Monday, 23 March 2015

Writing Memoir (one topic at a time)

Writing Memoir (one topic at a time)

A family memoir journey of discovery (not all of it pleasant) that began with an inheritance of little ceramic figurines:

Edmund de Waal inherited 264 Japanese netsuke (pron: “net-skay”) from his great uncle. deWaal was a potter. 

Netsues are toggles which in kimono-wearing days were used to fasten purses to kimonos. 

He decided to research their history in his family and ended up five years later with what one interviewer said “took the world by storm”The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance. 

Given de Waal’s interest in ceramics (Rachel Cook called him “perhaps the most famous potter working in Britain today” in a 2010 Observer review), he was drawn to these ceramic figures. 

Certainly their history was going to reveal a lot to him as time went on.

Marion Roach Smith interview on writing memoir (with a very distracting interviewer with nice teeth):

Marion defines memoir and understanding memoir as “your territory. In other words we all have territory and walking its borders, what you discover is it’s a lot smaller than you think. 

"And if you want to be a successful  memoir writer, what you do is define your territory by your areas of expertise—one area at a time.

"Most people think that memoir is that big book that starts with your great-great grandparents and ends with what you had for breakfast today. And those are the books that don’t sell and nobody really reads. 
"But if you want to be successful of memoir, you think in terms of size: blog post, personal essay, long form memoir, all the way up to book size.
"And you think about your areas of expertise: I’m a woman, I’m a college trustee, I’m a mother, I own a home, I own a dog I sail boats, I write memoir. 
"I write from all those different areas of expertise – one at a time. Memoir is about your territory, and if you make your territory small, you will be a good memoirist.
"Of course it’s about the truth. But it’s about your truth. 
"And too much truth—too big—is exactly where most memoirs fail. Because they think that they want to write about their life when really I would like them to give me a little insight into how they recovered from their alcoholism, I’d like them to give me a little insight into how they developed a sense of humour about being married, I’d like them to give me some insight about how they raised their dogs. This is a brilliant difference.
"The great Caroline Knapp, whom I always quote on this topic, knew it. When she wrote her first bestselling memoir, she wrote a book that has the best title of any book ever; it’s called  Drinking: A Love Story and that’s what she wrote about. 
"When she wrote her next memoir it was called A Pack of Two—about her relationship with her dogs. Had she not died tragically young, she probably would have written seven or eight memoirs, each from one area of expertise at a time. That’s the difference, and if you get that you can succeed.”

Pick up the rest of this video interview here at 4:51:  where she will also tell you the difference between narrative nonfiction, memoir, and autobiography, unmuddles the waters, and does “not talk in MFA.”

-- Margo Lamont

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