Tag Archives: #memoir

The “ick” of writing memoir

Today, I spent time on the phone with the marketing team for Wailing Wall. November 10, 2015 is the official launch date, and we needed to do some planning about how to make the biggest splash. It was exciting and thrilling and then…I had a moment. A moment where the whole thing just seemed icky. Wrong. Scary.

I’m planning a strategy for how I’m going to spend a month talking about the book – ergo, talking about my Joshua’s death. And since (I hope) that Wailing Wall is not the last book, I’ll publish, I’m talking about building my “brand” as a writer on the back of losing my kid.

Icky, right?

How do people do it – write and publish and tell horrible stories about people they love and not feel at least a little icky about it?

I just looked back at a Facebook chat I had with Joshua a couple of months before he died where he asked me how writing was going. He was always encouraging, always positive about my aspirations to write something that the world would one day see. If he were here right now, he’d say, “Ma, you’re being ridiculous. Get out there and sell the damn book.” I know he’d be stoked about the book – especially the cover. I know he’d be proud of me. And he would gladly have given his story to me if it helped me heal, become more human, and live again. And still, it feels odd to be excited about the book launch, to be asking people to read it and review it or host a book signing. Odd. And icky.

Categories & Labels

With Wailing Wall coming out later this year, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into categorizing my writing. When I started the crowdfunding campaign to fund the project through Inkshares, I casually said it was memoir. But now, I’m not so sure. Recently, I’ve started to use the broader category of Creative Non-fiction because there are a couple of scenes that are true, but not completely factual. The story of how my parents met, for example. Obviously, I wasn’t there and have no idea what the weather was like, but according to my mom, I was conceived on the Fourth of July, so I  created a scene out of my head about it. Does that count as being creative with my non-fiction?  My marketing team needs to know what shelf it goes on and I’m just.not.sure.

Then, there is my current work in progress. Got Down on my Knees started out as a way to keep my brain busy while Wailing Wall made its way through the publication process, but I’m having great fun with it. The central theme of the story is true, but the characters are totally made up – the exact opposite of what I did with the scene of how my parents met. And, I’m working harder to be true to the characters than to my own experience than in Wailing Wall. Does that mean it’s fiction?

I’ve always hated labels. No one label ever seems to fit my life exactly right. Why can’t I just mark “D – All of the above” (it worked on the SAT!)?  Alas, making enough money on book sales to keep writing full-time needs to happy, so I suppose I should play along.

Here’s what I know: I will always write about Southern life and the sticky parts that come with that – race, poverty, gender, addiction. My protagonist will probably always be a woman. And the women I write about will probably always come out more fully human in the end. That doesn’t mean they’ll always win the prize, get the girl/guy or move to Tuscany. It means they’ll cry when they feel sad. They’ll laugh when they feel joy. They’ll be more fully present in their lives and in the lives of the people around them.

I’ll leave the categorizations up to the professionals.

~D

Message in a Bottle

I was fortunate to attend the Midwest Literary Walk yesterday in Chelsea, Michigan. There were some amazing authors there but the one touched me most was Edward Hirsch. Not only because he read from his latest book, Gabriel, A Poem, an elegy to his son, but also because he talked about a question that has been bopping around in my head lately. When it concerns art, what matters more: Intent or impact?

I was talking to a young writer last week about racism and it led to that question. He held that the artist’s intent was all that mattered. That as artists, we produce our art to express ourselves. We don’t create for the masses, we create for ourselves. In one way, I totally agree with him. When I am writing, I have to write the story that I need to write at that time, masses be damned. I’m writing it because it is a story that needs to be told, not to please someone else. If I have done the best work I was capable of at that moment, my work is done.

But, there are people whose motivation to write is to sell books. Are they less artists than someone who writes because they have been deeply touched by life in some way and feel the need to express it? And, would anyone really ever go through the editing process if they weren’t writing for someone else to read? We’d just stuff it in a drawer somewhere if its only purpose was to express our feelings and spare ourselves the pain of seeing it marked up by an editor!

The other problem I have with his stance is particularly true for writing. I’ll let artists in the other media weigh in on whether it is true for other art forms. And that brings us to what Edward Hirsch said yesterday. I paraphrase: Poetry is like a message in a bottle. You create it, then toss it out to sea. But it’s not until someone finds it and opens the bottle that life is breathed into it. Writing requires a vessel – the reader – to reach its full potential. Like the message in the bottle, it’s written in hopes that someone, ANYONE will find it and set it free.

PS: A friend just reminded me that Edward Hirsch was paraphrasing himself! Here’s the reference:

“A poem, as a manifestation of language and thus essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the—not always greatly hopeful—belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense too are under way: they are making toward something.”

Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew by Josh Felstiner (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), 115.

 

~D