Friday, October 16, 2009

deja vu?

I'm beginning to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

My agent read my completed memoir and misses the fiction that I removed. So here we go again.

Do readers and publishers want 100% truth and a less compelling story, or 98% truth and a stronger plot? I doubt anybody knows, but that’s always been my dilemma with this material. When I had plans to publish this myself, I added a fictional device to progress the plot and make the story feel more cohesive. I removed it because my new agent felt the material should be submitted as a memoir.

The material in question probably take up less than eight pages, but it gives the characters more purpose. I've seen memoirs with some pretty big disclosure statements, but they were probably published before the Frey fray. David Sedaris is calling his latest book realish, which underscores the problem so many of us are dealing with. I keep hoping a completely new way of labeling memoirs will eventually emerge, because what exists now is too narrow. But as soon as you call a memoir fiction, you put a different set of expectations on it, diminish the story, and reduce the value (IMO).

update: We received feedback on this issue, and I'm going to disclose the tweak in preface of book. This is how I handled it in original submission.


  1. Should you label as "based on a true story"?

    Or maybe Memoir lite? ;-)

    Heather Dearly

  2. maybe it's just me, but when i hear based on a true story i figure very little of it is true. like hearing about something in the news, then creating a novel about it. my agent is looking into fictional memoir, which is showing up with more frequency. i thought that meant fake memoir with fictional character, but apparently it can also mean a memoir with some elements of fiction.


    i like memoir lite. :D or some variation of that.

  3. Isn't your agent an expert on how to handle this very question? I would think she would have clear advice. In or out. Eight pages doesn't sound like it would ruin the whole work. However, I understand the concern about 100% truth versus 97% truth.

  4. jason, i can only guess it's because the definition of memoir is in such a state of flux. i think she felt it would be okay to use the material, but i knew someone who would raise a major stink about it. i was concerned about this person stepping forward and saying this never happened. i invented a variety of apple that doesn't exist. that's the whole deal right there, and i will simply own up to this fictional apple in preface.