Thursday, September 3, 2015

On Truth in Memoir

My recently passed mentor from graduate school at PLU, Judith Kitchen, taught us that truth in memoir is essential.  Of course we all know the story of James Frey and how exaggerating got him in a heap of trouble, but did you know Annie Dillard didn't have a cat? Where did those bloody paw prints come from?

Judith's suggestion for using fiction in memoir, which I've adopted, is as follows: Fictionalize when it builds dramatic tension, but inform the reader of your intent.

Here's an example of this technique using my words: "I grew up in Spokane, Washington in a middle-class home, my step-father being a successful entrepreneur, my mother a stay-at-home housewife.  If my mother had remained with my biological father living by the freeway in Portland, then walking the school halls with the slutty girls from the wrong side of the tracks would have suited me well.  I would have learned to pilfer change where I could, standing on street corners scantly dressed, angry eyes circled in kohl, waiting for a date. My name wouldn't have been Nancy, it would have been Jeze, short for Jezebel. I would have smote all who looked down on me. As it was..."

You can use other lines as lead-ins to fictionalizing: I imagine or I don't remember, or I may have said..., 

Keep writing every day...great going everyone!
Nancy Canyon

P.S. If you are interested in reading more about Judith Kitchen see http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-remembering-judith-kitchen-20141111-story.html

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