Monday, September 5, 2011

Writing about Family and Friends

I read a lot of memoirs submitted to 3L Publishing for consideration. For the most part, these memoirs don't delve into anything too personal to reveal to the world. In fact, we're working on a new memoir for one of our clients. I've thought about doing a biography and decided I would have to wait until I'm old if I wanted it to be an authentic reflection on this life I'm living. The truth of most of our lives tends to get pretty messy. If I revealed the truth about much of my life, many people might not like to see in print reflections on their true stories. I remember one of my fellow writers doing a seminar about how to write about one's mother or parents while they were still living. You're stepping into some tough territory with that one, especially if you're going to reveal information that would make your mother or father uncomfortable. Some families -- even with the less difficult stories -- just don't want their private lives revealed to the public.

A few words of wisdom about writing about your personal life. Make sure you get sign off from the person you might mention in the book. Sign off means legal sign off to use their names and stories. This sign off doesn't just apply to family -- it applies to anyone's name you intend to use. Beyond the legal formalities, consider a discussion with the people affected. It's highly ill advised to simply change a family member's name and then spring the book on them after the fact. First, if they can show in court that it's easy enough to determine it's them, they can still sue you. Second, most people don't like nasty surprises. This caution applies to family, friends and acquaintances you intend to reference.

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