Truth, Fact, Memoir, Fiction, History, Journalism

As I've mentioned, this Thursday evening is "Ask an Author," a panel discussion in Thunder Bay in which four writers with different backgrounds and publishing experiences answer questions.

On Saturday, participant Jeannette Lynes is presenting two workshops, sponsored by NOWW: one about novel basics, and another about historical research and writing. Fun times ahead!

Also recently, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs held its conference. If you've seen mention of "AWP 19" in the writerly social media world, that's what it refers to.

The most recent issue of Assay, a journal of nonfiction, has lots of interesting articles about nonfiction, what it is, and ways to teach it.

All of which is to say, many recent conversations (both aloud and in my head) have turned over the differences and similarities between truth and facts, creative nonfiction and journalism, historical fiction and history, memoir and memory. For starters.

As I paired and re-paired ideas, I remembered reading this recent essay about memoir at LitHub (a great place to visit when you want to read something good): "Against Catharsis: Writing is Not Therapy," by T Kira Madden. In it she describes an incident she experienced, and looks at the way her memory and her own experiences colored her description of the incident. It's a fascinating look at the strengths and purposes of memoir, especially the importance of reflection and analysis to making writing meaningful from raw events. She discusses the two composite characters in her own memoir and their roles--who they are and who they are not.

It could all seem a little too meta, too much writing tangled up in writing about writing. Unless, of course, you also write memoir or personal essays or some other form of creative nonfiction, and you wonder on the daily how that is different from journalism and historical documents and historical fiction. And why someone might base a story on real events in a real setting, but call it fiction.

Or why, in a book club of people who are mostly readers instead of writers, people are so fascinated by "did this really happen?" in the context of novels, and how they feel about the work based on that question's answer.

My favourite part of these discussions is that there aren't concrete answers. Different people have different standards. For me, it comes down to this: a writer can't squander a reader's trust. So, as in the subtitle of Madden's essay, show your wires. Be frank with the reader about what you're doing. And let the discussions continue.