View Full Version : Publishing memoir excerpts as fiction?

02-17-2007, 12:58 AM
An excerpt from my memoir was accepted by a journal. I had queried the editor and asked if it would be okay to send an excerpt from my memoir, since they normally do not publish memoir, but have published nonfiction in the past. The editor said sure, send it to my fiction editor. I send it to the fiction editor and he writes me back, accepting it. I write him back, and remind him it’s memoir, that I’d like it to be noted as such. In my cover letter, I classified it as “memoir.” So fiction editor writes me back and says but we don’t publish memoir, reminds me that I sent it to the fiction editor. I write him back and say that I had queried head honcho editor and asked if it would be okay. Head honcho had said “Yes” and told me to submit it to fiction editor. Fiction editor asks if it’s okay to publish it as “autobiographical fiction.” I write fiction editor back and say, “No. It’s memoir.” Fiction editor says well either publish it as such or pull it because we don’t publish nonfiction.

Is it just me or is this sort of screwed up? With all of the controversy surrounding this genre, I wonder why editors have no problem taking memoir and turning it into fiction? The same attitude certainly wouldn’t be tolerated for the opposite situation. I published my first excerpt as fiction a few years ago, only because I didn’t know what I was doing, had never published any prose, and was just so happy to get it accepted as anything. But now I’m much more informed about this genre. I ended up pulling the excerpt, but the editor wrote me back and said they’d had a change of heart and would reconsider it as nonfiction. A different editor friend of mine told me that it would be fine if I published it as fiction. In acknowledgements, I’d simply put a note that it had been previously published in a “different format.” But once again, who’s to say it won’t come back to haunt the memoir writer later on?

The market for memoir publishing is fairly slim, at least compared to the markets for poetry and fiction. Yet memoir writers need an even stronger platform when they get to an agent or publisher. One way to build a platform is by publishing. I don’t know where I’m really going with this. I find the entire thing frustrating and annoying.

Any thoughts?

Silver King
02-17-2007, 05:06 AM
What's so bad about your piece being labeled "autobiographical fiction?" The readers would understand the story is based on your life experiences. And most folks understand there isn't a memoir out there that's based entirely on fact. There can't be, unless your life is filmed as a documentary and you transcribe precisely what occurs after viewing the film.

02-17-2007, 06:01 AM
There's nothing inherantly bad about it, that's not what I meant. But with the way memoirs are scrutinized as of lately, I think there may be a danger in recategorizing memoir as any other genre, especially if it's part of a larger project. That could be the root of my annoyance -- I no more want my memoirs called autobiographical fiction than I want my haikus called tankas or my villanelles called sonnets. They're sub-categories of the same genre, but different forms with different limitations.

But I suppose I am a bit of a pain in the ass, yes. :e2file:

Silver King
02-17-2007, 06:57 AM
But I suppose I am a bit of a pain in the ass
Of course you're not. And I appreciate how true your story is to your actual experiences. I'm just thinking "autobiographical fiction" doesn't sound all that bad, and readers will infer your work is based upon your experiences.

My work is based solely on what's happened in my life. I know no other way to write, or how I can possibly make things up whole cloth. Even though it's mostly accurate, I can't say my work is taken entirely from experience. I can't remember every moment the way it unfolded, so there's a need to fill the gaps.

A while back, an editor asked me a question about a story. She said, "We need to know whether this really happened the way you wrote it."

I struggled with my answer for a week. The events did occur, but not exactly as I had portrayed.

Finally, I sent her a note explaining the story was as close to what I could portray to actual events, and if I were to guess, it would fall within about 70% of what happened.

They bought the story the next day.

02-17-2007, 05:31 PM
Of course you're not.

Oh but I really am! :D

I also write poetry, and I suppose you could call it "confessional" or maybe now it's called post-confessional, so I understand what you mean about writing from your life. I always have too -- in both poetry and prose.

I think of autobiographical fiction as what Frey did -- he made up some significant events that never happened, and I'm not talking about a scene where he grabs a Coke off the countertop and chugs it or a "typical" day at the office. Another example would be Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, though I think maybe it's closer to memoir. She called it fiction. And there's several other examples.

I don't think anyone can remember every moment. In my own memoir, main events are true, scenes stay as close to what actually happened as I can remember, but details are embellished to make the scenes transition like a novel, dialogue is recreated to the best of my ability, and I've taken liberties to move things out of chronological order at certain times so that the story reads -- That's the art of it. Anyone can live an interesting life, everyone goes through trauma, it's called the human condition. But like the old saying goes: "It's all in the art, you get no credit for living." Unfortunately, life's chronological order doesn't always make for good storytelling.

Congrats on your story getting picked up!