There’s an interview with Patricia Hampl in the latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle where she addresses the negative repercussions that can come from writing memoir. “Don’t think you can write your way around hurting someone,” she says.
I write mostly nonfiction, and one of the things I worry about constantly is how the real “characters” in my stories will react when they read my work. My most recent experience with this was a story I published about my Aunt Mary, easily the most entertaining and colorful person in my family. Almost everyone who read this piece responded with, “I love your Aunt Mary!” so I was not expecting my favorite aunt’s feelings to be hurt — and they were — when she read the story for herself. Lines that my readers thought were endearing and real and hilarious were shocking for her to see laid out flat on the page. Her exact words were: I know I said those things, but I sound awful. I need to watch my mouth.
I learned a lesson here about being prepared. No matter what I think or how outsiders respond to a story, I have to steel myself for the (often unexpected) reactions of the real people I’m writing about.
Hampl goes on to quote Czeslaw Milosz who said, “When a writer is born into a family, that family is finished.” As if writing in general, and putting your stories out there for readership and judgment is not enough, we’ve got this. In the end, sure, it’s part of what we’ve signed up for by splattering our words on the public stage, but it doesn’t make it any easier.