Sunday, August 9, 2009

Guidelines for writing celebrity memoirs

According to all the books about the process of writing celebrity memoirs this subject appears to be wide open. Could that be because there are no books available on writing celebrity memoirs?

Let me assure you that as soon as I've completed Leroy 'Hog' Cooper on Sax, A Memoir my very next project will be to write a book on how to ghost write someone else's memoirs.

I assume that each of my blog readers (all thousands of you, ahem) have considered pursuing this path of ghost writing a memoir or autobiography of someone famous. Surely you wondered, if I were going to do so, how would I go about it?

The first thing you would probably do is go to a bookstore (or online) to find a guide to the subject. That was my first step. Unsuccessful there.

My next step was to go to the biography/memoir section of the bookstore, sit down on the floor and one by one, take each book off the shelf and peruse the various styles of each. Surprise again! There are no two written alike.

Some are written as question and answer interviews. Some are snippets of one's past experiences. Others include only a portion of the subject's life -- presumably the portion that the subject would like everyone to know about or that he thinks everyone would want to know about.

Some are sordid. Others are sentimental. Long chapters. Short chapters. Narrow margins. Wide margins. Lots of color photos spanning one's life inserted in the center of the book. Few photos black and white photos strategically placed throughout the book.

Certainly I want Leroy 'Hog' Cooper's memoir to be one of the best ever written but that required finding my groove, since there were no guidelines. So, after months of floundering about, asking questions, reading memoirs (or at least studying their approaches), I have found my own way.

At the beginning of the process, I asked Leroy, "Do you want this book to be written entirely in your voice or in my voice?" What I really meant to ask was, did he want it written in first or third person. It was a poor choice of words on my part. His response, though, was simple. "Both." A reasonable answer under the circumstances. He viewed himself as the subject and me as the professional writer (his words, not mine).

I asked him if he minded if I interviewed some of the 'characters' he had spoken of and he said, he would be delighted to have me do so.

My intention was to call some of his old friends to get a different perspective and to do some fact checking. I have chosen to use those interviews as part of Leroy's memoir. He talks about them; they talk about him. He remembers a specific event or common interest or fear; they remember the same but from a different point of view.

From a reader's standpoint (yes, I am reading the book each time I sit down to work on it) I find that this gives more dimension to the story and shows that the book does not just consist of an old man's memories of a life gone by.

This technique adds color to what would be a black and white (pun intended) recount told by one person about events that involved groups of people. Okay, there were really two puns intended. One was of black words on white pages. One was a reference to civil rights history in this country, an underlying theme throughout Leroy's experiences.

I did seek guidance from other successful memoirists, one of whom is the premier writers of celebrity memoirs in the industry. I have learned the most important rule of this genre: there are no rules.

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