This week clearing out bookshelves and file drawers, I came across my first writing-log notebook back in 2012 when I began the book I’m writing now, that I never imagined would become a trilogy. In it I discovered that I had written this bit of wisdom:
“The success of memoir is to recognize the truth and yet be at peace with it.” Such a simple phrase for such an immense task.
My memoir was never about just me, and what happened to me, it was always about everybody, and including me wandering through it mostly clueless and baffled. So when I realized that I was actually writing a book, I knew that I needed to find a way to see all of us, at once, the real people, tell the truth in the simplest way, and then trust that the patterns and meanings would come through on their own.
Where do you start? Well obviously, you tell the stories. But not like a novel, where everything is about the protagonist and all the other people are just supporting characters or obstacles. No, it all counts, and everybody’s story is a part of my own. I wanted and needed to see these lives like a landscape, where you can see for miles, and everything you can see is laid out clearly and simply and plainly. How do you do that?
So I stepped away, and began to look at it all, as if from above, a birds-eye-view at a distance like some invisible spectator/bystander in the sky. From there, I was not “in it.” Instead I was looking down calmly upon who we were and what we did, just the facts. The stories would still be limited to what the protagonist knew then, at each time and place. She and everyone else would have no set path or agenda to the objective observer in the sky. No angle.
If the memoir-writer had been a journalism student learning how to write a news story, she would have had to I step out of herself and become an “impartial” describer, limited by the discipline and conscious intention to be impartial. A journalist must look at all events and information as being of equal value, and truthfully report them, taking care to avoid prejudgment or bias.
It worked. This opened up a flood of stories I had not been aware of before, both wonderful and terrible, tender and frightening, into a clear light that astonished me. It energized me, and I began to write the good stuff. Not just my truth, but the truth.
Even though an interpretation may show up at the end of a written story, a true story must not begin with one, because if it does, then everything you write will be tinted by that lens, right from the start. In order to tell the authentic story, it’s imperative to check yourself carefully for biases and personal opinions, somehow escape your ego-mind of self-awareness, and look instead with clean eyes.
No easy task. But if you step out, it is possible to step away from the personal perspective and look again from an objective distance, then everything becomes more clear and more simple. The patterns emerge from the confusion, and the truth shows through the multiple shades of perception.
In memoir, unlike any other genre, the writer has the option of a “reflexive voice,” during or after the narrative, where we can “reflect” our real-time interpretations of what those events personally mean now, and/or, what they meant then, if the story itself doesn’t show it. But I want the story to show it. I find that doing too much reflection stops the flow, pauses the reader’s adventure, and I want the book to be a personal adventure for them, just as these events were unexplained adventures for me.
So in Victory, I have let Vickie take her chances and make her mistakes unrestrained and un-judged. I’m trusting the intelligence, creativity, compassion, and inner courage of my readers to take the risk of the journey with her, and see where it leads.
Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames. Publishers’s sampler: http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html
If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress, please contact me through email: “Victory” at Darkhorse Press dot com. Thank you.