Thursday, May 25, 2023

The What, Why, and Wherefore of Autofiction

Over the past decade, Connie and I have shared our lives and stories, often through our Wellspring Writers fellowship. Not surprisingly, life-based stories also make their way into writing. When more than half of a story and/or the critical plot points and characters in a work of fiction are not only based on real life but are actually part of real life, that’s autofiction. In this post, we’ll consider these oft-asked questions on the genre:

  •  What is autofiction

  • Why do writers choose the genre?

  • How can writers select and transform important life events, turning points, and discoveries into stories?

Autofiction usually is described as a combination of autobiography and fiction. Although this makes the term easy to remember, it’s more accurate to equate the nonfiction aspect with memoir. The main reason is that where autobiography usually covers a person’s entire life, memoir typically focuses on critical aspects of the person’s life, or a segment of it or a running theme that ties selected events together. Regardless of how autofiction is defined, there are practical reasons why writers work in the genre.

 Most people go through a number of seminal events and turning points throughout their lives, with epiphanies along the way—moments where a sudden flash of insight illuminates the writer’s understanding of herself, her world and the people around her. These elements often become part of stories in a natural way. For example, if we’re writing a scene where the main character moves from one part of the world to another and we’ve done the same, we’ll instinctually draw on our experience to write this section of the story. What makes the segment autofiction is when what happened to the character leading up to the move, the realities of the move itself, and what results afterward (including flashes of insight into what it means to undergo a major shift in geography, externally and internally) forms the bulk of that section of the story. We’ve seen that poor (or fortunate) soul who’s moving halfway around the world, and she is us.

 Writers also write autofiction because they want to revisit certain life events, changes and discoveries in order to better understand their lives and the people in them, and convey what they’ve learned in the form of story. This is especially true when there’s a particular theme involved, such as what it means to have a dual heritage. The underlying principal is what Vivian Gornick refers to in The Situation and the Story, on the art of personal narrative. “Every work of literature has both a situation and a story. The situation is the context or circumstance … the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say [about the circumstance].” Here, the writer has gone through something he wants to recall, explore and reveal, and has come to the written page to speak of it in a way worth remembering.

 So how does a writer transform life into stories? In reality, most writers, especially those who have been writing for a while, have an innate longing to explore some key event in their lives. It could be a move, career change, or life change. It could be something they’ve always wanted to do but haven’t been able to. Taking time to look back is an important step in deciding which aspects of life to cover. Even more important is “why”. What is it that makes the event, turning point or discovery worth writing about, worth spinning out an entire story for? The answer usually has to do with how much of an impact the event had on the writer. If it made a lasting impression on her, it could have the same effect on readers.

 My new novel, What She Takes Away (Bordighera Press, May 2023), is a work of autofiction. Set largely in Italy, the story is based mostly on events in my life and my mother’s, and the lives of her family. The actualities, especially the discoveries, were worth writing about because they shaped our lives. And if they shaped our lives, they’ll likely have impact the reader’s life. Isn’t that what the best stories aim to do?

The weaver’s shuttle of story turns in What She Takes Away when aspiring fabric designer Gia Falcini receives a gift from her estranged father in Italy that sparks a journey to his hillside village and new stepfamily, the country’s style capital and a rare local textile mill that could shred Gia's aspirations or offer a legacy worth taking away.

Adele Annesi is the author of
What She Takes Away (Bordighera Press, May 2023) and co-author of Now What? The Creative Writer's Guide to Success After the MFA. Also a former development editor for Scholastic Publishing, Adele has published works with 34th Parallel, Midway Journal, Miranda Literary Magazine, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, the Washington Independent Review of Books and Southern Literary Review, where she was managing editor. Her work has been anthologized for Chatter House Press and Fairfield University, where she received an MFA in creative writing. Her essay on Italian citizenship is among the Clarion Award-winning Essays About Life Transitions by Women Writers, and she received the Editor's Choice award from the National Library of Poetry. Adele’s sudden fiction has been adapted for the stage, and she has served as a screener for the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival. She is currently a columnist for The Authority and Book Marketing Matters, and a writing instructor for Westport Writers’ Workshop. Adele’s long-running blog for writers is Word for Words, and her website is Adele Annesi.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

A Garden is My Happy Place

Recently, my husband and I visited the Getty Villa in Malibu. It's a copy of a Roman villa, and it's filled with beautiful Etruscan, Greek, and Roman art. The villa also has four separate gardens. Since gardens are my happy place, I want to share these photos with you. The gardens were immaculate as if weeds had been refused entrance to the villa. Speaking of an entrance, the Getty Villa is free! The only cost is parking, which is $20. (I will post photos of the incredible art another day.) Enjoy the gardens today.


I wanted to take my shoes off and run through the water. 
But I behaved myself.

Our ideal dates are museum visits.

Yes, my eyes are closed, but the pond was too pretty to skip.


Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Exploring Duality in Identity, Experience and Tradition for Writers

Thursday, March 3 from 4:45-6:00 pm Eastern, I'd encourage you to attend "Exploring Duality in Identity, Experience, and Tradition for Writers and Writing." (It is free.) Adele Annesi, one of the writers involved, is a gifted novelist and this is sure to be excellent.

Here's more information: Critical and creative works often reflect two sides of identity: experience and tradition. Experience explores what it means to be between two cultures, lifestyles, habits, languages, genders, heritages, realities, and selves. Tradition reflects on customs, touchstones, and figures.

Authors of fiction, memoir, and poetry Adele Annesi, Nicholas A. DiChario, Marc DiPaolo, Annie Rachele Lanzillotto, and Janet Sylvester will read excerpts from their work and discuss the role of duality in their creative efforts, followed by a Q&A.
This virtual event is sponsored by Bordighera Press. 
You can attend on Facebook via this link:

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

San Jose del Cabo Vacation, Part One

 For vacation, we traveled to San Jose del Cabo, Baja California, Mexico. Here's what it was like.


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

A Wedding and a Novel

It's been a busy summer! I've been working on a new novel, which allows me to stay inside and out of the heat and humidity. But my husband and I ventured out for a wedding. It was wonderful.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Friday Five, Conscious Dreaming

I've had nightmares for as long as I can remember. They are vicious and come in every flavor of horror.

My husband Calvin doesn’t have nightmares—never had one. Lucky him. One day, I said, “Don’t you ever have a dream that goes bad? A nightmare that leaves you soaked in sweat and gasping for breath?” He said, “If they’re going bad, I fix them. I change the story.”

Via Google, I discovered this is called conscious dreaming and decided to try it. So, I made up endings for each type of nightmare I have. Here’s how it went:

Nightmare, type 1. Pursued by an evil creature on a horse through a dark wood.

My plan: I’d pull a shining sword from a scabbard, stab the evil creature through the heart, and lop off its head, à la Eowyn in Lord of the Rings.

My reality: Me to the evil creature, “You’ve made a mess of the woods—slime and monster droppings everywhere. Go away so I can clean up.” The evil creature slinks away, tail between its legs. And now, I feel bad for hurting the evil creature’s feelings.

2. Nightmare, type 2. Claustrophobic panic attack. I don’t have claustrophobia or panic attacks. Except in dreams.

Plan: I use superhuman strength—this is a dream after all—and burst whatever I’ve been shoved into.

Reality: (Discovering I’ve been shoved into a tight sack) “This is ridiculous. I am not claustrophobic and I don’t have panic attacks, so I’m going to wake up.” And I did.

3. Nightmare, type 3. Chased by a murderer and I can’t run away or scream.

 Plan: The murderer attacks. I raise and fire my gun. Afterward, I blow smoke from the muzzle.

Reality: My feet are stuck, I unstick them. But I don’t run. *Facepalm* Instead, I scream and start laughing. Cowed by laughter, the murderer retreats into darkness. Then, I do the happy dance.

4. Nightmare, type 4. Rotten teeth nightmare. According to Google, this nightmare is an expression of anxiety I’m feeling about losing my identity.

Plan: Um, I think I have this nightmare because I hate paying big dentist bills. Maybe I can pretend the dentist works for free.

Reality: I see holes in the back of my teeth. This dream is dumb—no one can see the back of their molars. Besides, the dentist says my teeth are fine, if only I’d stop grinding them. I tell the nightmare to go away and never come back. It works. But I still wish the dentist was free.

Nightmare, type 5. A pain nightmare is when real pain breaks into your dreams—30% of people with chronic, acute pain have pain dreams. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is the gift that keeps on giving…

Plan: I’ll dream of a capsule containing a swirl of blue, red, and yellow mini-pills. A stained glass of pain relief. I’ll swallow the pill with a shot of bourbon. Presto. No more pain.

Reality: Yeah…I haven’t got this figured out yet. Maybe I can use that flaming sword leftover from the evil creature nightmare to kill the pain. One slicing strike. Pain dies…it dies a painful death. 😊 Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance, Book Review


Notes On Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach

     The title of this novel could give the impression that it is a thriller—it’s not. It's something more. Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance tells the story of Kathy’s accidental death and whether her sister Sally, her family, or her boyfriend Billy will survive the guilt that haunts them.

     This elegantly written novel is about more than a single deadly accident. In its pages, the reader experiences four subsequent accidents in slow-motion—the unfolding tragedies of four ruined lives. The reactions of Kathy’s parents, Sally, and Billy wrenched my heart as they made one bad decision after another to staunch their pain. In spite of this, the novel is a story of redemption. While guilt is what brings Sally and Billy together and rips them apart, forgiveness and love finally unite them in peace.

     My one complaint is that there is a lot of teenage sexuality in this novel. While it makes sense in a novel that is a coming-of-age story, there were times it felt overdone and slowed the novel’s pace.

Four Stars!