Sunday, March 27, 2016

Did You Sleep With Anyone Famous? by Betsy Ashton

I teach workshops to seniors who want to write their memoirs. Most want to hand down stories of their youth to later generations. Those are the most fun to work with, because many have fascinating tales to tell. When I can get them to record or write these stories down, I know they'll have something worthwhile for the grands and great-grands to enjoy.

And then there are those who think that because they have lived, their life story should be fascinating to everyone. You know the type. Maybe a husband or son served in a war. The mother or wife has some stories, but probably not many, because most men who return from war don't want to talk about it. Still, even with the question, "What did you do in the war, Daddy?" unanswered, they feel the world must be lusting over their experiences.

Some want to write about their 50-year happy marriage. In and of itself, that's a great achievement, but probably not a great story. Others want to tell us all about their awful divorce from the cad/bitch, how their son/daughter came out and ruined their lives, how their grands are the greatest/worst grands ever. Few want to tell a story about how they FELT when the son/daughter came out, other that to express shock or disappointment. Why disappointment? Maybe they wouldn't have grands and great-grands. Why shock? Didn't they see the signs? Cue the disappointment response again.

The seniors I work with didn't grow up in a narcissistic world of selfies and Instagrams detailing every waking event. And yet, and yet, when they reach a certain point in their lives they revert to being a bit narcissistic in wanting not only to write their life stories but to have a big press print them.

I walk a fine line between wanting to tell them their lives just aren't that fascinating and encouraging them to continue gathering stories.

I listened to several women at Va Festival of the Book this month talk about their desires to write memoirs. When panelists asked what their tag line was, each and everyone launched into a multi-paragraph discourse on why their lives were so fascinating we were sure to invest many hours reading their tomes. One even said her completed manuscript ran nearly 200,000 words, and that was after she cut out huuuuuge sections. (You read that right: 200,000 words.) Every panelist gave these would-be authors their propers. They probed and tried to get the story down to something reasonable. They listened.

After talking about the status of memoirs in general, as in if you're not famous, probably no one will buy your memoir outside of friends and family, one asked the perfect question: "So have you slept with anyone famous?"

And that, my friends. sent ripple of laughter through the audience and ended the conversation.

In closing, if you want to write a memoir people want to read, start with telling the reader who you slept with who was famous. My memoir would begin with, "I'll confess I felt left out during the Clinton years. I think I was the only woman in the D.C. area whose name DIDN'T come up in conjunction with Bill."

How would your memoir start?


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Jannine Gallant said...

Hmm... I wouldn't have that hook for my memoir, I'm afraid. I wrote pages and pages of genealogy research (which no one but family would care about), but I've never been tempted to write a memoir. I have no illusions that my life is the stuff of novels...

Rolynn Anderson said...

Great opening, Betsy. Thanks also for your service...helping seniors reflect, share and focus on things they find important. My sister works in the Saging and Aging program...there's a whole curriculum around it now. Anyway, cool that you ask those questions. Some write memoirs for themselves only; others want a wide audience, so the 'who would care?' question has to be asked. In either case, the 'going deep,' part is the most interesting to me.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

How would I start mine?

I led a normal life until the night I made love on the beach and got bitten in the ass by a sand scorpion. I've been a tad strange ever since.

Face or fiction? You decide.

Leah St. James said...

So, so true, Betsy! For more than three years I wrote a weekly column about the author community in my area, and I received many emails and phone calls from people who wanted to write and publish their memoirs. Each one said, "I know it will be a best-seller," and I too walked that fine line between encouragement and dishing out a healthy dose of reality.

Did you happen to be at the panel with Laurie jean Cannady? I interviewed her and wrote two articles from that interview. Her book, "Crave, Sojourn of the Hungry Soul," was so hard to read but so well written. Now that's a memoir.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Could I just lust after someone famous?

My one historical, Post-War Dreams, is based heavily on my mom's life. But even though she had an unusual upbringing, I still threw in some fiction to spice it up. Just the how it is for most of us.

Diane Burton said...

Vonnie never fails to disappoint. LOL What a memoir that would be. What a great post, Betsy. "A Boring Life" would be the title of the memoir I'll never write. My daughter & daughter-in-law have given me those fill-in-the-blank books for grandparents to write for their grandkids. Have I filled in the blanks yet? Nope. I should think about doing that. But I'm not done with my life yet.

Margo Hoornstra said...

My life has late bloomer written all over it, except for the fact I was a child bride. Though I've admittedly been around the block a time or two and had numerous life experiences, hardly blockbuster material.

Alicia Dean said...

Ha! Vonnie, I'd read that memoir, whether it's fact or fiction! :) My memoir wouldn't be all that exciting either. I definitely couldn't come up with 200,000 words. Sheesh! Good for you, taking the time to listen to those people and their stories. To them, it's extremely important. As to the question, hmmm....I actually could answer I 'almost' slept with someone 'almost' famous. How's that for being vague? :) You know, I might do my own blog post on the explanation.