Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Dad's Get-Rich-Quick Scheme

My latest writing project is a memoir of my childhood years growing up on a dairy farm. I hope it will be published by fall 2019. For a sneak preview, here’s one of the stories I plan to include:

Often throughout my childhood, my father devised get-rich-quick schemes. His goal was to be a millionaire. He was determined to never again live through anything like the Great Depression. Many of his ideas failed to materialize, but this time he had been reading in the Wall Street Journal about chinchillas, those furry rodents with highly valued pelts.

Dad researched until he found a source for purchasing several young chinchillas. Before they arrived, he set up large wire cages in the cellar and bedded them with wood shavings. Then, he ordered special food pellets formulated exclusively for chinchillas. Once the creatures grew to adulthood, he would sell them for their plush fur. The wood furnace in the cellar would keep the animals, whose natural habitat was Chile, toasty warm.

Despite Mighty Mouse being my favorite cartoon character, I was terrified of rodents and thought the animals looked no more valuable than the gray squirrels scampering about our yard.

One night, after all of us had fallen asleep, something strange happened. We were awakened by piano music in the form of raggedy glissandi ascending and descending the keyboard. Since the piano was in the living room just beyond my bedroom door, I was blamed for the nighttime interruption.

“Lucinda,” Mom called, “Stop playing the piano and go back to bed.” She always used my given name when she was scolding me.

“It’s not me!” I yelled.


“Not me!” my sister shouted from her room at the opposite end of the house.

“Well, whoever it is, go to bed.”

The strange music continued. After listening to a few minutes of melodic passages in a decidedly impressionistic style, Dad was compelled to get up and check it out.
You guessed it. Two of Dad’s chinchillas had escaped the cellar and were presenting their concert debut in our living room. As soon as I realized the rodents were loose, I got up, slammed my bedroom door, and cowered under the covers like they would protect me.
Dad, who had to get up before 5:00 a.m. for the morning milking, was not amused to have his sleep interrupted, but soon I heard him and Mom laughing amid much scuffling and bumping, followed by a few loud Schoenberg-type, atonal clusters (i.e. banging and crashing) on the piano. That night, we learned the hard way that, unlike squirrels, chinchillas were nocturnal.

Eventually, Mom and Dad corralled the perpetrators and returned them to their cages in the cellar. The house grew quiet again, but not before a Walton-family exchange of “good nights,” along with my parents’ heavy sighs and a few giggles.

Weeks later, Dad’s scheme ended abruptly when a chimney fire caused the cellar to fill with smoke. The chinchillas never stood a chance of performing at Carnegie Hall. Nor would they contribute their fur to rich people’s coats or line Dad’s wallet.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com   

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Writing My Memoir

My latest writing project is the memoir of my childhood growing up on a dairy farm. The working title is Farm Girl: A Memoir. It’s the most difficult writing I’ve tackled so far because I’m too close to the subject to be objective. When I allow the memories to flood into my conscious mind, it’s hard to sort through them, deciding what is pertinent and what is not, what would be interesting to readers and what would bore them. 

Another issue is how I can present negative memories in a way that won’t hurt or embarrass my family members. I’m trying to tell the truth, but sometimes strong emotions are attached to the people and events of my childhood. It’s a challenging balancing act.

This project began as a series of journal entries, an exercise in catharsis. I wanted to understand why some memories from growing up were tinged with sadness or regret, why they affected me negatively. I hoped my journaling would serve to diffuse their intensity, and that’s what happened.

Amid the process of pulling my stories together, I had the privilege of editing Dave Cariens’ book, Eight Steps to Writing Your Memoir, for High Tide Publications. All his straight-forward tips and exercises were useful, but in the section about handling sensitive subjects, I found his advice especially helpful:  

Every family has problems, and every family has a black sheep or two. So how do you deal with those issues?

You will need to give careful thought to this aspect of your memoir. The people you are writing about may be people you love very much. You need to be honest, tactful, respectful, and understanding in dealing with individuals with problems.

In my memoir, I had to tackle the mental illness and alcoholism of both my mother and my brother. This was painful but had to be done. It took me a long time, and many drafts, to settle on the words that were honest, but respectful to the people I loved. (p. 40)

Before I submit my memoir for publication, I’ll ask my three siblings to read and approve it. If there are parts they find disturbing or too revealing about our family, I’ll consider re-writing or deleting those sections. After all, it’s not my goal to publish a scathing exposé about our family or to hurt anyone. But, as Cariens points out, it’s important to “establish a bond of truth and trust with the reader.” He reasons that readers can see through our cleaned-up versions of the truth and will feel betrayed if we are less than honest and forthright.

Farm Girl: A Memoir is still a work-in-progress, but I hope to have it ready for publication by fall 2019. In the meantime, my sister-in-law is sorting through photographs my parents left behind and promises to send me any shots I can use. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Undoubtedly, the addition of photos like the ones above will enhance my stories, but there’s another saying attributed to Penina Finger that all writers must embrace if their work is to speak to readers and have lasting value:

“A picture may be worth a thousand words, but well-chosen words will take you where pictures never can.”

Wish me luck as I attempt to choose my words well.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy Loomis Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com