I’d heard of her, of course, because of her bestselling book, The Cracker Queen, a Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life, her broadcasts on NPR, and her advice column which appears in our local paper, but I’d never given any thought to meeting her, much less engaging her in conversation. Fortunately, my bride told me about a seminar of hers, hosted by the Marietta Museum of History. Lauretta’s presentation, entitled “Don’t Wait Until They Die,” would be aimed squarely at memoir writing. I assumed it would be a lecture though it actually consisted of one part workshop, one part instruction, and many parts entertainment.
“You ought to go,” my best gal insisted. “You might learn something.”
“Who? Me? I teach this stuff! Shoot, I just published a book about it.”
She nodded patiently, something she’s been doing for over four decades (which probably explains her chronic neck pain). “What if you got it wrong?”
“Oh.” Well, just… damn. I hadn’t considered that.
Most of my writing life has been vested in fiction, but many of the techniques I use in my novels and short stories are readily adaptable to memoir. I had been teaching creative writing for a couple years when the opportunity to do a class on memoir fell into my lap. I jumped at it. After all, how different could it be from fiction writing?
It turns out there’s a great deal of difference–much of it emotional. I picked up on that overnight, but what if I’d missed something else, something equally important? Once again, the love of my life was right on target. I needed to find out. So I signed up for Lauretta’s lecture.
The good news is I hadn’t missed anything important. The better news is I got to spend several hours with a genuinely pleasant, extremely funny, and unabashedly honest writer. She’s not a punch-puller, either. She tells it straight, but her delivery is laced with such great humor and Southern charm, you know everything’s going to be all right. So go ahead, tell it all, don’t sugar-coat anything. Pour out your heart and soul; be a storytelling badass. You’ll discover it’s a healing process. The scab is never as bad as the wound. You’ll live. And more importantly, you’ll sleep better at night.
Her message could not have been more clear: what’s important is the story. Yours, mine, hers; it doesn’t matter. The world is populated by readers, and whether you choose to believe it or not, there are people waiting to read those stories. But Job One is to write them. Editing, audience building, publishing and marketing all play critical roles, but none of them compare with the importance of getting those tales written.
Here’s another unassailable truth: you’re the only one who can write YOUR story. No ghost writer can ever convey the exact nature of your life experience. How could they? For them, it’s fiction; for you, it’s reality.
I consider it a great honor to share the role of life story enabler with Lauretta Hannon. I may stand in her shadow, petite as it is, but I’m right there. Should you ever have the chance to attend one of her workshops, take my word for it: you won’t be disappointed.