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Memoir in Fiction January 21, 2013

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in literary fiction, novelography.
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MediaMonday for January 21, 2013: The Narrator in Fiction, a discussion focused on this essay by Steve Almond in January 11, 2013 New York Times magazine.

Michael KimballWrite what you know. This—along with show, don’t tell—is taught in writing classrooms across the globe. Many nascent writers use the write what you know principle to the point that their fiction is little but thinly veiled memoir. This brand of therapeutic writing often meanders without plot, features cardboard or predictable characters, and is overly sentimental. Fictionalizing real life with meaningful and authentic prose is not for beginners. Friday’s guest host is Michael Kimball, whose new novel, Big Ray, is as much memoir as it is fiction.

Big RayMichael Kimball makes no excuses for the autobiographical details found in his novels. His new novel, Big Ray, is based on the relationship between him and his father. His father wasn’t just grossly obese. He was mean. Cruel. Abusive. Predatory. Kimball admits to the shame he felt as a child growing up with an excessively fat father, how he was teased and ridiculed because of his father. All of this comes out in Big Ray, which Kimball admits began as a memoir.

It’s not just the excess pounds that weigh down the father in Big Ray. He’s a small, small man trapped in a huge body. Once a lean, mean Marine, Ray made only one automatic promotion from private to private first class after two years of service. By the time he is discovered dead in a chair in his apartment, Ray weighs more than 500 pounds. With short, addictive sections abounding with grit, humor, pathos and insight, Kimball plots the path to Ray’s destructive life. We never feel sorry for Ray, his meanness is too fervid. What we feel instead is relief that a person, any person, could escape the singularity of such a presence to achieve normality by ordinary standards. Though fictionalized for storytelling’s sake, we are impressed that such a person could write about an abusive parent with such honesty, journalistic acumen, and psychological understanding. Does Kimball—or his character Daniel—forgive his father for the abuse and excess of his life? Would you?

Michael Kimball is the author of five books, including Big Ray (which The Wall Street Journal calls “mesmerizing”), Dear Everybody (which The Believer calls “a curatorial masterpiece”), and Us (which Time Out Chicago calls “a simply gorgeous and astonishing book”). His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The GuardianBombPrairie SchoonerPost RoadNew York Tyrant, etc. His work has been translated into a dozen languages—including Italian, Spanish, German, Chinese, Korean, and Greek. He is also responsible forMichael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard), a couple ofdocumentaries, the 510 Readings, and the conceptual pseudonym Andy DevineBig Ray is published by Bloomsbury USABloomsbury Circus (UK), and will be released in January 2013 in Australia.


Indie Author Showcase: Patricia Mashiter Cooper November 26, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in historical fiction, memoir, novelography.

Patricia Mashiter Cooper in #litchat

Patricia Mashiter Cooper: Guest host for November 28, 2012

Patricia Mashiter Cooper was only five when World War II broke over England in 1939. Dear Cedric is her funny, insightful and poignant novelography of those war years. Novelography: Part autobiography and part novel. Dear Cedric is one of those stories based on the author’s experience, yet embellished with just enough whimsy or intrigue or composite characters to lift it over the bar from ordinary to extraordinary.

As WWII swelled over Europe, thousands of women and children from target British cities were curried away to the countryside for protection. Cooper spent the next five years at a boarding school in Wales in relative safety, seeing her mother only a handful of times and her soldiering father not at all. While Hitler was marching across Europe, Cooper and her mates at Normanhurst were learning arithmetic. As the Nazis were were bombing London, Cooper was memorizing poetry. Still, not all was rosy at Normanhurst. The children had war drills and rationing and carried gas masks in their knapsacks. Some children experienced devastating wartime losses, which Cooper reveals with gentle, yet firm, compassion.

When VE Day came, the boarding students returned to their families and the makeshift countryside schools were transformed back into fine country houses and manors. Dear Cedric is a both a romance to a bygone childhood and a keenly observed time-capsule of history that must be preserved.

Patricia Mashiter Cooper was born in Worcestershire, England. In 1968 she emigrated with her husband and four sons to Ontario, Canada where she still resides. She is currently writing another book in a totally different genre. Her first time-travel romance is due to be published in 2013.

Follow Patricia Mashiter Cooper on Twitter: @pendare

Memoir Masquerade May 15, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in chick lit, fiction, novelography.
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Dana Precious

Fiction is made of lies sprinkled with truth. Or is it made of truth written as lies? Either way, some novels are referred to as veiled autobiography, or as #litchat has tagged them, novelography. Why do some writers couch their life stories in fiction, rather than memoir? What about memoirs later exposed as fiction? This week in #litchat we’re discussing memoir masquerading as fiction.

Joining us on Friday, May 20, is Dana Precious, author of Born Under a Lucky Moon (William Morrow). A debut novel released in February, Precious admits much of the storyline is derived from her real life.

“The novel Born Under A Lucky Moon, while fictional, is based on real life events in my life,” writes Precious in the novel’s website.” The story that takes place in 1986 is inspired by some things that happened in my life.  It noodled around in my head for decades until I knew I had to write it down just to stop thinking about it.  I did compress some events to fit into a specific time frame.”

Born Under a Lucky Moon is the tale of two very important (but distant) years in the lives of Hollywood studio executive Jeannie Thompson and her colorful family members to whom zany things just seem to happen. From the Great Lakes of Michigan to Los Angeles and back again, it is a story of unexpected marriage proposals, surprise marriages, a renegade granny, a sprinkler system cursed by the gods, and myriad other factors Jeannie blames for her full-tilt, out-of-control existence.

“Why I felt I had to write part of Born Under A Lucky Moon also as a present day love story was not self evident to me for a long time.  It just kind of kept inserting back itself into the book – much like it kept inserting itself into [character] Jeannie’s life.  It started as a tale of two confused lovers with the most vague of a Hollywood setting.  Gradually it took form and I’m pleased with the results.”

As an advertising executive for a Hollywood studio, Precious draws the line about the reality of much of the Hollywood hijinks occurring in the storyline.

“Other than the fact that I worked (and still work) as a film studio marketing executive, this part of the story is completely fictional.  Maybe I was inspired by the behaviors, excesses and eccentricities that I witnessed in the film business but no character, event or place is true. ”

Follow Dana Precious on Twitter: @danaprecious.

Topic of the Week: Novelography, or Thinly Veiled Memoir August 3, 2009

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in fiction, novelography, women's fiction.
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Karen Weinreb

Karen Weinreb

Last week’s LitChat topic was The Fine Line Between Fact and Fiction, a discussion of narrative and creative non-fiction in personal essay and memoir. We’re taking the conversation to the opposite pole this week with discussion about novels written specifically to mirror an author’s real life experience. For lack of a better word, we’ll call this autobiographical style of fiction novelography. (Adopting the term “novelography” from a Twitter post last week.)

When Karen Weinreb‘s financier husband was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for bilking millions of dollars from investors, Weinreb’s life went from society storybook to scandalous single title. Armed with two degrees in literature and a background in journalism, Weinreb pulled herself and her family through financial ruin and social ostracization.


Weinreb’s fiction debut, The Summer Kitchen (July, St. Martin’s Press), is a result of her efforts. Set in the Wall Street bedroom community of Bedford, New York, the novel portrays a family much like Weinreb’s involved in a financial scandal mirroring her husband’s. Weinreb’s stunning diorama of the country club set and private school progeny is a smart novel of manners and personal transcendence, rather than a snarky rant against those who snubbed her.

Join us Monday and Wednesday at 4 p/et for LitChat open discussion of Novelography: the Thinly Veiled Memoir, then again on Friday at the same time when Weinreb joins us to discuss her novel and the process of writing a novelography.

Follow Weinreb on Twitter at @KarenWeinreb.