Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Exploring the Inner Self in Memoir

Santa puts the tinsel on the tree!
I need to show my hard-won epiphanies through self-reflection.  I need to present my memoir in ways to allow readers to enter upon the college journey.  I went to college as a mother of five, but that journey needs to be more than just a collection of experiences at college and at home with my family as I struggled to keep up with my studies, struggled to comprehend new subject material, struggled to discover a new Victoria Marie.

I must explore the inner self, reflect upon it, so that my reader can identify with me.  This sounds like the inner dialogue, which I’m incorporating into my memoir manuscript.  But through inner dialogue, the memoirist needs to discover something about herself, through reliving the experiences, the struggles.

In the throes of my second revision of the college memoir, I discover courage.  It took courage to attend each class.  Courage to believe in myself though surrounded with doubts and inadequacy, embarrassment.  Courage to face my fear of failure.  Courage to face the fear of success, for in success comes opportunity.  Opportunity changes lives. 

I would never be the same after my adventures through college.  And neither would my family.  It took a whole family to get this mother through college.     

I need to craft these discoveries into well-stated epiphanies/themes and then be sure that they resonate throughout the memoir.  Through specific details, the memoirist can achieve universality. 

There’s my timer again.  My home smells of cinnamon and honey.  Time to take the Amish friendship breads out of the oven.  Time to share the smells of Christmas with family, neighbors and friends.  May your Christmas be filled with the treasure of family and friends and may you all achieve success in 2015.  Thanks for stopping by Adventures in Writing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Importance of Internal Dialogue in Memoir

            Remember, memoir is not autobiography.  Memoir recounts an important time in the writer’s life, an important journey, happy or sad, triumphant or not, where a discovery is made.  This journey is merely a slice, not the whole life pie.  But within that slice, as in fiction, internal dialogue is important. 
Discovering the possibilities

Internal dialogue is a dialogue the writer/character has with herself.  This dialogue in memoir usually projects present day thoughts or logic or knowledge onto prior actions of the writer/character.  It’s like an interpretation of the preceding action, scene, or anecdote. 

Like fiction, memoir cannot be merely a collection of scenes, dialogues, or actions.  Some scenes and actions are used to move the plot forward, to create tension, or to enhance characterization.  Other scenes need to be interpreted by the writer through internal dialogue. 

Interpretation in memoir explains why a particular action is so important in the writer’s journey.  The writer attempts to revisit that part of her life again, through memoir, and discovers newfound knowledge to share with the reader. 

            As I move ahead in my revision work of the college memoir, I’m probing beyond my literal college experience to discover the epiphanies that I was too busy to see at the time with the daily grind of college and family life.  My husband and children find my scribbled thoughts on torn pieces of paper left on tables and counters, bookshelves and bathroom vanities.  I tell them to throw away nothing they find and put it on my desk on the porch.  When I get time, I type them into the prologue document to my memoir and sort them from there.  [This cuts down on the fire hazard in our home.]

Memoir needs to be more than autobiographical.  It needs to provide insight not merely the facts of the experience.  Memoir is a writer’s story about a specific time in his or her life with the writer’s present day reflections on that time.  

Oh…the timer’s beeping and I need to get the apple pie out of the oven.  I hope you all have a blessed Thanksgiving.  Thanks for stopping by.       

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ellen Gable Hrkach, Historical Catholic Fiction Writer

Welcome, everyone, to my Adventures in Writing Blog.  I am honored to have with me today Ellen Gable Hrkach, an award-winning historical Catholic fiction writer.  

Ellen has published 4 Catholic fiction novels to date:
Emily’s Hope
Stealing Jenny
In Name Only,
and most recently A Subtle Grace
A Subtle Grace is alive with drama.  The obstacles are many; the characters, lively.  The devil lives in the historical world of the O'Donovan family.  The writer knows her genre.  This Catholic Fiction novel demonstrates the power of love and faith to forgive and protect.  You won't be disappointed. 

Thank you, Ellen, for visiting with me. 

Ellen:  My pleasure.

VML:  Ellen, what made you decide to become a writer and how long have you been writing?

Ellen:  Many years ago, I began writing in a journal to ease the grieving process after suffering several miscarriages. These journal entries actually served as the basis for my first published article, “Five Little Souls in Heaven,” which was published in the Nazareth Journal in 1995. From there, other articles were published in various Catholic magazines.  Around 14 years ago, after researching about my family tree and finding out some unusual aspects about my great-grandmother, my husband suggested that I write a novel based on the parallel true stories of myself and my great-grandmother.  I learned how to write a novel in that (four year) period of time.  When I finished that book, I knew that I wanted to write more novels.

VML:  And write them, you did.  It’s amazing that your books have been downloaded over 500,000 times on Kindle since 2010.
Ellen, why did you choose Catholic fiction as your genre?

Ellen:  First, I’m Catholic. Fifteen years ago, there were very few Catholic novels. As a novelist, I wanted to write in a genre that I could relate to, that was inspiring and was less competitive than other genres.  Most Christian novels are generically Christian; the characters sometimes pray and often seem “too good.” I wanted to write complicated stories and create believable characters with depth from a Catholic point of view.

VML:  Fully developed characters are needed for readers to become involved in stories.  And of course, it isn’t a story without conflict.  Ellen, some writers begin with a situation, some with characters.  As a writer of historical Catholic Fiction, how do you begin writing a novel?

Ellen:  I usually start with a situation.  I outline the basic story and a few simple ideas for characters. This often takes months, even years, given my other duties and responsibilities.  Once I have the basic outline complete, I then spend several months researching.  This is one of my favorite parts of the process and fairly easy, given modern access to the internet. Next step is to write character studies, and then begin writing the first draft.

VML:  Ah!  I’m not a pantster either, except for my YA short stories.  I believe in the outline for longer work.  What some writers forget is that an outline is just a way of keeping you writing.  Outlines are merely guidelines and are apt to change slightly as the storyline grows and moves forward.  Now character studies are a great idea.  I learned about those in one of my earlier writing courses.
The process of writing and re-writing can be a tedious one--especially for full-length novels.  How do you know when your novel is ready for the presses?

Ellen:  It’s hard to explain.  With my own novels, I get to a point where I need to move on to the next project.  Once I’ve finished my first presentable draft, I then work with a developmental editor (who assists with plot and characters, as well as sentence structure), then I work with two copy-editors.  The “tedious” edits are definitely not my favorite part of the process, but they’re very important because each time a manuscript goes through an editing process, it becomes more polished and helps the story and characters shine more brightly.  Four to six proofreaders then read through for typos and other errors missed by myself or the editors.

VMLLucky you to have such a writing support staff.  Writing is not the solitary profession it was once thought to be.  And even then, writers discussed details with other writers.  Always great advice to have others read the manuscript when you’re finished to see if what the writer thinks is on the page, in fact is.
Do you have any advice to offer writers on how to stay committed to a longer writing project?

Ellen:  Perseverance and patience!!  These are two virtues that are absolutely essential to the modern writer.

VML:  The two “p’s” of writing.  I’ll always be a writer, but the patience needed to hear back on my manuscripts is the difficult part for me. 
How about you, fellow readers?  Which is more difficult for you, in whatever you do; perseverance or patience? 
Thank you so much, Ellen, for stopping by my Adventures in Writing blog.  You can connect to Ellen Gable Hrkach on the web at www.ellengable.comHer books are available at

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Going to College with the Family in Tow

Photographs are necessary especially on
holidays when life becomes a blur.
Did you ever wish there could be two of you?  When I was attending college for ten of my children’s growing up years, I wished I could have been a traditional college student.  Then another part of me wanted to be that full-time mother of five children.

            Obviously, I couldn’t become two separate people.  So I needed to do the second best thing and perform both tasks as one person. 

            Many people, especially women, wish they could be more than just one person in order to do all the things and tasks that they feel need to be accomplished in life.

            There’s the key. 

People “feel” that these tasks need to be accomplished.  Most certainly we have time-sensitive tasks that truly need to be accomplished.  Business and school projects have firm dates.  Novelists, book publishers have deadlines; essayists, content writers, and short story writers have deadlines.  The list is endless. 

In the beginning of my college career, I truly needed to return home before my children.  There was no one else to watch five children—let alone feed them.  I don’t know about you, but my angels came home starving after school.  You’d think they never ate breakfast or lunch.  I couldn’t attend activity meetings or study groups or join events during that time.  I needed to be a mother.

Other deadlines can be made malleable.   

Prioritizing became a way of life.  I tried to disrupt my children’s schedules, in the beginning of my college journey, as little as possible.  This was especially important for my oldest daughter who is special needs.  Re-teaching her always rested on my shoulders.  She was in eighth grade at that time; the twins, in second grade. 

            The two H’s were at the top of the list:  health and homework, there’s and mine.  Still, by Christmas break, I had the flu…each of the ten years attending college.  The children were fine.  It was just I, the college student/Mom who wanted to crawl into my room and let Christmas happen on its own.  But it doesn’t work that way in families with young children.  Many times, it falls to the mother to make holidays happen.  Yes, I cut down on the baking.  Yes, I tried to delegate, but there was only my husband, at the time, to delegate to.  Hence, some things got accomplished; others did not. 

            Attending college when you have a family, sometimes things need to change.  They did for me; however, I made these transitions slowly, both for the children and for me.  Understanding which tasks truly need to be accomplished now and which can wait, prioritizing your work load.  These are some mindsets to help a parent get through college.  How have you mastered the times in your life when you wished you were more than one person? 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How to Write When Life Gets in the Way

My writing notebooks, sometimes notes, sometimes passages
Five children, one husband, a home, work inside and out of the home.  I thought it was difficult when the children were smaller.  I’m learning that older children require just as much time. 
Then there are the extended family obligations, like downsizing my mother-in-law’s 90 years’ worth of possessions so that she will be able to go to an assisted living apartment.

I realize I’m not alone in having other obligations when trying to find time to write.  Most writers have a host of other obligations, too.  Here are some methods I’ve come up with to tuck a bit of writing into my harried life.

Keep a notebook handy for ideas and reminders while you go through life’s busywork.  You can use electronic devices here.  Then when you're finally able to get to your computer to work, you have a better chance to be productive.    
I tend to carry a notebook and pen everywhere I go.  I do this even on family vacations.  If I’m not documenting family adventures, I’m taking notes for writing projects.

Write during lunchtime breaks instead of socializing.  This is tough, I know.   Humans are social creatures.  The same holds true if you can convince your spouse to take the family to a party and allow you time to write.  Although with five children, I’m usually the one organizing the blasted event.

 Write before the family awakens in the morning, or if you’re a night owl, write after the house is quiet.  I’m the morning bird here.

When all else fails, see if you can find a half hour to hide out…ahem…I mean work in the local library.  This is helpful if you’re the type of writer who tries to work from home where those children and husband live and the busywork surrounds you, calling you by name. 

At times it may seem that the family bond, or your job, is more pressing than the call to write.  Life is not a dress rehearsal.  We go through it only once.  Not everyone can live as long as my mother-in-law and celebrate her 90th birthday.  I need to remind myself of this often.  Still, I try to write whenever I can, and if you want to also, try some of these ideas. 

If you have other ideas on how to fit writing into an already busy life, please share them with me.  Thanks!  Good luck with your writing projects.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Revising in Stages

Hiding among the stacks at the library
Now back to my memoir about going to college as a mother of five.  I find that if I try to fix all the suggestions that my critique readers make about my writing, I just sit there and stare at my work.  Oh sometimes, I’ll get up to file a nail or put on the kettle for a fresh pot of tea.  Then I’ll notice that the stove is dirty.  Those five children sometimes bring hungry friends over.  I’ll see another finger nail that needs grooming; I’ve got to choose a loose tea for the pot, choose a teacup…

You get the idea.  Does this ever happen to you when you’re revising?

 So I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do when revising, or even writing a new short story, is to hide in the local library for as long as possible—or until I’m found out by my children or husband as they call my cell phone relentlessly. 

Okay, so that keeps me sitting at my laptop, staring at the words.  Now to move forward.

I’ve found it easier to revise in stages.  I tend to work on the simpler fixes first.  You know; further explanations, clarifications, and, in my memoir especially, deeper thoughts.  It gets me into the story of the memoir and crawling ever so slightly forward.

I’m talking about the critique suggestions that I agree with or those that make sense for the writing or story at hand, the themes that I’m trying to connect in the writing.  Like I said in my previous post Writing is not a Cookie-Cutter Science, you only want to address the suggestions that matter to your voice, your writing.

I’m the type of writer who saves the different versions of my chapters or stories.  I’m working on my FIRST revision of the memoir with the simpler fixes.  I tell myself that in the next revision, I’ll work on the complications of time frame in a particular chapter, to re-evaluate chronological order in Chapter 9, for example.  Then in another revision, possibly divide a few longer chapters into shorter, tightly-woven chapters. 

Revising in stages can help a writer move forward on a longer project.  Saving the various revisions can help a writer move back to a prior version of the writing if she decides that the story can no longer move forward without a deleted section or details.  How about you?  Do you keep various versions of your writing when working on a project?  Please offer any suggestions you might have.  Thanks!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to Succeed in College While Raising a Family

Studying with fellow classmates
increases understanding.
That’s the catch, isn’t it?  Attending college while your children are growing up.  College study, and all it entails, is not easy—even without children.  But once you add family obligations into the mix, it can become downright difficult.  The answer?  Discover methods to study on the go, include the children into class projects when you can, and use your resources on campus.

Course work requires time.  Try toting books to work to read assignments at lunch or to the children’s games to read sections between active play.  Tape study notes and listen to them while performing household chores or watching soccer matches and swim meets.  Use earphones whenever you leave the house.  

Some college students and mothers get up an hour earlier to work on projects or clock out at work and remain there to do class work in an empty conference room or office away from the distractions of home.  And sometimes, you simply need to accomplish class work on the weekends.  
Understanding course material is crucial.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions during class or afterwards.  I, for one, peppered my professors with questions to obtain a better understanding of the material.  Networking with fellow classmates can aid in understanding too.  Form study groups; get together when you can to work on projects together. 

Most colleges offer free tutors for numerous courses.  Check the hours for the Tutoring Center on campus.  Many universities have writing centers where students can obtain critiques of their academic papers. 

Starting college or completing a degree for a non-traditional student, usually a student over 30, is a challenge.  But it can be accomplished.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is what my memoir is about.         

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Go Ahead and Apply to College

Begin your college journey today!
Hopefully you’ve found some money to help pay for college tuition. 

While I understand that some scholarships and/or grants may require you to apply to a college first, now is the time to seek out a particular college and apply.  Most colleges have websites with a link from their homepage to an application form.  Please note that some colleges have application fees that need to be submitted before your application will be considered for acceptance.  

Community colleges, or junior colleges as they are sometimes called, allow potential students to attend 3 or 4 non-pre-requisite courses [about 12 credits] before needing to take the free Placement Test.  A non-pre-requisite course is like Art Appreciation or Psychology.  It’s a course that requires no math or science.

Without S.A.T. scores [Scholastic Assessment Tests], the Placement Test is necessary to be sure potential students have the background knowledge to handle college level courses.  This test is made up of three parts:  reading/comprehension, writing, and math.  The Placement Test is free—the first time you take it.  However, you may take it a second time, or a third, but there is a fee each time.  This is a pass/fail test.  You only take it again if you feel you can do better and pass a particular section.  Basic skills courses are offered at all colleges to assist potential students in achieving college level math and writing.  Yes, you need to pay for these basic skills courses, too.  You may transfer in to college with prior course credit in math or science courses from another college and not need to take the Placement Test. 

Once you are admitted to a college, or even before, you should consider a major, a course of study.  Students may begin attending college without being matriculated, which means being enrolled in a particular course of study.

You can register for classes online.  The courses listed on the web inform potential students if a requirement [another course] is necessary before taking that particular course. 

Some colleges offer both Saturday and Sunday classes from about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in addition to weekday early morning [starting at 7 a.m.] and evening courses.  Of course, online courses abound at colleges.  Summer courses available at colleges are usually fifteen week courses compressed into about five to eight weeks, meeting approximately four times per week, day or evening.  Compressed weekend courses can be found as well.  There are non-compressed summer courses, too, usually about 12 weeks.  I’ve attended both the compressed and the non-compressed versions of summer courses in my ten-year college journey.

            So stick a pencil into the college pool of non-pre-requisite courses first if you’d like, and then get matriculated into a course of study and begin your own college journey to a bachelor’s degree.  You’ll be glad you did. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Scholarships: Where to find Money for Returning to or Beginning College

Money for College Education
Attending college is expensive.  Money was another reason I attended a community college.  Seven people.  One paycheck.  Community colleges are less expensive than four-year institutions.  But as I continued in my college journey, I discovered that I could receive money to help pay for college.  I became determined not to pay for the next leg of my college journey.

It’s helpful to see if you qualify for any scholarships being offered.  For non-traditional students [usually students over 30 years of age] the task can seem daunting. 

If you work outside the home, check with Human Resources to see if your company offers tuition reimbursement for college courses or for an undergrad degree.  Notice this is usually reimbursement.  You may need to lay out the money first and then show your passing grades to be reimbursed after the semester. 

Outside of any scholarships or reimbursement offered at your personal work, I would try the Financial Aid Office of the educational institution you wish to attend. 

If you were in the United States military or fought in one of the conflicts, under the G.I. bill the military may pay for your college education. 

These three places are always best to try first as the competition will be far less than blanket scholarships found on the web.  Always try local first.  There are groups and professions that offer smaller scholarships for attending college, but you need to check the age requirements.  Also, many scholarships are financial needs based. 

All financial aid requests require that you complete a FAFSA form and file it.  FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Another good thing to know is the difference between a grant and a student loan.  Grants are financial aid usually based on financial need.  They do not need to be repaid unless you withdraw from school.  Then you may owe a refund.  Federal, state, and college grants are available if you meet the requirements.

Student loans accrue interest, sometimes while you are attending college, and need to be paid back to the institution giving the money within a set time frame.  

Grants and scholarships abound online when I googled scholarship for women, but I don’t pretend to know all.  I received a Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship to attend the University of Pennsylvania as I prepared to graduate from my community college.  This scholarship was based on academic standing, awards achieved, and volunteer work performed during my community college years.  In other words, now I had the proof needed for four-year colleges to offer me money to attend their institutions.  

How about you?  Did you win or receive any scholarships or grants to go to college?  Please share any information you may have to help others afford the expense of a college education.  Thank you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Gaining Entrance to College for the Non-Traditional Student

College Entrance exams
The big thing to remember about college is that prospective students can begin attending any semester; fall, spring, or summer. 


Getting accepted into college is no easy task.  College admission boards prefer intelligent, well-rounded students.  While the category percentages may vary, the boards look for good school grades and/or a high performance on the S.A.T.’s [Scholastic Assessment Tests] as proof of academic accomplishment.  Well-rounded students probably participated in sports and belonged to clubs in high school.  Traditional prospective college students volunteer their time at churches, hospitals, or community functions. 


You know, a person who never sleeps, has no time for family or friends.  These are tough sneakers to fill for a non-traditional student, a student over 30 years of age beginning college for the first time. 


This was one reason why I started at a community college or junior colleges as they are sometimes called.  Since I was a non-traditional student, with no S.A.T. scores, I needed to take a basic skills test, an entrance exam, to be sure I was prepared for college level math and writing. 


Okay, so I was only partially prepared for college, passing the writing portion of the entrance exam, not the math.  I didn’t have a college preparatory high school curriculum.  I was a business student.  I haven’t done algebra and rational numbers and integers, etc., for a long, long time.  I required basic skills math courses to bring me up to college-level math in order to complete the math and science requirements needed for a college degree.       


And that is where my college journey begins in the memoir: deciding to apply and take the entrance exam at a community college—with five children in tow for most of it.  However, even though I started at a community college, the possibilities from there were numerous.  I’ll discuss some of those possibilities together with scholarship next month.     

Monday, February 17, 2014

College: Why a Brick and Mortar Institution of Learning Matters

University of Pennsylvania
To continue with last month’s blog post, why should a prospective college student attend a brick and mortar institution?  While totally online degrees abound, I believe it is the educational community and the opportunities the physical college setting offers that make it important for most students to attend. 

The give and take of the college classroom, the professors and their teaching assistants, the availability of tutors and writing centers, fellow classmates working and studying together; upper classmen assisting underclassmen, the genuine proximity of the education being offered.  More than education is shared on the college campus.  And I’m not talking about partying. 

While younger college students learn to become self-sufficient, older college students may struggle to understand new material.  Students come to a particular course from different stages in their curriculums.  Many times the physical presence in a classroom can afford a camaraderie that is not present in the online classroom. 

The physical college stetting can help students learn how to work with people from different backgrounds, discover different methods to analyze and evaluate class projects, perhaps fill in some missing knowledge for each other. 

I brought life experience to my college education.  Even though I had basic skills math to obtain college level math skills, there were educational holes in my knowledge base that fellow younger students filled in for me.  We worked together in numerous projects, each bringing an understanding that another hadn’t considered. 

Most physical colleges offer opportunities to their students where they can stretch their political or artistic wings, create a new community group or college periodical.  They can learn about other cultures firsthand through fellow students or professors.  Students can study abroad, take classrooms in the field of research, take advantage of internships, and scholarships to continue their education. 

The brick and mortar institution, with all its components, is an asset in a student’s learning journey.  Together with opportunities afforded to the student body, attending college within a learning community fosters the sharing of knowledge.  What do you think?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why Go to College?

A college degree
Worth the paper and tassel
It’s a good question at any age. 

I believe people learn something new each day merely by interacting with others or reading something new.  There are free lectures to attend at libraries or local college campuses, how-to books to read, and online, single-subject classes or webinars to participate in.  There are also introductory online courses such as MOOC’s to interact in.  MOOC’s are “massive open online courses” taught by professors of respectable colleges and universities.  

I’ve participated in a business course taught by a Wharton Business School professor and modern poetry from a Kelly Writers’ House professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  Archeology at Brown University and health and wellness at the University of California.  Almost any topic can be presented to an online audience.  In addition to listening to lectures, MOOC’s have quizzes and writing assignments to test your understanding of the material if you wish to receive a certificate for course completion.  The web environment has online support and question and answer links.  These courses do require a lot of time and there is a time limit for completion.  But I love learning new things and enjoy lectures.

            That being said, I still believe a college degree, with its varied curricula and face-to-face interaction, matters in today’s world.  Many professions require a degree.  

Earning a college degree demands years of a person’s life, large amounts of work and understanding, and the student, regardless of age, grows and changes because of this learning environment.  Earning a college degree demonstrates endurance and the determination to see things to completion.

What do you think about this?  Is a college degree still necessary in today’s world?