• Melodye,

        Here’s my “writerly” take: I think that what James Frey did has affected the memoir industry greatly. People writing memoirs are under more scrutiny than ever before. Perhaps this is a good thing in some ways. But in other ways, Frey’s deliberate lies created a distrust in the industry that shouldn’t have been there. I’ve watched you, while writing your own memoir, go painstakingly over each and every detail. You’ve hopped on planes, made numerous phone calls, visited records halls, etc., all in the name of showing that your memoir was true. It disconcerts me that someone who clearly didn’t go to these lengths, but who rather made fabrications, was exalted to such a high level before he was “found out” and then complicated the publishing journey for others, whose tales are honest and forthright.

        As a reader, I find what he did clearly deceptive and unnerving. When we pick up a memoir, we’re allowing ourselves to become vulnerable to someone else’s world. We’re allowing ourselves to feel around in someone else’s shoes for awhile. When we do that, and then get a “gotcha!” it feels like a violation of trust. As a reader, I don’t want to pick up a memoir, lose myself in the “honest” journey of the writer, only to find out I’ve been duped. It’s not right.

        Do I think Oprah should have apologized? Who’s to say. She raked Frey over the coals, there’s no denying that. She had to do what her own soul told her to do, and I can’t judge that. But perhaps, in today’s world, we need a little more accountability. In any other industry, if you’ve falsified information, you’d be fired. Writing non-fiction or memoirs requires fact. Plain and simple. What’s the appropriate consequence for deliberate deception to those facts? You tell me.

        Thanks for asking me to weigh in on this, Melodye.

        • I second Cathy’s eloquent take on all this. Memoirs took a big hit because of his actions and even though I know you’d gather all your “proof” regardless, it makes me sad that you’re feeling under a microscope as a a result.

  1. I was just wondering – if the remembrance of facts/dates causes disagreement among you and some of your siblings – can you include their point of view in your memoir? That way they can never come out and say you were wrong, or lied, or anything like that. They will feel heard (and your readers will still believe you, because that’s what a good story does, we believe the teller!) and not step out against your book when it’s out (oh yes, not if but when!).

    • Hmmm, that’s a sticky wicket. A memoir is diluted (compromised?), I think, when a writer tries to accommodate everyone’s point of view. And also? There will always be those who disagree about the facts of any story. (Our prisons attest to that–they hold the unfairly convicted as well as guilty parties who scream their innocence.)

      That said, I am working very hard to get all the facts straight. And in the modern-day “Nancy Drew” segments, each of my siblings gets to weigh in on an important memory. I’m doing my level best, honest… 🙂

      • That’s exactly what I meant though! That those opinions would be included in the present-day parts, absolutely not in the actual story! That part is all about your story, your memories.

  2. All this certainly reminds me why I have not (nor ever plan to) written a memoir…I will read your first chapter soon, btw (before the end of the weekend, certainly) — and I do agree that Frey shouldn’t be absolved of his truth avoidance. I wonder why Oprah feels she chastised him too vehemently…

    • In order to subject yourself to this level of scrutiny, I think you really have to believe in yourself and the value of your story. But maybe that’s true of all writing projects?

      I’m not sure about the Oprah thing. Time magazine article hints at possibilities, but I wouldn’t want to make any false assumptions. I hope to learn more.

  3. I defer to you on this, Melodye – it’s definitely your bailiwick and not mine! As I said the other day (probably more snappishly than I meant to on only a couple of hours of new-baby sleep), I was disappointed in Frey but not furious. I think, if not marketed as a memoir, per se, that his book is still an enjoyable read, but then I never approached it as something I expected to be totally true (the whole root canal without anesthesia thing really strained credulity). But I know there are standards and ethics in memoir writing, and while I understand what they are, I do appreciate how hard it would be to capture and document everything. I also understand how fabricating something and passing it off as truth is wrong.

    But Oprah. Well. In general, I dislike the way she (and other talk show hosts of her ilk, to be fair) fawn over celebrity guests. I still maintain that if she hadn’t gone so publicly gaga over Frey’s book in the first place, then she wouldn’t have felt the need to dress him down so harshly afterward.

    • No, please! Don’t defer to me. I’m learning as I go, and memoir is an evolving genre. It’s definitely healthy to hear differing perspectives, and I very much value your opinions.

      You’re right that an entertaining read is paramount. That’s why some of us borrow fiction techniques to tell our stories. Still, while I don’t expect every word, line, and scene to be independently verifiable, I want to believe that all memoirists operate under the same ethical standards. For better and arguably worse, some authors are allowed to bend the facts or defy conventions–supposedly in service to their story. Sadly, I’m thinking that makes all our stories suspect.

      And yeah, Oprah. She does a lot of good in the world, but she seems to have a blind spot for celebrities.

      • I agree with you re accountably. Can’t guess at Oprah’s reasoning. Good to apologize, but… if she did nothing wrong?

        I think it’s great you’re doing Nancy Drew and trying to get other points of views. But the memoir is your point of view. You can do your best to be fair and honest, but… people in one family all have different memories, and I worry you could drive yourself crazy — or never finish your important book — if you try to speak for all. That’s not your job. But trying to be fair and honest, acknowledging your own limitations, that is

        my two cents.

        • You’re right, of course. It’s easy to get mired in the details. More than a few times, I’ve spun my wheels in this regard. No more. I’m feeling more confident about writing my own story now, hurray!

          Thanks for sharing your two cents. Between us, we’re on our way to riches!

  4. Melodye, I started listening in my car to audio book Life Sentences by Laura Lippman which includes interesting ideas about memoir. It’s a mystery, but the main character has written two memoirs, and is writing a third, and there are lots of reflections about the process and family reaction. Very different from what you’re doing, but you may hear echoes….

    • Aw, thanks for thinking of me, Jeannine!! Sounds fascinating. I put my name on the wait list at the library. I’m looking forward to hearing this author’s/character’s perspectives.

    • P.S. Amazon reviewers gave it fairly poor reviews, although the up-top reviews seem positive. I’m not sure I trust online reviews, but I’d definitely respect your opinion. So…how are you liking it so far?

      • I’m really enjoying it. I think I saw one review, which said something about it being too split — is it a mystery, or is it a realistic novel? I don’t at all mind the split. And then she has a big following, and this form moves a bit from that, which can bother some people. I like the comments on memoir, and the character, and mystery within the novel though.

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