This is no way to decorate

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I used to have a lovely authentic Japanese kimono on this wall at the foot of our bed. Then one day I carried it to the spare bedroom where I draped it over a mirror and then put up the rows of painters tape you see here. Now every morning I wake to the unavoidable sight of my job. That giant self-assigned project I’ve been working on….my book.

This is a diagramatic representation of every story and every turning point in my memoir as directed by Blake Snyder in his book on screenwriting, Save the Cat. He has chapter after chapter discussing the virtues of deliberately laying out a story in order to measure the pacing and to be sure the critical elements that move a story forward are present and are effectively tied to one another. He’s the one who recommended this wall.

Some days when I open my eyes first thing in the morning, I’m disappointed to see the decorating that must be driving my husband crazy. (Why didn’t I do this in the spare bedroom and leave the kimono in our room?) Other days I so clearly see my progress and know that the most recent switching of sticky notes was correct and the story solidly conveys the themes I intend.

Sometimes after a long daydream or walk in the woods I run upstairs to see just what order I have arranged certain elements, or if the big climax is really where I think it is. Other days I have to see if my favorite story made the cut or after all the shuffling I’ve done it made the reject basket instead. I am using this wall to check points in my book proposal, or to see if what I told my agent makes sense.

I love this wall of bad decorating even though I look forward to the day the kimono goes back up.

 

Is it possible to be more romantic than this?

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Paris Opera House Ceiling

Everything about this moment was romantic. It wasn’t enough just to be back in Paris thirty-five years after we’d honeymooned there, but we were also staying at the same hotel and stopping in at Fouquet’s, the same place on the Champs-Elysee we’d stumbled onto late one night when we were newlywed where we had chocolate mousse we hadn’t ever forgotten.

No, all that wasn’t romantic enough.

My husband thought we should have a date out on the town and lined up a trip to the opulent Paris Opera Garnier. We donned our fanciest travel clothes and sat beneath the blessing of Marc Chagall’s colorful celebration of art itself.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the program that night, an homage to Jerome Robbins, harkened back to our early days. As newlyweds we often attended the New York City ballet at their outdoor summer home at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. The staging of “Glass Pieces” in particular was so familiar that it took my breath away to know I was in Paris, France, at the Opera House, with my boyfriend who was still following me around and delighting me with his thoughtfulness and kindness and shared joy of all things artistic, that I could barely watch through the tears in my eyes.

We left that night, awed by the layered gilded building, the rainbow of Chagall’s ceiling, the drama of ballet and the deep thankfulness in our hearts for one another and for the great good fortune to be able to hold each other’s hands still and take it all in.

I Don’t Have an Actual Job but I Pretend I Do at Home

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Draft of my manuscript and notes from a meeting with my latest beta reader.

Apparently my high school superlative award is very important to me! My classmates thought I could eventually get something done so I keep a framed picture of this yearbook drawing near my desk for emotional support. I’d hate to let them down.

They should not be worried though because I don’t seem to be giving up on this project. My latest beta readers have provided feedback after I completed a major restructuring of the story this July. It took a whole year because I read three books on the craft of writing after a Simon and Schuster editor suggested I needed attention to the underlying themes. I took notes on each book then applied those notes to the manuscript, then rewrote and reworked and reconsidered. That editor was quite right and I am forever grateful to her for taking the time to comment. Now I have addressed those themes and my beta readers have noticed.

I paraphrase below what one of my recent readers said.

“You have a phenomenal resolution to the circumstances of your story, showing tremendous strength and courage as you face the dragons and giants of your life and try to connect with them. So many people would benefit from your story because it shows a person can come out of terrible circumstances and rise above them,offering hope while working towards reconciliation.”

So, for all of you high school friends out there who thought I was most likely to succeed, do not give up yet. I’m almost there.

 

Great writing should not put you to sleep!

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My sister’s cats sleeping together!

I recently learned of a podcast that is pretty funny and useful for settling down. It is called Sleep With Me  (https://www.sleepwithmepodcast.com/.) There are hundreds of episodes and it is designed to help people fall asleep by telling really boring stories. These are “bedtime stories to help grown ups fall asleep in the deep dark night.”

The one I listened to was called “Baked Beans: The Adventures of Mr. Triangle and Isosceles.” A town of math-appreciating people will see a show that they must pay for with cans of baked beans, but there is trouble when it is realized that the wagon scheduled to carry all the cans of baked beans cannot stand the load. This story, told by a man who drolls on and on, often stumbling around for words and deftly emphasizing little parts of speech that make you stop and question what you just heard, breaks all the rules of writing by never getting to the point, using mindless dialogue, reiterating points and leaning on cliches.

The other one I heard was called something like “20 Steps to Self-Skin Care” and the first ten minutes were devoted to applying one’s fingertips to the face very deliberately and specifically in order to execute a light massage he called “running through Strawberry Fields.” It’s hilarious and relaxing and soporific.

I am planning on sharing this with the students in the Creative Writing class come Fall because it really drives home the idea that good writing should not put one to sleep.

Wedding Love Altar

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This is the “love altar” I created as a centerpiece for my son’s recent wedding. A number of women special in their lives were invited to make a table decoration that reflected the love they feel in their lives and particularly as it relates to either the bride or the groom. Each table had a different creation but all had a crystal as the centerpiece. After the wedding the bride and groom took home the crystals and now have a centerpiece there, of crystals, to take into their future that are charged with the love of family and friends.

My card reads, “The authentic bird’s nest here represents the happy home that the bride and groom have created that will serve as the foundation for their love going forward. Mom’s love, the groom’s love for his bride, and her love for him, are sometimes expressed through baking, thus the spatula. Worn but faithful, Spot, is present at this wedding as a reminder of the security found among old friends. They joy, laughter and sense of extended family is tied up in one Wise and Otherwise playing card. The wooden photo frame made by and depicting the groom’s great-great-grandfather hints at the groom’s own creativity, a source of solution should trouble arise. And the idea, no matter how lame, of the groom’s parents as Brazilian dancers, suggests you do not have to be great at what you do together, you just have to mean it.”

Believing in yourself is half the battle

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I’ve heard that creative people are creative in multiple ways and so we should not be surprised to find that Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan also paint pictures. But when you are struggling to be the artist you imagine yourself to be, like me, writing a memoir and telling a story I very much want to share, finding that I have hidden talents is confirmational.

In cleaning out an old trunk in the spare bedroom I came upon this drawing I made when I was sixteen. I’d forgotten that I once believed myself capable of such creations because honestly, right now, I can barely play Pictionary. But possibly if I renewed that notion that I can draw and I put my mind to it, I might win a few rounds.

This sketch is the result of the one drawing class I had in high school, with Robin Burkhardt, who insisted it was about taking the time and seeing clearly. And voila, she was kind of correct! This Bonwit Teller department store ad is a direct mimic of one I saw in the newspaper at the time. The coloring-outside-the-lines I allow occasionally suggests a little artsyness!

Believing in yourself is half the battle.

 

I am a guest blogger today!

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This year, as before, I attended the Hippocamp Writers Conference in Lancaster, Pa and met some wonderful authors and fellow writers. Lisa Romeo is a workshop leader whose program I was most interested in attending because she spoke about using essays and other short works to create a longer piece such as a novel or memoir. She did not disappoint as she walked us through her method of opening up and stretching out essays to insert more story and create longer and more compelling drama.

We ended up at lunch together and I told her about my job at the high school coaching students on their writing. She invited me to write a guest post for her blog, Lisa Romeo Writes, and it appears today at http://lisaromeo.blogspot.com/2018/11/guest-blogger-jane-paffenbarger-butler.html.

Take a look!

Hippocamp 2018 Writer’s Conference thrilled me

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This year’s creative nonfiction writer’s conference, Hippocamp 2018, in Lancaster, PA was wonderful. I was particularly delighted with two contacts I made, both offering future collaboration on projects I am thrilled about. This doesn’t even cover the many other writers I met who were fun, inspiring, and helpful, the great speakers, and finding some wonderful books for sale at the book table.

One of the notable speakers was Lisa Romeo, who gave a talk titled, “Reconstruction: Transforming Essays into a Narrative Memoir Manuscript.” I’ve attended her workshops before and always, she had plenty of very useful information to share. This year’s topic, well it is precisely what I need to know right now: how to use what I have already written to recraft the story I want to tell. After the talk I spoke with her further, then ended up at a lunch table with her later in the day. We hit it off so well that she asked me to write a guest blog post for her blog, Lisa Romeo Writes (http://lisaromeo.blogspot.com/) about my job as a theme reader at the local high school. I am thrilled to tell people about the cool job I get to do as a writing coach to young people, that also supports my own interest in writing.

The second wonderful encounter I had was with Alexander Monelli who held a session titled, “Call the Doc: How Documentary Filmaking Can Help Creative Writing.” Well, I love documentaries, so sitting in a class where we discussed their structure was fascinating. It was actually a bit frustrating, though, because the instructor kept stopping the video to make a point about how the narrative was developed just as the story was most compelling! Got to watch those online to see how they end up!  (https://www.monellifilms.com/) During the course of a Q&A I realized he might be the perfect person to talk to about producing a short book trailer for my memoir. My book proposal, which goes to various editors, promises that I will put a book trailer on my website once the book is published. Yikes! What was I thinking! No problem, Alex told me, he’d be willing to work with me to put it together. Yay! This story will be continued…