When I wrote “Just A Couple of Chickens” about raising poultry and a family, I wasn’t thinking about genre and whether it was a memoir, or an autobiography.
If I was thinking anything, it was that this was a how-NOT-to book on chicken raising. It was only when the “raising poultry and a family in hard times” part began that I realized that it might be one of those genres. But I didn’t really understand the difference. And based on the number of arguments in writing forums, writing groups, writing classes, at writing workshops, and on writing panels, I am not the only confused person.
Memoir is fantastically popular right now. Biography is less popular, but still a steady page-turner. But if biography is the story of person’s life – and expected to be more than just the chronological facts… and if autobiography is the story of a person’s life told by the person… then what is memoir?
Memoir is the personal memory, and self interpreted impact or meaning, of a person’s own life. The definition is contained in the word, memoir. It’s about our memories, and how we feel about what we’ve remembered. Memoirs used to be about what the author remembered about other people’s lives, but now it is almost exclusively what the authors remember about their own lives – plus how they feel about those memories.
Complicating the whole issue is the modern audience’s lurking potential for harsh critique should the memoir be revealed to contain inaccuracies. Lies. Fabrications. But since memories are notoriously fallible, that makes it complicated. I understand the upset when a memoir turns out to have been falsified. I don’t share the upset when a memoir has minor inaccuracies. Not that I had either of those problems with my chicken raising memoir. I remembered, and wrote, it in all its accurate and glorious homeliness.
Today’s memoir demands a greater revelation of the meaning and emotion carried by the memories. This is the most consistent comment I’ve had from readers over “Just a Couple of Chickens”… that they want to hear more about what I felt about what I was doing. And what I’m doing now… which is writing a sequel, in which I have the challenge to share how I feel about what I’m doing now…
But I’m not supposed to swear… hmmmm, challenging.