Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Writing about the living

A friend sent me an email today asking my input. A memoir writer who is self-publishing is asking his ex-wife, who has mental health issues, to sign a release agreeing not to sue him or want money from him for the memoir, in which she is depicted in a chapter. She has apparently not seen the chapter nor has it been offered to her to look at.

I didn't pretend to have any legal advice. I just sent my own experience with writing about the living. In my case, I offered my women friends the opportunity to read the chapter about them (the one friend that I forgot did take some exception to what I'd said and I had an amend to make there). I did the same with my sister Kerry (my other two siblings do not appear in my book). And I waited until my parents were deceased as I didn't want to have to worry about their response.

The other category were the boyfriends and lovers. And there I did two things. First, I disguised them--their names, their physical characteristics, where I knew them, etc. All of that was so vague that no one who has known them since we parted ways could identify them (and our friends who knew us then knew the stories anyway). Second, I didn't blame them for anything. I took responsibility for my part of what happened between us: how I stayed with a man who hit me and another who cheated on me. Because the memoir was about me and my own growth, not theirs. That's something that I learned in AA. I can only tell my story; I can neither know nor have a right to tell another person's story.

I don't know if the author in question here will do the same. But I would hope he would have given it serious thought, sought advice from his editor, and consulted a lawyer rather than risk hurting others.

And I wouldn't never sign a release without seeing the chapter.

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