A Genre or Not a Genre? That is the Question…

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Join me on my blog tour for “Southern Strife: A Novel of Racial Tension in the 1960s“!  Check out the review at A Year of Jubilee Reviews http://melanieski.blogspot.com.  Also, today I am interviewed on Blog Critics http://blogcritics.org/books/.  Stay tuned for more stops!

BTW, if you haven’t checked out the Samantha Kern mystery “Color Me Dead” on Thursdays, hop on board!  You’ll find it right here on my blog.



 It was bound to happen sooner or later.  Someone found an error in one of my blog entries and called me on it.  Fortunately, it was my friend, Alice Lee, poet and painter extraordinaire, who brought the mistake to my attention in a very polite way.

I had stated that another friend of mine informed me that there is no such thing as a fictional memoir.  That was what I had been calling “Southern Strife: A Novel of Racial Tension in the 1960s.”  As it turns out, there is a genre called Fictional Memoir.  No less a personage than Ernest Hemingway wrote one, entitled “True at First Light.” It was published in 1999, in honor of  his 100th birthday.  A first person account of his final trip to Africa, it tells of his love for his last wife and for a young African woman.  The book was edited by Hemingway’s son, and reviews were mixed.  Alice told me of another fictional memoir, Michael Ondaatje’s “Running in the Family,” that is excellent. 

There is another, related genre that pertains to a number of books: that of autobiographical novel.  It is defined as having a protagonist modeled after the author, and the central plot line must mirror this protagonist’s life. 

A third genre for consideration, but quite a bit different, is that of a nonfiction novel.  In this instance, the author tells the truth, but uses a fictional, narrative style in which to do it.  A classic example would be Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”

These three categories attempt to define stories where truth and fiction combine.  It is only when someone claims that a work is a memoir when it really is fiction, or partly fiction, that will get you in trouble.  When you say something is a memoir, it had better be 100% factually true.  Unfortunately, publishers don’t have the budget to hire fact checkers.  Therefore, sometimes unpleasant discoveries are made, and books are pulled, movie deals are canceled, and an author who was a best seller last week can wind up a pariah tomorrow, like Jonathan Franzen and Herman Rosenblat. 

Where does all this leave me and my book?  “Southern Strife: A Novel of Racial Tension in the 1960s” is most definitely not a memoir.  The main plot, concerning the blossoming friendship of two misfit adolescents and the subsequent racial tensions and the explosion that results, is fictitious.  However, nearly everything else in the book happened. In some instances, I have compressed time and distorted some details.  But a lot of facts about my life are in there.  The main character is definitely me.  My aunt and my mother were as they are in the book.  Subplots took place.  I can’t in all honesty say that “Southern Strife: A Novel of Racial Tension in the 1960s” is an autobiographical novel, but I can and will call it a fictional memoir.  Many booksellers and marketers do not offer this option as a category.  In some instances, I have called it a coming of age novel, general fiction or historical fiction.  All four genres describe aspects of the book, and all four are true. 

In what genre would you classify the book?  What do you think about mixing truth with fiction? Read any good books that do that recently?  Leave your opinion in the “Comments” section below.  Thanks!

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