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jerrywaxler
01-10-2008, 04:50 PM
When I read memoirs such as Jon Robison's "Look Me in the Eye" or Tobias Wolff's "This Boy's Life" or Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes," I realize that creepy behavior in adolescence doesn't make a person look horrible. It just makes them look human, and keeps the pages turning in the process.

But when I try to write edgy stuff about myself, it's a different matter. This is me we're talking about, and I'd rather stay private. That's a hard position to take while writing a memoir. In my blog entry today, "Too Many Secrets Hide my Spark (http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/too-many-secrets-hide-my-spark/)" I write about a stupid (if not outright criminal) action I engaged in when I was a kid. Ouch, it's really hard to put it out in public. I probably won't lose my job (just kidding), but it's hard on my pride to admit I was a kid.

I'd love to know how other memoir writers and aspiring memoir writers deal with this issue. What is your favorite dilemma about what to reveal or hide?

Sincerely,
Jerry

johnrobison
01-10-2008, 05:18 PM
I do not regard my childhood pranks as creepy. Every now and then, a teacher will appear at my events and be critical of the pranks I played on my own teachers.

What would you rather have, I ask?

A kid like me playing harmless pranks or the kids of today, who come and shoot up the school?

That gives most pause for thought. The alternative to pranks like mine is letting frustration build up until something worse results.

johnrobison
01-10-2008, 10:04 PM
Let me add something else . . . .

For many years I thought my past was a shameful secret to be hidden. When my brother wrote Running With Scissors I saw an outpouring of acceptance which gave me courage to tell my own story.

I actually talk about that in an interview on Visual Thesaurus and the Backstory blog, here:
http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/backstory/1247/

paprikapink
01-10-2008, 10:11 PM
I heard an interview with an author/memoirist (don't remember who, but it he was funny) who said his editor told him to skip the victories; if it makes you cringe, it makes readers buy books.

I also read a quote from an author (I really ought to pay attention to who these people are, but again, I don't know. It was someone recently profiled on The Writer's Almanac.) who couldn't write that stuff about his past until he invented a character based on himself. Then, he said, it all flowed out.

IceCreamEmpress
01-11-2008, 04:38 AM
The alternative to pranks like mine is letting frustration build up until something worse results.


Actually, I think a better alternative is giving kids constructive ways to express themselves. Pranks are certainly better than violence, but cool projects are better than pranks.

My thought about the pranks you described in your book wasn't "Ew, how creepy" but more "I wish someone had given this kid a better outlet for his creativity."

Ritergal
01-11-2008, 06:12 PM
Jerry's use of the word "creepy" strikes me as a quickly chosen one meant to comprise anything along the order of ditziness, geekiness, bizarreness, etc. That is, anything "non-conforming" or anything that parents would not condone. Man, am I there with you Jerry. A wooden box perches on the top of a storage unit on the other side of the room I'm sitting in. Inside that box rests all the letters my then-future husband and I wrote during our year of cross-country courtship. The couple of times I've been brave enough to pull those letters out and reread them, I've determined to burn them! They won't self-destruct from the passion contained there-in (neither of us would have dreamed of writing about steamy stuff!) so I'll have to stoke the fireplace to make that happen. No, my reason for wanting them gone is that mine sound so downright giddy.

But ... as the years go by ... I'm thinking that maybe it's okay that I was a ditz during my teen years. A "square" ditz. A clueless one. In fact, there are those who may claim this has never changed!

My experience has been that leaking that silly self-centeredness out a drop here, a drop there, and has been well-accepted by others, and led me to feel more comfortable and accepting of that part of myself. It's getting easier. When I read things like JER and his brother wrote, it gets way, way easier!

I see the glimmer of possibility that I may come to treasure that part of my past, and clips from those letters are likely to end up immortalized in memoir. But not quite yet.

Ritergal
01-11-2008, 06:20 PM
Hey, Ice Cream, some of the very coolest projects I've ever heard of are the classic pranks like reassembling a teacher's Volkswagen on the roof of the school, or switching the furniture in adjoining dorm rooms (including the doors) to create mirror image accommodations during the occupants' weekend away, that sort of thing. I'm always green with envy when I read of pranks like that. Even something deviant like setting of a firecracker in the library and getting away with it, or hiding filched dynamite under the family bathtub creates envy. Why couldn't I have ever dreamed up such a colorful prank and recruited a team to pull it off?

Prank/project. The important thing is, nobody got hurt in any of these episodes.

Pranks fend off stuffiness.

pollykahl
01-14-2008, 08:09 AM
I'm keeping this issue in mind as I put finishing touches on my memoir. I consider a couple of things. The most important one is, do I want my kids to read it? This doesn't mean is it unpleasant, or even downright upsetting. It has more to do with, can I turn the experience into something redeeming and extract at least one life lesson from it? My sons have known for years that I was abused as a child, but they've known by me and my husband framing it in ways that help them understand some of my post-traumatic stress reactions (I startle easily, I am afraid to sleep alone, I am afraid when I'm alone in hotel rooms, etc.) and help them empower themselves against abuse.

Beyond that major point, if there's no good reason for telling a story, I won't tell it, no matter how delightfully intriquing it may be. In my memoir I write about the time I stole the flag from the county court house when I lived in Wisconsin during my teen years. I also write about the time I was arrested for disorderly conduct when I was drunk once at age 18. To omit those stories would deprive me of an opportunity to show what I was like during that time of my life, which is important in context of the entire memoir. Am I proud of those things? No, but they happened, and including them adds to the total picture. To me, the point is, what did I learn from them and what kind of person am I now?

On the other hand, if something would hurt someone and the memoir could be just as well written without that information, I won't include it. As it turned out, stealing the flag and my arrest for dis.conduct didn't hurt anyone but me, and they're important for character development, so I included them.

When I started writing in earnest, I made a list of everyone who might read my book, and how I would feel about that. My list includes childhood friends and their parents, teachers who helped me when I was a kid, famous people who I admire like Sidney Poitier, my relatives, my in-laws, kids my boys go to school with and their parents, professionals in my community whom I network with, etc. There's nothing in my book I wouldn't want any of them to read. That doesn't mean it's all nicey-nice. On the contrary, it's more graphic and disturbing than most memoirs. But nothing's included unless it serves a literary purpose or can be used to somehow generate a positive life lesson.

Ritergal
01-15-2008, 10:25 AM
Polly, this is the most eloquent exposition on responsible disclosure that I've ever read. Bravo!

pollykahl
01-16-2008, 12:00 AM
Thanks. I've put a lot of thought into it because the material is so sensitive. If I didn't think it would help lots of people, I wouldn't bother. Since many of the people in it are already very hurt to begin with, there's no point risking hurting them more unless it serves a greater purpose. And of course, all precautions will be taken to avoid identifying some of the characters, not to mention avoiding lawsuits.

About self-disclosure, which is what Jerry opened this thread about, I think the more we share and the more vulerable we are with our readers, the more we give them to attach to and care about.

jerrywaxler
01-23-2008, 05:15 PM
I posted an essay today on my blog about a better way to look at shame. I have so much to learn about this emotion, which isn't too surprising considering I've been running away from it my whole life. Now that I'm trying to write my memoir I'm trying to not run away from being me. Check out the essay if you're interested. It's at:

http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/good-shame-improves-memories/

Jerry

pollykahl
01-24-2008, 04:18 AM
Jerry, people usually write memoirs when they have extensive experience with a specific issue, like cancer or being a victim of a crime for example, or because they're famous and the public would be interested in reading about them in particular. What is your memoir about?

Ritergal
01-24-2008, 05:55 PM
I'm guessing that most people on these forums strive for or have attained formal publication. There is a vast sea of people who write memoir and lifestory with no thought of readership beyond their immediate family and community. They write to create a written legacy of their lives for posterity. They write for the sheer joy of writing. They write for self-discovery and healing. They write as a testament to faith. I know this because I meet them in classes I teach.

I've begun at least a couple of dozen celebrity memoirs. I seldom read past the middle. Even shocking disclosures generally seem plastic and self-serving, perhaps like the surgically altered people who either write them or commission a ghost writer to make it appear that they did. I far prefer the work of writers like Annie Dillard (An American Childhood) and Haven Kimmel (Zippy) whose narratives of ordinary life are as compelling as the fiction of Sue Grafton or Rosamunde Pilcher.

My mantra: I write because I can't not write. I write for me, and if others read it and find value, that's icing on the cake.

I'll add two more questions for Jerry: Why are you writing, and who are you writing for?

pollykahl
01-24-2008, 06:10 PM
Good questions for Jerry, ritergal. And for all memoirists I'd wager.

jerrywaxler
01-25-2008, 03:37 PM
Hi Pollykahl,

Thanks for your interest in my memoir. This is a funny question for me to try to answer because right now I've got about 400 pages of notes, most of it trying to pry the story out of my past. I give a workshop on memoir writing which represents accumulated memories as a disorganized pile, like sea weeds, drift wood and dead fish tossed up on the beach of life. A memoir writer is a beachcomber finding the valuable items and organizing them into an attractive product. It's true that for some people life events have provided a sort of "ready made story" but most of us have to pull together the events, find the emotional drivers, look for the links that will transform bits and pieces of memories into something worth reading.

When you asked me "what is my memoir about" I froze up, which is my usual reaction when people ask me about me. My issue with shame, which started this thread is not just about bad-boy things, but about disclosure itself. I've always been reluctant to talk about myself which makes me an unlikely memoir writer or teacher. And yet it is this very issue of clamping up that turns the project of who I am into a mystery that I must solve.

I love the simplicity of your question. My blog is a sort of blow by blow account of my struggle to answer this question. If you're interested in my process, check out my blog (http://www.memorywritersnetwork.com/blog). Sometimes I think my memoir will be about writing my memoir. It's one of the most interesting things I've worked on in my life.

Jerry

jerrywaxler
01-25-2008, 04:45 PM
I do not regard my childhood pranks as creepy. Every now and then, a teacher will appear at my events and be critical of the pranks I played on my own teachers.

What would you rather have, I ask?

A kid like me playing harmless pranks or the kids of today, who come and shoot up the school?

That gives most pause for thought. The alternative to pranks like mine is letting frustration build up until something worse results.

John,

I'm sorry to hear some people criticize you for what you did 30 or 40 years ago. The fact that people can judge each other for what they did in their childhood is exactly what makes me break out in a sweat. But as you have said elsewhere, many people feel inspired by your willingness to share. When I read any memoir, like yours for example, I'm looking for deeper insight into what makes people tick. So your disclosure helps enrich my world.

This boils down to a simple dilemma for me or any memoir writer - hiding anything that could possibly be criticized (which I'm really tired of, and probably when taken to an extreme includes everything) or offering the full story, and then dealing with the broad spectrum of reactions that are bound to result (which I started out fearing but gradually am becoming more sanguine.)

Jerry

Ritergal
01-25-2008, 06:16 PM
This boils down to a simple dilemma for me or any memoir writer - hiding anything that could possibly be criticized (which I'm really tired of, and probably when taken to an extreme includes everything) or offering the full story, and then dealing with the broad spectrum of reactions that are bound to result (which I started out fearing but gradually am becoming more sanguine.)


Jerry, you are shining a light in a dusty soul cranny I have not visited for awhile. You describe something I refer to as "learning to love myself in spite of who I was." I wish I remembered the occasion on which my lights went on the big "AHA!" moment when I realized that at any given time I do the very best that I know how to do. If it looks to others as if I should have "known better," it's because I didn't fully understand what it appeared I "should have" known. Once I understand, I no longer repeat the "error." Having realized this about myself, it was hardly a stretch to extend that understanding to others.

You'll surely not be surprised to hear that when I explain this to most people, they scoff. Sometimes they appear to agree, but their eyes say otherwise.

I hesitate to put that epiphany in writing, for fear of sounding boastful or preachy. That old Inner Critic still breaths fire. My Inner Critic is a stalker. I have an injunction, but injunctions expire. I'd rather feel certain IC has disappeared forever. IC/shame. Aha!

I would not be who I am now if I hadn't begun as who I was then. Maybe it's this process of coming to understand, of learning to love ourselves, that is the "story" you seek. The story of the transition. Maybe, as you say, that's the story of writing the memoir.

Seek on, oh worthy Quester

pollykahl
01-25-2008, 07:55 PM
Jerry, there are a couple of things I'm not getting. A 85,000 word manuscript is about 300 pages, and you say you have 400 pages of notes alone. That's bigger than most completed memoirs, and it's only notes. I don't understand how you can have a blog about memoir writing and sell workshops on writing memoir when you are struggling with such basic issues regarding shame, disclosure, etc. This is not to judge you or put you down, but in a sincere attampt to understand what you're doing. Have you read the memoirs you've cited above? They're dealing with very heavy issues, and you're describing being challenged by the basics. A lot of us start writing our memoirs and then find out what we're really doing is working through our feelings about things that we've done or that were done to us. It's a wonderful process of self discovery and issue resolution, but writing is a business and that kind of writing is usually not going to result in a successful product. I've seen a lot of your posts on this site and most of them refer readers to your blog. Now I'm wondering, are you promoting yourself as a memoir expert who is selling your blog and memoir workshops, are you actually writing a memoir, or you writing to resolve personal issues? Again, this is not to attack, but to understand what you're doing and where you're coming from.

jerrywaxler
01-26-2008, 03:14 AM
Jerry, Have you read the memoirs you've cited above?

Yes.


They're dealing with very heavy issues, and you're describing being challenged by the basics.

Two separate thoughts in one sentence. Yes, many memoirs deal with heavy issues. I love reading memoirs, and learn a lot about writing memoirs and learn a lot about life.

Yes, I'm challenged by self-disclosure, shame, memory, and crafting story. These are some of the most exciting challenges of my life.


A lot of us start writing our memoirs and then find out what we're really doing is working through our feelings about things that we've done or that were done to us. It's a wonderful process of self discovery and issue resolution,

Bravo. Keep it up!


but writing is a business and that kind of writing is usually not going to result in a successful product.

True. Not every memoir writer will end up published. This is the nature of the writing business. A few successful ones rise to the top, a vast majority meander more towards the middle. I'm okay with that. It's part of the challenge of striving for excellence.


I've seen a lot of your posts on this site and most of them refer readers to your blog. Now I'm wondering, are you promoting yourself as a memoir expert who is selling your blog and memoir workshops,

I'm proud of the essays on my blog, and think they would be informative for many people who want to write about life. Otherwise I wouldn't be writing them. I don't know what you mean about selling my blog. I don't make a cent from it. It's free for the taking, and I have no ads on it.


are you actually writing a memoir,

Chipping away.


or you writing to resolve personal issues?

Absolutely. Writing about life is one of the most therapeutic activities I've found, with or without publication at the end. These are two separate issues.


Again, this is not to attack, but to understand what you're doing and where you're coming from.

Thanks for asking. I hope I've explained my position more clearly.

Jerry

johnrobison
01-29-2008, 05:49 AM
Polly and Jerry, it seems to me that many aspiring (aspiring to mainstream publication, that is) writers run workshops or courses, and Jerry's blog seems along that line to me.

I never took or taught such courses myself but I see them.

As to the disclosure . . . the feedback I get is overwhelmingly positive. I get a few one-star reviews on Amazon, but they don't trouble me. People at events are particularly nice, especially when I remind them of my eggs and my size. So if my story is any guide, you don't have much to fear.

Sakamonda
01-29-2008, 07:34 AM
If the goal of memoir writing is publication, then memoir authors should be prepared to reveal anything/everything about themselves which is relevant to the specific story they wish to tell----no matter how "bad" it might seem. (Or "good.") The key thing to determine what you need to filter out of your story (or filter in) is relevance to the narrative you're creating from your memories. If something is relevant to the narrative, include it. If it isn't, don't.

I know that might seem oversimplified, but it is probably the most challenging aspect of memoir writing. Nobody wants to read a memoir about how perfect, non-flawed of a person you are. But many people will want to read a memoir about someone who had an absolutely horrible set of personal flaws and/or life circumstances and then overcame them.

jerrywaxler
01-29-2008, 03:07 PM
While shaming, anti-social experiences are a good challenge, they are only one of the things to decide whether or not to include. There are so many different parts to disclose. Like for example, since John Robison is in the thread, look at John's use of technology to create pyrotechnics. I love seeing technology in a memoir. I can't remember any other memoir that even touches on this topic. It doesn't seem like he's taking a risk by disclosing it, does it? It's kind of cool.

But for me, "admitting" to a technological mind is a big deal. I've worked with technology my whole life, but until this moment have never talked about it. I have a degree in physics, and spent much of my life in technology fields. I worked on nuclear power plant design trying to prevent the pipes from shaking loose in an earthquake, and then I worked in image processing to guide cruise missiles find their targets by matching the image stored in the computer, with the image taken by the camera. Then I worked at Intel, helping to design a video compression algorithm that competed with mp3. And I worked in medical imaging, at the University of Pennsylvania, programming computers to take better three dimensional images of body parts.

So what does any of this have to do with disclosure? It's the first time in my life I have ever publicly "confessed" that I'm a techie. You're the first to know. Thanks John Robison. You've taken the lid off, given me permission to admit I have a technical mind.

So why on earth would I be secretive about my technical past? It's all based on some underlying growling fear that people will think I'm weird or different or boring, or that with my passion for math in my younger days they will think I can't possibly know anything about the human condition. (And for several decades of my life they would have been right.)

And the more I look head on at the fear, and the more I disclose in my writing about myself and my writing about writing, the more energized and excited I am about researching all the information about this life of which I have been the protagonist, and organize a readable (and perhaps dare I say publishable) story.

Jerry

johnrobison
01-29-2008, 03:56 PM
Jerry, the world is full of tekkie people. I also designed the power transformers to run the ground zero test trailers at out last major underground nuclear tests in the 1980s. Designed lightning supression for the firestorm of lightning that comes after nuclear blasts, too. I did lots of unusual stuff.


I say go for it.

Sakamonda
01-29-2008, 05:57 PM
FWIW, I've always thought techie people are cool. :)

jerrywaxler
01-29-2008, 05:57 PM
Jerry, the world is full of tekkie people. I also designed the power transformers to run the ground zero test trailers at out last major underground nuclear tests in the 1980s. Designed lightning supression for the firestorm of lightning that comes after nuclear blasts, too. I did lots of unusual stuff.


I say go for it.

That's wild! Obviously, your technical interests didn't hurt your booksales. But publishers are known for not wanting to break too far out of the mainstream. I'm curious how your agent and editor felt about including this techno-material, considering that you have more technology in two pages than I found in the 100 memoirs I see on my shelves. (Well, 99 anyway. My reading pile includes a copy of Uncle Tungsten, a scientific memoir by psychology popularizer Oliver Sacks.)

Jerry

jerrywaxler
01-29-2008, 06:07 PM
FWIW, I've always thought techie people are cool. :)

Thanks, Sakamonda. Isn't that funny. The exact opposite of my fear. I love it.

Now I just need to weave techie-ness into a compelling story that a few thousand readers can't put down... :)

johnrobison
01-29-2008, 09:55 PM
As you may know, I do a lot of public speaking now. And I talk to lots of high school students. Here's one thing I tell them: As kids, we learn that geeks are bad. Kids are teased for being tekkies or loving math.

Well, when kids grow up, the teasers end up working at the car wash, and the math geeks and tekkies start software firms and make millions.

Girls may laugh at geeks at age 15, but the situation is reversed by age 30.

As to tekkie stuff in my book . . . .

If you peruse my reviews (Amazon and published) you'll see some people love it and others are bored. But it's only a part of my book, and many who were bored by the tekkie stuff loved the rest. So the moral is . . . tech is OK but don't have too much.

pollykahl
01-30-2008, 12:42 AM
"Girls may laugh at geeks at age 15, but the situation is reversed by age 30."

I'm totally onboard with this comment. By the time we gals have a little maturity under our belts, looks don't matter so much, and brains are hot. The erogenous zones definitely moves north. Looks fade, but stimulating conversation is stimulating forever.

Personally, I've always had an appreciation for people whose brains can do things mine can't. But we all have to have some techie in us to write, don't we? It takes organizational skills, patience, perserverance, attention to detail, being able to see the larger picture, objectivity, good communication skills, the ability to work in isolation as well as coordinate with others, and a whole lot of other technical skills. This isn't easy stuff we're doing.

jerrywaxler
01-31-2008, 05:39 PM
But we all have to have some techie in us to write, don't we? It takes organizational skills, patience, perserverance, attention to detail, being able to see the larger picture, objectivity, good communication skills, the ability to work in isolation as well as coordinate with others, and a whole lot of other technical skills. This isn't easy stuff we're doing.

That is SO true, Polly. Physics and Calculus is the easy stuff (at least it was when I was 20. Thanks to the intervening 40 years, I've forgotten much of what I learned.) The real challenge came when I tried entering the human drama, learning how to care for people, be creative, strive for goals, overcome obstacles. That was the work of a lifetime. For all of us memoir writers and aspiring memoir writers, whether we started out nerds, abused children, athletes, or incredibly ordinary, it takes enormous insight and subtlety and creativity to find the story that will be meaningful to readers.

Jerry

mooh
02-02-2008, 12:20 AM
I appreciate what "pollykahl" had said earlier. About how much disclosure she has for her memoir. I too was abused, my brother died at the hands of our abuser at the tender age of five. I want to tell the story in order to perhaps inspire hope for others who have lost there siblings and or who have experienced abuse. I am writing my memoir for the first time and am eating up the advise that am i reading in this forum. If you want to read and critique what i have written so far go to the memoir life stories "room".

Prevostprincess
02-05-2008, 07:41 AM
"Girls may laugh at geeks at age 15, but the situation is reversed by age 30."

That reminds me of my favorite line from Revenge of the Nerds: When the hot cheerleader learns she's just had great sex with the nerd , he explains, "Nerds try harder."

I'm finding now that my memoir is about to be published, and I just launched my website supporting it, I'm feeling very exposed. As a shrink, maybe I'm over analyzing this, but, unlike any other type of book, in memoir, readers can hate the writing, hate the story AND hate the writer. You have to be fairly thick-skinned, methinks. I guess I have four months to shore up my epithelial cells.

jerrywaxler
02-05-2008, 04:35 PM
"Girls may laugh at geeks at age 15, but the situation is reversed by age 30."

That reminds me of my favorite line from Revenge of the Nerds: When the hot cheerleader learns she's just had great sex with the nerd , he explains, "Nerds try harder."

I'm finding now that my memoir is about to be published, and I just launched my website supporting it, I'm feeling very exposed. As a shrink, maybe I'm over analyzing this, but, unlike any other type of book, in memoir, readers can hate the writing, hate the story AND hate the writer. You have to be fairly thick-skinned, methinks. I guess I have four months to shore up my epithelial cells.

Hi Doreen,

This reminds me of the line from Hurricane Carter who said "Anger poisons the vessel that contains it." I think that could be expanded to include secrets of all kinds. As a shrink, you've probably seen a billion cases of people who feel relieved by sharing their story. And yet its scary. Oooh, there are so many excellent reasons to keep those secrets.

You're not over analyzing at all, but speaking the emotional facts almost all memoir writers face. Over analyzing would be wondering how we got into talking about sexy nerds. (LOL)

Congratulations on the memoir! I checked out the blog. It's got a lot of terrific material. Congratulations on that too.

Jerry

Prevostprincess
02-06-2008, 02:16 AM
Thanks, Jerry.

I may have slightly different issues (there's that word, again) than a lot of memoirists, in that there is not much in my book I'm concerned about disclosing; it's a breezy, fun (I hope) travel memoir. So, no real concerns about what parents/relatives might think, or about revealing a dark secret from my past. I'm sure I'll get some readers curious about the fact that both my husband and I are psychiatrists, ie how our relationship works. I'm fine with disclosing a lot about that and the effect living for a year 24/7 in 340 square feet had on us. It's just that since my "voice" is a bit... biting/sarcastic, I know it won't be everyone's cup of tea. Or, maybe more accurately, I won't be everyone's cup of tea. Again, I think memoirists have the added daunting factor of readers/reviewers hating the writing, hating the story, but unlike novels, also hating the writer!

As for talking about sexy nerds... I'm proud to say I'm married to one! (In fact, my nickname for Tim is "Project Nerd: Domestic Superhero" because he loves all that home improvement stuff.)

jerrywaxler
02-06-2008, 04:10 AM
It's just that since my "voice" is a bit... biting/sarcastic, I know it won't be everyone's cup of tea. Or, maybe more accurately, I won't be everyone's cup of tea. Again, I think memoirists have the added daunting factor of readers/reviewers hating the writing, hating the story, but unlike novels, also hating the writer!

As for talking about sexy nerds... I'm proud to say I'm married to one! (In fact, my nickname for Tim is "Project Nerd: Domestic Superhero" because he loves all that home improvement stuff.)

Okay, I've got no further comment on sexy nerds. Over analyze that!

As for your concerns about people hating the writing, the story, or the person, you've summed up the fears pretty well. I think it's the same widget whether you don't want to disclose some secret, or don't want to stand in front of an audience, or don't want to grow old. These can be strong fears, and whether grounded in fact, or simply fed by some irrational impulse, they stop a lot of writers from fulfilling their potential.

However, they haven't stopped you. You felt the fear and did it anyway. That's one definition of courage. So let's see. Your writing style is funny (I just read more of your blog, and I love it.) You've got great comic material about growing older, being spoiled, being married. And most important, you actually do the writing and publishing. I think lots of people will admire your courage and your generous impulse to entertain and inform.

(So seriously, have you given yourself a margin of people you'll be okay with not liking you? I've wondered how many people I'd be willing to not like me and I haven't decided on a figure.)

Jerry

pollykahl
02-06-2008, 07:27 AM
I'm prepared for some people not liking my book, and not liking me as a result of that. Somehow I'm able to keep it separate in my mind and I think depending on the case I'm either going to 1) not take it personally because I know who I am and I am not a book, and I'm certainly not others' interpretations of a book, even if I wrote it, or 2) just accept that not everyone likes it/me and that's just life. When I went thru my master's program I trained in rational-emotive therapy with Albert Ellis, and if anything'll cure you of worrying about what people think, that's it. That slap of reality was very helpful because probably the biggest effect of my childhood abuse was an extreme dependence on what others thought of me, and people-pleasing as a result. Unfort, that only got me further abused in adulthood, until I finally got help and became educated about the cycle I was caught in. Now my view is that no one is liked by absolutely everyone, and no one is 100% likable anyway, and that's okay. The point is to find people who understand us and fit with us as individuals.

I tend to make studies of things so sometimes I go to Amazon to see what kinds of books people like vs. don't like. On Amazon.com, 59 readers gave John's Look Me In The Eye five stars, but three people gave it one or two stars. Sidney Portier's Measure of a Man got 103 five stars and 22 one and two stars. My all-time fave autobio, The Autobiograhy of Malcolm X, got 224 five stars and 15 three or less. Augusten Burrough's Running With Scissors, which is probably closest to mine in content and tone, got 281 five stars and a whooping 267 one and two star reviews. It seems to me that the more controversial the material is, the higher a percentage of readers are going to experience discomfort while reading it. My book is about growing up in the sixties with mentally ill and addicted parents. There's a lot of unsavory material in it, and the touches of humor offset but don't soften the harshness. Not everyone is going to like it, and I can realistically anticipate from my experience of working in victim's services that some people are actually going to get off on it. This is reality.

Like Jerry said, sometimes we have to feel the fear and do it anyway. It's not for everyone, but it works for some of us. The percentage of people who don't get me might be on a par with Augusten's, but the satisfaction of having even a small percentage who do, and who are helped by my sharing, is well worth it, to me.

johnrobison
02-06-2008, 07:41 AM
Doreen is gonna be fine, you'll see. Polly's got it down. And Polly. . . one more thing . . . if you look at those one star reviews, you'll find the majority come from people who are just negative overall. Look at their other reviews and you'll see more low ratings.

pollykahl
02-06-2008, 07:43 AM
"As for talking about sexy nerds... I'm proud to say I'm married to one! (In fact, my nickname for Tim is "Project Nerd: Domestic Superhero" because he loves all that home improvement stuff.)"

I'm married to one too. He's an electrical engineer and he can't program the VCR or retrieve messages from the answering machine. But he's a great hubby and dad to our sons and after 28 years I still adore him and think he's hotter than ever. The funny thing is, when he was young he couldn't get a date, but now that he's older and hanging around older people, mature women appreciate him. Sorry gals, my hottie's taken! Go find your own wonderful nerd.

pollykahl
02-06-2008, 07:48 AM
I noticed that, John. That's another way I can tune them out. After growing up with a lot of negativity, it's important to me to stick with the winners. In one of your poor reviews, it was like she didn't even read your book. I couldn't figure out where she got some of her ideas from. It was like she went in prepared to dislike it, and never even gave it a chance. It's hard to take someone like that seriously.

Prevostprincess
02-07-2008, 03:15 AM
pollykahl - Ohhhh! Me too! Me too! It's so funny you say that about your hubby. Mine was also such a "nerd" in HS and college, he couldn't get a date, or if he did, the girls weren't too nice to him. I just LOVE thinking about all those idiot women who missed out on the best man around (besides your hubby, of course). Bet they're crying into their Playgirl magazines, now... (Wouldn't it be interesting to do a study of HS prom kings/quarterbacks, etc vs HS nerds to see who is hotter 20 years later?)

Jerry - Thanks for the kind thoughts re my blog and my "courage." I realize that while some people will find me funny, others will find me annoying. Come to think of it, that's pretty much true in my non-writing life, as well. (So, you think I'm "spoiled," huh? :)

John - Since you've actually read the book, I very much appreciate you're saying I'll be fine.

Not to overanalyze (but, here I go, again anyway), since my first memoir ten years ago was about being stalked by a former patient, writing this current, very personal, albeit completely different memoir has additional layers and concerns for me. I feel more exposed than I would have had I never been stalked. But, in the end, I weighed all that and decided to just go for it. Like Jerry said, I didn't want this fear to stop me. (And besides, since I live on a bus now, even my own mother has a hard time keeping track of where I am.)

pollykahl
02-07-2008, 06:15 AM
Can't wait to read your new book, Doreen. Is your first one available? I'd love to read that too. I've had some bizarre client experiences too (as a former psychotherapist) and altho it's fun to laugh at them now, it got kind of hairy at times. One client developed a crush on me and actually had my initials tatooed on her arm, which she then presented me a picture of so that I could keep it always. Fortunately she wasn't one of the scary ones, and thankfully she retained her crush and never turned on me.

I definitely think the nerds are the hotties now. I go to Wisconsin for high school reunions and damn, some of those farmers have really got it goin' on. The same ones we thought were total dorks in high school.

Prevostprincess
02-07-2008, 06:37 AM
Pollykahl - I love a man who works with his hands.

How (yes) scary/icky re that clients! Mine followed me home, would peek in my windows (my husband is also a psychiatrist and had a stalker - his scared hers away outside our house one night!) then followed me when we moved from AZ to CO. I had only treated her for 2 weeks - found out later she had stalked other women - kinda her job in life.

There are more and more studies showing what a hazard stalking is in our profession. It's not uncommon.

My first book, I Know You Really Love Me is still available in PB on Amazon. (It was published 10 years ago - the hardcover is out of print.) Thanks for asking!

And, as for the new one, I have a monthly contest on my website and blog (see the Feb 1 entry) for free copies - and a bonus moose-poopy prize.

IceCreamEmpress
02-07-2008, 07:01 AM
My first book, I Know You Really Love Me is still available in PB on Amazon. (It was published 10 years ago - the hardcover is out of print.)

I knew your name looked familiar! Your book was so compelling...it made me feel slightly ill while reading it, because you really captured the "hunted" feeling.


Well, this makes me more eager than ever to read your new book.

johnrobison
02-07-2008, 07:06 AM
I really think you draw the kind of people you write about if you're a memoir writer. If you write about being molested as a kid, people with like experiences will come forward and want to know you. Certainly my brother, with the stuff in RWS, draws a different group than me.

So what kind of people are stalkers? I don't really know.

With respect to feeling exposed, I would say that substantially all the people I've met have been nice. Remember, at events, people are predisposed to be nice anyway. Book signings ar enot like political rallies, where they drive 50 miles to say you suck.

And Doreen, your book does not seem to me to be the sort of work that would draw freaks and weirdos. I really would not worry if it were me. If I were you, I would only feel a general concern relative to formerly being me, as you seem smaller and potentially less able to scare off predators than I am, at 6-4 and 240 pounds. Perhaps, if I became you, I'd get a bigger dog or something.

Prevostprincess
02-07-2008, 08:02 AM
IceCreamEmpress - thanks so much! What a coincidence you read my first book.

John - Maybe I should start weight lifting? With a 19 year old blind, very irritable (and vocal) cat with kidney failure, a heart murmur and hypertension (who the vet continually warns me, "don't upset him!" to which I ask, "then why am I bringing him to you?") we just don't think it's fair to get a new dog.

But, seriously - via my new website (which has nothing to do with my previous book), I've already gotten a self-described stalker emailing me asking for advice. I guess it's sorta like, If you write it, they will come.

I've decided with this book, I'm just not going to worry about it - or at least let the worry dictate anything I do.

johnrobison
02-07-2008, 08:26 AM
I think that's right. You draw what you write.

99.9% of the people who contact you going forward this summer are going to come from the bus book, and it's just a fun friendly book. It isn't going to attract those kind of people.

Try not to worry.

jerrywaxler
02-07-2008, 06:16 PM
I think that's right. You draw what you write.

99.9% of the people who contact you going forward this summer are going to come from the bus book, and it's just a fun friendly book. It isn't going to attract those kind of people.

Try not to worry.

John, Your life (and memoir) provide a fascinating example of how we can grow past obstacles. You started out in life as a withdrawn kid, and have arrived at a point where you are having a conversation with your readers, essentially anyone in the world who is interested in your story, and from what I understand that's a lot of people. This is inspiring for anyone who is worried or wondering about connecting with their readers.

If you can do it, so can we, which is the central message of many memoirs: if you can overcome Aspergers, or Polly can overcome the damaging effects of child abuse, or Doreen can make a game of midlife crisis and come out ahead or overcome her fear of public disapproval and make us laugh, then that provides support and encouragement for the rest of us.

Jerry

johnrobison
02-07-2008, 08:06 PM
Well, I'm surprised and glad that you find my example inspiring. Actually, to my amazement, the folks at the Lavin Agency are booking up my whole year with paid speaking engageents, and the audiences see me as an inspirational speaker.

It's most remarkable to me.

If you look at my blog you'll see all those engagements on the right side.

You just have to believe, I guess

Ian.Fraser
02-12-2008, 01:19 AM
/my 2 cents worth

Just as a thought, I had an autobiog published (by Penguin no less) covering part of my life, and I went into fine gory detail on a number of things, from drug use, to sexuality, and quite a lot of violence (part of it covered Army experiences - in South Africa).

The overriding thing to me, was not concern over 'what other people who knew me might think', but that the reader themselves, felt the truth of what was being written, without any self-pity or its opposite - lasciviousness, coming through in the 'voice' and tone.
Like everyone else in the world, I've done stuff that I'm not proud of, and at times, that I'm even ashamed of.
That doesn't mean I can't write about it, if it makes great reading.

If you have something to say, then you say it, fearlessly - and preferably told in a way that makes the experience a 'good read' as well. Its no use being dull about it either, after all, you want people to read your book, your story - and the fact that it happens to be 'about you' shouldn't inhibit you.

You can try and make yourself look better than what you are, but is that honest? Or fair? And can you do it without having it feel like self promotion to a reader?
If not, then just divorce yourself from your concerns over 'other people' - and tell a good story, which happens to be about you, warts and all.

And as for the people who know you, who might be shocked, or otherwise shaken by what you've revealed - so what? If you want to write, you're (I hope) doing it for yourself, and because you have the desire to share your words with others - you aren't doing it as an exercise in raising your esteem in other peoples eyes.

The esteem you want as a writer, hopefully comes from the power of your words and the forcefulness of your storytelling, regardless of whether its a 'true' story or not.

Tell your story like you lived your life at the time you're writing about. With all the blunders, embarrassments, and regret - and try tell it well, and dispassionately, and leave it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions and make whatever whiny judgments they choose to, about it.
/2 cents mode off :)

jerrywaxler
02-12-2008, 02:14 AM
/my 2 cents worth

Just as a thought, I had an autobiog published (by Penguin no less) covering part of my life, and I went into fine gory detail on a number of things, from drug use, to sexuality, and quite a lot of violence (part of it covered Army experiences - in South Africa).

/2 cents mode off :)

Hi Ian,

Thanks for sharing your experience. (I guess that's what writing a memoir is all about.) So was it hard for you to face that stuff, and was it therapeutic to write it?

I have another question. In the movie Romancing the Stone, the Michael Douglas character says "You smoke marijuana" and Kathleen Turner said "I went to college." A cute line but notice she doesn't say yes. Also, remembering the famous "I didn't inhale" claim from Clinton's presidential campaign. It seems that admitting you did something illegal could be seen as diminishing your claim as a thought-leader.

Did you ever have an experience after you wrote your memoir in which admitting doing something illegal put you in a difficult position or diminished your stature, or made you wish you could put the genii back in the bottle?

And is your memoir still available? I didn't see it listed on Amazon.

Jerry

Ian.Fraser
02-12-2008, 05:50 AM
re the memoirs, its technically out of print, I think, although I've seen copies knocking around in weird places ( ISBN 0140230505 ) is the number, at least according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Fraser_%28playwright%29).
If you can track it down, be afraid :P I'd probably get arrested if it had to get reprinted here..
I don't really mind it being out of print, it was something I wanted to get out of my system, and it got noticed, reviewed and I moved on (I tend to be more of a playwright than an author, got a couple of plays being staged up in Wisconsin in a week or so at Oshkosh Uni)..

As regards was it hard to face some of the stuff, not really, I'm a blatant kind of writer - always have been. Quite happy to go into intimate over-sharing details that saner people would avoid :) But it was definitely therapeutic at times, needed to get some of the venom and angst I'd been carrying around, out of me. Got it down on the page, and it became 'other peoples problem' instead :)

I think the point I was trying to put over earlier, was that folks should 'own' their words, take responsibility for being the writer that they are, trust in what they do, and let the cards fall where they may thereafter. If people stare or act oddly because of what you've written, well, its their problem, you're fine, you're a writer - its your job. You write stuff, sometimes its not what other people would write, or find 'comfortable', but so what? Its your work, you gotta love it and fight off anyone else's attempts to make you censor yourself, or curtail whatever your own unique vision happens to be.
Everyone's got their own path to follow creatively, but how can one discover what it is, if ones always overly concerned with other peoples idea's and concepts of 'status'?
(oops, switched into 2 cent mode again :)

johnrobison
02-12-2008, 06:04 AM
In regard to Jerry's question about admitting something and that something diminishing your current credibility . . .

I suggest that the reality is exactly the opposite.

I get up to speak to high school students and I say, yeah, I did coke and pot and drank and did crazy stuff.

That sounds real.

This inhale stuff . . . it has the ring of bull, of CYA.

I hear words to that effect at most of my events.

So I do not think you are diminished. Now, you have to have most of your brains for that to be true. If you are now, at 50, a brainless fool, people might feel different. If you're sharp, though, it does not diminsh you and indeed adds to your credibility.

Ian.Fraser
02-12-2008, 06:12 AM
johnrobison - I agree. I got invited to 'University X' by their English Dpt, and even though they winced while I was talking with their students, as the drug anecdotes began flying, there was definitely a sense from the class that I was more part of 'their' world, than the faculty, who sat to the side and presumably lorded it up over what they saw as 'kids'.

Students, I think, like it when folks cut through the fog of corporate teaching and superior attitudes that seems to be what a lot of their educational experiences consist of, and try talk to them as equals.

Daehota
02-13-2008, 07:33 AM
I don't really have a problem with this unless and as it pertains to others. Me, I've always been a sort of let it all hang out person. My family already knows who I am and I don't really care about anyone else. In fact, I consider every crazy thing I've ever done and survived a badge of...some sort.

Daehota

jerrywaxler
02-13-2008, 03:23 PM
It's so fascinating to hear that sharing actual experiences enhances one's position as a thought leader. The idea started out very foreign to me, but I'm warming to it.

It's like when I started Toastmasters I was so shy I couldn't even imagine speaking to a group. Once I got over the hump, I was fine, even relaxed in front of a group.

Now I want to open up about myself, and feeling a very similar sense of shyness. (In fact, I think the two fears are related - not wanting to be exposed in public.) Just last year, I was in a therapy group (not leading it - l love to be in therapy - hooray for always growing), and we were talking about my fears of disclosure. For the first time in my life I mentioned that I had shoplifted when I was a kid. They all laughed at me and told me some of the stupid things they did when they were young. It sort of took the lid off. Now, saying it here which would have been completely frightening, feels almost normal.

Oh great, now I'll probably lose my job. Just kidding, I think. Well, I guess I still have a ways to go. :)

Jerry

Ian.Fraser
02-13-2008, 07:12 PM
I've always felt that its almost a paradox in action. The more (as a writer of non-fiction) that you try to conceal who you are, the more vulnerable you become, in some ways - whereas the more blatant and unconcerned you are with others perception of the content of what you're writing is, the stronger your writing actually becomes.

I suppose its drawing a line between ones own personal fears, concerns, and angsts - and ones work. To me, the work is the more important of the two things. If it means at times I inwardly perhaps cringe at details I've written about, well, that's for me to deal with as a matter of personal growth.

As long as the work is as good as it can be, both from the perspective of honesty, and artistry, and it conveys suitably, the reality as experienced - then that's all that should matter. (I realize its a brutal approach at times, but in the non-fiction genre, shyness or excessive concern over 'other people's perception' can be counterproductive to conveying the truth of what one's writing).

And 'truth' - like ones own motives, is almost always ambiguous as hell, often not reflecting oneself in a perfect light, and thus - when writing it down like that - helps to communicate a broader truth.

(Think of ahmm, I think it was Norman Mailer, who wrote about going for a walk during the protests and speeches at the Lincoln Memorial, and thus missing the classic 'I have a dream' speech by MLK. It was to his credit that he wrote that, rather than pretend otherwise - it shows and conveys a much more accurate 'truth' than if he'd decided to keep quiet about his own behavior at that moment.

Humans aren't fictional characters with clearly defined morals or motives. We're deliciously fickle and dumb at times, with often no clue as to the bigger picture of what we're involved with. And that, all by itself, makes 'us' brilliantly interesting characters to write, when we're writing first person non-fiction. Because we DO screw up, we do behave badly, we do things we later regret, or which show us at our worst at times. That's part of the truth of who 'we' are - and which a writer (in my view) has almost a duty to try and convey, when they write about themselves and what they experienced and did.

To censor or spend any time on removing the (at times) moral/social ambiguity of our own actions from the plot in non fiction work, is perhaps to be depriving the work and the reader, of a valuable additional layer of complexity (and character).

Daehota
02-13-2008, 07:22 PM
Yesterday I posted that I would probably not care about divulging nearly anything about myself and then came a completely unexpected aha! moment. I wrote a Monday Memoir about a childhood movie experience and realized that the one I chose was not the one that truly haunts me.

The reason for this, I think, is that it is quite dark there in that particular corner of my mental closet. It's a dark experience all the way around. Being rather new around here, I didn't know if that particular memory should be the first story I posted to the group. So I chose the other, funnier and safer memory.

So much for letting it all hang out.

Daehota

johnrobison
02-14-2008, 03:59 AM
Oh great, now I'll probably lose my job. Just kidding, I think. Well, I guess I still have a ways to go. :)

Jerry


Jerry, one benefit of being independent like me is that I've got no job to lose. If I worked for a conservative company I'd perhaps think twice about some of the things I've written about.

I really can't think of any bad outcomes - in terms of people being critical or nasty - from anything I've said at my speaking engagements or in my writing.

pollykahl
02-15-2008, 07:42 AM
"If you want to write, you're (I hope) doing it for yourself, and because you have the desire to share your words with others - you aren't doing it as an exercise in raising your esteem in other peoples eyes."

Totally agree. Self esteem comes from within. People who love our books don't love us. They're just strangers who are touched by a small part of us that we choose to share. They don't even know us, even if they relate strongly to what we've shared. If we rely on their adoration for our feelings of self-worth, we can just end up feeling empty and not understanding why, like a lot of celebrities do. It's important to keep it in perspective.

"It seems that admitting you did something illegal could be seen as diminishing your claim as a thought-leader."

This isn't politics and we're not running for office. It's okay if we inhaled. If we make oursleves out to be perfect or above reproach, we are only in for a fall. It's better to own our lesser qualities as well as our sterling ones. It makes us more relatable and gives readers a real person to care about and root for. People who hold themselves up as perfect are much more likely to be targets than those who own their flaws.

"Everyone's got their own path to follow creatively, but how can one discover what it is, if ones always overly concerned with other peoples idea's and concepts of 'status'?"

Right. That wouldn't even be memoir. That would be people-pleasing on paper. It would be boring and would reek of inauthenticity.

"I mentioned that I had shoplifted when I was a kid. They all laughed at me and told me some of the stupid things they did when they were young."

They probably saw how hard it was for you and admired you for your courage. And cared about you more, because they found you were human, just like them. Just like us all.

loosebricks
07-02-2008, 07:46 AM
I heard an interview with an author/memoirist (don't remember who, but it he was funny) who said his editor told him to skip the victories; if it makes you cringe, it makes readers buy books.



There was an article on TIME.com recently (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1817329,00.html)
about why we remember 'bad things.' I have also heard similar quotes about how people can remember every bad thing they do, but never the 'good' (or normal) ones, presumably because you're 'supposed' to be normal/good.

jerrywaxler
07-02-2008, 02:23 PM
Through the act of trying to write about my life I'm learning so many things about life that I wouldn't have realized if I wasn't trying to write. Many of the people responding in this thread have discovered the same things.

It's funny how common this observation is for writers who are looking to publish, and yet so foreign to most people who want to keep their heads down and defend their privacy to the death.

Jerry

Ritergal
07-03-2008, 08:04 PM
I'm proud to be a geek and occasionally blog about it. In fact, the final chapter in The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing is entitled "Layout and Other Geek Stuff." It includes specific, keystroke-by-keystroke info on things like setting margins or creating styles for Word, OpenOffice and WordPerfect. The instructions are generic enough to be applied across several versions (though the latest version of Word took a sharp turn from tradition -- fortunately few are using it.) I also include a comprehensive, nutshell overview of punctuation. These techie inserts set this book apart from other basic books of the genre and are the parts that get the rave reviews.

I didn't set out to carve a niche as the techie expert on memoir writing/publishing, but I'm getting there, and there's no competition! I get e-mails from people all the time wanting help with these things. People don't know where else to turn. Since I also stay involved in the Heart part of writing, I'm not being cut out of being human. People seem to respect the combination.

Like Jerry, I'm still removing the packing material from my heart. So is my geek husband. I won't speak for our geek sons, but our geek daughter has made great progress.

Maybe it's worth pointing out that this geek daughter married an ubergeek, one who did the start-up that got bought out routine, and they had a Big Fat Geek Wedding a few years ago. Tables at the reception bore names of subatomic particles like Muon and Pion rather than numbers. Anytime her hubby wants to write a memoir, it will sell like sell hotcakes and make fascinating reading. Beyond being an ubergeek, he's a Rennaisance man.

People are curious about what goes on in the mind of a geek. The story How the Geek Found His Heart sounds like a winner.