Post by Candace Walsh
For the past 20 years, I’ve made my living playing with words, and if you want to do the same, I will be happy to guide and inspire you. In my classes, I’ll be bringing to the table my experience as an essay and memoir-writer, an anthology editor, a magazine editor (with all of its gifts of pragmatism and economy), and a social media expert.
One of my favorite parts of being an anthology editor was the feeling of being a den mother, of sorts, to the wonderful groups of writers who formed two distinct communities: those of Ask Me About My Divorce and Dear John: I Love Jane. I had worked with writers one-on-one as the features editor at Mothering magazine, mentoring and coaching hundreds of writers of varying experience levels, from a first-timer submitting a personal essay to a New York Times bestselling investigative journalist. And as the managing editor of New Mexico Magazine, I continue to collaborate with writers, intuitively co-creating story concepts and refining existing stories.
But when I was given the green light to write Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity (Seal Press, 2012), I was all alone. It was just me and the page, for 80,000 words. So I understand exactly how terrifying and arduous that is—as well as how transcendent and oh-so-worth-it.
The qualities that make my book, Licking the Spoon, connect powerfully to so many different kinds of people also inform my teaching. I’m a writer, an editor, I’m way into food, I’m mother of two grade-schoolers, a daughter, a sister. I survived and thrived after my parents’ divorce, various childhood traumas, and a brush with an eating disorder. I was married to a man for seven years, and then after my first marriage dissolved, I fell in love with a woman was fortunate enough to legally marry her in New York in 2011. Raised a born-again Christian, I fell away from it after high school. I went through an atheism phase, then was agnostic, and now subscribe to a loose amalgam of Vedic spirituality, animal medicine, and listening to my gut. I love to laugh, I never say never, and my wide range of life experiences informs both my writing and my teaching. Talking with writers about writing is my (totally non-stuffy) church.
Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat Classes:
Showing Up on the Page: Sex and Sexuality
When I was in seventh grade, I used to love poking around in my friend’s mom’s library. She had dozens of pulpy bestsellers stacked on her shelves, and I played the game of pulling one out and flipping around until I found a sex scene. My friend’s mom wasn’t home a lot, so I had lots of time to familiarize myself with the passages, which were torrid. I ignored the other parts of the books.
That taught me about a lot of interesting, racy boudoir practices, but it also taught me that I did not want to write those kinds of books, their steamy passages rendering the rest of the books pallid and humdrum.
To me, acknowledging sex and sexuality in story is not an act of exhibitionism—it’s about not omitting. Memoir serves up one’s life on a plate. Who we love, what turns us on—owning those glorious blooms of vitality, revealing them without shame—throws open the door to creativity. When we feel open about who we love and how we love, our writing voice is not shadowed. We also give permission for others to own their desire and its illuminating power.
So, how to both invite this powerful subject and keep it from upstaging our story? We’ll begin by charting our own individual maps of desire and attraction, from childhood on (sharing it is up to you).
We’ll look at examples, comparing and contrasting raw and and edited versions of Anais Nin’s diary entries, discussing their strengths and weaknesses.
The velvet rope between what is revealed and what is kept off the page will be examined…and each person’s is different. “Elegance is refusal,” said Coco Chanel, referring to getting dressed, but it has a corollary in memoir writing. There’s power in not sharing all, just as there’s power in revealing.
We’ll also talk about writing not so that we stay in our comfort zone for this life span, but writing for future audiences who will not be bound by the same set of social rules. Isn’t the most enduring writing that which was bold for its time?
2. Turn Your Passion into a Project
All three of my books erupted into being from my passions. With Ask Me About My Divorce, I wanted to embrace a divorce experience free of unnecessary shame and stigma, and I wanted others to do the same. With Dear John, I Love Jane, I wanted to read and tell the stories of women whose sexual orientation shifted unexpectedly and powerfully. And with Licking the Spoon, I wanted to talk about the power of food to shape our memories, identity, and life, in different ways over time.
My passionate proposals met with success, and my anthologies’ calls for submissions were met with enthusiastic replies, more than I could ever publish. And yet another circle—the readers—met and continue to meet the book with their own thrills of recognition, connection, and gratitude. It feels really good, and I want the same for you.
What’s the topic that lights you up? Is it a single-author memoir, or an anthology you want to assemble, or a web-based project? How can you tell if it has legs? How will you find your writing tribe and your reader tribe? These questions and more will be addressed, giving students clarity and a distinct course of action.