1. pnart

    pnart New Member

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    Interested in eclectic, discursive autobiography and memoir writing

    Discussion in 'New Member Introductions' started by pnart, Apr 13, 2021.

    I'm new here; I joined writingforums.org because I'm interested in writing about my life and I want to find a format that reflects how I actually experience my life.

    I'm a voracious reader, as I assume all of us here are, and my tastes are eclectic - fiction, nonfiction, biography and poetry. My whole life is eclectic - I'm retired from a long career in software design - mostly engineering and biomedical applications and I'm a science geek (AAAS member, former amateur astronomer, etc) but I've also been a painter, photographer, (link deleted by mod) and poet for many years, and in my retirement I've taken up filmmaking and in the pandemic I'm studying music theory and I'm composing music for my videos. (link deleted by mod) I've had many adventures, misadventures, lots of health problems and surgery with more to come. My wife died of cancer after a long and creative struggle in 2012, so when I was diagnosed with an incurable myeloproliferative neoplasm my first thought was "what would Esther do?" So since I have to give myself shots for it I designed a tribal dragon tattoo for my belly so I can remember where I gave my last shot to avoiding repeating spots and creating scar tissue.

    SO . . . My life is not linear - I connect with my past and my future all day long - one thought triggers another and another and every experience is altered and colored by - and connected to - everything else. I've sporadically kept a journal since the 1980's. My latest Vimeo video is of the stars over Vermont. My previous one is a nude dancer in my studio. I'm fully vaccinated but still high-risk. One of my relatives died of Covid last year and the surreal funeral inspired me to start my most ambitious painting yet. In November I'm going to Namibia to photograph cheetahs, this Saturday another model is coming to my studio. When I return from Namibia I'm having a new thumb built because the CMC joint has disintegrated in my left hand. Will I still be able to paint? My house is filled with art - mine and my friends'. Memories and inspirations. In the middle of the pandemic I got a new girlfriend.

    I want to write about my life in a way that reflects the chaos, turmoil and pandemonium I experience. I anticipate extensive use of my journal entries, poetry, and art. I'm looking for examples of autobiographies and memoirs that are non-linear, discursive, chaotic, multimedia, magically-real, and yet strongly enough written to somehow wrap the mayhem and tumult into something resembling coherency. Can anyone please suggest some good examples?

    Thanks in advance!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 14, 2021
  2. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    Firstly, wow, I'm so impressed with your lust for life/stoicism in the light of the unpredictable and seriously crappy stuff that's ventured your way. :meh:

    I'm only aware of one publication that accommodates the random in the way you mention ~ Danielewski's House of Leaves. It was riveting first time I read it and I dip back in frequently to readmire/resavour.

    Me and the reason I'm replying: I've been harbouring a structure for a future (indefinitely postponed) write that (within) I've wanted to thread with much of the non-linear and the chaotic you mention. Figure it'd take a lifetime's experience to acquire the content and from there the plan was to present it as 'cascades'. Lots of stories, presented seemingly ad hoc, born from the smallest acts of chance/from sparks/from mutations. That all, in time, and meandering storytelling, coalesce to form a whole. < The whole being the emergence of the storyteller himself, (a mobius strip with a pit lane for its ending) shaped patchwork of many fine tapestries.

    I'm convinced the above would most definitely require as you say 'strong writing' to give it a slither of a chance in literary world. I'd lap it up. Mainstream world alas, no chance IMHO. I'd be writing for the 1%'ers.

    All best & welcome @pnart
     
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  3. pnart

    pnart New Member

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    Thanks Seth!

    Just in case there's any confusion here, I'm proposing write a work of non-fiction - an autobiography or memoir, based on my life.

    I looked up House of Leaves but it's listed as a novel, not autobiography or memoir. It's also unclear whether it incorporates visual art. (from reviews it does use interesting layout and typography). I'm a painter and photographer. I used to do photojournalism, and I've also done commercial photography, and now I do fine art photography and painting, and my work has sold in local galleries. Also many of my journals are illustrated with my sketches. So my visual art is important to telling my story, but I strongly want to avoid making something that looks like a photo album, with pictures and captions!

    Interestingly House of Leaves was recently to me suggested as a kind of magical realism literature. (it features a house way bigger on the inside than the outside, and other elements). I've been a fan of writers such as Federico Lorca and Gabriel García Márquez since college (I'm 68 now), and after my wife died I fell in love with a woman from Colombia who was visiting the US. She grew up in Barranquilla where Márquez spent much of his early writing career. We traveled to Colombia together (you can see a video I made there on my Vimeo page) where I had many experiences that seemed straight out of a Márquez story, so I'm dying to incorporate those incidents into what I'm proposing to write here. We had a year-long love affair, traveling all over and we're still friends today. My new GF met her recently on Zoom and luckily they got along great (whew!!), but that whole story is wild and belongs in whatever I write.

    Figure it'd take a lifetime's experience to acquire the content

    Yes, that's a tricky part. Live long enough to have a lifetime of experience but then, quick, get it down on paper before the clock runs out. :)
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2021
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  4. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Keep in mind that to a remarkable extent autobiography is fiction and vice versa. There's a gradation between them, not a hard line.
     
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  5. pnart

    pnart New Member

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    Keep in mind that to a remarkable extent autobiography is fiction and vice versa. There's a gradation between them, not a hard line.

    In literary terms I regard fiction to be the result of a deliberate, creative process, not an accident. It's a conscious act of design and creation, not a result of a bad memory or poor eyesight. If the detective in a mystery novel wears a homburg instead of a fedora that's fiction. If the real-life detective who comes to my house to investigate a burglary is remembered as wearing a fedora when he really wore a homburg, that's just bad eyesight, but it's not fiction. If I put a fedora on him when he was hatless, that's fiction. The hatless detective meets the hapless writer.

    But my autobiography won't be fiction. The danger of making stuff up in something that's ostensibly non-fiction is that inconsistencies are hard to catch but they'll stand out to a knowledgeable reader. Autobiographies and memoirs get read by your friends and family so they'll be quick to spot any detours from the truth. Anyway the real world is much more interesting and dramatic and terrifying - there's no need to embellish.

    Back on topic: where can I get some suggestions for unconventional, non-linear, experimental, text+graphics autobiographies and memoirs?

    PS - as a noob on www.writingforums.org I notice that the non-fiction forum is very small and not very active, compared to most of the others. Are there other writing websites with bigger, more active non-fiction sections? Thanks in advance!
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2021
  6. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    What I mean is you need to understand how to tell a story so it's interesting, rather than deliver data like a newspaper report.
     
  7. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    House of Leaves, has elements of memoir, granted fictional—Johnny Truant gives his own lifestories and ruminations air time as he digs into another of the story's characters. That other character, incidentally, is a photojournalist. I just thought there may be something in the structure for you to go at. Reading back I realise you want your visual art in there too which'd steer things the way of graphic memoirs. Of which I know little alas—other than all I've seen are linear.

    I'm thinking the territory may be yours for the taking @pnart . Could you, typing aloud here, poss align it with all the (given hats get a mention) hats you've donned in your lifetime? Software engineer, science guy, astronomer, painter..etc.; a full life portrayed and not necessarily presented linearly, as I figure there's overlap twixt the careers, vocations, interests, and callings. < Your art would/could then be distributed evenly about the publication.
     
  8. pnart

    pnart New Member

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    Thanks Seth and Xoic for your input. With such a wide range of interests as I have, and perhaps because I have a touch of ADD, I've learned the benefits of being strictly disciplined about staying on focus. So while I appreciate your suggestions of stylistic elements and skill-development for writing this (and I will read House of Leaves) , my mission is to find examples of published works of memoir and autobiography written in unconventional styles that I can study.

    Where on the web can I find a community of writers with a deep interest in memoirs and autobiographies so I can ask for suggestions of such books written in unconventional styles? I'm thinking that writers' communities emphasizing non-fiction, history, biography, and memoir would be good, but writingforums.org seems to have more focus on fiction and poetry, based on the number of new daily posting in the relevant forums. Also, "creative non-fiction", is a popular term these days which may apply to what I want to do here, so if I can find an active online forum focusing on that, it would help. Google searches have not panned out. Many people have mentioned one called Absolute Write Water Cooler Forum but they're down now and don't expect to be back up for awhile.

    Short of dropping into writers' forums , which, more often than not, don't contain multitudes (we've had two people in this discussion), is there a systematic way to search published works by genre and style, instead of author and title? There have been zillions of autobiographies and memoirs written over the years; has any attempt been made to attach tags or attributes to these in a searchable form, say, for academic research?
     
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  9. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Ok, understood.
     
  10. pnart

    pnart New Member

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    Since this discussion seems to have petered out is there a more appropriate forum to ask advice about this?

    People write about themselves in essentially three formats - autobiographies, memoirs, and journals/diaries. Although all three make their way through my hands regularly - - - book store -> bookshelf -> bedside -> give-away box - - - I like the journal/diary format the best because of its immediacy and uncertainty, and the way it puts the internal thoughts front and center. But how do you capture that in a readable form for more than a few-day's worth? A fictional account of someone's inner life, such as Joyce's Ulysses, is 730 pages for one day! As a painter I'm well familiar with the dilemma of how to honestly paint a tree, and this is the same problem. Autobiographies are the least attractive because most authors lend them a kind of teleological quality that's dishonest, because they know how things turned out.

    A good example of a memoir that has the discursive quality I'm seeking is Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She does tangents within tangents and her subject matter is often downright cosmic and existential, and sometimes microscopic, but she never lets you lose confidence that she will faithfully bring it all back around. I need to learn how to instill that confidence in a reader. Douglas Hofstadter in Gödel, Escher, Bach, also goes off on deep, long discursions without losing the reader, although granted that's not an autobiography, memoir, and journal, but it's still non-fiction.

    But where's a good place to talk about the form, structure, design, philosophy, morality and artistry of things like autobiographies, memoirs, and journals/diaries, where there's an active discussion to be had?
     
  11. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I don't know of a good place to ask about this, but what you're saying here merges nicely with something I was just writing about on another thread, and that I write about frequently.

    It's the fact that some artists seem able to navigate the uncharted seas of a freeform, more modernistic/literary kind of style without benefit of a formal education, of learning the teachable craft of writing (narrative form, the basis of genre writing). I suspect those people have read a lot and managed to absorb what they need to know about the craft.

    But I believe in writing, as in the visual arts, that it's necessary to come to an understanding of the teachable craft aspects of it (to some degree anyway) before you can successfully venture out into that more rarefied atmosphere of pure style, whether you absorbed it directly through osmosis by reading a lot, or studied it in school or by reading some books on writing craft.

    Just my own observations/ theory.
     
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  12. Catriona Grace

    Catriona Grace Senior Member

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    Call a reference librarian at any university or good local library for help with locating the types of books you're seeking. You could ask also ask the librarian about writers groups dedicated to memoir online and/or in Chelmsford. A quick check reveals almost 100 colleges and universities within a 50 mile radius of Boston; there's probably a discussion of autobiography and memoir writing going on somewhere near you.

    This. It's all very well and good to talk about writing as an intellectual pursuit with multiple bells and whistles, but sophisticated discussion and study is no substitute for sitting down and just putting words on paper, whether one is writing fiction, poetry, popular science, or esoteric memoir.

    Good luck with your research and writing.
     
  13. pnart

    pnart New Member

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    I totally agree. I've been taking classes and workshops and been in writing groups for decades. My first one was with Michael Curtis, then editor of the Atlantic, at his home in Concord, MA, back in the 80's. I write every day.

    But I just assumed that www.writingforums.org was a more popular writing forum and there would be active discussion sections here where people talk about non-fiction writing or autobiography/memoir writing or other pertinent topics. I'm also surprised that in a week this thread has only had two participants - you and SethLoki. I'm used to posting questions to active forums on other interests of mine such photography, video production, or painting and having dozens of participants and threads that go on for many pages. The by-the-genre non-fiction group here has only 169 threads and the non-fiction workshop section has only 609 threads going all the way back to 2006!

    Is there a more active writers' forum online somewhere where I can hook up with a wider range of voices focused more on topics like this? I recently joined mywriterscircle.com but it's too soon to say how active they are. Goodreads has a zillion sub-forums but I find their UI too complicated and confusing. The Absolute Write Water Cooler Forum is down for some kind of database conversion. Given how much writers like to write, I've been surprised and disappointed about how how hard it's been to find a forum, especially with a non-fiction, including autobiography/memoir focus, that's very active. Am I overlooking any good ones?
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2021
  14. pnart

    pnart New Member

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    You must have a better library than we do. Why would a reference librarian know about the construction and styles of these kinds of books, unless he/she was a Lit or Lit/Crit major who ended up working in a library to pay off their MFA? I wouldn't expect a reference librarian to know any more than what he/she could look up. Is there a way to look up this sort of information?
     
  15. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    This forum seems to focus largely on fantasy and science fiction, though not exclusively. In fact I looked at several other writing forums first, but they all seemed mostly focused on social realism or something more literary. I don't remember what any of those were, but if you just search for writing forums you should be able to find several that are closer to what you're looking for than this one. Sorry, I realize you've doubtless already done this. I'd recommend just joining several of them and dropping the same post on all of them. Apparently one of them is the 'sister site' of this one, but I don't know which one that is.
     
  16. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    I have just finished my third rewrite of a life affected with ADHD. Message me and I will give you the link. I don't expect you to read it, but it might be a good reference. My beta readers that are usually critical of my non-fiction work loved this book from the start. BTW welcome to the forum.
     
  17. Catriona Grace

    Catriona Grace Senior Member

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    Knowing where to look for information about esoteric subjects is a reference librarian's superpower. The reference librarian will not tell you about construction and styles of these kinds of books; he or she will locate the references you are asking us to provide. He or she can also tell you where to look stuff up yourself if you prefer that option. Reference librarians have found everything for me from an out-of-print article on the Howard County Race Riots to books on torpor in corvids to the location of an extant copy of Barddas, an obscure 1862 book written by a Welsh literary forger named Iolo Morganwg. I live in a rural area in the Rocky Mountains. You live half an hour from Boston. A competent reference librarian no doubt resides somewhere in the area.
     
  18. pnart

    pnart New Member

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    Reference librarians are mainly good at looking up factual information, as your examples illustrate. You said, "The reference librarian will not tell you about construction and styles of these kinds of books; he or she will locate the references you are asking us to provide." I'm not sure what you mean by "references", but what I'm asking for here IS about books with particular construction and styles! (in specific genres) What did you think I was asking about? How have I failed to make that clear?

    Just to reiterate (ad nauseum, by now!) what I'm seeking is suggestions of autobiographies and memoirs written in a nonlinear, discursive, or fragmentary style, and preferably also incorporating non-prose elements such as poetry, journal entries, drawings, paintings and photos. Maybe such a thing doesn't exist but I'd rather hear that from people with specialized knowledge and interest in these genres.

    What I need is an active community of non-fiction writers with enough experience and knowledge about these genres to offer advice and suggestions. But as Xoic said, above, "This forum seems to focus largely on fantasy and science fiction", so I'm clearly barking up the wrong tree in writingforums.org.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2021
  19. B.E. Nugent

    B.E. Nugent Contributor Contributor

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    I get a sense you're becoming increasingly frustrated with the responses to your inquiry. For simplicity, I don't know of a forum that meets your criteria. I imagine other members here don't know either, else someone would have supplied the info.

    I expect you've done close to what I tried when looking for a community of writers to develop my own writing. My experience, two sites came up and I joined both. I never stayed with the other forum because, well, it more resembled an English literacy class than what I wanted.

    Fantasy and sci-fi aren't really my bag. I've read some of the classics but not into it, certainly not looking to write in that area. But, leaving that aside, there are good writers and story tellers on this site with engaging discussions from which I believe I'm learning. Truth is, whether memoire or fiction or points between, this community may have something to offer. Maybe not but you could check some of the threads and decide for yourself. Also, you may find someone with similar predelictions with whom you could establish a private messaging exchange. You could even post samples in workshop for feedback?

    But, to answer your question, no idea where you'd find what you're looking for.
     
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  20. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    i can't think of any active forum that caters specifically to that niche... your best bet is probably a facebook group, since they are a lot easier (and free) to set up and run its much easier for them to cater to interest groups with more specific interests ... searching memoir writers on FB groups search brings up 9 options and 14 for autobiography writers (Your mileage may vary because of how the fb algo works)

    The other alternative is Amazon which essentially is a search engine - their algo is sophisticated enough to find you autobiographies written in a certain way, and also once you have identified one author to link you to other similar authors

    I wouldnt necessarily agree that WF is just about science fiction and fantasy... what members are into ebbs and flows with time... a while back every second member was writing romance, while the thriller and military crowd are also quite large... it is true that we have more writers of fiction than non fiction.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2021
  21. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    With my hat on - I'd suggest that this is a rather regrettable way to speak to people who are trying to help you... displaying that kind of attitude will not help more people want to engage with your question, either here or in any other forum or group !
     
  22. Catriona Grace

    Catriona Grace Senior Member

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    Okay. The books of particular construction and style that you want to read come under the category of references because they are part of a study you wish to undertake prior to creating a memoir/autobiography with similar characteristics. You go to the librarian. You say, I am looking for books with these particular constructions and styles. Can you locate the same for me?

    Well, good luck with the next tree. I hope it is full of more sophisticated squirrels. This little Sciuridae's patience and bullshitometer have pegged out.
     
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  23. Mogador

    Mogador Active Member

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    London: A Biography. No paintings or mixed media, but it meanders all over the shop and arranges itself thematically rather than chronologically.
    Try asking your question on the Literature Network Forums (online-literature.com). I left because their systems are flakey, but if you can make it work for you then you might find a wider range of topics discussed.
    You did make that clear. But this is a quiet forum unfortunately; I have written a couple pieces I would like more feedback on, but sometimes it takes weeks or even months, it seems. So it goes.

    You've stopped by the kerb to, very politely, ask someone for directions.
    They don't know, but you keep asking, still terribly politely.
    They keep coming up with variants of, "Well, it might be second on the left after where the old Post Office used to be, but I don't really know," or, "Try asking someone up Numbnuts Street, they might know".
    You have told them their instructions are not useful and they should try again.
    They tried and failed again.
    You told them their neighbourhood is sleepy and unsophisticated.
    Now they have told you to piss off.
    Ah, Internet forums!
    P.S. Nothing personal I hope. So please do tell if you find somewhere.
     
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  24. Mogador

    Mogador Active Member

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    Also maybe try Holywood Babylon II. I have a feeling that isn't really what you're after, but hell, I'm trying.
     
  25. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody The Ole Razzle-Dazzle Contributor

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    Not true.
    Academic Reference Librarians have specialties.
    When i was in undergrad, each department had a reference librarian that specialized in that subject. English lit? There was a librarian for that. Biology/science? Librarian for that.
    Yes, librarians in general can look up stuff, but so can you. Reference librarians just have wider resources and are around a lot more material than the average person. It was actually my college reference librarian that got me interested in the field. Her specialty was essay construction and styles and literature research methods. when/if you contact an academic reference librarian, bigger universities have contacts for departmental librarians or their specialties listed by their names. That should make it easier to locate which ones would be of help to you.

    My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgård, though classified as "fiction", it is autobiographical in the sense that he is the main character and his family members are prominent characters in it. Its also classified as an "autobiography" too, so its one of those creative nonfiction works that kind of blurs the lines.

    There is another book that i'm thinking of that is like you described (i'll have to look up the title and author). the only caveat is that its "fiction" (sort of). it also blues the lines of fiction and creative non-fiction. I'll get you the name and author tomorrow.
    this author utilizes poetry, drawing, stories, essays, etc. the whole book is like one big art piece, in my opinion.

    I personally liked The Bookseller of Kabul. there were no pictures or "creative" visual elements in it, but how it was written, it was like reading a work of fiction, even though its the author's experience through years of living with an Arab family and documenting life with them.

    There is another one that's a graphic novel. Marbles by Ellen Forney documents the author's struggle with depression and bipolar disorder. Even though its a graphic novel, its even more interesting because she includes drawings from her personal journals comparing her mental state and creativity while medicated and without medicine (the drawings are scary/sad... you can clearly see the difference in her mental state). My first major was in Art Therapy and this book was something we studied.
     

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