Sunday, July 29, 2012

Non-commercial memoir

You'll hear me talking about non-commercial memoir in the coming weeks and months. I wrote a blog post for BiblioBuffet about how I got started thinking about it.


Wry Wryter said...

Why the hell didn’t someone think of this before? How honorable of you to promote the ‘effort’ of the unpromotable.

I met my parents for the first time after they died. One hundred and twenty-five love letters they wrote to each other while separated by WWII helped me discover them as kids, younger than my own children are now. They were at twenty-two what they were at eighty-two and who they were...were not the parents who raised me. Now I’ll finish it, because I should, because I can, because it matters. If only for my children...that is audience enough for me.

Thank you Janet.

close reader said...

Perhaps you're thinking of something like Madeleine Albright's Prague Winter--which is an authoritative history of Czechoslovakia as well as Albright's personal story?

steeleweed said...

I will soon be republishing a volume of memoirs by my aunt. They will never sell big but will sell forever in one small part of the country, to people interested in life in the Old West.

I really wish my grandmother had written a memoir, as her life was the stuff of pioneer legend - and she had the family letters of well over 100 years to draw on. Sadly she wrote very little and destroyed most of the letters - "Family stuff, who cares about that?", she said, and I can hear historians grinding their teeth now.

My wife urges me to write a memoir (Outhouse to Internet), since I've seen a wider slice of Americana than most, but I haven't really found a peg to hang the story on.

The closest I've seen to a 'commercial memoir' is John Masters "Bugles and a Tiger." He wrote two other volumes that might be designated military memoir and biography, but B&T was really just a picture of a young man coming of age in the old Indian Army. The bio was incidental to the story. I think that's true of good memoirs - they tell a story and it's not about the writer. I read them whenever I find them, which isn't often.

Elissa M said...

I write letters. Perhaps I'm the only person left who does. The feeling one gets when one finds an honest-to-goodness personal letter in the mail is worth far more than the price of a stamp-- no matter how expensive stamps get.

I wrote to my husband every day that he was deployed to Iraq. Every. Single. Day. For a year. Even though there is no mail on Sunday and even though they arrived in clumps and spurts. I hope no historian would have considered them significant, because my husband didn't have room to bring them back. He burned them. All except a few favorites.

So, you are right, Janet. There will be no letters for future historians to rely on. Even if we write them, people don't save them.

The concept of non-commercial memoirs is wonderful. I hope other agents follow your lead and promote the idea.

Sarah W said...

I work in the local history and genealogy department of a public library. We collect memoirs, personal genealogies and family histories, epistolary collections, and personal narratives.

Some are commercial, but most of these are self-published -- occasionally in three-ring binders --and the rest are placed in our manuscripts collections.

But all are a crucial part of our collective histories. Names and dates are good, but there is nothing better than witnessing the reverent joy of patrons who have discovered the actual stories of their ancestors in these collections, or the righteous satisfaction of writers and researchers who have located the details of events, common or rare, that happened generations ago.

As we tell our patrons who aren't sure if they want to bother, even if one's memoirs or family histories or correspondence aren't of wide interest now, people will find connections to it in the future.

And if they don't write it down . . . it will all be lost.

Joelle said...

The historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's memoir WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR is the kind of memoir you mean - full reporting. I know she has platform, but I mean in regards to the writing. She did the work on it as if she were researching someone else. She interviewed everyone she could find from her childhood. It's one of my favourite books.

I do write letters. And I even get a few. But I have a whole box of love letters from nine years ago, too. When my husband was courting me from TN to my home in OR. We have them in a suitcase, ready to grab, along with the cats, should we have to abandon ship for any reason (years of living in tornado country prepares you for that!).

terri patrick said...

I'm thrilled you are making an effort to clarify the importance of the non-commercial memoir. I totally get this as I have one in process and would never have gotten as far as I have without the encouragement of others.

I hope you include the importance of the writers altruism not only for future generations and researchers. Also encourage their opportunity to learn storytelling and the craftsmanship of writing. Then they can realize they have a platform that can be developed at least on a small scale and in their lifetime. There is a huge benefit when a survivor helps at least one other person survive, and thrive.

I look forward to more of your insights on this topic.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I wrote one for my brother. He was quite a bit older than me and knew our parents much better than I did.

His stories about our grandmother amazed me. To me she had always been a cranky little white haired lady. He knew her when she was a firebrand farm wife with a will of iron.

It's not much, but the stories are saved for his grandchildren. I say saved because he left us last week after a short and shocking illness that has left us reeling.

Do. It. Now. Save the stories and do not let them get lost. Because of my brother, I have my family's heart in print.


Lauren B. said...

By sheer coincidence, there is a related article on TechCrunch this morning:

"The Rumpus Literary Website Brings Back Old-Fashioned Letter Writing"

Colin Smith said...

What an inspiring article, Janet! And so true. Anyone who has engaged in historical research, whether professionally, or just for a term paper, should understand the importance of the written record. And to understand the times in which people lived (e.g., if you're writing historical fiction), personal memoirs are priceless.

I thought about writing a memoir, but even though I have a story to tell (marrying an American, moving to the States from England, and all the interesting wrinkles along the way), I doubt it would interest anyone outside of my kids. But what better reason to write it?

Writing a traditional memoir would, however, take away from my other writing pursuits. I decided to get around this by incorporating aspects of my memoir into my blog. Every now and again, I'll post a life story--something from my childhood in England (e.g., how we celebrated Christmas), or even something interesting that happened recently (e.g., my Yorkshire Pudding experiment) that will, hopefully, in years to come, help my kids (and their kids) know more about me and the changing world in which I grew up. And, being online, it's sort-of-published too, so it's available for others who, for whatever reason, care to read it. :)

Anonymous said...

Janet, I appreciate your willingness to help those who seek healing through their memoirs. An altruistic author is a flawed diamond. One can't sell their work, but beauty still glows from them.

In my profession, I get all sorts of life questions. I've had people ask me about their memoirs and if they should publish them. My response is usually:
"Your story is important and needs to be shared on the deepest personal level with those who are struggling. Many of them go online and search for answers. If the chapters of your memoirs waited for them in a blog, you'd reach many more hearts."

Angie Brooksby said...

About 6 months ago I wrote you an email thanking you for your blog because it helped me realize that I am not a writer. It was after I attended a lame writer's workshop at WICE in Paris where the prof didn't even know who Noah Lukeman was.

This post gives me heart to continue. Even if I do not put my story in book form, someone may want to. Twenty five years of daily journal entries as a professional painter from street vending in Florence to an atelier in Ivry-susr- Seine, just outside Paris's Chinatown.

I am glad that other people are doing this too. I think it can be likened to Art Brut.

Thanks Janet