Interview Magazine hooked up the writers David Shapiro and Emily Gould to talk about their new books. Take a look at this exchange about memoirs:
SHAPIRO: Yeah. I also want it to be fiction because the whole book is so embarrassing, and knowing that there a substantial number of parts in it that aren’t true made the whole thing feel less embarrassing.
GOULD: When you write in the third person, you get to imagine other people’s interiority, and at that point you have to do the work of making them characters, which I didn’t used to believe was a thing. When people talked about it, I thought it was total bullshit—the whole thing when authors are like, “My characters just came and they told me what they needed to do.” That actually, I found out, is a real thing, because you have to actually do this sort of deep empathic work of imagining how other people think and feel for it to work.
SHAPIRO: I haven’t gotten there. Wherever you are, I haven’t gotten there. In my book, there’s one character and then several human props.
GOULD: That makes it flawed as a novel, but brilliant as a memoir.
That’s a really interesting point by Emily. What works as a character in fiction, doesn’t as much in a memoir. She pushes David on whether or not he should’ve made the book into a memoir, indicating in the process that characters or people aren’t as well-developed in memoirs.
I’ve been reading a lot of “semi-autobiographical” novels, even though I haven’t read Shapiro’s (yet). I generally like the form, mainly because the ones I read are by people around my age.
It seems like David isn’t brave enough to make his book into a memoir, even though the style of writing and experiences is more in line with that genre. Instead, he “hides” in fiction, masking some of the facts, but not taking enough liberty (or not putting in enough energy) to make his fiction as good as it could be.
Is it cowardly to not make experiences that should be a memoir into a memoir?
But once the decision to take life experience into fiction, is it lazy to not push the stories or characters as far as they could go?
Basically, is “semi-autobiographical” a cop out?
Get Emily Gould’s new book here.
Get David Shapiro’s new book here.