Sunday, June 21, 2009

Memoir Writing: Creative License Doesn't Always Apply

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there, and to those of you who are lucky enough to still have your dads around.

More to follow later today, including Sunday in the Garden, Week Two, and also a review of The Tarnished Star, just released and currently one of the best-selling Westerns in the United Kingdom.

In the meantime, there is a very interesting article in the L.A. Times this morning on memoir writing and the perilous nature of writing about other people in our lives without their knowledge, and the ethics of this practice and whether it is invading their privacy.

When I was writing the prologue and epilogue for Pulp Writer, I struggled with this quite a bit. As it was, because I love my family and want to remain friends with them, I chose to be very careful as to what I disclosed about them and their histories. We are talking about other human beings here, who will have to live with what is said about them in print for the rest of their lives. In the end, I included only those facts that they knew were going in and with their permission. It made for a bland memoir in some respects. But now, at the end of the day, I can sleep at night.

But, with that said, I'm always tempted to pen certain passages for my next memoir about certain very interesting friends and neighbors that would make them delightful additions to any memoir. I have one girlfriend who has certain characteristics and idiosyncracies that would make her an unforgettable addition to anybody's book. Would I betray her by writing about her in a book? No way. But if she gave me permission? You bet.

I went to a book signing a few months ago at which a writer was presenting his memoir of buying a fixer-upper home in Tuscany (no, not that book) and his trials and tribulations with his neighbors, a relationship that eventually became more cordial. But I got the impression that he patronizes them in his book. In addition, he presented a video as part of this presentation in which he shows clips of his neighbors. I was shocked to learn that not only did he not ask their permission to include them in the video, he did not let them know of their role in his book. "We did not print the book in Italian," he said with a smirk. I left the presentation shortly after that. It just hit me wrong.

If that means that I'll never write any tell-alls, I guess I'll be okay with that.
Maybe I'll have to switch to novels.




Liz said...

Looking forward to your review of "Star." One of the top-selling Westerns on amazon here is The Shopkeeper by James Best, about an East Coast store owner who heads west. Lots of twists and turns, for an exciting and entertaining story. (Plus, you learn lots about the Old West.)

And on memoirs: I recently finished a book on tape (well, on CD) that involved a writer who had penned two memoirs, and she talked about the difficulty (the character did, I mean) of what to include. She had the principals all read it, but not secondary characters who later took issue with her remembrances. Then she wrote a novel and it bombed! And as soon as I remember the name of the thing, I'll post it. Having a mental lapse this morning, plus I finished it probably a month or so ago. Out of sight, out of mind... But I'm trying to remember!

Liz said...

OK, I checked my itunes library -- part was still in there.

The book - and you may not find this interesting at all -- is "Life Sentences" by Laura Lippmann. She does have a lot in there, though, about memoir writing.

Laurie Powers said...

Liz, both of your posts are interesting. I'll have to pick up a copy of The Shopkeeper, and Lippmann's book especially. The fact that her novel bombed gave me pause for sure.