Monday, March 5, 2012

Writing Tips 8 -- Memoir or Catharsis

Harvey on Smashwords

Is it Memoir or Cathartic or Both

I ran across someone’s blog recently, where they were writing about some painful childhood experiences. I didn’t read deep into it, because, well for one it just wasn’t that interesting to me. I asked him what his goal was for the project? He said, “Heck at this point just to remember as much as possible and get it down. Suggestions?”

My response was, “I know the memories mean a lot to you. And it's very personal. But I'm not sure a stranger would understand. Augusten Burroughs had a not so great childhood, but he makes his stories so lively and engaging. Sometimes you have to look for the humor in the bad situation and hit us with a sort of irony.”

I guess I wasn’t very encouraging. Not that he needs that from me or anyone. He can publish whatever he wants to and see where the chips fall. That’s the environment of publishing today thanks to eBooks and the technology around them. But I guess by reading his life story via his blog, I wondered who would be interested in this and these people? What follows is a small sample:

 I vaguely recall being loaded in the car and taken to summer camp somewhere, and returned home the same night. I remember taking a bath with my father.  I remember getting yelled at when my brother flicked lime Jell-O at the bird cage. I remember an evening with my mother and her friend Cathy Barber and her two girls Gina and Tammy, in our living room watching an ABC movie of the week called ‘The Deadly Dream’. 

It was all of this “I remember” stuff that made it very uninteresting to me. Also followed by the names of people I know nothing of and are not made to care anything about.  The author missed some moments to delve deep or to entertain us. What was that bath with the father all about?  Where is the scene of the lime jell-o and the birdcage? How did the bird fare in that? (“A dollop of lime green jell-o sat on the parrot’s head like a wicked emerald crown.” Now that would have done it for me.) This kind of writing may be a great way for someone to get things off their chest and to engage the people involved. In fact he did seem to get a few “I didn’t know it was so bad.” comments from what I guess were family members or childhood friends.

Memoir and cathartic are such close cousins, one might call them siblings or even twins. A memoir is the writer writing about their personal experiences. Cathartic is  purgative. But what’s a good way to do it without trotting out the “My Father,” “My Mother,” and “My Aunt Bessie”--who we know nothing about?  Well I mentioned Augusten Burroughs, because he makes it so entertaining. Entertaining. That’s a loaded word. Do we want to make our sorrows and hurts entertaining for strangers to enjoy? Well if you’re going to call yourself  a published author and show your baby to the world, you better make sure it’s dressed in cute little outfits so that’s he entertaining and draws in those “oohhs” and “ahhs” that we seek. A series of “I remember sentences just won’t do the trick. It’s better to just have ten copies of such stuff printed and distribute at least one to Aunt Bessie. If she’s dead, have her dug up and place your tome in her coffin.

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