When I was writing my memoir, I approached almost every person who was a main character in the book to let them know what I was doing. I asked if there was anything that was off limits. After all, they didn’t ask to be in the book.
Without exception, each of them said, “Write whatever you want.” Even my ex-boyfriends were cool about it. (I didn’t contact all of them, of course. The guy who stalked me until I put him in jail probably wouldn’t have liked what I wrote about him.) I sent the former boyfriends copies of what I’d written and they were incredibly gracious. The only person who objected was one of the wives, who took it upon herself to read the manuscript and email me an unsolicited review: “I think the book is very bizarre!” There also was some stuff about her son being in a very exclusive private school and how she didn’t want my book ruining his precious little life. I wasn’t sure what to write back, or even if I should write back. I compromised by forwarding her email to all of my friends, with the subject line, “What a BITCH!!!”
Finally, I told my mother and father they were in the book. I warned them there were several chapters about the sickness and drinking. (My parents were long in recovery by then.) My mother said, “We were such bad parents, we probably deserve everything you wrote about us.” My father was thrilled about the book and ended up being my biggest fan.
I was not necessarily unkind to to my parents in the memoir; rather, I was honest. It seemed wrong to sugar coat things. What happened happened and lying about it changed nothing. Still, I didn’t want the story to be one-sided.
In the end, I decided that I could only be as hard on other people as I was on myself. So I looked for opportunities to highlight my flaws. And the weird thing was, I loved doing that. Enough time had passed that I could look at my earlier life dispassionately and see how unbelievably fucked up I was. Given everything that had happened to me growing up, that wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was that considering how well they knew me, my friends and family still trusted me to tell their stories as I saw fit.
EXERCISE: How do you think your friends and family would react if you told them you were writing about them? Would they freak out or would they be flattered? Would they want to collaborate with you on some of the stories? Share your thoughts in the comments.