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Acetylene Torch Songs: Writing True Stories to Ignite the Soul


acetylene torch:

a fiery tool that cuts through steel vaults in crime movies

torch song:

a nightclub singer's lament for lost, un-recoverable love

Acetylene Torch Songs:

writing that burns through, no matter what it finds








"Body and Soul" ~~ Writing Fiery, Holistic Prose


The soul engenders our need to seek, to create. We write creative nonfiction to fully explore our soul's wounds, joys, obsessions, needs. Since it's intangible, however, our bodies—including our hearts and minds—act as our soul's representatives. Tangible, external, sensory details cast light on our interior selves, our metaphoric emotions. Through the Voice of the Soul we enter the realm of creativity and find the universal message of our work. As we write, we turn our lives into art as well as become more soulful.


         Essay: "My First Day in School"



 CHAPTER 2    


"Thanks for the Memory" ~~ Bringing the Past to Life


Sensory knowledge, written descriptively, assists in recalling past events. From there, we metaphorically and thematically string memories together. By reflecting on our lives, we see truths not initially observed in the past. Memories are dynamic, not static. They change as we change. When we write our sensory memories, they present us with fresh perspectives. This second life doesn't just recapture past actions, it gives them depth and meaning. 


Essay: "Fans"





 "Ghost Riders in the Sky" ~~ Writing What Haunts You


What haunts you: a deceased mother, an all-too-alive father, a current or former partner, a religion, a childhood home? Does nostalgia, loss, or alienation haunt you? How do we discover and confront our obsessions and craft them into emotionally resonant, fiery metaphors? These ghosts—people, places, cultures, ideas—retain their grip on us until we exorcise them on the page, thus releasing them into the world, turning them into a positive force, by exposing them, through writing, to the light of day.


Essay: "The Robbery"


CHAPTER 4      


"Behind the Mask" ~~ On Revealing the Sequined Self


When we, as narrators, wear artistically created masks, our personas are more honest and truthful, not less. Masks reveal; they don't hide. Masks liberate us as we change them from one essay or memoir to the next. Consider how many masks it takes to present the full "you" as narrator.


 Essay: "Graduate Studies in Hebrew"




"Voices inside My Head" ~~ The Multitudinous Sounds of Voice


How can you compose the sound of a piece of creative nonfiction until it burns with life? Through the use of point-of-view, syntax, verb tense, imagery, aware and unaware narrators, and structure, writers implement a variety of voices to open aspects of the material that might otherwise remain closed. Specific strategies help us discern the "right" tempo for any given essay or memoir.


Essays:  "The Girl's Summer Vacation: Some Questions"

             "The Monster's Matchstick Mistress"


CHAPTER 6           


"The Long and Winding Road" ~~ Some Thoughts on Narrative Structure


In real life we don't see an overall arc to our lives, but in creative nonfiction we shape life into a narrative, one ablaze with the heat of an acetylene torch. Here, we examine how to give rise to the momentum of a piece and how to treat emotional complications, conflict, and tension as an essay or memoir heads toward a resolution, whether ambiguous or not. Additionally, the use of speculation and experimental structures (collage, segmented, mosaic, hermit crab, fragmented, lyric, meditative, list, braided, tmesis) can change the nature of the narrative's intent.


 Essays: "Your Personal Prescription Information"


              "The Extraordinary Ordinariness of Love"





"Come Together": Strategies for shaping seemingly disparate essays into a unified whole, held together by a white-hot core.








"RESPECT" ~~ Confessional Writing as Resistance


During the week of Oct. 16, 2017, Facebook filled with #MeToo posts—a hashtag used to claim sexual abuse, physical assault, domestic violence, and other forms of discrimination toward women. It's difficult to claim one's truth, scary to divulge personal stories about a host of intimate experiences, and this chapter explores the intersection of memoir with the #MeToo movement. As writers our job is to get these fiery narratives down on paper and challenge the cultural and political status quo. Our voices are important. All writing is political and part of the resistance; memoir is the ordinary person's song of protest.


Essay: "Learning from My Misfuckingtakes"


CHAPTER 9       


"You Don't Own Me" ~~ On Writing Controversial and Disturbing Literature


When I wrote my first memoir about childhood incest, I composed it exactly how the experience felt. I didn't question or second-guess potentially graphic or disturbing scenes. I simply wanted my words to illuminate my truth. Since then I've written other memoirs and essays that some might find disturbing for differing reasons: one about sex addiction, one about a childhood desire to "pass" as Christian, one about the taboo subject of death. Here, I address criticism as well as support I've received and what each means to me; how I've chosen to present work in public readings and forums; and the importance of being frank—and true to your narrative—when writing controversial topics.


Essay: "Love Education"


 CHAPTER 10      


"Do You Want to Know a Secret?" ~~ I Love "Confessional" Writing


Ever since the popularity of memoir and personal essay began its rise in the mid-1990s, the unwarranted and misguided attack on it has been fierce. This is my response to the naysayers, claiming how and why so-called "confessional" writing is as artistic a genre as poetry or fiction.


Essay: "Harbor Lights"


CHAPTER 11          


"Look through Any Window" ~~ Memoir with a View


This chapter considers the motif of windows, and the vistas they make possible, for creative nonfiction to be a universal art form—as ablaze with metaphors and meaning as poetry and fiction.


Essay: "The Refusenik"




1.      Sue's EZ Rules by which to Write


2.     On Trifles: Those Things You Might Not Think to Write About


Essay: "The Case for Navel Gazing: A Critical Consideration"


3.     AfterWord





APPENDIX #1       

"The Extraordinary Ordinariness of Love" ~~ the deconstructed version of the essay       


APPENDIX #2         

Additional Writing Exercises 


APPENDIX #3          

Strategies for Writing a Query Letter




Two Sample Book Proposals:          

The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew

How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences



A list of useful Web sites for writers.