Monday, November 23, 2009

All about ME – how to write a Bestseller

Vicki here. I was listening to an interesting interview on CBC radio yesterday. They were talking about the increasing importance of memoirs in publishing. I’m sure you have noticed: walk into any bookstore and you can find the memories of self-important politicians (Hello S.P.), looking-to-blame-someone-else-soldiers (Hello General H.), tennis players, people who own dogs (like that’s unusual). Anything and everything. You don’t have to be rich and famous any more to write your autobiography, you just have to be self-important and the riches and fame will follow.

We all know by now that when James Frey wrote his novel A Million Little Pieces, no publisher showed an interest. He called it a memoir (i.e. said it was true) and a mega-star was born.

When Sylvia Plath wrote about her own experiences with mental institutions she fictionalized it and called it The Bell Jar. When Susanna Kaysen more recently wrote about her experiences, she wrote it as a memoir titled Girl Interruped and, again, mega-star status. Even a movie.

Aside from the point that people are more willing to reveal their secrets to anyone who will listen these days than in Plath’s time, it’s a lot more than the publishing biz driving these books.

It’s TV. Oprah and the rest don’t want to interview a fiction author. There is only so much they can talk about (where do you get your ideas?). Interview a memoirist however, and you can really get into the down and dirty about their secret habits, their families, their lives, their PROBLEMS. Remember how shocked SHOCKED!! and upset Oprah was to find out that Frey didn’t really live all that stuff in his book? Well she drove him, indirectly, to lie. He couldn’t get that book published without lying, and if he had found a publisher, Oprah wouldn’t have given him the time of day.

As for me, give me a good work of fiction anytime. A good novel tells a good story, about the world and the people who live in it without making it ALL ABOUT ME!


Dana King said...

What I don't understand about this whole memoir craze is, Who cares? We all have lives. Are there that many people with such empty lives they have to live vicariously through every schmuck with a word processor?

Rick Blechta said...

Come on, Dana, tell us how you REALLY feel about this. Don't hold back!

Donis Casey said...

IF I wrote a memoir, I might get on Oprah, but my family would ever speak to me again.

Anonymous said...

Some people really like finding out how others live and enjoy biographies and memoirs and television shows that go into the past. I am not one of them and am bored silly by these stories, but if people are reading them, people will write them.

Dana King said...


I would have let it all out, but I'm saving the best parts for my memoir. This was just a tease.


Just because someone wants to write about their dirty secrets doesn't mean everyone else wants to read about them.

I strongly suspect that many memoirs have a lot in common with today's "reality TV" - not a whole lot that's real-life.

I'm with you - give me fiction every time.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Last summer, I got to hear Julia Glass speak at a conference (what a treat!), and her book, I See You Everywhere, had just hit the bookshelves. Though it's about her relationship with her sister, she wrote it as fiction, because she feels memoirs have a strong element of prurient voyeurism. Leave it to Julia to put it so well.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

P.S. I loved the book, and I don't think I've ever read a memoir.