Thursday, March 8, 2012

Memoir Writing IV: Handling Potentially Offended Readers

Welcome to day four of Memoir Writing Week! Woot. Yesterday we discussed actually writing the memoir, writing your story, not someone else's.

But, that someone else will still make a cameo appearance, no?
Who saw a picture of Baxter coming here?
In one of the panels at AWP, someone said, "If your friend were writing a memoir, and you showed up, chances are you wouldn't recognize yourself." Why? Because the way we see ourselves is vastly different from the way others see us. This is something to take into consideration when we start to type.

So, you've just written your memoir. You know that your boss will be pissed, that your parents may disown you, or your brother may throw you out of the house you live in. Maybe, your husband is going to divorce you if he reads this. If that's the case, WELL DONE!

Now, for handling those situations.
When I've finished a novel, I'm always apprehensive about talking to my friends about it. Why? Because there is usually a piece of them in it, but I get the luxury of hiding and claiming it as fiction. In memoir...we don't get to hide. So that little tug you feel on your heart saying, "Please don't hate my for this," is probably valid.

When I decided to write my memoir, I thought of who the integral characters were in my story:
Him, who will probably not be named
Her, who will also probably not be named
My friend Allie
My friend Jen
Maybe some Patrick
Maybe some sister
And then everyone I met in Maine when I moved

Me and Patrick before I lost my mind in NC.
Yes, I did ask if it was alright for me to post this picture.
Before I started writing, I talked to Patrick, asked his permission to write about him, asked if he was okay with it. His response? "I've always supported your writing," and for that, I love him. He's allowed me write terrible terrible things about him, even if it's claimed as fiction. He knows who he is in my life, and he allows me the freedom I strive for.

Me and my very young and wise friend, Allie
Then I talked to Allie. Whenever I've finished a novel, she's always been my first beta reader. Not because she shreds it like most betas, but because I want her opinion on whether or not the story is actually a story/has plot/makes sense. However, in my memoir, she plays a completely different role. She is the one who was more responsible than I was, the one who pushes me to be a better person. Truthfully, there won't really be anything bad to say about her, as she is one of the reasons I'm alive and standing right now. She asked to read it when I'm finished.

I talked to my sister about it, and she asked if I had enough distance from what I'm writing about. She worried that not enough time has elapsed.
But not a single one of these people told me, "No, you cannot write this."

I probed more. The people along my path, the stay I made in Virginia during Thanksgiving. I called my friend who housed me and asked his feelings. He said he and his parents would probably be fine with me writing about them, as long as they get to read the segment their in. (At some point, I feel and fear they'll read all of it, and know why I went crazy back then...then I'll have to explain myself, possibly lose them as friends...but...this is a story I need to write.)

For the two who won't be named. I know if this gets published, they'll know exactly who they are and what their part was in me losing my mind. I'm not going to ask permission because when he left me he said, "Write a story about this, get it published." And well..I'm going to do just that. Her? Well, I'm okay with never speaking to her again, either.
At the same time when I say this, even though I hate them, and would still probably prefer them to be dead, I have to be honest with them. Like the Johnny, the ex lover who decapitated the cat, I loved these people for years of my life. Up until the moment I felt betrayed, I still loved them. They weren't evil to me, they were close enough to be family to me.
And now I hate them.
But in order to write a fair and just memoir, I have to allow the reader to know that these people weren't always evil. I didn't always hate them. And at some point while writing this memoir, in order to write it well, I'll have to forgive them for what I hate them for.

So a real quick summary for how to approach potentially offended readers/loved ones:
--You could ask how they feel, or at least give them a heads up. Say, "I'm going to write a memoir, you're going to have a role in it"
--Offer to let them read it. If you choose this option and they fight you on it, make sure that you're staying true to your story
--You may even ask for some input. My memory SUCKS, so a lot of the conversations and things that happened, I'll need help with. I know Allie would be more than willing to assist with this and not be offended, but maybe other people may do the same for you. If they have a hand it it, it may lesson the anger/hurt/resentment
--If you don't want their input, if you don't want to ask permission (because honestly, I don't want that, either), you could at least offer to let them read it ahead of time so if it does hit the stands, they'll know what it says beforehand

If all else fails and you don't want to do any of this, more props to you. Be prepared for the backlash though. (But if there's a lot of backlash, did you really want these people as friends anyway?)

Tomorrows blog will focus on: Writing The Hard Stuff

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Please know that if you comment and I don't respond, it's not because I don't love you. It's because I don't have wifi, but I do have a bad memory.

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