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Penny Graham
02-17-2007, 12:06 PM
I'm really new to this site, but haven't seen this addressed so far. My memoir happened 33 years ago and I have put off publishing it because of the other person it involves (someone I almost married). I can change names, descriptions and locations but I can not change the events. The guy was a multiple personality with 4 different names and personalities and opinions, and I can't bring myself to change the names of the personalities, much less the events so it wouldn't be recognized. How can I publish this without someone remembering, notifying the other main character and getting a lawsuit for invasion of privacy. I hear that if only HE recognizes the story he can sue, even with names and descriptions changed. What can I do? I'll be publishing through LULU because no publisher would believe this really happened. Does a small website lessen my chances of him finding out about it before the statute of limitations runs out.

JanDarby
02-17-2007, 08:22 PM
You need to talk to a local attorney versed in libel law. There are serious risks here, beyond what anyone on a public forum can advise you on.

As a general rule, libel consists of writing something false and damaging to another person. Truth is a defense, but there's a cost to proving that defense (i.e., hiring a lawyer), so you need to discuss the risks and the benefits with someone who knows the law in your jurisdiction.

Just as an aside, the statute of limitations won't be running from when the events happened, but from when you publish, b/c the action that could give rise to a lawsuit is the publication of the statements. You'd have to ask the local attorney what the relevant statute of limitations timeframe is, but it won't have started 33 years ago; it will start when you publish.

Bottom line: what you're proposing has some definite risks that need to be run by a local attorney, and then you'll need to decide whether those risks (and the costs associated with them; ask the lawyer what his/her retainer would be to defend a libel lawsuit, and remember that's just to get started, not the whole amount due) are worth whatever benefits you'll get by publishing the memoir.

JD, not giving individual legal advice, just general information

Penny Graham
02-17-2007, 10:33 PM
You need to talk to a local attorney versed in libel law. There are serious risks here, beyond what anyone on a public forum can advise you on.

As a general rule, libel consists of writing something false and damaging to another person. Truth is a defense, but there's a cost to proving that defense (i.e., hiring a lawyer), so you need to discuss the risks and the benefits with someone who knows the law in your jurisdiction.

Just as an aside, the statute of limitations won't be running from when the events happened, but from when you publish, b/c the action that could give rise to a lawsuit is the publication of the statements. You'd have to ask the local attorney what the relevant statute of limitations timeframe is, but it won't have started 33 years ago; it will start when you publish.

Bottom line: what you're proposing has some definite risks that need to be run by a local attorney, and then you'll need to decide whether those risks (and the costs associated with them; ask the lawyer what his/her retainer would be to defend a libel lawsuit, and remember that's just to get started, not the whole amount due) are worth whatever benefits you'll get by publishing the memoir.

JD, not giving individual legal advice, just general information
Thank you Jan, just what I've been afraid of. I've been trying to keep up with Burroughs "Running With Scissors" lawsuit because his was an invasion of privacy suit brought on by the family that raised him, and he changed all the names. I'm not worried about libel because I stayed strictly with the truth and many people back then knew what was going on and some could be witnesses that it did happen. It's the IOP suit that has stopped me cold. In the state it happened the statute of limitations is 3 or 4 years from publication and I thought if I self published it on a small website it could stay under the radar for that long. I sure couldn't afford to defend a lawsuit, and don't own anything the bank doesn't have first dibs on, but I've been trying to find cases and how they came out. This might be of interest to anyone writing memoirs. I did find one case where the writer was sued for invasion of privacy...and won. Her book was about her sexual problems all her life because of a date rape thing. The judge ruled that first of all she couldn't have told her story or written the book without mentioning that event since the whole book was based from it. Second, because she was the "other person" the book was about, it gave her a little more first amendment rights than the usual standard. The decision was a big win for publishers and writers of memoirs, but the catagory is so new in our lawsuit age that many more cases will have to be tried to establish a general rule of thumb. By the way, the book doesn't make him look bad at all, in fact it almost glorifies him, but still he may not want to revisit that part of his life or have anyone else remember it either. If I changed enough that only he saw himself in it, why would he jump up and call attention to it with a lawsuit or otherwise. It is all very disheartening, but I thank you so much for your input, and will probably have to take your advise and hire an attorney. If you hear of any cases that get past that and win, maybe you or others on this forum could bring them to the table. Thank you again for caring enough to write me.

johnrobison
02-18-2007, 07:21 AM
Penny, each invasion of privacy case is going to be unique. In every case, the judge will balance your right to tell your story against the other party's reasonable expectation of privacy.

Say you write a scene in which you have an altercation with the other person in a public place . . . there is no invasion of privacy because it happened in public.

Say the same scene played out in a private bedroom . . . now they might have a claim, but to win they would have to demonstrate that your story actually harmed them, and in most cases they'd have to show that you did it maliciously.

If the events being told were associated with a court case, that places the material in the public domain, too.

The mere fact that you and another person did something in private and you told the story years later does not mean they can sue you and win. They must prove that they were harmed by your publication, and even then, the context of your story will be considered.

Here is an example that I offered to another person asking about this:

Say you and your friend Bob broke into houses together as kids. Now you're both 35. You never got caught, but you stole a lot of stuff.

You write a book about your fall from grace. You started with house breaks, and progressed to armed robbery, heroin addiction, and you ended up in prison where you found God and wrote your tale of redemption.

Could Bob win an invasion of privacy claim agianst you for telling that tale? Probably not, because the context in which he is placed is that of a player in a story whose intent is to inspire, not to harm Bob, and which you have an absolute right to tell.

Now, lets's say you and Bob just grew up, and you both live in the same small town. Bob runs for town treasurer, and the election is hotly contested. You and Bob are worlds apart, politically.

You write a letter to the editor saying "Bob and I broke into houses and robbed people as kids! How can you elect such a person treasurer???"

Bob loses the election and sues you.

He will probably win, because the intent of your writing was clearly to harm Bob. Your right to tell your story is outweighed by his right to privacy, because the sole purpose of that story was to hurt Bob.

There are many factors to weigh when considering how vulnerable you may be.

Were the people kids?
were you a kid?
did you place them in proper context?
did the events happen in public or in private?
were you in some kind of institution?

The list goes on . . . and in the end, anyone can sue you. The question is always, can they win? You can never know for sure. You can only make a reasoned guess and take your chances.

I will close by saying that I am not a lawyer, but I too watch these cases closely.

Penny Graham
02-18-2007, 07:23 PM
Thank you John for your input, advice and examples. This helps a lot. There is so much more to this story, and even though I show him as a great person who had no enemies, was loved by everyone and was a great inspiration to me, I am afraid that his wife,he was separated from at the time of the event and she was out of state,would get a phone call from some of the people who remembered the event and mention the book to her. She appears to have reunited with him (according to people searches) and they had a child, now grown. This is my biggest worry, even though the chances of that are slim, especially if I self publish it and offer it on a website. This is a good example of my causing him harm (divorce?) My intention is not to harm him at all, but it could happen. What to do...what to do...

Susan B
02-18-2007, 07:55 PM
Hello Penny,

There is some good discussion about responsibility to self vs. others in some of the books on writing memoir/creative nonfiction. There are legal issues, but also moral/ethical/practical ones.

Most of us who write memoir face those worries. Not necessarily legal ones, but the concern about hurting family and friends if we write about even relatively small slights and past conflicts with enough detail that people would be identifiable.

Is your memoir written yet? One thing I've been told by a writing mentor is to use the actual names and details when you are doing the initial writing--otherwise it changes your relationship to your own story. Afterwords, during the inevitable editing and revising process, you can worry about changing names and identifying details.

I guess I would ask why it is necessary to use the actual names of the different personalities of your former friend to tell your story? Even if this were a clinical case study written by a mental health professional (I'm a psychologist, by the way) these kinds of details would always be altered before publication.

But I'm assuming your story is about yourself--how this experience impacted you? I'd guess you could tell this story effectively even if some of those details about the other person were ultimately disguised to protect the people involved.

I currently have a much less dramatic memoir being submitted to publishers, and if it gets accepted I know I'll face some decisions about changing a few names. But nothing that would involve the major alterations you might face.

Good luck!

Susan

Penny Graham
02-18-2007, 09:52 PM
HI Susan,
Boy this site and people like you responding have been so helpful. Yes the book was written by hand first within a year after it happened with all the names and places true and exact. Then I went through it and changed most of the names and places, but didn't change the personalities names (figured they wouldn't sue or be hurt by it lol) and then I sent it out to a publisher in 1978. This was back in the days when books had to be hand type set, I think, but at least less technology. She wrote me back and said she loved the book, but because of its size she could not figure out, with the costs of editing and typesetting etc, how the publishing company could justify the price it would have to be. Back then hardcovers went for 10 dollars, not 25.00 and nowadays it isn't uncommon to see a book the size of mine, back then it was. You are right that I will have to change the names of the personalities, after a lot of thought, I was just so close to them that it seemed almost insulting to do it. Now, thanks to all you guys, I know I'm really going to have to change even more things, such as the type of business we both worked at. He was so awesome, helped me so much, and the lessons I learned from him changed my whole life. People who have read the book say the same thing. I think it would be such help to people, but then, no wish to harm or ruin his life now. Since you are a psychologist, may I email you regarding some of the details that I don't think would be right to put out on a public forum? I appreciate you all so much.

Susan B
02-19-2007, 07:01 AM
Hi Penny,

Glad everyone's comments were helpful. Sounds like you are on the right track, with already having made some changes in the details. And sure, it would be fine to e-mail me privately, just send a private message through the site.

--Susan

Jamesaritchie
02-19-2007, 11:52 PM
You can be sued for looking at someone cross-eyed. The answer to "Can I be sued" is always yes. Anyone can sue for nearly anything.

No matter what you write, or how you write it, being sued is a real possibility. This is just the way it works. You can't let the threat of a lawsuit stop you from writing.

If you read many memoirs, you find most writers do not change names, dates, places, or locations. Doing so sort of defeats the purpose of the book.

johnrobison
02-20-2007, 01:24 AM
James is right - anyone can sue you. The merits of the case do not affect their ability to file a suit. But filing a suit costs money, so most people won't actually do it unless they are truly aggrieved.

And I also agree that the majority of memoirs feature the real names but some do change the names.

I would say you should be considerate when you write a story. Face the people who appear in it, as many as possible, and make sure they feel good about their roles.

Don't be malicious and don't make up things that make others look bad or expose them to ridicule.

Along those same lines - make sure you don't lose your time reference and make people look bad by innocent error. "He tore off all his clothes and ran out into the yard howling" would be funny if you were talking about a toddler but weird for an adult. Be careful not to mix a passage like that about toddlerhood into a passage about an older person in such a way that readers would interpret it to mean he ran around the yard naked and howling as a grownup.

I certainly considered all those things in writing my book. I showed my friends any parts where they appeared, and I made a number of small changes to accomodate their feelings while staying essentially true to the original tale.

That's really all you can do.

Jamesaritchie
02-20-2007, 03:00 AM
When writing a memoir, tell the truth, but like most situations in life, this is one that can probably be summed up by "common sense prevails."

The thing to remember, I believe, is that a memoir is about you, not about other people. A memoir is not an "I'll get even with them" tool, and it's not an "I'll show the world what bastards they are" tool. It's simply the story of YOUR life, and if you write it this way, you should be fine.

johnrobison
02-20-2007, 06:47 AM
The thing to remember, I believe, is that a memoir is about you, not about other people. A memoir is not an "I'll get even with them" tool, and it's not an "I'll show the world what bastards they are" tool. It's simply the story of YOUR life, and if you write it this way, you should be fine.

While I agree that a memoir is not a way to get even, I do not agree that "it's all about you."

I learned that appearing in my book is a big big deal to most of the people who figure in my story, no matter how small the part. If such people are your friends or relatives, it behooves you to ensure that they feel good about their presentation before the book goes to press.

In my case, the alterations people requested to their appearance were trivial and were probably in fact corrections of errors due to my own imperfect memory.

Having the people in the story feel good is your best insurance against being sued. And actually I should make one more point: You are more likely to lose friends over portrayals than get sued, and the advice I gave will reduce the chances of that, too.

Penny Graham
02-21-2007, 05:15 AM
Thanks James for your input. I appreciate all advice and comments from all you guys in the know. I didn't let being sued stop me from writing it, but to think of actually trying to publish it has caused me to pause. If this was a story about say alcoholism and how I overcame it I could see using the real names and places but the kind of story this is I would have to change names, descriptions etc. The more I've read about what you all have told me, I am now thinking I should market it as fiction, maybe inspired by a true story. I sure don't want to hurt or embarrass anyone. I just think the story would be inspirational to people and should be published, but maybe not as a memoir.

Penny Graham
02-21-2007, 05:26 AM
Thank you for your advice John Robison. Your book is a perfect example of how you could use all the real names, places and be able to address each person as you did. In my case, it was so long ago, in a very transient big city where none of the people involved work or live there anymore. I know for sure most of them are in other states and long gone. In a small town where you grew up all your life that would be easier, like Peyton Place for example, though I doubt she had any luck with that either. I wonder if she got sued. But as far as getting even or being malicious, there is nothing like that in the book at all about anyone. There was no downside to this experience and no one to try to, or want to hurt. I really appreciate your input, because you have first hand knowledge of what can happen. I've been trying to follow your brother's case, (Running with Scissors) because I thought that would end up being a landmark precedent, but never did hear how it came out. I loved his website. You both seem like great guys. Like I told James, though, maybe calling it fiction would be safer all the way around. I just hate to though. Like someone on this site said in regards to The Amnityville Horror...if it was true it was pretty scary. If it was fiction it was pretty lame. That's kind of how I look at my book. If it was fiction, I could have made up a much scarier story. Congratulations on your book..keep us posted.

johnrobison
02-21-2007, 05:49 AM
Penny, you are right to follow my brother's case because it's a landmark case for all who wish to write memoir. His case will set new precedents that will define the balance between an author's right to tell his story, and another's right to privacy.

The case will probably come to court in 2008 or 2009 if it's not settled. Personally, I hope the publisher does not settle because doing so could weaken the position of all other authors who follow my brother and wish to tell a controversial story.

As to the fiction issue . . . your message will be so much stronger as non-fiction that I urge to to follow that path if spreading the word is your goal.

I am lucky that my own story does not contain anything so graphic or shocking. That did make it easier for me, but it's a hard thing to do, writing of your childhood struggles and rejections.

Mac H.
02-21-2007, 11:57 AM
Hi Penny,

Just some quick notes - this is clearly not legal advice.

1. It seems that you are basically writing a story about someone who isn't a public figure. That may mean that they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. So you are basically exposing a person's private medical history (including symptoms etc) to the public for the sake of public entertainment.

This may not be considered wise.

2. You mention the 'statute of limitations'. This can be tricky. For example, to work out when the statute of limitations runs out in state 'X', you need to figure out the publication date in each state 'X'.

However, some courts may decide that information is only published in state 'X' when a copy of the book is actually taken across state borders into state 'X'. Thus, by forum shopping, a clever lawyer might be able to find a juristiction where libel has occurred even far into the future.

(This may not apply in this case for a thousand different reasons - I just remember some odd cases about statutes of limitations starting at odd times because of similar issues)

3. The fact that you are asking "Does a small website lessen my chances of him finding out about it before the statute of limitations runs out ?" might even indicate that you know that you will be causing him damage, and are trying to reduced YOUR chance of getting hurt, not trying to reduce HIS chance at getting hurt. His lawyer might use that to indicate that you are not acting in innocent good faith.

This is part of the reason you might want to avoid asking legal questions in public forums. (It is also the reason a lawyer can usually not answer a question in a public forum - because even if they are working for free, they still might have an obligation to act in the client's best interests. And pointing out the weaknesses in the client's case publically is rarely in their best interests !!!)

Good luck,

Mac
(PS: John - that is an interesting case. It's interesting that the family settled with Sony for the movie, but not with the publisher of the book !)

johnrobison
02-21-2007, 04:22 PM
Hi Penny,(PS: John - that is an interesting case. It's interesting that the family settled with Sony for the movie, but not with the publisher of the book !)

Mac, Sony and St Martins Press had different interests in the case.

Sony, frankly, does not care about the author or the family. To them, it's just a matter of money to make them go away.

St Martins Press, on the other hand, has a strong interest in winning - not settling - to establish a precedent that people have a right to tell their stories.

Two of the key points of the case are that the supposedly harmed people were minors when they did what they did, and the events happened in a private home.

But should than mean that another person - also a minor at the time - is forever barred from writing what happened in the house? Personally, I don't think so, and neither do they.

Ol' Fashioned Girl
02-21-2007, 04:36 PM
James is definitely right in that anyone can sue you for anything... and the chances that they will sue rise dramatically with the success of the book/movie/tv show that inspires them.

Penny Graham
02-21-2007, 09:53 PM
Hi Mac,
Thanks for your very good advice about posting on public forums. I wasn't trying to expose' what happened, I've tried to limit any details to avoid that. I have not put in my posts the full story of what actually happened. He was never in a mental health situation as far as I know, and there are no medical records of this. Because of your very Sound advice, I hesitate to say more about that. But I'm sorry if I gave the impression that it was for public entertainment...there was nothing entertaining about it, even to me. It was profound, it was life changing, it was he that took me from an interest in Wicca to an absolute mind shattering realization of other worlds, awareness, consciousness and life after death. Nowhere in my book do I make him look bad at all. I don't look back on him with anything but reverence. The reason I mentioned the statute of limitations was because I could disguise this with names, descriptions and locations to the point where no one would connect this to him in his present day unless he took it upon himself to stand up and say that was me. I believe people interested in Witchcraft, demonology etc are so on the wrong path, and he proved to me what was really beyond this existence and I wanted to share what I learned from him. As far as libel, there is none in this book, and while I told no one what was happening, he did share it with other people...not me. I have kept silent all these years, and there were people who were present when a lot of things happened who were "awed" by what went on in front of their eyes, so a lot of this did happen in public. But I just don't want to hurt someone or embarrass them by something that happened so long ago. A good example of this is, say we both worked at a circus, and he taught me all about the circus animals so I became aware of their feelings and became a more aware person because of his teachings. Now maybe today he doesn't even want people to know he ever worked in a circus...this is my only dilemma as far as trying to protect his privacy. I think changing all the names, descriptions, locations, etc would keep it so that today no one would ever connect it... except maybe him. If it did come to a lawsuit, I would never be afraid to face a jury of my peers, the defense lawyer or he himself because I do have witnesses who lived in the house, friends who admitted he told them what was going on, written proof, etc. I just don't want to cause him any problems. He was a great guy and I am sure he still is. His character was flawless. I just have always felt that the story would help people so therein lies my problem. I can't afford to be sued either, so that was the reason I mentioned the statute of limitations. I could change it so it would never publicly point to him or any other individual on the earth, but if he recognized it he could point the finger at himself and say it was him. Only then would it possibly cause a problem. With that sketchy background, what would your advice be now?

Penny Graham
02-21-2007, 10:28 PM
John Robison,
I know how important your brother's case is, not just for his own sake, but for all of ours. You might want to mention the case I brought up about the girl who won because the judge ruled that the book had stemmed from the act perpetrated by the guy who tried to sue. Judge said the book couldn't have been written but for the act he'd done and she had the right to tell her story about her sexual problems because of it. And that because she had been involved also, not some bystander she was writing about, that she had more first amendment rights as far as being allowed to tell her story. If you need the details I can send you the link. God Bless St. Martins Press for standing up for the truth, and as far as the family goes, it will not look good that they settled for CA$H with the movie company but still persue the Publisher for invasion of privacy. Sounds like an oxymoron...like Jumbo Shrimp or Military intelligence.The Fact that your brother had to live with this stuff and is trying to tell his story, to me, is a lot like what I went through. The only difference is my friend didn't do anything wrong, in fact I think he should feel honored that someone thinks so highly of him from back in those days. (as opposed to the shrink family who are kicking up the fuss.) Please let us know what happens every step of the way. I am sure voices will resound on this thread because we all have the same worry...Can we tell our story? I will be personally picking up your book and your brother's as well as Bill Fitzhughs book regarding lyrics being used in a book, as he did it, went to a lawyer, got the okay, didn't get sued, and I hear it is a very very good book on top of everything. I guess we are all, kind of , in this together, and for that I thank you all for your interest in my plight.

Penny Graham
02-21-2007, 10:36 PM
Ol Fashioned Girl,
Thanks for your input. I should be so lucky as to have book and movie rights be the center of the lawsuit. I just wanted to publish it quietly, let people who can be helped by it be helped by it, without a big publisher or movie company hoopla. Don't care about it getting famous, too personal and important for it to become that kind of thing. Only people with the right keywords would stumble across it on the site, and only people who cared about the subject. I have other books, many ideas, that will never fall into this catagory and I can go to town after this, or...I can just forget this idea for other people and take the lessons I learned and keep applying them to my own life, but that seems selfish as the book has helped so many people thus far (those who have read it).I never was the Art Bell, George Norie Coast to Coast type, will never do a radio interview, not in this case. I hope everyone's answers are helping you as much as they are helping me. We all have a story to tell (who are on this site, ) and this has been like a college course of writers knowledge and opinions, all of which are helping me make a decision as to what to do.

Penny Graham
02-21-2007, 10:55 PM
Ol' Fashioned girl,
I just read your profile, and I hope I didn't offend you by mentioning Wicca and Demonology, I was there and he just showed me a more advanced way that stemmed from Wicca, but went way beyond. No demonology, and if you are Wiccan, I know you aren't. One of the things that attracted me to Wicca when I was 23 was that they did not believe in a devil, and their advocates had to study at least three different religions to learn tolerance, so I didn't mean to downgrade the religion. I just learned that while it was a good beginning it was the tip of the iceberg of awareness...to start there was to go on to other things, and that it was a pure, sincere belief system. Thank you for responding to me, and if I had to pick a religion, that would be it.

Jamesaritchie
02-22-2007, 01:56 AM
While I agree that a memoir is not a way to get even, I do not agree that "it's all about you."

I learned that appearing in my book is a big big deal to most of the people who figure in my story, no matter how small the part. If such people are your friends or relatives, it behooves you to ensure that they feel good about their presentation before the book goes to press.

In my case, the alterations people requested to their appearance were trivial and were probably in fact corrections of errors due to my own imperfect memory.

Having the people in the story feel good is your best insurance against being sued. And actually I should make one more point: You are more likely to lose friends over portrayals than get sued, and the advice I gave will reduce the chances of that, too.

Other people must appear in your book, but it's your story. Other wise, who wants to read it? If it's someone else's story, you need to write a biography, not a memoir.

And while it's good to have those who appear in the book like the portrayals, a memoir is either honest, or it's nothing. It either includes the bad with the good, or it's dishonest.

You don't have to call people names, but if they played an important part in your life, they need to be in the book, and you can't sugarcoat the actual events they played a part in.

johnrobison
02-22-2007, 07:44 AM
Other people must appear in your book, but it's your story. Other wise, who wants to read it? If it's someone else's story, you need to write a biography, not a memoir.

And while it's good to have those who appear in the book like the portrayals, a memoir is either honest, or it's nothing. It either includes the bad with the good, or it's dishonest.

You don't have to call people names, but if they played an important part in your life, they need to be in the book, and you can't sugarcoat the actual events they played a part in.

I don't mean to sound argumentative, but . . .

Many people who have written memoirs would say, "It's our story." as opposed to "my story." Involving other people does not make it "not a memoir." There are some "me and me alone" books but most involve a small or large group.

With respect to including the bad with the good, all I can say is, "who says?" It's my book and I can include what I want. For example, if a fellow was in inspiring scout leader and I looked up to him there is no need for me to say he was also a habitual shoplifter.

What mattered was his influence on me as a scout master.

There is good and bad in everyone.

The job of a good memoirist is to convey the thoughts and feelings that are relevant to his story. Painting a particular kind of picture of the people is not necessary or even desireable in many cases.

I am not suggesting you sugarcoat the events. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

In my book, I introduced Paul as follows:

Paul lived up the street. We both dropped out of high school at the same time, and we've been friends since.

Paul's wife called me and said Paul was very troubled by my depiction. He's always been sensitive about not graduating high school, it seems. So I changed his introduction to:

Paul lived up the street. We both dropped out of high school at the same time, and we've been friends since. I grew up to be a car dealer, and Paul grew up to own an automobile insurance agency.

Both passages are true, but one left him feeling bad. The other left him feeling good.

I know, you may say it sounds silly. I can assure you, it's not. Not to the people in the story.

Penny Graham
02-24-2007, 05:19 PM
I don't mean to sound argumentative, but . . .

Many people who have written memoirs would say, "It's our story." as opposed to "my story." Involving other people does not make it "not a memoir." There are some "me and me alone" books but most involve a small or large group.

With respect to including the bad with the good, all I can say is, "who says?" It's my book and I can include what I want. For example, if a fellow was in inspiring scout leader and I looked up to him there is no need for me to say he was also a habitual shoplifter.

What mattered was his influence on me as a scout master.

There is good and bad in everyone.

The job of a good memoirist is to convey the thoughts and feelings that are relevant to his story. Painting a particular kind of picture of the people is not necessary or even desireable in many cases.

I am not suggesting you sugarcoat the events. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

In my book, I introduced Paul as follows:

Paul lived up the street. We both dropped out of high school at the same time, and we've been friends since.

Paul's wife called me and said Paul was very troubled by my depiction. He's always been sensitive about not graduating high school, it seems. So I changed his introduction to:

Paul lived up the street. We both dropped out of high school at the same time, and we've been friends since. I grew up to be a car dealer, and Paul grew up to own an automobile insurance agency.

Both passages are true, but one left him feeling bad. The other left him feeling good.

I know, you may say it sounds silly. I can assure you, it's not. Not to the people in the story.
I have to agree John, there were a couple unimportant things that happened that I didn't feel the need to put it in there, no reason to add in a negative that had nothing to do with the story anyway. The last thing I want to do is upset someone, especially when it was unnecessary and could be omitted. You are right, like your example, there are many ways to say the same thing, and some are better than others.

Anthony Ravenscroft
02-24-2007, 08:45 PM
JR is, as usual, completely right. If someone can get a court to give their complaint a slot in the schedule, they can bring suit. That's not a slam-dunk, & many such cases end in "not found" after as little as prelim discovery.Then again, I know a woman who spent more than $400,000 defending herself from empty claims, & had to take two weeks off a high-paying job to live 1,000 miles from home in a hotel in order to appear day after day. This kinda mitigates the concept of "winning."But I think you're getting ahead of yourself in order to leap to an incorrect assumption:

I'll be publishing through LULU because no publisher would believe this really happened.So... how many publishers have you queried? or agents? How long is your query letter? Do you have an outline or an overview, or both?When you get a hundred rejections, then go ahead & Lulu.Why? Because the publisher carries insurance specifically for this sort of thing, not to mention a legal department in many cases.

johnrobison
02-25-2007, 12:24 AM
Because the publisher carries insurance specifically for this sort of thing, not to mention a legal department in many cases.

It's good someone brought this up. Most businesses - my own automobile dealership (which is what I do besides write and take pictures) included - have insurance that covers us for legal defense costs if we are sued.

Big, reputable, publishers all carry this sort of insurance coverage.

In addition, and more important, big publishers have legal staffs that vet new books and ask for changes to minimize the exposure to lawsuits.

You won't get either of those benefits if you publish on your own.

Citizen Rob
02-26-2007, 10:26 PM
I'm following this thread with great interest, as my own memoir is in the editing process as we speak. My book is about raising a daughter who has a rare heurological disorder, and that means that a number of teachers and doctors who did not serve her best interests very well are in the book. Any parent of a "special needs" kid (god, I hate that term) who chooses to write about their experiences is going to have a good number of stories to tell about the obstacles that others placed in their paths; like any other memoir, eventually it's unavoidable that you'll write about a conflict with someone.

I think the key for me is to be mindful of the truth and the objectivity of what I'm writing. Obviously, I'm going to have feelings about people who may have been a detriment to my daughter's development, but I figure that if I let them represent themselves through their actions and I stay as close to verifiable material as possible (thank god we saved all those medical and school reports) with a minimum of opinion on my part, I'll be on safe ground. But I still worry.

Ironically, my publisher is St. Martin's. I suspect they'r reading those passages very carefully, too.

Penny Graham
02-28-2007, 12:46 AM
JR is, as usual, completely right. If someone can get a court to give their complaint a slot in the schedule, they can bring suit. That's not a slam-dunk, & many such cases end in "not found" after as little as prelim discovery.Then again, I know a woman who spent more than $400,000 defending herself from empty claims, & had to take two weeks off a high-paying job to live 1,000 miles from home in a hotel in order to appear day after day. This kinda mitigates the concept of "winning."But I think you're getting ahead of yourself in order to leap to an incorrect assumption:
So... how many publishers have you queried? or agents? How long is your query letter? Do you have an outline or an overview, or both?When you get a hundred rejections, then go ahead & Lulu.Why? Because the publisher carries insurance specifically for this sort of thing, not to mention a legal department in many cases.
Hi Anthony, yes isn't JR just the coolest? You're right, I haven't queried anybody about it, probably should. Thanks for bringing that up about the insurance, I didn't think of that. I just thought a publisher wouldn't touch it if I told them it was a true story. Probably send out the men in the white coats to pick me up. But those are quite horror stories, and why I'm so worried about doing this. Maybe I'll name it after Ken Hensley's album, "Proud Words on a dusty shelf" and put it in the closet for another 33 years. Thanks for jumping in. It is very much appreciated!

Penny Graham
02-28-2007, 12:50 AM
It's good someone brought this up. Most businesses - my own automobile dealership (which is what I do besides write and take pictures) included - have insurance that covers us for legal defense costs if we are sued.

Big, reputable, publishers all carry this sort of insurance coverage.

In addition, and more important, big publishers have legal staffs that vet new books and ask for changes to minimize the exposure to lawsuits.

You won't get either of those benefits if you publish on your own.
thanks for adding your additional info. If I can find a publisher who would take this on, I wouldn't have to worry, as you said. Hey, YOU did it right? And your brother who is going through this very thing and HIS publisher is handling it, so you guys have really given me food for thought. I really haven't tried to send it anywhere since 1978, and that publisher loved it but said it was too big and at that time, it would have been too expensive to expect anyone to pay for a book. Things have changed in the typesetting department since then. She never did say to cut it. That's the one and only time I sent it out.

Penny Graham
02-28-2007, 12:53 AM
I'm following this thread with great interest, as my own memoir is in the editing process as we speak. My book is about raising a daughter who has a rare heurological disorder, and that means that a number of teachers and doctors who did not serve her best interests very well are in the book. Any parent of a "special needs" kid (god, I hate that term) who chooses to write about their experiences is going to have a good number of stories to tell about the obstacles that others placed in their paths; like any other memoir, eventually it's unavoidable that you'll write about a conflict with someone.

I think the key for me is to be mindful of the truth and the objectivity of what I'm writing. Obviously, I'm going to have feelings about people who may have been a detriment to my daughter's development, but I figure that if I let them represent themselves through their actions and I stay as close to verifiable material as possible (thank god we saved all those medical and school reports) with a minimum of opinion on my part, I'll be on safe ground. But I still worry.

Ironically, my publisher is St. Martin's. I suspect they'r reading those passages very carefully, too.
Hey Citizen Rob,
First congratulations on your book. I read a lot of books by St Martins, and good for you that you have someone, like the guys said, to be your protector. I think you are on safe ground as you have documentation, and the publisher will know what to do, or their lawyers. Oh, where or where is Jaws?
I'm sure your little girl is very special!!!

Citizen Rob
03-01-2007, 06:42 AM
Hey Citizen Rob,
First congratulations on your book. I read a lot of books by St Martins, and good for you that you have someone, like the guys said, to be your protector. I think you are on safe ground as you have documentation, and the publisher will know what to do, or their lawyers. Oh, where or where is Jaws?
I'm sure your little girl is very special!!!

Thank you! Yeah, if this book does well, it'll be because of her. This is all her story, I'm just taking dictation.

pollykahl
04-28-2007, 09:21 AM
Hi All, regarding your quote, Penny, "there were a couple unimportant things that happened that I didn't feel the need to put it in there, no reason to add in a negative that had nothing to do with the story anyway. The last thing I want to do is upset someone, especially when it was unnecessary and could be omitted."

I have spent the past couple of years interviewing people my age who I grew up with, as well as some older people who were adults when I was a child, to see what my family was like back then, from their perspectives. This has provided me with invaluable information for my memoir. One thing I have found interesting is that what seems to me to be the littlest thing can be upsetting to someone else. Therefore I agree with John that it is impportant to be as honest as possible with anyone included in our writings.
As an example, a couple of friends and I used to break into houses when we were kids. But when I had lunch with the ring leader last summer and told her about my writing, she was most concerned that I might write that she used to walk around without a shirt on in the summer time. We were about ten at the time! It's not like she had grown anything she could have been arrested for! But she was more embarrassed about the toplessness than the vandalism. It blew me away. But it reinforced to me that you just never know what someone is thinking and feeling, and I told her I would not include it in my book.
On the other hand, I cannot be "sensitive" to everyone who will be included in my book. For example, as an adult I confronted someone who sexually abused me as a child, and although he admitted it to me privately, he has denied it to mutual friends, even though there were witnesses and in fact he bragged about it years later, which the people he bragged to will attest to. Even if I approached him to get his permission to include him in my memoir, he would not grant it. But I do not believe that should cause me to leave this important event out of my book. To me the key is to write about it honestly, from my perspective, and make it clear that I am doing so for sincere purposes, and not to slander him or cause him emotional distress in any way. Yes, it will upset him, and yes, I am sure my future publisher will insist on changing some names, but I will write about it.
John, I asked your brother about this very issue a couple of years ago, and he replied to always be honest and true to myself, and write about my experiences, and let the lawyers and publsihers worry about things like name changes later. I have adhered to that advice as I have written and it has been very helpful.

Penny Graham
04-28-2007, 06:20 PM
Hi All, regarding your quote, Penny, "there were a couple unimportant things that happened that I didn't feel the need to put it in there, no reason to add in a negative that had nothing to do with the story anyway. The last thing I want to do is upset someone, especially when it was unnecessary and could be omitted."

I have spent the past couple of years interviewing people my age who I grew up with, as well as some older people who were adults when I was a child, to see what my family was like back then, from their perspectives. This has provided me with invaluable information for my memoir. One thing I have found interesting is that what seems to me to be the littlest thing can be upsetting to someone else. Therefore I agree with John that it is impportant to be as honest as possible with anyone included in our writings.
As an example, a couple of friends and I used to break into houses when we were kids. But when I had lunch with the ring leader last summer and told her about my writing, she was most concerned that I might write that she used to walk around without a shirt on in the summer time. We were about ten at the time! It's not like she had grown anything she could have been arrested for! But she was more embarrassed about the toplessness than the vandalism. It blew me away. But it reinforced to me that you just never know what someone is thinking and feeling, and I told her I would not include it in my book.
On the other hand, I cannot be "sensitive" to everyone who will be included in my book. For example, as an adult I confronted someone who sexually abused me as a child, and although he admitted it to me privately, he has denied it to mutual friends, even though there were witnesses and in fact he bragged about it years later, which the people he bragged to will attest to. Even if I approached him to get his permission to include him in my memoir, he would not grant it. But I do not believe that should cause me to leave this important event out of my book. To me the key is to write about it honestly, from my perspective, and make it clear that I am doing so for sincere purposes, and not to slander him or cause him emotional distress in any way. Yes, it will upset him, and yes, I am sure my future publisher will insist on changing some names, but I will write about it.
John, I asked your brother about this very issue a couple of years ago, and he replied to always be honest and true to myself, and write about my experiences, and let the lawyers and publsihers worry about things like name changes later. I have adhered to that advice as I have written and it has been very helpful.
Thanks Pollykahl for your advice and input. I have been wrestling with this a long time, and everyone at the cooler has had very helpful insights and advice. I pretty much did stay true to the story and know I still will have to change names and locations. It is the invasion of privacy issue I am more worried about than slander or libel since nothing was invented. Still wrestling, I guess. Thanks.

Sakamonda
05-05-2007, 12:23 AM
I am reading this thread with great interest, as I am also a memoirist who has written a very shocking and graphic memoir dealing with growing up in a family with severe mental illness issues. This memoir is currently under review at several large houses (including Augusten Burroughs' publisher St. Martins). I know for a fact that I will likely lose friends and alienate family over this memoir, but that is something I'm willing to live with in order to tell what I believe is an important story that is designed to help people and families dealing with severe mental illness.

As far as how I'm handling "changing names", et cetera, in my current manuscript, some people's (not my family members') names have been changed; others' have not (although in many cases I use first names only), and I have not changed any locations. My agent advised me that I should write as straightforward a manuscript as possible, only changing names in this version in cases where I thought it unavoidable or people specifically asked me to do so. In the event I am offered a contract, my agent advised me that I would likely have a sit-down with the publisher's legal department who would advise me line-by-line on anything I'd need to do to minimize lawsuit risk, et cetera, and I plan to follow that advice as it is given. I am also following the Burroughs' case quite closely; I am very glad St. Martins is working hard to defend the case.

As far as my own process is concerned, a few of my family members started threatening to sue when I even told them I had the _idea_ to write this book. They told me they would go to court and tell everyone I am lying, even though I have the capacity to prove my story. (This is due to some of my family members' being so afraid of the stigma of mental illness they would rather lie on the stand than admit to being ill). I am frankly not worried about these threats, because I know they are nothing more than threats. None of my family members who are even now threatening to sue have the gumption, stamina, or financial ability to follow through on those threats, so I am frankly not worried about it. They also would not be able to prove I'm not telling the truth.

As far as some of the more tangential people in the book, I am frankly not worried about them, either. The thing is, anybody can threated to sue or even file a suit, but having the stamina (and vast financial resources) to actually mount a major lawsuit against a major media outlet is something else altogether. We authors thankfully have the First Amendment on our side---provided we aren't outright fabricating malicious statements about people. Since I'm not doing that, I've decided that losing a few friends and alienating a few family members a worthy price to pay for telling a story that I believe has the potential to benefit many millions of people suffering from mental illness. I don't have that great of a relationship with my family anyway, so it's not even that much of a loss.

John, I look forward to reading your book when it comes out.

johnrobison
05-06-2007, 07:07 PM
Sakamonda, all I can add is that you've got to be careful of invasion of privacy claims and carefully consider the feelings and expectations of those people who appear in your story.

If I were in your position I would move very cautiously because I don't want my stories to make people feel worse.

pollykahl
05-07-2007, 05:13 AM
"carefully consider the feelings and expectations of those people who appear in your story"

I agree with this statement. While we cannot anticipate everyone's feelings, or necessarily decide not to write just because what we are writing about may be upsetting to some people, it is of utmost importance to consider the consequences of our actions. Kindness goes a long way in not only making our material more palatable to the general public, but also in demonstrating to those included in our life stories that our intentions in telling our stories are clean and pure. It is possible to be honest, even about very painful things, and still be kind. To me this means that when we are recounting painful experiences, it needs to be clear that our writing is for a higher purpose than just telling a story. There needs to be a lesson or meaning to it. Otherwise it can appear to be merely either expolitative of the experiences, or revenge seeking toward the abusers, which only continues the abuse and negativity.

southernwriter
05-08-2007, 12:53 AM
I've been reading this thread with great interest because a couple years ago, I walked your walk and talked your talk. I know precisely where you're coming from.

My "memoir" is paranormal women's "fiction." It is the story of a close group of friends who were torn apart by the death of one, and how they come to be reunited thirty years later. It was a true story as I wrote it (some of it as it was happening), and I had the very same concerns. We each shared a history and had kept painful secrets. I supplied each of the members of the group with a copy of the manuscript. Some wanted me to use their real names, others asked me to use something different, but similar.

Only one person objected completely. That person was my best friend for those thirty years. Her life is very different now, and she has not come clean with her husband of twenty years. He knows nothing about her past, apparently, and she doesn't want him to. She knew I was writing the story. She filled in blanks for me. She told me of situations I could add to it, including some that were extremely painful for her. One in particular was so poignant and gut wrenching, I knew it would make the story sensational. She said she wasn't worried about her husband finding out because he doesn't read. When the first draft was complete, I sent her a copy. It ended our friendship. Her husband became curious and wanted to read it. She told me she had expected me to bare my soul, but didn't expect me to bare hers. She is so entwined in the story, there is absolutely no way I can take her out of it. I was hurt that she provided so much information, knowing full well what I was doing with it, let me spend two years of my life writing it, and then wanted me to burn it so no one would ever find out. At that point, I discovered I had already lost her friendship, so there was nothing left to lose. Hold that thought, because I'll come back to it.

The love interest in my story is the deceased, and when a person dies, they lose their claim to privacy, so no problem there. Like your friend, he was someone who inspired me, and changed my life and concept of reality forever. His impact was life-altering, and the end result mind-blowing. I know what you mean when you say, "No one would ever believe it's true." I would. I did not write anything about him that I would not write if he were still living. I think that's something you need to ask yourself. If this man means as much to you as you say, if you love him that much, are you willing to incur his wrath, or live with knowing that you hurt him so much, he will never forgive you? Can you live with that? Is that what you do to people who had such a profound impact on your life that you still care this deeply about him thirty years later?

You also need to consider the impact it will have on your own husband, if you have one. Mine knows about my past, but has never been faced with a lot of the intimate details that went into the story. Have you considered that? If you think your story is going to hurt him, you need to sit down with him and do some explaining.

You said your memoir is too long. How long is it? I was there, too, at 222,000 words. Like that would ever get published! I cut characters and subplots, edited, rewrote, edited, rewrote, and somewhere along the way, learned to be a better writer. I learned that a string of events does not a plot make. Does your story have a plot? Do the characters grow and change? Is this guy you're concerned with a Mary Sue character (or whatever we're calling the male equivalent these days)? Have you edited the story? Because a funny thing happens when you start correcting all those things. It becomes less true. It becomes partially fiction (can you say James Frey? I'm almost sure that's what happened with his "memoir.") While trying to get my story down to a manageable size, I started learning a lot about writing. Remember the thought I said to hold? One of the things I learned is to never make a secondary plot character more interesting than the protagonist. I was on the verge of doing just that. The poignant, gut-wrenching truth about my old friend will not make it into the final draft of my story. I know she'll be relieved. I am. I never intended to hurt any of the people in my story. These are people I've loved most in my life.

So, there's more fodder for you to think about. I know it feels like the worst thing in the world to even consider giving up all your hard work. You put your blood, sweat and tears into it, your heart and soul. I would never ask you to give up on it, but would it be the end of the world if you changed a few details and called it fiction? The story would still be told, wouldn't it? And isn't that your point? You want people to be changed by it, and inspired by it, but is there a reason they can't be, if the characters names are changed, and it takes place in a small town instead of a big city, or whatever else you can do to disguise the identity of the man? My advice is to get a couple beta readers, and start editing. You might be surprised how much you can let go of in the editing process. Good luck.

Sakamonda
05-08-2007, 02:19 AM
My response to John and others to "carefully consider the feelings of those who appear in the story":

Those persons who I personally care about, yes I will consider their feelings. But I will not allow them to dictate to me what I can and cannot include, what I can and cannot say. I will change names as necessary and recommended by a publisher's legal department, but I won't change details/rewrite history because someone asks me to. That would go against my journalistic integrity.

Those persons I don't personally care much about, I really have no motivation whatsoever to consider their feelings----especially when the actions I describe them doing in the book show that they never, ever considered my or others' feelings when they engaged in actions that damaged people. My main motivation for writing the book is not personal revenge or anything like that, but rather to help expose injustices and abuses in the mental health system, and also to help show how our defective US mental health system damages people in general. My motivations for writing the book overall are to help and educate people, but in order to do that, I will have to expose some very ugly things.

My main guide for what to reveal will be my own gut feelings, and the advice of my publisher's lawyers. I am not afraid to anger people or alienate loved ones to tell the truth----and indeed, my loved ones are the ones who taught me that the truth is important above all other things. I think in the long run, they will see that.

As far as right to privacy issues go, I think the Burroughs' case, assuming it is decided in Burroughs' favor (and I hope/think it will) will go a long way in setting a legal precedent protecting memoirists and journalists.

Anthony Ravenscroft
05-08-2007, 09:40 AM
Over the past few years, I've reviewed a couple dozen proposals for memoir-type books.

One of the things I notice is that memoir seems too often to "hide" between categories. If the facts are too pat, they generally turn out to be embellished (to put it kindly), & the memoir is defended as storytelling -- yet, when there's no plot & little enough discernible structure, the same manuscript will be defended as journalism.

And it's not unusual that memoir serves dubious purposes: self-aggrandisement with minimal creative effort; inflating the author's sense of self worth (which too often turns into a "pig/lipstick" situation); highly personalised therapy; lashing out & venting.

For any credible publisher to undertake a book project that has more chance of getting them sued than does (say) having a bank account with a positive balance, it is -- first, foremost, & having only rare exception -- going to have to be a very good story.

And if you want to defend yourself as a "journalist," then you'll need to have some sort of paper trail, & be able to demonstrate absence of malice, something that's gonna be tough if an objective disinterested observer would readily agree that it looks like you've got motive to want to "get even" for past grievances. As to the former: if you go & pull up old hurts from years ago that no person other than you & the alleged perpetrator have ever been aware of, it's going to come across as you casting aspersions & at the very least invading others' privacy. So, you'd better have a good stack of police files, medical records, court documents, sworn witness statements, etc.

If memoir was journalism, then it would be journalism, not memoir, IMNSHO.

Also note that, if you slam enough people in your masterwork, & also feel you're some sort of crusader for freedom of expression, you might find yourself hoist on that petard when one of the aggrieved parties turns out to be a better (or better-connected) writer & you become the subject of a stinging & best-selling book about "abuses of memoir."

Ritergal
05-08-2007, 04:32 PM
... As far as libel, there is none in this book, and while I told no one what was happening, he did share it with other people...not me. I have kept silent all these years, and there were people who were present when a lot of things happened who were "awed" by what went on in front of their eyes, so a lot of this did happen in public. ... A good example of this is, say we both worked at a circus, and he taught me all about the circus animals so I became aware of their feelings and became a more aware person because of his teachings. Now maybe today he doesn't even want people to know he ever worked in a circus ...

Penny,

Let's suppose that in 1970 I belonged to the Merry Order of Mothers (MOM). By now, in 2007, I've moved so far beyond the MOM mode in my thinking that I may avoid mentioning this fact to people who didn't know me back then. But the fact is, I did belong, and if I've said or done anything to lead people since then to believe I didn't, I have not been truthful in my own life.

Building on that background, let's say that you also belonged to MOM in 1970. So did lots of other people, some more public about their membership than others, but nobody took oaths of secrecy.

I find it reasonable to expect that people I knew in MOM would mention the connection to others if it ever arose in a relevant context. "Oh, sure -- I knew her. we were in MOM together back in The Day."

The only way to escape the past completely is to go into a witness protection program, and even that isn't foolproof.

If the events you allude to were perpetuated for the purpose of good, and were genuinely helpful and uplifting, then this person you mention was acting from a center of love. His purpose was to help, to uplift and teach. Perhaps his own understanding has continued to evolve, but if he was operating from a center of love, it's unlikely that decades down the road, he'd do something unloving like sue someone for bringing up helpful things he did in the past. More likely he would feel gratified that you are still feeling grateful and sharing the helpful information still further -- beyond the bounds of the small circle he was able to reach.

The risk you face if you dilute your message by fictionalizing it, or not publishing it at all, is that those who need to hear it will be deprived. Which is the greater risk? Only you can answer that!

My call: Say whatever sort of prayer works for you, and follow your heart in this matter. Go to a quiet, private spot, get comfortable, and have a "virtual" conversation with this man. Ask him what he wants you to do about this matter. Ask for a message to make it clear, maybe a dream. This isn't a decision that can be made with reason and logic, because the message of your memoir obviously goes beyond the bounds of the physical and logic. Use the resources you have learned to make it.

pollykahl
05-08-2007, 04:51 PM
"If the facts are too pat, they generally turn out to be embellished (to put it kindly), & ... it's not unusual that memoir serves dubious purposes: self-aggrandisement with minimal creative effort; inflating the author's sense of self worth (which too often turns into a "pig/lipstick" situation); highly personalised therapy; lashing out & venting."

No offense Anthony but I found these statements to be cliché'-ridden as well as cynical. I have read literally hundreds of memoirs over the past thirty years and other than the Frey fracas there have been very few cases of memoirists being accused of embellishments. When authors have been accused of embellishment, or even outright fabrication, it has almost always been by those who have been disparaged in the memoirs to some degree. (A classic example is Roseanne's parents accusing her of making up her childhood abuse. Well, what would they say? "Yes, we did it, we're sorry, we take responsibility for the harms we have caused, we promise to never do it again..."? That never happens.)

Occasionally in memoirs descriptions are dramatic, but there is nothing wrong with writers using drama to describe their personal experiences, as long as they do not fabricate events, and no one can say how dramatically anyone else experiences events anyway. And to say only that memoirs serve to inflate the authors' sense of self-worth without recognizing the contributions this genre makes seems like an oversimplification to me. Although they may be unique in seeking camaraderie and affiliation, memoirists as a group don't seek ego gratification any more than writers of other genres do. It would simply take too much work and effort, with miniscule chances of success, to write merely for ego gratification.

Sakamonda
05-08-2007, 05:17 PM
Polly, you are right on:

"When authors have been accused of embellishment, or even outright fabrication, it has almost always been by those who have been disparaged in the memoirs to some degree"

---This is very true. I anticipate that I will have some of this same fallout myself with my book. Also, memory is an imperfect thing----very few people who go through the same experience will remember it in the exact same way, or even remember it at all. Emotions certainly affect memory.

And Anthony, I disagree with your take on memoir being nothing but a "self-aggrandizing" genre. It is very difficult to do well, and is often quite painful. I know that writing my memoir has been the most difficult writing task I've undertaken. (I've completed several books). I also think it's my best book. In addition to a compelling (and often shocking) story, there are elements of hope, help, and education. If I really were writing a lipstick-on-pig piece of ego-inflation (note: I am not a celebrity or public figure), then I seriously doubt I'd have 10+ major publishers looking at it right now.

When done well, the memoir is a literary form---not just "journalism" or "storytelling." True, there are elements of both journalism and storytelling in memoir, but a good memoir takes both of these things a step further into a bona fide art form. Furthermore, I'd like to note that some of the best writing of the past century has been in the form of memoirs by (previously) unknown people who told a life-affirming, powerful story in a beautiful, literary-quality manner. I'm thinking of people like Frank McCourt, Susanna Kaysen, Dave Eggers, Augusten Burroughs, Alice Seabold, and countless others. I'd challenge you to call any of these authors' books nothing but ego-inflated self-aggrandizement.

In closing, I'd advise anyone writing a memoir to stay true to their story no matter what, to tell it in a compelling manner that captures the emotional essence of the experience, and to not concern themselves with naysayers or persons whose attacks against what you might reveal in your story are motivated by jealousy or self-preservation. And most of all---make sure your story is somehow relevant to the rest of the world, not just "all about you", before you seek serious attempts at publication.

johnrobison
05-09-2007, 06:28 AM
Sakamonda, you appear to have thought through your responses to most of the common questions. I will be interested to hear what comes of the submissions you talk about. Feel free to send me a PM if I may be of help.

Like you, I do not think of memoir being merely self-aggrandizing. But that's the sort of thing critics will say if a book you write about yourself is a huge success. Still, I like to think my book - and hopefully yours - serves a greater purpose than making us look good.

Now, as to memoir being "not just storytelling."

The storyteller's talent is rare, I am told. The editors who read my work say I have it, and they say my book is told in that manner and that's one of its strengths. I don't think the storyteller style is limited to memoir. I could just as well apply my storytelling skills to tell you about a battle in WWII.

I would be interested to hear more about your project.

Blair Tindall
05-10-2007, 12:59 AM
Greetings, I'm a friend of John Robison's and new to the board. This is my first post, but on a subject of great interest. My first book, "Mozart in the Jungle" was a memoir peppered with many of the issues discussed here -- and I have insight not only from that, but also from the media law course I took as part of my journalism degree at Stanford in 2000. In addition, writing for the NY Times and other pubs has made me even more vigilant.

I think it's important to realize that lawsuits can be quite expensive for both sides. Someone instigating one must really have a bone to pick -- because many books are covered by their publisher's libel insurance (which often does have a deductible which may be split by the author and publisher, by the way.) Some publishers have the manuscripts vetted by an attorney, who makes recommendations of changes and omissions.

An editor once made a good point to me about writing angrily in a memoir. If a personal scene exists as a vendetta without advancing the real point of the story, it's not compelling reading, and you're going to lose your audience. However, if the author can expose his/her own foibles and weaknesses in the course of simply telling what happened, the results can be poignant and empathetic.

Someone on this thread remarked that using real names makes for a real story. It is, after all, your experience. Going too far afield can get Oprah very, very mad, as we know. One alternative is publishing the pseudonyms (not the real names) on the copyright page, and also keeping their use to a minimum.

One interesting case is Nora Ephron's "Heartburn," which is officially fiction. It's worth googling what happened between her and her ex-husband, Carl Bernstein, in the aftermath of book and film.

Sakamonda
05-10-2007, 02:03 AM
Thanks Blair. All useful points.

Another issue I'm running up against with the publishers who are looking at my memoir is the fact that despite the fact they find the story compelling and my writing of high quality, they reject the book because I am not already a celebrity with a large built-in media platform. (a case of sales-and-marketing departments trumping editors in making acquisitions decisions). What drives me nuts about this is, most memoirs penned by celebrities tend to be pat and poorly done, even if they do "sell." Any ideas on how to deal with this problem?

pollykahl
05-10-2007, 02:10 AM
HI Blair and Welcome. Your book looks great, love the cover too, and can't wait to read it. (How does one find time to write with all the interesting reading to be found on this site?)

In the law course you took in 2000, did you ever hear of cases being taken by the prosecuting attorneys on a contigency basis? I know how expensive these things can be and have wondered how some of the citizens bringing the suits can afford to do so. It seems to me that otherwise many of them would not be able to afford to do so.

I have been studying memoirs for many years until I was ready to write my own (deeply in progress) and have rarely seen writing that looks purely vindictive. It bothers me that memoirs have a reputation as being merely vehicles for vindication. Hopefully most of them are weeded out prior to publishing through personal feedback to the writer proior to submissions, good agents, good publishers, etc. As someone who is writing about childhood abuse, familial mental illness, addictions and other touchy issues, I would not want to work with agents or publishers who were not well versed in the most current ethical and legal specifications for my genre of work. This would not only be for my own legal protection, but also to ensure that my published work adheres to the highest professional standards.

Sakamonda
05-10-2007, 02:47 AM
I don't know of any attorney who will take a libel case on a contingency basis. Libel is insanely difficult to prove, and the burden of proof is on the accuser in libel cases, not the accused. In libel cases, you not only have to prove that the author maliciously fabricated lies about the accused (not easy to prove if the author insists they are true statements), you have to prove that the accuser suffered irreparable emotional and financial harm (i.e., losing a job or business income over the supposedly libelous statements), as well as permanent damage to one's public reputation. Tall orders to prove in court, all. This is why most libel/slander cases are brought only by people who are already quite wealthy and of some public standing.

Since none of the people I discuss in my memoir are wealthy or of public standing (nor would they be able to prove my statements are not the truth), I'm not worried about being sued for libel/slander. I will of course follow my publisher's legal advice on how to protect against potential suits (even frivolous "nuisance" suits) when/if offered a publishing contract. But the fact is, as Blair says, for someone to bring a suit against you, they a) must have a serious bone to pick and b) a lot of money at their disposal to pay lawyers, possibly for years, while the suit drags on.

johnrobison
05-10-2007, 03:18 AM
I'm sorry to disappoint those of you who think you may be protected by an attorney's unwillingness to sue on a "no win, no pay" basis. As far as I know, the attorney suing my brother and his publisher is doing so on that basis, either in whole or in part.

And that same attorney has won multi-million dollar judgements in earlier cases. My brother's attorneys have a good record also. In that case, you have two very capable firms up against each other and the outcome is far from obvious.

So don't assume the people who figure in your story can't sue just because they are poor. If you write a big book, any attorney knows he's got a publisher's insurance company with very deep pockets. Sure, it's hard to win those cases. But if they win, they can win big. There are some good lawyers out there who like those odds.

I would venture to say that a good percentage of the invasion of privacy suits brought against media outlets are handled on a contingency basis for people of modest means.

Many of my good friends are attorneys and I see/hear more of the inside scoop than many. I know that people associate contingency fee billing with personal injury attorneys, but in fact many other lawyers work on that basis, to their great benefit. Two examples I'll offer are the lawyers who brought cases against the cigarette industry, and the lawyers profiled in Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action.

Blair Tindall
05-10-2007, 03:21 AM
Polly: There's a lot to be said for persistence. I'd stick with your story and keep trying. Although if you could find compelling marketing strategies for your proposal, that could help.

Little Red Barn
05-10-2007, 03:28 AM
I don't know of any attorney who will take a libel case on a contingency basis. Libel is insanely difficult to prove, and the burden of proof is on the accuser in libel cases, not the accused. In libel cases, you not only have to prove that the author maliciously fabricated lies about the accused (not easy to prove if the author insists they are true statements), you have to prove that the accuser suffered irreparable emotional and financial harm (i.e., losing a job or business income over the supposedly libelous statements), as well as permanent damage to one's public reputation. Tall orders to prove in court, all. This is why most libel/slander cases are brought only by people who are already quite wealthy and of some public standing.

Since none of the people I discuss in my memoir are wealthy or of public standing (nor would they be able to prove my statements are not the truth), I'm not worried about being sued for libel/slander. I will of course follow my publisher's legal advice on how to protect against potential suits (even frivolous "nuisance" suits) when/if offered a publishing contract. But the fact is, as Blair says, for someone to bring a suit against you, they a) must have a serious bone to pick and b) a lot of money at their disposal to pay lawyers, possibly for years, while the suit drags on.
Congrats Sakamonda,
I too write memoir. I do know that anyone can sue for anything. And I especially know a lot of attorneys will take on the most fruitless of cases and causes. :) I think you want to protect yourself very well as said above. And true I could invite 3 people over for dinner, they get sick off my meatloaf and two days later will have three entirely different memories and stories.

pollykahl
05-10-2007, 05:47 AM
John, I thought so, and appreciate your explanation. I suspected as much because I too have been following the Augusten case and have read that the family bringing suit is not wealthy. It seemed they would only be able to pursue litigation if their representatives were being paid on a contingency basis. And of course, the attorneys would only take on the case if they thought they had a good chance of winning and collecting their fees.

Thanks for your comments too, Blair. I have never actually approached an agent or publisher about my memoir, so my level of persistence is yet to be seen! My book has some interesting elements that I believe make it unique and interesting beyond the usual abuse-addictions-recovery memoirs (not to insult them by any means, it's just that my experiences are unique on several fronts, and I also believe I have a good solid platform.) I was almost done with it when I found this site, through John's site, through Augusten's site, since I'm a big AB fan and check his blog regularly. I am now making some revisions based on what I have learned here in my brief time on this site. From what I have read it is best to have memoirs completed before approaching anyone about any kind of representation. I want it to be the absolute best that it can be because I have targeted specific agents I am interested in working with, and I am afraid that once I am rejected by an agent I won't be allowed to re-submit. I am also reluctant to publicly post my writing online so am hoping it is permissible to approach other AW members to see if they would be willing to offer private critiques. Once I do that and am ready to approach my targeted agent(s), we'll see what happens. This is my full time job until it is done.

And I personally am not worried about litigation, although it's such an important issue in the world of memoirs that I do keep up with what's happening in the field. I have reams of journals, letters, interview notes, and other documentation for everything, that I have compiled over the past twenty five years until the time was right for me to do this project. I also have lots of witnesses who are supportive of me and my work. Of course, one can never be too careful and you never know what some people will do! But I feel I am being as safe and responsible as I can be, not to mention humane, for all concerned, under the circumstances.

Sakamonda
05-10-2007, 07:26 AM
Thanks again John for clarifying on this issue. I find it very disheartening that some lawyers will take on a libel case on contingency. I do sincerely hope, for both my sake and other authors', that St. Martins/Augusten Burroughs prevails in this case. If the other side were to win (God forbid), it would have very sinister consequences for all authors and journalists and the integrity of their work.

I will continue to be vigilant in my own memoir, and will of course follow any publisher's legal department's directives on how to protect myself and them. But above all else, I value the truth. I think any author of a memoir should, too----especially emotional truth.

Blair Tindall
05-10-2007, 03:17 PM
I haven't heard of anyone hiring a lawyer on a contingency basis for libel. In general, it seems that's something most publishers could take care of if they believe a book includes libelous issues -- after all, they will suffer from a lawsuit as well, so the investment of a legal vetting when the book is done may prove worthwhile.

Also, the Argo Insurance brokerage in Walnut Creek, Calif., has an agent who specializes in libel insurance policies.

Susan B
05-11-2007, 07:58 PM
An editor once made a good point to me about writing angrily in a memoir. If a personal scene exists as a vendetta without advancing the real point of the story, it's not compelling reading, and you're going to lose your audience. However, if the author can expose his/her own foibles and weaknesses in the course of simply telling what happened, the results can be poignant and empathetic.

Someone on this thread remarked that using real names makes for a real story. It is, after all, your experience. Going too far afield can get Oprah very, very mad, as we know. One alternative is publishing the pseudonyms (not the real names) on the copyright page, and also keeping their use to a minimum.

.


Hello Blair, and welcome.

Have to admit I got a little jolt reading your name in these posts, because that's also my first name. (Susan, the name I've been using here, is my middle name.)

Another coincidence, I've also written a music memoir (pretty far from the classical world, though!) It's currently being shopped around by my agent. I'd read the reviews of your book, meant to read it, and now I will. Also liked your website and some of your articles (read the one on beta-blockers with interest.)

I agree with the points you make; I may have been one of the people who argued for using real names, at least real first names. But I've been pretty careful not to say anything critical, either of personal friends or the handful of people appearing in my book who are fairly well known in my little corner of the folk/ethnic music world.

Sometimes I worry that I may have sidestepped some issues. But unlike your book (which I gather combines investigative journalism with memoir) mine really is much more about a personal journey--opening up to music in midlife, discovering another culture, working closely with a mentor.

Again, welcome to AW!

Susan B.

Anthony Ravenscroft
05-12-2007, 07:18 PM
Polly & Sak, you're clearly lovely people, & your posts are far more literate than most of the queries I review.

You're merely, in my experience, incorrect.

I often hear/read, "Oh, but I'm just telling what really happened!" I call this the conduit theory of writing, & it infects errant journalists & more than a few memoirists.

It's nonsense, you see. The whole point of having a scrivener is to choose what is told, how it is told, in what order it is told. For instance, two facts widely separated are drastically different from the same two facts back-to-back, & denying it "because that's how I believe" is silly at worst, unfounded opinion at best. Writing is a one-dimensional form -- sure, it "unpacks" in the reader's head, but it's still got to be packed in the first place, & the order is vital as to the impressions left when it unpacks. A writer who denies creating those impressions is either a poor liar or a fool.

It's also my prejudice that most errant memoirists don't have a story worth telling. That's why they prefer to trot out childhood grievances as though this is a substitute for storytelling, for actually having an interesting plot -- & since even "how to" books can be said to have a plot, I see no good reason to except memoir. "Before you write your life story, you ought to have a life." And if the bulk of the nonplot is grievances, then these clearly must be exaggerated to historical levels of Significance, or there's nothing to propel the reader forward except (a) voyeuristic interest in witnessing scenes of abuse, &/or (b) shared misery.

Finally, look at how you're writing on this thread. So much has been statements of unfounded opinion as though it's obvious, it's carved in stone, & everyone agrees with you. If that were true, your words would have little value -- which, if thus true, suggests you've got nothing to say worth publishing. Don't fear making clear that it's your opinion, experience, observation, or whatever, & maybe then offering some sort of bolstering; it strengthens the prejudices, & there's nothing wrong with well-stated prejudice because it brings the reader into the recounting.

pollykahl
05-12-2007, 08:20 PM
Anthony, it would be helpful if you would show which statements or quotes you are referring to. Sakamonda and I have said a variety of different things and there is no way of knowing which statements by which poster you are referring to. Without these clarifications the statements in your post are merely generalizations.

Yes, it does sound like you have a prejudice against the memoir genre. It's not my job to educate you about it or convince you of its many virtues. But I would like to clarify that in my case, and from what I have read in Sakamondo's case, and the cases of other memoirists here on AW, as well as the many, many memoirs that have been successful commercially, the genre is not about dumping grievances. It is about surviving, overcoming, and transcending. Many people find these books not only helpful, but inspirational.

To quote Anne Frank, "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."

Penny Graham
05-13-2007, 01:42 AM
I am reading this thread with great interest, as I am also a memoirist who has written a very shocking and graphic memoir dealing with growing up in a family with severe mental illness issues. This memoir is currently under review at several large houses (including Augusten Burroughs' publisher St. Martins). I know for a fact that I will likely lose friends and alienate family over this memoir, but that is something I'm willing to live with in order to tell what I believe is an important story that is designed to help people and families dealing with severe mental illness.

As far as how I'm handling "changing names", et cetera, in my current manuscript, some people's (not my family members') names have been changed; others' have not (although in many cases I use first names only), and I have not changed any locations. My agent advised me that I should write as straightforward a manuscript as possible, only changing names in this version in cases where I thought it unavoidable or people specifically asked me to do so. In the event I am offered a contract, my agent advised me that I would likely have a sit-down with the publisher's legal department who would advise me line-by-line on anything I'd need to do to minimize lawsuit risk, et cetera, and I plan to follow that advice as it is given. I am also following the Burroughs' case quite closely; I am very glad St. Martins is working hard to defend the case.

As far as my own process is concerned, a few of my family members started threatening to sue when I even told them I had the _idea_ to write this book. They told me they would go to court and tell everyone I am lying, even though I have the capacity to prove my story. (This is due to some of my family members' being so afraid of the stigma of mental illness they would rather lie on the stand than admit to being ill). I am frankly not worried about these threats, because I know they are nothing more than threats. None of my family members who are even now threatening to sue have the gumption, stamina, or financial ability to follow through on those threats, so I am frankly not worried about it. They also would not be able to prove I'm not telling the truth.

As far as some of the more tangential people in the book, I am frankly not worried about them, either. The thing is, anybody can threated to sue or even file a suit, but having the stamina (and vast financial resources) to actually mount a major lawsuit against a major media outlet is something else altogether. We authors thankfully have the First Amendment on our side---provided we aren't outright fabricating malicious statements about people. Since I'm not doing that, I've decided that losing a few friends and alienating a few family members a worthy price to pay for telling a story that I believe has the potential to benefit many millions of people suffering from mental illness. I don't have that great of a relationship with my family anyway, so it's not even that much of a loss.

John, I look forward to reading your book when it comes out.
Hey Sakamonda,
I appreciate everyone's input in this question, and for all reading this, if you google or search the actual question of this thread, it comes up immediately, so be aware all our comments are out there in the world for anyone wondering about that question. Someone advised me to pull the thread, for legal reasons, and it was probably good advice. I considered it, but have changed my mind because it is an important question and worthy of all these opinions, experience, both within the publishing companies and their perspectives, and outside of them from the writers' standpoints. As I have stated many times in this thread, there is nothing in my book that happened or required a revenge feeling. All the way to the end this person was awesome. As John Robison has stated, it is not the libel I worry about, it is the invasion of privacy issue and the book would not be published because I wanted to invade his privacy. I would do everything I can to protect his privacy. I could write it so that he might be the only one to recognize it, but that would require lying which I won't do, and if he is the only one who did recognize it, even after changing enough names descriptions and locations, he still has the foundation for a lawsuit. To make up a completely fabricated example, let's say he was, in the 70's, dealing drugs. Let's say it has been this many years, he no longer does that, but his family or wife never knew during that time. Let's say by publishing my book and mentioning that his wife and family had a meltdown. Now again, this is so far removed from what actually happened this would never be a cue that it was about him. But if he had, say, and someone recognizes the events here and there and says, hey, I know that guy, but I never dreamed he dealt drugs. What if he had a child who read the book and said "Daddy, you never told me, how can you tell me not to when you did," And wife says, "so that is what really happened. You lied to me back then!" Now this is NOT what the book is about, but this might be something he preferred not to ever get out, and this is what I am trying to avoid, and still tell a story that could help people. Thanks for your input, and please let us all know how your own story goes with the publishing.

Penny Graham
05-13-2007, 02:02 AM
Southernwriter,
As they said in the Titanic, " You've got my attention Rose." It seems like we are both treading water in shark infested areas that may never take a nip at us. You are the closest to getting the drift of what this is about. You said Paranormal romance, and you do have my attention. I may need to PM you so I can keep legal issue details out of the public here, but in a nutshell, I am sorry about your friend, reallly, and that goes to show what having someone's husband or wife find out something they never knew. As far as mine goes, of course he knows the whole story in living color detail. He too has a great respect for this guy, knows how I came out of it, knows how what I learned changed his own life for the better, and gave him a better understanding of this world as a result of realizing there are other worlds and dimensions than this one. So, yeah, he does know and has been the one insisting it should be published, not to get melodramatic, but for "the betterment of mankind". (I know, talk about egocentric about your own book, huh, but really this isn't about a book, it is about an event which I fear I can never share. Trying to do the right thing vs....? And no this was no Mary Sue, at all, in fact, completely the opposite. Could I call it fiction? Sure, but if I did, there are better, scarier, more elaborate fictions...sometimes if it really happened, it is profound, scary and people would say "God, I hope I never go through that." But if you say it didn't happen, they will say, " I could have made up something better than that." And it would be true. As for editing, I am at least going to start doing that and disguising descriptions as I go, also not mentioning any city or state. Trying to cut, yes, because it is 1500 pages double spaced, if you figure 250 words a page, so what is that...without a calculator about 375,000 words. Yes, must be whittled down and maybe I will be a better writer in the end as well. Thanks for jumping in here, and I may be pming you soon, if that is okay with you.

Penny Graham
05-13-2007, 02:07 AM
John, this is so true it is disheartening. No one wants to hurt anyone, everyone has to be careful, and wants to be, but the song must remain the same or there is no point in doing it. You have so much wisdom, sense, logic, caution you should start your own memoir advice column. Looking forward to your book and your brother's outcome in the suit.

Penny Graham
05-13-2007, 02:24 AM
Penny,

Let's suppose that in 1970 I belonged to the Merry Order of Mothers (MOM). By now, in 2007, I've moved so far beyond the MOM mode in my thinking that I may avoid mentioning this fact to people who didn't know me back then. But the fact is, I did belong, and if I've said or done anything to lead people since then to believe I didn't, I have not been truthful in my own life.

Building on that background, let's say that you also belonged to MOM in 1970. So did lots of other people, some more public about their membership than others, but nobody took oaths of secrecy.

I find it reasonable to expect that people I knew in MOM would mention the connection to others if it ever arose in a relevant context. "Oh, sure -- I knew her. we were in MOM together back in The Day."

The only way to escape the past completely is to go into a witness protection program, and even that isn't foolproof.

If the events you allude to were perpetuated for the purpose of good, and were genuinely helpful and uplifting, then this person you mention was acting from a center of love. His purpose was to help, to uplift and teach. Perhaps his own understanding has continued to evolve, but if he was operating from a center of love, it's unlikely that decades down the road, he'd do something unloving like sue someone for bringing up helpful things he did in the past. More likely he would feel gratified that you are still feeling grateful and sharing the helpful information still further -- beyond the bounds of the small circle he was able to reach.

The risk you face if you dilute your message by fictionalizing it, or not publishing it at all, is that those who need to hear it will be deprived. Which is the greater risk? Only you can answer that!

My call: Say whatever sort of prayer works for you, and follow your heart in this matter. Go to a quiet, private spot, get comfortable, and have a "virtual" conversation with this man. Ask him what he wants you to do about this matter. Ask for a message to make it clear, maybe a dream. This isn't a decision that can be made with reason and logic, because the message of your memoir obviously goes beyond the bounds of the physical and logic. Use the resources you have learned to make it.
Ritergal, please see below for answer

Penny Graham
05-13-2007, 02:31 AM
We are all following that case, I am sure. Yours sounds like a great book I would be very interested to read. Keep us all posted.
Ritergal,
I love your take on it...your call. That is about all I can do at this point. And it is what I've been trying to do, but maybe I should be focusing all my energy on doing just that. Loved your example...MOM...sounds like the militia of Montana, one of my favorite groups. I wish I could tell you all the details so you would know why the living breathing person I am afraid of hurting is no longer connected to the one who helped me, even though they were both the same flesh and blood body. So your advice makes complete sense to me.

Penny Graham
05-13-2007, 02:37 AM
Polly & Sak, you're clearly lovely people, & your posts are far more literate than most of the queries I review.

You're merely, in my experience, incorrect.

I often hear/read, "Oh, but I'm just telling what really happened!" I call this the conduit theory of writing, & it infects errant journalists & more than a few memoirists.

It's nonsense, you see. The whole point of having a scrivener is to choose what is told, how it is told, in what order it is told. For instance, two facts widely separated are drastically different from the same two facts back-to-back, & denying it "because that's how I believe" is silly at worst, unfounded opinion at best. Writing is a one-dimensional form -- sure, it "unpacks" in the reader's head, but it's still got to be packed in the first place, & the order is vital as to the impressions left when it unpacks. A writer who denies creating those impressions is either a poor liar or a fool.

It's also my prejudice that most errant memoirists don't have a story worth telling. That's why they prefer to trot out childhood grievances as though this is a substitute for storytelling, for actually having an interesting plot -- & since even "how to" books can be said to have a plot, I see no good reason to except memoir. "Before you write your life story, you ought to have a life." And if the bulk of the nonplot is grievances, then these clearly must be exaggerated to historical levels of Significance, or there's nothing to propel the reader forward except (a) voyeuristic interest in witnessing scenes of abuse, &/or (b) shared misery.

Finally, look at how you're writing on this thread. So much has been statements of unfounded opinion as though it's obvious, it's carved in stone, & everyone agrees with you. If that were true, your words would have little value -- which, if thus true, suggests you've got nothing to say worth publishing. Don't fear making clear that it's your opinion, experience, observation, or whatever, & maybe then offering some sort of bolstering; it strengthens the prejudices, & there's nothing wrong with well-stated prejudice because it brings the reader into the recounting.
Anthony,
Are you a publisher? You seem like you are right in the thick of it and know what you are talking about. If so, maybe you got some bad ones to give you that opinion of memoirs.

Penny Graham
05-13-2007, 02:56 AM
Hello Blair, and welcome.

Have to admit I got a little jolt reading your name in these posts, because that's also my first name. (Susan, the name I've been using here, is my middle name.)

Another coincidence, I've also written a music memoir (pretty far from the classical world, though!) It's currently being shopped around by my agent. I'd read the reviews of your book, meant to read it, and now I will. Also liked your website and some of your articles (read the one on beta-blockers with interest.)

I agree with the points you make; I may have been one of the people who argued for using real names, at least real first names. But I've been pretty careful not to say anything critical, either of personal friends or the handful of people appearing in my book who are fairly well known in my little corner of the folk/ethnic music world.

Sometimes I worry that I may have sidestepped some issues. But unlike your book (which I gather combines investigative journalism with memoir) mine really is much more about a personal journey--opening up to music in midlife, discovering another culture, working closely with a mentor.

Again, welcome to AW!

Susan B.
Susan B,
Are you using lyrics in your book, and did you have to go through hades to get permissions? Thanks

Penny Graham
05-13-2007, 03:05 AM
Greetings, I'm a friend of John Robison's and new to the board. This is my first post, but on a subject of great interest. My first book, "Mozart in the Jungle" was a memoir peppered with many of the issues discussed here -- and I have insight not only from that, but also from the media law course I took as part of my journalism degree at Stanford in 2000. In addition, writing for the NY Times and other pubs has made me even more vigilant.

I think it's important to realize that lawsuits can be quite expensive for both sides. Someone instigating one must really have a bone to pick -- because many books are covered by their publisher's libel insurance (which often does have a deductible which may be split by the author and publisher, by the way.) Some publishers have the manuscripts vetted by an attorney, who makes recommendations of changes and omissions.

An editor once made a good point to me about writing angrily in a memoir. If a personal scene exists as a vendetta without advancing the real point of the story, it's not compelling reading, and you're going to lose your audience. However, if the author can expose his/her own foibles and weaknesses in the course of simply telling what happened, the results can be poignant and empathetic.

Someone on this thread remarked that using real names makes for a real story. It is, after all, your experience. Going too far afield can get Oprah very, very mad, as we know. One alternative is publishing the pseudonyms (not the real names) on the copyright page, and also keeping their use to a minimum.

One interesting case is Nora Ephron's "Heartburn," which is officially fiction. It's worth googling what happened between her and her ex-husband, Carl Bernstein, in the aftermath of book and film.
Welcome Blair,
Glad you joined us! What a subject, huh? Everyone has been so helpful here and I wish I could go into detail about why I am so worried, but it seems like a couple people here did pick up on it and gave me some pretty good advice. Actually just about everybody did that, so well I just put the book up for a while. Thought the thread was dead, everyone had stopped adding to it, so I got busy doing something else, then today checked and Voila...how to answer everyone. It is quite a question, and the answers are different for everyone, depending on what our books are about. Thanks for jumping in.

Susan B
05-13-2007, 03:25 AM
Hi Penny,

Well, good to have something a little easier to discuss!

I wonder if there is a thread on this elsewhere. It sort of fits here, I guess, since it is another way you could get sued.

I started out using lyrics extensively. Then I read something online (I think it was perhaps on AW) that suggested this was something to avoid if possible, because of the difficulty getting permisssions.

I found it hard to believe--what about journalists, scholars? I was sure this must be wrong. But I checked around, including with an ethnomusicologist friend. He told me a horror story about including lyrics in his doctoral dissertation (hardly a commericial venture) without getting persmission. As a result, it can't be distributed as freely as most (like to other scholars doing research.)

It is much easier to get permission to quote from a published book than to use song lyrics. Usually a book publisher will simply give persmission, as long as sources are cited. But music publishers (BMI, ASCAP) have incredibly high licensing fees--for playing recorded songs live, on the radio, making recordings--or quoting lyrics. It's all the same.

So, quoting lyrics is considered the proverbial "can of worms" especially for an unproven writer seeking representation or publication. The publisher might not want to take it on, so you'd be lefting paying yourself.

So I rewrote what I'd done, trying to conform to what is thought to be "fair use": Keeping direct quotes to 2 lines or under, then paraphrasing to capture the meaning of the song. This actually worked out for me, because the lyrics are not in English, for the style of music I play and write about.

Song titles are ok, by the way. And some music is "public domain"--but much less than you'd think. A lot of "folk music" is actually published by someone.

Hope this helps.

Susan

pollykahl
05-13-2007, 04:03 AM
"Song titles are ok, by the way. And some music is "public domain"--but much less than you'd think. A lot of "folk music" is actually published by someone."

I hope no one minds if I continue the new bent on this discussion, because it's actually quite interesting and helpful. Susan, do you know if up to a certain number of words in song lyrics are permissible? I am correlating this to music, where I think you are allowed to sample a certain number of seconds (like 6 seconds I think) before you are breaking the law. I am actually using some song titles for some of the chapters in my memoir, but in one case I would like to use two words from one of the lyrics. The song is Alice's Restaurant, the lyric is "You can get anything you want in Alice's Restaurant, excepting Alice," and I would like to name the chapter Excepting Alice. What do you think?

Susan B
05-13-2007, 05:09 AM
Polly,

Yes, I mentioned in my overly long post about this, but probably got lost!

Many people think fair use to be 2 lines or less of lyrics. You could probably google this and find a reference. But it has not been established legally, it's kind of a hunch or operational definition or something that's floating around out there.

The Arlo Guthrie song--well, that is so high profile it might be risky. Not the title, but quoting the line. I'd try to get permission, I think. And if you aren't quoting a lot of different songs, might not be that big a deal.

Good luck!

Susan

pollykahl
05-13-2007, 05:32 AM
Thanks Susan, and yes, I did miss that bit about the two lines or less. I grew up in the Massachusetts Berkshires where the song events took place, and played many times at the church Alice lived with her husband and step children, and used to eat in her restaurant. This chapter relates to some of the events that happened in my life during that specific period of time. Arlo Guthrie probably has the rights to the song and we have friends in common so I can ask him. It's the only song I want to use parts of a lyric from, and in that case it's only the two words that I would use. My other chapters that use parts of songs only use the titles. And most chapters don't even use that. Thank goodness - I can't imagine having to track down permissions for oodles of song lyrics. What a hassle.

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge here, it is appreciated. Everyone is terrif.

Susan B
05-13-2007, 07:16 PM
To go back a few posts, I'm a little troubled that we've fallen into talking about memoir as though the focus is always on "airing grievances" or (a more neutral way of putting it) exploring personal trauma.

Much memoir does concern suffering, trauma, illness, family dysfunction. And naturally there is self-focus. But to criticise it for this--well, in some ways that may mean one doesn't really like the genre. Which is fine. We are all drawn to different things. I love mysteries, but have been been unable to "get" science fiction or fantasy. (I consider this a personal failing, by the way, and would love to be enlightened:-)

There is also that whole category of memoir that has more to do with exploring a different world--travel, picking up some oddball passion at midlife, traveling across the country in a van (like one of the other posters on the boards).

Maybe it makes more sense to talk about the pitfalls of particular genres. And maintaining plot, narrative tension, etc is definitely one of our big challenges when we write memoir.

My thoughts, anyhow.

Susan

johnrobison
05-13-2007, 07:25 PM
Susan, you make a good point. In my own story, I'd guess that "personal trauma" does not comprise any more than 5% of the book.

In most of my story, I had no concern at all about being sued. My concerns were about how my friends and acquaintances would feel, reading what I'd written.

There are posters who derided this concern when I expressed it before, and all I can really say to that is, "sell your book to a major publisher, show your friends what you write, and then make your decision."

When my book was an idea in my head and in my computer, none of my friends cared. It was all good fun. As soon as they read about it in the media, though, they took it more seriously. And I made small changes in recognition of that. But it was all a matter of having my friends feel good about how they are portrayted - not avoiding lawsuits.

I am not suggesting you make things up . . . I am simply recognizing that your friends no doubt remember certain events differently than you. At a long remove, there may be no way to know whose memories are more accurate, and there's nothing wrong (indeed, I think it's correct) to recognize others at times. As I have pointed out before, WE ALL caught the biggest fish in that pond long ago, and WE ALL remember it that way today. That is, unless we(you) suffer from depression, in which case, none of us caught anything.

Penny Graham
05-13-2007, 08:24 PM
Hi Penny,

Well, good to have something a little easier to discuss!

I wonder if there is a thread on this elsewhere. It sort of fits here, I guess, since it is another way you could get sued.

I started out using lyrics extensively. Then I read something online (I think it was perhaps on AW) that suggested this was something to avoid if possible, because of the difficulty getting permisssions.

I found it hard to believe--what about journalists, scholars? I was sure this must be wrong. But I checked around, including with an ethnomusicologist friend. He told me a horror story about including lyrics in his doctoral dissertation (hardly a commericial venture) without getting persmission. As a result, it can't be distributed as freely as most (like to other scholars doing research.)

It is much easier to get permission to quote from a published book than to use song lyrics. Usually a book publisher will simply give persmission, as long as sources are cited. But music publishers (BMI, ASCAP) have incredibly high licensing fees--for playing recorded songs live, on the radio, making recordings--or quoting lyrics. It's all the same.

So, quoting lyrics is considered the proverbial "can of worms" especially for an unproven writer seeking representation or publication. The publisher might not want to take it on, so you'd be lefting paying yourself.

So I rewrote what I'd done, trying to conform to what is thought to be "fair use": Keeping direct quotes to 2 lines or under, then paraphrasing to capture the meaning of the song. This actually worked out for me, because the lyrics are not in English, for the style of music I play and write about.

Song titles are ok, by the way. And some music is "public domain"--but much less than you'd think. A lot of "folk music" is actually published by someone.

Hope this helps.

Susan
Hi Susan,
I work closely with the music industry here in the Nashville area, and know what a hassle getting the lyrics will be. And to be fair, the music industry has taken such a blow from people downloading and/or sharing music that many artists and songwriters have taken serious losses on sales because of it. I think now more than ever they have become rabid about anyone using their material without paying. I spent a lot of time researching the use of lyrics, and the fair use laws, and sadly fair use mostly falls into certain non profit catagories, not books sold commercially. There also is no real rule of thumb for it. Each case is tried individually, so because music and lyrics were such an important part of the story I can't eliminate that the music was there and part of it. I will just have to interweave mentions of the songs into the story. Ugh, even more editing. Now for some of us new guys here on the site, there is our esteemed "JAWS" who is the expert on this subject, and if we all just look at all threads by Jaws we will find all he has to say on the subject. He insists that we can use some lyrics. I won't try to paraphrase, just look up his posts. He has stopped jumping in, I guess he is sick of answering that same question and even implied the moderator should put a sticky up on it. In spite of his assurances that we can do it I still am afraid to take that chance. I don't need to be worrying about two lawsuits.
Does anyone know if it came to a lawsuit if we can have a jury rather than one judge for this type of suit?

Susan B
05-13-2007, 08:30 PM
Well said, John.

Seemingly innocuous things can still feel like a violation of privacy. This hit home for me in the last year when my brother wrote a little piece about a touching childhood encounter with our late father. This was just for family consumption, in an e-mail sent to my mother, my sister, and me.

On the face of it, the "exposure" was about my brother himself, since it involved one of those dumb minor transgressions even good kids sometimes indulge in, on the edge of adolescence.

My father, a wise and gentle man, with a wry sense of humor, did not mete out any kind of severe sanction when he got home. Managed to communicate he was sure it would never happen again, he was sure my brother knew how much he'd hurt my mother, he was sure he'd been punishing himself all afternoon, far beyond anything my father might do.

My father to a T.

Then, the punchline. In the essay, he has my father making a little crack that made light of the whole thing. Amusing, but it didn't ring true at all--to me, or my mother. Creative nonfiction, or a side of my father we didn't often see? My brother is the only witness to this, so who can say?

But I was surprised at how much the whole thing felt like a violation of family privacy, even before I got to the end. I felt a pang of jealousy at the reminder that my brother, the youngest and only boy, had enjoyed a special relationship with my father. It bothered me that he was mining our family experiences to sound clever. And if he'd taken liberties with the truth? (He admitted to changing a few details.)

My reaction, I knew, was irrational--especially as someone who actually has written a memoir :-) And I'd never tell my brother not to publish this. (My mother, on the other hand, told me she'd insist he not use my father's real name. So maybe she'd want my brother to use a pseudonym?)

So this was a real learning experience for me.

Susan

pollykahl
05-14-2007, 12:15 AM
"There is also that whole category of memoir that has more to do with exploring a different world"

Great point Susan. When I "defended" (for lack of a better word. and I call myself a writer?) the genre of memoir above I was defending the kind of memoir I felt was being attacked or misunderstood. But if we looked at the total number of memoirs that have been published, the percentage that would go into the Self-Help/Recovery category would probably only comprise a small number of the total published.

But I still maintain that it would only be a teeny tiny number of that small percentage of recovery memoirs that would go into the "venting grievances/only bitchin' and moanin'" category. Even if they weren't weeded out by editors, agents or publishers, the public would probably not buy them.

johnrobison
05-14-2007, 04:31 AM
If you want to see an example of the acceptable use of lyrics in a modern memoir, read Rob Sheffield's book:

http://www.amazon.com/Love-Mix-Tape-Life-Loss/dp/1400083028

That particular book was edited by the same crew at Crown that did my book. The significance of that is simply that I know them to be a very thorough, careful, and professional group. And the uses of lyrics were vetted by Random House's legal team - one of the best in the business.

And to answer an earlier post, the chapter title "Excepting Alice" would be perfectly fine. But in general, you have to be careful with lyrics, limiting yourself to a few words, or else license them. And that gets expensive.

Here are some sample uses of lyrics in writing that my own experience with legal review suggests are OK:

Peter stepped up to the mike as the band started playing. "This is rock'n'roll, people! Nineteen seventy six!"

- or -

Michael sang that song over and over, until I was so sick of it I could not speak. "You can get anything you want . . ."

I'm not a lawyer, so I may not say this exactly right. But my understanding is that you can use a few words to render your phrase recognizable as part of a particulr song, and no more. Once you start to use whole lines and more, you have to license them. The number of words you can use depends upon their "recognition factor," if you will. You may also use disparate passages together to achieve this with fewer words. For example:

When I heard, "It's just a kiss away," I was instantly transported back thirty five years, to that day I watched the Stones hammer the opening chords of Gimme Shelter on the stage at Altamont.


Now, in that example, "it's just a kiss away" appears in several songs and that alone does not identify one single song, but the subsequent use of Gimme Shelter identifies it positively. And that's an acceptable use, too. Using ten more words before or after "it's just a kiss away" would have identified the song as Gimme Shelter, but such a large number of words would not be acceptable without licensing the lyrics.

southernwriter
05-14-2007, 06:16 AM
Y'all forgive me for not using the quote feature here, but there was so much to quote, I found it much quicker to simply copy and paste to Notepad.

Anthony said:

And it's not unusual that memoir serves dubious purposes: self-aggrandisement with minimal creative effort; inflating the author's sense of self worth (which too often turns into a "pig/lipstick" situation); highly personalised therapy; lashing out & venting.

************************************************** *******

To which Sakamonda seems to take offense. Sakamonda, it may be true that your memoir is innocent of all these things. I haven't read a single word of it, so I am unqualified to judge. You may have the very best of intentions, but I urge you to take a look at some of the phrases you've used in your reply:

I will likely lose friends and alienate family / that is something I'm willing to live with

frankly not worried about these threats

None of my family members have the gumption, stamina, or financial ability to follow through on those threats

As far as some of the more tangential people in the book, I am frankly not worried about them, either.

I've decided that losing a few friends and alienating a few family members a worthy price to pay

it's not even that much of a loss.

I will not allow them to dictate to me

I won't change

That would go against my journalistic integrity.

I don't personally care much

I really have no motivation whatsoever to consider their feelings

the actions I describe show that they never, ever considered my feelings

I will have to expose some very ugly things.

I am not afraid to anger people or alienate loved ones to tell the truth.

************************************************** ***

It may be true that you're not lashing out, but examine the words you've used in your reply. That's the way it sounds. (I can't help but wonder if you're Sagittarius. They have a thing about "the truth.") I understand where you're coming from because I come from an abusive, dysfunctional, mentally ill family, too. I know it hurts, and I know it leaves scars that nothing will ever erase. The unique situation these days is to come from a family that isn't one of those things. If you read Miss Snark's and / or Agent X's blogs, you will find that agents see a million queries for these kinds of memoirs. I urge you to go and find those posts.

You also said this:

the publishers who are looking at my memoir is the fact that despite the fact they find the story compelling and my writing of high quality, they reject the book because I am not already a celebrity with a large built-in media platform.

How fortunate you are to get that kind of feedback from publishers! It's quite a lot compared to the rejections most of us get. Did the publishers actually say they were rejecting the manuscript because you're not a celebrity or have a platform? Or are you assuming it?

************************************************** ****

Susan B said:

My reaction, I knew, was irrational--especially as someone who actually has written a memoir :-) And I'd never tell my brother not to publish this. (My mother, on the other hand, told me she'd insist he not use my father's real name. So maybe she'd want my brother to use a pseudonym?)

************************************************** ****

Hi, Susan.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if your father is deceased, your brother may write anything he wants about him. When a person is deceased, their right to privacy goes with them.

You also mentioned the difficulty in getting permission to use song lyrics in your manuscript. I think you and I had this conversation via private e-mail at one time. I have used them extensively in my ms, although in editing, many have been cut. You can use one or two lines. Audrey Niffenegger used them in The Time Traveler's Wife, Connie May Fowler used them in The Problem with Murmur Lee, and Lee Smith used them in The Last Girls. Many authors use a couple lines with no acknowledgement to the authors / composers. It's called "fair use." However, if you want to use more than a couple lines, this info should be helpful to you:

It’s not that difficult to get permission to use lyrics in your novel, and it’s not that expensive, either. I spent more than nine months getting permission before I needed to, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I learned from it. You can save yourself nine months and learn from me.

Unless you’re trying to quote lyrics from the Beatles, Eagles, or Fleetwood Mac, don’t bother trying to get permission first, just go ahead and write.

Then do this:

Go to the ascap website at http://www.ascap.com/index.html


Click on the Ace Title Search button, and when the page changes, click on Click Here to Search the Database >>>

It will take you to the search page, where you can search by title, writer, performer, publisher / administrator, or T-Code. When you find the song you’re looking for, keep a record of the information for future reference. Be sure to write down the T-Code. It will save everyone tons of work later on. You’re going to find that songs are often written by more than one person, and you have to get permission from ALL of them. On top of that, you’ll often find that each of them used a different publisher, so you could be writing four or five separate letters for each song you want to use. Don’t panic. Read this entire bit of information and you’ll learn the shortcut.

What I did was write to the publishers or administrators and ask for permission to use the lyrics. When you do this, they want to see the page preceding the lyrics, the page where the lyrics appear, and the page after that. It’s just like querying a lit publisher. Don’t send more than they ask for! They’re just as busy as lit publishers and won’t appreciate having to wade through an entire chapter to find the lyrics. Some won’t even bother. Most are very nice, very helpful, and I even made a few rock star friends along the way.

HOWEVER, although you can usually get them to say, “go ahead and write it, come back with the necessary information when you have it,” you will not get official permission until you have a publisher, run date, number of copies to be printed, page number where the lyrics will appear, etc. This information obviously needs to come from your publisher or agent.

The cost is actually minimal in most cases. Depending on how much of the lyrics you want to quote, it’s generally between two and five cents per book printed, although some are a little higher. I found a couple places that charge a thousand dollars flat fee and you may print as many copies of the book as you want. Some have even given me permission at no cost. There is a contract.

If you don’t find the lyrics you are looking for at ascap, try BMI at http://www.bmi.com/

You might find them there.

After I did all this, and waited months and months, and sometimes did not hear back from some of these places, I found out that permission for the majority of the lyrics I am using could be obtained much faster and easier from Universal Music Publishing. http://www.umusicpub.com/ (http://www.umusicpub.com/)My go-to person there was Melinda Mondrala. Being as ignorant as I was at the time about how all this is done, I must have sorely tested her patience, but patient she was, and soooo helpful.

She’s able to grant permission from all the places who had dicked me around and not replied in all those months – just as soon as the publisher can give her the information about the print run, etc. You’ll make her job easier if you supply the T-Code with your request.

I would start with her! Write and give her the name of the songs and the T-Codes, and ask her which ones she handles. If she doesn't handle them, then go back to ascap or bmi, and write to the publishers yourself.


MELINDA MONDRALA
UNIVERSAL MUSIC PUBLISHING GROUP
2440 SEPULVEDA BLVD.
SUITE 100
LOS ANGELES , CA, 90064
Tel. (310) 235-4700

************************************************** *****

And finally, Penny said:

Southernwriter,
You are the closest to getting the drift of what this is about.

I believe I do know, although I'm sometimes still surprised. My heart goes out to you. Yours is a difficult position to be in, and I can understand why you want so much to tell the story.


You said Paranormal romance, and you do have my attention. I may need to PM you so I can keep legal issue details out of the public here, but in a nutshell, I am sorry about your friend, reallly, and that goes to show what having someone's husband or wife find out something they never knew.


Thank you. Please, do pm me.


As far as mine goes, of course he knows the whole story in living color detail. He too has a great respect for this guy, knows how I came out of it, knows how what I learned changed his own life for the better, and gave him a better understanding of this world as a result of realizing there are other worlds and dimensions than this one. So, yeah, he does know and has been the one insisting it should be published, not to get melodramatic, but for "the betterment of mankind".


That's great. It must be a big relief not to have that hanging over your head.



I know, talk about egocentric about your own book, huh, but really this isn't about a book, it is about an event which I fear I can never share. Trying to do the right thing vs....?


I don't see why you can't share it, if you go about it the right way. I'm thinking, though, that you're adamant about using those real names. Is it really necessary? Truth is truth. If the story is true, changing the names won't make it less true, and won't hurt your chances of publishing.




And no this was no Mary Sue, at all, in fact, completely the opposite. Could I call it fiction? Sure, but if I did, there are better, scarier, more elaborate fictions...sometimes if it really happened, it is profound, scary and people would say "God, I hope I never go through that." But if you say it didn't happen, they will say, " I could have made up something better than that." And it would be true.


I see what you're saying. It's important for people to know it's true. You believe it will open their eyes to the fact that there are more things out there than we could ever dream of. I understand. But changing the names won't alter that, and you can still publish it as memoir. And I'm sure you know, some people refuse to believe something is true, even when it's staring them in the face. It's like those emotional memories memoirs are made of - the truth becomes subjective. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Those who need to know it's true will see it as such, and those who don't, won't.



As for editing, I am at least going to start doing that and disguising descriptions as I go, also not mentioning any city or state.

I guess the question here is what kind of description you've given your setting. If I had read your ms, I might feel differently, but in most cases, I think we have to clarify for the reader where something takes place.



Trying to cut, yes, because it is 1500 pages double spaced, if you figure 250 words a page, so what is that...without a calculator about 375,000 words.

Yikes. And I thought mine was long. You poor thing. You've got a lot to cut. When is the last time you sat and read the whole thing? Are you seeing it with fresh eyes? When I shared the word count of mine with other writers, I was constantly asked if I could make it two books. In my case, it wasn't possible. How about yours? Also, don't count your words that way. No one does, any more. Use the word count your software provides. Are you using MS Word? You'll find it under "tools." I can't recall where it is in WordPerfect; I haven't used it in so long, and suggest you switch to Word, if that's what you're using, because it's difficult to share those files.


Yes, must be whittled down and maybe I will be a better writer in the end as well. Thanks for jumping in here, and I may be pming you soon, if that is okay with you.

I hope you do. I'm curious to know if your experience was anything like mine. I don't login here often, though. You might reach me faster through e-mail. The addy is in plain site on my blog and my website.

Sakamonda
05-14-2007, 05:02 PM
Dear Southernwriter:

"You also said this:

the publishers who are looking at my memoir is the fact that despite the fact they find the story compelling and my writing of high quality, they reject the book because I am not already a celebrity with a large built-in media platform.

How fortunate you are to get that kind of feedback from publishers! It's quite a lot compared to the rejections most of us get. Did the publishers actually say they were rejecting the manuscript because you're not a celebrity or have a platform? Or are you assuming it?"

The publishers stated this explicitly. I have been rejected for no other reason than not being a celebrity. In these cases, my writing was praised directly by editors. In these cases, the rejection decision is being made by sales-and-marketing departments, not editors.

As to your other accusations, I choose not to respond. You have not read my memoir, and therefore cannot pass judgement on it, or me. The publishers who are seriously considering it (all top NYC houses) do not agree with your or Anthony's assessments, either. For what it's worth, I am proud of my book, and I am proud of what it reveals, and I am confident that I will have a publishing contract from a major NYC house before the month is out. Indeed, I already have one offer from a smaller house on the table, but I am hoping for a better deal from a major house. I'll deal with the legal issues once I have a publishing contract signed.

And indeed, ALL memoir writers, regardless of topic, generally have some legal ramifications to consider.

Susan B
05-14-2007, 08:33 PM
Thanks, John and southernwriter, for weighing in about the lyrics issue. (And yes, southernwriter, after looking at your very interesting website I realized we had corresponded about this before--thanks again!)

And yes, I do realize that someone who's no longer living does not have a legal right to privacy--whether it's my father or (more relevant to my book) my late musical mentor. His brother has known about my book from the beginning, has read parts of it, so I feel pretty comfortable with that.

I'm not really concerned with legal issues, with respect to the privacy issue. Mostly, I am concerned about how people feel, how I'd be perceived, maintaining good relationships in my music community.

As for my family, they aren't too dysfunctional and would never even threaten to sue. (We operate mostly with subtle diapproval, guilt induction, the typical family stuff :-)

The tough thing with memoir really is "platform"--and I know that's been a barrier for me too. Yes, it's harder if you aren't famous; don't have famous friends or associates who people your book; don't have a unique window on some event that's of interest to a large segment of the public; don't have a personal story that's sensational.

It's harder: but not impossible.

So let's all wish the best for all of us! This "life story" forum has become pretty lively of late. I hope we can respectfully disagree without losing what seems like a nice mini-community here.

Susan

Sakamonda
05-14-2007, 08:54 PM
"And yes, I do realize that someone who's no longer living does not have a legal right to privacy--whether it's my father or (more relevant to my book) my late musical mentor. His brother has known about my book from the beginning, has read parts of it, so I feel pretty comfortable with that."

----Not necessarily! Augusten Burroughs' right-to-privacy case (in which Burroughs is being sued by the heirs of the now-deceased psychiatrist who is featured---under a pseudonym---in RUNNING WITH SCISSORS) hinges upon whether or not a deceased person has a right to privacy. (I say they don't, but apparently that's not clear or this case wouldn't have been brought).

Indeed, there is also some question in that case whether all memoirs are protected from right-to-privacy claims by the First Amendment. (I say they are; we'll see what the court says.

southernwriter
05-15-2007, 01:53 AM
Dear Southernwriter:

The publishers stated this explicitly. I have been rejected for no other reason than not being a celebrity. In these cases, my writing was praised directly by editors. In these cases, the rejection decision is being made by sales-and-marketing departments, not editors.

I was serious. I think it's great. Not that it's been rejected, but that you're getting that kind of feedback. They say when you start getting feedback like that, you're well on your way to publication. I wondered how they put it ... "Sorry, Sakamonda, but you're just not famous enough?"



As to your other accusations, I choose not to respond. You have not read my memoir, and therefore cannot pass judgement on it, or me.

I believe I said that. Yes, I did. -----> See? "I haven't read a single word of it, so I am unqualified to judge." I'm not accusing you of anything, really. Let me tell you this: I remember when "Maggie" told me she wanted me to burn my ms. I was mad as hell. She wanted me to throw away eighteen months of my life, my blood, sweat, and tears. She didn't care what it meant to me, but I was supposed to care what it meant to her, and after she'd given me so much history to add to it, I felt duped. She wasn't willing to compromise at all. I talked to one of the other characters about going forward with it anyway, and I still hear myself saying, "I can, and I will!" I was so mad at the time, I couldn't see straight. And in hindsight, of course, I know my voice reached a certain pitch, and my tone was not sympathetic, to say the least. I was lashing out.

I'm not saying your story isn't great, or well written, or undeserving of publication. I'm just saying be aware of how you're projecting your thoughts, because it sounds like you're doing the same thing, even if you aren't. When agents are so quick to reject ms's, particularly if they feel it's anything like what Anthony described, *I* wouldn't want to give them any more incentive to wonder if my novel was a tirade against the people who have hurt me. I want to sound as subjective about it as possible. You know what I mean? It's behind me. I'm over it. The rain is gone, and I can see clearly now. I can detach from it, and tell the story from the POV of a fly on the wall. Many professionals in the business do read here, and we can say our memoirs are subjective good reads, but if they see us using words like "I'm likely to lose friends and alienate family," and "I won't let them dictate to me," what impression does that give? It's none of my business, really, and I wish I hadn't said anything. I'm sorry.



The publishers who are seriously considering it (all top NYC houses) do not agree with your or Anthony's assessments, either. For what it's worth, I am proud of my book, and I am proud of what it reveals, and I am confident that I will have a publishing contract from a major NYC house before the month is out. Indeed, I already have one offer from a smaller house on the table, but I am hoping for a better deal from a major house. I'll deal with the legal issues once I have a publishing contract signed.


Good luck with it. I hope it all works out for you, and becomes a best seller.



And indeed, ALL memoir writers, regardless of topic, generally have some legal ramifications to consider.

I'm sure they do, which is why I decided to go the fiction route.

johnrobison
05-15-2007, 02:06 AM
"And yes, I do realize that someone who's no longer living does not have a legal right to privacy--whether it's my father or (more relevant to my book) my late musical mentor. His brother has known about my book from the beginning, has read parts of it, so I feel pretty comfortable with that."

----Not necessarily! Augusten Burroughs' right-to-privacy case (in which Burroughs is being sued by the heirs of the now-deceased psychiatrist who is featured---under a pseudonym---in RUNNING WITH SCISSORS) hinges upon whether or not a deceased person has a right to privacy. (I say they don't, but apparently that's not clear or this case wouldn't have been brought).

Indeed, there is also some question in that case whether all memoirs are protected from right-to-privacy claims by the First Amendment. (I say they are; we'll see what the court says.


That's not entirely correct. The privacy issue is with respect to the doctor's family, many of whom were children at the time of the events in RWS. All of them are alive now. There is no claim before the courts with respect to the deceased doctor's privacy.

The privacy claims are really quite complex. There's no clear answer.

southernwriter
05-15-2007, 02:07 AM
Thanks, John and southernwriter, for weighing in about the lyrics issue. (And yes, southernwriter, after looking at your very interesting website I realized we had corresponded about this before--thanks again!)

:hi: I thought it was you. Hi. Did you not take my advice? Well, you're hardly the first. I'm just full of advice, as you can tell.




And yes, I do realize that someone who's no longer living does not have a legal right to privacy--whether it's my father or (more relevant to my book) my late musical mentor. His brother has known about my book from the beginning, has read parts of it, so I feel pretty comfortable with that.

I'm not really concerned with legal issues, with respect to the privacy issue. Mostly, I am concerned about how people feel, how I'd be perceived, maintaining good relationships in my music community.

As for my family, they aren't too dysfunctional and would never even threaten to sue. (We operate mostly with subtle diapproval, guilt induction, the typical family stuff :-)


That's great. I'm glad it's less stressful for you. Sounds like you have a decent family.




The tough thing with memoir really is "platform"--and I know that's been a barrier for me too. Yes, it's harder if you aren't famous; don't have famous friends or associates who people your book; don't have a unique window on some event that's of interest to a large segment of the public; don't have a personal story that's sensational.

I'm going to leave this one alone, okay? I know it's hard for any new, unpublished writer to be accepted (and even harder to sell books, if they are), and I'm glad I don't have that extra obstacle to get through.




It's harder: but not impossible.

So let's all wish the best for all of us! This "life story" forum has become pretty lively of late. I hope we can respectfully disagree without losing what seems like a nice mini-community here.

Susan


Absolutely. Here's to all of us. May we all succeed, and may all our dreams of publication come true.

johnrobison
05-15-2007, 02:13 AM
You know, what you call platform may get you in the door, but it's the writing they are going to buy.

The fact that my brother is a famous author was certainly enough to get editors to read my book in a timely fashion, but the bidding frenzy that followed was 100% based upon what they read.

And in that, I am not famous, just reasonably successful. The writing sold itself. I'd hope others could find inspiration in that.

My next books will delve more into the creative process, Aspergian behaviour, and some of the things I learned on the way to becoming successful. So those will be non-fiction, but not really memoir.

In all of them, however, I will continue to be sensitive to the feelings of those portrayed in my work, just as I have advocated here. I think that's a good thing, whatever you write.

Susan B
05-15-2007, 03:29 AM
You know, what you call platform may get you in the door, but it's the writing they are going to buy.

The fact that my brother is a famous author was certainly enough to get editors to read my book in a timely fashion, but the bidding frenzy that followed was 100% based upon what they read.

And in that, I am not famous, just reasonably successful. The writing sold itself. I'd hope others could find inspiration in that.

My next books will delve more into the creative process, Aspergian behaviour, and some of the things I learned on the way to becoming successful. So those will be non-fiction, but not really memoir.

In all of them, however, I will continue to be sensitive to the feelings of those portrayed in my work, just as I have advocated here. I think that's a good thing, whatever you write.

John,

I completely agree--with everything you say. If something isn't well written, it won't get published. And your success is truly inspiring to all of us. I also appreciate your advocating for being sensitive to those who appear in our books. (I'm also very much in that camp.)

About "platform"--I use it in a broad way. Does the writer have potential access to a lot of readers who will be interested in his/her personal story--perhaps because of the subject matter itself, perhaps because of who the writer is (an expert in the field, a well known person, etc.) Any combination of the above can help.

Just a simple outline of your story, for instance, is fascinating and unique in so many ways. Other stories are less so, no matter how personally meaningful to the writer himself. That's all I was trying to say.

Susan

Sakamonda
05-15-2007, 03:29 AM
John, I stand corrected re: the deceased psychiatrist issues. I am basing that on media reports/analysis I have read about the case, which may or may not have been accurate.

Re: the platform issue, I've been rejected on that issue and that issue alone; indeed, when that's happened, the editors praised my writing, but explicitly stated they could not get buy-in from the sales/marketing department (the ultimate decisionmaker at many houses these days) because I lacked platform.

Still, at an equal number of houses as those that rejected me for not being famous already, I am being seriously considered based on my writing alone. So there is hope. But it is a lot harder (and my agent has been very frank about this with me) to sell a book in NYC these days if you are not already famous in some way.

Penny Graham
06-30-2007, 08:41 AM
Congratulations Sakamonda, it looks like you had a hell of a book as you said. Let us know how it all goes and the details of publication and such. Hey, I had a famous author on my thread!

Penny Graham
04-15-2009, 03:59 PM
I haven't heard what ever happened to your book and if it got published. Was it a go?

sommemi
08-25-2009, 06:36 PM
Penny, I just wanted to thank you for bumping this... and how is YOUR book doing?

I have a memoir-type book that I am working on with my father (HIS memoirs, but also... well, another post). It wasn't until reading your post that I realized there might be many many implications of including all the people in his stories in there by their real names. There are some great stories that are really complimentary about people, and then other stories that are quite... unique... unique enought that they might not want them out in 'public'. But since I wasn't considering publishing this until the last year or two, I didn't realize it would be an issue until now. I'm so glad you bumped this! Unfortunately, I have other questions that aren't answered here that might warrant a new post so that the topic can take it's own 'path' so to speak. But I just wanted to thank you for the bump...

I hope all in this post have had great success with their own stories! Please update and let us all know! I'm a newbie so have very little familiarity with the personalities out here and would love to get to know you all better!

Penny Graham
08-25-2009, 07:52 PM
Hi Sommemi,
Thanks for your post! Welcome to the cooler.I'm still trying to cut down the size of the book so I figure everyone will have died of old age by the time I get that finished. However, the privacy issue is something I will have to contend with eventually. I didn't realize I bumped this back to the front...I had been wondering how Sakamonda's book publishing went. I'll check out your new thread soon as I finish this post. I've gone so far as to change names and descriptions of the people and eliminated completely the city and state when it all happened. I'm sure, if a publisher ever was interested, he'd want to know why so I'm just forging ahead changing as much as I can to disguise everyone. Like your book, there things that happened in the seventies and things people did all the time that was "normal" then but frowned upon now, so yeah, there are some issues I'd worry about. I guess I'll burn that bridge when I get there. I'm going to check out your new thread. Thanks for the message.

WordLover
09-17-2009, 08:12 PM
As a general rule, libel consists of writing something false and damaging to another person. Truth is a defense, but there's a cost to proving that defense (i.e., hiring a lawyer), so you need to discuss the risks and the benefits with someone who knows the law in your jurisdiction.

I have been wondering about this as well.
My story includes real first names but some have been changed, along with including events which did not happen. So, I wonder if I could be in trouble if people recognize themselves in the characters.

Bufty
09-17-2009, 09:59 PM
Events that did not happen? How can someone recognise themselves there?

How can that cause offence or be libellous to anyone?

And millions of people have the same first name. If there's any doubt in your mind on that score - change the first names.

If the real life character is Joe Smith, who stammers, works in the china department of the local store, has one leg, blue hair and one green eye and the other glass, and your fictitious character is called Joe Henderson stammers, works in the local store, has one leg, blue hair and eyes of different colours you are probably asking for trouble depending upon how Joe is portrayed.

Is it worth the risk? Does it matter to 99.99% of your readers whether the characters are real or not. Are you a celebrity -are any of them celebrities?


I have been wondering about this as well.
My story includes real first names but some have been changed, along with including events which did not happen. So, I wonder if I could be in trouble if people recognize themselves in the characters.

Penny Graham
09-18-2009, 10:09 PM
It's not about libel or slander...it's about Invasion of Privacy which is a new thing these last few years...If I'd have published 35 years ago I could have been okay, now if I mention a newstand owner who sold me a paper without his permission....unfortunately that's how it is nowadays. You can change names, locations etc, even add things that didn't happen, but if someone recognizes themselves in events that DID happen, it doesn't matter if you changed hair color, eyes, size, or anything else, they can come after you.

ideagirl
10-04-2009, 10:20 PM
If you want to see an example of the acceptable use of lyrics in a modern memoir, read Rob Sheffield's book:

http://www.amazon.com/Love-Mix-Tape-Life-Loss/dp/1400083028

That particular book was edited by the same crew at Crown that did my book. The significance of that is simply that I know them to be a very thorough, careful, and professional group. And the uses of lyrics were vetted by Random House's legal team - one of the best in the business.

And to answer an earlier post, the chapter title "Excepting Alice" would be perfectly fine. But in general, you have to be careful with lyrics, limiting yourself to a few words, or else license them. And that gets expensive.


Unless you have inside knowledge that those songs weren't licensed, I would bet that Rob Sheffield's publisher's legal team simply paid for those songs--i.e., that his book is not an example of how much you can use without paying. The simplest thing to do, if you want to use song lyrics, is just go ahead and pay for them. A well-known writer I know who used about 5 lines of a song in one of his novels told me it cost $500. If you use song lyrics sparingly, the licensing cost would just be a blip on the publisher's computer screen, nothing to be concerned about.

metamemoir
05-02-2011, 11:52 AM
This is an old thread, but does anybody have an informed guesstimate on how much the settlement for this case was?

I know the original lawsuit was for $2 million in damages...

Penny Graham
05-02-2011, 12:27 PM
Phillipmichael...Which case are you referring to? Was someone actually sued??

metamemoir
05-02-2011, 02:22 PM
Phillipmichael...Which case are you referring to? Was someone actually sued??

Oops, sorry I should have been more clear.

I am referring to Running with Scissors author Augusten Burroughs, who was sued for damages of $2 million by the "Finch" family that his book largely focuses on. His brother "johnrobison" made a few posts within this thread about the case as it was playing out.

The media reported that there was a settlement, but it does not disclose how much money (if any?) was agreed upon.

PinkAmy
05-02-2011, 06:47 PM
The media reported that there was a settlement, but it does not disclose how much money (if any?) was agreed upon.

There are often confidentiality clauses in settlements.

M. Scott
05-03-2011, 07:34 PM
Not to be too much of a smartass, but you can be sued for writing anything. The question is whether or not you would be found guilty, etc. In these days, many are sue happy ;) Even if you are legally within your rights, I'd try to abstain from writing anything that would make a person/organization want to sue you, just to save the hassle. Of course, it depends on the level of risk you are willing to accept.

PinkAmy
05-03-2011, 09:44 PM
Not to be too much of a smartass, but you can be sued for writing anything. The question is whether or not you would be found guilty, etc. In these days, many are sue happy ;) Even if you are legally within your rights, I'd try to abstain from writing anything that would make a person/organization want to sue you, just to save the hassle. Of course, it depends on the level of risk you are willing to accept.

Right--and if you have the money to pay a lawyer to get it thrown out of court and who takes on the liability to pay the lawyer and if getting sued would get you black listed from future projects etc. etc. etc.

metamemoir
05-03-2011, 10:01 PM
hmm

PinkAmy
05-04-2011, 12:59 AM
Any potential plaintiff would probably get to pick where to file-- the state in question, the state the book was published in, the state the plaintiff is living in--it's all about where the damages occurred so it would depend. If there isn't much money to get, a lawyer won't take the plaintiff's case on a contingency fee (i went thought that when a doctor accidentally blinded my eye instead of fixing it during surgery. Because the damage wasn't permanent and only lasted 6 months, it wasn't worth suing, according a few lawyers). If the plaintiff is wealthy and wants to sue just to get on your nerves, well then all bets are off. Proving a case is winnable isn't that difficult with expert witnesses (a psychologist for mental duress, loss of income from needing time off a job) and getting a report from a doctor isn't that hard, I don't believe the defense gets a say in refuting any evidence. Obviously you would think the case was frivolous (and it might be), but there could be others who disagree. It's messy. Plus there are always appeals to higher courts and constitutionality etc.
You're spending a LOT of energy into this. Run the exact situation by a lawyer to see what she says.

metamemoir
05-04-2011, 08:37 AM
Any potential plaintiff would probably get to pick where to file-- the state in question, the state the book was published in, the state the plaintiff is living in--it's all about where the damages occurred so it would depend. If there isn't much money to get, a lawyer won't take the plaintiff's case on a contingency fee (i went thought that when a doctor accidentally blinded my eye instead of fixing it during surgery. Because the damage wasn't permanent and only lasted 6 months, it wasn't worth suing, according a few lawyers). If the plaintiff is wealthy and wants to sue just to get on your nerves, well then all bets are off. Proving a case is winnable isn't that difficult with expert witnesses (a psychologist for mental duress, loss of income from needing time off a job) and getting a report from a doctor isn't that hard, I don't believe the defense gets a say in refuting any evidence. Obviously you would think the case was frivolous (and it might be), but there could be others who disagree. It's messy. Plus there are always appeals to higher courts and constitutionality etc.
You're spending a LOT of energy into this. Run the exact situation by a lawyer to see what she says.

good points

PinkAmy
05-04-2011, 02:17 PM
i talked to a lawyer today and she was quite reassuring. she wasn't very "impressed" by the "controversial" elements i was worried about.

i was pleased that she pointed out a few things "in my favor" that i previous thought were irrelevant. 1) the "characters" i was concerned about have extremely minor presences in my story (unlike, say, Running with Scissors where the plaintiffs were heavily focused on). 2) it helps that I present all quotes or 2nd hand accounts AS SUCH. and it helps that I am only including conversations where I am confident in the sources.

anyway, I certainly have a lot more research to do on this issue, but I am optimistic after this conversation, and recommend others seek out the various resources available (law libraries, non-profits) to find answers.

That's great to hear! Sometimes points that we think are controversial aren't to readers but we don;t have the perspective to see it. I would bet that agents have developed the ability to know if something jumps out as "suable"in memoirs, it seems like a precaution everyone has to worry about.

metamemoir
05-04-2011, 04:33 PM
yea

PinkAmy
05-04-2011, 08:26 PM
Well, my whole memoir is pretty much about the impact of having lawsuits about me that didn't include me as a party--so I have a lot of reluctant first hand knowledge. I'm lucky in that 80% of what I'm writing about is public record and can be verified. I have all the copies of the suits sitting right by my computer. But, I change everyone's name but mine (and I might have to change mine) for the privacy and confidentiality of others and to be respectful of people who I wouldn't want to be hurt by bringing up the shit that went down 15-20 years ago. The folks I don't care about---well they are litigious so I don't want to be sued, but I could give a crap about their feelings. :D

Flexi
08-03-2011, 07:45 AM
This thread has been really interesting. Not sure if I'm any clearer. I'm confidnet my memoir is honest to the best of my memory, but every time I think of submitting it I start fretting that someone might sue.