Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Memoir Mind Round-Up

And More, Atlanta GA 2011

Help me celebrate a full year of this blog being online!

What this post IS:
The best of what I read (could be published this year, could not be)
A list that focuses on my particular slant: mindfulness in memoir and seeing the writer's mind
An extension of my page that lists recommended memoirs and books about memoir

What this post is NOT: 
An industry summation
A list of what was published this year
A conclusive list of all I read of/about memoir this year

On to my round-up for 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The New Anonymity

"Brain Print" / Chicago IL / 2013
On a flight back to Madison recently, I ran into one of my online writing students, a woman I had not seen in person for a few years. I knew she'd be coming to town, but I hadn't realized it was at the same time as me. In fact, the night before, I had emailed her asking when we could see each other. Then, at the gate, laying over from another location than mine, there she was.

Hey! I cried out and we both leaped up and hugged one another. It's not surprising that we got to talking about memoir, since she has written one and is shopping it around, and since I have been running an in person memoir critique group for over a year now. I asked her if the publisher she had mentioned a few months before had gotten back to her, and she admitted to dropping the ball herself. I sensed some ambivalence. I asked a bit more about it.

"The thing is, the memoir is about a really dark time in my life. All the people who have read it say it needs to get out - and I agree. But..." Eventually what we came to discuss was her fear, which is legitimate: what would happen if now, in her public life in another realm, the story did well enough to drawn attention to her. What then? How could she bring her two lives together?

"I don't want to, you know? I mean, I'd be happy to travel around and talk to people about the book, help at support groups and the like. But I don't want the people in my life now to be asking me those things." I asked if she'd thought of using a pseudonym - she had, but that seemed so complex. "And in the age of the Internet, people could put two and two together so quickly."

Only if they want to.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Most Important Memoir Question

Are you ready?
It's a question to ask, not to answer.
It's a question that can create madness if you are too forceful with it.

Who Am I?

That's right. I would contend that a lot of the problem with this question, which certainly plenty of memoirists are asking, is not that they are asking it. It's that they are hoping to answer it.

I am going to break the suspense: There Is No Answer.

No one answer. No memoir will capture you forever. In fact, memoir is supposed to be one aspect of you - not your whole life or whole self. Most of my students overshoot, try to cover everything, or start writing about everything in order to see if they can feel out what is underneath. This kind of feeling out is very helpful and useful, but does not replace the actual understanding that needs to come with picking out themes and structure:

There. Is. No. You.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ann Patchett on Killing and Writing


These passages are from a Byliner mini ebook called The Getaway Car, which can be found here for $2.99. The Getaway Car is also a chapter in Ann Patchett's brand new book, This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, which is a collection of nonfiction essays (only some about writing) recently out in hardcover. While the larger book is interesting, The Getaway Car blew my socks off so hard that no other essay in the book can even hold a candle to it. Get it. Now.

 Patchett is writing about fiction in The Getaway Car, though Happy Marriage is a book of nonfiction essays. However, what she says about writing fiction here is EXACTLY the same with especially memoir. When she speaks of that butterfly below, imagine she means, instead of the idea of a story, YOUR LIFE. How hard it is to go from YOUR LIFE to WORDS ON PAPER/MEMOIR. Absolutely killer accurate description:

 The book makes a breeze around my head like an oversize butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame. The book, of which I have not yet written one word, is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight is the single perfect joy in my life…When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach into the air and pluck the butterfly up. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page…Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the color, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s the book…The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies…Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.