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Old 02-17-2007, 12:36 PM   #1
Penny Graham
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Can you be sued for writing memoirs

I'm really new to this site, but haven't seen this addressed so far. My memoir happened 33 years ago and I have put off publishing it because of the other person it involves (someone I almost married). I can change names, descriptions and locations but I can not change the events. The guy was a multiple personality with 4 different names and personalities and opinions, and I can't bring myself to change the names of the personalities, much less the events so it wouldn't be recognized. How can I publish this without someone remembering, notifying the other main character and getting a lawsuit for invasion of privacy. I hear that if only HE recognizes the story he can sue, even with names and descriptions changed. What can I do? I'll be publishing through LULU because no publisher would believe this really happened. Does a small website lessen my chances of him finding out about it before the statute of limitations runs out.

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Old 02-17-2007, 08:52 PM   #2
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You need to talk to a local attorney versed in libel law. There are serious risks here, beyond what anyone on a public forum can advise you on.

As a general rule, libel consists of writing something false and damaging to another person. Truth is a defense, but there's a cost to proving that defense (i.e., hiring a lawyer), so you need to discuss the risks and the benefits with someone who knows the law in your jurisdiction.

Just as an aside, the statute of limitations won't be running from when the events happened, but from when you publish, b/c the action that could give rise to a lawsuit is the publication of the statements. You'd have to ask the local attorney what the relevant statute of limitations timeframe is, but it won't have started 33 years ago; it will start when you publish.

Bottom line: what you're proposing has some definite risks that need to be run by a local attorney, and then you'll need to decide whether those risks (and the costs associated with them; ask the lawyer what his/her retainer would be to defend a libel lawsuit, and remember that's just to get started, not the whole amount due) are worth whatever benefits you'll get by publishing the memoir.

JD, not giving individual legal advice, just general information
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Old 02-17-2007, 11:03 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by JanDarby View Post
You need to talk to a local attorney versed in libel law. There are serious risks here, beyond what anyone on a public forum can advise you on.

As a general rule, libel consists of writing something false and damaging to another person. Truth is a defense, but there's a cost to proving that defense (i.e., hiring a lawyer), so you need to discuss the risks and the benefits with someone who knows the law in your jurisdiction.

Just as an aside, the statute of limitations won't be running from when the events happened, but from when you publish, b/c the action that could give rise to a lawsuit is the publication of the statements. You'd have to ask the local attorney what the relevant statute of limitations timeframe is, but it won't have started 33 years ago; it will start when you publish.

Bottom line: what you're proposing has some definite risks that need to be run by a local attorney, and then you'll need to decide whether those risks (and the costs associated with them; ask the lawyer what his/her retainer would be to defend a libel lawsuit, and remember that's just to get started, not the whole amount due) are worth whatever benefits you'll get by publishing the memoir.

JD, not giving individual legal advice, just general information
Thank you Jan, just what I've been afraid of. I've been trying to keep up with Burroughs "Running With Scissors" lawsuit because his was an invasion of privacy suit brought on by the family that raised him, and he changed all the names. I'm not worried about libel because I stayed strictly with the truth and many people back then knew what was going on and some could be witnesses that it did happen. It's the IOP suit that has stopped me cold. In the state it happened the statute of limitations is 3 or 4 years from publication and I thought if I self published it on a small website it could stay under the radar for that long. I sure couldn't afford to defend a lawsuit, and don't own anything the bank doesn't have first dibs on, but I've been trying to find cases and how they came out. This might be of interest to anyone writing memoirs. I did find one case where the writer was sued for invasion of privacy...and won. Her book was about her sexual problems all her life because of a date rape thing. The judge ruled that first of all she couldn't have told her story or written the book without mentioning that event since the whole book was based from it. Second, because she was the "other person" the book was about, it gave her a little more first amendment rights than the usual standard. The decision was a big win for publishers and writers of memoirs, but the catagory is so new in our lawsuit age that many more cases will have to be tried to establish a general rule of thumb. By the way, the book doesn't make him look bad at all, in fact it almost glorifies him, but still he may not want to revisit that part of his life or have anyone else remember it either. If I changed enough that only he saw himself in it, why would he jump up and call attention to it with a lawsuit or otherwise. It is all very disheartening, but I thank you so much for your input, and will probably have to take your advise and hire an attorney. If you hear of any cases that get past that and win, maybe you or others on this forum could bring them to the table. Thank you again for caring enough to write me.
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Old 02-18-2007, 07:51 AM   #4
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Penny, each invasion of privacy case is going to be unique. In every case, the judge will balance your right to tell your story against the other party's reasonable expectation of privacy.

Say you write a scene in which you have an altercation with the other person in a public place . . . there is no invasion of privacy because it happened in public.

Say the same scene played out in a private bedroom . . . now they might have a claim, but to win they would have to demonstrate that your story actually harmed them, and in most cases they'd have to show that you did it maliciously.

If the events being told were associated with a court case, that places the material in the public domain, too.

The mere fact that you and another person did something in private and you told the story years later does not mean they can sue you and win. They must prove that they were harmed by your publication, and even then, the context of your story will be considered.

Here is an example that I offered to another person asking about this:

Say you and your friend Bob broke into houses together as kids. Now you're both 35. You never got caught, but you stole a lot of stuff.

You write a book about your fall from grace. You started with house breaks, and progressed to armed robbery, heroin addiction, and you ended up in prison where you found God and wrote your tale of redemption.

Could Bob win an invasion of privacy claim agianst you for telling that tale? Probably not, because the context in which he is placed is that of a player in a story whose intent is to inspire, not to harm Bob, and which you have an absolute right to tell.

Now, lets's say you and Bob just grew up, and you both live in the same small town. Bob runs for town treasurer, and the election is hotly contested. You and Bob are worlds apart, politically.

You write a letter to the editor saying "Bob and I broke into houses and robbed people as kids! How can you elect such a person treasurer???"

Bob loses the election and sues you.

He will probably win, because the intent of your writing was clearly to harm Bob. Your right to tell your story is outweighed by his right to privacy, because the sole purpose of that story was to hurt Bob.

There are many factors to weigh when considering how vulnerable you may be.

Were the people kids?
were you a kid?
did you place them in proper context?
did the events happen in public or in private?
were you in some kind of institution?

The list goes on . . . and in the end, anyone can sue you. The question is always, can they win? You can never know for sure. You can only make a reasoned guess and take your chances.

I will close by saying that I am not a lawyer, but I too watch these cases closely.
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Old 02-18-2007, 07:53 PM   #5
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Thank you John for your input, advice and examples. This helps a lot. There is so much more to this story, and even though I show him as a great person who had no enemies, was loved by everyone and was a great inspiration to me, I am afraid that his wife,he was separated from at the time of the event and she was out of state,would get a phone call from some of the people who remembered the event and mention the book to her. She appears to have reunited with him (according to people searches) and they had a child, now grown. This is my biggest worry, even though the chances of that are slim, especially if I self publish it and offer it on a website. This is a good example of my causing him harm (divorce?) My intention is not to harm him at all, but it could happen. What to do...what to do...
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Old 02-18-2007, 08:25 PM   #6
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Hello Penny,

There is some good discussion about responsibility to self vs. others in some of the books on writing memoir/creative nonfiction. There are legal issues, but also moral/ethical/practical ones.

Most of us who write memoir face those worries. Not necessarily legal ones, but the concern about hurting family and friends if we write about even relatively small slights and past conflicts with enough detail that people would be identifiable.

Is your memoir written yet? One thing I've been told by a writing mentor is to use the actual names and details when you are doing the initial writing--otherwise it changes your relationship to your own story. Afterwords, during the inevitable editing and revising process, you can worry about changing names and identifying details.

I guess I would ask why it is necessary to use the actual names of the different personalities of your former friend to tell your story? Even if this were a clinical case study written by a mental health professional (I'm a psychologist, by the way) these kinds of details would always be altered before publication.

But I'm assuming your story is about yourself--how this experience impacted you? I'd guess you could tell this story effectively even if some of those details about the other person were ultimately disguised to protect the people involved.

I currently have a much less dramatic memoir being submitted to publishers, and if it gets accepted I know I'll face some decisions about changing a few names. But nothing that would involve the major alterations you might face.

Good luck!

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Old 02-18-2007, 10:22 PM   #7
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HI Susan,
Boy this site and people like you responding have been so helpful. Yes the book was written by hand first within a year after it happened with all the names and places true and exact. Then I went through it and changed most of the names and places, but didn't change the personalities names (figured they wouldn't sue or be hurt by it lol) and then I sent it out to a publisher in 1978. This was back in the days when books had to be hand type set, I think, but at least less technology. She wrote me back and said she loved the book, but because of its size she could not figure out, with the costs of editing and typesetting etc, how the publishing company could justify the price it would have to be. Back then hardcovers went for 10 dollars, not 25.00 and nowadays it isn't uncommon to see a book the size of mine, back then it was. You are right that I will have to change the names of the personalities, after a lot of thought, I was just so close to them that it seemed almost insulting to do it. Now, thanks to all you guys, I know I'm really going to have to change even more things, such as the type of business we both worked at. He was so awesome, helped me so much, and the lessons I learned from him changed my whole life. People who have read the book say the same thing. I think it would be such help to people, but then, no wish to harm or ruin his life now. Since you are a psychologist, may I email you regarding some of the details that I don't think would be right to put out on a public forum? I appreciate you all so much.
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Old 02-19-2007, 07:31 AM   #8
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Hi Penny,

Glad everyone's comments were helpful. Sounds like you are on the right track, with already having made some changes in the details. And sure, it would be fine to e-mail me privately, just send a private message through the site.

--Susan
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Old 02-20-2007, 12:22 AM   #9
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Sued

You can be sued for looking at someone cross-eyed. The answer to "Can I be sued" is always yes. Anyone can sue for nearly anything.

No matter what you write, or how you write it, being sued is a real possibility. This is just the way it works. You can't let the threat of a lawsuit stop you from writing.

If you read many memoirs, you find most writers do not change names, dates, places, or locations. Doing so sort of defeats the purpose of the book.
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Old 02-20-2007, 01:54 AM   #10
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James is right - anyone can sue you. The merits of the case do not affect their ability to file a suit. But filing a suit costs money, so most people won't actually do it unless they are truly aggrieved.

And I also agree that the majority of memoirs feature the real names but some do change the names.

I would say you should be considerate when you write a story. Face the people who appear in it, as many as possible, and make sure they feel good about their roles.

Don't be malicious and don't make up things that make others look bad or expose them to ridicule.

Along those same lines - make sure you don't lose your time reference and make people look bad by innocent error. "He tore off all his clothes and ran out into the yard howling" would be funny if you were talking about a toddler but weird for an adult. Be careful not to mix a passage like that about toddlerhood into a passage about an older person in such a way that readers would interpret it to mean he ran around the yard naked and howling as a grownup.

I certainly considered all those things in writing my book. I showed my friends any parts where they appeared, and I made a number of small changes to accomodate their feelings while staying essentially true to the original tale.

That's really all you can do.
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Old 02-20-2007, 03:30 AM   #11
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Sued

When writing a memoir, tell the truth, but like most situations in life, this is one that can probably be summed up by "common sense prevails."

The thing to remember, I believe, is that a memoir is about you, not about other people. A memoir is not an "I'll get even with them" tool, and it's not an "I'll show the world what bastards they are" tool. It's simply the story of YOUR life, and if you write it this way, you should be fine.

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Old 02-20-2007, 07:17 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
The thing to remember, I believe, is that a memoir is about you, not about other people. A memoir is not an "I'll get even with them" tool, and it's not an "I'll show the world what bastards they are" tool. It's simply the story of YOUR life, and if you write it this way, you should be fine.
While I agree that a memoir is not a way to get even, I do not agree that "it's all about you."

I learned that appearing in my book is a big big deal to most of the people who figure in my story, no matter how small the part. If such people are your friends or relatives, it behooves you to ensure that they feel good about their presentation before the book goes to press.

In my case, the alterations people requested to their appearance were trivial and were probably in fact corrections of errors due to my own imperfect memory.

Having the people in the story feel good is your best insurance against being sued. And actually I should make one more point: You are more likely to lose friends over portrayals than get sued, and the advice I gave will reduce the chances of that, too.
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Old 02-21-2007, 05:45 AM   #13
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Thanks James for your input. I appreciate all advice and comments from all you guys in the know. I didn't let being sued stop me from writing it, but to think of actually trying to publish it has caused me to pause. If this was a story about say alcoholism and how I overcame it I could see using the real names and places but the kind of story this is I would have to change names, descriptions etc. The more I've read about what you all have told me, I am now thinking I should market it as fiction, maybe inspired by a true story. I sure don't want to hurt or embarrass anyone. I just think the story would be inspirational to people and should be published, but maybe not as a memoir.
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Old 02-21-2007, 05:56 AM   #14
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Thank you for your advice John Robison. Your book is a perfect example of how you could use all the real names, places and be able to address each person as you did. In my case, it was so long ago, in a very transient big city where none of the people involved work or live there anymore. I know for sure most of them are in other states and long gone. In a small town where you grew up all your life that would be easier, like Peyton Place for example, though I doubt she had any luck with that either. I wonder if she got sued. But as far as getting even or being malicious, there is nothing like that in the book at all about anyone. There was no downside to this experience and no one to try to, or want to hurt. I really appreciate your input, because you have first hand knowledge of what can happen. I've been trying to follow your brother's case, (Running with Scissors) because I thought that would end up being a landmark precedent, but never did hear how it came out. I loved his website. You both seem like great guys. Like I told James, though, maybe calling it fiction would be safer all the way around. I just hate to though. Like someone on this site said in regards to The Amnityville Horror...if it was true it was pretty scary. If it was fiction it was pretty lame. That's kind of how I look at my book. If it was fiction, I could have made up a much scarier story. Congratulations on your book..keep us posted.
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Old 02-21-2007, 06:19 AM   #15
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Penny, you are right to follow my brother's case because it's a landmark case for all who wish to write memoir. His case will set new precedents that will define the balance between an author's right to tell his story, and another's right to privacy.

The case will probably come to court in 2008 or 2009 if it's not settled. Personally, I hope the publisher does not settle because doing so could weaken the position of all other authors who follow my brother and wish to tell a controversial story.

As to the fiction issue . . . your message will be so much stronger as non-fiction that I urge to to follow that path if spreading the word is your goal.

I am lucky that my own story does not contain anything so graphic or shocking. That did make it easier for me, but it's a hard thing to do, writing of your childhood struggles and rejections.
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Old 02-21-2007, 12:27 PM   #16
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Hi Penny,

Just some quick notes - this is clearly not legal advice.

1. It seems that you are basically writing a story about someone who isn't a public figure. That may mean that they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. So you are basically exposing a person's private medical history (including symptoms etc) to the public for the sake of public entertainment.

This may not be considered wise.

2. You mention the 'statute of limitations'. This can be tricky. For example, to work out when the statute of limitations runs out in state 'X', you need to figure out the publication date in each state 'X'.

However, some courts may decide that information is only published in state 'X' when a copy of the book is actually taken across state borders into state 'X'. Thus, by forum shopping, a clever lawyer might be able to find a juristiction where libel has occurred even far into the future.

(This may not apply in this case for a thousand different reasons - I just remember some odd cases about statutes of limitations starting at odd times because of similar issues)

3. The fact that you are asking "Does a small website lessen my chances of him finding out about it before the statute of limitations runs out ?" might even indicate that you know that you will be causing him damage, and are trying to reduced YOUR chance of getting hurt, not trying to reduce HIS chance at getting hurt. His lawyer might use that to indicate that you are not acting in innocent good faith.

This is part of the reason you might want to avoid asking legal questions in public forums. (It is also the reason a lawyer can usually not answer a question in a public forum - because even if they are working for free, they still might have an obligation to act in the client's best interests. And pointing out the weaknesses in the client's case publically is rarely in their best interests !!!)

Good luck,

Mac
(PS: John - that is an interesting case. It's interesting that the family settled with Sony for the movie, but not with the publisher of the book !)

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Old 02-21-2007, 04:52 PM   #17
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Hi Penny,(PS: John - that is an interesting case. It's interesting that the family settled with Sony for the movie, but not with the publisher of the book !)
Mac, Sony and St Martins Press had different interests in the case.

Sony, frankly, does not care about the author or the family. To them, it's just a matter of money to make them go away.

St Martins Press, on the other hand, has a strong interest in winning - not settling - to establish a precedent that people have a right to tell their stories.

Two of the key points of the case are that the supposedly harmed people were minors when they did what they did, and the events happened in a private home.

But should than mean that another person - also a minor at the time - is forever barred from writing what happened in the house? Personally, I don't think so, and neither do they.
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Old 02-21-2007, 05:06 PM   #18
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James is definitely right in that anyone can sue you for anything... and the chances that they will sue rise dramatically with the success of the book/movie/tv show that inspires them.
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Old 02-21-2007, 10:23 PM   #19
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Hi Mac,
Thanks for your very good advice about posting on public forums. I wasn't trying to expose' what happened, I've tried to limit any details to avoid that. I have not put in my posts the full story of what actually happened. He was never in a mental health situation as far as I know, and there are no medical records of this. Because of your very Sound advice, I hesitate to say more about that. But I'm sorry if I gave the impression that it was for public entertainment...there was nothing entertaining about it, even to me. It was profound, it was life changing, it was he that took me from an interest in Wicca to an absolute mind shattering realization of other worlds, awareness, consciousness and life after death. Nowhere in my book do I make him look bad at all. I don't look back on him with anything but reverence. The reason I mentioned the statute of limitations was because I could disguise this with names, descriptions and locations to the point where no one would connect this to him in his present day unless he took it upon himself to stand up and say that was me. I believe people interested in Witchcraft, demonology etc are so on the wrong path, and he proved to me what was really beyond this existence and I wanted to share what I learned from him. As far as libel, there is none in this book, and while I told no one what was happening, he did share it with other people...not me. I have kept silent all these years, and there were people who were present when a lot of things happened who were "awed" by what went on in front of their eyes, so a lot of this did happen in public. But I just don't want to hurt someone or embarrass them by something that happened so long ago. A good example of this is, say we both worked at a circus, and he taught me all about the circus animals so I became aware of their feelings and became a more aware person because of his teachings. Now maybe today he doesn't even want people to know he ever worked in a circus...this is my only dilemma as far as trying to protect his privacy. I think changing all the names, descriptions, locations, etc would keep it so that today no one would ever connect it... except maybe him. If it did come to a lawsuit, I would never be afraid to face a jury of my peers, the defense lawyer or he himself because I do have witnesses who lived in the house, friends who admitted he told them what was going on, written proof, etc. I just don't want to cause him any problems. He was a great guy and I am sure he still is. His character was flawless. I just have always felt that the story would help people so therein lies my problem. I can't afford to be sued either, so that was the reason I mentioned the statute of limitations. I could change it so it would never publicly point to him or any other individual on the earth, but if he recognized it he could point the finger at himself and say it was him. Only then would it possibly cause a problem. With that sketchy background, what would your advice be now?
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Old 02-21-2007, 10:58 PM   #20
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Penny Graham is on a distinguished road
John Robison,
I know how important your brother's case is, not just for his own sake, but for all of ours. You might want to mention the case I brought up about the girl who won because the judge ruled that the book had stemmed from the act perpetrated by the guy who tried to sue. Judge said the book couldn't have been written but for the act he'd done and she had the right to tell her story about her sexual problems because of it. And that because she had been involved also, not some bystander she was writing about, that she had more first amendment rights as far as being allowed to tell her story. If you need the details I can send you the link. God Bless St. Martins Press for standing up for the truth, and as far as the family goes, it will not look good that they settled for CA$H with the movie company but still persue the Publisher for invasion of privacy. Sounds like an oxymoron...like Jumbo Shrimp or Military intelligence.The Fact that your brother had to live with this stuff and is trying to tell his story, to me, is a lot like what I went through. The only difference is my friend didn't do anything wrong, in fact I think he should feel honored that someone thinks so highly of him from back in those days. (as opposed to the shrink family who are kicking up the fuss.) Please let us know what happens every step of the way. I am sure voices will resound on this thread because we all have the same worry...Can we tell our story? I will be personally picking up your book and your brother's as well as Bill Fitzhughs book regarding lyrics being used in a book, as he did it, went to a lawyer, got the okay, didn't get sued, and I hear it is a very very good book on top of everything. I guess we are all, kind of , in this together, and for that I thank you all for your interest in my plight.
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Old 02-21-2007, 11:06 PM   #21
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Ol Fashioned Girl,
Thanks for your input. I should be so lucky as to have book and movie rights be the center of the lawsuit. I just wanted to publish it quietly, let people who can be helped by it be helped by it, without a big publisher or movie company hoopla. Don't care about it getting famous, too personal and important for it to become that kind of thing. Only people with the right keywords would stumble across it on the site, and only people who cared about the subject. I have other books, many ideas, that will never fall into this catagory and I can go to town after this, or...I can just forget this idea for other people and take the lessons I learned and keep applying them to my own life, but that seems selfish as the book has helped so many people thus far (those who have read it).I never was the Art Bell, George Norie Coast to Coast type, will never do a radio interview, not in this case. I hope everyone's answers are helping you as much as they are helping me. We all have a story to tell (who are on this site, ) and this has been like a college course of writers knowledge and opinions, all of which are helping me make a decision as to what to do.
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Old 02-21-2007, 11:25 PM   #22
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Ol' Fashioned girl,
I just read your profile, and I hope I didn't offend you by mentioning Wicca and Demonology, I was there and he just showed me a more advanced way that stemmed from Wicca, but went way beyond. No demonology, and if you are Wiccan, I know you aren't. One of the things that attracted me to Wicca when I was 23 was that they did not believe in a devil, and their advocates had to study at least three different religions to learn tolerance, so I didn't mean to downgrade the religion. I just learned that while it was a good beginning it was the tip of the iceberg of awareness...to start there was to go on to other things, and that it was a pure, sincere belief system. Thank you for responding to me, and if I had to pick a religion, that would be it.
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Old 02-22-2007, 02:26 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnrobison View Post
While I agree that a memoir is not a way to get even, I do not agree that "it's all about you."

I learned that appearing in my book is a big big deal to most of the people who figure in my story, no matter how small the part. If such people are your friends or relatives, it behooves you to ensure that they feel good about their presentation before the book goes to press.

In my case, the alterations people requested to their appearance were trivial and were probably in fact corrections of errors due to my own imperfect memory.

Having the people in the story feel good is your best insurance against being sued. And actually I should make one more point: You are more likely to lose friends over portrayals than get sued, and the advice I gave will reduce the chances of that, too.
Other people must appear in your book, but it's your story. Other wise, who wants to read it? If it's someone else's story, you need to write a biography, not a memoir.

And while it's good to have those who appear in the book like the portrayals, a memoir is either honest, or it's nothing. It either includes the bad with the good, or it's dishonest.

You don't have to call people names, but if they played an important part in your life, they need to be in the book, and you can't sugarcoat the actual events they played a part in.
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Last edited by Jamesaritchie; 02-22-2007 at 02:29 AM.
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Old 02-22-2007, 08:14 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
Other people must appear in your book, but it's your story. Other wise, who wants to read it? If it's someone else's story, you need to write a biography, not a memoir.

And while it's good to have those who appear in the book like the portrayals, a memoir is either honest, or it's nothing. It either includes the bad with the good, or it's dishonest.

You don't have to call people names, but if they played an important part in your life, they need to be in the book, and you can't sugarcoat the actual events they played a part in.
I don't mean to sound argumentative, but . . .

Many people who have written memoirs would say, "It's our story." as opposed to "my story." Involving other people does not make it "not a memoir." There are some "me and me alone" books but most involve a small or large group.

With respect to including the bad with the good, all I can say is, "who says?" It's my book and I can include what I want. For example, if a fellow was in inspiring scout leader and I looked up to him there is no need for me to say he was also a habitual shoplifter.

What mattered was his influence on me as a scout master.

There is good and bad in everyone.

The job of a good memoirist is to convey the thoughts and feelings that are relevant to his story. Painting a particular kind of picture of the people is not necessary or even desireable in many cases.

I am not suggesting you sugarcoat the events. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

In my book, I introduced Paul as follows:

Paul lived up the street. We both dropped out of high school at the same time, and we've been friends since.

Paul's wife called me and said Paul was very troubled by my depiction. He's always been sensitive about not graduating high school, it seems. So I changed his introduction to:

Paul lived up the street. We both dropped out of high school at the same time, and we've been friends since. I grew up to be a car dealer, and Paul grew up to own an automobile insurance agency.

Both passages are true, but one left him feeling bad. The other left him feeling good.

I know, you may say it sounds silly. I can assure you, it's not. Not to the people in the story.
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Old 02-24-2007, 05:49 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnrobison View Post
I don't mean to sound argumentative, but . . .

Many people who have written memoirs would say, "It's our story." as opposed to "my story." Involving other people does not make it "not a memoir." There are some "me and me alone" books but most involve a small or large group.

With respect to including the bad with the good, all I can say is, "who says?" It's my book and I can include what I want. For example, if a fellow was in inspiring scout leader and I looked up to him there is no need for me to say he was also a habitual shoplifter.

What mattered was his influence on me as a scout master.

There is good and bad in everyone.

The job of a good memoirist is to convey the thoughts and feelings that are relevant to his story. Painting a particular kind of picture of the people is not necessary or even desireable in many cases.

I am not suggesting you sugarcoat the events. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

In my book, I introduced Paul as follows:

Paul lived up the street. We both dropped out of high school at the same time, and we've been friends since.

Paul's wife called me and said Paul was very troubled by my depiction. He's always been sensitive about not graduating high school, it seems. So I changed his introduction to:

Paul lived up the street. We both dropped out of high school at the same time, and we've been friends since. I grew up to be a car dealer, and Paul grew up to own an automobile insurance agency.

Both passages are true, but one left him feeling bad. The other left him feeling good.

I know, you may say it sounds silly. I can assure you, it's not. Not to the people in the story.
I have to agree John, there were a couple unimportant things that happened that I didn't feel the need to put it in there, no reason to add in a negative that had nothing to do with the story anyway. The last thing I want to do is upset someone, especially when it was unnecessary and could be omitted. You are right, like your example, there are many ways to say the same thing, and some are better than others.
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