Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mini-Memoirs: How to tell your story in fewer than 1000 words, Guest Post by David Berner

Welcome David Berner, author of There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets.

How to tell your story in fewer than 1000 words.
by David W. Berner

Short is sweet. Concise is nice. Brevity is the soul of wit. There are many reasons to keep your story short, and even if your narrative encompasses years of a life, there are merits to writing the short-form personal essay either as a stand alone entity, or as a piece of the bigger puzzle of a full-blown memoir.

Many years ago, a mentor of mine gave me a great bit of advice. I was overwhelmed with the organizational nightmare of writing a 50,000-word memoir about the time I had spent teaching in a troubled Chicago-area school district. At the time it was the biggest project I had ever attempted.

“Write it piece-by-piece, one moment at a time,” he said.

We remember in moments. So, the idea is to write that way—moment by moment. A memory is a single scene in the larger film of our life, so when writing memoir or a personal essay focus on just that one, singular scene. Approach it with honesty, authenticity, and do not try to say everything you always wanted to say in that short experience. Stay in the moment. For many writers, this might be a 5000-word scene or one of 3000 words. But shaving that story down to 1000 words or fewer will help laser in on the scene’s true meaning and, maybe most importantly, force you to choose the perfect words, construct precise descriptions, and hone in on only what is essential. This doesn’t mean you have to forego the reflective moment in the narrative—that deeper truth—because you are trying to keep the story brief. It simply means the reflection might have to come in one well-crafted sentence instead of four or five paragraphs or an entire page. Think of the reflection as what one writing coach called it—an instant of insight.

This genre is sometimes called “flash memoir” and it is becoming quite popular in literary journals and at online memoir publications. The short form is much more digestible for the reader and editors are embracing it. Brevitymag.com is the king of these publications. It calls itself a “journal of literary nonfiction” and asks for submissions of 750 words or less. That’s really shrinking the narrative. But there also have been entire memoirs written in this form, small memories coming in individual chapters gathered together into a larger manuscript. The author Abigail Thomas has written several memoirs in this form—What Comes Next and How to Like It and Safekeeping, to name two of them. There’s also a wonderful memoir entitled Ghostbread by Sonja Livingston. Each chapter is a tiny, small moment in time. The opening chapter is fewer than 200 words.

Many times the beauty of a story is in its simplicity. When it is told in its purest, rawest form it can resonate more freely. Super-short memoir allows for this and permits the writer and the reader to think only of that particular moment in time, just that one human experience and what it means in the larger story of a life.

Thank you David Berner for sharing this informative post on the fine art of short and sweet!
Also, thank you to WOW - Women on Writing for providing this stop on David's blog tour!

About the Author: 

David W. Berner is a journalist, broadcaster, teacher, and author of two award-winning books: Accidental Lessons, which earned the Royal Dragonfly Grand Prize for Literature, and Any Road Will Take You There, which was a Grand Prize Finalist for the 2015 Hoffer Award for Books. Berner’s stories have been published in a number of literary magazines and journals, and his broadcast reporting and audio documentaries have aired on the CBS Radio Network and dozens of public radio stations across America. He teaches at Columbia College Chicago.

 Book Summary:

A book of essays by award-winning author and journalist David W. Berner is the next best thing to storytelling around a bonfire. In There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard, Berner shares stories of “a life in pets”—from a collie that herds Berner home when the author goes “streaking” through the neighborhood as a two-year-old, to a father crying in front of his son for the only time in his life while burying the family dog on the Fourth of July. And from the ant farm that seems like a great learning experience (until the ants learn how to escape), to the hamster that sets out on its own road trip (but only gets as far as the dashboard). Along the way, Berner shows that pets not only connect us with the animal world, but also with each other and with ourselves. The result is a collection of essays that is insightful and humorous, entertaining and touching.
Buy links:

Print or Ebook: Amazon

Print copy only: Dream of Things

Paperback: 138 Pages
Genre: Memoir, Pets, Essays
Publisher: Dream of Things (April 23, 2015)
ISBN-10: 0990840719

Twitter hashtag: # HamsterDash


For more information about blog blog hostess, Audry Fryer,

please visit www.audryfryer.com

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

OCD: How This Super Power Can Be Used for Good or Evil, Guest Post by Eric Trant

Welcome Eric Trant , author of Steps, with an insightful guest post on the positive side of OCD.
OCD: How This Super Power Can Be Used for Good or Evil
by Eric Trant
Here's what my doctor said about OCD:
I would never have made it through med school without being a little bit OCD.
But let's back up. What is OCD? It is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, hyphenated, by God. It is characterized by an intense need, a desire, an emotional demand, that we complete some task or ritual, lest our head explode. For instance, I am an obsessive tapper. I tapped so much that in school the teachers threw things at me. They confiscated my pens and made me stick my hands in my pockets. Later in life, now in my working years, I am known as the pen-twirler. I substitute pen-twirling for tapping, and if you are in a meeting with me, I am that guy spinning the pen, spin-spin-spinning. I cannot, will not sit still, lest I explode in a burst of confetti with the blurt of a horn. That's me. I'm the fidgety one.
We call it a disorder, but I debate that point. OCD is only a disorder when put to foul use. It can consume you with the treacheries of cutting, alcoholism, drug addictions, or direct you to odd, time-wasting activities on the internet. (Why, hello, there.)
It can be subtle, such as an obsession with food, and I do not mean obesity. That is the obvious obsession. I mean obsession with calorie counting, workouts, and an insistence on maintaining a well-balanced, healthy body and lifestyle.
Now hold on, that last part does not sound so bad, does it? Maybe if taken to the extreme, if you are that guy or gal who is always pick-poking others (or yourself) about diet, weight and exercise, yeah, you might turn ~healthy~ into a dirty word.
But if we temper desire with mental discipline, we hammer steel compulsion into something sharp and wieldy.
First, how do we do that? How do we rein in those impulses? Well, it takes mental acumen, and by that, I mean you need to trick your mind. Allow yourself to become obsessed with something healthy, rather than something destructive. For instance, why not sic that OCD beast onto the fruit and veggie aisle? Sic it on some research about your food, what's really in those cardboard boxes and plastic wrappings, and you might dissolve that junk-food habit in the water of your newly-found obsession with foods that rot.
This may lead you down the path of weight loss, which many of us, most of us, in fact, probably most likely I'm almost certain all of us, keep constantly in the back of our mind. It is fresh on my mind, because I recently did just this, and it has worked splendidly. I became obsessed with grapefruits in the morning, eggs and grits (yum), oranges, apples, grapes, carrots and baby tomatoes. I let myself obsess, just a little, about my diet, then angled that same energy toward a revived exercise program. I soon found myself on an overgrown track leading up the mountain, toward the peak I decided I wanted to reach.
The fact is, you cannot succeed at ~anything~ unless you maintain a healthy obsession with achieving that goal.
Unless you are obsessed with a goal, just a little, you will never, never get there. Obsession generates a flame of passion that allows you to blow through the fog of doubt and adversity. You put your head down and plunge forward. No other emotion attaches jets to your heels like obsession, just be careful to aim that energy toward a healthy, reasonable, achievable goal.
Let's take writing, for example. I write. Writers feel a compulsion to write, and they will be happy to confirm this, just ask. "I write because I have to." That's what they will say, because every last one of them, of us, suffers from that ~disorder~ of OCD.
It is an obsession with grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. It is a compulsion with run-ons, no, with simple sentences, no, with first-person present tense, no, with fantasy, no, with... and so on. It is a miserable, wonderful, beautiful, undeniable disorder.
I love my disorder.
If I miss my morning writing ritual, I feel emotionally and intellectually constipated the rest of the day. Sometimes, as with now, as with the writing of this post, I miss my ritual owing to circumstances beyond my control. This morning we unpacked. Yesterday we travelled, after packing up camp, after camping for several days with no writing, with me penning up the pen, unwilling to trample valuable family time beneath such self-absorbed activities as writing.
No, I corralled the OCD, let it snort every morning, stomp its hooves and kick the gate. Now, this afternoon, after the vacation is over, I released it onto this post to stretch its legs for tomorrow morning's return to the blank page and that blinking cursor, that vertical line that laughs with each pulse as it idles before the next word untyped.
It is my OCD, always on my shoulder, my muse, my worms digging the dirt, stirring, always stirring, keeping the ground moist and supple such that a hand can carve out a hole for a finger to poke, for a seed to be buried, for a weed or a flower or a tree to blossom and grow.
It is my disorder, my diagnosis, as my doctor would tell you. She said that first bit many years ago, that her OCD helped her through medical school, but that she worried about me because I might take it too far. I might obsess over money, bills, relationships, and so forth, and for a while, I did. She offered the standard allopathic bottle of chemicals designed to dull the edge of something nature spent hundreds of thousands of years honing, for reasons always one step beyond our own evolution.
Personally, I believe OCD is a super-power. And like all super-powers, it can be used for good, or for evil
I told my doctor just that. I passed on the chemicals, even though I am a chemist, a chemical engineer, even though I appreciate the coolness of how those pharmaceuticals are manufactured and how they slide along the edge of nature's blade.
I then, many years ago, made that conscious choice to use my power for good, and not for evil. It is a constant, constant battle, as any of my compatriots will tell you, but it is a battle worth fighting, with rewards well beyond what others might achieve with their flat-lined emotions and lack of disorders.
I will leave you with this final thought.
Genius and sanity are incompatible.
By definition, genius means one who is significantly different. They are abnormal. They are disordered. Most of them suffer OCD well beyond what any of us writing or reading this post can appreciate, or understand, because all of them are evolved just one tiny step further than we are.
And all of them use that power for good.
I would love to hear your thoughts concerning OCD. Did you saddle the elephant and ride, or cower beneath its feet as it trampled your life? (I think we've all been on both sides of that elephant.) Is OCD hyphenated, or not?

Thank you Eric Trant for this post which I can subtly identify with some of my own traits!
Also, thank you WOW-Women on Writing for providing this stop on Eric Trant's blog tour!

Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Wink and Steps from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric's work at


Steps is a well written science fiction novel you won’t want to put down. Following the Peacemaker family through their battle of survival will keep you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what obstacle is next.

Society is falling to a ravaging virus, and the Peacemaker family is stranded in the mountains of Arkansas. Forced to band with a group of deserted soldiers, they battle to survive starvation, apocalyptic cataclysms, and a growing number of dangerously infected wanderers. 

As their dwindling number struggles against ever-increasing odds, they realize they are not alone in the wilderness. A large creature is present in the hills, at first seen only as a fleeting shadow. 

Now the family not only faces impending death from the unstoppable virus, they must also deal with the mysterious giant, whose footprints signify that he knows where they are.

Paperback: 218 Pages
Genre: Sci Fi
Publisher: WiDo Publishing (May 21, 2015)

Twitter hashtag: # StepsTrant
Steps  is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon 
For more information about blog hostess, Audry Fryer,