Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat Classes:
Getting Out Of Your Own Way / Overcoming Fear and Rejection and Turning Your Very Worst Moments Into Money
“In this class I deconstruct the radical decision to turn your worst moments into money in the form of a memoir that many many people really really don’t want you to write. Using personal anecdotes and writing existences, I will lay myself bare and describe how and why I wrote my divorce memoir, what I kept in and left out (and why) and the process of having it legally vetted by my publisher. I will take students through all the submission and editorial steps of sending a memoir to press. I intend to galvanize students to own their experiences and give them hard won advice on how to do it without ending up in shackles, either real or imagined.
I will also discuss rejection and how as writers we must embrace rejection as our very best friend and as a child of our heart and art. I will bring my thick folio of rejection letters and my article on rejection that ran in O Magazine. I will describe my process – which is not at all unusual – wherein my memoir was rejected (repeatedly) and was first in fact written as a novel (out of fear) before emerging as a memoir and having multiple bids by major publishers. How rejection and revisions happened with all three of my books — and most importantly, how to somehow deal with it and go on to press. I will encourage and explain students how to traverse these flaming hoops and press on regardless. (Another) Extensive and brutally honest Question and Answer period will make up the last third of this class.” Instructor: Suzanne Finnamore
Food for Thought
“A juicy story. Starving for love. Eat your heart out. The English language is rich in gustatory metaphors that bespeak the enduring connection between food and feeling, the link between our culinary and emotional lives. This workshop will engage writers in an exploration of their own food memories as a source of memoir through focused exercises, brief readings, and in-class discussion of that most enduring object of our affection—food.” Instructor: EJ Levy
Memoir as Survival Guide: Writing a First-Person Book That’s Useful to Readers
“We’re all imperfect experts in something. Whether you want to add a first-person element into a how-to book, write your memoir with an eye toward inspiring your readers, or something in between—we’ll learn to tap areas of our experience we might not even consider ourselves “experts” in as we merge memoir with survival guide.” Instructor: Ariel Gore
Showing Up On the Page: Writing About 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?” Instructor: Candace Walsh
Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts: The Multiple-Narrative Memoir
“Is your memoir not one story but two? Are you a bit daunted by the idea of writing a memoir with multiple narratives? Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, David Shields’ The Thing About Life is One Day You’ll Be Dead, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Claire Dederer’s Poser and Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge are just a few examples of memoirs that twine together more than one storyline very effectively. In this hands-on class we will discuss techniques for weaving together multiple narratives and the benefits and drawbacks of doing so.” Instructor: Theo Pauline Nestor
Structure: Without It You’re Lost
“Wherein I explain that memoir writing is not wandering through the forest of your memory without a compass or map…how not all of us are genius prose poets who can free associate our way to a cohesive text or compelling story. I will offer sturdy advice on how structure, like the chassis of a car, can and will transport both writer and reader to a place of wonder and enlightenment. How without structure you will flail and falter and drift into the night.
Using my first book, Otherwise Engaged and my third book, Split: A Memoir of Divorce, as prime examples, I will demonstrate how structure took me from the blank page (and in the case of my memoir, a place of chaos and emotional desolation) to a tight manuscript, an author’s advance from Knopf and Penguin Worldwide, and eventually to recognition and Oprah’s Book Club. I will also expound on my own recipe for creating not just structure but a cinematic feeling that will create tension and hook the reader in from page one. (How To Write A Scene: THE NECKLACE THEORY.) An Extensive and brutally honest Question and Answer period will make up the last third of this class.” Instructor: Suzanne Finnamore
The Language of Your Life: How Your Unique Voice Shapes and Defines Your Story
“When you pick up a book by a favorite author and read those first few lines, you already recognize the voice, don’t you? Whether we’ve ever met them in person, the language and humor of writers like Anne Lamott, Frank McCourt, Maya Angelou or David Sedaris come through like old friends. What is distinctly “you” in your writing? Do you tell stories verbally differently than you might tell them when you get to the computer. We’ll work with our regional and subcultural language quirks, humor, and reading aloud as ways to hone our literary styles and look at the way voice itself can change and define our stories.” Instructor: Ariel Gore
“Every age reinvents its literary forms, so how can we as writers update the memoir form to reflect our increasingly visual and technological culture? How can we reinvigorate our prose in ways that deepen our art and expand our formal options? In our image-inundated twenty-first century, most contemporary prose still shies away from engaging the visual aspects of literary art. This workshop will offer participants a chance to explore the intersection of the visual and textual, as we experiment with making meta-narratives by refracting personal stories through the lens of non-literary forms. Workshop will include focused exercises, brief readings, and in-class discussion of a range of inspiring works from Eula Biss to Ander Monson, Michael Martone to Diane Schoemperlen and Kitty Burns Florey.” Instructor: EJ Levy
It’s Not JUST About You: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” and other things memoir might say
“In this class we will discuss and experiment with ways that the memoir can use the individual experience to tell a larger story that lends insight into our culture, our times, and the universal experience. We will examine how essayists and poets often use their authority as writers to tell us about the world we live in, as Allen Ginsberg does in the opening line of “Howl” and Joan Didion does throughout The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem. We will also discuss how Joseph Campbell’s theory of the 17-step monomyth can help you to find the hero’s journey within your own story. But as heady as all this sounds, this class will be action-oriented and hands-on. Get ready to find the bigger story in your memoir.” Instructor: Theo Pauline Nestor
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.” Instructor: Candace Walsh