Monday, December 19, 2011

The Urge for Memoir

I was never very interested in memoir writing. Until lately. Before my fifties, I wrote a few short pieces of memoir. Most were intended to be funny. One was called “When Electricity Came to Arkansas,” about an unfortunate experience with an electric fence. Another was a short piece called “Death by Prose,” about the humorous pitfalls involved in selling stories to the Small Press. I did a different kind of piece about my Hurricane Katrina experience and its effect on my writing. That wasn’t funny. I also wrote an account about adopting my son, called “Long Strange Road to Fatherhood.” While it was accepted for publication once, in the end it never saw print.

Then, just after I turned fifty, I put together the pieces for Write With Fire and ended up adding a longish memoir about how I became a writer. It was almost 4,000 words long. For some reason, I felt it was time to tell that story and that book seemed like a good place. I don’t really know if anyone paid much attention to it, but it was fun to do.

A year or so ago I posted several pieces on my blog about my teenage experiences with beer drinking. I called them “Days of Beer.” They were favorably received and a couple of months ago I suddenly decided I was going to write up those experiences more fully and publish them as an ebook. That work is almost finished now, and it’s 18,000 words long. I couldn’t believe how much material was there to work with until I started, but I believe the thing holds together well and I think it’s pretty funny. So far, the writing group that I’ve shared about a third of it with have agreed.

In the next weeks, then, a new piece will be coming out from Razored Zen Press. I need to finish the final read through, and get the cover ready. I have an idea for that and will get Lana to take the photo. I’m using the actual names of folks in many cases, but if I feel there’s any likelihood of embarrassment I’m changing the names or just leaving them out. I’m planning on opening it at 99 cents for the holiday season. I’m also toying with titles, but am leaning toward just calling it “Days of Beer: A Memoir of a Beer Drinkin’ Man.” What do you think?

The biggest question is “why now,” though. Is there something about getting older that naturally makes one want to look back and recall your life? Or is it something that most people have when they’re younger and I am just now finding it of interest? Are you interested in memoir? In reading it? In writing it? Is it a recent thing for you? Or long-term? Do you have any idea why?
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37 comments:

Chris said...

I've given some thought on it myself; I've read some great memoirs over the last couple years, and it has taught me that there are many ways they can be done where they are still very interesting. I'd definitely read yours.

Charles Gramlich said...

Chris, yeah, I never realized the potential of them before, I think. It's been fun anyway.

Tom Doolan said...

I think it comes from the fact that so many people like express their experiences with certain things as if they were law, and some of us compelled to say "No, it wasn't like that for me..."

Also, until you have lived a bit, you really don't have much to write about. I've often thought about writing a memoir of my time in the Army. But, I always find myself wondering who would bother reading it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think our perspective changes as we grow older. I've never considered doing a memoir, mostly because I haven't done anything really interesting. I was a boring kid!

Charles Gramlich said...

Tom, I think you're right. I certainly felt that way when I was younger.

Alex, you're still young. Get back to me when you're fifty! :)

Deka Black said...

Being honest... i never have read any memoir, so i can't give a opinion.

Harry Markov said...

I'm all up for the idea of a memoir. I will get very morbid for a moment. Nothing personal:

1] I believe that the urge to write a memoir stems from the desire of the individual to leave something tangible of his/her life behind. A sort of 'safe' for later generations to stumble upon.

OR 2] which is less morbid is that through memoirs, people want to know whether their life had purpose and the best way to locate it is through a narrative which makes sense. If the narrative makes sense, then you learn what your life lead to, a sort of essence so to say.

AND I may have said utter bullshit. I'm too far away from that point in life to say anything of importance.

ArtSparker said...

It seems as if it could be processing and digesting of life, which is a good way to age - that is, the past can be reexamined as somewhat fluid and is not necessarily fixed in stone (if it can be massaged in prose).

Please forgive the abundance of metaphors - I am not completely sure that makes sense!

Chris said...

What I like is that memoir takes many forms. It can be built around an event, a journey, an experience . . . not just straight up, "I was born and then. . . . " type stuff. An example I read recently is called "My Life as Laura" about a woman who retraced the life path of her favorite writer growing up, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Not the type of thing that would normally interest me, but in the end was fantastic. It took elements of the road book, some pioneer history, and interspersed them with the writer's own more "traditional" type memoir life story. I found it interesting.

It all comes down to how good a storyteller the writer is. Good ones can make damn near anything interesting.

BernardL said...

I think the most often missing element from memoirs is humor. If more people who do them concentrated on the humor aspect they could get a good crossover of readers from the fiction only fans.

G said...

A memoir would definitely be an interesting read. I think over the years I had a tendency to shy away from reading them simply because I was one of those people who loved to read about all the good and bad parts of a well known or semi-well known person's life.

Rick said...

I think this is really cool, Charles. What a great idea. Let me know when it's available so I can get a copy.

Charles Gramlich said...

Deka, I've read autobiographies, which is much the same thing, I guess, and have enjoyed some at least.

Harry, I think you're right, and I think that is a part of my urge. I know the writing in the first place, and the publishing of books is part of that.

Artsparker, I'm thinking too that there is a "transitional" element to these memoirs, coming to terms with a life you no longer lead.

Chris, you're right, the writer and the storytelling skill make all the difference. I hope that focusing this piece around the beer element will give it a cohesiveness.

Bernardl, that's the thing I'm trying for here. It's not going to be just 'all' and everything humor, but I hope that will be the core of it and that folks will find it funny. I should do this as an audiobook because I know just where to put the emphasis on the reading.

G., I've mostly been interested in the lives of writers, and to a lesser extent the lives of rock musicians and football figures. I've never been interested in political memoirs.

Rick, thanks, man. I appreciate that. Gonna be a week or two, I imagine.

Travis Cody said...

I like your title. And I have enjoyed the personal stories you've shared here in this space.

I've thought about putting some stories down, mostly because the memories come at odd times and I'm afraid I'll forget. So when I have a memory, I write it down.

The other reason is that I'd like to have a history. I know some history about those who came before me, but not very much. Perhaps it's just vanity, but I'd like to leave something behind for those who come next.

jodi said...

Charles, memoirs are some of my favorite reading and I would surely be interested in yours. Write on!

Cloudia said...

I think our stories are somehow the whole point of this existence. . .
Go for it. I know it will be worthwhile for you and for readers.


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Ty Johnston said...

As I've gotten older, my interest has grown for memoirs, reading and writing them, especially when concerning writers and writing. And beer.

Yes, I am a beer lover and a beer snob. I could tell my own stories, and someday maybe I will.

Speaking of which, Charles, if you ever consider taking on the editor's role, I think a sort of sequel to "Days of Beer" could be a collection of true and/or tall tales about beer by fiction writers. There could be plenty of good and bad, laughter and somberness.

sage said...

I've written lots of memoir pieces, but have been thinking about collecting them together... 50 seems to be the time when I began to think more about doing this. I'll have to see if I can download yours to a nook

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis Cody, I started keeping a memory book a number of years ago about my childhood memories and it's pretty lengthy by now. It's a good exercise.

Jodi, thankee! I appreciate that.

Cloudia, I think you're right. Maybe the most important thing, since it is the best legacy we can pass on.

Ty, that's a good idea. If Beer Days sells then maybe an anthology of fiction stories would be a great follow up. We'll have to work on that idea perhaps.

Sage, the age was about the same for me. Guess it was just time. You should definetly collect your memories.

laughingwolf said...

title works for me...

did michelle ever finish hers?

i've thought about it, started several times, abandoned it as often

no idea atm if i will...

seems to me, all writings are memoiric, in some way, since they contain bits/pieces of our soul....

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I like the candidness in your posts, Charles. It's refreshing to read. I enjoy reading memoirs and autobiographies and so far it's been a predictable list. That said, aren't you young to be writing memoirs, Charles? You've got years of fine writing ahead of you, so what's the hurry?! I guess that pretty much sums up when memoirs ought to be written! As for me, I don't think I'll even write a memo about myself, leave alone a memoir. I'd surely be interested in reading yours though.

the walking man said...

I'd read it, have read other memoirs but as for writing one...naw nothing of much interest there to recall. I would think a little bit more about the title.

A bit too long and I think it would mislead people into thinking it's something it's not.

something like: Secrets of a Beer Can

pattinase (abbott) said...

Memoir writing has really taken off over the last decade. Be curious to read yours.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, she just had something released and I ordered it. It should be on the way to me now. Not sure if it's memoir though.

Prashant, my piece is only a partial memoir, certainly, and about one particular element of life that I think is funny. I'm still pretty doubtful I'll ever write a general autobiography type memoir. I don't think there's much of interest there really.

Mark, I considered Beer Dayz but I thought that would sound to teenagey. Maybe I should give it more thought though.

Patti, that's true. I've been hearing more and more about it. I wonder why.

David Cranmer said...

For my own records I began writing a memoir about six months ago. Lots of life, writing, and publishing mix. Maybe another decade, I'll put it out there. And I'd love to read yours, Charles.

BernardL said...

"I should do this as an audiobook because I know just where to put the emphasis on the reading."

If you have a good story telling voice, and some great sound equipment, that's a great idea, Charles. With your daily teachings at the college, I'm sure you're polished enough to produce a first rate audio book.

Oscar said...

Memoirs are great stuff. The autobiography of Mark Twain is coming out in three vols, vol 1 is available now and I'm looking forward to that. I've written my own, but not for publication - yet. Reading memoirs lets me know how I fit into the scheme of things.

Danette Haworth said...

Charles,

I have had my share of title struggles, having had to lose Hotel of Blueberry Goodness and now trying to come up with something to replace Two Flavors of Lucky, so I'm very much in tune with thoughts on titles.

Days of Beer: A Memoir of a Beer Drinkin' Man

Here's my take, for what it's worth:

The word "memoir" can potentially turn readers off unless you are a celebrity and we therefore expect to hear the gritty stuff of rock n roll and tidbits about other stars.

I like the word "Beer" in the title, because it tells me that the book is probably going to have humorous escapades and universal experiences.

The rhythm of the phrase "Days of Beer" is excellent. I would drop the second part for two reasons: the word memoir, and the repetition of the word beer.

You could do a lot with Days of Beer. Just playing around here, and you could definitely do better than this, but here we go. (X shows you I can't think of something!)

Days of Beer, Nights of X

Beer Days and X nights

Ninety-nine Cans of Beer on the
Wall: The Glory Days

It's the Beer Talking

Some play on this saying:
Champagne taste and beer budget

Some inclusion of the word "Ossifer"

Anyway . . . good luck, Charles! Look forward to the release.

Danette Haworth said...

Oh, yeah! Originally came here to say Merry Christmas!

laughingwolf said...

'the days of beer and thistles'? danette?

Danette Haworth said...

Hah, Laughing Wolf! I did indeed think of The Days of Wine and Roses, but I do so love your suggestion much, much more.

David J. West said...

Sounds good Charles, I'm sure this is a project that will only make we readers ask for more about what happened when...

Charles Gramlich said...

David, it should be out pretty soon. I'm shooting for before the end of the year.

Bernardl, I've done some short readings and had it well received. I could probably pull it off. I don't have the equipment at home. Maybe I could find access to some.

Oscar, I do think the interest is there and increasing in our society.

Laughingwolf, I was also thinking of such things as "through a beer darkly."

Danette, good hint. thanks. I didn't think about memoir being a concern. I could defiintely change that. Merry Christmas to you as well!

David J., I mentioned in the book a joke about there being a demand for a sequel, to reveal the names I didn't reveal in this one. :)

Ron Scheer said...

Memoir. Some take themselves too seriously. Some try to trivialize traumatizing experiences with humor. Maybe it's my midwestern background, but something about memoir always seems self-dramatizing. Few people know the "real story" of me, and I prefer it that way.

On the other hand, I've read a good many of them and the best ones stick with me. My wife once wrote a piece about our rocky relationship with our son, and I cried when I read it. So what that all adds up to, I'm not sure. Your memoir, which you would never get me to read with that title (maybe Days of Beer and Roses?), I'd definitely be interested in, only because I know and respect you.

eric1313 said...

You lead the interesting life man, you should write it up! Memoirs are fun reading sometimes. When done well, of course.

A nice weaving of themes could give you something that you had no idea of when you wrote the first sentences.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ron, probably all memoir is self serving, at least to some extent. I had fun with the humor in this one. I guess I'll see how it turns out.

Eric1313, if I ever get famous I'll write an autobiography. Which means I don't see myself writing an autobiography. :)

oceangirl said...

I would be interested to read your memoir Charles. You connect with, you touch people. And yet you are very private. What I am saying is people would be interested to know who you are, your experiences and what is on your mind. And I can imagine humour in your stories and writings.

Days of Beer is a great name.

Happy holidays and Merry Christmas Charles.