A talk about Becoming Alice, A Memoir, by the author will take place at The Gables on Friday, July 8, at 1:45 PM. For more information call (805)765-7456
Posts Tagged ‘Memoir’
Writers have feelings about their characters whether they create them in a work of fiction, or if they choose to write about real people, a work of non-fiction. In either case, the writer is going to feel something for these characters, something on a sliding scasle from positive to negative. If the person they write about is a historical figure, perhaps the British Prince of Whales who abdicated his throne for the love of a woman, or Queen Elizabeth (Sisi) of Austria, both of whom are tragic figures, they can choose to draw them with understanding and empathy, or as flawed characters. It all depands on the writer’s own previous life experiences.
I’ll bet the choice will be based on some person the writer had known, or some incident he/she may have experienced earlier in life. I believe the the writer’s orientaion may be a conscious one, or he/she may be totally unaware of the deep seated orientation he/she may have.
My own orientation in writing my memoir, Becoming Alice forced me to dig deep and bring back the personality traits and behaviors I’d seen in my parents at a specific point in time. These, sometimes, were not particularly admirable. I’ve always felt that anyone undertaking a memoir has to be completely honest, even at the expense of some of the main characters in their book. If they are unable to do that and they depict their characters more positively than they actually were, then they are writing fiction, and not a memoir.
I have found that the writer’s feelings about their characters can change over time. In my case, thankfully, their depiction changed remarkably from somewhat negative to quite positive over the years following the end of my book. Perhaps I should write a sequal to set things straight.
I’m spending more of my time writing again and it feels wonderful. I had started several pieces along the way these last couple of years that I’ve spent marketing Becoming Alice. They were pieces that I intended to be short stories but after I’d written about a dozen pages, I reached a dead end. I aborted all of them.
And then I got the idea that I should write an and then what happened piece to my memoir. So often when I’d done presentations about my book to various groups and often was asked what happened to this character or that character from the book. It reminded me of the time I was reading bedtime stories to my kids and when time ran out the kids begged, “But, then what happened?”
So, I decided to write about the period of time following the end of my memoir. It wasn’t going to be a sequel. I’ve always thought sequels usually aren’t as stong as the original work. An example is Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis which is in my opinion not at the same level to Angela’s Ashes. So I started writing an and then what happened short story.
Well now, I am not the kind of writer who makes an outline and has the whole storyline down pat before even writing the first word. I start writing and the work sort of takes me places which I may never have thought about before facing that blank page. For me it is more creative doing it my way.
So I began my short story and with the creative process in full bloom, my short story got too long to be a short story. I was not about to erase what I thought was quite interesting and read pretty well. I needed to do something quickly before I brought this story into the novel category.
The light bulb went off above my head and I came up with the answer. I am writing a novella! I dashed off to Wikipedia and learned that the definition of a novella needs to have a word count between 17,500 and 40,000 and can run as high as 70,000 words.
Perfect! I think that I will fall into that category. And … the icing in the cake is that I will be in good company with a novella. English language novellas include Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Herman Melville’s Billy Bud, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and many more.
Now, let’s hope I make my novella as good as ony one of theirs.
In my last blog, I’ve talked about a memoir writer whose story turned out to be totally fabricated. But in thinking about this subject, I wondered if a memoir had to be entirely truthful and to what extent. Does every scene have to have happened? Does every word in a dialogue between people have to have been spoken word for word? How true to the actual occurance does memoir have to be?
When I began to study this genre intensively, I had a professor make a profound statement that stayed with me throughout the entire time I wrote Becoming Alice. In her class a student asked her how he could recall the exact words that were spoken beween his father and himself. The incident he was writing about occured many years ago. My professor smiled and answered, “Make it up.” She explained that it wasn’t necessary to recall every word exactly, you only needed to impart the meaning, the feelings, the emotions of the reparte. What you need to do is to draw the characters as they were. You could do so without parroting each word as it was said so many years ago.
I’ve written about a period in my life when I was quite young and I am often asked about how I could possibly remember it. Well, I remember precisely what occured. I remember the panic my family felt. I remember the character of each of my parents. I remember how each of them handled the threat to their lives. I remember all that.
But do I remember each word that was spoken beween all of us? No. I don’t. I did what my professor told us to do. I made up the words, but the incidents really happened and the meaning of what was said was the truth. I believe that this is what all memoirists do.
Last Monday night, I had one of those experiences in which I expected very little and was surprised by receiving much more. That happens to me often. For example, I like to watch my statistics on my Amazon site, or on my blog site. It seems when I think no one out there is at all interested … when the count of visitors is low … and I begin to think that I should redirect my energies elsewhere, I will find a so large a bump up on my stats that I glow inside.
Last Monday night I had one of those experiences. I was asked to speak about Becoming Alice to an evening meeting of a social group at a local temple. I was not to bring copies of my book since they did not want the meeting to be commercial in any way. I packed up thinking I’d put a few books in my car, just in case.
The minute I entered the social hall I was approached by two women who greeted me with, “Did you bring books?” Luckily I was able to say yes. They ordered me to bring them inside and immediately set up a table for me, explaining, “This is where you’ll be signing your books.” They took complete charge of me.
I went on to do my talk and found the audience to be totally attentive … no one hunched over in a short nap … and completely involved with the account of my personal history in the Holocaust. At the end of my presentation, I always open the meeting to questions. There were many. After each answer, I often got a short statement about how their own family history was either the same, or different, from mine.
But it was during the signing that many of those people stopped to give me a full presentation of thier own, or some member of their family’s history during WWII.
The evening was full of presentations, mine and theirs.’ I loved that.
I often address various sized groups of people who are interested in hearing me speak about my memoir, Becoming Alice. They want to know what inspired me to write write my book, how long it took to complete, how I went about getting it published, etc. etc. Then the groups I address can be split in two, those who have read my book and those who haven’t. I leave the haven’t group on the back burner, hoping they will buy my book on the way out the door, and focus on the group that has read my book.
Depending on the interests of the group, I will speak about WWII and Hitler’s takeover of Vienna; I may speak about the immigrant years in Portland, Oregon and the position our little group of refugees found ourselves in; I might speak about the unique personalities of my family members and how that effected our assimilation. I most often give more backgraound material than is to be found in my book.
What interests me most is what happens when I end my discourse and open the meeting up for questions. Many are on the subjects I’ve mentioned. People want to share with me their own family histories, especially as they pertain to members who have personalities similar to those I wrote about. And finally, I always get questions about what happened next ?, what happened ever to your brother?, are you still friends with Trudy? and are you writing a sequal?
I thought about the second works of some very successful books and also about sequals to their memoirs. My experience has been that very often, these sequals are not so successful. One example is Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes which I thought was an excellent piece of writing. It was followed by ‘Tis which in my opinion was not equal to his first work. Oh, I think it sold a lot of copies, probably because people expected the same sort of reading experience. It wasn’t. How could it be? It was about an entirely different subject, lived by an adult and not by a little boy, and in a America and not Ireland.
So when people ask me about my next work, I tell them I am not writing a sequal. Actually the working title of what I’m currently writing is Episodes. They do take place in the period following the close of Becoming Alice but as happens in all sequals, most other variables are different. In my case you will be reading about a young American girl and her relationships with others, including men, and not a European refugee who feels like a fish out of water in her new culture.