Memoirs vs Fiction

I never thought I would be one of those novelists who wrote a memoir.  Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Making up stuff is much more freeing and fun
  • Fiction is satisfyingly infused with the private experience of an author, but without the tie of being dictated or dominated by it
  • Fiction allows an author to keep her inner life private and safe
  • Who would be interested anyway?

But then my mother went and died and the man I loved walked away and the seams of my life came undone and fiction stopped hitting the spot.  I mean, I didn't even want to read stories let alone write them.  This is what can happen when the reality of one's own narrative becomes too overwhelming - it crushes the ability to be interested in anything else, trapping you in the process.  I stopped seeing the point of my existence.  Suddenly it was as if all that I had believed in, all the foundations I had relied on for stability, had been blasted out of being.  I got buried.  Digging myself out was like having to start over, shovel-load by shovel-load, deciding, on my own, what still mattered in life and what didn't.  Getting my dog, Mabel, was part of that effort.  At the time, I wrote a jolly blog post about it, deliberately giving no indication of the true turmoil going on behind the decision.  I couldn't have borne the self-exposure.  I was too raw, too thin-skinned.  I had one sole focus, and that was how to rebuild my confidence and sense of purpose, day by day, brick by brick; until I had a new wall to hide behind.

It was a friend in the publishing world who first suggested I write about what I was going through.  In fact, being a clever cookie, she suggested I write about getting Mabel - not just a blog post, but a proper book.  What she knew, and I hadn't quite grasped, was that you cannot write about a dog without writing about the dog's owner.  And so my latest book, a memoir and first work of non-fiction, was born:

For the Love of a Dog: a memoir of meltdown, recovery, and a Golden Doodle

In the process, this is what I discovered:

  • Not having to make up stuff is freeing and fun
  • A memoir is more deeply infused with private experience, but it also demands the disciplines of the novelist for its structure and effect
  • My inner life remains as safe as I need it to be
  • Many people are interested in dogs, as well as generously empathetic towards the meltdowns of their owners