Friday, February 15, 2008

Memoir v. Autobiography

I didn't read the controversial "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey but I do remember the hubub of it - Oprah's calling his bluff on her talk show and all.... In some ways the controversy called into question what exactly a memoir is....

Memoir is different than an autobiography certainly, but how? I've read that it has to do with time. In an autobiography, a writer is expected to stick to a strict chronology of life events. In a memoir, time is more fluid. And that, my friends, is exactly why I like memoirs over autobiographies. Life exactly as it happens, isn't always that interesting. The truly good storytellers are the ones who know what to leave out.

I mentioned reading Felicia Sullivan's new memoir "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here" on my previous post; today I got the chance to talk with her about it. Felicia moves in and out of different periods of her life - as a child taking care of a drug addicted mother; and as an adult addicted to drugs herself. The effect is chaotic, and it gave me a sense of how she has puzzled together her life.

Felicia and I had the chance to talk off-air a little bit, and I asked her about the radio show I saw that she had done - interviewing authors. That got us talking about how dicey author interviews can be - how someone who you've been waiting and waiting to talk with about the book that you really enjoyed - the book that moved you - and the conversation just falls flat. And then there's the times that I'm less excited to talk with an author - the book was fine but didn't knock me over - and the conversation turned out to be great.

It's not their fault. Being a writer doesn't naturally make you a good conversationalist or a good marketer of your own work. Same holds true for people on the radio; I'm not so good at talking to a crowd of people in person - even though I do that on the radio pretty frequently.
I would think that it would be even tougher to talk openly if you were like Felicia, and had written about a rough childhood and had bared your soul. But Felicia was great in our interview - forthcoming - talking about cocaine addiction and secrets and lies and all the things that came her way as a child. And she does a pretty amazing thing in "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here" too; she has a sense of humor about it. And she doesn't ask the reader for pity. What a surprise in a memoir!

Keep your eyes open for Felicia Sullivan - I think she'll be writing and surprising us for years to come. And tune in next Wednesday, February 20th on KAXE's Realgoodwords at 6pm, CST for our conversation.

Check out an example of her writing on Huffington Post.
Do you read memoirs? Have any to recommend?

No comments: