Writing a memoir

I keep alluding to this memoir I’ve written about growing up the only child of elderly parents when your dad is dying of cancer. Sure, I’ve used some excerpts but I haven’t mentioned anything about getting the memoir published or some of the difficulties I ran into when writing it… like family flak. The original version was somewhat different, focusing on family history, some social and geographic history, and some of my story. I had just finished this version when one of my cousins blasted me about it. Writing my memoir was no secret to my family – I received family details and history from several of them and let them know what I was doing – the start of it even prompted a family reunion. But this particular cousin didn’t want the family history as real, but fiction was okay. She didn’t want the next generation to read about some of the past generation. History does repeat itself.

At the same time as this cousin took me to task, I had done a trade with novelist and short story writer, Shane Joseph (After the Flood, Fringe Dwellers published by Hidden Brook Press – http://www.shanejoseph.com). I read and evaluated an unpublished collection of his short stories and in return he read and evaluated my original memoir. A few weeks after the devastation from this cousin, Shane returned my manuscript – his overall comment was “You have three stories going on here – your family history, some other history and your story. Your story is the most interesting.” Bless you, Shane. When one door gets shoved shut in your face, another one opens.

I followed Shane’s advice. Half the memoir got canned and I got to work on the rest. The family history of dead relatives, except for my parents and my grandfather whom I was close to, got ditched, the cousins (with names changed except for the Michigan ones who didn’t mind) got what we call in the biz – “less press,” just stories as they were involved in my childhood. And I went into my school days, which brought in the girl who bullied me in grade school. But I took a page from my cousin:  no real names, (except for Mom, Dad, Grandpa’s first name, and me) just fictional first names and the girl who bullied me is called “The Bully.” I realized that the first book was too grim, plus a lot that happened to me was funny – not then, but looking back, yes. So I lightened up in this memoir version, saving the sadness for the actual deaths of my grandfather, mother and father -but even some humour creeps in at my mother’s funeral with the bizarre antics of the priest conducting the funeral. Then, in part two, I went into the repercussions as an adult from growing up an only child of elderly parents when your dad is dying of cancer.

And some of the details of the dead family members canned from memoir number one? I’m taking bits and pieces and weaving them into short stories – just using the events but changing them and the people into fictitious characters and working it into fictional plots. The first of them is being published in an anthology with other authors from the Canadian Authors Association, Toronto Branch. The anthology is called “Gathered Streams” and is being published by Hidden Brook Press – hopefully it will be out in May or June of this year. I’ll keep you posted with links when it comes out.

And the publishing status of the new memoir version? Sitting at an agent’s but not accepted. I have been told it should be two books – something I am already working on in my mind, especially if I have to pitch to another agent.

Anyone else writing a memoir or who has written one and ran into family flak? How did you handle it? I’m interested in your comments.






Filed under Death and Dying, Hereditary, Memoir writing, Only child

3 responses to “Writing a memoir

  1. Hi Sharon – thanks for pointing me to your blog – very interesting observations. I should look to add some pictures to my blog one of these days. Given that we use the same application, WordPress, I am sure it is possible. I just have to do it.

  2. Keisha Martin

    The choice should always be yours whether or not you want your memoir to be one or two books;I think though the conversation we have had and your blog postings there is so many info that it would make sense to haave a continueation.

    Best wishes.

    You are awesome.

  3. Hi Sharon,
    I too am an only child, but with no living relatives except my children and grandchildren, so I wrote my Memoir “Someone To Remember” which was just published by Outskirts Press in May, without any flak from anyone.
    I appreciated what you wrote and how you were considerate enough to use fictional names for people like the bullies. I didn’t think maybe as much about that as I should have and just told it like it was, names and all. Wow. I wonder if I will hear it from someone if they ever read it? I’d better get prepared, but then I doubt that those people would ever even know I wrote a Memoir and biography about my family. Usually the only people that buy a memoir are people that the author lets them know it exists, via emails, etc. and maybe some publication in local newspapers. That is unless you are a celebrity. How did you get to catagorize your blog and put in a picture? Mine has no sidebar.

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