Guest Post: Travis Erwin talks about tips for memoirs

It's been far too long since I had a guest post up, and this one is especially exciting. Travis was one of the first people I connected with when I started blogging in 2008 (it helped that his blog consistently made me giggle), and he recently released his first book, The Feedstore Chronicles.  

EDIT: I forgot to say, he also blogs at One Word, One Rung, One Day, and Lettuce is the Devil. Both blogs are hilarious.

To celebrate, I invited him over to the blog to talk about that trickiest of writing genres: the memoir.

Memoirs. The hybrid genre that dwells in the shadowy land between fact and fiction. Stick too close to the facts ma’am, only the facts and you end up with something drier and more dull than Dr. Phil. But stray too far from reality, and you get freyed alive in Oprah’s chair.

Like all writing, you can get away with most anything in a memoir if you do it well enough, but here are a five basic tips that served me well while creating my recently published memoir, THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES.

1)Stoke That Smoldering Ego Until It’s A Roaring Fire.

Writing, at least with publication in mind is an egotistical act. I didn’t want to think so, and for years I denied this fact but you can’t expect a reader to invest hours of time, not to mention hard earned money, by reading 50, 60, or a 100K words that came straight from your mind without a bit of ego. And if you are the central character driving that story then you can’t even hide behind the screen of fiction. You are standing out in the spotlight saying, no screaming, “I AM A PERSON WORTH GETTING TO KNOW! I HAVE A STORY TO TELL AND EVERYONE SHOULD HEAR IT!”

There is no room for … who would wanna read about me … or my story is nothing special train of thoughts in memoir writing. Because guess what. If you are unsure you can bet your sweet bippy potential readers will be as well.

2)Find That Unique Angle, Seize Upon It, and Build From There.

THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES is a coming-of-age tale about a teenage boy. That fact alone wouldn’t be enough to get even my momma to read it. Heck, every man alive was once a teenage boy that eventually grew up and matured. But not every man worked in a dusty Texas feedstore for the world’s most morally corrupt boss. I dare there is no single person on earth that has fought an angry emu, failed at feeding the chickens-Candy Bailloux style, and been arrested over a quarter inch of backwashed fuzzy naval. It was my environment, combined with my perspective that created the story.

Grab hold of the unique experiences of your past. Examine them, twist them, look closely from several different angles and consider what someone from the outside looking in would find interesting about your stories. Then maximize those elements. You are the only person in the world to have your set of experiences so that alone makes your story unique. If you present it that way.

3)Write Like Yo Momma Is Dead

A writing mentor gave me this advice early on and it’s a rock solid theory. No one ever wants their mom to read the sex scene they’ve written but trust me when you are an active participant in that sex scene that trepidation is multiplied. By the time I sat down and started writing THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES I had already penned four novels and one other creative non-fiction project of book length. None of which were published. So it was easier to convince myself, to go ahead write what I wanted. It’s not like anybody else will ever read it anyway, I thought.

I’m now proud to say I lied to myself with all those false reassurance, but the manuscript and now book is better for them. Leaving things out of a story for fear of what others will think is the literary equivalent of leaving eggs out of your cake recipe because they once fell out of a chicken’s arse. So go ahead, crack open the nasty things and dump ‘em in there. They add texture.

4)The Common Denominator

You’ve found that unique angle and started building your world around it. That’s a good thing, but now you have to find some common ground. Readers want to relate to your story and character so you must give them things they can understand. You must find ways for them to sympathize, commiserate, and/or bond with you as the narrator.

Not every teenage boy has been trapped in a tiny room while a good-looking middle-aged vet masturbates a well endowed bulldog. Yes, that is a scene from Chapter 1 of THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES. But everyone has been embarrassed teenager at some point. An effective author paints the embarrassment in such away the reader can feel their own cheeks reddening as they read the story. Human emotions are the same regardless of the environment that spawned them. A story without emotion is indeed a soulless tale.

5)Grab That Shovel

Chances are your memoir is going to be written about a time from your not too near past. And memories can be tricky things. So to help refresh your mind you may need a few reminders. Listen to the music you listened to in the time period set. Watch a few movies from that timeframe. If possible visit the places you are writing about. Talk to old friends.

As the little things start to add up, forgotten truths begin to materialize. Names, experiences and feeling begin to trickle back into your consciousness and with them comes flavor your memoir will need.

My memoir was released by TAG Publishing on November 1st. Here is a shot of the cover and the back cover blurb.

Most coming-of-age stories are fraught with symbolism, hidden metaphors, and a heaping mound of other literary devices. Not this one. Not mine. You see, I came of age while working at a dusty Texas feedstore. A place where To Kill a Mockingbird involved a twelve-year-old and a BB gun. Of Mice and Men was a problem easily solved with rat poison. And David Copperfield was nothing more than a dude that made shit disappear.  
In the spring of 1989, I went to work at Pearl's Feed and Seed for a man named Doyle Suggs. On the surface Doyle and I had little in common: I was a rosy-cheeked boy of sixteen; he was a twice-divorced, thirty-year-old high school dropout. I had yet to go on my first date; he was trading sex for horse feed in the back room. Sure, Doyle was a lout, a liar, and a lecherous derelict. To this day, he remains the most morally bankrupt man I've ever met, yet my life wouldn't be half as blessed, had I missed out on his misguided education. The Feedstore Chronicles is a mostly true account of those days and when murderous ex-wives, well-hung bulldogs, and feed room fornication were all part of a normal day at Pearl's.

The book is available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other book retailers.

Thank you Travis!

Travis will be in and out all day to answer questions, so if you want to know more about memoirs, feedstores or coming of age stories, leave a comment!

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