The only thing a memoir reader knows at the outset is that the writer survived long enough to write the book. Every memoirist knows two things: readers judge memoirists as people in a way they don’t novelists; and some people depicted in the book will read it in a close and even predatory way.
Recently when I guest lectured to Alyson Latta’s online memoir class at The University of Toronto I was struck by how many students were worried about family reactions to their life stories.
One student asked, How do your family members feel about being included in your writing? Do you purposefully leave out details that they might find embarrassing or an invasion of their privacy?
The students’ concerns made me remember the big hurdle I faced in writing about friends and acquaintances in Shepherd: A Memoir. I found that some were disturbed or overly sensitive about being portrayed. It made them uncomfortable. Hence I ended up changing most of their names and identifying details in my book