Acetylene Torch Songs


Acetylene Torch Songs

Writing True Stories to Ignite the Soul

Sue William Silverman

240 pages
3 figures, 5 appendixes


January 2024


$23.95 Pre-order

About the Book

At times writers—from the unpublished to jaded lifers—need a fire lit under them to pursue the complex work of self-exploration. Acetylene Torch Songs provides that spark for memoirists and essayists seeking mentor-based instruction and inspiration.

Drawing on twenty-five years of teaching and mentoring writers, Sue William Silverman stresses practice over theory. She encourages craftiness as well as craft and urges writers to embark on emotional quests in pursuit of their art. Acetylene Torch Songs uniquely illustrates how the writer’s imaginative spirit comes alive on the page through metaphor, literary masks, sensory memories, voice, obsessions, and more. This holistic approach to writing emphasizes how the creative process brings together the heart, mind, and senses to illuminate the human condition through language. Featuring a personal essay in each chapter, Silverman uses her own work to model a specific concept or approach, demonstrating how obsessions, secrets, and memories can burn on the page.

Through guided prompts, worksheets, checklists, publishing advice, personal essays, and strategies, Silverman encourages writers to find the confidence and courage to write stories that reach beyond the page through their intimacy, social engagement, and honesty.

Author Bio

Sue William Silverman is an award-winning memoirist, essayist, and poet of eight books, including Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (made into a Lifetime TV movie) and How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences (Nebraska, 2020). She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.


“This wonderful book is unique in my experience: writing advice not from Olympus but from a kind, wise, human guide who has learned how to translate her experience into art and who shows us how we can, too. Beginners and veteran writers alike have much to learn from Silverman.”—Clifford Thompson, author of What It Is: Race, Family, and One Thinking Black Man’s Blues

“Silverman reclaims and honors the disparaged term ‘confessional,’ encouraging writers to use their passions, hauntings, and experiences as fuel for quality nonfiction. Snapping with bright fire, this new craft guide is also a guide for the soul: audacious, pulsing with life, and sure to inspire.”—Sonya Huber, author of Voice First: A Writer’s Manifesto

Acetylene Torch Songs is precisely what you’d expect from the wondrous Sue William Silverman. This is no mere manual but an essential lodestar for artists of nonfiction, a book with a vision that will be a game-changer for writers who wish to do as Silverman herself does so well: to daringly reveal the ecstasies and darknesses that dwell at the hub of us.”—William Giraldi, author of The Hero’s Body and American Audacity

“Sue William Silverman’s Acetylene Torch Songs is a gift for creative nonfiction writers, and a guiding light: offering a holistic and hands-on approach to writing our memories, our obsessions, and ourselves. This is a gorgeous book of body and mind, of heart and soul. In the truest sense it’s also a torch: one we might carry with us as we write, as we dig into the dark corners of our lives, making our stories burn bright.”—Melissa Faliveno, author of Tomboyland

Table of Contents

The Hammer Overture
Part 1. Lighting the Flame
1. “Body and Soul”: Writing Fiery, Holistic Prose
2. “Thanks for the Memory”: Bringing the Past to Life
3. “Ghost Riders in the Sky”: Writing What Haunts You
4. “Behind the Mask”: On Revealing the Sequined Self
5. “Voices inside My Head”: The Multitudinous Sounds of Voice
6. “The Long and Winding Road”: Some Thoughts on Narrative Structure
7. “Come Together”: Strategies to Craft an Essay Collection
Part 2. Feeling the Flame
8. “Respect”: Confessional Writing as Resistance
9. “You Don’t Own Me”: On Writing Controversial or Disturbing Literature
10. “Do You Want to Know a Secret?”: I Love Confessional Writing
11. “Look through Any Window”: Memoir with a View
Bonus Tracks
Sue’s EZ Rules to Write By
On Trifles: Things You Might Not Think to Write About
Appendix 1. Deconstructed Essay
Appendix 2. Additional Writing Prompts
Appendix 3. Strategies to Write a Query Letter
Appendix 4. Two Sample Book Proposals
Appendix 5. A List of Useful Websites
Brief Notes on Chapter Titles

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