Friday, September 9, 2016

Mary Karr - The Art of Memoir

I received the email from the library—Mary Karr is coming to St. Louis—debuting her new book The Art of Memoir. I thought that she’d be someone I’d like to see. I love memoir. Next I get an email from my friend Sioux forwarding the library notice, stating she was going. I waffled. And Linda was going too. As an introvert, if I do too many things, my brain can’t take in any more. I knew I’d be busy that week, then life added something else—my brother fell 12 feet from a ladder and was helicoptered to Columbia. My two sisters and I traveled there and back… all is well, considering. He has two fractures in his pelvic bone, but if he got up and could walk, no surgery. He was determined, walked, and miraculously went home the next evening. Not to say he isn’t suffering…

It’s yesterday—the Mary Karr event. Should I stay or should I go? (Ever see that commercial? Once that song is in my brain, it doesn’t let up and I just discovered from my youngest daughter that song is a real song by a band called The Clash. Had no idea.)

I quieted myself and decided to let Spirit decide for me whether to go see Mary Karr as I was too wishy-washy. The answer struck me late afternoon, from out of nowhere—Go! And so I showered, texted my friends that I would be there.

And it just goes to show when we listen and act upon the message given, how valuable it is.

Mary Karr was a delight. I discovered through her talk that I am NOT a fiction writer. I am a memoir writer. If you get right down to it, I am a letter writer. And that’s OK. I have three NaNoWriMo fiction drafts that have weighed me down like a library full of books. I felt like a failure as a writer. I somehow had it in my head that I had to write non-fiction and fiction in order to qualify as a writer. I could at least choose what genre in fiction because I know I can’t write Sci-Fi or Fantasy or a number of other genres. I vividly recall when my critique group encouraged one another to write for fictional romance. I rolled my eyes and thought, good grief, this will be a complete waste of my time. But I decided, oh, have fun with it. Who cares? And I didn’t care. I did work hard on it, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t care at all whether or not it got accepted. I knew my chances were zip. Imagine my shock when it ended up published in Fifty Shades of Santa…Oh my. You would think that would have raised my confidence level. Um, no. But that was another thing that Ms. Karr stated – my own interpretation – that after each book she wrote, it didn’t make writing the next one any easier. Whew, what a relief.

And another thing she said was her drafts are really bad. Really. She told a story about it and I believed her—that her drafts were bad. I heard this from other well-known writers who claimed their drafts were bad, but never quite believed it. It was the story she told that confirmed it for me. What HOPE I then had.

She also mentioned that memoirs are what gave her HOPE. She’s right. We do feel hope after learning of someone’s experience and how they survived (in some cases, not only just surviving, but becoming completely transformed in a positive way). Or what magical thing they encountered from the lesson of life.

Now my youngest daughter, Rita said to me about five years ago after asking her to give me some feedback on a fictional piece… she handed me the paper, “Mom, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re a much better non-fiction writer.” Naturally, then I was a little disappointed as I wanted to hear, “Wow, I didn’t know you could write such good fiction.” In my heart, I knew she spoke the truth, but wasn’t ready to hear that. Didn’t want to accept that because it meant, for me, then, that I wasn’t a real writer.

I’m here to tell you… I am a writer. The Queen of Letter Writing, for sure. Not that it’s great writing—it’s a lot of babbling, but it’s honest, it’s from my heart and mostly, I absolutely love to write letters. Perhaps love is the key, too. I didn’t love to write fiction. It gave me a headache.

Oh yeah, and another revelation from Mary Karr. She doesn’t like to disclose the next project she’s working on as it diminishes it in some way, and I know exactly what she’s saying. I loved her answer when someone in the audience asked her what she was working on. Couldn’t tell you what it is at the moment. When people ask me, it feels so awkward to say, ‘oh, I don’t really want to talk about it’ because then I think they think I’m not really working on anything. How do I know what people think anyway? I think I think too much. But now I’ll just say, ‘my creative process works better if I don’t talk about it until I’m finished.’

Thanks Mary for all the hope.

P.S. Don’t forget to leave a comment to win a copy of Love to Win (see above post). You have until September 17th!


  1. You covered her presentation well. She was so REAL and inspiring. You. My friend ARE a writer! Go to Mary's FB page. You are front and center.

  2. You covered her presentation well. She was so REAL and inspiring. You. My friend ARE a writer! Go to Mary's FB page. You are front and center.

  3. Lynn--You have an incredible memoir in you. I don't know if your life will ever have room for you to write it, but I'm confident you have a moving memoir... just waiting to bust out.

  4. So sorry to hear about the brother!! Know he will hurt for long while but sounds like he was a lucky fellow. I agree with Sioux you have a story to tell!!!!

  5. Sending healing prayers to your brother, hope he's doing better.

    It sounds to me like you got some important messages from this presentation. It's important to write what you love, otherwise what's the point? And by the way, my friend, are a fabulous writer.


  6. That's YOU are a fabulous writer!

  7. Your poor brother! I'm glad he's okay and hope he's recovering quickly and well.

    You ARE a writer. Never doubt that. And it doesn't matter whether you favor fiction or nonfiction. I favor fiction. It's still work, but nonfiction always feels like term paper work to me. lol The problem with answering people about "what's next" is that it often changes. The book I began over a year ago is finally finished, but it doesn't much resemble the book I thought I was writing. Things changed, a couple of dead bodies showed up, and my whole outline shifted. So I understand the preference NOT to share works in progress. Also, you are a stellar letter writer. But I always feel so guilty that I don't reciprocate very often. Have you thought of telling your memoir in letter form? Just a thought.


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