Can I Write More Than One Memoir?
Once upon a time, people assumed that memoirs were like souls – they were distributed one per customer. If that were true (about memoirs, not souls), then three of the books I’ve published wouldn’t exist. The truth is, each of us plays many different roles in the course of a lifetime: daughter, son, wife, husband, mother, father, worker, friend, lover, athlete, artist, activist, sinner, confessor…. The list goes on and on. There are also different ways to tell these real-life stories: autobiography, memoir, personal essay, immersion essay, and others. In short, one can write more than one memoir.
How writing more than one memoir occurred to me
I started to realize this wealth of opportunity mid-way through writing my first book, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, about growing up in a scary family. At first, I also tried to include the sexual addiction with which, as an adult, I struggled for years—a result of child abuse. It didn’t work. The voice depicting me as a sex addict clashed with the voice of me as a young, wounded girl. In Terror, therefore, readers know who I am as a girl growing up in an incestuous family. In my next book, Love Sick, readers know me as an edgy addict seeking yet struggling with recovery. Because the experience of each was different, the voice(s) required to tell the two stories also had to be different. Hence, two books.
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After these two memoirs I thought – finally – I had revealed all my secrets, written everything possible about myself.
Then, to non-fiction
Perhaps because of this belief, I turned to a new genre of writing. I felt drawn to write a book about the craft of writing, titled Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir. To give examples of the various aspects of writing of a memoir – theme, plot, voice, etc.—I drew upon my own experience. After all, our common experience of the world is the way we share our different perceptions of that world. Therefore, to write a book helping others to tell their stories, I included new information about my own life. So a book I first thought would be a departure from my earlier work became, instead, a natural extension of it.
As writers of memoir, we should never think that all of our stories are finished. At different stages of our lives, we become different people, so we see our earlier experiences in new light.
A third memoir
For me, that realization led to my new book, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew. In it, I explore how my childhood crush on Pat Boone – a wholesome, squeaky-clean 1960s-era pop star – evolved from my quest to belong to the dominant culture. The overtly Christian Pat Boone represented everything my Jewish father was not. The book revolves around three separate encounters with Pat Boone: once when I was a young girl in New Jersey and attended a taping of his TV show in Manhattan, and twice, much later (as an adult), when I met him after his concerts I attended.
The Pat Boone Fan Club, then, continues a story I began telling earlier, while also propelling that story in new directions.
As a writer, this was an opportunity to try new things. Some of the chapters in the book are more experimental than anything I’d written earlier. (In one section, I even write about myself as though I am a character in a comic book!) Not only do we not exhaust our well of experience as we write, we open new windows that give us new perspectives and understandings.
In The Pat Boone Fan Club, I depict myself, in various chapters, as a Jersey girl, a hippy, a temporary Israeli, a dissatisfied wife, and more. What these “revealing masks” have in common is how they form a mosaic of a self, of many different personas that comprise me. Don’t we all, over the course of a lifetime, become different “selves” looking for a common characteristic to tie them all together?
This is the luxury we have as writers: the luxury of writing without limits. Each new memoir is a slice of a life, not a whole life, because every life is multi-faceted. In addition to the roles mentioned earlier, we are extroverts, introverts, Democrats, Republicans, feminists, guitar players, shopaholics, marathon runners, gardeners, foodies, and much more.
Who am I?
That’s the question I try to answer as I explore all these different facets, each of which is worthy of my writerly attention!
To the question, “Can I write more than one memoir?” my answer is: “Most definitely!”
Amazon.com link for The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew