1.22.2013

In Response to Salon's Guide to Writing a Memoir

So, first you should go read Salon's Guide to Writing a Memoir.

It is a fantastic collection of advice from some of my favorite memoirists (and several more I mean to check out). I particularly liked Meghan Daum's advice: "Honesty is not the same as confession... Honesty means making the reader feel less alone. Honesty is inherently generous. Confession is inherently needy and intrusive." Daum's words were not the only ones that translate remarkably well to the art of preaching. Avi Steinberg - right after he dropped the sage advice that some wounds need to be healed on the therapist's couch more than they need to be ransacked for material - suggests, "Read widely and with purpose; read stories of all kinds; read with a writing implement in hand and use it often; read memoirs but mostly read fiction and personal essays. Read at least one poem a day and at least three times that day. Occasionally read an epic." See, is that not wisdom for the preacher as well?

I felt a little weird reading it at this particular juncture: I have written a memoir, and it's not only been a while since I wrote and revised it, it's been a while since it came out now. And, I don't think I necessarily want to write another, at least not anytime soon. So I have some distance - okay, maybe not a lot of distance, but some - from the subject. (Unlike when Oprah nearly caused me to have a nervous breakdown.) Enough to read the collection as a preacher as much as I read it as a memoirist.

But I must confess (with apologies to Ms. Daum) that the memoirist in me felt a mild rush of pride. Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family has been received so warmly. With that one exception, reviews have been full of praise. It was recently featured as a favorite book of Ed Cyzewski, and Leigh Kramer loves it, and Bob Hill named it on the Top 15 Religious Books of the Year list for Religion on the Line. And now, reading that Salon piece, it dawned on me that my book meets their definition of a good memoir.

(Now quick: someone PLEASE go buy a copy from Amazon. The darn thing is about to drop out of the top one million books, and I have this audacious goal to stay in the top million until the anniversary of the book release!)


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