Sharon Lippincott’s latest post on The Heart and Craft of Life Writing blog, links to a list of Flavorwire’s 10 best mother memoirs. Sadly (to me), almost none of them are about women who were good mothers who led their children to be well-adjusted, responsible, happy people. Sharon remarks that those stories would undoubtedly be boring, and she’s right. A good story has both conflict and conflicted, imperfect characters. The memoirs on the list may show horror mother (and father) stories, but they also tend to be inspiring as we watch the child live through a mess and come out of it with introspection, strength, and usually love for their very damaged parent(s). These memoirs definitely have a place in our personal libraries.
The “mis-mems” (misery memoirs) tend to get all the attention while the sweet memoirs tend to fall by the wayside or never get written. The sweet mother memoirs tend to be the “things-I-learned-from-my-mother-while-she-was-dying” sort—beautiful, but painful. You have to read Chicken Soup books to find a story that puts a happy smile on your face and warmth in your heart. Most of those have conflict, but usually of the common problem type we can all relate to and even laugh about.
Someone once asked me to review a manuscript she’d written about her mother. She wanted to publish it for the public as well as give it to her children so they would more fully know their wonderful grandmother and her lessons for life. It was a beautiful tribute to her mother, and a definite treasure to the family to pass along generations, but it was written to her children, not to strangers from many different parenting backgrounds. I tell this because perhaps the best mother stories are meant just for the family, where you can speak directly to your family about this real person in their lives and history and how they relate specifically to you and your family. Writing for public consumption is a different bird with a song written to sell to total strangers.
Most of Sharon’s Mother Memoir post is actually about our own mother-stories and is well worth a read. She just learned about Lynn Henriksen’s recently published Tell-Tale Souls: Writing the Mother Memoir. Henriksen’s blog post “How the Mother Memoir Came to Life” contains a gem of a question for those wanting to honor their mothers: “If you could tell just one small story that would capture your mother’s character and keep her spirit alive what would it be?”
What would yours be? And will you put it in writing to save forever?
If you know of any nice mother memoirs (besides Cherry Blossoms in Twilight!), leave a comment about it.
Excellent perspective. It is usually the horror mother (or father) stories that people want to write, it’s cathartic, and sometimes redeems the parent who for whatever reason was less than a stellar parent. We each parent with the skills we have, sometimes we hit home runs, sometimes …not so much. All part of life and the joy and sometimes exasperation of living! If we are here, living life, we have a mother somewhere to thank for giving us life, no matter her circumstances or good/bad choices. Save me from ‘chicken soup books’, they make life far to simple and far to easy to excuse our own poor behavior. Imagine I’ve made more enemies by stating that than I care to think about! Thank you for your insight, as usual, excellent.
Trudy, I like what you said: “We each parent with the skills we have…” -for better or worse. And I like how Sharon says to put those foibles into your writing. It’s not disrespectful, it’s real life. I admit I find Chicken Soup books a bit too fluffy for my taste, too (sshhh), although I’m not one to pick up a “mis-mem” very often either. That term can be used in a derogative manner, but I don’t mean it in that way.
I am reading (part of a book club, no names mentioned 🙂 a ‘mis-mem’ right now. Although the author is adding humor to the story it still is depressing, so overwhelming that it is a difficult read, even though not written in a difficult style. It will be a relief to be done. There’s some research stating the misery stories are losing some impact. I love the truth, and if someone overcomes tragedy it’s wonderful, there simply needs to be more than the sad story! Life can be so difficult, but it also has such wonder and joy. Everyone has a story to be told and there are parts that will be ‘sad’, bad parenting, all part of life. I’ve read many books re: the holocaust and they are not always depressing, they show tremendous strength among the survivors. I think some of the ‘misery’ books are cathartic for the author, or they really got back at someone 🙂
Enjoyed your post and the comments! I, too, find the Chicken Soup stories “fluffy” as well as sort of “canned,” and, like you, I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, because I know thousands of readers have enjoyed them. One of the reasons I wanted TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir: How to Tap Memory and Write Your Story Capturing Character & Spirit to make its way out in the world was not only to take people on a journey into the heart and soul of writing memoir, but to provide real-life, down-to-earth examples of how 40 TellTale Souls expressed their intimate thoughts about “mother figures.” These stories are not Hallmark cards, no fluff, no smarm, as each storyteller answered my question, “If you could tell just one small story capturing your mother’s character to keep her spirit alive into the future, what would it be?” For some, this was the first story they had ever written, others were written by accomplished authors, and their Mother Memoirs express the full gamut of emotions in a particularly unguarded fashion . I was in awe of what they shared. Their spirits dazzle.
You can find me at http://www.telltalesouls.com/blog.
Keeping Spirits Alive,
I’d like to add you to my blog roll, if that’s okay.
Hi, Lynn! Thanks for stopping by. I’d be honored if you added me to your blog roll. I need to add your book to my Resources page. Our mothers are usually the overwhelming factor in who and what we grow up to be, the all-powerful influence in our lives – with their presence and even their absence. How can we not write about them!
Your wonderful site has now been added to my blog roll. And I’d be honored if you’d add mine to yours: http://www.telltalesouls.com/blog. And a big thanks for adding TellTale Souls Writing…to your resource page!