Virginia Festival of the Book - Families Coming Together: Fiction and Memoir

One of the great joys of Charlottesville is poking around the incredible number of bookstores that this town boasts and supports. Used bookstores, independent bookstores, and large chain retailers — C-ville has them all. Many of the events of the Festival are held in these bookstores.

One of my favorites is the New Dominion Bookshop on the Pedestrian Mall. I scored nine new Newbery medal winners before our Friday session began. Nine! As a family, we've been reading Newbery award winners for years, and we strive to own them all. We love to scour bookstores in places we visit to see what we find, and we get excited when we find one of the hard-to-find titles. Scoring nine is really quite the feat. Because there are more than 80 (the first Newbery was awarded for the 1922 book The Story of Mankind) titles that have earned the award, we collect them in paperback. To date, we have acquired more than 50. More about Newbery books in a future post.

An unexpectedly warm day, the bookstore is quite stuffy particularly in the cozy loft area where we gather for our first panel session of the Festival, but we cheerfully fan ourselves as we wait for our first panel discussion to begin.

Novelists Carleen Brice, first-time novelist of Orange Mint and Honey, Kim Reid, first-time novelist of No Place Safe, and Emilie Richards, author of many books, including her latest Touching Stars, discussed the individual choices they made when deciding whether to publish their stories as fiction or memoir.

Reid said that she was encouraged to publish her book as a memoir, but she acknowledged that it leaves you vulnerable. "It's hard to put your business out there."

Richards and Brice both confessed that their works of fiction often reveal issues that they are working through, oftentimes issues they were unaware of. Brice's story features many examples of surrogate families, and she realized that the conflict she wrote between her main mother-daughter characters was really a conflict she hadn't resolved with her father. "You're reading your own words, and you realize, 'Wow!' I guess I'm working through something!" Brice laughed. "Any work of fiction is going to involve stuff that you tell on yourself."

Regarding memoirs, Richards acknowledges that the genre is the "best fodder as research for novelists."

I myself have edited memoirs, and I've been fascinated by the various scandals that have emerged in recent times involving false memoirs, such as A Million Little Pieces and Love and Consequences.

Why did these authors feel that their message would have been diluted if they had published their powerful stories as fiction? Do you think that abusers of this genre have caused irreparable harm to it by casting a dark cloud of doubt over the authenticity of all memoirs? Check out this NPR article "Faking It: What Motivates Fake Memoirs?" and let us know what you think.

1 comment:

Chris said...

This session was very informative and interesting. Personally, I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to write a memoir. I'd be too honest, and no one likes themselves even lightly sketched, even in fiction.

I think those who write consciously false memoirs are very wrong for what they do.

Some people who write fiction will be accused of bad memories, and family and friends will want to "correct" that poor soul. It happened to me.

I wrote a poem my step-sister read and promptly stated, "I don't remember that experience." At first, I was dumbfounded by her statement, then I laughed.

First, I hadn't claimed the poem was autobiographical — even if the poem had information that, for people who knew my personal life, clearly was autobiographical.

Second, it wasn't her experience. It was mine.

And here she thought I was getting something wrong....