Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My People Magazine

I find that one of the most common questions fans ask writers is, "How much of it is true?" or "Are you a lot like your protagonist?" Whether it's fiction, creative nonfiction, or has a big memoir stamp across the front, readers want to know whether they're reading about the author or an entirely made-up character.

As much genre fiction as I read, the truth is, a really enjoy a good memoir. Authors like Augusten Burroughs, Dave Sedaris, and James Frey make their living off telling their life stories. When people asked me if I ever thought about writing memoir I always told them you get one life story, but these authors seem to have a never ending batch. Other authors, like Virginia Woolf, Truman Capote, and Sylvia Plath told fictionalized versions of their life stories, changing details and exaggerating events to create a more interesting read. Knowing that these books do not have the memoir stamp, I search between the lines, looking for the authors within the characters, wondering which events are true and which are fiction.

This week I interviewed a memoirist for the Sun-Times, and it was the oddest sensation of feeling like I knew everything about this person because I read their book. And I really think it's because I have this desire to know about the lives of authors that I read memoir and love writing author profiles.

I don't know actresses or pop stars. I don't read the celebrity rags or watch E! True Hollywood Story. I don't know which actress adopted a baby from Cambodia after divorcing the hot costar of her recent Hollywood blockbuster. And frankly, I don't care. But is reading memoirs the equivalent of reading People magazine or the unauthorized biography of some under age pop star? Is viewing author websites and signing up for their newsletter the same as joining some TV actress's fan club? Time and time again, I have said how disgusting our obsession with celebrity gossip is and I don't understand why people are so drawn to it, but am I any better?

While books enhance your brain and I'm pretty sure fluff magazines could cause it to rot, I believe the intention is pretty much the same. We all have a desire to learn about the artists we love, to meet them and see what they're like. Some people watch Access Hollywood, others read Us Weekly. I read memoirs and author websites and occasionally, I have the opportunity to interview a writer and find out for myself who is the real person behind the novel.

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