A non-Meme Monday

I don’t feel like meme’ng today and couldn’t find anything worth the effort of stealing for that purpose anyway. Today I want to hear from you, my gentle readers.

I am rewriting the first chapter of my memoir. I have the chance to pitch it to an agent who represents a friend of mine and I need at minimum the first three chapters written and polished. I am going to write some version of a recent post on Will’s last months in hospice. And I just want to say, I appreciate those of you who took the time to comment and offer your take on my disclosure dilemma.

Whenever I question writing and trying to publish the memoir, I hear from people who say “Write it. I want to read it.” but they never really say why or what it is they think I will be writing about that intrigues them sight unseen.

Rob is semi-busily composing his chapter in his head. His first months after Shelley died, I think. But as he pointed out, our lives have been intersected only a short time in comparison to the length of our lives overall and certainly our first marriages. What makes our story worth knowing? Worth the time it would take to read?

I remember a snarky comment – not here – that I read directed at Rob and I shortly after we married that went something like,

“I don’t need to hear about relationships and marriage from two people who’ve been widowed less than a year and been dating and then remarried for about a total of  two minutes.”

And though I think that sometimes “seat time”  is important, it does not necessarily make one an expert either. I have run across more than a few widowed people who believe that it is years out that gives when insight and the moral authority to speak to the generalities and larger truths of surviving a spouse, and yet some of the widows I most admire for their choices, compassion and wisdom aren’t even as far along in the journey as I am.

And anyway, my experience is atypical in terms of circumstances and the order in which I went through things, so I don’t see it as modeling for anyone.

At the conference I attended in May, I had a chance to sit with a publisher from South Africa and I quizzed her on the marketability of memoir. She said that from a personal standpoint the reason people read them baffled her. She found books on surviving tragedy more depressing than uplifting and a little bit voyeuristic, not in a good way. 

I suppose I have things to say in terms of dating after spouse loss, remarriage, family blending. I hesitate to get all “how to” though. I prefer the facts and how it played out personally with people taking or leaving it as they will.

So, here I ask again, what would you want to know – bearing in mind that I am as likely to really tell you as not – in terms of my memoir. Don’t be shy. But don’t be a snark either.

9 responses to “A non-Meme Monday

  1. I’m always interested in a story that I can identify with because of similarities, but different enough to hold my interest. Since I’m familiar with your writing, I’m sure that I won’t be disappointed.

  2. “Why would I read it and what do I perceive it saying?”

    We all have faced or will face loss. It is one of the universal human conditions. Not only that, we all face adversity, joy, fear, bewilderment, the unexpected, the predictable and the mundane at various points in our lives- each one of us.

    Some people aren’t interested in people or their stories- I expect that a memoir would not be for them. An awful lot of other people are interested in personal accounts of the human condition- they would be your audience.

    I, like others, am interested in how other “ordinary” people have handled what has been thrown their way, how they have chosen to live the life they have been given. Do they have insight? Do they show courage? Can they teach me something about how to seize opportunities for joy? How did they get from there to here? Can I identify similarities or resonances with my life’s path? Can I learn something from how they approached a situation? Will reading their point of view help me to understand another person in a similar situation another time?

    There you go- a generalized answer to why I would want to read your memoir. Even if you weren’t aiming to be prescriptive, I would hope to glean something from your story which would help me understand myself or others.

  3. I am drawn to a person’s story when there is an “it could be me” aspect because I wonder how I would handle the same situation. I continue reading when the story is well written and honest with a touch of humor.

  4. a good question “why DO people read memoirs”? one i hadn’t pondered… the hook for me is learning how others faced adversity – whether i’ve shared the same adversity doesn’t always matter. i’m fascinated by human behavior, and how we deal with the nasty stuff is very telling about who we are as humans.

    your particular story draws me in because you have steadfastly refused to be a victim – whether in the eyes of others or your own – and you tackle the gnarly and unpretty things honestly and openly, with an unusual balance of logic AND emotion.

    that said? i think you need to tell your story in the way that makes the most sense to you. the editors/publishers will figure out whether it’s marketable, or can be shaped differently to be more marketable.

    • Ah, an excellent point about the editors and marketing.

      And just to add, it is written. It’s been written – first draft anyway – since last November. But it needs Rob’s story and he hasn’t been willing to write it until recently and I needed to think before tackling the revisions and polishing.

  5. Alicia and UB,

    I hadn’t thought to poll beyond – why do you read the stuff I write about me? – until I looked into writing the book proposal. Apparently, I need to be able to tell a prospective agent and publisher who my audience is and why. And I really don’t know.

    Lora, Alicia is right. It’s like a LifeTime Movie – Susan Saradon stuff. And it’s funny you should ask about the chair. Dee won’t let me get rid of it and I have tried.

  6. I agree with UB: Don’t turn to a focus group. Keep it real and it will work. I definitely would not want a “how to,” but more of a “how I/how we.”

    But I’m actually posting to respond to Lora’s line, There is this pervasive iconic image of someone smelling clothing, hoarding belongings, smashing vases. It’s all so Hollywood, I’m guessing. I’m snickering at that because I can remember “watching” myself do those things and thinking that it was straight out of a cheap movie. But it’s real, it’s what widowed folk do.

  7. I’m always interested in the things that people don’t usually talk about.

    I’m very interested in the guilt aspect (of everything in life, not just this). How did you feel when you decided that you couldn’t make it to his bedside because you needed sleep, because you wanted to do something fun while he couldn’t, because life got in the way of death and dying?

    And afterwards, going through his things. There is this pervasive iconic image of someone smelling clothing, hoarding belongings, smashing vases. It’s all so Hollywood, I’m guessing.

    What did you REALLY do? Was there anything you were glad to get rid of? Like a gross old chair or something? What did you do with the gifts he gave you? Your wedding jewelry and pictures and such?

  8. Okay, here’s my not shy, not snaky comment.

    Write, write, write. And don’t spend any time looking for guidance or opinions from your audience. Go where your gut leads you. Charles Bukowski wrote some great poems about ignoring the noise and distractions around you and just plowing through the work. You should only look to please one person. After that, it’s all up to the fates.

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