Julie Myerson, British mom and writer, was lambasted for writing about her drug addicted teen in her recent book The Lost Child: A Mother’s Story. Her son called his mother “obscene” for “exploiting and exaggerating” his troubles even though he liked an early draft showed to him and let her use some of his poems. The book has just come out in the U.S. and Myerson is awaiting a possible backlash here. Or perhaps Americans are more used to exposes on drug abuse and tell-all stories in both books and in the media. Myerson states, for one, that this is her story and the way she saw it and, second, she saw a need in the U.K. to support other parents dealing with their childrens’ drug abuse, to let them know they aren’t alone. U.S. authors David Scheff (Beautiful Boy) and Michael Greenberg (Hurry Down Sunshine) have recently written about their children (drug abuse, mental illness, respectively) to popular acclaim. Read the Amazon reviews of these books to see many thankful responses of others dealing with loved ones lost in similar circumstances. “Heartbreaking,” “inspiring,” and “hopeful” describe these books.
Myerson made the decision to write her story to help other parents. It is unclear at what point her son decided it was a fictionalized assault on his privacy – he was in his late teens when the troubles began and 20 when the book was first published. Scheff’s son and Greenberg’s daughter, on the other hand, were of legal age at the time of writing and approved of their fathers’ writings. A New York Times article, A Mother’s Memoir, A Son’s Anguish, gives an excellent discussion of this privacy dilemma. Underage child involved or only adults, all memoir writers must decide what to include about others in their lives and whether it is worth the possible ire or embarrassment of those others. If your book will help others desperately needing support, if it will help others gain understanding of the plight of others, is it worth it? Is it worth it for anything less? Can you be more tactful and respectful? These decisions should be made with a clear head sans thoughts of anger or revenge. And hopefully sheer exploitation for financial gain never crosses one’s mind.
A fellow memoir writer sent me a link to your blog. I'm writing about my son when he was a teen. We moved our family to Belize to resolve the problems we faced. I've sent him links to articles in newspapers and he knows about it. So far he's said, "I know you're writing this," and that's all. I've been pondering this question over and over and the because there are so many changes in the book, especially due to adventures in Belize, it isn't all about him.Great post.
I wouldn't trust Julie Myerson with a Q-tip. She wrote about her father being violent, sexually inappropriate, etc., and her sister replied in a newspaper with outrage, saying it was a lie; eventually, Julie had to back down, in print, and admit that she'd misremembered and/or made things up. She says her son said it was fine to print this book; he says she's lying, and I believe him. NOBODY would say "Yeah, it's a GOOD THING to publish this book about what a violent maniac I am or was." His version of events is pretty different than hers; he says he likes an occasional spliff, but isn't an addict, and says she doesn't mention slapping him in the face repeatedly for wanting to wear trousers and socks on a hot day. She says the book will help other parents, but how? They didn't solve any problem or cope at all well. She wrote the book so people would think "Poor thing, to have to do that to a child she loved so much!" Instead they're saying "You told your kids you weren't the writer of a newspaper column called "Living with Teenagers" repeatedly; they and their friends saw all the parallels with your family and teased them mercilessly about things you'd revealed–that one son had developed three public hairs, say. He was known in school as "Three Hairs" from then on. You wrote a self-indulgent, self-pitying book about your son, but you lied when you said he okayed it, and left out all sorts of things–going ballistic because he wanted to play his guitar in the back yard, say." She thinks she's a very loving mother. I somehow don't.
Gutsy Writer, this is a question most memoir writers must face since we don't live in vacuums all by our lonesomes. Perhaps you'd like to join the Yahoo group lifewritersforum.Anonymous, yes I'm aware of the Myerson controversy. You'd think people would know better than to exaggerate too much or lie in this world of open info, but I think some have on blinders and some are blinded by possible fame and fortune. The main point of the post is whether it is ever worth it to purposely hurt someone you love.