Transcript: The Art of Memoir Writing | Aug 08, 2016

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her thirties, with shoulder-length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses, a bright blue blazer over white blouse, and a pendant necklace.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "The art of memoir writing."

The caption changes to "Nam Kiwanuka, @namshine."

Nam says WHAT MAKES A GOOD MEMOIR?
WHO IT'S ABOUT?
THE PLOT?
OR MAYBE IT'S THE WRITING?
MORE PEOPLE THAN EVER ARE ASKING
THOSE QUESTIONS AS THEY DECIDE
TO WRITE THEIR OWN LIFE STORIES
ONLY TO REALIZE THAT MEMOIR
WRITING, AND PUTTING THEMSELVES
OUT THERE FOR ALL TO SEE,
DOESN'T COME EASILY TO EVERYONE.
THAT'S WHERE ALLYSON LATTA COMES
IN.
SHE'S AN INSTRUCTION AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO SCHOOL OF
CONTINUING STUDIES, AND SHE
JOINS US NOW FOR HER INSIGHTS ON
THE ART OF THE MEMOIR.
ALLYSON WELCOME.

Allyson Latta is in her fifties with short light brown hair with blond highlights and bangs. She wears a turquoise jacket and a white blouse.

Allyson says THANK YOU.

Nam says IT'S SO NICE TO
HAVE YOU HERE.

Allyson says GREAT TO BE HERE.

A large screen behind them shows a woman’s hands writing.

Nam says I'LL BE TAKING NOTES WHILE
YOU'RE SPEAKING BECAUSE I WOULD
REALLY LIKE TO PURSUE THIS ONE
DAY.

Allyson chuckles.

Nam says BUT WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO MEMOIR
WRITING?

The caption changes to "Putting your life on paper."

Allyson says I HAD BEEN AN EDITOR FOR QUITE A
NUMBER OF YEARS BEFORE I BECAME
INTERESTED IN MEMOIR WRITING IN
THE WAY THAT I AM NOW.

The caption changes to "Allyson Latta. University of Toronto."

She continues I'D BEEN EDITING BOOKS FOR SIX
YEARS, AND EDITING OTHER THINGS
LONG BEFORE THAT, BUT IT WAS
REALLY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE
EDITING THAT GOT ME INTO MEMOIR.
IT WAS A VERY SUDDEN INTEREST
WHEN I WAS 42 IN GENEALOGY.

Nam says REALLY?

Allyson says AND--WHICH I DON'T THINK IS
UNUSUAL FOR PEOPLE TO BE
INTERESTED SUDDENLY AT THAT
AGE
YOU GET PAST THE MIDDLE OF
YOUR LIFE AND YOU START THINKING
BACK.
BEFORE THAT I NEVER REALLY CARED
ABOUT WHERE MY FAMILY CAME FROM
OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT.
AND SUDDENLY WE HAD A TRIP TO
ENGLAND.
AND ON THE TRIP TO ENGLAND I
BECAME FASCINATED WITH FINDING
OUT ABOUT ONE OF MY FAMILY
LINES CAME BACK AND I WAS
LIKE A DOG WITH A
BONE AND STARTED STUDYING
ALL THE FAMILY LINES.

Nam says DO YOU HAVE ROOTS IN ENGLAND?

Allyson says WE HAVE FAMILY FROM ENGLAND,
IRELAND, SCOTLAND.
AND THE LATTA FAMILY HAS BEEN IN
CANADA SINCE THE 1700S, SO THAT
ONE WAS EASY TO TRACE.

Nam says YEAH.

Allyson says BUT WHAT BECAME VERY CLEAR
QUICKLY WITH THE GENEALOGY WAS
WHAT WAS LACKING, AND THAT WAS
THE STORIES BECAUSE WHEN YOU'RE
STUDYING GENEALOGY OFTEN ALL YOU
GET IS DATES.
YOU KNOW, BIRTH DATES, DEATH
DATES, WEDDING DATES, MAYBE
SOMEBODY'S JOB, BUT YOU DON'T
GET THE ACTUAL STORIES BEHIND
IT.
SO THAT STARTED ME THINKING
ABOUT, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE AND HOW
THEY SHOULD BE WRITING THEIR
STORIES DOWN.
THERE WERE A COUPLE OF OTHER
THINGS TOO THOUGH THAT HAPPENED
AROUND THAT TIME AS WELL.
A FRIEND OF MINE'S FATHER
PRESENTED A MEMOIR TO HIS FAMILY
AT HIS 80TH BIRTHDAY PARTY, THAT
HE HAD BEEN WORKING ON SECRETLY.

Nam says THAT'S SO...

Allyson says AND SO THIS WAS A SURPRISE FOR
THEM, FOR HIS ADULT KIDS AND HIS
GRANDCHILDREN.
AND IT WAS JUST, YOU KNOW, TYPED
AND SPIRAL BOUND, I THINK,
SOMETHING VERY, VERY SIMPLE, NOT
EDITED.
BUT THE FAMILY WAS SO
THRILLED--MY FRIEND WAS SO
THRILLED--AND WHEN I SAW HOW
TOUCHED THEY WERE I THOUGHT,
"REALLY, EVERYBODY COULD DO THIS
IN SOME FORM OR ANOTHER IF THEY
REALLY WANTED TO."
AND THEN THE THIRD THING WAS
THAT MY MOTHER, AROUND THAT
TIME, DEVELOPED ALZHEIMER'S.
AND IT WAS RIGHT AROUND THE TIME
I WAS STARTING TO TRY TO GET
FAMILY STORIES FROM MY FATHER.
I WAS SUCCESSFUL WITH HIM, HE
WAS A GOOD STORYTELLER.
BUT THEN WHEN I STARTED ASKING
MY MOTHER I REALIZED THAT SHE
WASN'T ABLE TO REMEMBER CERTAIN
THINGS.
AND THERE'S A WRITING GURU,
WILLIAMSON ZINSSER, WHO SAYS ONE
OF THE SADDEST SENTENCES HE
KNOWS IS "I WISH I'D ASKED MY
MOTHER THAT."

Nam says IT REMINDS ME TOO OF SOMETHING
THAT ALEX HALEY WROTE THAT WHEN
SOMEONE DIES IT'S LIKE A
LIBRARY'S BEING BURNT DOWN.
BECAUSE IT'S LIKE ALL THOSE
STORIES ARE GONE.

Allyson says THAT'S RIGHT, YEAH.

Nam says WAS THERE ANY STORY IN YOUR
FAMILY THAT YOU DIDN'T KNOW THAT
YOU FOUND OUT WHEN YOU WERE
EXPLORING THIS?

Allyson says UH--OH, LOTS.

Nam says YEAH.

Allyson says THE THING THAT I REALIZED WHEN I
WAS--I WORKED WITH MY FATHER A
LITTLE BIT, AND THAT WAS HOW I
SEGUED INTO TEACHING ACTUALLY.
I WAS GETTING SOME STORIES FROM
MY FATHER, HE LIVED IN VICTORIA,
SO I WAS SENDING HIM WRITING
PROMPTS AND GETTING HIM TO WRITE
THESE STORIES AND SEND THEM BACK
TO ME.
AND HE--THE TWO THINGS THAT CAME
OUT OF THAT WERE THAT, FIRST OF
ALL HE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT I DIDN'T
KNOW, BECAUSE I WOULD ASK HIM
THINGS AND HE'D SAY, "WELL,
SURELY YOU KNOW THAT."
AND I'D SAY, "WELL, DAD, I WAS A
KID, HOW WOULD I KNOW?"
AND THE OTHER THING WAS THAT HE
EXPECTED ME TO--HE DIDN'T KNOW
WHAT I WOULD BE INTERESTED IN.
SO I REALIZED THAT HE REALLY
NEEDED THE PROMPTS IN ORDER TO
DO THE WRITING, BECAUSE WITHOUT
THEM HE DIDN'T REALLY KNOW WHERE
TO START.

Nam says AND WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED, WHAT
WAS IT LIKE?
WAS THERE A LOT OF PEOPLE
INTERESTED IN MEMOIR WRITING
WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?

Allyson says THERE WERE BUT I WOULD SAY--THIS
IS 12 OR SO YEARS AGO, AND
THERE'S BEEN AN INCREDIBLE
EXPLOSION AND INTEREST IN
WRITING MEMOIR.
BACK THEN, YOU COULD FIND THE
ODD COURSE OR WORKSHOP HERE OR
THERE BUT NOTHING LIKE THERE IS
NOW.
AND I'M SURE IT'S THE AGING
POPULATION, IT'S ALSO THE
INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA MAKING
IT EASIER FOR PEOPLE TO CONNECT.
AND TO DO THE RESEARCH THEY WANT
TO DO, AND ALSO TO SHARE STORIES
AND SO ON, BUT I'D SAY WITHIN
THE LAST 10, 15 YEARS, THAT'S
REALLY BEEN A CHANGE.

Nam says NOW, WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE
BETWEEN A MEMOIR AND
AUTOBIOGRAPHY?

Allyson says THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS THAT
STUDENTS ARE OFTEN REALLY
SURPRISED ABOUT WHEN I EXPLAIN
IT TO THEM.
AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY IS REALLY THE
STORY OF A PERSON'S ENTIRE LIFE,
FROM BIRTH.
IT'S FACTUAL, IT'S A BIT MORE
LIKE A HISTORY, AND IT'S
CHRONOLOGICAL.
SO YOU WOULDN'T WRITE AN
AUTOBIOGRAPHY WHEN YOU WERE 40,
MOST PEOPLE WOULD WRITE ONE WHEN
THEY'RE IN THEIR SENIOR YEARS.
BUT A MEMOIR CAN BE AS SHORT AS
1,000 WORDS, EVEN SHORTER
ACTUALLY.
AND THAT SURPRISES PEOPLE TOO,
THEY COME INTO MY WORKSHOPS
THINKING THAT A MEMOIR HAS TO BE
A BOOK.
BUT THERE'S A LOT--AND AGAIN
BECAUSE OF THE INTERNET--THERE'S
A LOT OF OPPORTUNITY FOR WRITING
SHORTER STORIES ABOUT YOUR LIFE.
BUT THE MEMOIR IS WRITTEN MORE
LIKE A NOVEL.
THE IDEA IS THAT YOU PUT A FRAME
AROUND SOME ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE,
TOPICAL OR THEMATIC, OR A
PARTICULAR RELATIONSHIP, OR
WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE, AND YOU
MAKE A STORY OUT OF IT USING
THINGS LIKE DIALOGUE AND
DESCRIPTION, AND YOU MAKE IT
INTO A STORY.
BUT ALSO IT CAN BE ANY LENGTH,
SO THAT'S A RELIEF TO A LOT OF
PEOPLE.

Nam says I DIDN'T KNOW THAT.

Allyson says YEAH.

Nam says I ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT A
MEMOIR HAD TO BE LIKE A COMPLETE
BOOK.

Allyson says NO.

Nam says SO IT COULD BE A THOUSAND WORDS,
WHICH IS A COUPLE OF PAGES.

Allyson says THERE ARE LOTS OF
MAGAZINES NOW THAT PUBLISH
CREATIVE NON-FICTION AND MEMOIR
THAT'S 750 WORDS, 1,000 WORDS,
SO...

Nam says AND THAT WOULD BE FOR LIKE
A PARTICULAR EVENT THAT
HAPPENED, LIKE ONE STORY,
CORRECT?

Allyson says MM HMM.
IT COULD BE A--YEAH, OFTEN IT'S
A PARTICULAR EVENT
OR A PARTICULAR RELATIONSHIP.
THEY'RE SIMPLER, OBVIOUSLY
THAN A LONGER MEMOIR WOULD BE.
THE FOCUS HAS TO BE TIGHTER, BUT
THAT'S THE DIFFERENCE.

Nam says AND WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT
SPARK YOUR STUDENTS' INTEREST IN
WRITING A MEMOIR?

Allyson says WHY DO THEY COME TO THE
WORKSHOPS?
ALL SORTS OF REASONS, SOME OF
THEM WANT TO JUST WRITE IT FOR
THEMSELVES, THEY WANT TO WRITE
TO REMEMBER THE PAST AND TO MAKE
A RECORD OF THE PAST FOR
THEMSELVES.
OTHERS ARE WORKING WITH A FAMILY
MEMBER, A PARENT OR A
GRANDPARENT, AND THEY'RE TRYING
TO HELP THEM, AND IT'S MORE OF A
BLEND OF A MEMOIR AND FAMILY
HISTORY.
OTHER PEOPLE HAVE A STORY THAT
THEY FEEL THAT THEY REALLY WANT
TO TELL AND GET IT OUT THERE
ABOUT SOME EXPERIENCE THEY'VE
HAD, THEY THINK IT WILL HELP
OTHER PEOPLE.
SO SOME OF THEM COME JUST FOR
THEMSELVES AND OTHERS COME
BECAUSE THEY ARE HOPING TO GET
PUBLISHED SOMEDAY, OR JUST
SELF-PUBLISH.

Nam says AND HOW STRONG IS THEIR
WRITING WHEN THEY START?

Allyson says IT REALLY DEPENDS ON THE
WORKSHOP.
AT U OF T THEY'RE STRONGER, I
THINK, IN GENERAL THAN SOME
WORKSHOPS I TEACH JUST BECAUSE
IT'S A PROGRAM, YOU KNOW, AND
THERE'S AN EXPENSE INVOLVED SO
THERE'S A COMMITMENT AND
INVESTMENT, BUT IT RANGES, IT
RANGES IN EVERY WORKSHOP.
BUT THERE'S OFTEN A LOT OF
TALENT THERE THAT JUST NEEDS TO
BE UNCOVERED.

Nam says AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS
THAT PEOPLE WRITE ABOUT?

Allyson says OH MY GOODNESS, EVERYTHING,
YOU COULD IMAGINE.

Nam says LIKE, WHAT WOULD MAKE A
GOOD MEMOIR TOPIC?

Allyson says WELL, GOOD MEMOIRS ARE USUALLY
ABOUT PERSONAL CHALLENGES,
SOMETHING THAT YOU'VE BEEN
THROUGH THAT, THROUGH WHICH
YOU'VE EVOLVED AS A PERSON, AS A
CHARACTER IN THE BOOK BUT AS A
PERSON IN REAL LIFE.

The caption changes to "Natural storytellers."

Allyson continues SO CHALLENGES COULD BE ANYTHING,
IT COULD BE A RELATIONSHIP, IT
COULD BE ILLNESS, IT COULD BE
TRAVEL EXPERIENCES, ALL SORTS OF
THINGS.
REALLY ANYTHING I THINK CAN MAKE
A GOOD STORY IF IT'S TOLD WELL.

Nam says AND WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR
FAVOURITE MEMOIRS?

Allyson says THAT'S HARD BECAUSE I READ SO
MANY OF THEM.

Nam says YEAH.
I LOVE
ANGELA'S ASHES,
BUT
I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY THAT
DON'T THEY?

Allyson says YES, I LIKE
ANGELA'S ASHES,
TOO.
THE
BOY IN THE MOON
BY IAN
BROWN, WHICH I COPYEDITED.

Nam says WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT?

Allyson says THAT WAS ABOUT HIS SON WALKER
WHO HAS A GENETIC MUTATION AND
ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE AND HIS
WIFE'S WITH PARENTING HIM.
REALLY VERY MOVING STORY.
BUT GOING BACK I LOVED ISAK
ANYTHING BY JULIAN BARNES, HE'S
A BRITISH AUTHOR, I DON'T KNOW
IF YOU KNOW HIM.
WHO ELSE?
THE GLASS CASTLE
IS VERY
POPULAR, THAT COMES UP A LOT
WITH MY STUDENTS, IT'S VERY,
VERY WELL READ, AND WELL THOUGHT
OF.
THERE'S SO MANY.
I LOVE TRAVEL MEMOIR AS WELL.

Nam says YEAH.
AND HOW DO YOU HANDLE,
LIKE, WRITING ABOUT SOMETHING
TRAUMATIC OR A TRAGEDY?

Allyson says WHAT I ADVISE PEOPLE IS THAT, IF
THEY WANT TO WRITE ABOUT THEIR
LIVES THEY NEED TO WRITE ABOUT
THE TEXTURE OF THEIR LIVES WHICH
MEANS ALSO THE TRAGIC PARTS, THE
SAD PARTS, THE DARKER PARTS.
AND IF THEY FIND THAT DIFFICULT
THAT OFTEN IT'S A GOOD IDEA TO
JUST STEP AWAY FROM THAT FOR A
LITTLE BIT, WRITE ABOUT OTHER
THINGS AND THEN TRY TO COME BACK
TO IT.
I DON'T WANT ANYBODY TO DO IT TO
THE POINT WHERE THEY'RE
RE-TRAUMATIZED.
BUT SOMETIMES IT JUST
TAKES A FEW RUNS AT IT.
AND THERE'S ALSO A SCIENTIST IN
THE STATES, DR JAMES PANABAKER,
WHO'S DONE SOME STUDIES ON
WRITING TO HEAL.
AND IN HIS STUDIES HE TALKS
ABOUT THE PROCESS OF WRITING
ABOUT DIFFICULT LIFE EVENTS AND
HOW IF YOU REPEATEDLY WRITE
ABOUT SOMETHING, THE PROCESS OF
WRITING ABOUT IT HELPS YOU TO
WORK THROUGH IT IN SOME WAY.
SO THERE CAN BE A HEALING ASPECT
TO SOME OF THE MEMOIR WRITING
THAT PEOPLE DO.

Nam says NOW RECENTLY WITH A LOT OF
MEMOIRS, THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF
FEMALE SUCCESSFUL WRITERS--A LOT
OF SUCCESSFUL MEMOIRS HAVE BEEN
WRITTEN BY WOMEN, AND THERE'S
BEEN A LITTLE BIT OF CRITICISM
ABOUT THAT, IN ENGLAND THEY CALL
IT "MISERY LITERATURE."
DO YOU THINK THAT'S UNFAIR,
BECAUSE IT'S KIND OF
ATTACKING--SAYING THAT THE ONLY
THING THAT WOMEN CAN WRITE ABOUT
IT TRAUMA, AND YOU KNOW,
CLAIMING THAT THEY'RE VICTIMS,
ETCETERA.

Allyson says I THINK IT'S VERY UNFAIR WHEN
PEOPLE CATEGORIZE LIKE THAT.
TO ME IT SEEMS A GOOD BOOK IS A
GOOD BOOK, A GOOD MEMOIR IS A
GOOD MEMOIR.
THE IRONY IS PROBABLY THAT
ORIGINALLY--HISTORICALLY MEMOIRS
OR AUTOBIOGRAPHIES BACK THEN
WERE WRITTEN ALL BY MEN, THEY
WERE WRITTEN BY MILITARY
FIGURES, POLITICAL FIGURES.
I THINK ONE OF THE BEST-SELLING
MEMORIES STILL OF ALL TIME WAS
WRITTEN BY BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.
She laughs and continues SO THE FACT THAT WOMEN ARE
WRITING MEMOIRS IS A NEWER
THING.
THE MISERY MEMOIRS ISSUES IS
SORT OF A DIFFERENT ISSUE, BUT I
DON'T THINK THAT'S NECESSARILY
JUST WOMEN DOING THAT, AND IT'S
SOMETHING THAT--IT'S
QUESTIONABLE WHETHER THAT WILL
KEEP GOING, REALLY THE
READERSHIP IS WHAT WILL DECIDE
THAT.
IF PEOPLE ARE READING THE BOOK,
IT MUST BE AN INTERESTING BOOK.

Nam says WHICH LEADS ME TO MY NEXT
QUESTION, LIKE, HOW IMPORTANT IS
AUTHENTICITY IN THE MEMOIR?

Allyson says ABSOLUTELY IMPORTANT.
IT'S--I WOULD SAY THE THINGS
THAT ARE IMPORTANT IN A MEMOIR
ARE HONESTY AND AUTHENTICITY,
VULNERABILITY, BEING WILLING TO
SHOW YOUR OWN FLAWS IN THE
PROCESS OF WRITING IT.
A MEMOIR'S NOT VERY INTERESTING
IF YOU WHITEWASH YOURSELF AND
THEN EVERYONE ELSE IS
CRITICIZED, SO THERE'S ALSO SOME
MEMOIRS THAT ARE WRITTEN WHERE
PEOPLE ARE VERY, YOU
KNOW--THEY'RE BLAMING.
SO I OFTEN TALK IN WORKSHOPS HOW
PEOPLE SHOULDN'T BE WRITING TO
BLAME OR TO BE VINDICTIVE, OR TO
TAKE REVENGE ON ANYONE, IT'S NOT
ABOUT THAT.
AND YOU HAVE TO BE AS CRITICAL
ABOUT YOURSELF AS A CHARACTER AS
YOU ARE ABOUT THE OTHER
CHARACTERS IN YOUR BOOK.

Nam says THAT'S REALLY INTERESTING.

Allyson says YEAH.
AND ALSO SHOW COMPASSION, THAT'S
ANOTHER THING BECAUSE PEOPLE
WILL SAY, "WELL, THIS PERSON DID
ME WRONG, SO HOW DO I
WRITE ABOUT HIM?"
AND I'LL SAY, "WELL, YOU KNOW,
YOU HAVE TO"--IF YOU DON'T SHOW
COMPASSION--SHOWING COMPASSION
IS SOMETHING THE READER WILL SEE
AS A CHARACTERISTIC OF YOU.
SO YOU'RE SOFTENING YOUR
APPROACH TO THIS OTHER CHARACTER
AND AT THE SAME TIME YOU'RE ALSO
REVEALING A PART OF YOURSELF
THAT'S POSITIVE.

Nam says WE ALWAYS THINK THAT MEMOIR IT'S
WRITTEN BY ONE PERSON, BUT
THERE'S AN EDITOR INVOLVED, SO
HOW DO YOU FALL INTO THAT?

The caption changes to "It takes a village."

Allyson says WELL, EVERY GOOD BOOK
HAS EDITORS BEHIND IT.
I WOULD SAY WRITING A BOOK IS
ONE PERSON, BUT OFTEN TO PRODUCE
A BOOK TAKES A VILLAGE.

Allyson chuckles.

Nam says SO HOW DO YOU KEEP THAT
AUTHENTICITY THEN?

Allyson says WELL, THE AUTHOR--PART OF BEING
AN EDITOR, IF YOU'RE A GOOD
EDITOR, IS TO TRY TO PRESERVE
THE WRITER'S VOICE.
SO, AND THAT'S SOMETHING THAT'S
NOT ALWAYS EASY, IT'S A
CHALLENGE.
SOMETIMES YOU GET BETTER AT IT
OVER TIME I THINK.
Smiling, she says I HOPE I'VE GOTTEN BETTER AT IT.

Nam chuckles.

Allyson says IT'S SOMETHING THAT IS VERY
IMPORTANT BECAUSE THE EDITOR
CAN'T TAKE OVER OR CHANGE THE
VOICE OF A STORY.

Nam says AND YOU'VE WORKED WITH SOME
WELL-KNOWN AUTHORS, WHO ARE SOME
OF THE PEOPLE THAT YOU'VE WORKED
WITH?

Allyson says IN TERMS OF FICTION AND MEMOIR,
ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE.
LAWRENCE HILL, KATHERINE GOVIER,
CATHERINE GILDINER, I WORKED ON
ONE OF HER MEMOIRS.
A LOT OF MY WORK FOR
PUBLISHERS, WHICH HAS BEEN OVER
THE LAST 20 YEARS, HAS BEEN
COPYEDITING.
SOME PROOFREADING, AND
OCCASIONALLY STRUCTURAL EDITING,
WHICH IS EARLIER IN THE PROCESS,
BUT EVERY BOOK REQUIRES A WHOLE
TEAM OF EDITORS, REALLY, THAT
HAVE VARIOUS FUNCTIONS.
AND THAT'S SOMETHING A LOT OF
PEOPLE DON'T KNOW, AND A LOT OF
TIMES STUDENTS DON'T REALIZE
THAT UNTIL THEY'RE TOLD, THEY
THINK THAT, THEY DON'T KNOW THAT
THERE WILL BE ALL THESE STEPS
INVOLVED IN BRINGING A BOOK OUT
INTO THE WORLD.

Nam says IT HAS MANY, MANY, MANY
PARENTS.

Nam laughs.

Allyson says ABSOLUTELY.

Nam says AND WHAT IS IT ABOUT THESE
WRITERS' MEMOIRS THAT HAVE MADE
THEM SO SUCCESSFUL?
SOME OF THE PEOPLE THAT YOU'VE
MENTIONED, LIKE LAWRENCE HILL.

Allyson says WELL, LAWRENCE HILL'S MEMOIR WAS
A WHILE AGO THAT THAT ONE CAME
OUT.
YOU KNOW, I GUESS IN GENERAL
IT'S JUST THE SAME THINGS THAT
WOULD MAKE ANY MEMOIR READABLE,
BECAUSE OFTEN THESE PEOPLE
AREN'T NECESSARILY FAMOUS BEFORE
THEY WRITE THE MEMOIR, SOMETIMES
THEY ARE BUT SOMETIMES THEY
AREN'T.
SO IT'S THE SAME
THINGS, AUTHENTICITY,
VULNERABILITY, A WILLINGNESS TO
SHOW YOUR FLAWS, GIVING THE
READER A SENSE THAT YOU'RE
TAKING THEM ON A JOURNEY, THAT
IT'S NOT MEANDERING, THAT THERE
IS A PURPOSE, THERE'S A
DESTINATION THAT YOU'RE AIMING
FOR AT THE END OF THE BOOK, AND
WHEN THEY GET TO THAT
DESTINATION THE READER FEELS
LIKE THEY HAVE--A GIFT IS HOW I
OFTEN DESCRIBE IT--YOU KNOW,
THAT YOU'VE GOT A GIFT OF SOME
SORT THAT YOU'VE RECEIVED AS A
READER.

Nam says THAT'S LOVELY.

Allyson says AND IN THE LAST FEW PAGES
THERE'S SOMETHING THAT MAKES
THAT JOURNEY REALLY WORTHWHILE,
SO IT GIVES YOU SOMETHING TO
THINK ABOUT, A DIFFERENT WAY TO
THINK ABOUT PEOPLE, OR THE
WORLD, LIFE AND ABOUT YOURSELF.
THERE'S ONE AUTHOR I REMEMBER
TALKING TO AND SHE SAID THAT
WHEN SHE SPEAKS TO A GROUP ABOUT
HER BOOK, IF SOMEBODY COMES UP
AFTERWARDS AND SAYS TO
HER--WANTS TO TALK ABOUT HER
STORY, SHE FEELS SHE'S FAILED.
IF THE PERSON WALKS UP AND WANTS
TO TALK ABOUT THEIR STORY--WHAT
HER STORY TRIGGERED IN THEM, SHE
FEELS SHE'S SUCCEEDED.

The caption changes to "Opening up."

Allyson says AND I THOUGHT THAT WAS REALLY
INTERESTING BECAUSE IT'S
PROBABLY THE REVERSE OF WHAT
THAT MOST OF US...

Nam says WOULD EXPECT.

Allyson continues IMAGINE AN AUTHOR WANTS,
RIGHT?
BUT IT'S THAT CONNECTION BETWEEN
THE READER'S STORY--SORRY, THE
WRITER'S STORY AND THE READER
THAT'S SO IMPORTANT.

Nam says AND YOU CAN IDENTIFY WITH,
I SUPPOSE.

Allyson says MM HMM.

Nam says YOU RECENTLY HELPED EDIT A
MEMOIR BY AN AUTHOR NAMED
ALEXANDRA RISEN
CALLED
UNEARTHED.

Allyson says YES.

Nam says WHO IS SHE?

Allyson says SO SHE WAS ONE OF MY STUDENTS AT
U OF T.
SHE ORIGINALLY TOOK A COURSE
FROM ANOTHER INSTRUCTOR ABOUT
WRITING ABOUT NATURE.
BECAUSE SHE HAS THIS BEAUTIFUL
GARDEN THAT'S IN ROSEDALE, THAT
SHE AND HER HUSBAND--THEY BOUGHT
THE HOUSE AND THE GARDEN WAS IN
A STATE, AND SO IT'S A BEAUTIFUL
HUGE GARDEN, SO THEY--THERE WAS
A LOT THAT WAS INVOLVED IN
RESTORING IT.
BUT THEN SHE TOOK MY COURSE AND
SHE WAS WRITING SOME PERSONAL
STORIES, AND DECIDED THAT SHE
WANTED TO MELD THE TWO IDEAS.
SHE WANTED TO WRITE ABOUT THE
GARDEN BUT ALSO WRITE ABOUT HER
OWN LIFE, AND HER OWN
EXPERIENCES.
SO SHE WAS MY--WITH THE CREATIVE
WRITING PROGRAM THERE YOU TAKE
SIX COURSES AND THEN THE SEVENTH
IS CALLED THE FINAL PROJECT
TUTORIAL.
AND IT'S ABOUT A THIRD OF A BOOK
THAT YOU HAVE TO FINISH FOR
THAT.
SO SHE WAS MY FINAL PROJECT
STUDENT.
AND WE WORKED FOR ABOUT--WE
WORKED TOGETHER ON THE FIRST
THIRD OF WHAT HAS NOW BECOME
UNEARTHED,
AND IT'S COMING OUT
THIS SUMMER, BOTH IN THE STATES
AND IN CANADA.

Nam says THAT'S GREAT.

Allyson says SO IT'S REALLY EXCITING FOR HER.

Nam says WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES
THAT CAME OF WORKING ON THAT
BOOK?

Allyson says WHEN SHE CAME TO ME ORIGINALLY,
SHE HAD A LOT OF STORY IDEAS, A
LOT OF STORYLINES THAT SHE WAS
TRYING TO BLEND.
AND THAT WAS SOME OF THE ISSUES,
WAS HOW TO--WHICH ONES WERE THE
MOST IMPORTANT ONES, WHICH ONES
WOULD MAKE THE BEST STORY?
TOO MANY STORYLINES BECOME
COMPLICATED.
SO--AND ALSO WHAT WAS THE
PRIMARY RELATIONSHIP THAT THE
BOOK WAS ABOUT, BECAUSE USUALLY
THERE IS SOME SORT OF
RELATIONSHIP, SOME SORT OF
TENSION THAT EXISTS AND IT TOOK
A BIT TO GET FROM HER--A LOT OF
TALKING AND LOOKING AT
DRAFTS--TO GET FROM HER WHAT IT
WAS SHE REALLY WANTED TO WRITE
ABOUT.
AND IT ENDED UP BEING SOMETHING
THAT INITIALLY I THINK SHE
DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE ABOUT, OR
WAS A LITTLE--SHE ADMITTED TO ME
SHE WAS A LITTLE AFRAID TO WRITE
ABOUT IT, SHE DIDN'T THINK IT
WOULD INTEREST PEOPLE, SHE
DIDN'T REALIZE THERE WAS ANY
UNIVERSAL ELEMENT TO IT, BUT IT
WAS HER RELATIONSHIP WITH HER
PARENTS WHICH WAS QUITE
DIFFICULT.
AND ONE OF THEM, HER FATHER HAD
ALREADY DIED AND HER MOTHER WAS
STILL ALIVE BUT WAS FAILING AT
THE TIME THAT SHE WAS WRITING
THE BOOK, SO IT WAS KIND OF
PULLING SOME OF THAT TOGETHER
AND PULLING IT OUT OF HER.
SHE SAYS THAT ONE OF THE THINGS
I HELPED HER DO WAS KEEP HER EYE
ON THE END OF THE BOOK.
I TOLD HER THAT SHE NEEDS TO
THINK ABOUT WHAT SHE WANTED THE
BOOK TO BE ABOUT AND WHAT THE
MESSAGE WOULD BE FOR THE READER,
AND THEN BE ABLE TO GO BACK AND
DECIDE WHAT ELEMENTS SHE WANTED
TO KEEP TO GET TO THAT GOAL.
AND ALSO AN EDITOR'S ROLE IS
JUST TO POINT OUT GAPS AND
WEAKNESSES HERE AND THERE,
QUESTIONS THAT COME TO YOU THAT
YOU KNOW WILL COME TO A READER,
BUT OFTEN THE AUTHOR IS TOO
CLOSE TO IT TO SEE THAT THOSE
ARE QUESTIONS THEY HAVEN'T
ANSWERED.

Nam says BUT IT MUST BE VERY GRATIFYING
TO COME SEE IT COME TOGETHER
FROM THE BEGINNING TO
THE END.

Allyson says IT'S WHAT I LOVE.

Nam says YEAH.

Allyson says I LOVE WORKING WITH AUTHORS.
I LOVE WORKING AT ANY STAGE OF
EDITING A BOOK FOR A PUBLISHER.
BUT I ALSO LOVE WORKING WITH
STUDENTS AND SEEING--EVEN WHEN
STUDENTS PUBLISH SOMETHING,
1,000 WORD ESSAY SOMEWHERE THAT
I KNOW HAS COME OUT OF SOME
INSPIRATION THEY RECEIVED FROM
THE CLASS, OR MY WORKSHOPS, I
JUST FEEL SO PROUD...

They laugh.

Allyson says SO HAPPY.

Nam says NOW PEOPLE ARE DOCUMENTING
THEIR LIVES ON SOCIAL MEDIA ALL
THE TIME.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT SORT
OF PERSONAL WRITING?

The caption changes to "Alternative Memoirs."

Allyson says I THINK IT'S GREAT THAT
THERE'S AN OPPORTUNITY NOW FOR
PEOPLE--AGAIN, THIS IS SOMETHING
THAT'S CHANGED IN THE TIME I'VE
BEEN TEACHING.
NOW I CAN SAY TO STUDENTS,
LOOK, YOU CAN START A BLOG IN
TEN MINUTES AND START PUTTING
YOUR WRITING OUT THERE.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO EVEN WORRY
ABOUT WHETHER YOU WANT TO SEND
IT TO A JOURNAL AND GET
REJECTED, IF WANT YOU WANT IS TO
WRITE AND BE READ, THAT'S A WAY
OF DOING IT.
BUT OF COURSE THERE'S A WHOLE
RANGE OF, YOU KNOW, QUALITY OUT
THERE, AND THE ONES THAT ARE
BETTER GET READ MORE, AND BECOME
MORE POPULAR AND SO ON.
I DON'T THINK IT'S A BAD
THING
BUT, AS WITH ANY KIND OF
READING WE SHOULD BE SELECTIVE I
GUESS.

Nam says WELL I WANT TO SHOW YOU A CLIP
OF NOVELIST CAMILLA GIBB WITH
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY LAST YEAR,
ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
WRITING FICTION AND MEMOIR.

A clip plays.

Camilla Gibb is in her late thirties with dark brown hair tied-up. She wears a gray blazer.

Camilla says THE DIFFERENCE I SUPPOSE, IN
APPROACHING MEMOIR, IT'S--FOR ME
IT'S A ACTUALLY JUST A TECHNICAL
DIFFERENCE, WHICH IS--OK--SO ONE
IS ACTUALLY BASED IN--MORE
DIRECTLY BASED IN A KNOWN
REALITY
RATHER THAN IN AN IMAGINED OR
INVENTED REALITY.

The caption changes to "Camilla Gibb. August 26, 2015."

Camilla continues BUT THOSE QUESTIONS ABOUT FACT
AND FICTION ARE VERY BLURRY FOR
ME.
I THINK THE IDEA THAT WE
REMEMBER--MEMORY ITSELF IS AN
ACT OF RECONSTRUCTION.
MEMORY ITSELF CHOOSES AND PICKS
WHAT PIECES WE'RE GOING TO
ASSEMBLE INTO SOME KIND OF
NARRATIVE FORM.
I THINK, YOU KNOW, NON-FICTION
HAS THIS ELEMENT, MEMOIR IN
PARTICULAR, WHERE WE'RE RELYING
ON OUR OWN KIND OF MEMORY, IT
HAS THIS ELEMENT OF FICTION IN
IT AS WELL, AND WE USE A LOT OF
THE SAME TECHNIQUES, I THINK, TO
CRAFT A CREDIBLE NARRATIVE.

The clip ends.

Nam says ANY THOUGHTS ON WHAT CAMILLA
JUST SAID?

Allyson says I AGREE.
She chuckles and continues ABSOLUTELY.
SHE--THERE'S A, NORMAN LEVINE, A
FAMOUS AUTHOR, ONCE SAID, ALL
LIFE ONCE LIVED IS FICTION.
THE IDEA BEING THAT AS SOON AS
SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED WE ARE
PROCESSING IT, AND PEOPLE ARE
PROCESSING THAT DIFFERENTLY.
PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES WILL SHOW
THAT WITNESSES TO A CRIME, THAT
WITHIN MINUTES, THEY CAN HAVE
DIFFERENT STORIES AND DIFFERENT
INTERPRETATIONS OF WHAT THEY'VE
SEEN.
SO THERE IS DEFINITELY WITH
MEMOIR THERE IS ALWAYS THAT
ELEMENT OF, IT'S BOTH TRUTH
YOUR EMOTIONAL TRUTH, REALLY,
BECAUSE WHAT IS TRUTH, RIGHT?
WE CAN'T--WE HAVE TO--THERE ARE
FACTS THAT YOU CAN VERIFY BUT
THERE'S A LOT IN MEMOIRS THAT
CAN'T REALLY BE VERIFIED.
BUT THE TRUTH OF IT IS YOUR
EMOTIONAL TRUTH, THE TRUTH OF
YOUR MEMORY OF WHAT HAPPENED AND
HOW YOU INTERPRETED IT.
SO IT'S VERY PERSONAL.
BUT FICTION TOO, THERE'S OFTEN
ELEMENTS OF MEMOIR IN FICTION,
WHETHER THEY'RE OBVIOUS OR NOT.
WE ALL--PEOPLE WRITE FICTION
BASED ON EVENTS THAT HAVE
HAPPENED TO THEM, CHARACTERS
THEY'VE MET SOMETIMES BECOME
COMPOSITES IN A BOOK.
YOU KNOW, SO THERE'S A LOT OF
OVERLAP, AND BOTH REALLY ARE
REALITY AND IMAGINATION, BUT
JUST IN DIFFERENT DEGREES.

Nam says WE DON'T REALLY HAVE MUCH
TIME LEFT BUT I DID WANT TO
FOLLOW UP WITH THAT.
LIKE JAMES FREY A FEW YEARS AGO
WAS CRITICIZED FOR BLURRING THE
REAL AND--CAUSE HIS BOOK
A
MILLION LITTLE PIECES
WAS
MEMOIR
BUT THEN IT TURNED OUT THAT
SOME OF THE DETAILS DIDN'T
REALLY HAPPEN THE WAY HE
REMEMBERED THEM HAPPENING.
SO WHAT DO YOU SAY WHEN
SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS?

Allyson says WELL, HOPEFULLY PEOPLE ARE BEING
A LOT MORE CAREFUL NOW.
HIS WAS...

Nam says SO THE ONUS IS ONE THE
WRITER THEN?

Allyson says I WOULD SAY SO.
HE WAS DEFINITELY NOT THE FIRST,
THERE ARE ALL SORTS OF FAMOUS
CASES OF THAT PRIOR TO THAT, AND
THERE'VE BEEN SOME SINCE THEN AS
WELL.
BUT IT'S DEFINITELY SOMETHING
THAT IS--THERE IS NO POINT TO ME
IN WRITING A MEMOIR UNLESS YOU
ARE BEING TRUTHFUL.
BUT THE OTHER THING IS THAT
THERE ARE LOTS OF WAYS TO
DESCRIBE DIFFERENT TYPES OF
WRITING.
THERE IS A WHOLE SPECTRUM OF
CREATIVE NON-FICTION, AND--SO TO
ME, AS LONG AS YOU LABEL WHAT
YOU HAVE WRITTEN PROPERLY
SO THAT YOU'RE NOT SURPRISING
ANYONE OR BEING DISHONEST OR
MISLEADING, THEN ANYTHING GOES,
REALLY.
YOU CAN DO ANY FORM OF THAT,
JUST BE HONEST ABOUT WHAT IT IS
YOU'VE ACTUALLY WRITTEN.

Nam says AND FINAL QUESTION, HOW
REALISTIC IS IT FOR A NORMAL
PERSON LIKE MYSELF, SOMEBODY
WHO'S NOT FAMOUS OR A CELEBRITY
OR POLITICIAN, TO GET THEIR
MEMOIR PUBLISHED--TO GET A BOOK
DEAL?

Allyson says PUBLISHED--TO GET A BOOK DEAL?
IT'S VERY, VERY CHALLENGING.
IT'S VERY COMPETITIVE OUT THERE,
FOR SURE.
BUT WHAT MAKES ME PASSIONATE
ABOUT TEACHING IT IS THAT THERE
ARE SO MANY OTHER WAYS TO GET
YOUR STORIES OUT, AND DEPENDING
ON WHO THE AUDIENCE IS THAT YOU
WANT TO BE READING IT, WHETHER
IT'S FAMILY OR FRIENDS,
SELF-PUBLISHING IS SO MUCH
EASIER AND CHEAPER THAN IT WAS
20 YEARS AGO--E-PUBLISHING,
THERE ARE ALL SORTS OF WAYS.
GETTING A BOOK DEAL WITH A MAJOR
PUBLISHER IS CHALLENGING.
YOU HAVE TO HAVE A LOT OF
ELEMENTS COME TOGETHER.
GREAT STORY, GREAT WRITING, YOU
KNOW, SOMETIMES JUST THE RIGHT
EDITOR READING IT IN-HOUSE AND
DECIDING THAT THEY WANT TO GO TO
BAT FOR IT WITH THEIR EDITORIAL
COMMITTEE--THERE'S A LOT.

Nam says BUT LIKE YOU SAID AT THE
BEGINNING OF THE SHOW, IF YOU DO
IT FOR YOURSELF AND YOU GIVE IT
TO YOUR FAMILY, IT'S SOMETHING
THAT GENERATIONS OF YOUR FAMILY
CAN HAVE FOR YEARS TO COME.
IT'S PROBABLY PRICELESS.

Allyson says AND THAT IS.
EVERYBODY HAS A STORY TO
TELL--STORIES TO TELL--AND FOR
ME THE MAIN THING IS THAT I WANT
PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT, IF
THEY WANT TO GO TO OTHER LEVELS
OF SHARING THEIR STORIES, THAT'S
GREAT.
BUT FIRST AND FOREMOST I LOVE TO
TEACH STUDENTS THAT THEY CAN
SHARE THEIR STORY WITH PEOPLE
CLOSE TO THEM.

Nam says ALLYSON, THANK YOU SO MUCH
FOR BEING HERE.

Allyson says THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

The caption changes to "Producer: Colin Ellis, @ColinEllis81."

Nam says AND FOR HELPING US DIG
DEEPER.

Nam chuckles.

Allyson smiles and says THANK YOU.

Watch: The Art of Memoir Writing