Writing Wednesdays: Writing Non Fiction

It makes me nervous.

It’s also all that more exciting.

I forget all the time for brief moments that the people in these books, besides Babu, are real.  Yes, maybe they have mostly all passed, but their children and grandchildren haven’t.  Meeting Kathy last weekend and hearing her talk about the past and all the names she dropped and people she had photographic evidence of warped my mind.  I kept thinking – hey I know Nat!  I know Johnny!  Wait – They are real?!  What would she have thought if she had read my mind?

In non fiction, it matters that it’s factually real.  A good non fiction writer does that and makes it emotionally poignant, too.  How do you do that?  Make life, the random string of incidents, the haphazard mix of good and tragic – make sense?

This is why I love writing fiction.  I can say whatever I want about who ever I want because they don’t exist.

If the fiction I write moves someone then I’m happy, maybe even proud.  If my non fiction does, well, that could be a good thing.  Or I could be stepping on the turf of someone’s real life.

Take Adele J. for example.  At least once I wrote “frickin’ Adele J.!”  She always got the boy, especially W.B.Z., and was a source of jealousy for Babu, but was she even the nemesis?  No!  Did I make her into one?  Yes!  Why?  It makes a better story.  It made symmetry.  Protagonist and antagonist.  The fact that they were at the worst acquaintances and at best, friends, just wasn’t as much of a story.  It was just messy real life.

Johnny Lech ends up with someone else some day.  Could it ever be surprising to children and grandchildren that once, for a moment, he and Babu dated?

What about Drobe and Jaime?

What about Veronica the Angel seer?  I openly conjecture that she was either a prophet or a charlatan, leaning toward the latter, strongly.  But she also was a real person.  Could relatives one day read about her and have something to say about it?

I have done my best to be cautious, respectful, reverent from the start.  But there are potential landmines where ever I go.  They aren’t incredibly deadly, but it matters.  I oscillate back and forth between preferring the blog and project stay between me and complete strangers, and wanting to share it with all the relatives of all of these people.

An innocent seeming passage, some observation from Babu, could unearth a family story someone may not wish to have known.  And from this one perspective, there is really no way I could tell.  I leave plenty out.  I’m sure you know that.  Sometimes I just don’t know what Babu means, and I don’t share that passage, because what if it only seems innocent to me?  It’s a thin line, because truth is here in these pages, and what’s the point if I candy coat everything?  I don’t want to paint Babu as a saint because that is not a true way to honor a person’s life.  But there is no intention of slinging any dirt, of capitalizing on any one’s dirty laundry.  That’s not what this is about.  It takes conscious effort not to accidentally do just that.

I want it to be know that I am lovingly intrigued and fascinated by all of these characters, no these human beings.  Even when I write about flaws, I embrace them as parts of a good and human person.  Flaws are okay, mistakes are lovely.  I have not yet met a villain in these pages.

I just want to get this right.  To have the facts represented correctly, and to find meaning between the hand written lines.  Enjoying the process of writing it and hoping others can enjoy reading the story, matters too!

I don’t know why anyone chooses to write memoir or autobiography or biography.  I didn’t choose to, it chose me.  I’m loving the ride, but I’m checking all my mirrors before every turn.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Yes. Real people. Real lives. Of all the things that keep me from writing that memoir about growing up in a large crazy family, not wanting to divulge things my siblings might not want divulged is the biggest and most difficult obstacle. That is kind of you to care about it, because lots of people would just go for it without thinking, especially if it was good meaty stuff. I would think that you could write some period fiction now based on these journals and it would be very convincing. Having had parents who grew up at the same time as Babu and lived in CT, it all feels quite familiar to me, when I read your posts, like I’m listening to my Mom again talking about growing up. I enjoy your blog because of that, but also because of your own writing style and interjections. I hope you can stay focused and write what ever it is you want to write and find success in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wowza. Thank you very much. It really does mean a lot. Most of what you said is why I do it. The rest of it is my personal need to honor her life and my absolute pleasure in doing it. Thanks thanks thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your integrity and the way you consider others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you you rock too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Because I research identified photos, I see every character/person as a story and I will confess that I’ve researched a few people, including Drobey!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WHAT A CONFESSION! That is so exciting. Please do share when you have time. I feel the same way as you but this project is so massive that I feel like I am only getting the broad strokes. Almost every passage, and she writes every day, has at least one thing I want to research or know more about. And there is the story of her life I am also trying to interpret, round out, and tell. SO MUCH and I’m grateful for every piece. But I don’t have the time yet in this process to get down to the minutia. I am ever so grateful for anything you may want to share.


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