Thursday, March 4, 2010
Memoir Month #4
Welcome! It's time for some good news. I have the winner of the drawing for a copy of Mary DeMuth's book,
Jennifer Ortolano, you are the winner. Congratulations! Please contact me at lynndaell [at] live [dot] com so that I can send it to you.
We've viewed memoir writing from several perspectives. Mary DeMuth gave us information about writing memoirs in general and followed up with the personal issues she faced. Last time, we looked at memoir writing from an agent's prospective via Laney Katz Becker's interview.
Today, I have another blog excerpt. Rachelle Gardner blogged about writing memoirs. Link here to read the whole letter. I want to focus on a few lines:
"Memoir is a demanding genre; it will only sell if the writing is stellar, and the story is crafted in way that is very compelling. It usually needs a unique hook or a fresh spin on a common topic… Selling a memoir is not just about your story. It's about how that story is written. Lots of people have a story similar to yours; only a few will be able to write it in such a way that it could become a bestselling memoir."
Rachelle uses strong words: demanding, stellar, compelling, and unique. She also talks about the agent's perspective of having a best seller: "only a few will be able to write it."
So what's a writer to do?
What else? Write a book!
Write a memoir. Just don't call it a memoir.
No, I'm not talking about some magician's razzle-dazzle. I am asking you to rethink your book. Think about a memoir as a guided trip into someone else's world. How deeply we delve into the author's life determines what type of memoir it is.
When, by opening the book, we read the answer to the question, "Hello, how are you?" the book is primarily about the author's past. Memoirs like,
Thin Places and Isobel Kuhn's book By Searching answer that question by inviting us into the deepest places in their lives and souls. They share memories and experiences that may be painful, but their answers help others who hurt.
Sometimes, the book answers the question, "What do you do?" I've recently read two great examples of this type of memoir. Plenty is an example of the memoir style "A year in the life of…" It's about how a couple lives out the goal of securing locally grown food. It contains strong personal and emotional elements of the couple who wrote it. It makes compelling reading.
Jerry Jenkins' book Writing for the Soul skillfully weaves his personal life into information on how he writes. Because his writing style reflects his lifestyle, the account of his writing life would be hollow without the personal life that sustains it. As co-author of the Left Behind series, Mr. Jenkins has a unique hook.
Another question a memoir can answer is, "So what happened?" Of the three types of memoir, this type is the most objective. I recently read A Century Turns by William J. Bennett. In it, Mr. Bennett wrote about the twenty years of American history beginning in 1988 and skillfully constructed a stained-glass window of national life. Because he was involved in much of the political activity during those twenty years, he adds a personal touch to the account. Much as the thin strips of lead hold a stained-glass window together, his touches of memoir become the slivers of light that give definition and cohesion to the picture he creates.
As you look at your story, think about it in relation to the food you eat or the work you do or the people you know. You will still need all your writing skills. It's just that by turning outward, you might find a larger audience for your story and make your memoir a best-seller.