WOW! WOMEN ON WRITING TOUR
An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story
A Young woman longs for an idyllic past, despite her revolutionary belief that everything that exists must be destroyed.
- Title: An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story
- Author: Pamela Jane
- Genre: Memoir
- Length: 246 pages
- Publisher: Open Books Press
- Publication Date: February 1, 2016
“An Incredible Talent For Existing: A Writer’s Story” summary: It is 1965, the era of love, light and revolution. While the romantic narrator imagines a bucolic future in an old country house with children running through the dappled sunlight, her husband plots to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills.
Their fantasies are on a collision course.
The clash of visions turns into an inner war of identities when the author embraces radical feminism; she and her husband are comrades in revolution but combatants in marriage; she is a woman warrior who spends her days sewing long silk dresses reminiscent of a Henry James novel. One half of her isn’t speaking to the other half.
And then, just when it seems that things cannot possibly get more explosive, her wilderness cabin burns down and Pamela finds herself left with only the clothes on her back.
From her vividly evoked existential childhood (“the only way I would know for sure that I existed was if others lots of others acknowledged it”) to writing her first children’s book on a sugar high during a glucose tolerance test, Pamela Jane takes the reader along on a highly entertaining personal, political, and psychological adventure.
Likability: Getting your Readers to Hang Out with You
Guest posts By Pamela Jane
In politics, journalists and voters speculate endlessly about a candidate’s “likability.” In literature, we talk about plot, narrative, theme, and believability. But likability is what makes us love an author and return to her books again and again. (I’m talking mainly about memoirs but the same applies to fiction.) Like a close friend, you just like hanging out with her. As in, “I think I’ll hang out with Jane Austen today,” or “I really miss Natalie Goldberg; I think I’ll have lunch with her.”
So what makes a reader love an author, return to her books, and want to hang out with him or her? Here is what I’ve come up, distilled into three tips:
Tip #1 Level with your readers
Whatever the mood or spirit of your memoir, the reader wants you to tell it to her straight. As screenwriting guru Bob McKee inscribed in my copy of his book, Story: Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting, “Tell the truth.”
So what does it mean to tell the truth? My husband, a college professor, often receives confused papers from students who invariably defend their work with something like, “I knew what I wanted to say; I just couldn’t say it.” But the truth is, the student did not know what he wanted to say, because he had not taken the time to think through his argument or thesis. That’s why the paper was confused.
Telling the truth means describing, in the most precise language you can, exactly what you want to convey. You can’t just grab phrase No. 231 because it’s on sale today, or make a joke that has no relationship to the narrative. Leveling with your readers means respecting them and your writing process by taking the time to clarify what you want to say, and finding the right language and voice in which to say it.
Tip #2 Keep your reader close
A reader is a friend or companion on a journey with you. Take him or her by the hand and let her walk with you through sunshine, fire, or rain (as James Taylor would say).
Recently I decided halfway through to abandon a memoir I was reading. The book was clever and well-written. The problem was that the author wrote as if every thought that entered her mind on every conceivable subject was monumentally fascinating (a failing most of us are guilty of at one time or another). She had been seduced by her own cleverness and in the process had left me, the reader, behind. This doesn’t mean that you have to keep your readers in mind every minute; those hot first drafts when you utterly abandon yourself are crucial. Just make sure in later drafts you take your reader with you.
Tip #3 Put on your mental pajamas
In reading, especially memoirs, we return to the author whose voice we are comfortable with, which, I suspect, is also the voice the writer is comfortable with – his true voice. P.G. Wodehouse writes brilliant comedy quite formally, but the voice and structured style feel natural to him. It doesn’t matter whether your writing is lyrical, funny, or terse, make sure you’re comfortable with yourself in print. Take off the tight panty hose or stiff shoes, and settle down in your mental PJ’s. Your readers will curl up right beside you.
An Incredible Talent for Existing
About the Author
Pamela Jane is the author of over twenty-five children’s books with Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Penguin-Putnam, and Harper. Her books include Noelle of the Nutcracker illustrated by Jan Brett, Little Goblins Ten illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning, and Little Elfie One (Harper 2015). Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen’s Classic (Skyhorse) was featured in The Wall Street Journal, BBC America, The Huffington Post, The New York Times Sunday Book Review and The Daily Dot, and has just come out in paper. She has published short stories and essays with The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Antigonish Review, Literary Mama, and The Writer. She is a writer and editor for womensmemoirs.com, and her memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story has just been released.
Three clips of Jane’s work: