Kids Make the Best Bookies, Chapter 2


Initially, I thought my memoir’s second chapter would be easier to write than the first.  (To read chapter 1, click here.)

I dove  into it.  I scribbled with abandon.  I thought, God, this is good.  I scribbled some more. Finally, exhausted by my own brilliance, I put my work aside.  I crawled into bed. 

When I reread, the following morning, what I’d written, I decided I had magically managed to draft crap—to spin pure shit out of what could have been a decent story.  Call me the shit whisperer, if you will. My story’s stench was appalling.  At least my telling of it was.

Initially, I imagined the second chapter would begin with my father “proposing” to my mother on their first date, detour into background information on each parent, and conclude with their wedding.

However, a few readers’ justified criticism of chapter one had direct implications for the potential failure of chapter two.

My struggle, I suspected, involved my telling of each parent’s personal history.  A few of you rightly criticized the second half of chapter one for devolving into explanation rather than showing via narrative.  Frankly, it’s embarrassing to be caught making the same mistake I’d so often warned my students against.  But you were right. 

(And, by the way, it’s easier to explain writing to students than to actually write.)

Your critique forced me to ask if it was ever appropriate to detour into telling, and in the case of chapter two, to ask if it was appropriate to share abbreviated family histories by telling rather than showing, if that telling contextualizes the showing that comes before and after?

I turned to Jeanette Wall’s The Glass Castle to see how she had managed these matters.  In the fifth chapter of Part 2—“The Desert”—Walls explains how her parents met and shares that her father also told her mother he would marry her when they first met—insisted rather than asked.  This is precisely what my father did.  I say Daddy “proposed” to my mother on their first date, when it was, in fact, more a matter of declaration than request.

The bottom line is this—

Walls doesn’t share her father’s past, as she says he refused to talk about it.  I didn’t get the answer I was looking for.

So I wonder what you think of what Anne Lamott would call my “shitty [almost] first draft.”    (See Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird)         

Chapter 2

My father proposed to my mother on their first date.  A former model, who epitomized tall, dark, and handsome, he didn’t so much ask, as declare his intention. That night, over what Daddy called “Scotchie wotchie on the rocks,” my father set aside his after-dinner Pal Mal, leaned back in his chair, and insisted, “I’m gonna marry you, Judy Kunkle.” He knew my mother was already engaged.  Mommy merely rolled her eyes at Daddy’s audacity. “Yeah, right, Tyce.”

Yet Daddy had a history of getting what he wanted.

Born in Pittsburgh in January of 1935, my father was the second child of Kathryn May and Horace George McCullough. My paternal grandfather, a sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and my grandmother, whom we called “Kimmy,” had a daughter, my Aunt Evie, who was six years Daddy’s senior.

Daddy as a baby with his older sister, my Aunt Evie–

Kimmy came from a family of means, the granddaughter of Pittsburgh meatpacking mogul, William Zoller, who bought property on Evergreen Road just after the turn of the 20th century, where he built massive homes for each of his daughters and another even more lavish one for himself—a stretch of street that became known in the family (and neighborhood, for that matter) as “Kraut Row.”

Daddy had a privileged childhood—a chauffeur, a prep school education, everything in material terms a kid could want.  My mother claims this bred in Daddy a sense of entitlement that attracted him to organized crime—the belief that he deserved easy access to fast cash.  According to her, this privilege prevented him from appreciating the relationship between work and wealth.  In fact, my mom insists to this day that Daddy didn’t have much of a work ethic or an understanding that dollars are not deserved but earned.

My grandparents, however, divorced before Daddy started school.  After that Kimmy suffered a series of nervous breakdowns, was hospitalized for depression, received shock treatments, and ultimately married Doctor Novak, her gynecologist—a man we only ever heard referred to as “Doc.”

This relationship eventually lead to Daddy being shipped off to boarding school and, as far as I can tell, never seeing his biological father again.

After high school back in Pittsburgh, Daddy joined the marines and served four years in Korea, before returning home and tending bar, again in the Steel City.  It was working in an upscale Shadyside cocktail lounge that Daddy met my mother, a young woman of  more modest means.

Judy Kunkle was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, in November 1938, nearly four years after Daddy.  The fourth of Martha Gilbert and Ralph Kunkle’s five daughters, “Judy” joined a comfortable but decidedly middle class family.  My maternal grandmother married my grandfather Ralph when she was newly graduated from high school and my grandfather was recently home from serving overseas in World War 1.  In addition to being builders, the Kunkles owned Homer City’s only lumber company, as well as a summer home 7 miles from their house in town.

The family left for their second home deep in the woods on Yellow Creek when Memorial Day rolled around each year and didn’t return to Homer City till after Labor Day.  It was there my mother, barefoot and free, spent the first eleven summers of her life.  It was there she housed her horse Wilda—there she became her father’s favorite building assistant—and there she was when her daddy died in a car accident during the summer of 1950.  The Kunkles left “camp,” as they called it, the day after my grandfather’s death, never to return again.  And with her father gone, my mother’s life was forever changed.

My maternal grandfather, Ralph Kunkle–

With her husband’s death my grandmother took over Kunkle Lumber Company, leaving my pre-teen mother home to care for her sister Becky who was six years younger.  So, my mother grew up, from the age of eleven, without a father.

While attending high school in Homer City, however, things started to look up for my mom, as she began dating Millard, ultimately becoming engaged to him as a senior and accepting a ring from him before he left to join the military and she went off to college.

At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, my mom not only pursued a degree in elementary education, but also became a state rifle team champion and cheerleader, who pledged Tri Delt.  However, with highschool sweetheart Millard gone overseas, it wasn’t more than a year before, as a cheerleader, she began dating and ultimately became engaged to the school’s star basketball player. Poor Millard (fiance number 1) was quickly cast aside for George—big man on campus.

Having graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in June of 1960 with a degree in elementary education, my mother applied to several Pittsburgh schools, choosing ultimately to teach Kindergarten in Fox Chapel—an upscale Pittsburgh suburb where the houses have wide lawns and domestic help is more common than the cold.

But having  finished college a semester before fiance George, whose own progress toward graduation was slowed down by basketball, it was again out-of-sight-out-of-mind when she began dating Daddy that fall, maintaining her engagement to George, romanced by Daddy on the side.

My mother, fair, freckled, and fun, says she doesn’t remember the name of the tavern where she met my father, but that Daddy was tending bar at the establishment. She was out with girlfriends, a Friday night on the town.

Daddy behind the bar–

After that initial introduction, Daddy began calling my mother’s Shadyside apartment and talking to whichever of her roommates answered the phone. Soon however, he began asking for “Judy” and talking to her exclusively.

When she returned to Homer City over the Christmas holiday of 1960, she said Daddy called every day, what back then would have been expensive, long-distance calls, persuading her by the end of those two weeks, to break off her relationship with George and begin dating Daddy exclusively. Daddy proposed properly to my mom on Valentine’s Day, and they were married several months later.

On a sunny Saturday in June 1961, my parents married at the Homer CIty Methodist Church on the corner of Main and Church Streets, and though my mother, innocent in seed beads and Chantilly lace, didn’t know it at the time, the man who would later become (and remains to this day) the underboss of the Pittsburgh crime family was in the wedding party.

I know it’s still rough, but what do you think about my approach to chapter 2?  Do you know of any memoir that lays out this kind of chapter successfully?  I’d love to read someone who does this well. 

Stay Tuned–

–Coming up next week–MANY images that document this part of the story.

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80 thoughts on “Kids Make the Best Bookies, Chapter 2

  1. There is a danger in sharing your work as you go, if you allow doubts to seep in based off of the (hopefully constructive) criticism of others. In my opinion, in this draft you are SHOWING us a picture of your parents. Yes, you are providing backup details, but your language paints a picture of them as individuals that helps me, as the reader, understand their relationship better. I looked back at the first draft of chapter 1 to see where the telling problem was (since I never really read it) and I think it came from the fact that you started interpreting your life with your father without showing us your life with your father (you showed us a moment meeting a dictator, rather than spending time with your father. That’s different from what you are doing here, which is basically showing us how your parents met and providing us with character studies. I suppose some would say that’s telling, but sometimes you have to tell. You weren’t there, but the background information helps show the whole. Translation, I think your shitty first draft is rather awesome. I don’t feel like I’m being lectured to, I feel like I am meeting the players (and I know I have read memoirs that do this before, maybe Frank McCourt?)

    • I don’t know what you mean by “doubts,” but I hardly feel a lack of confidence as a result of this feedback. In fact, I feel quite the oppposite. I feel like I’m arming myself with invaluable information. If my goal is to write for an audience, then I need to know how what I’ve written affects various kinds of readers. I suppose if one were not able to take criticism or translated feedback into imperative, then one might run into problems. However, I, like you, have spent years teaching writing, and my students have more often than not benefited from the peer review process. I think an informed writer can sift through feedback and understand how or how not to respond.

      I really appreciate knowing that this chapter works for you. Often what we, as writers, think of as our worst writing, ends up being quite good. I’ve experienced this over and over again in my writing life. But to write in isolation means you don’t get the necessary feedback–the feedback that allows one to descriminate further–to reconsider–to think more clearly and fully. I was quite surprised to read this entire post to Sara yesterday and learn that she felt the chapter worked quite well. I felt I had to go ahead and post the entire chapter, incuding my intro as I had read it to Sara, to see if others responded as she had.

      The criticism I got on chapter one was accurate. I needed to hear it. I need to know how to make what I’ve written better. It’s too easy to be blind to your own weakness. We need others to show us what they see–what we do well and what happens to suck.

      And this feedback you’ve offered is also invaluable–even if I disagree. It gives me an opportunity to think through all of this in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. I appreciate your sharing your perspective, even if it means I disagree. It’s clarifying for me.

      So, this is just my experience. Maybe feedback wouldn’t benefit everyone. I suppose we each need to do what is best for us. Hugs to you dear, Lisa. I value your friendship and feedback. Hugs—

  2. Frank McCourt definitely does this (agreeing with Lisa above). I think it’s really, really brave that you’re sharing your drafts – it’s a sort of online workshop for you.

    This is a tight draft. It flows, and has smoothly transitioning sentences. If anything, I would cement the last paragraph just a bit for emphasis.

    • Facinating feedback. I was trying to hint to this at the end of the chapter in order to create intrigue, but I couldn’t tell if I needed more or not. I will definitely experiment with that. I’m happy to know you think it’s needed. Excellent feedback, dear Chrissy–as always. Thank you, my dear!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. You are your toughest critic, lady. I loved the discussion of the totally different worlds from which your parents came. It is the same clash and conflict that I loved from Chapter 1, discussing your religious schooling with what the public declared evil and bad happening at home. I would definitely second silverfin’s thoughts on making the last paragraph a bigger deal, more descriptive. This is the beginning of your mother’s life “with” the crime family. After learning so much about her modest upbringing, I think putting an emphasis on that transition into a darker world is important.

    • Okay, this is good to know. It helps to know you agree with Chrissy about the end of the chapter. I struggled with that part. I will defintely play with that some more. You are such a good reader/writer, Tori. It helps to know your experience of the chapter. Thanks for taking the time to read, my friend!

  4. I like Lisa quite enjoyed this second chapter and would also agree that one can become to dependent upon the advice of others which may limit the creative process.

    • I appreciate knowing that this chapter works for you. However, I don’t think that my wanting to know how various readers respond necessarily means i’m “dependent” on it or that it limits creativity. In fact, I thnk it broadens my creative options, broadens my creative reperoire. It helps me think of things I might not have considered otherwise. But it does not mean I DO something just becasue it’s suggested. I would love you to read my response to LIsa above for further discussion. Thanks so much for reading, Charlie!

  5. I think it’s really interesting and well-written. It does seem like there is a lot of description of your parents’ previous lives all in one place though. I wonder if it would be possible to break it up? Tell your dad’s story, then focus on something else for a bit, and then transition back to tell your mom’s story. I know it’s tricky but I think it could be done. Just my two cents!

    • Interesting idea. It may end up that I need to separate this into at least two chapters. My goal here was to set up the contrast in background between the two before I presented their marriage. I wanted to establish this disparity of background. However, I will experiment with what you’re suggesting, and I would love to know what others think. This part of the story is SO hard to write. Way harder than I imagined it could be. Isn’t it crazy how hard writing can end up being?

    • Oh, thank you. Laurie. I will especially be interested in your response to the end of the chapter, as it relates to the suggestion you made about the end of chapter one. Take a look at Chrissy’s (silverfinofhope) feedback. It relates to the need to “shoot an arrow” into the following chapter–an image I will never forget!

  6. Kathryn — I know that every writer has his or her own process, but I agree with Lisa/slpMartin: I think it might be a risk to share your work with others before you are totally ready for it to be seen… and are secure in your own thoughts and feelings about it . For me, hearing everybody’s opinion would throw me for a complete loop! I’m super impressionable to suggestion, but this is YOUR book and it needs to come from YOUR voice and I fear it might be confusing to take so many other people’s feelings into consideration. I love reading your work — but maybe it would serve you better to just give little excerpts from your chapter after you’re totally happy with it?? You are the only one who can tell this story — because it’s your story — and you’ll figure out the way to best tell it. Just give yourself time and the latitude to make lots of mistakes and missteps… and then start over until you’ve got something that works for YOU! Best of everything, honey!!!

    • Sorry, but my computer keeps freezing up, so I’ve lost my rather lengthy response to you. However, I really appreciate hearing that you agree with Lisa–especially as this is not feedback I expected to hear–at all. However, I will certainly consider it. The more people who say they agree the more I’m inclined to consider it. I just hope I’m not so blind to my own process that I don’t see the implications of your feedback for me. Would you mind reading my response to Lisa’s comment? I respond there at length.

      Thanks for reading. Betty. I totally appreciate hearing your thoughts. Hugs to you!

  7. I think the more you weave this book, the more you will decide what fits and what doesn’t. I personally think your parents’ backgrounds are fascinating, but as you continue, one of two pieces of this chapter may rise to the top as seminal scenes to show who they were. Or, you may have to expand on this because of something else you write later. (I am the most disorganized writer I know. ;) ) I don’t think you should limit yourself by anything anyone advises at this point. You clearly have compelling characters to work with, and compelling characters are such a gift, to both a writer and a reader.

    I’m so glad to be getting to know you better as you share your story here, Kathy.

    • Good thoughts. It helps to hear how the process might evolve from someone like you. It is SO totally possible–even likely–that none of what I’ve written here will remain as it is. It’s helpful to hear that some scenes might rise to the top as more important. That’s an important thought. And you’re right. Compelling characters are a HUGE gift. I’ve said a lot recently that I’m thankful God has gifted me with a compelling story to tell. You can’t make this shit up! I agree that my dad is a fascinating character, as is my mom, I suppose. Thanks for reading, Andra!

  8. I’m seeing the subject of another blog in the works for you, Kathy: to share, or not share your work in progress. I think it’s your prerogative, and that you can ask for feedback, but then choose to ignore it if you wish. From another perspective, it makes the writing process less lonely for you and more engaging, and you are also able to take different directions than you may have solo. I can see lots of advantages here!
    I thought chapter 2 was filled with great background and colour on both your mother and father, I thought it flowed well. I am a little worried about your safety however, if your father’s friend is still involved in the mob! Be safe and watch your back.

    • Thanks for your concern, Deanna, but I figure as long as I don’t name names I’m okay. But, yes, you’re right. It does make the writing process less lonely and isolating. I think that’s the one aspect of writing I’ve never been crazy about. Sara said she wondered if some people resented having to read my work-in-progress and felt like I was asking them to work too hard. But just like I can decide whether or not to take the advice I receive, I told her, others have the option of not reading, as well. Thanks for your feedback! Great to hear from you today.

  9. I’m jumping in late, because I kept holding out to communicate with you privately. I’m never totally comfortable in this public format. But here goes: You have such a compelling story, and you are a strong writer. You are, deservedly, developing quite a following here. For me, the strongest writers are the ones who show and not tell. I don’t want to be told that a woman is beautiful. I want to figure it out myself by reading the reaction others have to her and I’m not talking about their saying “Oh, she is beautiful!”). Back in Chapter 1, you described the school as madrassa-esque, then went on to talk about why. For me, that’s like saying a woman is beautiful, then explaining why. In this chapter, there’s a huge amout to take in. Each of your parent’s backgrounds is very interesting. You might want to consider saving some info to weave into events that are told later. As Andra and others have pointed out, you may have different thoughts at different times about your approach to what you are writing. Nothing is set in stone. That’s one of the great things about writing. I really do think that your story has the potential to be something significant, and for that, it’s going to have to get to that next level. But you are absolutely capable of that.

    • Oh, no, you’re not late. I just posted this this morning–and I SOOOOOO appreciate your feedback. You’re right. I do need to take this to the next level, if I expect to succeed the way I think I might be able to. I think the story has the inherent drama, as long as the writing does the story justice. It’s crazy how hard this is, Renee–as you know.

      I will email you, Renee, as I’d love to know more of your thoughts on chapter one. I want to be sure I understand your madrassa-esque example clearly. I think a lot of the problem with that paragraph in the last chapter involved my presenting too much detail at once. I know I’m no Tori Nelson Young, but I will work my ass off to make up for having less innate talent.

      Thanks, Renee! Your feedback means SO much to me!

  10. I love your writing. “Brilliant” is the word I used in an unsent email (sorry, life happens). But I will be honest and say I was right with you (and the dialogue as I could see it all) until we hit “Born in…” You lost me there. It’s a tough problem for writers. I know, my DNA drove me to writing as certain Alaskan tribes drive them to drink. I appreciate your honesty and figured you would do the same.

    • Thank you so much for this response. I have to agree. That’s where it breaks down for me too. I’m not sure what to do about it, but you are ABSOLUTELY right. I thought the first paragraph worked well–after that, it broke down. God, it’s incredible how hard this is. Thank you for this comment, as that specificity is incredibley helpful. Thank you so much! Great to hear from you today, and I would have loved to know what was in that email.

  11. I’m no smoker, but I believe the cigarette is a Pall Mall, not a Pal Mal. Unless you’re referring to something else. Maybe it’s a mob slang term I’m unfamiliar with. A beating of the kneecaps, perhaps. ;)

    Otherwise – great, intriguing stuff, Kathy!

    • God, thank you for pointing that out! Yikes! How embarrassing. What can I say? I was VERY young when my dad stopped smoking and was counting on spellcheck. Silly me! THANK YOU, dear Mark!

  12. Kathy –

    I’ve extracted my favorite three pieces of information from this chapter. These sentences are very telling; great juicy “carrots” that you’ve dangled enticingly for your readers:

    YOUR DAD
    “Yet Daddy had a history of getting what he wanted.”

    YOUR MOM
    “…when she began dating Daddy that fall, maintaining her engagement to George, romanced by Daddy on the side.”

    THE PLOT THICKENS
    “…and though my mother, innocent in seed beads and Chantilly lace, didn’t know it at the time, the man who would later become (and remains to this day) the underboss of the Pittsburgh crime family was in the wedding party.”

    Keep it comin’ girlfriend!

    - Laurie

    • Ah, thanks so much, Laurie. I’m especially glad to hear you think that last part worked. And the sentence about my dad getting what he wanted–I went back and forth with that several times–taking it out and putting it back it. Thanks for these specifics, my friend.

  13. I know nothing about writing technique. But I know about reading. If something catches me, regardless of it’s writing style, I want to read it. As I read this, I kept an eye towards the bottom of the page as I scrolled, hoping it wasn’t ending soon. It did. :( I look forward to much more.

  14. There was so much here that I loved … but like a few others mentioned, perhaps too much detail was given on their backgrounds… I’d suggest looking back over this and highlighting the points that absolutely must stay to carry the story.

    The last paragraph was a winner, IMHO ;)

    You are one brave lady to share this with all of us … Hugs to you!
    MJ

  15. I agree with most everyone else that the last paragraph needs a little more zing, but overall, this is good stuff! My remarks have little to do with technique and more to do with story: I find it interesting the dichotomy in your mother. It seems she has a strict moral, Christian compass for everyone but her. Who gets engaged on a whim that way?…I also find her remarks about your father’s sense of entitlement interesting. That comment from her sounds a little more like projection than truth. Why else would she be so quick to give up on fiance 1 and 2? Also, your father’s stint in boarding school and not seeing his father provides more background in understanding his devotion and love for his own family. Perhaps that, more than the sense of entitlement, is what kept him in the mafia? And maybe I’m just full of dung, too, which is also a complete possibility, too. ;) Keep up the good work!

    • No, I don’t think you’re full of “dung.” This is part of my problem with my mother. I find her so confusing. And actually I don’t know how to make her make more sense. In fact, it’s always been kind of crazy-making for me. Aha–maybe my mental health issues make more sense in light of this. Thanks for reading, Sista! Hugs to you!

  16. I think it flows very well. You’re establishing who these people are, how they differ, and how they came together. Then, you conclude with an intriguing last sentence about a future mob underboss being in the wedding party. That certainly whetted my appetite for chapter 3.

    I have an editorial question. You write:

    “Judy Kunkle was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, in November 1938, nearly four years after Daddy. The fourth of Martha Gilbert and Ralph Kunkle’s five daughters, “Judy” joined a comfortable but decidedly middle class family.”

    When you say Judy the second time, her name is in quotes. What’s that about? Did you mean to call her “Judith” the first time, or am I picking nits that don’t exist?

    • Maybe I don’t need those quotaion marks. I used them since I don’t call my mother “Judy.” I thought I was over-using the words “mom” and “mother” and suspected I needed a variation on that. Thanks for noticing that detail. Great to hear from you today, my friend.

      • Thanks Kathy, now I only feel like a moron lite. Seriously, I think you should just lose the quote marks around Judy’s name. It made me pause as I read your otherwise very flowing prose.

  17. Oh Kathy! Who ever said writing a memoir was easy? Especially when you are sharing it with us readers and getting tons of different viewpoints and advice! I say go with your instincts. Maybe you should just write the whole thing first as a rough draft without sharing and doubting yourself and had Sara read the entire manuscript in full? You are doubting yourself and your abilities! I doubt anything you write is not good! :) N

    • I don’t write the whole thing first, as I find that feedback along the way allows me to adjust my strategy along the way without going all the way down a wrong road. Yes, I doubt myself, but, I think, rightly so. I think that’s part of the process. And when I say “doubt,” I don’t mean despair. I think I need feedback from other writers. Non-writers like Sara can say what they like and don’t like, but generally don’t know how to articulate why.

  18. Kathy, I really enjoyed reading about how your parents met. So colorful, you capture them well. My suggestions are:
    1. I find when you mention too many different people all at once, it’s hard to keep them straight. Go back and count how many people are mentioned. I found myself just wanting to learn more about your parents. I know it’s necessary to include the others in the telling, but maybe you need one of those family trees.
    2. The first sentence confused me. You write, “My father proposed to my mother on their first date.” But then a little further, in the same paragraph, it says she was engaged to someone else, which had me wondering, why is she on a “date” if she’s engaged to someone else? The word, date, bogged me down because I couldn’t get past that it didn’t make sense. Did she feel it was a date or just an outing with a friend? If she felt it was a date, why would she roll her eyes that he wants to marry her? I can understand if he’s rolling her eyes because he’s got a lot of nerve talking about marriage on the first date. But your story indicates it is because she was already engaged. Which got me thinking, she sure has a lot of nerve leading a guy on and being surprised at any romantic overtures, on account she has a fiance. If that’s the case, if she really is serious about this fiance, then she shouldn’t be on a “date!” I hope I’m not confusing you with the point I’m trying to make. Of course, further down you explain about all the fiances, which is fascinating. But in reading just the first paragraph I don’t know the back story yet, and though it might seem minor, it’s throwing me off!

    3. I love the rest, including the pix!

    • You have identified the very thing that may be most fundamental to my life-long experience of my mom. I find her inherently confusing. And I don’t know how to make her seem less so. She is FULL of contradictions. Also, my mom has always told the story as I have here. She always called it a “date,” claiming simultaneously that she was engaged–almost as if she were proud of that fact. I suppose my challenge in presenting her will be to share the contradiction without making the reader feel confused. Maybe in the first paragraph I need to prepare the reader for this fact–that, not only is she religious, but confusingly so. Thanks so much for pointing this out, Monica. I totally missed the fact that this might confuse. Guess I’m just too used to her confusing qualities to have noticed. Thank God you noticed this. I totally, totally missed this here. Thanks for reading, dear Monica!

      • Yes, Kathy, I agree that that’s a good solution. To point out the discrepancy and explain how she was always full of discrepancies, contradictions. Why would she call it a date and be proud of that, particularly since she was religious when that’s not the kind of thing devout people would do? Which, of course, makes her so much more interesting, that I for one, want to know more about her, about your father and their relationship. Btw, I love that you call your father, Daddy. It sounds like a Southern thing to do, and adds flavor to the story. ;)

      • How funny that you like the “daddy” thing. I doubt my doing it has anything to do with being southern, however, and more to do with the fact that I was still a kid when my dad died and I was still calling him “Daddy.” I suppose it does help build a sibling-like connection to the reader. Interesting.

    • Ha! So glad I’m not the only one! Isn’t it a hoot when we fall in love with our own work only to discover it might actually be closer to bad? Or maybe it’s more embarrassing than anything else. I love your fessing up!

  19. Well, I’m a little late to the party, Kathy! This is the challenge of memoir, isn’t it? All the backstory that needs to be conveyed for all of the people at the core of the story, especially when it’s as intriguing as these people are!

    Having too much backstory up front tends to slow the forward momentum of the story. At this point, the reader isn’t yet invested in the characters. They get invested with showing, rather than telling (though there’s always room for both of course)

    Some examples that come to mind are Frank McCourt and Bill Bryson’s Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (more humorous)

    I’m such a fan of Anne Lamott’s book. You might want to just get your “shitty first draft” out of the way and then when you start the revision process, you can move sections around like puzzle pieces. Just getting it all on paper helps so much.

    keep up the great work!

    • I really appreciate your pointing out that showing is more important toward the beginning. That makes lots of sense. It makes obvious sense. I have NO idea why I didn’t think of it. And thanks for mentioning Bill Bryson’s book. I’m always looking for new and noteworthy memoirs. Have a great weekend, and happy birthday!

  20. Well, you’ve certainly already received tons of great feedback, Kathy. I loved reading about your progress with these chapters. Well done!

    I agree with Jackie’s comment above. I would think attempting to lay out your parents’ backstory while making it engrossing is the key. You want to let the reader catch glimpses of these people without weighing them down with too much detail to sort through right off the bat. Of course, I’ve never written a memoir but am working on my own right now. I’ve only attempted 10,000 words about my childhood. It’s tough to find that balance and the right mix of expressing my emotional feelings with the factual parts of the story– but it’s something I need to do in order to get the reader to keep turning those pages!

    • Wow, I had no idea you were writing a memoir! It is hard, isn’t it? A difficult balance? I’d love to know more about how you’re achieving it. I’d say 10,000 words is a good start. Thanks for letting me know you were attempting something similar!

      • Kathy, I am struggling big time. I originally was writing a novel and then realized my main character was really about me and my life. I decided since I have never written anything before, I might be better off being more direct and write about a small chunk of my life as a memoir. You are inspiring me to keep plugging away but I’m afraid I’ve hit many roadblocks already!

      • You know, that may be smart–to bite off only a part of your life. I have drastically cut back the scope of my memoir, imagining I will eventually write aother part later.

        Keep at it. It’s wonderful to know I’m not the only one undertaking this kind of project. Keep me posted! Monica (Monica’s Tangled Web) is also writing one. It helps to have company on the journey.

  21. Kathy, I hope you don’t mind if I don’t critique your writing. May I just read it as it arrives out of your heart into the blog without making suggestions (unless, of course, suggestions pop into this here head. Then I’ll say ‘em.) I don’t think I’m meant to critique writing too much. Whether showing or telling, it all seems to have bits that speak to me. The first draft would probably have seemed absolutely lovely to me, and the second draft, too. The only criteria that seems to call me is whether you’re present in the writing, if it sparkles, if its filled with energy opening up on itself. Does this make sense? I’ll just sit and enjoy… and I enjoyed this.

  22. I really don’t feel qualified to critique your writing. But I’m happy to tell you how your writing makes me feel. You make me want to keep reading. While you give enough detail to keep me satisfied, you also keep me “hungry” for more. And that is exactly what keeps me reading a good book. So please… keep writing!

  23. I think you have the opportunity here to create a couple of scenes: Your grandmother’s nervous breakdown, hospitalization and the subsequent shipping your father off to boarding school. That was formative for him, I imagine. I think your mother’s father death would make another scene. You have a scene with the proposal, so that’s good. I think this chapter explains too much and you might lose the reader. I think I would try to intersperse some significant scenes throughout the “telling.” And I also would question whether the reader needs to know everything that you’re telling.

    You’re doing good. Keep going.

    • Wow, Christine, thank you for outlining this so clearly. That’s increbibly helpful. My only issue is not knowing enough about any of those scenes to write them. Do you think I should just imagine what they might have been like and write from that perspective?

  24. I love that intro, when he proposes to her by her full name. For me, as a reader, the primary focus is your father, so I want to know your mother less in terms of her middle class background than what it was about her that appealed to “Tyce”. What did HE see in this middle class girl who was already engaged to someone else? What did she see in HIM?

    I also agree with Christine above. Your mother has one opinion of your father now, that he never understood the relationship between work and reward, but what if there’s another explanation for his behavior? What impact does growing up with a weird Doctor who shipped him off to boarding school have on a kid? What impact does a mother’s shock treatment have on a kid? I’m totally speculating here, but I wonder how much boarding school culture – where you are dependent for everything on a larger organization, and where supporting your friends is essential to avoid becoming the target of hazing and isolation – affected his later choices. So I wanted to know more about his life at school. What was that particular school like when he went there? Can you interview current or former employees and students who might not have even known your father, but who would be able to tell you about the atmosphere in that community?

    • Gosh, these are all such wonderful suggestions. I hadn’t thought of going to the school itself–maybe even tracking down a copy of my father’s transcripts.

      And you are right about these other things that may have influenced my dad’s behavior–even my grandmother’s depression. I don’t know what hospital she was ever in, but maybe there are medical records somewhere.

      Truly, I can’t thank you enough for these comments! Love the way your mind works. I HOPE you will come back and read more as I proceed through this process. Your feedback has been invaluable today!

  25. Hi Kathy, I’m afraid I don’t have anything newly insightful to say in relation to this chapter– everything I felt while reading it has already been addressed in the comments above.

    However, I *do* have to mention how much I love the “shit whisperer” reference. I’m still busting a gut thinking about it! :)

    Hopefully next time I’ll be quicker out of the gates when it comes to commenting. I’m enjoying being a part of this creative process!

    • Thanks so much for reading, Dana. It’s okay to be late. I’m just delighted you WANT to read. SO happy you are enjoying the process and got a laugh out of the title. Shit whisperer–that’s what I feel like–a bit too often!

  26. Kathy,
    What a great story you have to tell and how brave you are to take it on. It’s so big and intricate. I would be overwhelmed. Your writing seems effortless as usual but I agree with you that there’s a lot of telling and not so much showing in this chapter. I like it when you get nitty gritty – like the details about the scotch and Pall Malls. I read some of the comments and agree with: 2summers and Andra Watkins and Life in the Boomer Lane. (Sorry, I’m being lazy by borrowing their words but having a hard time putting my own together lately.) I’m really looking forward to reading more!
    Tori

    • Thanks for reading, Tori. ANd it’s quite helpful to know which comments hit home most strongly for you. There is a lot of telling here. Chapter 1 was actually a lot better, I think. Great to hear from you today!

  27. So glad I finally have time to sit down and get caught up on reading! I enjoyed reading the chapter and can’t wait to read the next. Keep up the good work!

  28. I enjoyed this chapter a lot, Kathy. I’ve read a few of the comments you’ve received and boy, do I feel foolish. With chapter one I gave you a full edit…forgetting that it was only a draft! Please forgive my foolishness and thank you for being so graceful about it!
    I think that you know if you should share your chapters with others…if it’s affecting your creativity or not. The one thing to remember though, is this is only a first draft. You may finished the first draft of the entire book and when editing it later, you will no doubt do all sorts of rearranging.
    I love love love your humor in the title! And I also ADORE your humor and how you share your personal struggles with writing; something we are all familiar with. Sometimes I write what I think is a first draft, only to find later that I can’t use any of it. I call this “clearing the way for the good stuff”.
    If you’ve ever doubted your humor, don’t. It’s wonderful and makes me grin and chuckle while I’m reading.
    I think the format for the chapter and the way you provide the information works just fine….the details will work out in the editing later.
    Thank you for sharing it with us. I’m already looking forward to reading the next chapter! (Sorry for going on like this! lol). Take good care! xo Julia

    • No, no–I wanted the feedback you offered because it WAS a draft. I found it extremely helpful. I know some folks recommended in the comments here that I not share drafts, but, actually, it helps me. It helps me a lot, in fact. I think you are also right that some of the kinks with this chapter can be worked out later. And thank God, you appreciate my humor! That makes me feel good, Julia! I love to make people laugh–maybe because I just love to laugh myself. Hope your Monday is going well. Thanks so much for this comment!

  29. I have nothing to add to your already great comments in terms of useful suggestions or critiques, but will say I enjoyed the chapter and thought it flowed well. :)

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