Cultural and Literary Events for August 2013

Lundy Canyon, California

Check with your library, college, government agencies, or community groups for activities in your area. Listings are for the United States unless noted. 


American Adventures Month was founded by adventurer, writer, and speaker Peter Kulkkula to encourage exploring the Americas.


Founded by adventure-seeker Peter Kulkkula, American Adventures Month celebrates traveling throughout the Americas and truly exploring the land. What a perfect theme for all of you outdoor enthusiasts!  - See more at:
Founded by adventure-seeker Peter Kulkkula, American Adventures Month celebrates traveling throughout the Americas and truly exploring the land. What a perfect theme for all of you outdoor enthusiasts!  - See more at:

Other Events in August

Black Business Month

Children's Eye Health and Safety Month

Children’s Vision and Learning Month

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

Happiness Happens Month

National Immunization Awareness Month

Neurosurgery Outreach Month

National Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month

What Will Be Your Legacy Month

Photo courtesy

Leave your comments on what is going on in your area this month and how you are celebrating.

Some information provided by Chases's Calendar of Events.

Barnaby Conrad's Best Beginnings

Book Review
Barnaby Conrad (1922-2013)

101 Best Beginnings Ever Written 

Barnaby Conrad
Quill Driver Books, 2009
Softcover, 182 pages with index

After reading this book, I added it to my suggested reading list for students in my memoir-writing classes. I have long advised students to begin their stories with action or something interesting that entices readers to stay. Paying attention to fiction is a great way to learn to write better nonfiction.

A well-drafted opening is a must
Capturing the reader’s attention straight off is the premise of Conrad’s entertaining and practical book, a premise he defends by showcasing beginnings of selected novels and short stories published during the past 300 years. “A well-drafted opening—maybe just the first sentence—immediately tells the editor that he is dealing with a good writer.” The opening does not have to be shocking, startling or amazing, he says, but it does need to tantalize and intrigue the editor, and thus the buying public, to read further. Conrad cautions, though, a great beginning cannot hide a poorly written story.

The subtitle of his book is A Romp Through Literary Openings for Writers and Readers! Romp: to play or frolic in a lively or boisterous manner. Conrad does, thoroughly enjoying his takes on classic and popular literature from a kaleidoscope of authors including Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Anna Quindlen, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. Conrad’s observations are credible, as he was author of more than thirty fiction and nonfiction books, and “chauffeur-secretary-verbal punching bag, and protégé” of Sinclair Lewis, first Nobel Prize winner from the United States. Beginnings is the middle of Conrad’s Best series. The others are 101 Best Scenes Ever Written (2006) and 101 Best Sex Scenes Ever Written (2011).

Some Conrad gems
Although 101 is in the title, Conrad's examples easily are three times that. Some of his insights:
  • “At last we get to a human being. Dare we hope for a story?” On Charles Dickens’s Bleak House.
  • “As most professional writers urge: ‘Forget the adverb; get the right and vigorous verb!’” On F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night.
  • “Z-z-z-z.” On Sebastian Faulkes’s Birdsong.
  • “… readers always empathize with victims of perceived injustice.” On Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.
  • “John Grisham knows the importance of beginning fast, and he likes to have the reader believe that his fiction actually happened.” On Grisham’s The Appeal.
  • “Stories aren’t written; they’re rewritten!” On Jack London’s "To Build a Fire," first written in 1902 and rewritten in 1908. 
  • “Readers invest emotion in characters in trouble.” On Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage.
Conrad maintains much classic literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would not get the attention of today’s editors and publishers because of stilted language and ho-hum starts. His advice for today’s authors: “Get to something happening! Or about to happen! Start closer to the climax! Conflict! Never use exclamations!!!!!!!! (in your fiction, that is!)”

Chapter topics
At least 101 other list makers would disagree with Conrad’s selections of best beginnings. He speaks to the limits of his choices by declaring them to be basic and by suggesting readers visit a library or bookstore and read first pages of novels to discover their own best beginnings.

Conrad categorizes his list into twelve chapters: Characterization, Setting, Setting—Plus Character, Dialogue, Seemingly Factual, Interrogatory (questions), In Medias Res (Latin for starting a story in midpoint), Generalization, Author to Reader, Action, Epistolary (letters), and Emotion.

In chapter thirteen, Conrad fesses up to the existence of “many wonderful beginnings that seem to thumb their nose at being categorized.” In the last chapter, fourteen, you get your money’s worth alone, with rapid-fire entries of more than 200 well-known beginnings from such enduring authors as Tobias Wolff, Pearl S. Buck, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Willa Cather, Zane Grey, and J. R. R. Tolkien. I’m disappointed Conrad doesn’t comment on works of authors in the last chapter and does not list them in the index.

Author, artist, and bullfighter Barnaby Conrad founded the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 1973 that grew into a renowned annual event, drawing famous authors from around the country. He ran the conference with his wife, Mary, until they sold it in 2004. Text and photo courtesy

What best beginnings kept you glued to stories? What are examples of best beginnings you wrote?

If you read a good book related to lifestory writing, I invite you to submit a review. See submission guidelines.

Reaching: How I Wrote My Memoir

Grace Peterson
Guest article by Grace Peterson

Being an author wasn’t a childhood dream. In school I was a C student and although I liked to write, I was horrible with grammar and spelling, which kept me from aspirations of literary grandeur. I confined my writings to my trusty journal where I never had to worry about the critical red pen.

I began writing my memoir in 2006, six years after leaving Brock, the antagonist in my book. I remember standing in front of the mirror, willing away the fog so I could focus on my past. There was so much unresolved conflict, so much pain. Being fairly proficient with a computer and Microsoft Word, I wrote. It wasn’t a casual decision, it was a mandate. Finally, at the age of forty-five, I convinced myself that someday I was going to be a published author.  

Fortunately, I have a good memory. I wrote everything I could remember about my growing up years, but as I contrasted my factual scenarios with the likes of Jennifer Lauck, Frank McCourt and other astute memoir writers, I knew I had more work to do—creating a sensory scene, dialog, conflict resolution, honing the literary aspect of writing a book. Reading memoirs was my only training until I happened upon Tristine Rainer’s book, Your Life As Story: Discovering the “New Autobiography” and Writing Memoir as Literature. Finding it felt providential and I devoured every page. It not only provided the tools I needed, it inspired me, empowered me, excited me.

What I didn't do
I didn’t impose deadlines on myself. I didn’t write from an outline. I didn’t have a writing mentor or group to offer feedback. I didn’t belong to any social media. Other than weekly visits to my therapist and offering tidbits to my husband Steve, I was alone, writing chronologically about my painful past. I reread my journals, pored over old photos. I bought CDs of 1970s music and listened and cried. I purchased maps (before I knew about Google Maps) and reacquainted myself with street names and locations and prided myself on how well I remembered those places.

I finished multiple times. I’d take a few weeks off, then come back, dissatisfied. I knew I needed to narrow it down, make my theme obvious and stick to it. Readers weren’t going to be interested in every detail of my life. Eventually, I trimmed 150,000 words to a more reasonable 78,000.

My lack of Internet prowess worked to my advantage in that it enabled me to write without distraction. On the flip side, I wasn’t aware of helpful websites, memoir how-to books, and blogs such as Your Memories, Your Book.

Rejection to determination
By 2010, I knew my way around the Internet and the procedures for getting published, including the dreaded query letter. I was sure all of New York’s literary giants would fight for the rights to my prose. It didn’t take long for rejection after rejection to not only dampen my spirits, but to piss me off. My anger fueled my determination. I forged ahead with a new strategy: Independent publishers. This meant not only a query letter but a full proposal. More rejections. Finally in mid-2012, I had three publishers interested. I was soaring. I signed with All Things That Matter Press in August and my memoir, Reaching was released on May 13, 2013. My second book, Grace In The Garden will be published in late 2013 by the same publisher.

Working with Deb, editor extraordinaire, has been a wonderful experience. There were two conflicts I needed to resolve, but most of my edits were minor such as word redundancies and overuse of the exclamation point. How did I miss that?

Having the support of my publisher meant the world to me. Validation that my work is worthy of a publisher’s time and money is an incredibly pleasant feeling. This is not to say I’m opposed to self-publishing. Had I not landed a publisher when I did, I would have self-published. 

When I received my book in the mail, my dream became reality. It humbles me how encouraging and supportive people have been. At one time, while ensnared in Brock’s world, I was completely convinced all people were evil. Oh, how wrong I was.

Grace Peterson is published in several anthologies and blogs about the writing craft and recovery topics. She is an avid gardener, tending her modest backyard in western Oregon's mild, garden-friendly climate. Her gardening blog is and her writing blog is

Photo courtesy Grace Peterson.

To share how you wrote your memoir, biography, or helped someone else, or to write a review, visit my guidelines.