My discovery of a new magazine, Creative Nonfiction, brought an intriguing quote on the first page, “When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.” – Czeslaw Milosz
The first warning of the issue, by implication, is that the writer may tell family secrets. The article that accompanies the quote, “What’s the Story?” by editor Lee Gutkind, sets the stage for an issue devoted to “Lost Truths and Family Legends.” The red flag for the family members becomes the danger of unattractive or vicious portrayals by the writer or stories told that they prefer to keep hidden. Of course, this would return a red flag to the writer if those family members decide to come after her.
The second warning belongs to the reader. When reading a “true” story or memoir, the reader needs to keep in mind that the telling is from the writer’s perspective. One of my friends says if each of her three sons described her to you independently, you would think they were talking about three different people. They each look at her through a different set of glasses. No matter how carefully a writer tries to stick to the facts, personal narratives will be colored by the glass through which she is looking.
So, what is the reader to do? I suggest first if you like true stories told through the writer’s eyes, get a subscription to the magazine. I found the stories covered a gamut of emotions and all were well written and entertaining.
Second, have a little fun and indulge in some speculation as you read stories involving a writer’s family, thinking about how those characters might have told it differently. There is always another side to the story!
In case you are wondering, so far, none of my relatives have come after me. My sister Beth might be the most likely candidate since I may have mentioned that she was a pest when we were growing up. Editor Gulkind suggests a different way for the relatives to get back at the writer. They could always write their own stories. Just be forewarned in case Beth decides to do this. If she should imply that I was bossy, there’s not a word of truth in it.