some thought, I decided to expand the story and bring out the emotions of the characters as they dealt with the complexities of their lives and their real feelings for each other after many years of separation.

I had never written a play, but I felt that would be an appropriate vehicle to bring the characters to life. After four workshops with Richard Washer, I completed it and sent it around to other writers and playwrights. I ended the play leaving the audience wanting to know more, but I left it up to them to determine what that might be.

The more I thought about it and as others did, including my editor, Barbara Esstman, and my wife, Mary-Margaret, I agreed that there was more to be told, especially the conflict that had to be dealt with, so I began anew and wrote the full story as a novella that ends leaving the reader wanting to know more, but as in the short story, I leave that up to the reader.

As to which form I like best? I like all three forms, the short story, the play, and the novella. I found the progression of the story in each format challenging. Each is a different medium and perhaps serves a different purpose. The play is perhaps the most interesting format because as Richard Washer would say, “It’s only a blueprint.” Unlike the short story and the novella, in the play the actors will interpret the story, give it life, provide meaning, and bring out the true emotions felt by the characters. I have yet to see that, but I hope to do so.

TWC: How has your writing changed from your first books to now? Where can you see that you've learned and grown?

NG: I started with fast paced thrillers that became more involved with the emotions of the characters with each new story. After eight of them I completed a memoir that I had started on when I first began to write. That was a new challenge, contacting people, extensive research on events that had happened 50-years ago, bringing forth old emotions, failures and challenges. It was difficult to do. I migrated from thrillers to memoirs to short stories to where I am now. It’s an evolving process.

I think my writing has grown, but I leave it up to the reader to make that determination. Here’s a long answer of what I have learned:

In brief, my fiction comes from my imagination and life experiences. I grew up in a large extended Irish family in New York City in a multicultural and crowded neighborhood in the days of radio and lengthy stories at the kitchen table from aunts and uncles, the aunts having the best stories. Their stories had all the necessary arcs and conflict that moved them along. It was the same for the radio programs we listened to. You hung on every word. You could see the characters through the voice of others along with the setting, and the dialogue was priceless. And of course, the stories were all enhanced by the tellers. It was an art form that I was exposed to as a toddler.  It encouraged me to read.

In constructing fiction you can wing it and develop it as you move through the story letting the characters lead the way. To make it more believable, however, you have to research the subject matter. The setting for your story has to be realistic. You want the reader to feel that he or she is part of the story -- the setting will do that. You have to nail down the time frame of the story and the events of that period to put the story in its proper context. If it’s a thriller or a crime story you must either know from your personal experience or learn about police, military, CIA, FBI or foreign intelligence operational procedures. You must also know about weapons or maybe explosives. Getting the details right is critical to the credibility of your story and you as an author.

In essence, fiction is a highly creative process as opposed to non-fiction, where it’s all about digging through news clippings, other books on the subject, and correspondence. It’s all about interviewing the subjects of the story or those close to it -- a constant process of getting the basics of the story together before you start writing it. It’s a difficult, tedious and a time consuming process if you are going to get it right. It’s a totally different process from fiction, where your imagination creates the story. But like fiction, you must use the facts you have assembled to put life to the characters and make the story flow.

The same is true for memoirs. You have to search your mind -- get your mind to open up in a honest way. You must get at the truth. You have to search through personal and family records, diaries or date books and telephone logs (if you keep them), photo albums, correspondence, and news stories -- virtually every written thing that you can locate to help you jog your memory and to unearth concrete facts essential to your story. Your memory might be excellent, but it may be hiding something that subconsciously you don’t want to come out. You have to dig down deep even though you’re reluctant to do so. You have to contact and question others, who were there, about their recollections of your story. It involves tracking down people -- old friends, co-workers, relatives, former spouses or significant others, children, even people you might not like or haven’t talked to in years. You have to consider their memory of things -- their views on the matter at issue. And should they differ with your memory, you have to reconcile any differences.  
Most importantly, for the memoir to be honest and true to the story, you cannot sugar coat it. You have to forget about hurting the feelings of others or even embarrassing yourself and your family. You have to provide your reader with your true emotions and the emotions of others to make the story work. You must get at the truth.

If your father was an SOB or your mother was unloving -- that’s part of the story and must be told. Told in such a way to let the reader know how you felt at the moment and how it affected you then and perhaps now. For example, were you, as a teenager, intimate with a girl who became pregnant or if the reverse is true did this intimacy result in your pregnancy? The reader wants to know your emotions when you learned of this situation as well as the other person’s emotions. Was it just your secret? How did you handle the situation? Did the parents find out? Who else knew about it? How did they react? The reader wants to know what was going through your mind and how you dealt with the situation. The same is true if someone close to you died in an unfortunate accident or was murdered. Perhaps a parent or spouse walked out on you. Maybe you were homeless. How did that affect you and the friends and family of the deceased?  

Memoirs are rife with emotions. Few people’s lives are a bed of roses, and should that be the case, no one wants to read about it. Readers want to know about the thorns in the rosebush.
We have all known good and bad times in our lives. We have all been tested. The reader wants to know how you passed or maybe failed that test. They want to know how you became who you are.

Summing it all up, I have written fiction and memoir. It’s a different discipline with memoir being the more difficult in my view.

TWC: What are the most compelling characteristics about the main character(s) in Rendezvous? How do you bring them to life in the story as part of your craft?

NG: The strength of the female character is most compelling. The story uncoils the mysteries of life, love, and lost opportunity. She is a rock who nurtured a young man unsure of himself only to have him abandon her and take flight into the military and lead an indifferent and insecure life.  He acquires wealth, but is unfulfilled. She moves on in life, raises a daughter and starts a successful business. Her life has meaning and purpose, but deep down there is an emptiness. By chance, some 35-years later, they Rendezvous in Rockefeller Center, where in their tense and revealing meeting she repurposes their relationship and changes his life for the better. Simply put, she’s strong, he’s weak but basically good but unmoored and still seeking direction. Her revelation and strength begins to finally get him there.

TWC: When did you know you were a writer? What really "flipped the switch" for you?

NG: Reading two books a week for most of my adult life convinced me that I could do this. As a lawyer, I was always writing, but it was a different style: state the issues, explain them, and summarize why your argument should prevail. It was brief and to the point. I knew that I could do it, but I needed guidance from others. The Writers’ Center provided that along with introducing me to a legion of capable writers who were willing to offer advice about the basics of telling a story. I had the stories. What I lacked was the techniques to tell those stories.

TWC: What advice do you have for budding writers? Anything to share with established writers?

NG: Anyone reading this obviously has an interest in writing. To those budding writers I would say, keep at it, don’t be discouraged, follow your gut, take your time to get it right, and ask for advice. To established writers I would say what they already know, that the times and the methodologies of publishing and marketing are no longer subtle, they are changing at warp speed and you have to adapt to that change.

TWC: What is the most underestimated component of a short story? What makes or breaks it for you?

NG: This is the most difficult kind of writing. You must grab the reader in the first sentence or two and tell your story in short order. How to be brief, concise, and thorough in a few words is
a daunting task. Driving the story from the beginning is perhaps the underestimated component. Another factor is how you resolve the conflict. On the other hand, as I did in the Rendezvous in Rockefeller Center short story, you can leave it to the reader to resolve it.

I cannot define what makes it or breaks it for me, be it the traits of the characters or the plot or theme of the story. I get an idea and I begin to write. I may get it right in one shot, or I might stop and wonder why it’s not working. Who can tell on any given day? It’s a process that’s not always satisfactory, but when it clicks, nothing is more intellectually rewarding than to know that you have created a story.

TWC: How do you write good dialogue? What's the secret?

NG: I was raised in a verbal society, so that has never been a problem for me. Dialogue is listening to or having a conversation. I put myself in the shoes of the characters and the emotions of the moment and it usually flows.

TWC: You weren't always a writer. You're a veteran and have worked all over the country. How has your life experience shaped your writing? How could a new writer conceptualize of their life as an augmentation to their stories?

NG: True, I’ve lived a full and well-travelled life, had a successful career, served in the Navy, and have a wonderful family, but it is through my reading that I have learned to write. The life experiences expose you to situations and people that make for good stories. If you haven’t been anywhere or lived that long, then write about that place and the people you have met in your life where you’re from. You can take ordinary lives and create an interesting story, be it in a farming community, a fishing village, or a small university town. A lot goes on behind closed doors and there is always conflict within a household or a community as well as rich characters waiting to be defined.

TWC: Where can we find your book?

NG: It can be found on Amazon or through my web site: www.nealpgillenbooks.com