Comments on Memoir Writing

Originally published Sept 2011 at

http://CarmellasQuest.LiveJournal.com

 

I commented today on the post
In Defense of Memoir: Once More Into the Fray « From BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog
Write Hard, Write Smart.
http://brevity.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/in-defense-of-memoir/

I enjoy good works of serious fiction about families and the human condition and the complexities of relationships. I also enjoy good mysteries. No fiction book I’ve ever read has moved me as powerfully as memoirs do, though. This is because, even if some names are changed or events reworked slightly, I know the story is true in its essence. It is something that actually happened to a person brave enough to share personal experiences in writing, to put their words out for strangers to take in and pick apart and pass judgment on. I automatically feel more connected with authors of memoirs for this reason and admire them for their courage.

I know first-hand that feeling of vulnerability when you launch a book into the world. There’s no way of knowing how it will be received. I knew mine would face some criticism. I was okay with that. It was still worth it to me to tell the story. No matter what, it was my story about a part of my life. No one else lives in my skin with my heart and my brain so no one else can tell the same story or stories.

Even if someone else has experienced similar circumstances, our perceptions or which parts stand out will differ. That can be said of every single person on this earth. I believe everyone has a story worth sharing. We can all learn from each other. We all have wisdom gained through experience. I tell my counseling clients this a lot when I’m talking with them about their life stories/narratives. Same goes when I give talks at churches or to other groups. I encourage people to think about the parts of their lives where they’ve learned important lessons or grown as a person, as well as times that were happy or funny. I stress that those stories are stories no one else could tell the same way. I talk to them about the power of the words they choose and the emphasis they place on certain events and the meaning they make of those events.

If someone doesn’t like memoirs in general or certain ones in particular, they can choose not to read them. Personally, I don’t read celebrity memoirs. I’d much rather read about “regular people” and what they go through. The exception would be if a celebrity writes about life before they became famous maybe. If the writing isn’t good, that should be addressed because its not good writing, not because of whether its memoir or fiction.
Carmella Broome
Author of Carmella’s Quest: Taking On College Sight Unseen (Red Letter Press 2009)
http://CarmellasQuest.LiveJournal.com

Response To A Carmella’s Quesst Reader

Originally published April 2011 at

http://CarmellasQuest.LiveJournal.com

 

I recently received the following message from a young lady named Colby Garrison who just finished reading Carmella’s Quest. I am sharing it with her permission.
“Hello Carmella, I am a totally blind college student, pursuing my undergraduate degree in Communication Studies. I have been totally blind since birth, due to retinopathy of prematurity. I am a Christian, and I am working with my first Guide Dog. I started reading your book last night, and I could not put it down. If I did not have classes to attend today, I would still be reading it. I downloaded your book from bookshare. I cannot thank you enough for writing your book. I wanted to thank you for writing Carmella’s Quest, because I feel like there is someone else with whom I am able to identify on many levels. You make me feel like its all right to experience the highs and lows of blindness, and to release the emotional responses that come with them. I will be recommending your book to my friends who are blind.”

My response:
“I’m so glad the book has been an encouragement to you. That was my hope for it from the beginning. I know how hard it can be to find time for pleasure reading while in college so it means a lot to me that you’re taking the time to read my book right now.

You’re right. As I describe in CQ, faith, supportive loved ones, and focussing on our independence and goals can help so much. Having a sense of humor and not expecting perfection from ourselves can, too. College can be challenging but rewarding, as can blindness. There are days when it really isn’t a big deal and when it presents some uniquely special opportunities and other days when it sucks. We know not everyone is going to accept us and that some people will decide everything about us based on narrow minded ideas. I don’t waste a lot of time on people like that. I’ve found way too many people who don’t make a big deal about it and treat me like a whole person, with blindness just being a part of that. They treat me with sensitivity but not with pity and consider me an equal. The older I’ve gotten, the more friends like that I find.

Sometimes, blind people aren’t honest even among themselves because we try to put such a brave face on for the public so we won’t be pitied. The reality is that living in a world set up for those who can see can take a lot of energy and can present plenty of frustrations. No matter how much technology and other plans for handling lack of sight we put in place, they don’t bring us quite up to the same level as our sighted friends. Things take longer. Gadgets don’t always work right. People don’t come through like we need them too. We try and do the best we can with it and that’s all we can do. A sense of humor and staying focussed on the bigger picture are so vital to that process so we don’t get bitter and stuck in self pity.

It sounds like you have goals and try to have a good attitude and to do the things that will help you to be successful. I think that’s great. Give yourself credit for the extra effort involved sometimes. Be honest about the difficult parts. Find some “safe” friends you can be truthful about the harder times with. It doesn’t help to dwell on them, but it can help to express emotions around them to people who care when it all gets to be too much. That’s not weakness; that’s reality. For the most part, focus on what you can do rather than getting stuck on what you can’t and know your strengths. Be open to the lessons in blindness and to God’s plan in all this. With ROP babies, any of us could have died. Obviously, knowing we didn’t can help us have more of a sense of purpose about why we’re still here and God’s hand on our lives. We know He’s working out a unique plan in us and that there is a reason why we are who we are.

Just some thoughts on all this. Keep pressing on and I hope these words, as well as the book, have been helpful.”

Carmella Broome, Author of Carmella’s Quest, Receives 2011 Ned E Freeman Award

Originally published August 1 2011 at

http://CarmellasQuest.LiveJournal.com

 

 

For Immediate Release
Local Blind Author Receives National Writing Award
Columbia, SC. – August 01, 2011. – Columbia resident Carmella Broome, author of Carmella’s Quest: Taking On College Sight Unseen, published by Red Letter Press, is the 2011 recipient of the Ned E Freeman Excellence in Writing Award. This award is presented annually at the American Council of the Blind’s national convention. Ms. Broome received this award for an article she wrote about partnering with the SC State Library’s Talking Books Services department to record her book so that it could be enjoyed in audio format by blind readers.

Her article, “In My Own Voice: The Carmella’s Quest Collaboration”. was published in the March issue of the ACB’s monthly magazine, The Braille Forum. “I used this experience to encourage readers to think outside the box if there is something they want to accomplish that might be possible with a little creativity,” Ms. Broome explains.

“Carmella’s Quest” was released in print in February of 2009. Later that same year, Ms. Broome recorded her book (a memoir about her first year at North Greenville College) at the SC State Library. “I was able to read the book myself using my own adaptive technology combined with the technology available through the Talking Books Services department,” Broome says. “When I came to them with the idea of how to do this, they were open and willing to try something a little different. The finished product turned out better than I could have imagined.”

The Ned E Freeman Award is given out annually by the American Council of the Blind’s Board of Publications. Any piece published in “The Braille Forum,” or another ACB affiliate publication, can be nominated for this Award. Mastery of the craft of writing is a major consideration by BOP voters. Interesting subject matter, originality in recounting an experience, or novelty of approach are also considered. A Freeman Award winner receives a plaque inscribed in print and Braille and $100.

“I read the Braille Forum so I know how many excellent pieces of writing were published this year,” Ms. Broome says. “The fact that the Board of Publications chose mine is really humbling and such an honor.”

The Ned E. Freeman Award, instituted in 1970, is named for the first president of the American Council of the Blind who, after completing his term of office, became editor of “The Braille Forum.”

###

Excerpt From Carmella’s Quest

Prologue

“Now, I’d like to present the award for Female Resident Student of the Year,” announced a voice I recognized as Michelle’s. “The Resident Assistants chose the recipient from among all of our on-campus girls.”
I wonder who they picked, I thought distractedly, a lot more concerned about the algebra final looming over my head.
Everyone was assembled for the second to last chapel service of the year. The staff of Student Services was onstage presenting awards in various categories. The past twenty-five minutes had been a jumble of flowery speeches, applause, and stage crossings. RAs had been honored, and various students had received awards for excelling in specific academic or athletic pursuits. Several staff members had been recognized for their support of student organizations.
“The award goes to Carmella Broome.”
I sat frozen for a moment, unable to believe what I’d just heard. My heart began to pound as the auditorium erupted into applause. I knew I should be thrilled, but all I felt was a sense of dread. How was I going to handle this? I had to make my way to the stage to accept the award, and I didn’t have my cane with me. I considered turning around to ask David for help, but I wanted to go
by myself. I’d been up there before. There were steps and cords, and probably podiums and chairs. I could trip or run into something and really embarrass myself in front of all these people. I might fall down the stairs or step right off the edge of the stage. Was I familiar enough with the stage to chance negotiating it without help? Deciding that I was, I got up and, trying not to step
on anyone’s feet, made my way toward the center aisle.
“God,” I begged silently as I walked toward the stage, “I know I’m being really stupid, but please help me get around up there.”
Climbing the steps, I was relieved to hear Reverend Crouse’s low instructions. “Watch these cords. Good. It’s a straight shot.”
I walked forward into the brightness of the spotlights, mentally coaching myself to keep my head up and not shuffle my feet.
“Here I am,” Michelle whispered, placing a plaque in my hands. “Congratulations. Look to your left a little so they can take your picture for the paper.”
I turned my head and smiled. The camera flashed. Amidst another round of applause and cheers, I turned to make my way back across the stage. Now came the hardest part. How was I going to find that top step? I slowed down when I neared where I knew the steps to be, probing the area with my foot. I felt Reverend Crouse’s hand on my arm. “There’s the step,” he murmured.
“Thank you,” I whispered, descending the steps carefully.
Thrilled that I’d made it down from the stage without incident or embarrassment, I turned up the center aisle and counted rows until I reached the sixth one. Trying not to step on anyone’s feet once again, I counted my way past the first seven chairs. As I sank gratefully into my assigned chapel seat, thankful that I hadn’t miscalculated and wound up in someone’s lap, I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder. David’s voice whispered, “Congratulations.”
With the ordeal of accepting the award behind me, I was finally able to turn my attention to the plaque Michelle had placed in my shaking hands. No one could possibly guess how much it meant to me. I had no idea what it said, but that didn’t matter. The public recognition wasn’t what made it so special, though that was certainly nice. To me, the plaque’s truest value was what it
represented. It was a tangible symbol of success. I had done something I hadn’t been sure I really could do. I’d successfully completed my first year of college.

——————
Carmella’s Quest
Copyright © 2008 Carmella Broome
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the express written consent of the publisher. Published by Red Letter Press 6148 Rutledge Hill Columbia, SC 29209
RedLetterPress@gmail.com
http://redletterpress.googlepages.com
First Edition
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Control Number: 2008930745
ISBN-13 978-0-979-44206-3
ISBN-10 0-979-44206-0