Introducing myself: Tony P

Rescue Your Heart

What makes a best seller

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TonyP

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Dear members of the Colony, I've just arrived and received the invitation from AgentPete to screw up my courage and say hello. This was not too difficult because of Pete's welcome and the clear groundrules being set here ruling out the wilder conversations that break out so often online.

I arrive here with a completed third draft of a book written in 2016 that needs some polishing. After writing a couple of non-fiction books during my professional life as a business coach working internationally with senior leaders in all sorts of organisations, this latest piece brings me into a new and unfamiliar genre: memoir with a creative and psychological twist. To assist with this transition I attended classes last year at City Lit in London.

Thank you for letting me in. Now I need to find my feet, and figure out how enter a mutually beneficial give and take here. Any advice gratefully accepted!
 
Welcome TonyP. Congratulations as well on completing your third draft. I am currently in chapter thirteen of a re-write of a crime novel but have deep concerns that it really isn't different or inventive enough. In other words not all that marketable, but hey ho it might fit some niche in the market somewhere. For some reason we have to keep trying to write so I will keep going and that is what you need to do too TonyP. Just keep going.

See you around the colony.
 
Thanks David for your encouragement. And Hi to Lex and Katie-Ellen. Look forward to seeing more of you all.
 
Welcome Tony. Hope you get your book polished and launched on its publishing journey this year. What is the genre?
Hi Peggy Lou. Your question about the genre is interesting. To cross genres is kind of attractive. I asked myself is this fact or fiction, faction, narrative non-fiction or biographical fiction. I've reached the conclusion this is 'memoir', but for much of last year I have been working through inner blocks (loyalty? guilt?) and coming up against gaps in memory and evidence that must be filled to tell a gripping and credible story.

Towards this I found it inspiring to read 'Inventing The Truth - the art and craft of memoir' by William Zinsser.

I'm very much interested in the experience of others here. Do you think it's true that all good fiction has a base in the author's experience? Is good fiction any more than a covert unpacking of the author's bags? And is non-fiction more interesting from the author who offers a narrative, such as Dava Sobel's Longitude??

I'd love to hear views from you and others about genre.
 
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Interesting questions. I think most good fiction is the result of a story being refracted through the author's experience (we are all prisms); but I don't think you can read a story and necessarily come to accurate conclusions about the author's experience or personality. I'd be mortified if people judged my character on the basis of what I write! Can't comment on Longitude, as I haven't read it, but as a general principle I feel uncomfortable with non-fiction getting dressed up in fictional clothes -- facts should be nude. :)
 
... a story being refracted through the author's experience (we are all prisms)... I'd be mortified if people judged my character on the basis of what I write! ... as a general principle I feel uncomfortable with non-fiction getting dressed up in fictional clothes -- facts should be nude. :)

Hi Marc Joan. I like your idea of being a prism, refracting our experience. Re. 'facts should be nude' you raise questions like what are the wise limits to sharing, for example where a story 'needs' to be told by the author, but others do not wish to find themselves in a story, and would prefer a different version? When is the author entitled to tell 'their' story?
 
Welcome to the Colony, Tony. Plundering archived threads will be valuable for you. We're all feeling our way in the process of creating stories. Part of the joy of writing is finding out what happens—to your characters and to you as the author.

Genre bending is great if it works commercially when the writer is heralded for their boldness. But, we're all librarians at heart, classifying any product by how it fits into the existing catalogue of stuff we're familiar with. Comparisons may be odious, but they happen all of the time with books. Just look at the blurb on book covers—'Gives Lee Child a run for his money—watch out Jack Reacher—Dirk Nutcrusher is following in your tracks!'

The debate between what makes genre writing and literature is endless. I had an unsettling thought recently, after finishing a novel that had been nominated for the Booker Prize: Can a literary book be a 'page-turner'?

The novel was Wyl Menmuir's The Many, and though it was well-written I wasn't so gripped by it that I couldn't put it down.

G.K. Chesterton made this pithy observation on writing:

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
 
Thanks Paul. Food for thought. Yes I will plunder the archives as you suggest.
 
Hi Marc Joan. I like your idea of being a prism, refracting our experience. Re. 'facts should be nude' you raise questions like what are the wise limits to sharing, for example where a story 'needs' to be told by the author, but others do not wish to find themselves in a story, and would prefer a different version? When is the author entitled to tell 'their' story?
I'd guess the answers to those questions are context-specific. Obviously it's best to avoid upsetting people if you can, but I can imagine circumstances in which it's necessary or even desirable.
 
I agree with Marc Joan. The fiction we write is informed by who we are, what we have read and what we have been through. But there's more to it than that, I suppose. We turn something familiar and turn it into something unfamiliar. We take something we have seen and turn it into something we can never see. Most of my characters have a little bit of the people I know in them.

Memoir is something else, naturally. But even memories are mediated by experiences - and feelings - aren't they? Then there are memories of memories and other peoples' memories we appropriate.

Any one I suppose has the right to tell their story. But the problem is when I tell my story, I'll be telling other people's stories as well, the way I see them. That could mean being seriously unjust to someone. If you write fiction you have to worry about pretty standard stuff - plot holes and character arcs. But memoir means having to deal with real feelings of real people.

So good luck with your writing.
 
I agree with Marc Joan. The fiction we write is informed by who we are. ... but memoir means having to deal with real feelings of real people.

Thanks Peggy Lou for your insightful additions to our discussion of the challenges of writing memoir vs fiction. I'm realising injustice is a no-no and 'tone' is key - realistic, authentic with good grace. Frank McCourt achieves this well in Angela's Ashes and 'Tis I think.

I remain interested in any experiences of all colony members, and in any writing memoirs, and your interesting ways of weaving personal material into your fiction.

I've also dug out a review I wrote recently on Goodreads containing reflections on the memoir genre, in case anyone's interested: Review Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir
 
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The kindness and justice thing is a real hot potato for memoir writing, where relatives are still living and liable to see that as a matter of perspective. I have rellies who have expressed fears lest I turn my writing in that direction and I simply can't bring myself to read Angela's Ashes, but found Lorna Sage's Bad Blood manageable. Not easy reading, it was fraught, but it was a very considerable memoir.

Kind? Just? How can this always be reconciled with how the writer feels, and the writer needs to present a meaningful truth may but the memory is also to a degree, subjective, and that sincere creation may seem to be at the expense of someone who can't defend themselves in kind.

Good perhaps for the cause of great writing, bigger truths and great literature but with the risk of some degree of immediate collateral damage.

There was Goodbye To All That, and then there are the other mythic memoirs, blurring those lines between fiction and memoir; Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary, and Axel Munthe's, The Story of San Michele
 
I have a rather weird family. We don't have a skeleton in the closet. We have a closet full of skeletons, a walk-in closet too. I write bits and pieces - which can be characterised as memoir - but not to be read by anyone else. Too many people would be hurt and there would be too many battle of interpretations, if I - or any other family member - writes and shares/publishes a memoir.

I generally avoid memoirs like Angela's Ashes. One can read a novel with a harrowing plot, and put it away knowing it's just a story. It didn't happen. What the characters went through was a figment of the author's imagination. No one died, no one was killed, no one suffered. One cannot do that with a memoir. If I read a memoir, it will be generally a happy story - ideally with a dog in it - or a memoir by a political figure, so the focus is on the political and not the personal.
 
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