Gazing Into the Mirror


If you’ve ever snooped in someone’s diary, you probably enjoy reading memoirs. They allow you to study lives far removed from your own. You might even consider writing your own life story.

Examples of ordinary people whose lives fascinated others fill our bookshelves. Author Frank McCourt wrote about his poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland. His memoir, “Angela’s Ashes,” moved his readers to tears. His subsequent book, “ ‘Tis: A Memoir,” follows his journey to America, where he became a teacher, and it’s another fascinating read.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg’s memoir, “All Over but the Shoutin’,” told about his dirt-poor childhood in Alabama. His mother stood out in the memoir, just an ordinary woman who became unforgettable through Bragg’s writing.

Now Stephen King, famous for writing scary fiction, has written a how-to book on writing the memoir. In “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” (Simon & Schuster, $25), he writes about himself first. Then he shows you how he wrote his fiction. Finally, he dispenses some tools in the way of suggested reading and assignments.

If that’s too wordy for you, try “The Autobiography Box: A Step-by-Step Kit for Examining the Life Worth Living” (Chronicle Books, $19.95) by Brian Bouldrey. The author prods your memory with 60 cards labeled Remember, Discover, Dramatize and Structure. He includes questions such as “Write about a strange family member.” That should fire up images--everyone’s family tree has quirky characters hidden somewhere.


You might need guidance before you begin this journey. According to Oxnard writer Claire Robey, it doesn’t really matter where you start when you decide to record your personal experiences. Robey has taught the subject at Cal Lutheran’s Creative Options for Women workshops, Ventura’s Barnes & Noble and Parents Without Partners groups.

“The first thing I tell people is to write something about your earliest memory, or your most vivid memory,” she said. Thoughts begin to gather and cluster and you’re off, she said. For more information on upcoming classes, call her at 485-0339 or e-mail

If you’re still looking for books to get your creative juices going, check out Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way” and “Vein of Gold.” Her latest how-to on the subject is “The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life” (Putnam, $19.95).

There are groups that stimulate your creativity as well, two of them at 1 p.m. Fridays at Borders in Thousand Oaks.

Roseanne Savo facilitates the Creative Gatherings group, in partnership with Simi Valley Adult Education. Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” is the core book.

A creativity workshop meets in the cafe, using the core books “Room to Write” by Bonnie Goldberg and “Drawing on the Artists Within” by Betty Edwards.

If you’d rather read memoirs than write one, check out’s list of the year’s best memoirs. Included are “Cherry” by Mary Karr, “Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir” by Lauren Slater, “Experience” by Martin Amis, “Greene on Capri” by Shirley Hazard and “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Based on a True Story” by Dave Eggers.


* Tuesday: 7 p.m. The First Tuesday Contemporary Book Group will focus on “Midwives” by Chris Bohajalian. Borders, 125 W. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 497-8159.

* Wednesday: 7 p.m. Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network will hear Melissa Hart Romero discuss how to work with small publishing houses to ensure a book’s success. Her first novel, “Long Way Home,” was published by Windstorm Creative, a small press in Port Orchard, Wash. Romero teaches creative writing at Ventura College. For more information, contact Carol Doering at or at 493-1081. Borders, 497-8159.


* Jan. 6: 9:30 a.m. The Borders Classical Music Society presents everything you wanted to know about music but were afraid to ask. Borders, 497-8159.

* Jan. 6: 11 a.m. The Children’s Music Hour begins, focusing on the joy of singing and ear training for all ages. Borders, 497-8159.

Information about book signings, writers groups and publishing events can be e-mailed to or faxed to 647-5649.