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Pat~
10-30-2007, 07:08 PM
Just a question...if something incriminating is a matter of public record, say in divorce court papers, can a person mention it in their memoir without fear of being slanderous?

I'm writing a memoir, and am not even sure at this point if I want it published, but am curious what I'd need to cut, if I go that route.

larocca
10-30-2007, 07:11 PM
Change their names and put in one of those "I made it all up" disclaimers.

Or, if you tell the truth and someone you slander comes to your house to beat you up, that's the sequel. Heh heh heh.

Pat~
10-30-2007, 07:15 PM
The problem is, even if the name were changed, it'd be obvious who it was because of the events in the story. I wasn't thinking of writing this under a pen name, either. If it weren't important to the story, I'd just leave it out...but it is. It's just one sentence, (a statement of fact said by me to a psychotherapist), but an important one.

Shwebb
10-30-2007, 08:38 PM
Pat, lemme see if I can take this one on. My brother is an attorney, and we've talked about it, before.

You wouldn't have a problem with slander, because slander is a verbal offense. Libel is what is called when it deals with the written word.

For libel to be proven, the words stated in print have to be shown to be false, and that the person having written the words has to have known beforehand that they were a false statement.

Secondly, the people suing the author for the written word would have to prove that the statements had a malicious intent behind them--in other words, purely to discredit the person being referred to in the memoir. Of course, people can try to sue for anything. But anyone who knows you knows you don't have a malicious bone in your body. :)

Does that help?

melaniehoo
10-30-2007, 08:39 PM
I have the exact same problem and posted a similar question. The majority of the advice I received said write your story as you want it and let the publishers (!!!) tell you if details need to change.

My memoir touches briefly on my husband's ex-wife and if I write under my real name, as I plan to do, it won't take a rocket scientist to figure out who she is.

Pat~
10-30-2007, 09:08 PM
Thanks, Shwebb and Melaniehoo! (You can tell I'm green at this, confusing slander and libel. :)) For some reason I'd thought slander was 'truth' and libel was 'falsehood'. Thanks for the clarification.

Melaniehoo, I've found the old threads and am reading some of them. I think what you've said is good advice, though. I'll just leave the sentence in for now, and if it ever gets to that stage, let an editor decide if it needs editing out. The event I refer to in my sentence is verifiably true and in court documents, but I don't know right now if those documents are sealed or in public domain.

ETA: And thanks, Shwebb, for that sweet comment. No, it'd be hard to prove any malicious intent from that sentence being in there. (There is none.)

melaniehoo
10-30-2007, 09:11 PM
Yeah, it's helped me write to not worry about those things now. I need to concentrate on finishing the first draft THEN I'll go back and figure out the details. My thread was Can the Ex-Wife Sue Me?, in case you didn't see that one.

My comments about the ex are fairly tame, I even mention that I'm avoiding talking about her as much as a can, but she's so nasty I know she'll try to pull something.

oops, there I go again. :)

Ritergal
10-31-2007, 07:36 PM
Maybe it would be well to step back and ask why it's important to you to get this story published? Is it anger and revenge, or something the public needs to know and learn?

Please don't take this question as judgment. But being clear on your motives and purpose often lead to a solution. I've written some seriously scalding stuff in my time, but I wouldn't dream of showing it to more than two trusted family members and a tightly intimate writing group. It just isn't worth it. It would not reflect well on me. It would probably boomerang and cause more problems within the family than it solved, and in other eyes, I may not look so pure and innocent as I perceive myself to be.

"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me..." Writing is one tool I use to restore my own peace. The writing was helpful for getting my head and heart back in working order. Writing is good, even if it's a tree that falls in the proverbial empty forest.

melaniehoo
10-31-2007, 10:06 PM
Ritergal, you make an excellent point. I'm leaning towards your thinking, but I wouldn't be true to our story if I left the ex out. My memoir focuses on the struggles we're facing, and the difficulties at the beginning of our relationship foreshadow/mirror the issues we're having now. She's not a key factor but something would be missing without her.

That being said, I'm going to take a hard look at that section during the rewrite.

Pat~
10-31-2007, 10:57 PM
Maybe it would be well to step back and ask why it's important to you to get this story published? Is it anger and revenge, or something the public needs to know and learn?

Please don't take this question as judgment. But being clear on your motives and purpose often lead to a solution. I've written some seriously scalding stuff in my time, but I wouldn't dream of showing it to more than two trusted family members and a tightly intimate writing group. It just isn't worth it. It would not reflect well on me. It would probably boomerang and cause more problems within the family than it solved, and in other eyes, I may not look so pure and innocent as I perceive myself to be.

"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me..." Writing is one tool I use to restore my own peace. The writing was helpful for getting my head and heart back in working order. Writing is good, even if it's a tree that falls in the proverbial empty forest.

Such a good perspective, ritergal! And I totally agree...writing should be purposeful, and that purpose should be well above taking revenge.

The statement in my memoir is one made to a therapist concerning a traumatic event perpetrated on my sister. It plays a part in why I became depressed and anorexic, which is why I'm considering mentioning it in the story. The perpetrator was a family member who, believe it or not, I still care for deeply, so there is no malice intended.

I'm writing this for my children, first and foremost. I may consider publication, but would likely edit some things out if possible, first. :)

Ritergal
11-01-2007, 07:14 PM
The statement in my memoir is one made to a therapist concerning a traumatic event perpetrated on my sister. It plays a part in why I became depressed and anorexic, which is why I'm considering mentioning it in the story. The perpetrator was a family member who, believe it or not, I still care for deeply, so there is no malice intended.

I'm writing this for my children, first and foremost. I may consider publication, but would likely edit some things out if possible, first. :)

Ah, yes, writing to expose the skeletons can definitely defuse their power over you, and answer questions for those who grow up in the shadow of an unseen beast.

Three generations up my family tree looms an ancestor who is rumored to have had a fondness for young girls. It's a complicated story. Rumors abound within my bevy of cousins, along with speculation about what really happened, and whether that was what made X the way she was and contributed to Y's aberrations. In the long run, it doesn't matter. We are all where we are, for better or worse. But, in the long run, knowing for sure might awaken a bit more compassion for X, who was a wicket witch as far as many of her descendants are concerned.

I've asked the few who are left in an earlier generation with more direct knowledge. They utter platitudes like, "Well, things were different back then," that neither deny nor confirm it. I'm in the process of weaving together an inferred family history that takes this influence into account (clearly labeling the inferences).

A couple of people in a lifestory writing group I lead have had the devil of a time writing about some similar incidents in their own family backgrounds. They are simply stuck, unable to write about it, and unable to forget.

So, bravo for you, Pat, quieting these rattling bones for your children. The matter won't die. It's going to persist in whispered rumors across layers of cousins and into the future. I think they'll be glad to know, and I'll bet a dime to a dollar that the information leaks out into the larger cousinhood and family. If you haven't written to villanize, you can certainly hope for the best. Oh, for easy answers!

In my case, the people I'm writing about have been cold in the ground for anywhere from a century to a decade, so there's nobody left to directly offend.

One thought: If your only reference to the matter is the one sentence to your therapist, you may awaken more curiosity than you satisfy. You may need to flesh it out a bit, and weave it in a couple of other places to anchor it and fully put it in perspective -- especially considering that your perspective seems somehow to have enabled you to make peace with your own feelings about the perp.

Ritergal
11-01-2007, 07:26 PM
Ritergal, you make an excellent point. I'm leaning towards your thinking, but I wouldn't be true to our story if I left the ex out. My memoir focuses on the struggles we're facing, and the difficulties at the beginning of our relationship foreshadow/mirror the issues we're having now. She's not a key factor but something would be missing without her.

That being said, I'm going to take a hard look at that section during the rewrite.

Wow! Sounds like a challenge to write the fine line between stating the facts and your personal feelings (Truth?) and sounding spiteful. How sad that being true to self may sometimes involve such complicated decisions.

Just as food for thought, I have a hunch that if your ex wrote the other side of this story, you could be vilified. Things are never black and white. As I said earlier about the stuff I haven't and won't share, I would not come out sounding so pure and innocent.

If I were to share that story, I think it would be important for me to include a little of that aspect of my own persona, to keep the story ringing true. And, if I included at least a peek of that aspect of me, the account would sound less vengeful.

It takes courage to share a deeply personal memoir. In fact, it often takes courage to write about things that happen where the sun doesn't shine, even if it's never shared!

Pat~
11-01-2007, 08:19 PM
Thanks for those insights, Ritergal. You're very wise!

I think I'd not weave it anywhere else in the story, as it really was only one event in many, and I don't want to draw any more attention to it....I will definitely unearth the skeletons for my kids in about 2 years (when the youngest is at least 17). I'm just not sure if it's important enough to the overall story to have it in a published work for the rest of the world to read...I'll be doing more thinking on it.

melaniehoo
11-01-2007, 09:58 PM
Wow! Sounds like a challenge to write the fine line between stating the facts and your personal feelings (Truth?) and sounding spiteful. How sad that being true to self may sometimes involve such complicated decisions.

Just as food for thought, I have a hunch that if your ex wrote the other side of this story, you could be vilified. Things are never black and white. As I said earlier about the stuff I haven't and won't share, I would not come out sounding so pure and innocent.

If I were to share that story, I think it would be important for me to include a little of that aspect of my own persona, to keep the story ringing true. And, if I included at least a peek of that aspect of me, the account would sound less vengeful.

It takes courage to share a deeply personal memoir. In fact, it often takes courage to write about things that happen where the sun doesn't shine, even if it's never shared!

I'm being careful not to include hearsay, only things that directly involved me. I try to stay focused on my reactions and how I felt being caught in the middle of their divorce. We started dating before the divorce was finalized so there was a bit of... eh... tension those first couple months. If I didn't talk about that the whole theme of my book - we can get through this - wouldn't make sense. You know?