Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Writing Life by Bodie Parkhurst, Guest Blogger

My special guest today is Bodie Parkhurst, author and illustrator. Included in her works are two novels and five picture books, including the painted memoir she describes in today's post. She designs books for various small presses and formed Magic Dog Press to self-publish her books.

Fairly new to the blogging world, Bodie has created the Magic Dog Press blog (Speak! Good Dog!) to help spread the news about her publications.
On July 8th she asked Are You Ready to Self-Publish?

Now I'll step aside and let Bodie tell you a story.



My Writing Life by Bodie Parkhurst

I started a journal in sixth grade. My sister came into my room one day and saw me at it. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Writing," I said.

"What are you writing in it?"

"Oh, just what happens in my life and how I feel about it," I replied.

"Mom's not going to like that," she observed.

She had a point. I abandoned the journal in favor of humorous essays, making jokes about the painful things in my life.

Emboldened, I decided to try to write a novel. All went well--for about ten pages. And then the rot set in. My characters annoyed me. They were stupid, vain, lazy, short-sighted, selfish, superstitious. On page eleven I killed them all. Throughout college and graduate school, I tried over and over. I once got to page thirteen before the massacre. That was my record. Though I took naturally to expository writing and typed enormous papers and a Master's thesis, creative writing projects of any scope greater than short humorous essays were beyond me.

I tried poetry. I gave it up. My poems hurt too much to read. The pain in them shamed me. I wrote articles for newspapers, magazines, and journals. But I gave up creative writing, and I definitely gave up the idea of writing a novel. I thought of all the words and scenes that might go into it, none of which my family, and in particular my parents, would like, and I froze.

Probably I would have remained frozen had I not discovered that a great deal of the family history I had grown up believing was false. The reality I had always taken for granted wasn't real. I felt like I was lost in a snowstorm, and there was no way home. I forgot my grandfather's face. My counselor prescribed a journal, to help me sort out what I remembered from what I had been told.

I sat down at my borrowed computer and started writing. My sister's words came back to haunt me. I looked at what I was writing and realized that my sister was right again; my mother would really not like this. Neither would most of the rest of my family. But by then I had reached a point where I knew had to either be honest about myself, or die. And so I knowingly wrote the words my mother would hate--I wrote the truth about my life.

Writing my life did more than just quite likely save it. It showed me how to follow a story, to see cause and effect, to understand that beneath the day-to-day lies a larger story. When I began writing my life I began drawing it, too. I wound up with a series of paintings paralleling the story I told in my journal.

Making the choice to write the words that would sever most of my family relationships, to follow my own story into the dark, dangerous, and forbidden places, to paint the word and pigment images that hid there, showed me that I could make that journey and survive. Changed, yes, but better. And making pictures.

---------------
I want to thank Bodie for being here today. Keeping a journal or writing a memoir are healthy techniques to free us from childhood traumas, or adult traumas for that matter. They also help center our minds and set us on the path to enhanced creativity. Most writers and artists are aware of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. I also recommend Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas.

Bodie's books are also available at amazon. com. Look for Secret History, Patrick Saves the Troll (for ages 4-8), Good on Paper, and more.

22 comments:

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

Hi, Bodie, I really enjoyed reading this. I wrote poetry for about a year, and when I read it aloud to friends they cried. I didn't know I had so much pain in me, and I didn't know writing could be so powerful. I love it that you paint as well. Thanks for visiting, and thank you, Patricia.

Ann Best said...

This interview is just what I need this morning as I'm struggling with the edits of my memoir. Just tell the truth. It's fortunate for me that almost all of my main "characters" are now dead. But they have over the years been peering over my shoulder.

Now, thanks to this interview, I have a new author I want to read. I also love Abigail Thomas. I've read her memoirs and have read online what she says about memoir. But I'd like to get Thinking About Memoir.

Thanks so much, Pat, for this interview, and Brodie for responding so honestly.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patricia - Thanks so much for hosting Brodie. Brodie - Thanks for sharing your story; what a powerful story it is, too. We all have so much inside of us, don't we? And sometimes, all it takes is the courage to tap into it...

BodieP said...

Simon said:
I wrote poetry for about a year, and when I read it aloud to friends they cried. I didn't know I had so much pain in me, and I didn't know writing could be so powerful.


Bodie said:
A few nights ago I was a guest at a book club that was reading Redeeming Stanley, my first novel. The self-exposure writing truly involves was one of the things we discussed--and how choosing to write truly can often be a very isolating experienced, particularly when others feel they, too, have been exposed by our words. It's a delicate balance--be honest about one's own life, and still respecting others' right to privacy. It's one of the reasons I use a pen name--and have not yet published my memoir.

BodieP said...

Anne said:
It's fortunate for me that almost all of my main "characters" are now dead.

Bodie said:
That's actually not a bad way to address the issue of potentially exposing those who do not choose to be made public. I might actually do the same; I have a series of three memoirs started, but to be honest I quail a bit at the thought of publishing them. I keep trying to decide if these are books that would benefit others, or if they need to remain books written for a very limited audience--me, and eventually, my son.

BodieP said...

Margot said:
We all have so much inside of us, don't we?

Bodie said:
I agree, absolutely. We all have a sack we carry through our lives, and it's filled with all sorts of things, good and bad. Sometimes it helps to unpack and sort--but I have yet to meet the person who, after having seen what's in someone else's sack, really wanted to trade.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Hi Bodie such an interesting read, though I write poetry not books it's surprising what I have learnt since blogging.
Have a lovely day/.
Yvonne.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Hi Bodie such an interesting read, though I write poetry not books it's surprising what I have learnt since blogging.
Have a lovely day/.
Yvonne.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Unique motivation to begin writing!

Ann Best said...

Re: my comment above and your response:

I think you're right about deciding what your motivation is for going "public." Will it benefit others if you reveal what happened to you? This is a very important decision to make.

BTW: After reading this interview I took a look at the sample of your book Good on Paper and was instantly hooked! I bought it for my kindle for PC and can't wait to finish reading it. When I do I'll comment on my blog.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Bodie, I love what you said above: "...I have yet to meet the person who, after having seen what's in someone else's sack, really wanted to trade."

This is so true. Everyone one suffers losses and traumas, but sometimes we see only the shiny, happy surface of a person who's soldiered on in spite of physical or emotional pain. It's a terrible waste of time and energy to envy another person's life.

Cara Lopez Lee said...

"I once got to page thirteen before the massacre." Hilarious! Bodie, it was brave of you to tell the truth even though your mother wouldn't like it. My memoir comes out this fall, and I had to warn my mother and father, who only appear in it briefly. I was terrified they'd never speak to me again, but they were both surprisingly supportive. However, a distant aunt is angry because I dared speak the truth about a rape sitting among the bones in the family's skeleton closet.

I, too, have discovered that some of the family stories I grew up with were false. Others have changed dramatically, not just once or twice, but multiple times, depending on who was doing the telling. Thanks for sharing your resonant path to publication.

Talli Roland said...

What a great guest post, Bodie, thank you for sharing. And thanks to Patricia for hosting you!

The Yard Bard said...

Sometimes the words have to come out, even if they are seen by no one else. Like lancing a boil, I suppose. Good for you for taking that first scary step.

BodieP said...

Cara said:
My memoir comes out this fall, and I had to warn my mother and father, who only appear in it briefly. I was terrified they'd never speak to me again, but they were both surprisingly supportive.

Bodie said:
Good for you to have the courage to warn your parents ahead of time. I'm sorry about your great-aunt, the the whole value of a memoir is to recapture what a certain aspect of one's life was truly like. Sometimes that means warts show. A friend once told me, "Often the people who are the most critical when you publish are the first to jump on the bandwagon when your book hits the best-seller list." From my mouth to the Deity-of-your-choice's ear!

BodieP said...

Yvonne said:
...though I write poetry not books...

Bodie said:
I've always found that a difficult line to define. Some prose is so very poetic the paragraphs are like square chunks of poetry, while some poetry might just as well be written in paragraph form. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, writer to writer!

Helen Ginger said...

I really applaud you for having the courage to write your story. The cost was high, no doubt, but not writing might have cost you even more.

Straight From Hel

BodieP said...

Helen said:
"...but not writing might have cost you even more."

Bodie said:
I think you're right, Helen. I gained much more from writing than it ever cost me. And now, when I no longer have to write to survive, I can write because I love to.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Bodie, Thank you so much for being my guest today and for your wonderful attention to those who visited and left comments. It was a pleasure having you here.....Pat

Rayna M. Iyer said...

"Mom's not going to like it"- sums up so much of our life, doesn't it?

Thank you Patricia for hosting Bodie, and thank you Bodie for sharing.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for the thoughts Bodie. I'm always excited to hear about people who discover the power of writing later in life after early discouragement. I'm also one of those "fall flowers."

Thanks you Patricia for opening your blog to this wonderful guest.

Lynn said...

This is wonderful, Bodie. I love "I had reached a point where I knew had to either be honest about myself, or die. And so I knowingly wrote the words my mother would hate--I wrote the truth about my life." It's a huge issue.

Patricia, thanks for finding Bodie and askhing her to share her thoughts.

Lynn
www.writeradvice.com
Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers.