On finding validation in Annie Ernaux's "Simple Passion" and her winning the Nobel Prize in literature.
My memoir turned to fiction (autofiction?) when I realized no one in my family is capable of telling the truth (for myriad reasons ranging from delusions, to denial, to mental illness, to simple misunderstandings, etc), and when I realized it would’ve been largely fiction even if I hadn’t made it so on purpose. Still working on it.
I’m glad you wrote about arnoux — I had been meaning to read that book, myself! Thanks for the endorsement!
I took a workshop a couple of years ago just after I'd finished my MFA and was looking to turn my memoir in visual essays into a book proposal, which an editor who had seen it encouraged me to do. The person who was teaching this workshop discouraged every single woman in there--and we were all women--from pursuing memoir and memoir-based projects in favor of reported nonfiction with a sprinkle of personal narrative. Because the only memoirs that sell, he insisted, were celebrity memoirs. It made me both angry and sad, and I dropped the class because I thought if I shared my work with that instructor, I might very well never make another thing again.
I am in some ways very lucky in that I am able to freelance in a well-paying industry and have the flexibility to spend time on my own work and to do some teaching. I am constantly having conversations with myself about publishing. What I want from it. And where I might fit into that ecosystem. I like to make weird hybrid stuff. Need to make it. I try not to ruminate on it too much, and make the work I need to make, and get it out there in ways that I can. I suspect if I ever do have anything published it will be with an indie.
Thank you for putting these thoughts and questions into writing and then offering them to us, Sari. I relate to so much here -- the love of reading one person's deep dive into an experience, the frustration with publishing's hot-and-cold relationship to memoir, my own obsession with self-ethnography, not to mention a recent spate of "leakiness." Always glad to read you here.
Good for you for editing your systems and processes to feel freer of that self-pressure. Your work and publications are such a gift and are enough on their own. I say it that way that way to say, thanks for what your create - and you are worthy of your own time and space and process!
All of this. I've been thinking a lot about this, too. What are the books that I'm excited to read? And what makes me feel excited to write? I've been working on a narrative nonfiction book for a long time, and there is no memoir in it at all. It started out with some and I have ruthlessly cut all of it and it feels GREAT. And that is how it should be, and it feels like I'm working on this big painting of other people, on a grand scale, and it's great and I love it and I hope that other people love it too. But I have also been doing these little, I guess, self portraits. Is this autofiction?? IS CALLING IT AUTOFICTION A WAY TO GET PEOPLE TO READ THIS KIND OF MEMOIR?? Or to get publishers to publish it, because, novels? I don't know. But I have been thinking about that, too, about what it would look like and what it would take if I let myself just write some little books that I want to write, knowing they will only ever go to small presses and be read by 10 people, if I am lucky! Sometimes the books about people's experiences and also a larger phenomenon are great, but...I think I just want to read something that feels organic sometimes, rather than a big production. Some of my favorite books of the past decade, in terms of what I return to again and again, are things like Deborah Levy's living autobiography, and Heidi Julavits's The Folded Clock. It's kind of the opposite of big topic memoir-meets-nonfiction in that they are not specifically about anything at all. They are about life and the writer's past, present, and future, and therefore end up being about Life with a big L, and all of our past, present, and futures. Does a writer need to be famous and successful already to be allowed to publish these things? I don't know. The more the world tries to sell me something, to sell my EVERYTHING, at every moment of every day, I crave that feeling of someone just talking to me honestly on the page.
I relate to every bit, Sari! I want to read people's stories, not stories once removed. (I also discovered Ernaux via her big prize and have since read several of her books and enjoyed them all.) But most of all, I want to validate your small press feelings. I have a novel coming out with an indie (Vine Leaves Press) next year, and have read three other novel/memoirs by my fellow Vine Leaves Press authors. They are truly phenomenal writers and I feel so fortunate to be in such talented company. This is reductive, I know, but it expresses my frustration/anger/resentment at the publishing world: I think the best writing is found in small presses because to get picked up by a big 5 publisher, you have to write what *they* want which is what they think the mass public wants and it's therefore either dumbed down or twisted into something currently fashionable. It loses something. If you can make the choice to continue writing quiet books for smaller audiences because you have other sources of income, do it. Save your soul! And your time, because the marketing required, well, you know...Thanks for airing these thoughts, as always! xx