1. bobbi
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    bobbi New Member

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    Writing biography and MC is lying. Help, please.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by bobbi, May 30, 2014.

    I'm looking for guidance.

    I am writing the biography of my aunt. She died in 1999, but I have hours of taped interviews with her.

    I have caught her telling several untruths. How do I deal with that? Do I ignore her and write what I know or believe happened? Or do I write the story according to her memory (or lack thereof).

    There are several scenes in her story that are like this. For example, in 1963, at 31-years-old, she served a year in jail. During that time, she became friends with a minister. She says that upon her release, the minister rented her a hotel room for a week. She gives the location, but not the name, so I know it's one of two very nice hotels. Without the minister's assistance, she would have been homeless with only the clothes (and, ragged ones, at that) on her back.

    I simply do not believe her.

    Even though questioned by the interviewer, she does not provide details of the week. What did she do during that week? Order from room service? Did the minister donate Cash for cigarettes, meals, clothing, underwear, shoes? Did she meet up with old friends? Did she simply hibernate the week away in the room's soft bed?

    I believe she lived on the street for a week. I know she prostituted during that time ("spent my last night with a 49-er and his friend.") At the end of the week, she checked herself into a drug-rehab organization.

    How do I deal with this Week (and other misrepresentations) in the story? Do I write it according to what I believe (and in other cases, Know)? Or preserve her rendition of her life?

    She had reason to be untruthful when these interviews were conducted - her mother was still alive, and my aunt believed the book would be published in her lifetime. That didn't happen, obviously - the story was gifted to me a year ago.

    If I write the biography according to her truth, can I trust the reader to see through her lies? Or will the reader simply blame their sense of, "say, what?" on the author?

    help! :)
     
  2. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless you have more than a feeling that she was being untruthful, it would be doing her a disservice to change an innocent event into something more morally questionable. As the author, you are free to make a footnote regarding your uncertainty if you feel it is important.

    There is also the possibility that she told the truth, just not all of it. She may indeed have been gifted with accommodation of some kind, and then found other means to obtain necessities such as food.
     
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  3. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    She may have remembered it that way. Brain researchers say that we all have vivid 'memories' of events that never actually happened.
     
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  4. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you have specific proof that she is making things up? Or just a feeling?

    Either way you need to acknowledge her story - it's part of her life-narrative, it fits with her own self-portrait and makes sense within the chronology of events she concidered very important. However, as the author you are entitled to an opinion - and obliged, in a way, as a historian, to stick to material evidence and to your own understanding of chronology. So a footnote, even a more elaborate analysis, is almost a necessity :)
     
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  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    As others said, you're recording her life. It'd be a gross injustice if you altered it in any way. Write it out the way she said it happened, then include a footnote with your own interpretations.

    I do want to ask this, though: is there any way you can do further research on events like that? If that specific minister agrees to sit for interview, you could ask him to recall that moment when he helped her. As with any biography, research and investigate. You can add your own interpretations in the footnotes if you like, but keep her story the way she told it.

    From what I've read, it sounds like she was having a difficult life, and didn't want her mother to know about it for whatever reason.
     
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  6. bobbi
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    bobbi New Member

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    I'm so appreciative of these responses. I see a theme here. :) And I'm glad for it. I truly do want to be true to her story. Footnotes will save my sanity. lol...

    You are correct, Link - she had a most difficult life.

    The biography will span approximately thirty-five years of her life, (1950 - 1975). With the exception of my 84-year-old-mother, all the players in this game have passed on. In the mid-to-late 1980's, the original biographer conducted interviews with most, but not all, of them and passed those tapes onto me. She also wrote a first draft, which my aunt reviewed. Her margin comments are invaluable.

    Although I am fully relying on the original biographer's draft as a kind of encyclopedia, I am compelled to write my own. I have personal memories and knowledge of most of the events in her life, a thorough understanding of the family culture, plus an intimate knowledge of San Francisco, where the bulk of the story takes place. Most important, I have her permission.

    One thing that pops for me - I must further study and grow confident with biographical formatting.

    Thank you all so much. Your guidance centered me a bit.

    regards, bobbi
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree that both your aunt's version and your doubts about some of what she claimed took place should be included... but i don't agree that the latter should go in footnotes... this is not a scholarly or scientific book and doing that would take the reader out of the 'story' of your aunt's life...

    as both a professional editor/writer and a reader, i suggest you simply include whatever proof or or doubts you have right within the text, with an 'author's note' or 'preface' or 'introduction' added in the book's front matter that would include an explanation similar to what you provided here...

    and yes, you should be reading/studying the best-written biographies, to see how they're done...

    you're kind and brave to have undertaken such a major task... i hope your family will be happy with the result and it will sell well to strangers... i've helped several folks with their memoirs and know what a challenge it can be...

    love and hugs, maia
     

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