Today I'm please to welcome Ann K. Howley to the blog to talk about her book, "Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad," and what went into writing this book.
Why Write a Memoir When You Can Make Everything Up?
by Ann K. Howley
My hairdresser, Dawn, was the first person who told me I was brave. Surprised that I wasn’t interested in coloring my hair to hide the inevitable gray, she said, “Wow, you’re brave! Not many women would do that.”
What Dawn doesn’t know is that most mornings I run my fingers through my short, wet hair and run out the door. If I can’t even commit myself to using a comb, there’s little hope that I would be willing dedicate myself to coloring roots for the rest of my life. Truth is, I’m too indifferent, and possibly lazy, to color my hair.
(Please don’t tell Dawn, though… I’m still going with brave.)
Other people have called me brave because I wrote a MEMOIR. Yep, that’s my life out there in print and cyberspace. Anyone with eyeballs and/or a Kindle can share in the occasional glory, and more frequent ingloriousness, of my life.
But why would I write a memoir when I can write fiction and make everything up?
Fiction is beautiful. What perfect freedom a novelist has to dig into the deepest parts of their knowledge and psyche and construct a plot and characters as real or bizarre as they want. There’s no limit to one’s imagination. Even a sweet, little nun in Poughkeepsie has the capacity to write a flesh-eating zombie horror story - not that a sweet, little nun would necessarily write about flesh-eating zombies.
But sometimes I wonder if the distinction between writing a novel and a memoir is less than we think.
Writing is such an intensely personal act that everything we write, in some way, reflects a piece of who we are. The genre doesn’t really matter. Whether we write westerns, mysteries or romance novels, every word gives clues as to how we think and feel and reveals what appalls, amuses, disgusts and intrigues us.
The biggest difference between writing a novel and writing a memoir is accountability. When you write a novel, you can take an experience from your own life and twist and squeeze it into whatever form, shape or scene you want. A novelist can turn something ugly into something beautiful in their book.
A memoir writer, though, is accountable for truth in substance and chronology. Memoir writers have a pact with readers to be completely honest with the beauty and ugliness of their lives. If a memoir writer breaks that pact, that writer loses faith and credibility.
When James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces turned out to be A Million Little Pieces of Crap, he not only embarrassed himself, but also the Almighty Oprah, who had raved about his book.
Personally, I would swim through shark-infested waters in Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress for the chance to be the tiniest asterisk on Oprah’s Book Club List. So I want Oprah to know that my memoir is honest and true to the deepest core of my memory and being. I would never write anything false that would upset her or give her gray hair.
But I’m certain my hairdresser Dawn would be willing to fix that.
About the Author
She is a regular contributor to Pittsburgh Parent Magazine and her essays have also appeared in publications nationwide, including skirt! Magazine, Bicycle Times Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, LA Reader, Mirror newspapers, Clever Magazine and The Inkwell.
A wife and mom, Ann resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although she is an avid runner, biker and hiker, she still can't keep up with her uber-athletic husband or her dog, who is about 90 in dog years.