First Person - Is There A Way Around?

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Deafchamp

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Hello, new user with a bit of a crisis problem asking your advice, spent some time reading here today and seems like a fine community of smart and switched-on people. I'm no fly-by-night, one-time poster and would like to join in a little more once I get over this damn hump.

To cut to the chase, I'm writing a memoir and hating every step of the process because I don't like being the subject. The material itself is good, issues are heavy, the theme powerful, adversity is overcome, basically everything is A-OK except for...me. I hate 'I'. Writing in first-person is really affecting my connection with the work. Sure, there's a psychological root to this but simply recognising something doesn't go as far as fixing it. Sure could use a little help.
I don't want to abandon what I've done, change it to narrative non-fiction or disguise it as a novel. It deserves to be recognised as factual. Has anyone experienced similar? Are there any tips or hints people could share to help get past this? Suggestions of different writing methods I could look into?

All advice most gratefully received.
 

Ruth2

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Hello, new user with a bit of a crisis problem asking your advice, spent some time reading here today and seems like a fine community of smart and switched-on people. I'm no fly-by-night, one-time poster and would like to join in a little more once I get over this damn hump.

To cut to the chase, I'm writing a memoir and hating every step of the process because I don't like being the subject. The material itself is good, issues are heavy, the theme powerful, adversity is overcome, basically everything is A-OK except for...me. I hate 'I'. Writing in first-person is really affecting my connection with the work. Sure, there's a psychological root to this but simply recognising something doesn't go as far as fixing it. Sure could use a little help.
I don't want to abandon what I've done, change it to narrative non-fiction or disguise it as a novel. It deserves to be recognised as factual. Has anyone experienced similar? Are there any tips or hints people could share to help get past this? Suggestions of different writing methods I could look into?

All advice most gratefully received.

I googled it and yes, there are memoirs written in third person, second person, almost anyway you want to do it, I suppose. Mine's in first person, present tense. I'm not wild about the "I" either, but .. it is what it is, y'know?

What you might want to do is write it in third and then change it to first once you're finished. I'd say however it flows best is the way to go. Only you will know that.
 

Deafchamp

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Thanks for the reply Ruth 2, recognise your avatar from some other sensible replies I've seen on the forum today.

Your suggestion of converting a completed draft from third to first is very attractive, third person affords more personal space for details and facts that can't just be shoehorned into a story. Most of the chapters so far stand alone as anecdotal short stories in first person and they're fine. However the main theme is a dedication to an unnamed stranger who helped me, and these attempts to address her directly are the most frustrating and difficult aspects of the work for which only first-person seems to suffice. Though by "suffice" I mean growling at the screen for hours and deleting 90% of what's written for these portions. I have 50,000 words over 9 chapters in short story form but the most crucial filler seems the hardest part to do!
 

Ruth2

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Thanks for the kind words. :)

Well, you could go 'way out there and have it both ways-- third person for when third person works, and first for when that works. Play with it. Experiment. If worse comes to worse, you can change it when you're done.
 

Deafchamp

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You're right, definitely worth a shot to try a new approach and perhaps achieve something instead of sticking with the same and get nothing done.
Thanks again :)

PS: First person present tense rocks. You've got style!
 

Ruth2

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Thanks! haha... I don't know about style but I've got almost 48K words doing it that way.

It's a little weird. But funny. Gotta have funny, at least I do. :)

hey, as long as it gets words on the page, go for it. You can change anything in the rewrites.
 

Deafchamp

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Excellent, that's great! I wrote a children's fantasy novel that way a few years ago. Turned out a bit too complex for young minds but I find first person present tense really adds to the cut and thrust.

Yeah, holding out for the rewrite has kept me from dumping the idea completely. Thankfully there's one real bonus to memoir above fiction I find, if one part bogs you down and you put it aside in order to move on with something else in the interim, you never need worry about losing the plot!
 

Siri Kirpal

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Ruth's suggestions are good.

Another way you might get arount it: write in 3rd person, then put a disclaimer at the very beginning stating what you've done and why.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Deafchamp

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Sat nam to you too Siri Kirpal, I like that very much. Fitting in the memoir section :)

People I appreciate the advice and suggestions on third person. Unfortunately my endeavours so far have proved fruitless. Speaking about myself in third person makes me feel like The Rock! It's a mindwarp to question your own integrity just for the sake of a well-constructed sentence.

Thought I'd mention for some background info as I won't be able to post any examples here for a while yet:
As opposed to simple diary-format narration, previously I tackled the interceding passages between chapters by treating the inner dialogue between the unknown woman and I as a very long thank-you letter. Most of it ended up sounding hollow and trite, which I found distressing as I knew (know) my gratitude was (is) sincere. As a literacy advocate, a book seemed the best dedication I could give in return for her help. It read more like I was placing her on a pedestal of limerence, gushing infatuation and endless gratitude that she'd even deigned to help me...eek. It's hard to talk to someone you don't know without totally monopolising the conversation. However I feel the idea of demoting her role undermines her altruism, and would severely affect the memoir overall.

One idea that occurred to me today (as a result of Ruth2 saying that I "is what it is") was to try treating 'I' as a character within a plot, structuring observations, thoughts and emotions strictly to required details that are important and interesting, but ensuring the proper attention is given to the character's development. I've already swung far back from the original style which was confidential but very loose-lipped. So, this is next step to get some words down because I've lost 10 days of good writing time and it's driving me nuts.
 

Siri Kirpal

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One way to get out of gushing (and I do understand!) is to write it (even as a letter if you like) showing the profound changes you made, scene by scene by scene. In fact, this might be perfect for a frame story, a story where you start and end with the lady, but the middle concerns your past and how you fixed it based on her advice/help/wisdom.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

khobar

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People I appreciate the advice and suggestions on third person. Unfortunately my endeavours so far have proved fruitless. Speaking

...I've lost 10 days of good writing time and it's driving me nuts.

I think your problem is that you haven't come to terms with what the memoir is *really* about - that is why you hate writing it. Putting it in third person isn't going to help because you know that doesn't really get you around the issues.

It's tough to peel off the scabs and open up old wounds, but if you really want to get to the heart of things, that's what you're going to have to do.

HTH and good luck.
 

Timmy V.

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Thanks for the reply Ruth 2, recognise your avatar from some other sensible replies I've seen on the forum today.

Your suggestion of converting a completed draft from third to first is very attractive, third person affords more personal space for details and facts that can't just be shoehorned into a story. Most of the chapters so far stand alone as anecdotal short stories in first person and they're fine. However the main theme is a dedication to an unnamed stranger who helped me, and these attempts to address her directly are the most frustrating and difficult aspects of the work for which only first-person seems to suffice. Though by "suffice" I mean growling at the screen for hours and deleting 90% of what's written for these portions. I have 50,000 words over 9 chapters in short story form but the most crucial filler seems the hardest part to do!

Welcome Deafchamp. I love writing and reading memoir. I think the writing in third person and switching to first person is viable as Ruth 2 states. But I'm concerned as you proceed you may find yourself feeling distant from your own story. That could dilute the power and intensity of your wip.

Given that you say you don't like being the subject, and given that Ruth 2 states that first, second and third person works in memoir.

I wonder if you might want to consider doing the opposite. I wonder if you may want to write in first person but convert to third person when you're finished. This way some of the self consciousness or whatever you're feeling is dissipated when you present the piece.

You are the subject of the piece yes? So while it is uncomfortable, I think the discomfort you feel could really energize your work while you're within the process.
 

Deafchamp

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Thanks for the advice, some really good comments here I'll get back to in a while. Made good progress last night and looking forward to cracking on today :)
 

Deafchamp

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Guys your help was invaluable. 4,145 words since Thursday night. Profound thanks :D

write it...showing the profound changes you made, scene by scene by scene.
This really helped! I got forensic and chopped the bulk of my thoughts down as far as I could to find the most crucial elements. And now they're like a webbing that pins up a proper frame of reference. I'm writing in first person but it's much smoother because it no longer feels like babbling.



I think your problem is that you haven't come to terms with what the memoir is *really* about - that is why you hate writing it.

It's tough to peel off the scabs and open up old wounds, but if you really want to get to the heart of things, that's what you're going to have to do.

Thanks for this, I appreciate the help and mulled over these words for quite a while. It's really interesting to hear you say that I haven't come to terms with what the memoir's about because it added to the growing sense of 'what's the real purpose of this book?' that was at the forefront of my mind as I began the rewrites. It helps keep my work from straying off the path as the question invariably morphs into 'what's the real purpose of my life?' And with that, everything falls back into perspective, the chapters mark the milestones and the structure is very solid.

In terms of scabs, well they serve a purpose. They heal the skin but eventually they have to come off or else you become a pretty gross individual! Writing this memoir is more like showing off tattoos and scars, there are great stories but some ugly ones too. I said in the OP that my dislike of 'I' is psychological and I'm conscious of not turning this into a sob story or a warts and all account but honesty is absolutely necessary and there are things that I am going to say that will affect people quite strongly. I'm unfortunately very certain of that, so it makes me reticent to commit some awful truths to type. I don't want to contribute to the recorded crappiness of the world but I recognise the simple fact that the memoir will not work without them. I hate writing these parts because I'm not making up a background for a character but drawing on real experience. I've had some close associates counsel me to omit certain events because they could damage my professional reputation but I refuse. Memoir allows the author to be selective with how much they reveal but I have no intention of hiding anything, if that makes sense?
Thanks again :)



You are the subject of the piece yes? So while it is uncomfortable, I think the discomfort you feel could really energize your work while you're within the process.

Technically I am the narrator, personally I think more along the lines of 'orator' because I'm addressing a singular influential figure in my life, and this discussion acts as a framework for the memoir chapters which stand alone, similar to short stories.

And I wouldn't mind at all, discomfort is so much more interesting than bland confidence! Just as long as it rings true to my own voice is all I can hope for.

Thanks for your help. It made a difference!
 

Siri Kirpal

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Glad to be of service.

I'm less than a week back from a stay with my mother, who was the first reader of my full ms (besides me, of course). She's a character in the book, and I went down to be with her so she would realize what I was writing wasn't intended as a slam. (Not that she's the main antagonist by any means.) We had a great time. So, write what you need to say and tweak if necessary for legal reasons. Oh, and be open to the possibility that your version of reality may not correspond to other versions of reality. I learned the darndest things allowing my mother--and other characters--to see what I'd written.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

khobar

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One quick way to gain perspective is to tell us your pitch. Suppose you were on an elevator and at the last moment your dream agent/editor/publisher stepped on and he/she says, "What's your book about?" You have about a minute to sell them on your memoir. What would you say?
 

Deafchamp

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your version of reality may not correspond to other versions of reality.

This is so true, one I think about a lot. In fact, the prologue includes a gambit of parallel worlds and all the ways we perceive life differently! Individual perspective is one of my favourite things about memoir, it encourages introspection. So much material is written to follow a subject's life as a timeline of events, rather than recalling the profound changes that came personally, feelings and thoughts that arose in reaction. I'm trying hard to stick to my side of the story, and think that subjectivity comes through clearly.

One quick way to gain perspective is to tell us your pitch. Suppose you were on an elevator and at the last moment your dream agent/editor/publisher stepped on and he/she says, "What's your book about?" You have about a minute to sell them on your memoir. What would you say?

My dream agent convinced me to write this book :p

It's a story of a woman's work, a journey that ended safely after a long detour through the seedy side of town. A lawless teen hurtles headlong towards oblivion, bidden by belief in the dead-end curse of The 27 Club. Laying waste to the past but plagued by dreams of a horse to ride and books to read, defiance and depravity do battle and our winner emerges but not without some tales to tell. The secret to living when all seems lost is explored, arriving at some unusual conclusions. We begin the morning after a glitzy night before, the curse truly beaten but the horrors of the past always fresh, with the first words being "Did I break the law last night?"
 

khobar

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My dream agent convinced me to write this book :p

It's a story of a woman's work, a journey that ended safely after a long detour through the seedy side of town. A lawless teen hurtles headlong towards oblivion, bidden by belief in the dead-end curse of The 27 Club. Laying waste to the past but plagued by dreams of a horse to ride and books to read, defiance and depravity do battle and our winner emerges but not without some tales to tell. The secret to living when all seems lost is explored, arriving at some unusual conclusions. We begin the morning after a glitzy night before, the curse truly beaten but the horrors of the past always fresh, with the first words being "Did I break the law last night?"

But what's the book about? Why should I read this book? For example, I know from what you've said above that the story has something to do with a woman's work but you've not given a clue in your pitch as to how that relates to anything.

In this thread you've given us additional information - the main theme is a dedication to an unnamed stranger who helped you.

Does that help?
 

Deafchamp

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But what's the book about? Why should I read this book? For example, I know from what you've said above that the story has something to do with a woman's work but you've not given a clue in your pitch as to how that relates to anything.

In this thread you've given us additional information - the main theme is a dedication to an unnamed stranger who helped you.

Does that help?
Well the book is exactly about all those things, in a 60 second elevator ride I'd want to leave an impression, so that's the side I'd jump to first. Sure I can boil it down to brass tacks and word it as 'school drop-out gets a job eventually thanks to a government agency despite being worthless to society as a deaf lone parent' but that doesn't sound like anything special.
 

Ruth2

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My understanding, though, is that pitches are supposed to be brass tack-y, at least at first delivery. That way, the agent can ask questions to draw out the specialness of your story.

Now your brass tack take on a pitch? I'd put something in it to effect of how you write in the music field, even though you're deaf. I mean, that's intriguing. That's wow.
 

Deafchamp

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Forgive me if I seem a little dense here. I'm working with a very complex web of situations and emotions that already make me feel like an indulgent attention whore for even having the gall to type them down. I can get over that and write because I know my idea's solid, then face the music and self-promote when I have a product to direct people towards which will actually back up what I worry sounds like I'm self-aggrandising. I have a big problem with boring people (as the pitch I gave above illustrates quite well), and it really affects how I detail my conversations because I feel appalled with myself when I go on like The Big I Am. It seems like it'd require a huge wordcount to summarise all the interwoven threads of relevance and I'm conscious of being excessively fussy. Plus it scares me to share all my ideas on the Internet before they're published!

I haven't broached a pitch at all up to this point. I've concerned myself with getting it all in text and sorting and shaping everything afterwards. I'll give it another lash at the end.

I'd put something in it to effect of how you write in the music field, even though you're deaf. I mean, that's intriguing. That's wow.

It is wow, and it's an enormous source of validation, I'm just *very* conscious of not making that a gimmick. I don't want to be known as merely a deaf blogger, it's hard enough in music to be appreciated for your writing skills alone without having to look like you invent extraneous awesomeness. But somehow, I made a name through words and good songs alone. I was the first to discover bands who'd go on to set the whole scene alight, and have the battle scars and blog entries to prove it. My hearing difficulty is a funny element of the overall story, it held me back so badly all my life, up to the day that lady started making calls to colleges for me, and then in the end it simply didn't matter at all. Because I didn't let it stand in the way of making the most of a valuable opportunity. I got a chance and took it, worked so hard for my company that what was supposed to be a 10-day placement turned into a 4-year full-time a position. "Photographer to the stars", my landlord liked to say when she thought about how her mortgage was being paid, and while it wasn't quite so glamorous I didn't want to burst that pretty bubble. Plus she doesn't know I almost told Tommy Hilfiger to fuck off when he said I was cute.


Brass tacks pitch.

What is a woman's work and why is it never done? Perhaps because a woman finds so much to do in so many dimensions that one lifetime just doesn't seem enough. Is a woman defined by her children and family, her mind or her body, her tenderness or ability to break obstacles down into life-sized chunks?
Three months after my first post I was shortlisted for the Best Music Blog in the Irish Blog Awards and five years later, judged the Best Album of 2011 as part of the music industry elite. Praise from bands, readers and the media alike rained down, prompted by infectious enthusiasm and passion, only to fall on deaf ears. A neurological defect that cushions sonic perception with permanent multi-tone tinnitus means I've never spent a day in silence, finding a cure instead in the finest noise. All thanks to the timely intervention of an altruistic stranger, I found a new beginning that finally defined me as a woman, through my own hard work. On one side, Irish music applauds as a crowd but the praise is just an ornament, for I stumbled alone in the dark for so long that the lights and noise of music have now become the focus of my entire existence, and the wonder of my life is that anyone would applaud at all. This is a sex, drugs and rock'n'roll tableau leading from the kitchen sink past the velvet rope, a story like no other music correspondent in the world today.

(*shudder*)
 

Ruth2

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That sounds good to me. <g>
Seriously, I like the pitch. The juxtaposition of you being deaf and working successfully in the music industry is definitely a mind-catcher.
 
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khobar

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Forgive me if I seem a little dense here. I'm working with a very complex web of situations and emotions that already make me feel like an indulgent attention whore for even having the gall to type them down. I can get over that and write because I know my idea's solid, then face the music and self-promote when I have a product to direct people towards which will actually back up what I worry sounds like I'm self-aggrandising. I have a big problem with boring people (as the pitch I gave above illustrates quite well), and it really affects how I detail my conversations because I feel appalled with myself when I go on like The Big I Am. It seems like it'd require a huge wordcount to summarise all the interwoven threads of relevance and I'm conscious of being excessively fussy. Plus it scares me to share all my ideas on the Internet before they're published!

I haven't broached a pitch at all up to this point. I've concerned myself with getting it all in text and sorting and shaping everything afterwards. I'll give it another lash at the end.

The pitch exercise is, at this point, to test yourself how well you know your story rather than a test to see if you're ready to publish your book. No worries right now.

You're still not telling us what the book is actually about. You're talking about different aspects but again you've left out how the story telling relates to what you said was the central theme - the woman you're trying to thank. You've now added that she called some colleges. So what? How did that change your life?

BTW, a deaf music blogger isn't a gimmick, and if someone is telling you it is then I would advise you to stop listening to them. And it seems you're an award-winning musician? Totally lost because you talk about blog awards in the same breath. And the business of what you go on about regarding woman's work - what has that got to do with anything?

You have a story to share and it sounds pretty cool, but there's something you're not telling, something that scares the crap out of you.

Hope this helps.
 

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BTW, a deaf music blogger isn't a gimmick, and if someone is telling you it is then I would advise you to stop listening to them.

Complete opposite, I have never been told to use my disability in any way regards my work, so I am not beginning now. No one told me it's a gimmick, I'm making sure that it isn't made to seem like one either. This is a memoir and I'm a person with a long story, not just a deaf music blogger, so it can't just be pigeonholed down to my hearing problem and my job, the help I received at rock bottom or the four schools I was expelled from. I have only published one article on the matter (at the request of a curious individual) to inform my readers of the true nature of my condition, and then like all disabilities should be, it's noted and we get on with the proper order of business: good music. That is not to diminish the extent of my hearing problem. It's very bad but I was held back by deafness for a long time, and then I found a way to overcome it. It has no bearing on my enjoyment of life and I am the same as my peers, so I have no intention of using it to sell my story. It's important to mention but ultimately inconsequential, but if I didn't give it the proper status - say by, writing this book as a music blogger who got a chance to do well as a result of altruism despite a disadvantaged background - in the end, people would find out I'm deaf. Then there would be all kinds of questions like 'Why did you hide that? Are you ashamed?' - I've never hid it, I just adapted to the world the way I did, so I must explain that and then move on to the rest of the book.

The pitch exercise is, at this point, to test yourself how well you know your story rather than a test to see if you're ready to publish your book.
I'm not "testing" how well I know my story, it's my life and I'm outlining my experiences. Testing my story was not the basis of this thread, I came for some advice on working around a blocked first person voice. I get that you're asking me to pin it all down succinctly but that's not something I'm able to do right now, I can't give you the outline and details you're asking for as there is no adequate explanation at this time other than the completed book itself. While I appreciate the discourse and find it helpful to see all angles through comments from yourself and others, I'm simply not explaining myself well enough for you at this stage because it's still a WIP. It's a non-linear, highly-contextualised study of the crucial elements that contributed to failure as a teenager before success as an adult. So I keep spreading myself thinly as I try to explain to you all the different aspects of the story. I'm sorry that you're bogged down in this but it's difficult to adequately pitch until I finish writing and fine tune my interpretation with the clarity it deserves, or at least until I can post examples here for you to understand my intentions.

And it seems you're an award-winning musician? Totally lost because you talk about blog awards in the same breath.

No, the awards were for the best blogs in Ireland. I was shortlisted as soon as I began blogging, they're held every year (I didn't win, the same guy has won for 5 years in a row). That was meant to be an indication of the immediate impact my work made as soon as I was published despite the fact I had no prior professional experience as a music writer. I went on to write for magazines, newspapers, websites, present TV and radio along with various other things like organising gigs and events, working in a consultant capacity for large businesses investing in local arts, and much more. This country is absolutely tiny but culturally thriving so the simple fact is that once I got a break, my talent outed. I also mentor emerging artists along with budding writers and offer free advice on the music scene. I work the way I do because I want to share the goodwill of helping others because I appreciate the difference a small gesture can make.
Despite this, I'm still just the scum of the earth. Oh yeah.

regarding woman's work - what has that got to do with anything?

Because I appreciate you asking these questions in the first place I'm going to try and give you the full scope of details you want to know, but I really cannot go any further without examples of writing.

The role of work in my life as woman - Work presaged my birth, peppered my childhood, I got my first job and my first period on the same day, I left school at 14 to work, I worked any damn job I could find until I was 18 when my first child was conceived, and I found work again, work of a type I never dreamed I would achieve. I talk about being a writer and thinker all my life and yet in the official sense, am worthless because I never finished school and claimed support from the government because I was 'foolish' to get knocked up as a teenager and as a result my 'type' is considered a write-off. Despite what I have carved out in the professional field, I still can't support my children myself, and am broadening my wings from music writing to fully-immersed longform, first in memoir, next with fiction. Are you aware of what life is like in Ireland: the hold the Catholic Church has upon our society and the prejudice dispensed across sections of society? The same people who campaign to keep abortion illegal are the same who campaigned against social welfare and rights for single parents. My mother was adopted from the Magdalene Laundries run by the Sisters of Charity as a result of being born out of wedlock (hate that term) in the 1950s where pregnant women were indefinitely incarcerated in prison-like industrial homes and forced to work up to term, even if they had been raped or abused or had left a violent partner or had been deserted. The babies were taken away and placed in good Catholic homes. Those who were not homed were ritually abused by priests and nuns. It's extremely well-documented. My mother is a broken, vicious wreck of a person who allowed the worst of life to wear her down, even though I saw her single-handedly lift us out of poverty through her will to leave the home and work when she too became an unmarried mother with no support. She left the home too much though and went too far. When the same happened to me, I began to feel I had no right to live and defective genes were sure to plague my own children too and I battled severe depression by trying to figure out the best thing I could do for all my family. I am the only sane adult of us all and it all falls to me to see them safe when they are drunk or manic and violent or psychotic, and I have my children's wellbeing to manage too, and no choice other than to choose to bear it all. What would a strong woman do? Kill the problem, chop out the root, kill my mother, myself and my children in order to finally end the vicious cycle? Or refuse to give in and find a way out despite the odds? I had to make tough decisions because life is hard work, and as a woman, there are aspects of this hard life that a man would not have faced. I clawed up some community college courses, and then actually managed to make good on them. I didn't just get a job. I didn't just get a career or a reputation. I got respect...and that is one single factor missing all my life and it was the key to discarding the desolation I felt about my role in the world. I know that my talents have been recognised, that anything else which I might achieve will be superfluous because I have reached a point in life where it's already enough. Enough is a wonderful, wonderful feeling after a long life of nothing. And wow, what came next? Proof for my children that nothing can ever hold us back as long as we find a way to keep believing in ourselves. I am A Strong Woman Who Does The Right Thing. My work is never, ever done. But I am now going to focus on writing books so that I can find an extra path towards the security of the future I now want to build, and this book is itself a piece of work that I hope will shape the future of my prospects in this country.

there's something you're not telling, something that scares the crap out of you.
I'm protecting my major twists in the story is all, I don't want to give away the scariest and craziest bits and dilute the power of their placement in the work.
 
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Happy Thanksgiving

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