TRAVEL HERE: DFW WRITERS’ CONFERENCE – AUTOBIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR SEMINARS
From famous authors like Jonathan Maberry, to well-known agents like Donald Maass, to new authors whose books are being printed right now, presenters at the 2014 DFW Writers’ Conference had a lot to share. Let’s start with autobiography and memoir.
Fictionalzing Autobiographical Material by Nan Cuba
I’m working on some autobiographical material about the most frustrating trip I ever took, but I’m writing it as if my troubles were the work of the ancient gods who’ve returned to earth to harrass unwitting travelers. My critique group likes it, but I get bogged down in the minutia. So I was glad to see a class which addressed my personal dilemma.
Nan started out by identifying several different categories of autobiographical material: memoir, faction, non-fiction novel, auto-fiction, autobiographical novel and semi-autobiographical novel. As usual, what I’m working on seemed to slip somewhere in-between a few of those, but that discouragement was off-set by her list of great authors who had written autobiographical material – for instance Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy.
Though I didn’t get the answer to all my particular writing dilemmas, she had some great advice for people who might want to mine their own lives for material. First, she said to make a list of all the “legends” in your family – things you know about but didn’t personally observe. Well, my list was pretty long. In fact, my list was so long that I never got around to the second thing she suggested: choosing a character who did observe the legendary situation and imagine the letter they’d write to explain it – making up your own “facts” as you go along. Several people did a great job in the few minutes she gave us to speculate on the project.
She also gave us an exercise on Proust’s idea of “creative wrong memory” where you take something you know about vaguely and buildi on it. I went to town on that one.
The Q&A period provided just the right inspiration for a budding new writer who wanted to use her background as a criminal attorney as her writing inspiration. “Write from the prospective of the person you least understand in the situation.” Writing from the offender’s point of view was something the hopeful author wants to explore.
Perhaps my most valuable take away was the list of family legends I need to explore. I’m looking forward to attacking some of those.
Memoir by Bob Stewart
Since I began the conference in autobiography, it was only fitting that memoir was the subject of my last class. Bob covered some of the same material as Nan’s class, but his focus had more to do with theory than practice. Like if you’re ghost writing for someone, he encouraged you to not just dutifully report what you’re told, but to insist that you get to take the information to the next step. He also suggested that an explanation of why you harvested the wrong kind of mushrooms might be more interesting than a report on the resulting visit to the hospital. To quote Bob, you want to go for “steak and eggs” not “lollipops and marshmallows.” Bob invited a friend named Les to share some of his experience in memoir with the class. Les’s opinion seemed to be if it would sell books write it. I’d be afraid to publish some of his memoirs.
Come back next week and we’ll explore some of the other things I learned at DFWcon.