44. When Friends Don’t Like Your Book

09/17/2022

Someone who was my very best friend when we were children and teens (called Vivian in Book One) started reading the book, then stopped when she got to the hard parts. A year later at my request, she did read the rest, and praised the writing style, but never commented about any of the content, the story itself. She’s a great person, very perceptive, wealthy and successful. I took a different path that led to much less monetary success and much more adventure and wild beauty, and I wouldn’t change any of it.

I think it was uncomfortable for her to read about what I was going through back then as a kid when my family was falling apart, and as a young woman in a desolate marriage. It’s possible that now my truth is embarrassing and even repellent to her. I am the black-sheep, the po’ white trash of our peer group. She was probably shocked at the painful truth of my birthmother’s alcoholism when I was eleven, and me stealing food from the grocery store and eating the discarded produce at the loading dock behind the store.

I am not ashamed of those things. In my long life since then, among my several careers I was a caregiver in an always-overwhelmed hospital emergency room. I have seen other souls in trouble, by the thousands. I know that people do what they can. I don’t blame my birthmother for her addiction. I know it was not her first choice for dealing with the hardships of her life that were so painful and so many. I don’t devalue her for her mistakes, or devalue myself for taking whatever means I could to feed myself and keep my spirit alive, as a child, or as an adult. My story gets rough, it isn’t pretty all the time, but there are  incredibly brave and beautiful times too.

Another longtime friend (called Lois in Book Two) read the first two chapters of Book One for me when I asked her to be a beta reader and give me some feedback. She marked two minor typos and said nothing more. No comments about content or any sort of meaning in the story. She didn’t get it. She too is a person who is quite well-off in the traditional model of success. She didn’t need it. I reminded myself that this doesn’t mean that nobody will get it, or that nobody will need it.

After my initial disappointment, I wondered, Why don’t these intelligent, kind and honest women get it? Why don’t they see anything meaningful here? And the answer that came from the Wiser Voice Within said, “Maybe it’s not so much that they really can’t see, but that they don’t want to see.” 

I know too well: the truth is dangerous, and often painful. As I look back from a distance now, it seems embarrassingly obvious: these friends don’t want to know the person that I am, they want me to be forever the person they knew, or thought they knew, back when. Victory is not about that. Victory Is My Name is an adventure tale, a mystery story, and a love-letter to Life.

I love this latchkey kid from the not-so-great side of town. I admire her resourcefulness, her survival instinct, her courage and grit. I respect the young woman she became who tried so hard to do things right and then was used and abused for her innocence. I respect my absent alcoholic birthmother whose life fell apart while the trap of alcohol made everything worse. The truth is, millions of good people have made the same mistakes. I know, as you know, that even now these things still happen to many of us, and we hide it in some sort of undeserved shame.

When you write your truth, no matter what it is, you’re going to find that some of your friends or family will not be able to embrace it, or even accept it. This is not your fault, or theirs. And this is not a reflection of your writing’s value and worth to the waiting world. To write from Life is a calling, not a job, not a beauty contest. Write anyway. Tell your truth anyway. You know you must. And share it whenever and wherever you can.

Nonfiction narrative and memoir writers out there in the world: Take courage, take faith, and take honest pride in your gift. Not everyone will want it. You aren’t here to do it for them, but for your own spirit’s calling. Write for the many more who do need it, who have made mistakes while honestly seeking life, just like you.

____________________________________________

Victory Is My Name, Book One: The Burning Barrel
Paperback 288 pgs   ISBN#  978-0-9841730-9-9
E-book   ISBN#   978-0-9841730-4-4
Read a sampler:
http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html


36. Is Fiction Easier Than The Truth?

06/24/2021

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.


%d bloggers like this: