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The Literary World Up In Arms

Over the past months I’ve been deep into the writing of a comprehensive memoir of my childhood, early adulthood, and my relationship—such as it was—with my father. An enormously difficult task, which would have been a breeze had he been less an unredeemable tyrant.

As I've been monotonously repeating at every opportunity, an honest and accurate account of the facts in chronological order is not sufficient. Memoir conventions demand that autobiography be shaped into a story, a drama, a breathless succession of conflicts resolved, great needs finally met, and overall a joyous transcendence of a toxic legacy.

Employing the techniques of fiction in autobiography has always seemed to me to me akin to lying. Life—especially for those who’ve had difficult upbringings—isn’t at all like an invented adventure. But then if I wish to publish, I have little choice. So I have been diligently scouring my journals for victories, successes, happy endings, and I’m emphasizing them, building them up, giving them a gleaming coat of varnish.

This morning in Salon I encountered a piece entitled “RIP: The novel” , by Laura Miller, which is a critique of “a book that defends plagiarism, champions faked memoirs and declares fiction dead.”

Oh, and this tome “has the literary world up in arms.”

Here’s a relevant excerpt. Emphasis mine.

It seems true to me, for example, that reality TV, memoirs and other documentary-based forms feed a popular craving for the authentic, the unscripted and the unpredictable, even though the demand for certain formulaic storylines pressures creators to tweak "reality" into a more conventionally satisfying narrative. On the other hand, I can't endorse Shields' opinion that too much emphasis on plot is what makes contemporary novels boring and is causing a lot of people to stop reading them. Then again, the people I know who have stopped reading fiction do seem to concur with Shields that "more invention, more fabrication" is not what they want from a book. Which is why none of them, in turn, would agree with his insistence that the distinction between fact and fiction is often immaterial.

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About the popular craving for authentic, unscripted and unpredictable... don't you think this is because with the internet, people just don't connect 'in person' as much anymore?

For myself - I read blogs in the same way that I used to be completely absorbed in Autobiographies. My craving for more and more autobiographies (which often made me feel, as the very lonely person I used to be, that I was coming closer to people outside my own world)kind of fell by the wayside when I discovered blogs in which people were writing about and sharing their lives on a day to day basis. In this format, there is no 'ending' in sight. I quite like that.

Your posts about the way autobiography/memoir should or shouldn't be shaped like fiction, remind me of a book I had many years ago. I'm not sure if it's still in print and unfortunately I can no longer remember the name of the author. It's a harrowing autobiography of a girl who, in childhood, was sexually abused not only by her father but by his friends. It's called 'No' and subheaded 'a woman's word'. I read it. I can't say I enjoyed it - there is nothing in a book like that to enjoy, but there was no fictionalisation of it, not gloss, no emotional filters applied. And it was published. And it sold.

It would be interesting to find out how many publishers rejected "No: A Woman's Word" before it was eventually accepted.

The major conceit of editors and publishers is that they know what will sell, and what will not.

But then virtually EVERY first time author on the best seller list had been rejected numerous times before getting published.

Ask the author of Harry Potter. Ask ANY successful author.

Editors and Publishers just don't know. If they did, they'd be way richer.

Yes, you have a point.

By the way, my work is now back on Redbubble - have a look at my post from yesterday.

I've posted one of your paintings and a mini-review, along with a link to your gallery. I thought it best to let your work mostly speak for itself.

Many thanks. By the way, I hope occasionally you'll comment in my journal! Do you read your friends page?

I go there from time to time, but so as not to miss anything I've put your journal on my "notify" list so that when you post I'll see it.

I'd forgotten that there was such a thing!

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