Category Archives: Family Flak Memoirs

Only Child on when to write memoir or fiction

Sharon A. Crawford aka Only Child Writes. I promise I won’t repeat this photo each week.

I thought it fitting today to talk about writing – fiction versus memoir – when to use each – at least in my experience.

A short story or novel can come from something in real life – yours or someone else’s. It could be a news story, a classified ad, a personal experience, a friend or relative’s experience, something you see or hear, etc. But that experience is only the idea that kick-starts the story. For fiction, you need to use your imagination to create your plot and your characters.

For memoir, you gotta tell the truth – at least as you see it. This means real people, real events, although you may not remember exactly what everyone said. I’ve learned that as long as you are sure A and B were in the same place at the same time, they probably spoke – unless you know or find out they were feuding and not speaking. You can also check with others (family, friends) who knew the people involved and the scene in question for input. And if the people involved are still living you can talk to them. This is where it can get interesting because everyone sees the same event differently.

When do you write memoir and when do you write fiction? There is no hard and fast rule but here’s what I do. As those following this blog remember, my original memoir version got hit by family flak – they didn’t mind fictionalizing some of the stories, but some of the narrative they didn’t want in (this was from reading one chapter and based on some of the questions I had asked them). So I revamped the memoir to focus on my story, deleted the “objectionable” stuff and…got busy with the fiction.

So far one short story I wrote got its idea from something that happened with my relatives. And in another story, one character is loosely based on a relative and another character in another story originated with someone I once worked with. But that’s it – the stories are fiction and so are the characters. The real life events and people only planted the proverbial seed and the fictional took over.

Some stories have to be told as I see them. They just don’t work as triggers for fictional stories. They are too important not to narrate as they happened. With me it was being bullied as a child – both by a so-called friend, who I call “The Bully” in my memoir, and the nun who became principal at the grade school I attended. The two are important to what I was, what I experienced as a child and how I turned out as an adult. For example, if I had not been bullied I may not be so gung-ho on justice and fairness – which includes presenting both sides of the story. Heck, it is possibly a big factor in my becoming a journalist. It also may have something to do with why I think people who commit crimes need to be punished (although I think my Catholic upbringing in the late 50s and 60s has a lot to do with that attitude). However, my basic honesty and integrity came from my mother.

And I’ve tried writing short stories about kids being bullied but the stories never go anywhere and some read downright silly.

Rule of thumb: Write nonfiction – memoir, nonfiction article, whatever – about what is important to you to bring out into the open as fact. I know there are issues of will so-and-so sue me or get angry or? You need to consider these to a certain point. Don’t let them get in the way of writing your true story if you believe it is necessary to do so.

Like me, if you’ve already received flak and decide not to write it as memoir or personal essay, then use it as the trigger for fiction, and let your imagination soar with plot and characters.

My take on this. And I’m sticking to it.

What do you think?


Sharon A. Crawford

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Filed under Catholicism in the 1950s, Family Flak Memoirs, Fictional characters, Libel in Memoir Writing, Memoir content, Naming Names in Memoirs, Only child memoir, School days

Only Child clarifies the aloneness issue

Only Child with son, Martin, and two of the Michigan cousins

Got an interesting comment to my post last week (see Comments). While I’ve tried living with other onlies (mostly boarders) and found it didn’t work, reading Jen’s comment helped me clarify what I really mean. The problem isn’t living alone per se, but being alone. There is a difference.

Let me explain by using the example of a friend of mine who used to live down the street. She and her partner didn’t live together but spent weekends together, usually at her house. He was also there sometimes during the week, if only for the evening and helped her a lot with her house. She pulled her own weight as well. She also got to know his three sons from when he was married. (He was separated.) My friend and her partner travelled together throughout the US and Canada. They were considering moving in together after he retired or a few years later after she retired. And if you are wondering why the past tense, no, they didn’t split up. Their relationship lasted seven years; then he died suddenly from brain cancer.

Which again reminds me of one of my ex-boyfriend’s comments (which I’ve also posted before). “Life isn’t fair.” I have a corollary to that, something I’ve learned from what I’ve seen, heard and read and from personal experience.

Whenever someone is experiencing happiness, enjoy it, because it may not last.

The other thing Jen helped me look at was the siblings’ issue. Obviously I don’t have any. But I have cousins  – there are six in one set and seven in another. I know, rather large numbers, but we’re talking Catholic born in the 1950s and 1960s. I have noticed how close they are and how much they help each other with problems. Two examples: when one cousin was building her backyard deck, many of the cousins (including the inlaws) helped her. On a more serious note, when my godfather, father to the six cousins, got to the point where he had to go into a nursing home, they all worked together on this. And when he was living there, they not only spent a lot of time visiting him, they also held sibling discussions on how things were going there. I know because I went with many of them on the visits and two of them discussed their dad’s life at the nursing home, including how he was treated by the staff, when I was out to dinner with them.

This is what I mean by siblings helping each other. They are very close although it does help that all but one live near each other. Some of their kids are changing the geography, but my cousins go out of their way to bring us all together. Last summer when I was visiting one cousin couple, their oldest son, now living in California, was coming up with his girlfriend to visit them. My cousins arranged a family lunch get together (homemade pizza – everyone chose their own topping).

And these cousins go out of their way to help me with my visits to them. I don’t drive, so I take the train where I can to get to their places. But they not only pick me up at the train station, but organize who I stay with (several live in Stratford, Ontario) and one takes me up to their cottage. Last year two of them took me to public gardens (Yes, we are a family of gardeners, except for one couple). And two more cousins from Michigan made a special trip up in their mobile home to visit with us all when I was there.

Before you think my relationship with all my cousins is perfect – we have differing views on religion, how to treat others, and what to do when we personally get too old to manage on our own. But we try to respect our differences. That is probably harder for me than for them.

And of course I have my son and his partner who help with some things.

It’s just the what I call “house crap” and “computer crap” that jumps out at me and often the lack of enough money and time that upsets me. Some things where a partner could share – like with my friend who used to live down the street. If truth be told, I probably would be a “bear” to live with now. And maybe I wasn’t that easy to live with when I was married many years ago.

Perhaps that’s the legacy of growing up an only child.


Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Aloneness, Family and Friends, Family Flak Memoirs, Happiness, Help and Support, Only child, Sharon Crawford, Siblings and friends

Only Child on naming names in memoirs

Only Child reads excerpt from her memoir You Can Go Home - Deconstructing the Demons

Anyone who has or is writing a memoir has run into it – the “do I name names dilemma.” This topic has come up in the Women’s Memoir Writing group I belong to on Linked In as well as in the Crafting the Personal Memoir course I am currently teaching. And the Internet is full of ideas about what to do and what others did.

Some of these ideas are wild. Wait to write you memoir until everybody in it (except you, of course) is dead. Well, if you wait, your spirit may have to come back to earth to do so. Show what you have written to everybody in it. That can just make matters worse as I can personally relate to from just showing one chapter to cousins.  Change the names. Don’t tell anybody you are writing a memoir (except your writing critique group and swear them to secrecy) until it is published. Do you really think no one will blab about it?

A few years back when writing the original version of my memoir, I emailed one chapter to a cousin who had helped me with family background information. She must have passed it on to her siblings. But it wasn’t this chapter that stuck in the craw of one of her sisters. Nope. This cousin was upset because she didn’t want her children reading in a published book about the mental illness of a dead uncle. Our parents had “hidden” this uncle from us until one summer he showed up visiting another aunt and uncle and then our parents had to open up. Except their stories didn’t jibe. Flash forward to years later where some of us cousins discussed just what was the story with this uncle. The objecting cousin was not one of this bunch although she probably heard about it from her siblings. She later said she “would be very angry” if the book was published but wouldn’t sue me (I asked her). However, she had no problems with me writing it and publishing it as fiction, names changed, of course.

Which I’m doing. One family story became the basis of a fictional short story  I wrote and had published in an anthology. The details and family situation changed – only the theme remained. And no, it wasn’t about my late uncle with the mental illness. Not yet…

At the same time I had done a manuscript evaluation exchange with another author and he said that my story was the most interesting in my memoir.

So, I changed it, including the title to You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons. I deleted all the old family history (except for my parents and my grandfather) and wrote more of my story – the whole focus and theme changed. I also used pseudonyms (and state that in a Disclaimer at the beginning) for all but my parents and myself. That won’t hide it all but I felt it was the best way for me to handle the situation.  Did I do it because of this cousin’s objections? Partly. But more so, from reader feedback.

The bottom line is when writing a memoir you have to decide for yourself whether to name names or not, what to show to family members or if to show anything to family members; only chapter excerpts for fact-checking might work best. If someone has a different take on something, why not include their take (but give them their credit)? Remember everyone sees a situation differently. You can always show the draft to a lawyer if you are really worried about libel.

And here are some of those websites I checked out.–to-do-so-requ-397127.html

Do a Google search for “naming names memoir” and see what you find.


Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes


Filed under Family Flak Memoirs, Libel in Memoir Writing, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Naming Names in Memoirs, Only child, Only child memoir, Sharon Crawford