I’d like to welcome author Catherine Larose to Annette’s Paper Trail for a quick stop on her blog tour for her recently launched memoir Any Color But Beige: Living Life in Color.

“After years of living a beige existence, Cat Larose, international color marketing expert, finally added a little color to her own life. All it took was a Paris sunset and a little red suitcase.”

She had me at “beige existence.” Before I even cracked open her book, um…I mean downloaded it to my Kindle app, I knew Cat’s story would resonate with me. I was always the girl who lived out loud in technicolor, but as I’ve gotten older, time has sandblasted me to a mute sepia.

Cat’s well-developed themes of dissatisfaction and desire for change are a universal wake-up call for women who need to bring new color into their lives, or get back the shades of a vibrant life they’ve somehow lost along the way.

Any Color But Beige takes you on Cat’s personal journey from her decision to leave a beige marriage through her evolution of finding the pulse of color in her life. The backdrop for her soul-searching and dating adventures spans the globe as Cat’s stories of love and loss vividly transport you into scenes that bring the places and cultures (and men) of South Africa, France, and Northern Italy to life. Any Color But Beige reads like a sophisticated chick-lit novel, light in tone yet intellectually satisfying. With every turn of the page, you live vicariously through Cat’s travels and travails as she searches for love and finds herself. Her engaging memoir is a great inspiration to live your life in color.

As an author, I’m not sure there is anything that compares to the feeling you have when you launch your first book. Cat had a fabulous book launch party in Montreal, and in the video, she takes you on a quick trip through that gorgeous cosmopolitan city to attend her special night. Take a peek; it will inspire you to live in color and pursue your writing dreams.

I decided to ask Cat a few questions about her thoughts on memoir writing and color, so grab a cup of tea and join us. And don’t forget to leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of Any Color But Beige: Living Life in Color.

Personally, I love memoirs—real people making real decisions in real life situations. I think it’s so much more personal for the author and relatable for the reader. Many writers consider memoir, but are hesitant to put their personal stories “out there.” What made you do it?

I think it depends on the story you have to tell. Some memoirs can be quite dark and heavy and that brings with it a whole host of complications involving not only the writer but also other people. My story centered on my journey, and I think there’s certain lightness to it. Everyone in the memoir advanced my self-knowledge even if their behaviors weren’t always exemplary. Even then, I took precautions by changing details to avoid any unnecessary complications or hard feelings.

What words of wisdom or suggestions do you have for the would-be memoir writers who are teetering on the memoir/fiction fence and afraid to take the leap?

If you’re going to worry about writing a memoir, if it’s going to keep you awake at night, then write fiction. It’s not worth losing sleep over. A good story is still a good story. And it’s still your story.

My thoughts exactly! A memoir is the author’s journey and it’s her personal story to tell, but I always wonder how the other “characters” feel about their starring roles. In your memoir, there are a variety of relationships (marriage, transition guy, no strings attached, et al.) that you explore in your evolution of personal color. Do any of the guys know they’re in the book? If so, how have they reacted?

Two of the men know I’ve written the book. One doesn’t know he’s in it. He hasn’t read it (he’s not a reader) but he says he’s very proud of me. As for the other man, he’s about to get his first copy. He’s the reason I wrote the book, so stay tuned…

I’m taking a little detour here, but I have to mention that I find color theory fascinating. What insights can you share about how/what color influences creativity?

There have been many books written about color psychology and the effect of colors on all aspects of our life. I think you have to consider your own personal preferences and creative tasks at hand. Vibrant colors stimulate the brain and pastels have a calming effect. So, in my sewing room I have pastel colors on the wall while the fabrics I work with are bright and colorful. In my office, I hang purple-colored glass crystals in my window to stimulate the creative process. Purple has been associated with mystery and magic and is perfect for the creative process, which remains a mystery to everyone.

So, what’s next for Cat Larose? Another book? More globe-trotting adventures?

I am working on a turning the book into a screenplay — just for fun. And a second book as well. My next adventure…I’d really like to hop a freighter and visit some exotic ports of call. I think that would give me lots to write about!


Readers: Be sure to head over to Cat’s blog and take her quiz Are You Living a Colorful Life? Then come back here and let us know your score! (I’m Flying Down the Highway with 64 color points. Based on some of the questions, I can see there are a few things I can do to add more color in my life.)

***Book Give-Away*** If you would like to be entered into a drawing for a (digital or print) copy of Any Color But BeigeLeave a comment and answer Cat’s question: 

If your life was a color — what color would it be? And why?


Catherine “Cat” Larose is an international color-marketing expert who travels the world selling color. A graduate of Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism, Larose previously worked in advertising, public relations and journalism. She is the voice behind the successful Café Girl Chronicles blog (http://cafegirlchronicles.wordpress.com/) and currently writing her second book.



I’d like to welcome author Linda Joy Myers Ph.D, to Annette’s Paper Trail, a quick detour on her blog tour for her latest book, The Power of Memoir: Writing Your Healing Story.

Last week, when I saw an opportunity to interview Linda Joy, an author, therapist, and the founder and president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, I jumped at the chance! My fascination with telling, reading, and listening to personal stories in short essay form, spoken word, and full-length memoir has lead to an addiction (the good kind) for reading memoir writing books. Of the many memoir craft books I’ve read, The Power of Memoir has been the most comprehensive in addressing the therapeutic and healing aspects of memoir writing. A gentle and wise guide, Linda Joy leads the reader-writer through the process of understanding, recording, and learning from painful personal experiences.

The Power of Memoir is a groundbreaking book that presents an innovative step-by-step program using memoir writing on the journey of emotional and physical healing. By drawing on the eight steps outlined in The Power of Memoir, you’ll learn how to choose the significant milestones in your life and weave together your personal story. You’ll discover how writing your truths and shaping your narrative propel you toward a life-changing transformation. The Power of Memoir offers the tools you need to heal the pain of the past and create a better present and a brighter future.

Today, Linda Joy offers wonderful advice about how to start collecting your stories, deal with the internal and external pressure of keeping family secrets, balance the light and dark sides of your stories, and silence the inner critic.

1. As you’ve discovered in your therapy work with clients and in your own life experience, using writing to heal is a very powerful tool. If a writer has a deeply personal and painful story, how should she begin to get it onto the page?

Start by considering the special moments in your life, the turning points that changed the direction of your life in a significant way. Make a list of these moments, at least ten to twenty, and write the significant event and when it occurred. Memoirists can feel overwhelmed by the large number of memories they have, so the turning point and timeline tools that I talk about in the book serve to help organize memories. We need to sift through to find the most important stories as a spine around which to build a longer work.

I also suggest that writers keep track of the “dark” and the “light” stories, so they are not overwhelmed by the more painful memories. And I advocate learning about story structure and scenes. A story, unlike a journal entry, must have a structure—a beginning, middle, and an end, and is constructed with an aim toward a goal and the unfolding of a plot where dramatic action guides the reader through the story.

When we write a scene, we find ourselves in the places and times of our lives in a kind of creative hypnosis. A story uses scenes to bring the past to life. A scene takes place at a particular moment in time, and draws upon the use of sensual details—smell, sound, texture, description, color, and taste, along with characters, dialogue, and action. In a story, we are both the narrator and the “I” of the story—the main character. This dual point of view helps to create a witnessing experience of ourselves as we write from our current point of view about who we once were, an artful weaving of then and now, past and present.

Alice Miller, a Swiss psychiatrist, says that being witnessed is a significant part of the healing process. Writing allows us to witness all the stages of our lives, and when we read others’ memoirs, we witness and empathize with them, thus deepening our connection with humanity.

To protect yourself from being overwhelmed by pain, create distance from the story. Write about what happened in the third person: “she” or “he” instead of “I.” Write as if you are watching the event unfold in a movie. Write a scene about a difficult incident, but make it turn out the way you wanted it to, ending it positively. Tell what happened before and after a difficult incident. Write around it, but not about the event itself. These techniques are protective as you prepare your psyche for deeper work.

2. I can see how writing from 3rd person would help detach from the pain of reliving the story, but what if a writer is torn between the desire to tell her story truth and the internal/external pressure to keep family secrets? What do you recommend she do?

It’s important first for the writer to get her story on the page, to write her own truth. Each person has her point of view and her own story that no one else can tell, so she needs to claim it, she needs to discover its wisdom by writing about it. This process creates a new perspective that brings forth layers of memories and insights. Exposing these layers is part of the healing process.

And there’s the hot topic in all my workshops: secrets. Secrets are energy magnets. The force it takes to keep secrets hidden is energy that could be used for growth and creativity. So often though, the shame and guilt associated with secrets keep feeding the darkness and the fear. Secrets maintain a great power over us, and we are diminished by them. We become co-conspirators to family dynamics that we don’t agree with and want to break away from. So we get caught in a conflict—to speak or not to speak? Do we remain closed and complicit, or open up and take the risk of losing friends and family, of being ousted from the family, or shamed once again into submission? These are choices that we need to make consciously and with care.

I tell my students to be open to writing two versions of the story: first, write for yourself, to clear out your emotional closet and sort the events that are jumbled up in your mind. Research has shown that writing the unadorned truth is powerful and creates changes in the brain—in other words: it’s healing.

When you put real people in your book, especially if they are identifiable, they should be notified. Even if all the portraits are positive, we’re exposing a real person to the eyes of the world. The convention is to have people read the sections they appear in, if you are on speaking terms. If not, change the names and identifying characteristics, even if that means changing names for the character, the streets, town and anything that exposes them. If published, the legal branch of the publishing company can vet the manuscript as well, but since so many memoirs are self-published, I think it’s important for people to keep these ethics in mind.

3. I believe that recording both the humor and pathos of your experiences makes for a better memoir. And in The Power of Memoir, you talk about balancing the light side and the dark side. From a therapy perspective, how does this help the writer and the reader?

Research has shown that writing positive stories about ourselves is as healing as writing about bad memories, but I’ve seem big changes when writers dig in the darkness for deeper levels of truth. We all want to avoid unnecessary pain, yet healing comes from balancing our system and not staying trapped in memories and negative feelings about the past. Our fears, anger, jealousy, insecurity, and hurt are real, but they can interfere with living with a sense of peace, forgiveness of self and others, and juicy creative energy.

The people I work with in my workshops have found it helpful to weave back and forth between the dark and the lighter stories to create a balance and recover from the heaviness of writing the painful stories. The path of emotional healing is like cleaning out an old wound: it hurts while we are cleaning it out but we feel better afterward.

Make a list of the dark topics or stories that you suspect are important, but you aren’t yet ready to write. List them by title or theme. Write down the age you were when these difficult times happened. Write down what you did to cope with the event at the time. How do you feel now about the incident? What would you have liked to happen differently? Place these stories on a timeline so you can get a perspective on the clustering of events.

Make a list of the light stories, stories that bring you a feeling of well being, happiness, contentment, and safety. They may include memories about love, spiritual experiences, and miracles. Stand fully in the light of the positive stories and feel them in your body. Hold the images of the positive stories while you consider the dark stories list. This technique helps to integrate the polarities of our psyche.

The reader needs relief too, as most readers will put a book down if there are uninterrupted dark stories. I alternated dark and light chapters in my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother so the reader could enjoy moments of lightness and joy while also finding out the story of abandonment and loss that weaves through the book.

If you find that you can’t stop writing a traumatic story, talk about it with a counselor or seek therapy and emotional support. It’s important to take good care of yourself. You have to be the judge of what you are ready to express. Be your own best friend.

4. Many writers are picked apart by their inner critic before they even get started on a memoir project. (Um…like me.) What specific techniques do you suggest to silence that destructive voice?

The inner critic is tenacious. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have an inner critic, and everyone wants to know how to get rid of it. The good and bad news is that the critical voice is a part of each of us, showing that we’re vulnerable human beings with doubts, fears, and worries, not that easy to throw away Often we internalize the voices of the family, whom I call the “outer critics.” When they’re alive in our head at the writing table, they become part of the inner critic harangue. The inner critic strives to enforce old rules silence and loyalty. It stops us from writing our truths, so we might forget that we have the right to write our unique stories—from a point of view that no one else has. Over time, we get too familiar with the negative inner voices, and we believe them. It’s a kind of negative hypnosis or brain washing that we have to conquer by writing anyway.

I had a terrible inner critic, vicious and hateful, but I noticed that at all the literary events I attended, each writer had some version of an inner critic. Yet they were up there, reading from published works! This gave me hope and I kept doing the exercises I suggest here, and showing my work to others, despite the inner critic’s attacks. Over time, my inner critic became quite tame.

It’s important to dialogue with the inner critic. If it says, ‘‘You’re stupid, you can’t write,’’ write, ‘‘Who taught me this? Where did my belief come from?’’ Explore these questions in your journal.

If it says, ‘‘You are so boring and not very good. What makes you think you can write?’’ answer back, ‘‘It’s true that I was bad in [fill in the blank with school skills], but I have written some good things before, and even [fill in the name of a friend, editor, teacher, family member] liked it.’’ See how this works—remembering times and events that counter the negative belief. This is a therapy technique that really works.

If you suffered humiliation when you expressed yourself in school or in front of family, write down those comments. For instance, “You always got the worst grade in spelling, and you always failed your essays.’’

Continue to contradict the critic. ‘‘My memoir isn’t about getting good grades. I’m not fourteen years old either. I’ve spent years writing, and I can hire an editor when I’m ready. Shut up and let me write.’’

Keep a list of the negative phrases in your journal, and work regularly to counter each accusation with positive, assertive statements. Some of the negative phrases will simply melt away after being acknowledged. See if you can label the origin of the phrase or voice. Keep an ongoing list of the critic’s attempts to stop you, and keep creating positive, affirming responses. Then get on with your writing for that day.

“Shut up and let me write!” I love that. The next time my inner critic rears her snarky head, that’s the response she’s going to get! Linda, are there any final words of wisdom or encouragement you’d like to share with aspiring memoirists?

  • It’s important to listen to the whispers of desire to write your story and capture the moments of your life that are important to you. From these beginnings, a lot of important stories can emerge, and soon you will have a book.
  • Don’t listen to your inner critic or negative family comments about writing your memoir. In fact, don’t tell them you’re thinking of writing one, and they will not get anxious!
  • Draw upon family photos to help you picture events, people, clothes, houses, and weather. Writing from photos helps remind you of those times, and puts you back in the scene.

Last year in a workshop one of the presenters said, “A published writer needs talent, training, and perseverance. All published writers have perseverance.”

I would like to add that writing a memoir demands courage, perseverance, training, and emotional fortitude.

Start today, and be brave—write your story!


Readers: Post your questions for Linda Joy in the comments section and share your thoughts. Do you have trouble balancing your light side and dark side? Are you struggling with revealing family secrets? Have you tried writing as therapy? Jump in and let’s talk about it!


Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., MFT, is author of The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story. She’s the President and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and a family therapist in Berkeley. A prize-winning author of Don’t Call Me Mother and Becoming Whole, Linda Joy is a speaker, editor, and writing coach, and offers online teleseminars and workshops at www.namw.org.

Visit Linda Joy’s website and stop by to read her blog.

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nolimitsI’d like to welcome author Sara Morgan to Annette’s Paper Trail. Sara is on a blog tour for her recently released motivational business book, No Limits: How I Escaped the Clutches of Corporate America to Live the Self-Employed Life of My Dreams.

Refreshingly candid and honest, this career-minded guide helps professionals determine if self-employment is their ticket to a better life. Written by a successful, independent software developer, rather than a career coach or consultant, this straight-to-the-point book offers readers practical and useful advice for how to get started on their path to self-employment. It also informs the reader what the major benefits to self-employment are, along with identifying who is best suited for self-employment and what things these people will need to consider.

As someone who is highly allergic to cubicles, office politics, pantyhose, and sensible shoes, oh yeah, and has an incurable aversion to being told what to do, I knew I’d be able to relate to Sara’s book. This slim volume is a quick read and a perfect primer for office dwellers who dream of making a break for it and running out the corporate door. Sara shares her story and practical tips for taking that first step toward self-employment freedom.

I asked Sara some questions specifically for my writer-readers, so grab a cup of tea and read on…

What would you say are the top five traits a writer must have to be successfully self-employed?

Good question. I would have to say the number one trait is optimism. You have to believe in yourself, even when no one else does. You have to be able to take the inevitable rejections that occur to even the best writers, turn them around, and make them into opportunities. You can not do that if you are a pessimist and I really doubt anyone who is a chronic pessimist could succeed as a writer.

Beyond that, I would list the other traits as being passionate, creative, disciplined, and a finisher. If you are the type of person who always starts writing projects, but never finishes them, you will likely not succeed. Be honest with yourself on this one.

In No Limits, you mention an interesting study that was done about trusting instincts vs. rational thought. The study showed better, more accurate, decisions were made when participants relied on their instincts instead of using higher-level cognitive functions. Please tell us how you feel it relates to knowing when to launch into a fulltime writing career.

I think it especially relates to being a writer. Good writers who get recognized do not just follow blindly along with the flock, always taking the safe road. At times, you may have to write something that logically makes no sense, but that your instincts tell you is right. Listen to your instincts. That is the voice that truly knows best.

In the Good Advice chapter, you say: “Don’t be afraid to do something that has no immediate financial payback.” What do you mean by that?

In writing, this is especially true. Many well known writers spent years writing manuscripts that were never published or articles that were hardly read. These days a lot of writers spend time writing things that are posted for free, just to get exposure. That is ok, as long as you are refining your writing skills and getting your writing out in front of more people.

I’ve belonged to writing critique groups for years and I think they serve as a wonderful testing ground for new material. In No Limits, you talk about becoming a feedback machine. How can writers implement your concept?

It is natural to reject criticism. It is kind of a self-protective feature we are all equipped with. Sometimes this is good, but very often people offer criticism with the best of intentions. You need to develop a thick skin and not see the criticism as an attack, but rather an opportunity for improvement.

I know I struggle with finding a work/life balance. What tips do you have for other work-a-holic writers who find it hard to push away from the computer?

Remember that you are not doing anyone any favors by working too hard. In fact, you are probably just hurting yourself and your writing by stressing yourself out. It is not worth it. Work smarter, not harder.

You suggest to the newly self-employed: “Surround yourself with things that inspire you.” What inspires you?

Lots of things. Music is a big thing, but I also find inspiration from other people who have succeeded, despite big odds. I also love inspirational quotes and have them posted all around my house. You need to keep yourself energized any way you can.

I agree completely with a section in your book where you talk about how persistence pays off. I heard a quote once: “The only difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is persistence.” Why do you think persistence is so important?

Because rejection is inevitable. There are just too many writers in the world for it not to be the case. The ones who become famous are ALWAYS the ones who kept writing, even when no one thought they should. Believe in yourself and eventually others will too.

Please share any final words of self-employment wisdom you feel writers should take to heart.

Just keep doing it, especially if you love it. What you need most in life is passion. Without passion, there is no purpose and without purpose, there is no hope. Hang in there. Stay strong and focused and strive to make each day the best of your life.


Readers: Post your questions for Sara in the comments section and share your thoughts. Have you taken the plunge to full-time writing? If not, are you making plans for your great escape?


Sara1Sara Morgan is a former web developer who escaped Corporate America four years ago and has never looked back. To inspire others, she recently wrote No Limits: How I Escaped the Clutches of Corporate America to Live the Self-Employed Life of My Dreams. You can find out more about Sara and her book by going to www.nolimitsthebook.com, or join her online community of like-minded people looking for a more balanced work life at http://nolimitsthebook.ning.com.

You can also register for a free upcoming teleseminar she is hosting. The teleseminar will offer freelancers and small business owners advice on what to watch out for when establishing a web presence. You can register for the event at http://www.nolimitsthebook.com/nolimits/teleseminar.aspx.


YouCantDrinkAllDayI’d like to welcome humor author and syndicated columnist Celia Rivenbark to Annette’s Paper Trail. Celia is on a blog tour for her latest book, You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Morning.

From the author of the bestselling classics We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier and Bless Your Heart, Tramp, comes a collection of essays so funny, you’ll shoot co’cola out of your nose. From religion to recipes, from car-pooling to cat-whispering, Celia Rivenbark dishes up new essays about the old south, the new south, and everything in between.

I curled up with Celia’s book each night before bed (my only available pleasure reading time) and often woke my husband with my giggles. Even in a comedy club, I’m a smiler. It takes a lot to make me laugh aloud. And as a writer, I can appreciate a great image captured by a funny turn-of-phrase. I have to say, my two favorite essays were “Poseable Jesus Meets Poser Ken”—a hilarious analysis of Walmart’s action figure collections, and “Japanese Moms, Meet Most Honorable Uncrustables”—classic commentary about  competitive mothers and their lunch-packing competitions.

Some of my other favorites: “Gwyneth Paltrow Wants to Improve Your Pathetic Life”—a great lampoon of celebrity role models. “I Want to be a Margo but I’m Really a Sha-nae-nae”—more fun than you can have actually trying on jeans and bras (and contemplating the landscape of your “trimmage”). “Lessons Taught Here”—a sweet and poignant essay about Daddies and dementia. “No TV? I’ll Put My Carbon Footprint Up Your Behind”—for anyone who has a thing or two to say about staycations and green living.

While you settle in with a cup of tea to read Celia’s interview about humor writing, I’m off to make myself one of her scrumptious recipes: You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw Apple Enchiladas. I love the smell of cinnamon baking…

Celia, your slice-of-life essays have been compared to Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry, two wonderfully prolific American humorists. What inspired you to start writing a humor column?

I became a humor columnist by accident. I made a pitch to my editor at the time to write restaurant reviews, but after an exhaustive presentation with charts and graphs and a bunch of crap about my educated palate, he just said, “Nah, that shit gets expensive. Hey! You’re kinda funny; why don’t you write a humor column instead?” I wrote one, it got a good response and I kept doing it for a lot of years. The only thing that makes me different is that everybody could write a humor column for a few weeks. It takes a different sort of animal to grind it out week after week, year after year, constantly trying to develop a larger audience. Bombeck did four columns a week at her peak and that just slays me. There will never be another one like her.

Where do you find the inspiration for your essays?

I was raised in the rural South. When you have an aunt who makes bedroom slippers out of maxi pads she glue-guns little pink roses to, you have no choice but to find inspiration around you. Oh, and there’s that whole pop culture thing. As long as the words Heidi Montag Pratt exist, finding the funny won’t be hard.

That’s hilarious! You can’t get better material than that! I know many comedians who labor for months over reworking the punchlines to their jokes. Do you follow any particular structure or outline when developing each essay or do you write off-the-cuff?

Off the cuff. I usually don’t spend more than 30 minutes on a newspaper column; an essay for the book takes longer, of course. If a column takes longer than a half hour, there’s a very good chance that it sucks.

When you put together your humor collections, how do you select the stories? Do you connect them through a theme?

Sometimes I group them as in “Husbands,” “Kid Stuff” and like that. In Belle Weather, the book had a home-improvement theme thanks to the year I spent remodeling a kitchen in our 85-year-old house. It was painful at the time but turned out to be pretty good fodder for a book.

Belle Weather obviously proves the old formula: pain + time = comedy. What tips do you have for scribes who want to “write funny”?

When I feel a bit blocked, I read a little David Sedaris or Jack Handey to get my mojo back. Or I’ll read The Onion online or watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” because Larry David is, hands down, the funniest man in America. That usually gets me back on track. Right now, I’m reading a wonderful new book called And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on the Craft. It’s a terrific collection of interviews with top humor/comedy writers on how they got their start in the business. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to write humor for a living.

You’ve certainly made a career out of it! You’ve branded yourself as a Southern humorist. How important do you think it is to find a humor niche?

I didn’t brand myself; this is who I am and it’s what I do. My books aren’t restricted to Southern humor. If you read them, there are plenty of essays that have nothing whatsoever to do with the South. That said, I do think that Southerners are fortunate in that we’re raised to be great storytellers and we love to embroider the truth to the point of absurdity.

How challenging is it to have personal essay collections published?

If you’re asking if it was hard to get published, it really wasn’t. I was fortunate because an editor approached me about putting my newspaper columns into book form. That first book, Bless Your Heart, Tramp was published by a small local press and I sold copies out of the trunk of my car. I had some lucky breaks in exposure and the book ended up on the Southeast Booksellers’ best-seller list. This led to a call from Jenny Bent who was already representing Jill Conner Browne (the very successful Sweet Potato Queen) and was scouting for more Southern humor writers. She sold my second book almost immediately and has repped the others since. I was very, very lucky but you also have to remember that I’d been writing professionally for 20 years at that point. Dues had been paid.

What last words of wisdom do you have for aspiring humorists?

Don’t go to “how to write funny” classes or workshops. Humor can’t be “taught.” You’re either funny or you’re not. How do you know? Do people often say, “Hey! You’re funny! You should write that stuff down!” If they do, go forth and do just that. If no one (outside your loving family) has ever said that, humor might not be the best route to go and you might want to try another genre. I grew up as a class clown, prankster type. I was in it from the get-go for laughs and that has never changed.

If you’re funny, be willing to work for free if it takes it. Get published any way you can, even if it’s a column for a shopper or an obscure alt weekly. Get your name out there. Also: When you write humor, you have to take a few risks. Don’t pussyfoot around, terrified of making enemies or pissing off your friends. There will be haters out there who don’t get the joke and there’s nothing you can do about that. Except laugh.


Readers: Post your questions for Celia in the comments section and share your thoughts. Have you ever tried humor writing?


celiarivenbarkCelia Rivenbark has won national and state press awards and is the author of the humorous essay collections: Bless Your Heart, Tramp, We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier, Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank, and Belle Weather: Mostly Sunny With a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits. Her latest essay collection, You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Morning, was released in September 2009.

She lives in Wilmington, NC, with her husband and daughter.

Visit Celia’s website and follow her tour! You can read Celia’s humor column at The Sun News.

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Fearless Confessions, for webI’d like to welcome memoir author Sue William Silverman to Annette’s Paper Trail. Sue is on a blog tour for her latest book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir.

Everyone has a story to tell.

Fearless Confessions is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper. Sue covers traditional writing topics such as metaphor, theme, plot, and voice and also includes chapters on trusting memory and cultivating the courage to tell one’s truth in the face of forces—from family members to the media—who would prefer that people with inconvenient pasts and views remain silent.

Silverman, an award-winning memoirist, draws upon her own personal and professional experience to provide an essential resource for transforming life into words that matter. Fearless Confessions is an atlas that contains maps to the remarkable places in each person’s life that have yet to be explored.

Today, Sue offers some great advice about plot, point of view, authenticity, and memory truths.

Of the writing craft books I’ve read lately, few have resonated enough to cause me to underline passages and make notes in the margin. Fearless Confessions had so many sections where techniques and concepts jumped off the page, begging to be highlighted for future reference.

I’ve chosen four of my favorites to have Sue share with my info-hungry Paper Trail readers.

1. I’ll dive right into the craft pool. Sue, please explain the difference between horizontal and vertical plots and the reason writers should create a story that has both.

In Fearless Confessions, I developed the concept of two plot lines in order to help memoir writers better understand how to examine the entirety of their narrative.

The horizontal plot line reflects the external events of your story. Imagine texting a friend and telling her what just happened to you: As soon as I sat down on the airplane, this stranger started to talk to me. He was handsome. A great smile. But he wore a wedding ring.

It’s the action in your story.

The vertical plot, on the other hand, reflects your emotions, thoughts, and insights. But what should I do about this man, this married man? He seems like just the kind of man I’ve always been looking for, but…

It’s the internal response to the action.

In short, by weaving these two plot lines together, throughout, you are able to reveal the external action as well as, emotionally, show how you respond to it.

2. I’m intrigued by your concept of using “depths of view” rather than points of view. I’d love to have you explain how “The Voice of Experience” and “The Voice of Innocence” affect the story.

Unlike a novel, which can have several different points of view in it, a memoir, instead, explores various aspects of you. You’re exploring the depth or core of yourself.

One aspect of yourself, then, is conveyed in what I call the Voice of Innocence. Here, using this voice, you relate the facts of the story— the surface events in the past that actually happened. It’s the voice that portrays the raw, not-yet-understood emotions associated with the story’s past action: How you felt, what you did at the time the events actually occurred.

For the Voice of Experience, on the other hand, imagine the writer “you,” now, sitting at your desk writing, trying to make sense of these events that happened to you years earlier. It’s a more mature voice that deepens the Voice of Innocence narrative with reflection and metaphor. It’s a more complex viewpoint that interprets the surface subject.

You need both voices in any given memoir in order to bring the whole of the experience fully alive. You need, of course, to convey the story of what actually happened in the past while, at the same time, you need to bring a more adult perspective to bear.

Using these two voices you are showing, in effect: This is what happened to me in the past; this is how I now, with more wisdom, feel about it looking back.

3. Those who know me know I live my life authentically. In your chapter “One Secret, One Word, at a Time” you talk about how telling your secrets allows you to be an authentic woman and an authentic writer. Why do you think this is important for writing memoir?

When I write a memoir, I’m spending an enormous amount of time with myself, delving deep inside, to fully understand any given experience. If I’m going to hold back or sugarcoat experiences, I’m not being authentic either with myself or my readers. Now is the time, in my solitary writing room, to take a serious look at the most intimate moments in my life in order to write about them. What a gift! What an opportunity!

4. I completely agree. This also leads into another area of authenticity—writing the truth. With so much skepticism facing memoirists after James Frey’s book, A Million Little Lies (um…I mean, Pieces), I’d like you to share your thoughts about the concept of “memory truths.”

While it’s not at all acceptable to make up facts willy-nilly (like Frey), memoir also isn’t journalism. It is based on how I recall events from my past, knowing that memory is just that—how I remember things—my own personal version of events—or, what I call in Fearless Confessions, “memory truth.”

So while I never make stuff up, my interpretation of events forms a reality that is uniquely mine. I write my truths—how I understand my own life—as clearly and precisely as possible. At the same time, of course, the interpretation of my life is subjective. How could it not be? But readers understand this, and that’s what they expect and want.

If you want to read a factual account of something, read a historical document. Though, of course, even historical events are open to interpretation, aren’t they?

They certainly are! Thank you for sharing your thoughts about memory truths. I know a lot of writers are concerned about maintaining integrity in telling their personal stories. Sue, are there any final words of wisdom or encouragement you’d like to share with aspiring memoirists?

My hope is that you are patient with yourself as a writer, that you give yourself plenty of space and time to develop your craft. At the same time, I hope you find all the courage you need to tell your truths, tell the stories that, perhaps, you’ve hidden for years. Give yourself permission to break silences, speak your truths. I hope you all write your own confessions—fearlessly.


Readers: Post your questions for Sue in the comments section and share your thoughts. What are you doing to make sure you write authentically? What do you think about the concept of memory truths?


Sue SilvermanSue William Silverman teaches the low-residency MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (Norton), is also a Lifetime Television movie. Her memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father I Remember You, won the AWP award. Her new book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir is available in bookstore and on Amazon.

Visit Sue’s website and check out the Fearless Confessions book trailer.

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I’d like to welcome author Elizabeth Fournier to Annette’s Paper Trail. Elizabeth is on a virtual book tour for her recently launched memoir
All Men are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates.

In her book, Elizabeth chronicles her true life dating spree as a marriage-minded mortician in her mid-30’s. Set off by her broken engagement, she enlists everyone in sight to set her up on blind dates in a passionate quest to meet just one really great guy. Armed with a 10-point list of dating criteria, skintight jeans, and flash cards on Nascar, football, and micro-breweries, she spends one full year doing the blind meet and greet. Names are changed to protect the rejected as she humorously dishes dot-com hotties, compulsive bloggers, and tattooed graduates of the Gene Simmons School of Dating. Bridget Jones would be proud of her American cousin.

“This book is fantastic! It was so breezy and fun, and will be an excellent beach read.” – Shelley Kurtz, KVAL-CBS, Eugene, OR Morning Anchor and long-time Pacific Northest Newscaster.

When I was approached by the WOW! Women On Writing blog tour coordinator about hosting a stop on Elizabeth’s tour, I was excited to have the opportunity to pick her brain. As a memoirist, I’m always curious to hear how other writers have approached putting their personal stories onto the page to be released into the world for all to read. So, I asked Elizabeth how difficult it was for her to relive embarrassing or uncomfortable experiences in her writing.

Elizabeth said: “Writing my memoir was not exactly pleasurable. I had to relive 77 dates. Um, that would be 77 blind dates that never parlayed into a second date. But I was on a mission. I had a plan and put it on the fast-track which ultimately netted a wedding ring and a published book, yet getting to that point was a bit emotionally grueling. I suffered through it in order to give women some inspiration, hope, and to provide you all with a fun story (at my expense)!

I kept in perspective that I was the protagonist in my own memoir, the tour guide. It was I who was driving the train out of dysfunction junction. This provided a lot of clarity for me which in turn motivated my internal drive to write the book. The funk turned into spunk. I worked through the prickly task of writing about one disappointing night after the next.

I did the classic show up and throw up. I sat at the computer with a Super Big Gulp perched next to me and out it all came. I just typed and typed. The finger strokes on the keyboard became rhythmic. Words appeared on the monitor and I was truly amazed at how fast the page filled.

Next, I corrected spelling. I used the Spell Checker function and cleaned it all up. Of course, this meant words spelled incorrectly might now be an entirely different word, but that occasionally gave me a fresh perspective and new direction. A word randomly would appear that triggered a new thought or two. I added and subtracted sentences to make it sparkle.

Finally, I read it all aloud, laughed at my wackiness, and changed sentences to make me laugh even louder. I kept on keepin’ on.

So what advice can I give a budding memoirist?

Write the narrative you feel passionate to write, and keep it private until you are finished. Don’t tell anyone you are writing a memoir. Protect your creativity.

Organize your writing into small chunks. Undertake your life one manageable portion at a time. Allow yourself to jot notes and craft bits that aren’t necessarily in chronological sequence. Don’t worry; the finished result will rock if you stay true to yourself.

Dig deep. Tell a story. Explain the details. Give the audience a picture. Yeah, it was Monday and you were heading to work. Were you in the car, bus, or on foot? What did you smell, see, or hear? Were you eating, drinking, or reading anything? Talk to us. Share your life. You, my friend, are interesting.”

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? If so, what personal story would you share? Or what would keep you from writing it?


ElizabethFornierAfter Elizabeth got over her dream of being a Solid Gold Dancer, she promptly headed into the local funeral home and asked for a job, any job. She became the live-in night keeper which meant she resided in a trailer in the far reaches of a large, hilly cemetery and slept with a shotgun near her bed. It was the scariest summer of her life.

She is currently the voice of the autopsy exhibit in the forensic wing at the United States National Museum of Medicine and a full-time mortician. She is also a ballroom dance instructor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. But she couldn’t resist writing the story of her unusual method of dating that led her to the love of her life.

To learn more, visit Elizabeth’s website and stop by her blog.


I’d like to welcome Writer’s Digest Book’s author George Singleton to Annette’s Paper Trail. George is new to the blogosphere, but brave enough to jump in with both feet! He is just gaining momentum on the blog tour for his latest book. Today, George offers his sage advice about staying current with literary trends.

peptalksIn Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers, acclaimed Southern story writer and novelist George Singleton serves up everything you ever need to know to become a real writer (meaning one who actually writes), in bite-sized aphorisms. It’s Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil meets Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s cough syrup that tastes like chocolate cake. In other words, don’t expect to get better unless you get a good dose of it, maybe two.

Accompanied by more than fifty original full-color illustrations by novelist Daniel Wallace, these laugh-out-loud funny, candid, and surprisingly useful lessons will help you find your own writerly balance so you can continue to move forward.

Read Contemporary, Literary Work If You Plan to Publish Contemporary, Literary Work

By George Singleton

I teach at a school wherein prospective students must send in a portfolio of ten or so pages of their own work, either poetry or fiction. They write an essay, also. Their high school counselors send in transcripts and letters of recommendation. Then, the students show up in February or March for an interview, plus a workshop where they’re given prompts, just to make sure that, indeed, they didn’t pay off someone to write a portfolio, et cetera.

In the interview, my chairperson Scott Gould and I always start with the same question: “Tell us what you’ve been reading.”

There are three camps, at least. There are the students who say, “I love that woman who wrote the Twilight series, and I love Stephen King, and I love Anne Rice.”

“Do you read any contemporary poetry?” we’ll ask. I don’t know why.

“Edgar Allen Poe!” will be the answer.

It’s not like we weren’t warned earlier, what with the vampires, zombies, cutters, slashers, unpronounceable character names, lack of rising action, ghosts, et cetera.

The members of the second group say things like, “I love Shakespeare. I love everything there is by Shakespeare. Shakespeare, Cotton Mather, Hawthorne, the Brontës,” and so on. They’ll name off every writer they’ve had to read in a regular high school English class.

“What about poets?”

What else: “Emily Dickinson!”

And then there are the students—who normally have high grade point averages—who say, “Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Tobias Wolff, Jill McCorkle, William Gay, Tom Franklin, Dale Ray Phillips, Wendy Brenner, Best American Shorts Stories, New Stories from the South, Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever, Thomas Pynchon, Madison Smartt Bell, Michael Parker, Jennifer Egan, Barry Hannah, Clyde Edgerton, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Stevie Almond, Cary Holladay, Moira Crone…”

We’ve not gone wrong with these students yet. Now, it’s important to know the writers of the canon—especially if you plan on being a contestant on Jeopardy!—but if one wishes to be published at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it might be helpful to know what kind of writing is being published in magazines, journals, and by the publishing houses.

Scott likes to say, “If you go get knee surgery, do you want a doctor who pores over medical journals from a hundred years ago, or one who keeps up with the latest medical technology and procedures?” There’s no better way to say it. If you wish to be published these days, shouldn’t you know trends, countertrends, audience needs, and the like? The only way I know how to fully get a grip on these things is to subscribe to a literary magazine or ten, plus the slicks, plus keep up with something like the New York Times Book Review.

Now, I understand that people are going to say to me, “Hey, that Twilight woman and Anne Rice and Nicholas Sparks make a whole lot more money than literary writers.”

My answer to that is always, “In America, we buy and consume a lot more bologna than we do filet mignon, but that doesn’t mean it’s better for us.”


Readers: Where do you weigh in? Mainstream or literary fiction? Would you rather leave your signature in tomes of timeless literature? Or have a million dollars worth of bologna in the bank?


george-singleton-lgGeorge Singleton is the author of four collections of shorts stories and two novels: These People Are Us (2001), The Half-Mammals of Dixie (2002), Why Dogs Chase Cars (2004), Novel (2005), Drowning in Gruel (2006), and Work Shirts for Madmen (2007). He has published one book of advice: Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds (2008). His stories have appeared in magazines such at The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, Book, Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Ninth Letter, and North American Review, among others. He’s had work anthologized in nine editions of New Stories from the South, plus Writers Harvest 2, A Dixie Christmas, They Write Among Us, 20 Over 40, Must Be This Tall to Ride, Love Is a Four-Letter Word, and Behind the Short Story: from First to Final Draft. His nonfiction has appeared in the Oxford American, Best Food Writing 2005, Dog Is My Co-Pilot, and Paste.

George lives in Dacusville, South Carolina with his clay-artist wife Glenda, 11 dogs, and a cat.

Visit his website at www.georgesingleton.com. And pick up a copy of Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds today!