Vote For the Worst Celebrity Memoir

The Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com) is taking a poll to determine which celebrity has the worst memoir. If you’re not bored enough to participate in that poll or even read it, I will clue you into what the votes indicate thus far.

The poll offers a continuum of choices 1 through 10, with 1 being “not too bad??? and 10 being “Awful!??? At this point the books and ratings are, in order from the least bad to the most awful: Jane Fonda, My Life So Far, 3.8; Kim Catrall’s Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm, 5.4; George Hamilton, Don’t Mind If I Do, 5.4; Teri Hatcher, Burnt Toast and Other Philosophies of Life, 5.7; Rosie O’Donnell, Celebrity Detox, 5.7; Suzanne Somers, Knockout: Interviews With Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer, 5.8; Macauley Culkin, Junior, 6.4; Lauren Conrad, L.A. Candy, 6.5; Saddam Hussein, Be Gone Demons!, 6.9; Nicole Richie, The Truth About Diamonds, 6.9; Pamela Anderson, Star Struck: A Novel, 7.1; Naomi Campbell’s Swan, 7.3; Fabio’s Wild, 7.3; Victoria Beckham, Learning to Fly, 7.4; Larry the Cable Guy, Git-R-Done, 7.4; David Hasselhoff’s Making Waves, 7.5; Britney Spears, Heart to Heart, 7.8; Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress, 8.0; Tila Tequila’s Hooking Up With Tila Tequila, 8.1; Carrie Prejean’s Still Standing, 9.3; Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, 9.4.

Keep in mind that people who go to that website may lean more to the left than to the right politically. Now go back to writing your own memoir, and someday maybe it will get rated!


Read This Online Autobiography to Study Memoir Style

Many of you trying to write your memoirs may never have written anything of length before now. While you’ve probably read enough—both fiction and non-fiction—as you try to craft your own autobiography it can be helpful to read passages specifically of others’ life stories. If you can read them online at no charge, that makes it even easier for you.

A classic memoir, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, is a good place to start. Click here for the online version, which lets you pull up one chapter at a time. Certainly language has evolved since Ben Franklin’s time, so you won’t want to imitate the wording. But there’s an elegance to the way he writes that you can aspire to assume for your own work. Also, these chapters give you an idea of how to structure your memoir, which topics are important enough to cover, how to introduce dialogue and how candid to be as you describe your friends and relatives.

According to the website, Franklin’s is considered to be the most acclaimed autobiography to come out of colonial America. It covers his early life, travel, professional training, romantic encounters and all sorts of details of his days from his own perspective. Although Franklin lived to be 84 years old, he ends this account at age 51. This illustrates that you can create a compelling memoir by recording what you’ve accomplished so far before without necessarily waiting until you’re in your senior years.

“American Idol??? Connection Reported to be Contemplating Memoirs

It’s always fun to see which celebrities are planning to write their memoirs. The latest, as reported by digitalspy.com, is Mezhgan Hussainy, whose fiancé is longtime “American Idol??? judge Simon Cowell. Hussainy, 36, was the make-up artist on the set of the show when she started dating the notoriously contrary Cowell.

You might be wondering what a 36-year-old might find so compelling about her life that she already would want to pen an autobiography. Her famous boyfriend, known to closely guard the details of his private life, is not the major focus. Speculation is that Hussainy hopes to share the story of how she and her family fled Afghanistan 20 years ago and immigrated to America.

The digitalspy report quotes a source saying, “Mezhgan really is an amazing woman. She went through so much as a child but she remains full of optimism and positivity. She wants to get her story out in her own words to give hope to others.??? At WriteMyMemoirs, we hear from some of our members who have similar experiences of escaping brutal lives either because of oppressive governments or abusive parents and caretakers. Like Hussainy, they want to get their story out there. Apparently traumatic experiences and wanting to help others are powerful motivators for writing memoirs.

New Book Traces the History of Memoir Writing

blog16The urge to write memoirs has long been part of the human psyche, according to a new book, Memoir: A History, in which author Ben Yagoda connects the dots through 2,000 years of memoirs. In tackling the question of whether an autobiography must be 100 percent true and accurate, Yagoda concludes that telling your story in good faith is more important than getting every fact perfectly straight, according to the New York Times review of the book.

The aspect of memoirs that interests me more, however, is the widespread desire to write one. Why put so much energy into this task? I don’t believe that a hope to get rich from publishing their story is what drives people to write about themselves. The Times reviewer, Judith Shulevitz, theorizes that it’s a universal need to tell our side of things—to explain why we’ve done what we’ve done. Shulevitz quotes philosopher Hilary Putnam: “We are, most of us, interested in justifying at least some features of our own style of life, in the sense of giving a defense of them that would appeal to others.???

This strikes a chord with me; most of us want to be liked or, at least, understood. The latest big-deal autobiography to hit the bookstores, Going Rogue, would not have been written if author Sarah Palin hadn’t felt the need to tell her side of what went on during last year’s presidential campaign. As you write your memoirs, you may experience some of that “justification satisfaction??? yourself.

Retirement Years Too Busy for Writing Memoirs?

blog13Last time I mentioned Moon River and Me, a new memoir by Andy Williams. This leads me to an intriguing quote that Williams gave to Parade a couple of weeks ago. He told the reporter that this is the busiest time of his life. He’s 81 years old!

Giving interviews about his autobiography is probably one reason Andy has been so busy lately. But he also performs at his theater in Branson, Missouri, makes guest appearances and perhaps is catching up on the family time he says he missed when his children were growing up. But I doubt that he’s the only 81-year-old who doesn’t sit in the rocking chair. Today’s octogenarians have plenty on their plate. Some are raising grandchildren or at least highly active in the lives of their families, many continue to work and lots of seniors make a second career out of hobbies or volunteering for causes close to their hearts.

If you’re busy doing a gazillion things, and unlike Andy Williams you don’t have a book deal deadline and an editor breathing down your neck for motivation, you might find that days and weeks pass without adding a word to your memoirs. The best way to stay on task is to set aside specific times to work on your autobiography. Otherwise, you get so busy living that you neglect to fulfill your goal of recording your life’s events!

Photo: © Rosanne Ullman

Soul-Searching Autobiography Can Reveal Author’s Flaws

blog12Andy Williams, one of my favorite crooners, has a new memoir on the shelves, Moon River and Me. A reader who reviewed it on amazon.com wrote: “This autobiography has captured a whole, not publically well known, side of one of the greatest entertainers of all time. And above all else, I came away with an appreciation for what a really good man there has been behind the public persona. This is a story of an American Dream realized, a man, like many of us, who dedicated too much to his career and not enough to his family, who has the strength and courage to admit it.???

I like the “strength and courage??? characterization. Writing your life story in some ways is quite a brave undertaking. Even though you actually lived the events that you’re putting into words, delving deeply into each chapter may threaten your own image of yourself. I wonder how many people begin writing their memoirs only to discover aspects of their lives that shine an unflattering light on some of their choices. Looking back less than fondly on spending too little time with family, as Andy Williams does in his memoir, is probably a fairly common regret to express.

In this way, writing your memoirs can be cathartic: a good exercise in acknowledging your faults and flaws. In addition, infusing some honest evaluation will win over readers quicker than simply providing tale after tale of success, achievement and conquest.

Never Too Early to Start on Your Memoirs

blog9At 17, Olympic gymnast and “Dancing With the Stars??? champ Shawn Johnson announced that she’s considering writing a sequel to her 2008 photo memoir. If you haven’t had quite the blue-ribbon-packed life that Shawn has, you probably aren’t thinking about publishing your life story once, much less twice, while still in your teens. But you might not want to wait until your golden years, either.

For some people, a memoir is the natural extension of the baby book they’ve been keeping after the birth of their children. They’ve gotten accustomed to documenting the little events that occur, the triumphs and the disappointments, and when baby outgrows the baby book they simply either continue to keep a record for the child or transfer the energy to their own journaling. If not a birth, perhaps a graduation, new career, marriage, illness, death of a loved one, move to a new city or major birthday is what triggers the desire to get the facts down or express your impressions and emotions.

I think starting early is a great idea. First of all, the memory is so unreliable! Time robs us of the details that bring texture to daily life, and sometimes we even forget the who/what/where/when essentials. Second, starting early keeps us from being overwhelmed when faced with an entire lifetime to recapture. And the process of memoir writing is so rewarding that once they get going, a lot of people wish they’d given themselves the gift of reflection sooner. No time like the present!

Candor in Memoirs: Don’t Ask, but Do Tell?

blog8You’ve probably heard about the disturbing revelations Mackenzie Phillips bares in her new memoir. According to reports, many of her family members are not pleased that she decided to do this, and some don’t even believe her account of the events. As you sit down to write your own life story, are there details you’d like to include that you feel might hurt family members or friends?

You may find that this is one of the toughest decisions you’ll make as you proceed with your writing. Maybe your daughter doesn’t want your grandson to know that you smoked when you were a teenager. Perhaps apprising everyone about an early first marriage will be upsetting to them. Or you may be second-guessing a passage that, in simply communicating your impressions and opinions, recalls Cousin Pat in a less-than-flattering description. Maybe the “dirty laundry??? you’re airing isn’t even your own, and someone will feel betrayed that you’ve let a cat out of the bag.

Only you can weigh other people’s feelings against how important it is to you to be fully candid as you write your memoirs. Your name is on this, and others all have the same opportunity to state their own case if they so choose. Here at WriteMyMemoirs, we’d love to hear how our autobiographers are handling this aspect. Comment on this post if you’d like to share.

Photo: © Renata Osinska

Dick Cheney’s Memoir Highly Anticipated

blog4Last time I talked about why it might be appropriate for some people to infuse a little politics in their memoirs. But when you’re a political figure, obviously your autobiography will focus heavily on your views. The next one to offer up this type of book is Former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Scheduled for publication in 2011 by Threshold Editions, the memoir will be Cheney’s first book about his long career in government. Cheney recently told the AP, “I’m persuaded there are a lot of interesting stories that ought to be told. I want my grandkids, 20 or 30 years from now, to be able to read it and understand what I did, and why I did it.??? At Write My Memoirs, we hear that same sentiment from the everyday folk who use our site. Our members want their grandchildren to understand what life was like for them, and that can include the reasoning behind their opinions, voting or perhaps political activism.

Interestingly, it’s been reported that Cheney’s daughter Liz is the one who put the “bug in his ear??? about writing an autobiography. Liz Cheney told the Washington Post, “You have to think about his love of history.??? Backing up her dad’s own statement about the motivation behind writing it, she adds, “When he thinks about this memoir, he thinks about it as a book his grandchildren will read.???