Works

The Lovely Bones
Craft essay in October 2015 Brevity

You could say I’m a ghostwriter. All memoirists are. We commune with the spirits of the past, inhabit old haunts, sift through the bones of the people we once were (and once knew) in an attempt to reanimate what was and illuminate what is.

Our ghosts are real. Or at least as real as we remember them. One thing we cannot do is make stuff up. And we don’t need to. We have more than enough material to conjure life on the page. But that’s part of the problem. What do you do with it all - all that experience, all that emotion? What spooks those of us who write from life the most is this dilemma: how to wrangle this vast, unwieldy life of ours into a well-shaped story.

Fiction writers have the old tried and true (and yes, trite) basic plot triangle to turn to for structure. Conflict leads to a crisis/climax point which forces the protagonist to confront something (either themselves or a foe). The outcome of this changes everything and leads to resolution.

While narrative nonfiction writers can borrow from fiction and use some of the same techniques, the very nature of the material we are working with dictates we approach storytelling in a different way. Fiction writers start with nothing and create a world.

Memoirists start with an entire universe that already exists. We are more like sculptors than painters, relying on the advice of Michelangelo, who supposedly said he made the statue of David by taking away everything in the stone that was not David. We create story by carving and cutting to the bone.

That means deciding who and what we want to pull out of the block of stone. When I sit down to tell a story, I have to ask, whose story is it - the child who longed to be accepted? The young woman who stood up to her fears? And what is the heart, the very essence of the story I want to tell? The answer to that question leads to structure.
(To read the rest of the essay, click link below)

Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up: Breaking the Spell of Women's Silences


Spring Journal, Fall, 2014
Let’s talk about the spell of silence. Or not talking about the things that we cannot stand to see. Things like rape. Incest. Murder. More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century . Yet we stay quiet. We do so to protect ourselves, to remain invisible so we will not be shunned, shamed or annihilated. These dark truths are taboo, a violation of the social order. To utter them is to rip the veil off the lie. To invite disorder. Chaos, even. But that is the only way to create change.
Judith Herman, in the introduction to her landmark book, Trauma and Recovery, states, “The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud; this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.”
The price we pay in keeping silent is considerable. Around the world, women are enslaved, tortured, murdered, kept ignorant, hidden, mutilated, raped, beaten, battered and stoned. Even worse, they made to feel responsible for their abuse.
It is this shifting of the blame on to women that helps keep the seal of silence intact and makes the crime much more palpable – both to the one who commits it and society at large. I am thinking of what my own father would say every time he beat my mother: “She asked for it.” (To read entire essay, click link below).

Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance
"When I opened the delightful cover and began my walk through the seasons with Gary and Barney, I entered sacred space. I will long remember this beautifully told story, one that so captured my attention, my emotions, and my sense of reverence for its layered splendor of language, place, reflection, and images. Short Leash is a treasure."
(by Mary Jo Doig SCBR, April 2015)

Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance

Winner of two 2014 Silver Nautilus Awards, 2014 Eric Hoffer Award for Memoir, Finalist, 2015 Sarton Women's Award for Memoir.

EXCERPT FROM SHORT LEASH

October, 1991
Savannah, Georgia

Forty-five pounds of muscle and fur pulled me down a dark road with no sidewalks, no lights and barely any shoulder to speak of. The dog was a stray I had found three days before, a smelly, exuberant hulk of a pup who had captured my heart the moment I saw him. I paused for a moment and reeled the cord in just enough to keep us in the beam of my husband’s flashlight. The dog stopped straining and walked by my side. “Good boy, Barney”, I said, even though I was pretty sure he had no idea that “Barney” was his name.

We walked into the night, past the ranch-style houses, past the sewer ditch filled with singing frogs, around the bend where the road curved and the shoulder widened. Once again, the dog pulled ahead, testing the limits of the retractable leash. I pressed the button to stop the cord from reeling out, but just as my thumb hit the lever, the plastic coiling unit fell out of my hands and bounced against the pavement. The reel began spinning like a maniac, gobbling the cord faster and faster until it reached Barney’s heels, startling him so much that after a sharp yelp of surprise, he took off like a rocket. I ran after him, but he ran faster, terrified of the plastic monster clattering behind him like a string of Chinese firecrackers.

I could hear Curt laughing behind us. “It’s not funny,” I shouted back at him. Maybe it would be if I wasn’t so terrified of the dog getting hit by a car
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Finally, I got close enough to step on the bouncing unit. Scooping it in my hands, I pulled on the line of cord, reeling Barney in like a big fish. The rest of the night I kept the leash locked in tight, afraid of what would happen if I let it go.

You cannot reason with a dog. I wish I could have told him that the faster you run, the louder it gets; that it’s nothing – really – only a square of plastic containing a cord, but you can’t explain such things to a scared animal. Or a scared person. Nothing is more terrifying than the ringing steps of an invisible pursuer.

How loud is a ghost? Let me tell you. As loud as a firecracker. As loud as tin cans tied to a dog’s tail. Louder than a scream. As loud as time and memory can make it.


Book Reviews
Reviews of books read and recommended.




Janice Gary is an award-winning writer who leads workshops thoughout the United States. Her book, Short Leash: a Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance (Michigan State University Press, August, 2013) is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online and local booksellers.