Writing Your Memoir
by R. J. Brown
Memoir As Fiction
Everyone's heard about memoirs which included stories or facts that didn't actually happen in the authors' lives, or were exaggerated. Oprah Winfrey had the wool pulled over her eyes twice, and when I ran my book review site, RebeccasReads.com, I got hoodwinked too.
The trouble was this author wasn't who or what he said he was. His prestigious literary agent got him a three-book contract with a Top Gun publishing house. He even won an award specific to his avowed heritage, which garnered him cash and cachet. I enjoyed his writing: it was passionate, unusual & informative. Seduced by his provenance: top-notch agent & publisher, I reviewed his books; even interviewed him, glad to give a new writer a boost so he could rise above the flood of ghostwritten ho-hum memoirs.
A year or so later, I was contacted by a reporter from one of the bigger newspapers and a college professor with impeccable and documented credentials, who warned me they were about to "out" this author as a fake cuz his books were entirely figments of his imagination rife with other writers' stories & phrases. The fallout from his deception was that his literary agent lost face & her agency, the publishing house a lot of money, and him any credibility. Had he presented his stories as novels, he'd have had a career for life, until the plagiarism caught up with him.
The publishing industry has strict guidelines for this genre: A memoir must contain only true and factual representations of who you are, where you came from and what you lived through. Everything else is fiction.
That the industry and reading public insist there's a difference derives from those first stories we told around cave fires, under desert stars. What we trust and believe to be real versus what we think is made up. These Big Thoughts have changed every culture on the face of this earth from the beginning of language, religion and literacy, and is still doing so.
The Moral Is
When writing your life stories, present them either as a creative non-fiction memoir... or as a novel. If a memoir: stick to what you really remember, what really happened and can be proven.
If a novel: embellish away!
My Vietnam Veteran husband, D. H. Brown, has done this at the suggestion of his therapists, & has gained some healing & comfort because it's been an effective way to exorcise the ghosts, while spinning thrilling yarns. Does that make his novels less engaging? Not at all! Writing his memories in fictional form with his hero doing the telling, allows him to look at his life adventures through a wider prism while creating tales that everyone who's HONOR DUE & HONOR DEFENDED, says helped with their own wounds.
My Own Memoir
I've been slogging away at it, re-reading my 40 years of journals. There are some memories I'd really rather not revisit, however, a while back a voice in my brain started telling stories & I kept typing. For the entire winter! When spring came, I had the makings of my first cozy mystery with a heroine who'd lived through a lot of what I had. After I sent the rough draft out to my Reading Group, most wrote back saying how much they enjoyed it and how neat to see bits and pieces of my life in there. "Oh, and by the way, did you know you've got two books in one?" It was very long! So I rewrote a leaner version & THE DEAD HUSBAND: A Sally Sees Cozy Mystery is now available at all Internet booksellers.
So, don't discount the telling of your stories as something other than a memoir because a good story in any genre is still a good story, and the feel of your very own book in your hands is a satisfying thrill.
R. J. Brown
Memoirs & Mysteries