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Archive for January, 2012

This is a favorite, much-kicked-around topic of mine, and earlier this week the good folks at The Rumpus added a fresh contribution to the debate.

Messing With Memoir is an essay about the author’s efforts to revise her out-of-print memoir, years after she’d written it, and the ethical issues she grappled with in doing so. Here’s a taste:

I was a much better writer now. Why let that raw, earnest, adverb-friendly, long-sentenced version of myself linger? With e-books and Print on Demand (POD) as a garrote, I could quietly, efficiently off her. In her place I would seat that wiser, more skilled self.

But was it ethical? I had never heard of anyone tampering with their memoir. A memoir is not only an account of your life, it is specifically an account of your remembrances of your life. So now I would be telling that same story fifteen years later. I was re-remembering a memory.

Even more important, a memoir is a reflection of who you are at the time of writing. But now I would be peering backwards at myself from a new vantage point. Isn’t there a different author (older, wiser me) now? And haven’t I now changed my main character by writing her with this new hand? Did this matter?

Touching on the same theme in one of his “Daily Rumpus” emails a few days back, editor Stephen Elliott wrote about “the only true rule of memoir”:

You cannot knowingly tell a lie. In other words, you can be wrong, you can write things you consider to be true that other people consider to be untrue. In fact, it’s impossible to do otherwise. Most truth is not factual; most truth is subjective. But to state a something as fact when you know it is not, ie. I spent this much time in jail, is to break the cardinal rule.

I think that gets it about right.

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Sitka. Swoon.

I’m on a tour of Southeast Alaska by state ferry, drinking local beers, eating halibut, taking absurd quantities of photos. More to come when I get home.

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I’ve written before about my habit of digging up the “origin stories” of writers I admire. This weekend, while procrastinating on a story rewrite that’s due on Monday, I fell down the internet rabbit hole (it started with a Twitter reference to a writer-on-writer feud, detoured through a bizarre story about a person in a pink gorilla suit crashing a Grantland recruitment meeting, and finally led me to a writer’s blog on writing) and came across a new one, by Esquire’s Chris Jones.

Jones first came on my radar with his incredible profile of Roger Ebert a couple years back. Here’s the story of how he got into journalism. It begins with a big-name former journalist – the Headmaster of his graduate school residence – taking note of his writing and setting him up with a job interview, and ends with Jones landing a gig as a sports writer at the then-brand new National Post.

(Incidentally, Jones started that job at almost the exact same time that I, a self-righteous 16 year-old, scrapped plans to go to journalism school because I didn’t want to work for Conrad Black, who then owned the Post and almost every other paper of note in Canada. By the time I finally circled back around to journalism in my mid-20s, Black was a convicted felon, newspapers were generally considered to be a dying breed, and Jones was a regular at Esquire.)

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