Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fact or Fiction? How Can We Be Sure?

I found an interesting post, More Literary Hoaxes, on Heather Goldsmith's blog, A Creative Journal. She discusses some of the current literary hoaxes, whereby writers have tried to pass off fictionalized accounts as memoir or autobiography.

I left a comment at Heather's blog, but thought I'd include my thoughts here. Since I write a great deal of memoir in my "Country Kitchen" newspaper column, I began to wonder if my readers would think I made all this up. I attended a writers' group the other evening, and when the discussion turned to memoir as a genre, many were shaking their heads, wondering what to believe anymore.

We begin to wonder what's true and what isn't, don't we? Of course, when you write about your life, you may find you don't recall incidents exactly like others who experienced them with you. But these usually are minor things. If you fictionalize too much, you'll be caught up on it sometime.

When I was taking a children's writing workshop, we had to write about an incident in our childhood. The instructor liked mine but gave suggestions for making it more exciting. Since those details were fabricated, I was uncomfortable about writing it this way. So he suggested I make it a fiction story, incorporating the fact with fabrication. This turned out very well and sold to several children's magazines and appeared in an anthology. (I retained the rights so I could sell reprint and anthology rights.) Fiction based upon fact can be fun to write, but it should be labeled as such.

What do you think?

(c)2008 Mary Emma Allen

1 comment:

Naomi said...

I understand your mixed feelings about fictionalizing your family story. There are aspects of my own family story that are fascinating and even exciting but were I to tell them as related by the now-deceased relatives from whom I learned the facts, someone might accuse me of making them up, particularly as one involves the Danish royal family, Crown Prince Frederik in the 1860's, later King Frederik VIII. My own novels are entirely fiction but where they touched on history or historical events I was careful to stick to accurate detail. It was a wonderful experience. As you did, I made a clear statement in the books that this was the case. Your writing a fictionalized account based on family historical fact was a nice way to handle the conflicting feelings or values.

I'm enjoying your sites; found when I put in a search string of old wooden bowl. I'm a very happy owner of three very old wooden bowls. One is 'turner ware' and bears traces of pale yellow or white milk paint, one is hand carved from a block, and the largest, my mother's (and grandmother's) butter-working bowl is my most treasure. Since I also have the butter paddles from both grandmothers and used one when my mother taught me how to make (the very best ever) sour-cream butter, these bowls are some of my favorite family treasures. Now I'm off to read more of your posts...