Sunday, September 20, 2009

Welcome to Memoir Week

This week, we're taking a look at the subject of memoir writing. Hardly a day goes by that we don't hear of yet another celebrity tell-all book, and a quick Google search will bring up thousands of once-and-future life stories of the rich and famous. Memoirs are so hot that people are fabricating juicy ones just to get a slice of the publishing pie.

First let's quickly define a memoir. It isn't an autobiography in which a person details his life from birth until now. It's a portion of that story told less as straight fact, and more from the author's subjective view of events and aspects of their life. To that end, the creative possibilities are endless, and indeed many contemporary memoirs are as fascinating and thought-provoking as a well-written novel.

I first started thinking about memoir after answering an extensive questionnaire for the movie, Brats: Our Journey Home. Upon completion, I realized that not only did I have a tremendous word-count, but some interesting opinions and insights about a life that seemed very American, but actually had more diversity and foreign culture at its very core than most Americans could ever imagine. In short, there was a story in-the-making that might resonate with more people than just other military brats.

About the same time, I discovered the Story Circle Network, an organization started by novelist, Susan Wittig Albert, solely for the purpose of encouraging women to share their own unique stories, no matter how common or boring they might seem. Those stories through history were often verbal, or embedded in the feminine crafts, for history itself was ordinarily written by men. It was time women's "herstories" were documented with the written word and by women themselves.

I joined the national network and the on-line chapter as well. My first experience was with an on-line writing circle, and the Internet chapter's weekly prompts that helped guide the exploration of my own life. As time went on, I became more and more involved and interested in not only other memoirs, but my own life experience as well.

There are many other benefits in belonging to the Story Circle Network. The group offers a conference every two years, runs the largest book review site for women's publications, gives on-line classes in various writing-related topics, has a new editing service for memoirists, and a Yahoo!group for members to chat on a daily basis. Oh, and a fabulous blog, Telling Herstories: The Broad View. For women interested in writing down their life stories, this group offers support that would be tough to find anywhere else.

So what's in store for the rest of the week? Tomorrow our editor, Heidi Thomas, will discuss the reasons for turning a memoir into a piece of fiction, and then Robin Brooks of The Beauty of Books will explain what's involved in designing a memoir, inside and out. Later in the week, we'll talk with Susan Wittig Albert about how she came to start the Story Circle Network and chat a bit about her own memoir which was just published. We hope you'll join us every day.

What about the rest of you? Do you keep a daily journal? Have you considered writing your memoir or been approached by someone to help them write about their lives? Do you read memoirs and if so, what are some of your favorite titles? Leave us a comment.

Dani Greer is a founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, and when she's not writing and illustrating children's stories, you can find her in the kitchen buried under countless zucchinis and other homegrown vegetables. Relish seems to be her specialty this year.

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  1. I'm looking forward to reading more about the publishing potential of memoirs. I recently spent two years working for the Secretary of State on her travel, spanning 35 countries and 260,000 miles of air travel. I have a lot of stories and even more pictures, and friends suggested that I try to combine them into a photo memoir of the experience.

  2. I love memoirs, so I'm very excited about Memoir Week. Oddly enough, most of my favorite memoirists are food writers! I think my favorite is _Garlic & Sapphires_, by Ruth Reichl. Underneath the beautiful discussion of food is a poignant story of too much success. Really insightful.

  3. Speaking of food, I'm reading Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farm by Novella Carpenter. It reads like a novel - so good!


  4. Dani, I'm interested in the Brats movie. I know my sons would like to see it. Thanks to the internet, they are in contact with many of their school friends from Germany, but life was certainly different for them before that.

    Great post!

  5. Dani, I love that you are honoring Story Circle Network in this way. I found that organization when I published my memoir, "Following the Whispers," this past February, and it has been a strong resource for me. I am in an e-circle and am going to the conference in February. Can't wait to meet some of the wonderful women I've come to know in cyberspace for real.

  6. Oooh, thanks for the tip on the military brats movie (and book). I've added the author's book to my to-read list (as I am also a military brat).

    As for other memoirs, I enjoy reading them when I come across them. One recently that I enjoyed was called "Yeh Yeh's House," which was the memoir of a Minnesotan Chinese-American.

  7. Great beginning to Memoir Week, Dani. Love alal the links and will check out the organizations and sites.

    I am working on a humorous memoir and hope to find tips that will help me as I try to organize material and make it flow smoothly.

  8. Great start to the week, Dani! And, of course, a wonderful recognition of SCN.

  9. Maryann, I thought you were a member of SCN. We have a great yahoogroup that's part of the membership package. You have questions? You'd likely get some good feedback there. Great group.


  10. Looking forward to reading about memoirs. I'm not sure if I would ever be able to write mine without getting either arrested, thrown out the country and disowned by my family.


  11. I'll be tuning in this week for sure. My fav book genre is memoirs of nonfamous people. I wrote Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, my mother's memoir of growing up in Japan during WWII, and was welcomed into a yahoo group for Japan brats with historic and fascinating stories. Now working on a friend's internment camp memoir.

  12. This couldn't have come at a more perfect time...thanks!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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