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M is for Memoir

letter mIn times gone by, memoirs were the sole domain of the famous (or infamous) after the denouement of their notoriety. Whether to maintain a portion of the spotlight or to immortalize their side of the story, memoirists were a specific kind of author.

They rarely physically wrote the book. Rather, they hired a writer to transcribe their experiences or to collate journal entries into a readable book format. Today, memoirs are very different.

Like Me

disney pixar toy story alien

(c) Disney-Pixar

Memoirs about experiences other people share are becoming more popular. Groups of memiorists find one another through books about similar topics. Widows/Widowers, religious pilgrims and fans who encounter their objects are examples of like-experienced memoirists who congregate.

One of the most exploited examples are those who write about alien abduction. Although many people scoff at the subject, the number of authors whose books sell well make the argument communities are built around and supported by shared experiences and perceptions.

Not Like Me

The extraordinary experiences which make each of us unique is another kind of memoir. Recounting of singular stories of survival inspire the awe and admiration of those who could never be in a position to experience or have the fortitude to survive. Ranging from fantastic feats of athletic aptitude to heart-wrenching recollection of war survival, memoirs remind us of the inner strength of the author.

Meme

A different flavor of the Life and Times of Being Famous, meme memoirs are on the rise. Fueled by an insatiable appetite for pop culture, those of anomalous celebrity contract writers to pen memoirs about everyday events which otherwise would be of no interest. The flip side is the memoir consisting of the life created by instant celebrity. These often double in the next category.

Tattletale

Creating ones own celebrity is the main purpose for the tattletale memoir. Revealing the author’s side of a publicized event or issue is instantly derisive. Like it or not, arguing will lead to sales from the opposing camp. By design, this memoir tells a very different tale than the one accepted by the populace at large.

Posthumous

Increasingly, memoirs are published after the death of the author. This group is split between autobiographical memoirs and biographical memoirs.

Tombstone StatueAutobiographical memoirs contain the previously unpublished personal writings of the subject. Occasionally, they are raw journal transcriptions. More often, instead of being a strict autobiography, they are augmented by friends’, relatives’ and colleagues’ reactions to the entries or the death of the subject.

Authors construct biographical memoirs from the collected writings, correspondence and interviews of the subject. The more explosive the nature of the collection, the higher the chance the book will fall into the next category.

Unauthorized

The tabloid version of memoir is the unauthorized biography which is based on the subject’s writing or interviews. These books flash brightly as long as there is mainstream or community interest in the subject. They create buzz by baring a part of the subject’s persona or life experience which was protected from public consumption.

Inevitably, the veracity of such books are at issue because had the subject been amenable to supporting the contents, another author’s name would not be on the cover. Most subjects refute having ever written the contents of the memoirs.

What about me?

When deciding to write a memoir, answering a few questions will help you determine where you will fall in the spectrum.

1. Which type of memoir are you writing?

Like Me authors need to investigate the market saturation to decide if their experiences (and hence memoir) are memorable enough to shine in the sea of others like it.

Unlike Me authors will need to create an audience for their books. Although the experience is not one the author shares with many, creating an audience is more than picking a point of view. Who will be interested in reading about the experience?

2. Which point of view are you using?

POV can make or break a memoir. First-person, simple past is the most common point of view for memoir. The less common choice of first-person, present is beginning to take hold, as readers find themselves more willing to inject themselves into the events as they unfold. By giving readers the opportunity to be in the midst of the story, they are more likely to reflect on how they would have acted in the given situation.

Rather uncommon is third-person, omniscient. The out-of-body delivery allows readers to be an onlooker as well. It opens the door for both author and reader to pass judgment on the actions of the subject. This perspective can exhibit shame or diffuse what would otherwise convey as conceit.

3. Will this end your career?

1800 headstoneTattletale memoirs are often the last successful book authors pen. Due in large part to the animosity conjured by opposing the accepted, these authors are subsequently dismissed as attention-seekers. Even when subsequent research and books uphold the tattletale’s version of the story, the damage is already done.

Although today’s memoir landscape is different, many readers still cling to the ideal memoirs should not be an ongoing income stream. Typically, Life and Times memoirs are about the entire life of the subject; ergo, once a memoir is written, the author’s life in the public limelight (should read important enough to draw a reader’s interest) is at a close.

4. Does it pass the sniff test?

As with fiction, a riveting story is a must. Remember our oatmeal eater? Did you put the eclectic contents of your blog into a book to make money? Does your book offer some value (humorous presentation, ethical lesson, philosophy for better living)? Is it a cohesive story or a rambling collection of tall tales someone found interesting and commented You should write a book!?

5. What do you want your memoir to accomplish?

This tricky question may need to be the first. If the main purpose of writing your memoir is to tell someone, it will fall into only one category:

A. Writing a memoir is cheaper than psychotherapy.

B. Someone can benefit from what I write.

If your answer is A, consider a diary or a blog. If your answer is B, you might just be a memoirist.


Have you ever considered writing a memoir? Have you read a memoir? Which type do you like the best?

Hashtags: #AtoZChallenge #memoirs #amwriting

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© Red Dwyer 2013
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40 Comments

  1. I think I need to have a memorable life before I write a memoir. So far I have 1)married 2)knocked up 3)divorced.

    Hmmm…definitely relevant…just not so interesting.
    Candy recently posted..The Boston MarathonMy Profile

    Reply
    • LOL! I think all of us have memorable lives. I think your question is more about the relevance for the audience. xxx Great to see you today!

      Reply
  2. I think the other question has to be, “do I hurt others by my publication of my life?”

    I know, I know why is this important, but I think it is and should be. Even if they don’t sue, it has to be.

    Great information and wonderful food for thought.
    Valentine Logar recently posted..Spring Flash FinaleMy Profile

    Reply
    • Let me add something to the buffet. What if we withheld all of the literature which hurts someone? The truth is brutal only to the degree we make it so. If we do not wish to be hurt by the truth, we must live lives where our truth is not painful to ourselves. Culpability is not decreased by remorse (or the lack thereof). xxx Yes, I am being argumentative because I see your point.

      Reply
  3. The thought of writing a memoir has moseyed through my brain a few times in the past, but I’ve given up on that. More seriously considered was a fictional account of my family’s life around me when I was growing up in a household full of varying aunts and uncles, and their kids. Think I’ve given up on that, too.
    My favorite memoirs to read are those by authors, particularly the ones whose work I enjoyed, and those “written” by cats. My current foray is into the life of Bevery Cleary, who is a fantastic writer of nonfiction. I can take or leave her kids’ books. The other memoir that earned a warm place in my heart (pre-warmed by having known him) was the second part of a thin memoir by Dr. Cratis Williams, teacher extraordinare when I was a student at Appalachian State, and later Dean of the graduate school. He was a scholar of Southern culture and greatly admired by anyone who met him. Not a bad writer, either.

    Reply
    • I interviewed a man who had written a fictionalized biography of an uncle he never met. The story was very well-received. It is a good idea, as long as it interests you enough to do it justice. The success of a memoir is a balancing act between the people who knew the subject and the moral (or punchline) of the story which interests those who did not know the subject.

      Reply
      • I’ve considered this tact and have a pretty good idea of how it will go. Getting other stuff finished first, and then if I’m still kicking and pounding a keyboard, that’s next on my list.

        MJ
        MJ Logan recently posted..O is for OhMy Profile

        Reply
        • I think it would be fun to scribe some of mine favorite stories as fiction. *grins*

          Reply
  4. No memoir for me …. and at least I hope someone doesn’t try to write one without me knowing.
    Frank recently posted..On HumilityMy Profile

    Reply
    • I am thinking codicil to my will sort of thing with that, Frank. LOL! Good to see you.

      Reply
  5. My recent book is a memoir, just released by Redmund Productions. While it was written about myself as a child, I have had feedback it was painful for some close to me to read. The question is, should we censor important aspects of ourselves when writing a memoir? I don’t know, and didn’t anticipate anyone having a problem with the book. I am writing a second memoir now, and will write it as the truth of my perception, knowing all people involved will not share that perception and will have editorial help with what is germane to the story and what is not. I’ll need the help and do not wish to harm anyone.

    Reply
    • This is the concept Val brought up. You are appropriate to want out-of-the-loop eyes on the story to decide what is pertinent and what is sensationalism.

      As to the hurt feelings from GIL, I refer you back to the comment I made to Val. You cannot control anyone’s feelings about their actions being exposed. Had they truly felt strongly about their actions, they had ample time in the interim to speak up, settle up and shut up. I would put the soap box away, but it would be imprudent. For me, memoirs which are not revealing of actions which should stay behind closed doors are life as the author saw it at the time or came to understand it as time progressed. Anyone with a knot in their knickers remembers it differently or should have spoken up long before press.

      Reply
  6. I don’t think I would write a memoir, but have and will probably add memoir-type paragraphs, pages or chapters in my books.
    I like reading the memoirs of those who achieve remarkable things against all odds.
    I find those types of books very inspiring as I prefer reading the words from the author directly.
    That’s why I’m also drawn to memoir type Blogs, I love people who share.
    Phil recently posted..Matrimonial TestimonialsMy Profile

    Reply
    • There are some who believe KUS is a memoir. Considering the weight of the information in the book, it does not pass the sniff test; it is definitely self-help. I have often admitted, when it first went to beta, the manuscript was scrapped. The vignettes make it personable enough to not be a preachy book of “When this happens, do this; when that happens, do that.” What has moved me is the reaction I have gotten to the epilogue, which you will enjoy because it is a first person rendition.

      Reply
  7. Excellent again, Red.

    You’re rocking this A-Z!

    Memoir is up my alley!
    Noeleen recently posted..A lock-out, a Fetish, Alfie and the Cats of ConilMy Profile

    Reply

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