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View Full Version : Is an Abusive-Childhood Memoir Overcooked?



Sohia Rose
01-03-2007, 02:25 AM
Iím currently working on a memoir that has to do with the past two years of my adult life, but Iíve considered working on a childhood memoir about the first eight years of my life.

I come from a physically abusive, low-income home with an alcoholic father and an older brother who was always into trouble. I started an outline of a potential book a few months ago, but somehow, I think, the world is tired of hearing the same old sob story about abusive childhoods. Honestly, the thought of revisiting every detail of my youth scares me.

But my question is, is this theme overcooked?

alleycat
01-03-2007, 02:41 AM
Just one opinion and nothing more . . . yes, I think this has been done to death (and then some). However, that won't stop someone from writing a best-seller about it two years from now and then being a "very special guest" on Oprah.

One thought, why not take some of these actual experiences and write a fictional story (a real one, not a memoir disguised as fiction). Doing it that way could allow the story to be more than "the same old sob story". Does that make sense?

Leah J. Utas
01-03-2007, 07:34 PM
Depends on how it shaped you. If you've spun gold out of it, or you've got something that needs to be said for the greater good, then yes.
Is your story the same old story? Or is there something different about your experiences?
That's just my opinion. I say write it if you can. It'll help you be objective about it, and it'll take away some of the pain and the power of the abuse. You might find all manner of treasures to weave into later works.

PattiTheWicked
01-03-2007, 07:44 PM
I think if you're writing the book as a catharsis, good for you. But the abused-childhood memoir has been done, and done a LOT. What you have to figure out is what makes yours different than the other thousand people who wrote books this year about their crappy childhood? What makes it stand out?

And those are questions ANY writer has to ask themselves. What makes my children's book any more readable than all the others out there?

That having been said, it's probably really good therapy to get it all out on paper, and if you can draw strength from writing your pain down, then more power to you. I admire the hell out of anyone who's come from an abusive home and has still managed to become a well-adjusted adult.

eldragon
01-03-2007, 08:04 PM
No, I love reading non-fiction - love memoirs.

However, I'm only one person - worth one book.

"The Glass Castle" is on the bestseller list, though - and it's along the same vein - an excellent book, bTW.

Sohia Rose
01-03-2007, 08:46 PM
Thanks for your feedback.

I have read The Glass Castle and many others, which is why I presented this question. Interestingly, I keep reading similar stories. I guess so I can see if their childhood was as bad as mine, because as a child, I thought my situation was normal, something every family went through. As I got older, I learned that that wasn't exactly accurate, at least not to that degree.

Last night, I looked at my outline and thought about a theme if I were to write a memoir. Why the first eight years? Because that's when my mother left my dad. But my life got stranger in the teenage years and would involve telling too much about my family that I'm not sure I want out there. People would think my mother was crazy, and I wouldn't want to ruin the relationship I have with her. :Shrug:

eldragon
01-03-2007, 09:09 PM
I guess, by some standards, David Pelzer has the best books on the most horrible childhood.

WildScribe
01-03-2007, 09:14 PM
I wasn't sure I believed him when I read those, though. Anyway...

If you have your own angle, go for it. I would suggest making an appointment with a psychologiest before you write the first word, though, and keep going regularly throughout the process. It will make it more likely that dredging up that crap doesn't make you go insane.

Dionne, who was abused as well

Meerkat
01-03-2007, 09:20 PM
Go for it! If it helps just ONE person with similar memories come to better grips with it, it will not have been "overdone."

Del
01-03-2007, 09:28 PM
I almost posted a fairly long but abridged version of what I would put into a "most horrible childhood" piece. And even though there are a lot of hard to believe events and a really incredible poetic twist, I decided I'm not the person anyone wants to read about.

There is much my mom doesn't know and I think it would crush her. I'll let my characters suffer my past.

johnnysannie
01-03-2007, 10:00 PM
Iím currently working on a memoir that has to do with the past two years of my adult life, but Iíve considered working on a childhood memoir about the first eight years of my life.

I come from a physically abusive, low-income home with an alcoholic father and an older brother who was always into trouble. I started an outline of a potential book a few months ago, but somehow, I think, the world is tired of hearing the same old sob story about abusive childhoods. Honestly, the thought of revisiting every detail of my youth scares me.

But my question is, is this theme overcooked?


The theme netted Frank Mc Court a Pulitzer Prize for "Angela's Ashes" and he's continued publication with two additional books. It would all depend on how it's written and other variables.

It worked for McCourt and others - the real question is can you make it work to a wide audience and that only you can answer.

Sohia Rose
01-03-2007, 10:23 PM
I wasn't sure I believed him when I read those, though. Anyway...

If you have your own angle, go for it. I would suggest making an appointment with a psychologiest before you write the first word, though, and keep going regularly throughout the process. It will make it more likely that dredging up that crap doesn't make you go insane.

Dionne, who was abused as well


I sought therapy in my early 20s (because of my father's wrath), but my mother didn't find out until 10 years later. I didn't want her to think she failed us as a parent. She was a victim too. But, she was also the adult.

I think you're right, though. If I do pursue this, I should seek counseling. But maybe it's a bad idea altogether. When I sought counseling, I started having horrible nightmares about my childhood. I'm in a happy place right now with a loving husband.

Have you known writers to have a psychotic break after writing their memoirs? :)

I think the best therapy for me was to bury it.

Anthony Ravenscroft
01-07-2007, 12:01 AM
There's nothing wrong with writing out such stories. The danger is that so many people are doing it to (a) get revenge, (b) remain in denial of the long-term effects, (c) sell a certain therapy, (d) glamorise abuse to or beyond the point of pornography, or (e) make cash. Often, some combination of these, IMNSHO.

And I can't even say that any of those hidden-agenda points is "bad." The problem is, I figure, that most editors feel the same way.

The most striking "I was abused" stories happen because the writing is so strong & in-control yet lyrical, & the person so well-adjusted, that even passing mention of a single abusive incident is like a blow in the gut. Rather than numbing me with detail, that one incident stands out so starkly that triumph is easier to convey.

When I read something, it's to be instructed, or inspired, or entertained. Clubbing me into hopelessness, pain, & despair in order to give me a hundred words of superficial happytalk at the very end strikes me as abusive.

Give the world something different & any editor will notice.

Tallymark
01-08-2007, 06:14 AM
There is much my mom doesn't know and I think it would crush her. I'll let my characters suffer my past.

Alas, I am in the same boat. I have contemplated writing about my past, but I have decided that I do not want the contents of such a story out in the world, where it could ever, in any way possibly be connected to me. Not even under a psudonym or under Anonymous, because the consequences if anyone ever figured it out would utterly destroy my family.

If I ever do put my life story to paper, it will be done as a work of fiction. That way, people will just think it's my imagination that is twisted. :) And no one thinks a thing of it if one abuses their characters. It's always a good route to go!

johnrobison
01-08-2007, 07:52 AM
I'm new to this board, but I do have some thoughts and experience about "abused child memoirs" I myself was an abused child, as was my brother.

With respect to writing another "abused child" story I would ask these questions:

1) Does your story contain an element of redemption? Is there a lesson in it?

We have all heard "I was molested/beat up/etc" many times but what we don't hear so often is how we "abusees" rise above it to live full and somewhat normal lives as adults, if indeed we do.

2) If you write the story, how with the other figures in the tale feel about it, and do you care?

I personally think we as writer have a duty to inform people that they are the subject of our writing. Not everyone agrees with this, but it's how I feel. It's something fo revery writer to ponder.

3) Outside of the inspirational aspects of rising above this abusive childhood, why would a reader want to read this story? How is it unique? Is it funny, or sad, or what?

MajorDrums
01-08-2007, 11:58 AM
Have you known writers to have a psychotic break after writing their memoirs? :)

I think the best therapy for me was to bury it.

Sure, I went nuts. And I WANTED to bury it after I went nuts.

Honestly, any subject that you can write well can and will find an audience, no matter how many times the subject matter has been written. This includes memoirs on child abuse, IMO.

pink lily
01-08-2007, 11:40 PM
2) If you write the story, how with the other figures in the tale feel about it, and do you care?

I personally think we as writer have a duty to inform people that they are the subject of our writing. Not everyone agrees with this, but it's how I feel. It's something fo revery writer to ponder.

I try not to ponder where my rapists are or how I might contact them. That's probably for the best.

johnrobison
01-09-2007, 05:49 AM
I try not to ponder where my rapists are or how I might contact them. That's probably for the best.

If they were unknown to you at the time, I'd agree. However, if they were friends or acquaintances I'd feel I should try and contact them. A meeting today, hard as it might be, could add significantly to your work.

pink lily
01-09-2007, 06:26 AM
If they were unknown to you at the time, I'd agree. However, if they were friends or acquaintances I'd feel I should try and contact them. A meeting today, hard as it might be, could add significantly to your work.
It could add significantly to my time spent in the psych ward.

pink lily
01-13-2007, 06:07 AM
Continuing on the subject of psych ward time...do people want to hear about experiences of this nature. My memoirs spill my own incarceration time.
I'm no expert -- I've never been published, and I've barely begun to write my own story. But I imagine that you (we) would want to tell about our lowest lows, and how we overcame our obstacles. I'd say that my time in the psych ward was definitely one of the lowest points in my life. I remember enough that I can probably tell a few funny stories about it. But it won't matter much, unless I can compare and contrast with examples of how far I've come since then.

I'm hoping that this advice is worthwhile. I'm a novice at this sort of writing. If someone with experience offers better advice, take it to heart.

Personally, I would like to read about a person who went from psych ward, or jail, to productive member of society. Some people never recover. Stories like ours can, hopefully, inspire those who think that there is no hope. We can show that we did it, and we can show how.

If it's part of your story, don't leave it out. All we have is the truth.

johnrobison
01-13-2007, 06:25 AM
Janice, if I may offer a suggestion . . . .

When you say "I could tell some stories" that sounds like what I said when I started my memoir.

My brother said, Stop! Don't TELL them. SHOW them.

Don't say, "she was crazy"

SHOW what she did, so that any reader would read the passage and say, Man, she sure was crazy!

Further, when you show people, show them things they can relate to . . . the man that sits in his chair and rocks back and forth, the boy who never looks you in the eye, but only stares at the floor.

In those showings, your readers will pick one out and say "hey, that sounds like ME"

And then you have tied the reader into your story.

Finally, I am sorry if I upset you with my suggestions about confronting people from your past. My brother and I were both abused as children, and I have some idea how you feel, as I felt. There are some people from my past that I declined to contact in the course of writing my story, but I can honestly say that, of all the people I did contact, I benefited from doing so

pink lily
01-13-2007, 07:20 AM
John, no worries about the "confrontation" suggestion. Part of my problem before I got proper treatment was obsessing on what I might do if I did run into any of them again.

I do appreciate your advice of "showing, not telling." This is a writing skill I must learn. I don't want to bore my readers.

I'm in no rush, here. I have lots of other things to work on. I just know that I'm going to write an extended version of my story.