Facing hard truths (3)

Any memoirist who is going to be honest must ultimately come to terms with some of the facts of life that have always been avoided. These could include the reasons relationships failed, or the fact that the author was at fault in some old matter. Those old facts may become apparent only when a memoir is being written.

Putting facts down frankly and openly also means confronting the possibility that somebody might actually read the truth as perceived by the author. This takes courage. It’s one thing to admit something to yourself; it’s quite another to make the admission public.

Hard facts are what distinguish some of the most effective memoirs from others. They lend an edge to what might otherwise be a bland book.

All links to this topic are included in the Telling stories category list. See right sidebar.



Interview Amy Friedman on shame, the power of memoir, and inner truths

A perceptive interview with a writer who has thought at length about the fear of facing the truth and the consequences of overcoming that fear, writing frankly, sharing that truth with the world.



Kevin Myers: Why I wrote about my adolescent homosexuality

Some of the hard truths we must face are not about the world outside us but about the person we were as we developed. They take a special kind of courage.



Self-publishing a memoir about my mental health was the scariest thing I’ve ever done

An intensely personal look at the hurdles that face an author who wants to describe personal difficulties in print, and at the implications of putting a personal story into the world.



How to: Write the tough stuff

Your memories are your own, and you must express them. How do you do it without offending others?



My husband wouldn’t read my memoir: “It’s just too painful”

Audience is a prime consideration for publishers, as it must be for writers as well. But the author’s direct audience includes first readers of a memoir. They are sometimes as familiar with the material as the author is, and less willing to engage emotionally.



How to turn those negative memories into positive ones

One of the hardest aspects of memoir writing is being honest with yourself. This gets complicated when your inner self wishes a different past than you actually lived.



The pen is mighty: How to be brave while writing your memoir: A guest post by Linda Wisniewski

Telling the truth is sometimes hard, but the truth might never be known if you do not tell it. Here are some helpful reminders.



How not to get sued for  your memoir

Some practical advice from a man with experience at staring down the legal consequences of memoir writing.



How to mindfully transform a painful memory

In trying to retrieve the past, we can be sabotaged by pains that have limited and defined us for years. Facing down those pains can change our sense of who we are and effectively make us stronger as we move forward.



Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe learned a lot about discipline while writing memoir

To write honestly about the life you have lived, you must be willing to expose your inmost secrets to your public self. This kind of writing is not for the timid. You can’t make everything up as you go along, as in fiction.

Implications of writing about real people (3)

Some of the thorniest issues related to memoir writing arise because a life story is not just about the writer. It is about how the writer interacts with other people. Unless the author is a paragon of Pollyannishness, some people in the story will be treated unsympathetically. If the book is published, some will complain that the story is not accurate, or that it portrays them, or somebody close to them, unfairly.

In more serious cases, the depiction of other people moves beyond accuracy, beyond moral issues, into a sticky legal realm. These links discuss the complexity of filling your writing with people who either are alive or once were.

All links to this topic are included in the Telling stories category list. See right sidebar.



A memoir about her father’s secret pain

Memoir can lead to self discovery even when it focuses on the life of somebody else.



Forty-one false starts by Janet Malcolm – review

Writing about other people is always treacherous, for the subject as well as for the writer. In this essay we see a few reasons why.



6 tips for writing an investigative memoir

Here are some guidelines for the times when you are compelled to write about somebody who could have written, but did not write, a story in the first person.



All in the family: Alexander Stille gets personal about memoir

Is there an appropriate way for a memoirist to give a personal spin to what has been a family story? Are others entitled to add their own spin, or to offer a second opinion?



Capote classic ‘In cold blood’ tainted by long-lost files

Truman Capote’s book was the first, and arguably the most successful, of the so-called non-fiction novels of the mid-20th century. The terminology, itself presenting a paradox, implies (probably even screams) that liberties have been taken with the truth. Recently revealed police files now show that it is not only the untruths that were untrue. This sounds like a novel concept. It may open a convoluted new field of investigation for literary sleuths.



Why Ghanaian statesmen don’t write memoirs

Many people don’t live lives free of vitriol and invective. But until they do, in some utopian future, they will hesitate to write about those they have encountered along the road – and for good reason.



‘Beer money: A memoir of privilege and loss,’ by Frances Stroh

Personal lives often interweave with social, economic, or political factors. And, for this to happen, a person need not be a millionaire or have great influence in the world. This memoir shows how these elements come together.



Real people as fictional characters: Some comic, sad, and dangerous encounters

Our writing is full of the people we remember, though some of them get transmuted in the process. While we recall some of them as they were, we use some of them as raw material for creative inspiration. We owe it to our readers to clearly understand the difference between the people who once walked through life with us and those we have idealized.



The book of Antopol (or, Can we ever know the past?)

The only historical references to where your family came from may leave you with more questions about the lives of your ancestors than you started with.



This award-winning memoir is a Greek tragedy with a Jewish twist

This memoir seems on the surface to be about a family that is crazy in the normal way. But, by consciously attempting to keep a family’s memory alive by writing about it, the book tries to demolish the remark by Czeslaw Milosz, that “when a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.”

Trauma and memory (3)

To write an effective life story, a writer must be a certain distance from the event – in time, in location, in emotional space.  A novice author can hardly expect to organize material well enough to write a gripping narrative while still suffering from the psychic effects of destruction or violence. Yet, people do manage to write memoirs that describe survival from war, hostage-taking,  and other life-threatening situations.

People who have gone through these events are sometimes so deeply scarred that they cannot recall them; or, if they can, their memories remain too chaotic to write about. On the other hand, people have been known to come through disturbing events with a heightened consciousness and what appear to be accurate, indelible memories.

Many people need psychological help to cope with their memories. Others, who simply want to get beyond them, look for ways to alter or delete them. That possibility, once a science-fiction dream, now seems attainable.

These links look at various aspects of this topic

All links to this topic are included in the Memory category list. See right sidebar.



Letting a child die: Monica Wesolowska’s memoir

Death is a part of life, and sometimes it can even be an ingredient of gratitude. Sometimes it leaves us mute, but sometimes the experience cries to be expressed.



Memoir of brother’s death captures the work of mourning

Reflections on mourning are now so numerous that they have turned into a sub-genre of memoirs. This one is especially effective as an aid to the author trying to come to terms with permanent loss.



From Lebanon, a sparkling, contemplative war memoir on the dimming of a generation’s hope

If ever, it might be years before a person can write about cataclysmic events that shape a life or affect a country or a generation. This interview has lots to say about the process that must precede that writing.



The transience of memory in times of war

A concrete example of what happens when a memoirist tries to recapture and document the full gamut of emotions from a traumatic time in the past.



Traumatic memory study reveals how our darkest fears can be rewritten

Research on mice has led to the overwriting of unpleasant memories. If the same kind of conditioning can be applied to people, there may be a new way to mute our responses.



The holocaust memoir I didn’t help write — and wish I had

We each have a unique take on history, and we owe it to posterity to record what we see.



Memory can be a tricky thing after trauma, psychologist warns

Some people think that memories are particularly vivid after shocking events. Others believe that all life flashes in front of us when we are in life-threatening situations. The truth may lie elsewhere.



Shaken and stirred

A memoir built on the debris of an earthquake.



Inside Roméo Dallaire’s ongoing battle with PTSD

What is seen in war is sometimes too terrible to recall, and it often leads to suicide or attempted suicide. But it is important for soldiers to recall the reality of war for those who are fortunate enough not to witness its ugliness.



Flashbulb memories of dramatic events aren’t as accurate as believed

We tend to think that the vividness of an event makes it more likely that we will remember it accurately. This study should make us rethink that.

False memory (3)

This fascinating topic examines how and why we have memories of events that never took place, and looks at some of the consequences of maintaining, even nourishing, false memories.

How memory occurs in general is a mystery. But once we get past the wonder of it all, it is easier to explain selective memory  –  why we remember some of the past but not all of it. We can also understand why we exaggerate some past experiences and ignore others. As life moves on, we put foundations under some of our deepest beliefs with vivid memories of having been tortured as children (though our brothers and sisters have no such memory), or we recall the inspired lessons we learned from teachers who deny they said any such thing.

The topic is related to a few others on this web site, largely because of my interest in the irrelevance of truth in memoir. Other pages offer links related to false testimony, fake memoirs, the unreliability of memory,  and forgetting. The following links deal mainly with the inadvertent and almost inevitable slippage in our powers of recall.

All links to this topic are included in the Memory category list. See right sidebar.



‘I was in Ecuador – I had no memory of going there’: What it is like to be in a coma

Some tantalizing speculation here about the memories that remain when somebody awakens from a dream or emerges from a coma. Are they false memories? an alternative universe?



Study finds THC increases false recollections of memories

With so many jurisdictions legalizing marijuana, there has been increased talk about the effects of marijuana. How the substance perverts memories is a major part of the issue.



Are false memories to blame for Iwo Jima flag-raising dispute?

Cultural memories, like family memories, are often unconstrained by little details, like the truth of what might actually have happened.



Our failing memory

An interesting look at repression, planted memories, and false memories.



Enda Kenny’s ‘mea culpa’: the science of false memory

Stress and overload are here seen as reasons for a politician’s misstatement, which turn out to have been based on a false memory.



Fantastic visions

A look at hallucinations and the memories they leave behind of phenomena that were never real.



“Hallucinations,” by Oliver Sacks

Why would we remember something that did not happen? Sometimes it is because we have experiences that are not perceptible to others.



2016 didn’t just give us “fake news.” It likely gave us false memories.

Dependence on social media for news has made it necessary to question even supposed facts qualified by the words “We have it on the best authority.” When people can pick and choose news sources, it is a real challenge to agree on a single reality. That means that we as a society are unlikely to remember a single past.



On shared false memories: what lies behind the Mandela effect

Neuropsychologists knows how common alternate truths can be.



Detecting misinformation can improve memory later on

There’s apparently a cure for false memories, but you have to be paying attention in the first place.

Unique memoirs, unique memoirists (3)

While the main focus of this web site is memory and memoirs, it does review  some individual memoirs when they have some unique quality as first-person narratives. All of the books cited below have an unusual slant that makes them stand out. Some are collections of photographs. Others are films or stage presentations. There are also memoirs written under difficult circumstances or from a point of view that you cannot imagine until you read them. Memoirs do not fit into a box.

Some memoirs are here because their style is compelling. Some qualify for other parts of this web site, but they call attention to themselves more as memorable reading than as examples of their subject matter. Finally, some of these works are not memoirs at all, but writings about memoirists.

All the links in this section prove that there are no rules in this genre. Lives are unique, and  there are more ways of documenting them than anybody can imagine.

All links to this topic are included in the Memoir category list. See right sidebar.



Q&A: Oprah talks weight, double standards and why her new memoir is a cookbook

When it’s too hard to write memories, recipes could be the next best thing.



Chinese writer Xiaolu Guo’s memoir tells of extraordinary upbringing and for identity

A fascinating examination of a personal book about life by a writer who refuses to do memoir.



The aquarium

A gripping tale about the diagnosis and treatment of a brain tumor in the nine-month-old daughter of the author. Full of the best elements of memoir, including the writer’s attempt to capture his own reactions after the fact.



James Salter’s last interview

Writers of life stories will be particularly interested in the passages that follow the words “procrastination” and “memory.”



‘Before I forget’ an Alzheimer’s memoir

Writing a memoir is primarily an interior voyage for the writer. Here’s an example of writing directed by people who know they are slowly rowing toward an unknown shore and who are trying to describe the voyage for those who survive them.



Ping Fu defends ‘Bend, not break’ memoir against online Chinese attack


‘Heartbroken’ author Ping Fu willing to apologise for inaccuracies in memoir

When memoir and politics collide, memory must not only survive time; it can retain its currency only if those who remember otherwise have lost their power to punish. The controversy over this book has so many elements of interest to memoirists that it’s worth a second look.



Broken bones and old songs: A novelist’s fight to keep memory alive

Memory is an essential ingredient in creativity, especially for a writer. In this essay, a writer reflects on the memories of a long lifetime.



Cameraperson is a movie, a memoir, and a confession

Some interesting observations about perception and point of view, which should be of interest to anybody writing life stories, their own or those of other people



The boring tragedies of parenthood

A poignant essay. If you have been a parent for more than a few years, you will find yourself saying Yes over and over again as you read this.



The man who invented the drug memoir

Here’s a significant piece of literary history that could be saved from obscurity by the age of Google.

Forms of memoir (3)

In the loosest sense, memoir is a record of what people remember. It is not the same as fiction, which contains (or is) fabricated material. Fiction could be based on episodes actually lived, but it is openly not true to the past. Importantly, memoir is not the same as autobiography, which is simply a record of events in a person’s life. And unlike autobiography, It can describe a single incident or an isolated period of a person’s life.

All memoirs are subject to the quirks of human memory, and as such every memoir is based on the past, rather than a historically verifiable record of the past. The main difference between autobiography and memoir is that all the events in the former can be supported by public records, letters, or eyewitness testimony, and the latter may contain claims about the past that are unique to the teller – what happened at home fifty years ago, for example.

As far as truth is concerned, every memoir is based on a true story. Parts of it may have happened, but all of it is the product of a single mind. If autobiography can be verified, memoir is an idiosyncratic and unique product. Only you can write your own memoir. As much as some people may claim otherwise, memoir is never an objective record of the past. It always presupposes a subjective point of view.

It is useless to try to catalogue all the forms of memoir. There are trauma memoirs, grief memoirs, forgiveness memoirs, survival memoirs, career memoirs, family memoirs, and so on. Even if you could get to the bottom of the list, somebody would find a new way to depict the past.

But memoir is not limited to writing. The genre also encompasses poetry, music, and photographs. All that matters is that it is based on personal memory. Prompts may sometimes help in the recall of events, but the most important characteristic of memoirs is that they are told from a certain point of view.

All links to this topic are included in the Memoir category list. See right sidebar.



How poet Beth Ann Fennelly discovered she had accidentally written a micro-memoir

There is no end of possible stylistic forms that life stories might take. Here is one of the more unusual.



Everything you need to know about ‘femoir’ – the bestselling books that celebrate female success

This could just as easily have been categorized as an article about memoirs with an agenda, but it more importantly describes a distinct type of memoir.



Leo Tolstoy and the origins of spiritual memoir

An analysis of a deep interior journey, one-and-a-half centuries old, a precursor of today’s spiritual memoirs, in which faith rests more on experience than on tradition.



Form follows dysfunction

Memoir is always about far more than a single life. Here the author puts her life into the context of architecture.



On Marguerite Dabaie’s graphic memoir of growing up Palestinian in the US

If we think we know what a memoir should be, the form, the content, and the style of this one will defy our expectations.



This map charts the complex landscape of an artist’s face

Just when you think you have come across every way of representing a life, along comes something like this.



The humblest meal, the greatest memory

Even a slice of pizza can be a memory prompt.



The vapours of memory

If you are thinking of writing a memoir for readers with non-linear minds, consider using this book as a model.



Grief is a ‘hamster wheel’: How a memoir about death can still be funny

If you’re planning a memoir and you think there’s only one right way to do it, this will make you think again.



Metaphors for madness: the new wave of mental health memoirs

Me, me, me isn’t enough to compel readers. A memoir has to lead somewhere, and it loses force if it doesn’t reflect some sort of growth.

Memoirs and fiction (3)

It is sometimes said that fiction is more “true” than facts. The implication is that fiction is free to go beyond experience and to plumb certain kinds of truth – especially emotional truth – more easily than pure memoir can. But the relationship between memoir and fiction runs even deeper than that.

This topic is closely related to another on this site: truth in life stories. But, as Mark Twain pointed out, “Truth is stranger than fiction . . . because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” Still, memoir writers have lots to learn from fiction, including the techniques that make some stories more effective and memorable than others.

Many of the following links focus on stories that do not purport to be literally true – on works that refuse to worry about truth and instead depend as much on imagination as on experience.

There are many reasons to convert life into fiction. If memory is elusive and often questionable, many writers use it as the starting point for their work and let their fancy roam. An even more important reason is that it is hard to face the unvarnished truth privately; it is harder yet to tell it to others. One solution is to convert obnoxious and voluble Uncle Leon into a sneaky friend of the family named Roger and then to allow his altered personality to toy with what Leon might have done in fictional contexts. And a fabricated story could illustrate how that embarrassing situation at the family’s holiday dinner could play out on the street during a small town’s rummage sale.

One of the underlying biases of this web site is that all memoir can be said to be based on a true story. Many of these links point to works that do not try to stick to literal, historically verifiable facts. All of them deal with situations that beg to be fictionalized.

All links to this topic are included in the Memoir category list. See right sidebar.



Why the line between fact and fiction is even blurrier online

Do you wonder which of your observations are real and which are fabricated? So do many writers.



Five questions with author Tama Janowitz

An interview with a woman who, it is obvious, has had too many people ask how much of her memoir is true and how much is made up.



Ghostwriter for a popular Instagram star’s ‘memoir’ reveals she didn’t even get to talk to the girl whose book she was writing – and had to make up most of the details

Caveat emptor: Sometimes memoir is fiction, but not for the reasons you might think.



Where lost bodies roam

Perhaps the main factor that differentiates memoir from fiction is distance. Live something, write memoir; imagine it, write fiction. But if you have been affected by events you did not witness, you could be too close to them to write fiction, yet not in a position to write memoir. This was the dilemma of Samuel Beckett. So he developed art which is “the expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”



How best to read auto-fiction

We’ve all heard that authors should write what they know about. But not exactly what they know about – that’s not being creative. This article discusses the extent to which writers can legitimately use their own experience in fiction.



Is it a memoir? Is it a novel? A shadowy writer toys with our expectations

The line between memoir and fiction is sometimes so thin that we don’t know what side of the line we are looking at.



The true meaning of nostalgia

A master at turning life into fiction examines in detail the reasons why we look back longingly at a world that exists only in our minds.



Memoir as fiction: Or one way to write what you need to write

If you have lived through experiences that you want to write about but cannot because they are too painful, here is one solution.



Arthur Conan Doyle

The confluence of life and literature, of memoir and fiction, in a story about stories.



True lies

A whimsical view of the relationship between truth and fiction. This time, rather than indicting memoirs for containing falsity, it criticizes novels for reflecting what actually happened.

Fake memoirs (2)

We all harbor some false memories, and it is natural to bend the truth, especially when we talk about the distant past. We sometimes exaggerate for effect, or we insert details to make us look better than we were, or we denigrate or demean others. But though all of us occasionally bend the truth either unintentionally or for our own purposes, few of us are eager to lie about the past, and fewer still seek out a publisher to publicize our perverted memories.

It is natural for writers to inadvertently recall details from the past that may not have occurred exactly as remembered. But when an author intentionally creates events just to make a point in what should be a faithful recital of memories, the deception brings readers face-to-face with fraud and fiction.

When we  encounter memoirs that seem to be too strange to be true, they can make us wonder about the nature of truth itself. All we can do is read them and wonder at the stories.

This subject is a cautionary one for memoirists. Three articles here discuss a single memoir. They present a rounded view of the implications and consequences of bending the truth.

All links to this topic are included in the Memoir category list. See right sidebar.



Strange life of the housewife who grew up with monkeys

We may be able to choose aspects of our future, bur we do not normally choose our past. Here is an amazing story that makes some people, including many who commented on this article, think the past described is fabricated.



Blood nation: Half-breeds, maids, porterhouses, and the fake memoir

Mark Twain famously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli the distinction between three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Nowadays, we have seen enough hoax or faulty recollections to say the third term should be “memoirs.” This essay gets into some important issues, including truth and “truthiness” in memory, and creative (or reality-based) non-fiction.



The reluctant memoirist

After her book was published, she was accused of being a dishonest and deceptive memoirist (that is, lying about herself), even though her explicit aim (her only aim, she thought) was to describe an environment she entered under cover.



The memory addict


‘Lust and Wonder’: The mundane made mean and boring

(1) A lengthy study of Augusten Burroughs, one of the most prolific living writers who mingles autobiography with fictional touches. Does he write memoir? Fiction? Must we limit his work by defining it and putting it into boxes? (2) A critic who says that Burroughs has gone off the rails.



Imaginary memoirs

An essay explaining the difference between memoir and history – or, more to the point, between memoir and a film recap of the author’s life.



Satisfaction not guaranteed: Reading Lance Armstrong

There is an element of trust established between the memoirist and the reader, one that does not exist for the fiction writer, who must just tell an interesting story. How much of this story has to do with truth, how much with literary categories, how much with reader expectations – and how much does it matter?



[Eli Park Sorensen] Fraudulent memoirs and the autobiographical pact

We trust memoir authors to be honest with us, but our trust is sometimes misplaced. Especially complex are situations in which the first-person narrator is convinced of the truth of a fabricated story.



Would you buy a used memoir from this man?

Here’s a man who intentionally writes fake memoirs, stringing the reader along, not letting on that it’s false, but always winking mischievously.



The perilous shoals of memory: Back to that dicey NYT mag story

The urge to tell a good story often trumps our rage for truth.

Memoirs with an agenda (2)

The most valuable memoirs are voyages of discovery, made up of a narrative that develops organically, moving from events to revelation. They surprise and entertain the reader. And, along the way, they are sprinkled with a few life lessons – learned by the writer and shared with readers.

In my view, a memoir is worth reading to the degree that it takes the reader for an entertaining and instructive ride. It should not be is a screed, an apology, or a justification for a life. It is neither useful nor appropriate to use a memoir as a vehicle for getting back at an abusive father or a boss who hated for no good reason. And it is not a vehicle for a politician to explain why an election was lost or to justify old policies or actions.

I acknowledge that many published memoirs do not adhere to this approach, but if I were a publisher I would print them as rants rather than memoirs.

My ideas about memoir may strike readers as idiosyncratic and narrow, but there they are. Some readers approached me when I had my previous web site in the hopes that I would review or promote their memoirs, but that was never my intention. This is the only page on the web site that looks at memoirs with an agenda. To me, the main difference between them and fake memoirs is that their main aim is to vindicate, not to deceive.

All links to this topic are included in the Memoir category list. See right sidebar.



Andrew Cuomo got $738,000 for his memoir — and it sold only 3,200 copies

Political memoirs are rarely impressive literary works. There are better reasons to write a memoir than to create a salable commodity. Most of those reasons are related to the self-knowledge available to the author through the act of writing.



A memoir of misanthropy: What happens when a man attempts to live like other animals?

If you write about yourself, however unconventionally, however originally, you should be ready for readers (and reviewers) whose whole life is based on agendas unlike yours and who are upset that you have expressed yourself. But don’t forget: they would not have had a soap box to climb on unless you had written your book in the first place.



Is the greatest collection of slave narratives tainted by racism?

Writers and tellers of narratives frequently have agendas, some of them hidden even from themselves. Reading about the past, it helps to have an idea of what motivated the telling or the reporting.



Brian Burke memoir A tumultuous life set to ruffle WA politics

Far from recalling the good with the bad, many political memoirs simply try to justify the past. This one, by a disgraced Australian, claims it refuses to justify anything. It is the result of an attempt to be “absolutely truthful” – even if the claim belies what we know about the brain and our ability to recall the events of the past.



In ‘Thanks for the money,’ comedian Joel McHale lampoons celebrity memoirs

It shouldn’t have to take a comedian to lampoon some so-called memoirs. Many such books written by politicians or entertainers turn out to be simply self-justifying or self-promotional fluff.



J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly elegy: Right-wing propaganda in the guise of personal memoir

Every memoir has a point of view. Sometimes that perspective gets dangerously close to propaganda. Here is a good example: a left-wing review of a right-wing book.



Celebrity memoirs are awful. Here are 4 ways to fix them

The concept of celebrity memoir is almost an oxymoron. It’s often not so much the truth of what celebrities remember as what they can say to increase their celebrity. This essay acts as if the famous are actually looking for a way to express truths.



From ‘American hustle’ to ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ Why is Hollywood hooked on embellishing the truth?

When you go to the movies, don’t expect to see history. Sometimes when you come away from watching a film when you know the basis of the plot, you wouldn’t be blamed for wondering how much of life itself is based on a true story.



The Briefing by Sean Spicer, review: a memoir that reeks of desperation


Why Sean Spicer is still loyal to Donald Trump

You can expect so-called political memoirs to be deficient in the soul-searching department. Here are two reviewers who were not disappointed when they found this book disappointing.

Life stories and truth (3)

Garrison Keillor said, “You get old and you realize there are no answers, just stories.”

When most of us tell our stories, we try to describe events exactly as they happened. We want to express some measure of truth about the past. Unfortunately, many things keep us from doing this. Most important are the filters that influence our perception and our memories. Years have intervened since the event, our attitudes have changed, we see life with a more mature perspective. And there are more negative filters as well: We hesitate to write the whole truth because we are afraid of exposing ourselves or fear what others will think of us. We embellish a detail or two. Or we paint ourselves as better than we actually were.

No two people ever agree completely about the past. Even brothers and sisters who were next to each other growing up argue about basic matters, such as how they were treated at home. Memory is indeed a tenuous possession.

No record of the past is ever a complete or objective record. Narratives are selective and inevitably inclined toward a particular view. This is just as true of memoir as of larger historical stories. But memoir does not pretend to be historically accurate. It depends on the memory of an individual (accurate or not), and it is based on emotional truths.

Those issues are examined in the following links.

All links to this topic are included in the Telling stories category list. See right sidebar.



Part of memory is forgetting

Writing is a conversation with the reader. Sometimes you have to let go and give the reader credit for having enough sense to figure out what you are just suggesting. What you forget, what you imply, what is implicit is just as much a part of your story as what you spell out.



Speculations on Lance, the missing inch, and fiction vs. memoir

Observations to tantalize and perplex anybody wondering about whether life stories must be true, in the verifiable sense.






Worlds 2012: Memoir, fiction & truth

Four parts of a longer discussion, raising lots of questions about some important issues, such as the part of the reader in the creative process; the narrative persona; our curiosity about other lives; credibility, trust, and truth; and the definition of “self” in memoir and fiction. Compelling reading for anybody serious about life stories.



Is this man a victim?

This story is impossible to categorize. It has elements of the unreliability of memory, and of fake memoirs (though this article tries to get to the facts), and of trauma and memory. But above all it is a gripping story, and the reader is free to decide whether it is true or not.



Susan Beale: ‘Memoir doesn’t get you into people’s heads unfiltered’

Contemplating the possibility of brainwashing, a character in the M.A.S.H. television series once insisted, “They’ll never get the truth out of me.” And he added, “I don’t even know the truth.” This happens in real life more often than we want to admit.



Adam Dudding: ‘When you’re writing memoir, you can’t trust yourself.’

Memoirists will find reasons to reflect more deeply about honesty and truth and memory after reading this.



The great trap for all Americans

Herman Melville used an obscure memoir as the basis of a great story about a slave revolt. So memoir and literature combined to shed light on aspects of an often forgotten historical reality.