“Don’t You Want to Know If the Story is True?” Led to Author’s Opening

Opening Salvos #11 by Matilda Butler

Question-mark Are you having a hard time with the beginning of your memoir? You’re not alone. Even if you have written many vignettes or dozens of chapters, you still may not know the answer to how you’ll open your memoir. On Friday, Kendra Bonnett and I interviewed Nancy Bachrach, author of The Center of the Universe and asked her to share her experiences in crafting the opening to her memoir.

The interview went something like this: “Nancy, I wonder if you’d talk a little about the opening to your memoir and your decision to make this your opening.” 

“The opening is the hardest to write,” said Nancy. “I rewrote my opening at least 1000 times. I didn’t know where to begin. I only knew what the last line would be.” 

Nancy-Bachrach-compressed-for-web It turns out that Nancy begins her memoir with an Author’s Note. Why? She told us that while her book was being edited by her publisher Alfred A. Knopf, she kept asking, “Don’t you want to know if my story is true?” She explains that the editor kept replying the way a shrink would — “Is there something you want to tell us?” Finally, her editor suggested that if she wanted to make a statement to her readers, she could write an Author’s Note. And she did. A very funny Author's Note. It turns out that it was a great way to begin her memoir as it established her tone as well as her role as the narrator of the story. I was already smiling by the time I got to page 1.

Nancy’s mother-daughter story, told with ample dark humor, is true although she took a few liberties. In the wake of the James Frey controversy, she wanted her readers to know how she arrived at her perspective on her mother’s life. And, yes, she says that the memoir really isn’t her story. It is her mother’s story and she’s the narrator. But from the moment you begin reading the Author’s Note until you reach the last page, you feel you’re sitting with your best friend, the one who always makes you laugh, no matter how difficult the situation. 

If you’d like to hear the complete interview with Nancy with her many insights into memoir writing, CLICK HERE. She also talked about finding your voice even if you’re not naturally funny like she is; telling your mother you’re writing about her or keeping it well locked since Nancy’s mother found her memoir in a drawer; handling the different views of siblings; and many more topics. 

A few days before our interview, Nancy posted a guest blog and memoir writing prompt. If you're interested, CLICK HERE.

2 responses to ““Don’t You Want to Know If the Story is True?” Led to Author’s Opening

  1. Memoir is amazing and fascinating. I’m drawn to it, over and over. I love reading about the lives, observations, secrets, obsessions, and risks of others.
    B. Lynn Goodwin
    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

  2. Opening Salvos…what a great title for this column.
    I like the idea of the author’s note as the beginning. It cuts through received wisdom that one must start with a bang…and, it must be a gripping scene.
    Janet Riehl

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