Lately, some really incredily fine memoirs have come across my desk, Ann Hood's wrenchingly brave Comfort, about the death of her 6 year old, and Elizabeth Mccracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, about her stillborn baby. At the same time, I think I've also read one too many memoirs about generically abusive families. (Tolstoy was wrong, all unhappy families are not different.)
Still, I've been thinking a lot about the difference between writing memoir and fictionalizing moments that have happened in life. I've had some dramatic things in my life to write about--the early death of my healthy fiance, who died in my arms from a heart attack, a mysterious nearly always fatal blood disease I had for a year after the birth of my child, and the death of a child I carried for four months, and though I wrote essays about each, I felt a driving need to turn it all into fiction, to make these episodes into as much art as I could--and as much of an escape.
So, the question is why did I choose fiction over memoir and should I have? And the answer is, I'm not sure and I don't know.
Do I get distance from the subject with fiction, or is it just more satisfying for me? Am I thinking about this because I admired the two memoirs and think well, hey, maybe I should write one of my own? Of is it because memoirs have that built in publicity hook that gets you on The Today Show? (I was never on for my novels, but my essay got me on twice.) And who wants to write something just for that? (OK, I admit, I do a little bit....) But when marketing issues start to take over the pure pleasure of the writing (i.e. to which groups could you target your memoir?) something isn't quite right.
Clearly, I'm befuddled here. Maybe it's all because I'm in the midst of the giddy pleasure of selling my novel and the subsequent panic about starting a new novel and wondering if it's any good, or if it will sell or any number of things. I'd love to thoughts on memoirs, do you read them? Do you write them (I just noticed I spelled write, right. How Freudian is that?) Which ones do you read and why?
And, of yes, I could still use that valium.