The Page a Day Writers Group

Fact Is Fiction…TV Reality

Posted on: February 15, 2010

“My fiction is 82% nonfiction,” says Pam Houston,  novelist,  essayist and award-winning short story writer.   And I’ve heard her say she thinks all fiction is 80% nonfiction AND nonfiction is 80% fiction.  Clearly for Houston the line between fiction and nonfiction, such as memoirs and essays, is blurred, if nonexistent.

I’m writing a memoir, HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO: A MOTHER’S STORY, about when Molly, my oldest, was going off to college.  I’ve grappled with the facts of the story.  Did my friend, Gayle, convince me to take Molly to the doctor on the third or fourth day of her illness? Did Jack, my son, yell at me to come out of the bathroom I’d barricaded myself in the day before Molly left?

Memoir is from the French: mémoire or from the Latin memoria, meaning “memory”, or a reminiscence.  Therefore, my facts are based on my memory.  Rob Wilder, my instructor at last year’s Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, told me, “You’re not obligated to the facts.  If you wrote exactly what happened, it would be boring.  You’re obligated to the story.  You need to put in the memories, the details, that move the story forward.”

I think what Rob is talking about is truth.  Tell the truth of the story whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.  My dad says he spent his childhood in the backyard.  Do I honestly think my dad spent 24/7 in the backyard?  Of course not.  But what he’s saying is he felt like his mother sent him out in the backyard everyday, forgotten, since he had four sisters and a brother and an alcoholic father that his mother had to take care of.  Feeling like he’d been abandoned in his backyard was his truth.

I think all writing, whether it’s fiction or memoir, should tell the truth, the honest, gut wrenching truth.  If you don’t readers will read right through it.  My aim is to write my memoir as honestly and truthfully as possible, while telling a story of a mother who had a hard time letting go of her daughter.

Michelle Murphy Zive


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5 Responses to "Fact Is Fiction…TV Reality"

Hi, I found you by the tag “truth” I am connecting with people who are on some level like minded. So, Hi, and hope to speak to you in the near future.

What a powerful post. And so right on. I’ve found that whenever I write and it’s not coming from “my truth” the article, essay, chapter doesn’t work. Thanks for this reminder. Every writer must stay true to their inner voice. Otherwise, the re-writes mount and mount. And if the piece is published, the reader knows that something critical to the work is missing.

Armistead Maupin called process of mixing truth with fiction ‘jeweling the elephant’ in his novel “The Night Listener”. The elephant is pretty dang impressive, but doesn’t it look better when its all dressed up with the jewels and the fancy blankets?

A memoir is all about the author’s truth: the author’s interpretation of personal events, as individual as a fingerprint. The deeper, the more heartfelt, the nitty grittier the better. That’s what makes a memoir worth reading!

Wonderful post, Michelle! Yes, the courage to tell the truth. As a reader, I know if something feels truthful by its resonance on a gut level, like the strum of a guitar. And even fiction must have that resonance for me or I don’t have much patience for it. I look forward to reading your memoir.

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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