I think fiction is easier than truth. Not the writing of it, that’s always hard for either. But when we’re choosing what to focus on when we write, I think it definitely takes more courage to tell the truth, and bare our scars to the world.
An idea occurred to me this week. I was thinking about my book’s genre, which is “autobiography and memoir.” I wondered out loud, Who reads memoirs? And What does the word “memoir” bring to mind? Maybe just an idea of the rambling memories of old ladies and old men.
Since my book is not selling like hotcakes (it’s self published and has no corporate marketing or advertising) I found myself wondering about this. Should I list my book as a novel? Might that get more of the kinds of readers who want to read what I write, as something contemporary, that matters to their lives, not some dusty volume of dates and times and stories with lace doilies on the sofa?
The memoir genre now is nothing like it was in our parents’ day. Ever since Angela’s Ashes and The Liars Club, This Boy’s Life, and A River Runs Through It, the literary form has completely redesigned itself. These writers and others have re-created the genre. It’s much more like a novel, or a film, with scenes and dialogues, multiple narratives, some just beneath the surface, and the most private and even raw emotional experiences rendered with shocking honesty.
My memoir definitely reads more like a novel than an autobiography. I suspect that the readers who are seeking this book won’t look for it under “memoir.” They will be looking for books that are fiercely alive with passion and compassion, tragic mistakes of youth and innocence, and survival of body and soul through truly dangerous challenges and adventures. Yes, Victory has got those things
And the next thought that came to me, absolutely stopped me in my tracks. It was a revelation. The only real difference between a great memoir and a great novel is that the memoir is factually real. It is true.
Many of us, these days, don’t really want too much truth. Life is complicated enough. The truth is scary and it doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, we need to escape for a while, or at least, take a break. Readers want adventures and experiences that will take them out of this daily life reality, and on a voyage to an unimaginably different life.
Tragically, most people under 50 right now are almost totally immersed in fantasy, second-hand social-media bits and random pieces instead of human conversations. Sci-fi, horror, blood and guts stories and movies and TV shows, and humanized comic book heroes. We want to see ourselves like that, in fantasy, so we can imagine ourselves as the hero, and not see our truth or our honest flaws. Memoirs don’t do that. Memoirs are not fantasy, not delusion, they don’t wear superhero suits, though they do sometimes inspire superhuman powers. Memoirs tell us about genuine life, why it matters, and they tell the truth.
Naturally enough, a lot of us don’t want too much truth. We get that on the news, along with so many wildly delusional lies coming at us from all sides, it’s more difficult than it has ever been to tell which is which, and the stress is overwhelming us.
But the truth, each other’s shared truth, is exactly what can save us from being swallowed up and lost in the noise and glittering bright colors coming at us from multi-media 24-7. The truth is something else. It isn’t always pretty, and unfortunately it doesn’t always win. Only the bravest among us want to read the truth, even in another person’s life, and risk seeing it reflected in our own. Even if nobody else sees it, we will see it, and we can’t un-ring that bell. But the payoff is huge. The realistic possibility that we may be affirmed and uplifted by the connection with another soul through their experiences – on the page.
I believe there is truth in fiction too, because no one can write anything that is not already inside them before they pick up the pen. So what we write tells something about us whether we mean to or not. The biggest difference between a novel and a memoir turns out to be, basically, the memoir is the only genre that takes the risk of telling the truth on purpose.
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.