[Ed. note: Not Quite What I Was Planning, the book of "six-word memoirs" that we included in our Seven on the Side editors' picks this month, includes a contribution from our own Leah Weathersby, an editor on our Movies & TV team. We asked Leah to write a post on the book, and she contributed a Q&A with one of the editors of the book. You can read her six-word memoir at the bottom, and some of us plan to post our own, unpublished contributions this week as well.]
Oh the heady thrill of having a book hovering around Amazon's top 100 list. Of course like the other writers, I only have six words in Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure Writers, but I was still excited to help promote this book, not to mention learn more about the project. I e-mailed Not Quite's co-author, Rachel Fershleiser of SMITH, a few questions (six, coincidentally!) to get the skinny:
Amazon: How did the idea for the six-word memoir contest (that later turned into a book) come about? Can you put it into six words?
Rachel: Hemingway opened door, memoirists rushed in.
[Ed. note: Hemingway penned the very short story "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn."]
Amazon: You do have some pretty famous contributors in this book--did they enter the contest just like everyone else, or did you have your people call their people?
Rachel: The memoirs came in a variety of ways. There were definitely recognizable names that trickled in the old-fashioned route. When we went into the backend blogging tool of the six-word project and saw someone named "Dhandler" had submitted "What? Lemony Snicket? Lemony Snicket? What?”, we were freaking out (and later confirmed it was in fact Mr. Handler/Snicket). But, yes, we also solicited memoirs from writers and artists we admire. Combining amateur and professional writing is one of SMITH’s biggest goals. Most gratifying, a lot of the famous writers went above and beyond what was asked. Joyce Carol Oates sent us "found" six-word memoirs from Emily Dickinson. George Saunders (whose "Started small, grew, peaked, shrunk, vanished." is one of our favorites) sent several memoirs and the postscript "Just noticed I wrote one above. And also wrote one just now. Oh God oh God, am trapped." Mario Batali, in true Molto Mario style, sent in seven, with an email time-stamped at around 2:45a.m., all wonderful. We thought his first idea, "Brought it to a boil, often," nailed the essence of his soul as well, or better, than a 60,000-word biography could.
Amazon: I would have expected most people to try and be funny with their entries, but it seems like you got a lot of sad memoirs as well.
Rachel: The saddest moment had to be when Ronald S. Zalewski, author of "Was father, boys died, still sad," sent us a photo of two tiny headstones. We also got a photo of a beautiful bride from her young widower ("Wife died young; on the mend."--Sumit Paul-Choudhury), and less dramatic tragedies--a lot of people are just very lonely. But there's also joy, love, gratitude, relief, optimism, and every other emotion. We like to think that, although the proportion of sad memoirs undoubtedly surprised us, the overarching theme is about learning, growing, and moving on.
Amazon: Re: the original contest, what was the winning entry?
Rachel: The original memoir was "Barrister, barista, what's the diff, Mom?" by Abigail Moorhouse. We have lots of favorites--there are hundreds of them in the book, we know nearly all of them by heart, and are grateful for each one--but Abigail Moorhouse's six words seemed to have it all. It's funny, worded perfectly, and speaks to some universal stuff: ambition, disappointment, expectations, familial angst. A life a little different than you planned, and maybe you're okay with the way it's all turning out.
Amazon: What’s next for SMITH in the realm of story-telling contests?
Rachel: Right now, we're pretty six-word obsessed. We're running another six-word memoir contest, and partnering with other great online communities to solicit six words on "the green life" (with TreeHugger), photos captions (FOUND), personal projects (ReadyMade), love stories (True Hookup Confessions), and others. You can also always submit to other SMITH projects: The PopuLIST, where we solicit 100-word stories inspired by current events, Brushes with Fame and My Ex, which are just what they sound like. And we publish memoirs-in-progress--recently a first-time writer we featured landed a book deal. We can tell you from experience, there's no greater feeling than that.
SMITH Mag is is also taking its storytelling obsession offline in ways that could not be more different than books. To name one kind of wild, exciting example, we're partnering with Rick's Picks to tell pregnancy stories on pickle jars!
Amazon: Having thought about six-word stories a lot for over a year now, do you find yourself communicating in six-word sentences more?
Rachel: Six words really is showing up everywhere--on T-shirts, in bathroom graffiti. We used to need to count on our fingers; now we know it by sight. We recently got a party RSVP written all in six-word sentences--the writer swears it was subconscious. But that's what's so exciting about this project--it gets people going. 832 people, most of whom have never been published anywhere before, have shared the most intimate details of their lives with perfect strangers. It's a manifestation of everything SMITH Mag believes about storytelling should be: populist, accessible, fun, profound, and addictive.
My six-word memoir was "lucky in love, unlucky in metabolism." You can send SMITH your own memoir here. --Leah
Here are editors Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser with six-word memoir contributor Summer Grimes (left), whose memoir provided the title for the book: