Friday, July 3, 2015

Writing Memoir - Anne Kaier Guest Post


Memoir can get a bad rap. It’s been likened to reality shows, panned for TMI, pigeonholed as mere publicity for politicos. My favorite peeve is the ghostwritten celebrity memoir—or, worse, the simpleminded recovery story in which the protagonist falls into drink or illness and, inevitably, regains health by page 300. It’s the "inevitably" that bothers me. These memoirs, written according to formula, often gloss over the real difficulties of people trying to make and keep their lives better.

The “my cat saved my life” story bugs me no end, as you can imagine. So why did I write a memoir about a feral cat who helped ground me emotionally in an uneasy period of my life?

The most important answer is that Henry, the ginger cat I rescued one night after someone’s car had hit him on a busy road, turned out to be one of the sweetest creatures ever. Oh, he hissed and spat at the beginning and hid under my spare room bed for six months. But when he finally began to trust human beings, he showed himself as a loving, friendly companion. So I wrote to celebrate him. However, I was determined that I would write a pet memoir which showed the complexity of my feelings around the time he came to live with me—as well as his initial distrust of me.

When I rescued Henry, I had just moved into my first house, as a single woman, at age fifty. I was afraid of everything: the mortgage, the weird house sounds at night, and the self-image this move drove home. I was a single woman living alone with a cat. Talk about a stereotype. I had to break out of it. Learn to include my friends and neighbors and nephews in my idea of “family,” learn to trust that my home was as enticing as one defined by a married couple, children and a white picket fence. Just as Henry needed to learn to trust me, I needed to trust my own core self.

I aimed for emotional complexity in Home with Henry. I wanted it to echo great pet memoirs such as Peter Trachtenberg’s Another Insane Devotion, in which the philosophical author explores the whys of cat love. Or Mark Doty’s Dog Years with unforgettable scenes about his dogs and his lover and the meaning of life. Books such as these set a high standard. Henry, a contemplative sort of cat, perched in a chair next to me while I wrote, muttering under my breath, trying to get our story down in the most honest memoir I could manage. Henry and I hope you like it.

For a list of classic pet memoirs, check out a free pamphlet: “Tall Tails: how to write about your cat” on the Home with Henry page of my website: www.annekaier.com

You can buy Home with Henry by clicking here

Visit Marian Allen's blog tomorrow for the next stop on this blog book tour.



Best American Essays notable author Anne Kaier has published in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Kenyon Review, and Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, an ALA Notable Book for 2012. Anne lives in Center City, Philadelphia and teaches at Arcadia University and Rosemont College. She has a Ph.D. from Harvard University.




17 comments :

  1. My favourite memoirs are travel memoirs, but they need a good hook and plenty of humour. Animals help, too. :-)

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    1. I love travel memoirs too. There's often an inner journey as well as an outer one, which make then book vivid.

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  2. I've never read an animal saved my life story until Home with Henry. I think what I liked the most was how it all came together - the cat rescue, and the better understanding of what makes family and community.

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  3. I actually have a memoir in progress related to cats - all 50+ rescue cats we've coddled over the years. I guess it's also a marriage memoir since most of my cat experiences are with my husband. Oh, yes, cats will teach some lessons!

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    1. Please do write this one, Dani. I want to read it. Sounds wonderful.

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    2. So far I only have the title: Cat By Cat. ;) And a long list of kitty names. Wow. More than fifty wee ones in the past 20+ years.

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  4. The best memoirs have an interwoven theme, like your cat. One that touched me while making me laugh was written by a friend of mine, Marti MacGibbon, as she relates surviving drug abuse and human trafficking in Never Give Into Fear. The worst memoir I read was a dry accounting of dates and events. In relating your truth, you have to draw your reader into the story. Published at large or not, I think everyone should tell their story for the generations to come. It might be your great grand children, but some family historian will come along and find personal stories a treasure trove. My grandparents died before I was old enough to be curious about them as people. I have so many questions I'd like to ask.

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    1. Tell your story! I hope you will get yours down, for your own family.

      All the best, Anne

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  5. And Anne, thank you for visiting the Blood-Red Pencil!

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  6. Yes, thank you, Anne, for visiting us and sharing your experience. A memoir, like a great fiction or nonfiction story, must resonate with the reader if it is to be memorable. Lots of good takeaways in your article. :-)

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    1. So glad you enjoyed the article, Linda.
      All the best,

      Anne

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  7. I'm always in awe of people who remember everything. I'm not one of them. When I get together with my childhood friends, we all remember different things, and I rarely remember the same things they do about me. I must admit, I have read many memoirs. The one that sticks out in my mind was written by a friend about her life as a French girl growing up in Algeria. Amazing that she writes in English, her second language, better than most who grew up speaking and writing English. It's by Danielle Dahl, and it's masterful.

    Thanks for visiting, Anne. Animals are wonderful companions. My sweet furbaby is Bogie, and I can't imagine not having him around.

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    1. I should have said, I have NOT read many memoirs.

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    2. Thanks for the tip about Dahl's book, Polly!

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  8. wonderful post, Anne. I appreciate your effort to take things deeper as you thought about your relationship with Henry. and the discussions at Blood-Red Pencil are always engaging, Dani, so thanks to you, too.

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  9. Very interesting to both me and our canine king, Eddie McPuppers. Not sure if he'll have a cameo in my upcoming memoir or we'll leave that to his honorary older brother, Mikko.

    You are clearly a skilled author.
    www.writeradvice.com

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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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