Lies, memoirs, emotional honesty, and scaring The Deets

Sometime last year or the year before that, I spent hours at Grumpy’s with Jags and The Hottie discussing the bullshit that is dubbed “creative non-fiction.” That designation as a writing genre drives me nuts. Jags and The Hottie tried to get me to understand that “creative non-fiction” is a totally legit genre and that I was just being narrow-minded.

Shouldn’t all writing both fiction and non-fiction be creative? By adding the modifier “creative” to non-fiction it somehow allows for the bending of the truth, because lying is creative. Most often memoirs fall under the auspices of “creative non-fiction.” I take this to mean that memoirs are the truth as I, the author, experienced it. Which is about as good as it gets, I guess, unless your memoir is a complete fabrication. Memoir Fabricators will roast in the same pit of literary hell with Plagiarists, Fabricating Journalists, and Nicholas Sparks.

I don’t understand the compulsion to publish total lies as non-fiction. If you’re making shit up, shouldn’t it just fall under the fiction umbrella? Isn’t that why we have fiction? Which is exactly the point I was arguing last week at at Grumpy’s with The Deets and my friend Mike.

The Deets had mentioned how Diablo Cody’s memoir Candy Girl was on his list of stuff to read soon and he had heard that it was awesome. I mentioned that I didn’t particularly care for the book in the nicest way possible because The Deets was new to me and I didn’t want to leave him emotionally scarred by my venom.

My friend Mike chuckled. “Come on.” He waved his hands like he was beckoning me forward. “Tell him what you really think.”

I took a deep breath and spewed forth for a good six minutes on how the book was a bunch of bullshit.

“But you can’t expect total honesty,” The Deets said once I had finished.
“Right,” I said. “But I can expect some sort of emotional honesty.”

As a reader, I think we go into memoirs expecting that they will not be the honest truth so help me god. We’re all human and as good as my memory is, I expect that sometimes I might falter. Or I will remember something differently than someone else who is there. We, the readers, get that, and we’re willing to cut some slack in the name of storytelling.

However, the story should ring emotionally true. If a memoirist can’t be 100% with the “facts” then the least they can do is be completely honest about what they were feeling when all this stuff went on, right? Because if there isn’t going to be any emotional honesty, then why not just write a fucking book about going to the grocery store that way everyone’s safe and happy.

The Deets brought up the fact that you can’t always be 100% honest when writing a memoir because there are people to protect or to leave unscathed. I cried bullshit. What’s the point of reading a memoir about how everything is all hunky dory all the time? That shit’s for sitcoms. I want to hear how things were tough but you overcame adversity. Or things were absurd and you managed to keep your head. I might not know what it’s like to be a wacky stripper, but I do know life, and I know that life is never, ever 100% totally perfectly perfect. That’s what Cody wants you to believe. If the author can’t be honest or needs to protect someone, then cut it out of the book.

If that doesn’t work, then write fiction and hide behind that. Seriously, why wouldn’t you? Oh, that’s right, because fiction doesn’t sell like a bullshit memoir about being a stripper (or a gangbanger).

At this point in the evening both The Deets and Mike were curled up under the table in the fetal position, begging me to stop. I can’t be sure, but I think I heard one of them whisper, “if she starts talking about the second person again, I’m hitting her with a pitcher and running.”

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  1. shokkou 04.Mar.08 at 5:26 pm

    “BULLSHIT!” she cried, and let slip the dogs of war! That’s just some excellent sh!t. While you’re between jobs, perhaps you could write a creative non-fiction memoir of your life as you recall it thus far. I’d buy that. Don’t forget to remember the part where you describe your sexcapes with Doughty and Westerberg. CREATIVE! :o)

  2. Ed Kohler 04.Mar.08 at 7:10 pm

    That’s how it went. Mike and I survived. Barely. Time to unabridge the memoir.

  3. Jodi 04.Mar.08 at 7:32 pm

    See how that works? I was emotionally honest without being completely honest there. Like, I totally protected you by not telling everyone that you cried like a baby when I gave a 20-minute lecture on the evils of the second person point of view.

  4. The Other Mike 14.Mar.08 at 2:33 pm

    But, in this case, I’m the Mike…and that’s not how it happened.


    But, there is no way we would hit you with the pitcher and run, the beer fine would break us.

    There is only one reason why people make up memoir–because it sells as memoir when it wouldn’t as fiction. And there are many reasons why people make shit up, but my feeling is it boils down to two things–
    1–people like the weird and freaks, to marvel at and shake their heads or fists at…and
    2–being totally honest, both in facts and emotionally, is really really really hard for most people, so they give up and either get their freak on or rely on stereotypes to carry the load and get them off the hook.

    Sorry for the delay, Deets reminded me last night that you blogged on this and I needed to step up and comment. 😉 Hope the after party last night was part of why you slept so well.


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