Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

Make Room for Laughter/ Take My Wife, Please . . .

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

When I opened Growing Up Laughing:  My Story and the Story of Funny by Marlo Thomas, I expected to read a celebrity memoir recommended by a friend of mine.  What I didn’t expect was to laugh all the way through the book with the jokes, the interviews with comedians, and the author’s own special brand of humor.

Thomas, whose father was the legendary comedian, Danny Thomas, writes of being a child hanging around her father and his famous funny friends.  He starred in the show “Make Room for Daddy” and later his daughter had her own television show in the 60s called “That Girl.”  

As a child, I grew up watching “That Girl”, and even wrote to Thomas requesting her autograph.  (Which I received on a mass-produced photo still in my childhood album.)  It was a break-through show, because Thomas did the first t.v. sitcom where a SINGLE WOMAN lived on her own without needing or wanting to be married.  BRAVO!  She had to fight the network male executives to do it, but she did.  And many of us young girls watching, appreciated and loved her for it.

But what I didn’t know then was that Marlo Thomas learned a heck of a lot of her comedy timing and techniques from  her famous father. 

“Dad adored making an audience laugh, but he also loved bringing them to a hush.  He used to tell me that a good storyteller knows how important the silences are, and is never afraid of them.  Dad controlled his audience like an orchestra conductor.  He was Mr. Cool.”

What does this have to do with writing your short story, poem, or personal narrative for our Young Writers Contest?  What does it have to do with writing your chapter book for children? 


Why?  Writing humor is the hardest thing in the world to write.  It’s all based on timing, and this timing is based on silences and pacing.   In fact, all writing is pacing.  So every time you sit down to write, make sure you read your work aloud when you are through.  Pretend YOU are a stand-up comic.  Even if you aren’t writing funny, pretend you are telling a story to a friend. 

Where should the pauses be?  Where should the excitement in your story “rev” up?  Where should it quiet down and relax?  Where should there be dialogue for character growth or tension? 

Many writers take acting classes.  To become actors?  No.  For the timing!  What was I in my other life?  I taught creative drama and improvisation.  I directed children’s plays.  It all ties together. 

So if teachers or editors comment on how you need better pacing, read your work aloud. Consider an improv or acting class.  Share your work with trusted writers to help you know when the pacing is right.  That’s what Marlo’s father did with his friends. 

Remember this about humor:

It’s based on the unexpected.   Misinterpretations of what someone says can be funny.  Humor is best when it’s based on character.  Humor is based on truth.  Exaggerate the everyday average to make it funny.  And finally, above all, have fun!

Ten Great Books I’ve Read this Year

Monday, December 20th, 2010
The following books are a mixture of books intended for adults, young adults and children.    I have marked the adult books.
In Franklin’s House by Beverly Lauderdale,  Oak Tree Press, 2010. 
(Marketed for adults)
Two stories interweave deftly; one at the turn of the century and one in present day with an intriguing and handsome ghostWhen the main character, Kate, discovers a 1906 diary and a lovely necklace, she accidentally stumbles into a portal of another world.  Romance, suspense and history plus a story evocative of the time and place. 
The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.   
Death narrates this book set in World War II Germany, when nine-year-old Liesel Meminger steals her first book, The Gravediggers Handbook
Charles and Emma  by  Deborah Heilgman , Henry Holt & Co., 2009.
An amazing nonfiction book that reads like a novel, we learn about the life and work of Charles Darwin and that of his wife, Emma. 
 Marcelo in the Real World  by Francisco X. Stork, Arthur A. Levine, 2009.
I was all set to dislike this book, because problem-novels “aren’t my thing.”  Surely a book on Asperger’s syndrome wouldn’t be something I’d delve into with excitement?  I’m pleased to announce I was very wrong.  With a powerful voice, strong characters and high tension, you’ll be swept into this story right through until the end.
One Crazy Summer  by Rita Williams-Garcia, Amistad, 2010.
Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two sisters fly from Oakland, California to stay with their poet mother, Cecile in 1968.  Cecile isn’t going to win the World’s Best Mother Award, so Delphine has to hold everything together.  Cecile’s mysterious work, the girls’ involvement in the Black Panther-run community center, and her relationship with her mother all grows into an unforgettable read. 
Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences  by Janis Bell, W.W. Norton and Co., 2009.
(Marketed for adults but should be used in schools too!)
Humorous and clearly written, the author shows the grammar and punctuation problems people need to learn.  Fun quizzes are at the back of each of the seven chapters.
 The Year of Living Biblically by  A.J. Jacobs, Simon & Schuster, 2008.
(Marketed for adults.)
Hysterical!   Written by an agnostic, although Jewish by birth, Jacobs will teach you more about yourself, the Bible, and make you question your own spirituality and religion than you ever thought possible.  He lives the Bible literally each day for one year. 
Growing Up by Russell Baker , Signet, 1992.
(Marketed for adults but I’m sure it’s used in high schools and middle schools.)
Pulitzer-winning Baker’s memoir about growing up between the two world wars is a “you-have-to-read-this-book” before you ever attempt to write your own memoir. 
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers  
(Marketed for adults and young adults.)
Twelve-year-old Frankie Adams grows up in the American South.  Character, emotions, and adolescence written richly and with grace.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Putnam, 2009.
(Marketed for adults) 
Although everyone I know has read this already, and a movie is on the way, I can’t help mentioning it.  Set in 1962 in Mississippi, I probably don’t need to say any more. 

Things you wish you would have said

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

You know the times when people say the darndest things to you and you want to reply but you:   1.  are shocked out of your socks 2.  struggling with yourself so you won’t be  incarcerated  for murder 3. couldn’t remember your middle name right now much less a witty retort.

Writing Prompt:

1. Here’s your chance to make it right.  Go back into your memory.  Replay that scene on paper.  Write exactly what happened.  Next, REWRITE the scene and say what you could have said to put them in their place. 

2.  Rewrite the scene and instead, write what you could say to create peace between the two of you.  How can you strengthen the bond instead of destroying it?  Be the better person.

3.  Write a fictional scene with two characters who are in conflict over something humorous. 

4.  Write a fictional scene with two characters who are in conflict over something serious but they come to a mutual understanding.

5. Read the original replies below.  Can you come up with any of your own?

The exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:   She said, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.” He said, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.” “That depends, Sir,” said Disraeli, “whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.”

“He had delusions of adequacy.”  Walter Kerr

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” Winston Churchill

“I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” Clarence Darrow

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”  William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.”  Moses Hadas

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”  Mark Twain

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.” Oscar Wilde

“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend…. if you have one.” George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second…. if there is one.”  Winston Churchill, in response.

“I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.” Stephen Bishop

“He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” John Bright

“I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.”  Irvin S. Cobb

“He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.”  Samuel Johnson

“He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.”  Paul Keating

“In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.” Charles, Count Talleyrand

“He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.”  Forrest Tucker

“Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” Mark Twain

“His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” Mae West

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” Oscar Wilde

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts . . . for support rather than illumination.”  Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

“He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” Billy Wilder

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” Groucho Marx

What’s Your Earliest Memory?

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

“Memory is the diary we carry around with us.” –Oscar Wilde

What’s your earliest memory?

Mine is when I was two years old.  I had bone surgery to correct a concave chest, so it wouldn’t grow too close to my heart.  Afterwards, I wore a cast from my neck to my hips.  I don’t recall anything of this hospital experience other than one moment in time when I tried to get a drink at a hospital water fountain.  (or in what we Southern Wisconsinites call a bubbler)

On my tippy-toes I perched, my mother pressing the handle of the fountain for me. My mouth open, the water streamed in front of me, just out of reach.  My tears flowed as fast as the water.  Mom picked me up, but the bulky cast was in the way.  No matter what angle we tried, it seemed I couldn’t get my mouth any closer.

I’m sure Mom found a cup so I could quench my thirst, but both she and I knew that it wasn’t the point of a bubbler.  Half the fun of bubblers are the uniqueness of the experience. 

And so we approach our writing in unusual ways to provide a unique experience for the reader – – and the writer.  If at first it doesn’t work one way, we try another.  Another voice, another place to begin, another conflict or character quirk. We may get frustrated along our journey, but at some point, we’ll either find the ah-ha moment and rejoice, or move on to another project.  Sometimes it just takes time to wait and find the place within yourself to discover that ah-ha moment.

May you always find the ah-ha moment in your work and if you don’t, at least learn something in each and every journey.  I think the reason I remember the bubbler incident is I learned a lesson that day.   Sometimes you don’t get what you want right away.  After the cast came off, there was the joy of many bubblers for me. 

May you have a joyful bubbler kind of writing day. 

Writing Workshops . . . Now Write!

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Attendance at the Young Writer Workshops were at an all-time high this year, with 33 students participating at the Concord Library’s event on January 30, and 52 middle schoolers creating short stories and personal narratives at Ygnacio Valley Library’s Workshop. 

Students came from all over Contra Costa County and even places such as San Jose, Saratoga, Manteca, Berkeley and Oakland.  Although any middle school student may come to the free workshops, only those who live in or attend schools in Contra Costa County may submit their poems, short stories and personal narratives/essays to the Young Writers Contest.  (Deadline, April 12)

Students wrote, shared their wonderful writing, asked questions about writing technique, how to become writers both now and later in their careers, and discovered tips about writing and the life of a writer.  

As to the contests, manuscripts are beginning to come in now.   We’re looking forward to reading them! 

Writing Ideas for you:


Write in the point of view of an object.  Personify this thing, giving it thoughts and feelings.  Remember, poems do not have to rhyme. 

Personal Narrative

Write about a moment where you experienced emotion.  It could be your first crush, a time you did something wrong and were caught, or a scary experience you had as a little child.  Write about this event, using sensory details.  Next, think about who you were when this happened to you.  Why did this memory stick with you?  Write about why you think this impacted you so deeply, and how it could have changed you for the better. 

Short Story 

Here’s the beginning of the story.  Finish it. 

Flames licked at the door.  “Quick! This way!” he yelled, coughing and ducking low to avoid the smoke.   Someone started this fire, I thought.  But who? 

The Essay Groan

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

A few years ago I spoke to a class at Walnut Creek Intermediate about the California Writers Club Young Writers Contest.  When I mentioned the essay category, the kids’ eyes glazed over and perhaps one or two of them snored.   Then I read one of the essays that won the year before and they jolted awake.  It was about a boy making a home run. 

“Why, that’s not an essay.  That’s a personal narrative,” said a student. 

“Is that what you call it?” I asked. 

For the past several years, our essay judges had mentioned they were receiving so many academic “teacher-type” assignments, they couldn’t figure out why.  Now I got it!  We were calling it by the wrong name for kids.  Although in the publishing world, adults knew what an essay could be, students were unaware of this. 

So send us your personal experiences in this category.   Use first person.  (“I”)  Brainstorm your memories that charge you with passion, emotion, excitement, or joy.  It doesn’t have to be a huge experience.  Sometimes the small moments in life are the most meaningful. 

Need ideas?  Flip through your scrapbook, diary/journal, or photo album.  Keep an idea book for every day thoughts and anecdotes that may happen to you.  With our busy lives these days, we forget about those times that pass us by but may be significant. 

Once I confessed our error to the students at Walnut Creek Intermediate, the students relaxed.  No teachery essays!  YAY!  They could write about anything they wanted to write about!  They could write about themselves!  The pressure was off!

So go to it.  And we can’t wait to read them! 

Questions?  Ask right here.

FREE Middle School Writing Workshop

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Are you a sixth, seventh or eighth grader who’d like to write the next HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT, or perhaps a story about you?  Then come and join our free writer’s workshop.  You have a choice of TWO dates and places!  You may either mail in your registration form below, or email it to me the necessary information:  [email protected]

                                            What: Young Writers Workshop

                                           An Interactive Writing Morning

 Who:   Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grade Students

When: Saturday, January 30, 2010      9:00 – Noon  

Where:  Concord Public Library, 2900 Salvio Street, Concord

Cost:  FREE!

 OR:   When:  Saturday, February 6, 2010     9:00 – Noon

Where:  Ygnacio Valley Public Library

2661 Oak Grove Rd., Walnut Creek 

Cost:  FREE!                                                                         

                                             Personal Narrative Vs. Short Story

How to Write a Page-Turning, Exciting, Fabulously Fantastic Account about YOUR LIFE  and/or a suspenseful, imaginative fictional short story.

Discover writing tips & secrets from the pros from two authors who love writing! You’ll also get a chance to ask questions about the publishing world, play a writing game, and meet other writers your age. 

Led by children’s authors Sarah Wilson & Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff

Visit them at  and 

Bring pen and paper and get ready to WRITE!

Attendees will be eligible to enter a drawing for a free book by the authors. 

Visit  or see below for the registration form.

California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch Young Writers Workshop 2010     

PLEASE PRINT   Check one.  

Jan 30 Concord _____  

Feb 6 Ygnacio Valley _____


Name _____________________________________________________

 Home Address _________________________________________________________

House/Apt. Number     Street             City                              Zip

Home Phone  ______________________   

E-mail ______________________________

School ____________________________________

Grade ________

Teacher’s First & Last Name ________________________________________________

Workshop space is limited.  Your reservation will be acknowledged by e-mail.

E-mail or snail mail this application form to:  [email protected] or [email protected]

CWC – Young Writers Workshop

P.O. Box 606

Alamo, CA  94507

Flash Prose Contest – Deadline April 15, 2010

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Fifth Annual Flash Prose Contest SPONSORED BY WRITER ADVICE,, is searching for flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction that grabs, surprises, and mesmerizes readers in fewer than 750 words. If you have a story or memoir with a strong theme, sharp images, a solid structure, and an unexpected discovery, please submit it to the WriterAdvice Flash Prose Contest. DEADLINE: April 15, 2010

JUDGES: Former prizewinners, Gabrielle Hovendon, Lisa Shafter, Katie Flynn, and Linda Weiford are this year’s judges. Read their pieces and biographies by clicking on the Archived Contest Entries button at

PRIZES: First Place earns $150; Second Place earns $75; Third Place earns $50; Fourth Place earns $25; Honorable Mentions will also be published.

All entries should be typed, double-spaced and submitted in hard copy, not e-mail. Entries must be postmarked by April 15, 2010.

Send them to B. Lynn Goodwin, WriterAdvice, P.O. Box 2665, Danville, CA 94526. You may enter UP TO THREE stories. Enclose a $10 check for EACH entry made payable to B. Lynn Goodwin. This will help defray the costs of the contest.

 If no prizes are awarded, checks will be refunded. Include a separate cover sheet with your name, address, phone number, current e-mail address, and each story title. Please include only your title top of each page of your story. Finalists will be asked to submit a brief biography as well as an e-mail copy of the story. Names of all winners will be announced in the summer issue of WriterAdvice, SPECIAL

PERK: All entries accompanied by an SASE will be returned with brief comments. E-mail questions, but not submissions to editor B. Lynn Goodwin at [email protected].

Calling Students, Teachers, Readers, Writers and MORE!

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch
Announces a FREE opportunity for students, educators and readers to meet published authors – – – and students, how to win hundreds of dollars by writing!
Saturday, November 28, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Pleasant Hill Barnes and Noble
522 Contra Costa Blvd. (Phone: 925-609-7060)

*Students! Discover how YOU can win $$$ by writing poems, short stories, or personal narratives!

*Learn how you can take a FREE writing workshop taught by authors Sarah Wilson and Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff.

*Find out answers to questions about writing, publishing, agents, and how YOU can become a published writer!

*Uncover published authors’ writing secrets!

* Receive guidelines for the Young Writers Contest for middle school students and sign-up forms for FREE workshops.

*Get autographs from authors!

Schedule: 11 a.m. – Noon
Nannette Rundell Carroll – Communication and Business Author
Margaret Grace – Author of Mystery Series
Noon – 1 p.m.
Nannette Rundell Carroll – Communication and Business Author
Barbara Bentley – Memoir Author
1 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Ellen Leroe – Young Adult Author
Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff – Picture Book Author
4 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Barbara Bentley – Memoir Author
Lynn Goodwin – Journaling Author
5 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Margaret Grace – Author of Mystery Series
Lynn Goodwin – Journaling Author

Ask the Experts! Pleasant Hill Barnes and Noble, Nov. 28

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Where should you send your literary mystery? How should you find a critique group locally? Is there an agent right for YOU? What’s the first thing you should do if you want to write a picture book?

As a middle grade student in Contra Costa County, I want to win $100, $50 or $25 in the Young Writers Contest! How can I do this? Can you give me tips? Advice? Techniques? Secrets?

Where can you get all of these questions answered and MORE?

Come to Pleasant Hill’s Barnes and Noble on Saturday, November 28. Yes! The Saturday after Thanksgiving! From 11 a.m. through six p.m.

Schedule of authors:

11 – Noon Nannette Carroll, author of Communication to Go!
Nonfiction Expert
11 – Noon Margaret Grace Miniature Mystery Series

Noon – 1 pm Nannette Carroll

Noon – 1 pm Barbara Bentley A Dance With the Devil; Memoir Expert

1 pm – 2 pm Ellen Leroe Dear Big V; Young Adult Expert

1 pm – 2pm Liz Koehler-Pentacoff Jackson & Bud’s Bumpy Ride; Children’s Expert

2pm – 3 pm Ellen Leroe & Liz Koehler-Pentacoff

3 pm – 4 pm Barbara Bentley

3 pm – 4 pm Lynn Goodwin Journaling for Caregivers
Journaling Expert
4 pm – 5 pm Lynn Goodwin & Barbara Bentley

5 pm – 6 pm Margaret Grace & Lynn Goodwin