“A huge turning point for me was being published in The Best Advice in Six Words book. It gave my work validation that’s fueled my efforts ever since and is one of the momentous occasions of my life. ”
Ken S. values the supportive community of writers he’s found at Six-Word Memoirs. Posting as Hemingway1955, with a modest 200 memoirs to date, Ken has shown us you don’t need to post all the time to gain a lot from the Six Words experience. Like Hemingway, Ken knows how to tell gripping stories with brevity (“Terrified eyes. Pleading. Don’t kill me.”) and his ability to read people adds volumes to his memoirs (“Looking away, she told me everything.”). Congratulations to Ken S. as our Memoirist of the Month for May 2017. Learn more about this less-is-more writer as Ken S. answers our Six Questions:
How did you first hear about Six-Word Memoirs?
In 2012 my mother passed away. Looking for solace, I found myself drawn to the work of Ernest Hemingway—a writer I could connect to because he knew how to piercingly describe the pain of grief. While reading his work, researching his background, technique, etc., I stumbled across Hemingway’s legendary six-word story, “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” I immediately fell in love with the art form. I find it self-evidently beautiful. How could only six words tell such a haunting, evocative story? I began researching everything I could find on the internet until I discovered Six-Word Memoirs. I joined in 2013. I visit the site and try to contribute daily. I view it as a discipline to hone my craft. I can’t believe what a supportive writer’s community this is. I follow numerous writers and can honestly say I’ve learned from every writer whose Six-Word Memoir I’ve ever favorited or commented upon.
When did you start writing and what have been turning points in your creative life?
I wrote for my high school newspaper and was a columnist for two years. I wrote short stories in college but didn’t get published. I had a chance to intern as a writer for a local CBS news channel, but didn’t take it as I thought I wouldn’t be good writing under a deadline. In my profession I’ve always written reports, analyses, and correspondence which kept my style in shape. The last few years, I’m more reflective and find myself drawn to “figuring it all out.” Six-Word Memoirs are a perfect form for me. For example, Philip Roth said that he was retiring because novels could no longer compete with the spate of visual images out there. The Six Words genre allows me to leverage the images that the reader already has. It gives me a richer image palette to work with without having to include more verbiage to create those images. A huge turning point for me was being published in The Best Advice in Six Words book (“For a minute, laughter cures everything.”). It gave my work validation that’s fueled my efforts ever since and is one of the momentous occasions of my life.
Which authors do you enjoy or admire, including writers on Six-Word Memoirs?
I’m drawn to Ernest Hemingway and Nelson Algren. While I have problems with Hemingway as a man, I can’t deny the brilliance of his artistry at its best. In effect, he created a whole new art form for the novel. Both Hemingway and Algren used a poetic prose form that captured the voices of America’s dispossessed, in the 1920s and 1930s, that I find eerily connected to what we’re experiencing now in the 21st century—I think I may be trying to learn from history. Algren, always the voice of the voiceless underdog, won the National Book award in 1950 for The Man With the Golden Arm. I’m a great admirer of his style. I lived a mile away from him and would frequent his watering holes—while constructively misspending some of my youth—where one could occasionally see some of his writing contemporaries such as Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, Tom Fitzpatrick, Roger Ebert, and Bill Mauldin. (Funny, none of that ever helped my writing.) Larry Heinemann is another favorite writer whose Paco’s Story—another national book award winner—similarly gave voice to my generation’s Vietnam war experiences. For heartfelt humanity and humor, Kurt Vonnegut can’t be beat.
I cannot do justice to all the writers on SMITH who have moved me, there are too many to count. With apologies to those whom I’ll miss in a futile attempt at being brief, I acknowledge: BanjoDan (a master of incongruity, word play and the pun, he can’t be rivaled by the best of The New Yorker), CanadaGoose (whose perceptions are complex and can be achingly beautiful), canadafreeze (a writer who naturally goes from playful to profound), Raven OKeefe (a heart as big as the great outdoors), J3nny (wry observer extraordinaire), Silken (a writer of great depth), JohnBigJohn (a great writer whose backstories reveal his sensitive soul), LisaK (a six-word poet), Oh_Skinny (observant but determined), ChewyD2 (a writer who poignantly expresses modern day travails). And many, many more—you know who you are.
I’d also like to acknowledge my personal friend and editor, Seth Arkin. He saw a talent that I didn’t see, motivated me, edited my work and never stopped encouraging my writing efforts. Likewise for Sherman Alexie, whose dissection of the six-word story form serves as my bible for writing six-word stories.
Can you share a favorite Six-Word Memoir, or other story of yours on SMITH and tell us why it’s meaningful to you?
“Hot sunlight. Jumping fish, healing me. ” was my first Editor’s Pick and holds a special place in my heart. Hemingway experienced post-traumatic stress. In his classic story, Big Two-Hearted River, a shell-shocked veteran struggles for sanity by taking a fishing trip, but is constantly haunted with unspoken reminders of terror. I tried to emulate Hemingway by paying homage with this six-word memoir.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time and what do you enjoy doing?
Originally from a steel mill town in Indiana, I’ve spent most of my life in Chicago. I work as a software implementation consultant. I started out my professional life as an accountant. Go figure. Fishing is my passion but I also enjoy hiking, bird watching, and snowshoeing. Almost anything outside.
Finally, Ken S., what are your Six Words for today?
“The best lived life, loves much. ”