An Intriguing View of Memoir Via Fiction

by Matilda Butler on March 24, 2015

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #118 – Memoir Writing – Matilda Butler

Insights into Memoir Writing

Almost every day I’m focused on memoir writing — teaching, coaching, reading, blogging. But here’s my secret. I also love fiction, especially mysteries. There are many incredible female authors, new and old — Louise Penny, Susan Wittig Albert, Rita Mae Brown, Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, Kate Wilhelm, Janet Evanovich, Dorothy L. Sayers, Laura Lippman, Linda Barnes, Laurie R. King, Sara Paretsky, Nevada Barr (until she got too gruesome for me), Jacqueline Winspear, MC Beaton, Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Mertz, and the list goes on and on.

Another female author, Vicki Delany, has provided me hours of enjoyment with her Constable Molly Smith series. Recently, I was surprised to find that she has written other books. Her second novel, written long before the Molly Smith series, is a stand-alone, called Burden of Memory. When a title includes the word “memory,” the temptation is too much to resist.

Much to Be Learned

Sometimes I read fiction to see how story elements are handled, to learn more about story structure, to better understand character development, effective use of dialogue, and … yes, because fiction can be so much fun.

Well, guess what? Vicki Delany’s Burden of Memory is an exquisite read and has much to offer memoir writers. The story [no spoilers here] is about Elaine, who has been hired by Moira to write her memoir telling of her life as a nurse during World War II.

Many of the issues that we all face are brought to light in this book:

– What if the family doesn’t want the story told?
– Should some secrets be kept as secrets?
– How do you use letters (to and from Moira’s mother and grandmother, in this case)?
– What about the value of household records; what might be learned?
– How to get at emotions in addition to facts?
– And whose perspective controls the storyline?

And more. Much more. In the case of Burden of Memory, I happen to like the way the novel is structured. If you read it, see if it gives you not only an idea of a structure, but how one uses the structure to reveal the story in a way that might be more interesting than a straight chronological approach. Also, follow the structure and see how much is revealed before switching to a different time period. Is the reader left wondering and wanting more so that the structure helps to hold the reader’s attention? Consider how you might do this without confusing the reader.

So if you want a good read for just $4.99, I urge you to get the ebook version and see if it both inspires and informs your memoir writing life.

And, make a list as you read to note points that you can use in your own writing.

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