The Page a Day Writers Group

Posts Tagged ‘memoir


This morning I finished reading Ann Patchett’s novel Truth and Beauty, a memoir about her friendship with Lucy Grealy. It’s a lovely, tragic story and I would have “closed” the book on my e-reader and enjoyed its lingering aftertaste much more had I not felt so uncomfortable. Dare I say, dirty?

How could she do it? I wonder. How could Ann betray Lucy’s confidences, expose her friend’s suffering to strangers in such a lovingly brutal way? How could she remember all of those conversations and moments, when time condenses and distorts memory into something almost unrecognizable from the original events? Was she taking notes all along? Did she realize early on in the tumultuous friendship “This will make a great story.” Because unless Ann took dictation and captured Lucy’s words verbatim, she was fictionalizing.

It made me squirmy, this literary exposé. I am always so careful to avoid writing about anyone I know—friends, family, acquaintances. I have had people search for signs of themselves in my writing and been relieved when they didn’t find them. I try to be cautious with reality. When my personal life seeps into my fiction (as it invariably does with any writer) I am careful to use only my own emotions surrounding an experience. I mangle and mash the unstable flux of “feelings” into new shapes and découpage them onto paper dolls and cut-out scenery. I will not give anyone away.

For a moment, I regretted purchasing the book, as if in doing so I had colluded in an act of aggression or witnessed an assault and stood by, doing nothing. But the discomfort is mine—not Ann’s, probably not Lucy’s—for I’m aware that everything we feel and say about someone else is just a mirror image. Our praise and protestations are our breath upon the glass, giving us a glimpse of something that prefers to remain unseen.

Kirsten Imani Kasai

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“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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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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