Sticky issues with memoirs and what I lost in the rewrite

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I ran into trouble with my memoir when I tried to get release forms signed by my family members who were in the book. Two of my siblings wanted to be omitted from the story. At the time, I was afraid I no longer had a book. You can read about my initial reaction in my Project Derailed post from July if you missed it.

I reexamined what I had left after I took my oldest sister and brother out of the book, and I believed that Annie’s story still shone through. I decided to rewrite the book as if we were a family of five people instead of seven, leaving out any mention of these two siblings as they requested. The main story is intact.

But I did lose things I really liked. Here are two abridged stories that got cut:

When we were young, a bat got in our house. I was fairly young, maybe four or five years old. I was in the bathtub by myself, with the door to the hallway open, when I heard screaming and then saw my siblings running down the hall towards the bedroom. Carol and my brother came first, and then my oldest sister, who probably wasn’t older than seven-years-old, came hurrying down the hall carrying Annie in her arms. She had never carried Annie before. Annie’s body, cradled between her arms, was dipping down to her knees. My parents must have been in the living room trying to contend with the bat. But my oldest sister, instead of just running and saving herself from the darting winged creature, stopped, picked up Annie, and saved her too.

The other story I hated to lose was at my oldest son’s wedding. We were in a hotel in St. Louis having breakfast in the lobby at the breakfast bar. I was sitting beside Annie when she got very excited. I had no idea why. There were a lot of people milling about, and a jumble of voices, so it took me a moment to realize that I could hear my brother’s voice. Annie hadn’t seen him in many months, or possibly even a couple of years, but she was able to pick his voice out of the crowd. He was the reason for her excitement. It brought tears to my eyes at the time.

My brother lives about six hours away and wasn’t home during Annie’s last days except for a short visit right before she died. So he didn’t participate in the main story line except for making frequent phone calls home. But my oldest sister, who lives close to my parents, was there all day, every day. She brought in groceries and frequently cooked dinner for all of us. She ran to the store for medicine. She sat with Annie and sang to her. Her presence was felt throughout the whole ordeal. She wrote and delivered a lovely eulogy that I had to cut from the book. I was very sorry to leave her out of the memoir. I desperately negotiated with her about editing and revising, but she opted out.

It has been a bittersweet experience for me.

But I rewrote the story, and continued onward with my self-publication project. I think it is still a good story. After all, it’s really about Annie, and possibly me, and we’re still there.

Have you ever had to make a large compromise on something you were writing or a project you were working on?

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20 thoughts on “Sticky issues with memoirs and what I lost in the rewrite”

  1. This really is a bittersweet post, and I can feel your pain in regard to this compromise… but as you say it’s really about Annie and your relationship and life with her. As for me compromising — I’ve very much wanted to write about my childhood in Kenya, but my father (an anthropologist), while not discouraging, was also not enthusiastic. He didn’t outright say no (he never would) but I didn’t want to invest time and be disappointed or risk whole-family disapproval. Instead, it most definitely has a place in my fiction. So glad you hung in there, Christine, and continued on with this important project!

  2. Maybe you should write the stories anyway as you think of them, and save them. Perhaps you will be able to do it later. I think your memoir would be fascinating.

  3. I can only imagine the emotions that you went through when you found out that two of your siblings did not want a part of this fabulous “project”. I would have had a difficult time dealing with that myself as the above stories only painted them in a wonderful light and a true lover of their sweet sister. You have taken the high road here and really honored their requests even tho it meant so much more work for you. I hope that you are pleased with the results—-and after all your hard work I think you are!!! Can’t wait to read it!

    1. I was devastated. Completely. I had a horrific couple of days and a pretty bad week, but I recovered.

      I feel satisfied with the book. It’s not what it might have been, but I think it is still a good story. I also think if readers didn’t know, they wouldn’t notice the absence.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I thought about quitting, and if you read the post I linked, I wrote about just publishing the story here on my blog.

      I really believe Annie kept me going, and my desire to do something for her.

  4. Hi Christine .. gosh that must be so frustrating for you .. people (family members in particular) are strange .. so thank you for the warning …

    I’m glad you’ve continued with the book .. even with a few omissions .. but it’s a lesson to be learnt … People aren’t good givers – which is very sad .. they don’t realise that the taking away is hurtful … but of course it’s not their book!

    My uncle (by marriage) when he died I wrote what I thought was a beautiful letter – it was I know .. and I wanted to put it on the blog … but his real niece decided it wasn’t the thing … I know he’d have been pleased – it was a beautiful piece of writing (well I thought so!) but without reference to anything in particular … just the garden and autumn colours …

    It’s now two years – so I could probably do it! We’ll see .. I hold it as a piece of writing – loved by the many who got the letters …

    You have had a roller coaster ride .. with thoughts – Hilary

  5. The field of memoirs is fraught.
    Some respond by changing names and even identifying characteristics but retaining “the spirit”. Others do not. I could not.
    Whatever one’s choice, all need to be prepared for the possibility of rejection. (There are people who never again spoke to me after my memoir was published.) You either do it or you don’t, and if you do, then forget about the reviews and go Onward.
    It was for Annie anyway, and for your relationship with her.
    Maybe (if you’re anything like me) it was to understand better your own experience. That’s okay too.

    1. It was for Annie and for me. So you’re right it did help me understand my own experience better. I think that is often what I’m doing when I feel compelled to write, as I did in this case.

      I could have written it and kept it in a drawer, but part of it is that I want people to know that Annie mattered. Maybe they knew that anyway.

      I’m sorry about your breech of relationships because of your memoir. You’re right. We have follow our own path and move onward.

  6. I know that was hard for you, Christine. I’m sure Annie’s story is wonderful just as it is. I’m so sorry your family members opted out, but that was their choice, and it was generous of you to abide by their wishes. I’ve not had any issues, but a cousin is writing about our grandmother, and one of my brothers has a problem with it.

  7. I know in my extended family…if I were to write a memoir…there would be issues. As Nancy says…some people are more private.

    I think you have done marvelously 🙂 And the story comes through. Love always does:)

    1. I agree with you and Nancy. I should have thought this out before hand, but I talked about the memoir and no one said anything. I was surprised. But I think it will all work out.

  8. I love those two stories. It’s too bad you couldn’t include them, but I’m glad you shared them here.

    My Dad has a similar story with the grandson from his second marriage (my half-brother’s little boy). The two of them cough a lot and one of their jokes is the one will cough and look at the other one, who will cough back.

    My Dad and his wife were out for dinner one night and my Dad coughs. And across the restaurant, back came a little cough. My Dad coughed again, and there was an answering cough. At which point everyone was laughing and my half-brother and his family joined them at the table.

    Annie’s story reminded me of that. I look forward to reading it and posting a review for you.

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