The Limits of Memory – and the Liabilities of Memoir

Think of a memory from childhood. What images do you remember? What stories do you tell?

When you take out a memory – do you or can you connect it to something more current? Why are you thinking about that? What brought it up? What did you learn from that memory? Or why do you enjoy it?

When you just take out a memory out and connect it to something present – you played with it, worked with it, in some way, possibly made it mean more or less, you colored it in, or made it pale in comparison.

Many Psychiatrists say every time we take a memory out – we change it, we try to make sense of it, we add details may have come from somewhere else. Many, many experts believe we have no pure memories. That they are all, in some way, corrupt.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, Professor at UCI who has published twenty-four books and more than six hundred papers, believes memories are reconstructed, not replayed.  “Our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality,”… “It is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoeba-­like creature.”

How many of us know someone who remembers something different that we do?  My sisters and I used to walk in the cool night air; one night, the middle sister saw a jaguar – the car, not the cat – and pulled the little ornament off. We started to walk away, and she instantly felt bad, so she turned back and placed it on the car near the windshield hoping the owner would see it and be able to repair it. Hey – we were teenagers – don’t hate us.

Now, when my sisters and I get together, my youngest sister remembers it differently, she remembers jumping up on the car and ripping it off and bringing it home. She laments losing it and wonders where it went. My middle sister and I just look at one another because that does not match up with our memory.

When writing we can change little things, play with the memories. But how much of the changing and playing with can we do to memories or memoir before we need to change the label from memoir to inspired by actual events?

And… I think the answer to that is – how much have you changed? Who is reading it? And are you going to get sued?

I have a piece coming out that I originally labeled as memoir – but I fought with myself about that label because it’s about my dead brother. In this memoir, I’m talking to him. Obviously, I’m playing with memories of our conversations, of who he is and what types of things he said. I had a conversation with the editor about this who said – do you want to make it clearer you’re talking to a ghost? 

My brother, sadly, can’t sue me – he’s passed. No one can sue you from beyond the grave, but their families can sue if the memoir defames any of the family. This piece does not defame my brother, but is it memoir? Or is it “inspired by an actual event”?

The memoirist’s first line of defense is: The first amendment of our us constitution guarantees us the right to free speech –

EXCEPT – there are some exceptions like you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater, you can’t say bomb at the airport…  and you can’t say Johnny Depp abused you without valid, verifiable evidence.  

The first amendment does guarantee that we have the right to our opinion, so when we’re writing a memoir, mostly, that is what it is – our opinion of events as they happened. Therefore, in most cases, memoirists are safe from prosecution.

The two biggest issues writers of memoirs face are defamation and right to privacy lawsuits.

Say you’re writing a memoir about your experience. You and your friend had a wild night of partying,  you’re say 17,  did somethings that you didn’t even put in your diary for fear someone would find out – but you’ve decided to write about that night – for whatever reason, you learned a lesson from that experience, it’s passed the statute of limitations for prosecution – ideally, yes, that is your story and you can write about it – but, wait, your friend swore you to secrecy. You guys had a pact. If you write a memoir or personal narrative or op-ed with a character that has your friend’s name, some variation of that name, character traits, walks like or dresses like your friend, was in the same place as you and that person can be identified, you can be sued.

If you want to write that story, change the names, change the locations, change your friend’s character traits, age, or leave your friend out completely.

Or – get your friend’s permission – IN WRITING!

Augustun Bourroughs, author of Running with Scissors, wrote a memoir about growing up – he changed the names, but the family brought a lawsuit against him and the publisher alleging defamation and invasion of privacy. The author maintains that it was and is his opinion and he kept journals throughout his childhood, and even some public facts supported some of the author’s claims, but the family alleged that events were changed to make them more dramatic – the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The publisher had to change the label from memoir to book. And the author had to add a note – stating that he hadn’t meant harm and that the family’s memories are different than his own.

If you look at the Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls the youngest sister Maureen has the least written about her. She was at a friend’s house for most of the West Virginia portion – there is some verifiable facts of her time in New York – she tried to stab her mother, she was institutionalized, and then she’s off to California, and in the book, nothing else is stated about her.  She had her right to privacy. So whether the author didn’t get permission or she was being respectful or her sister threatened to sue her – who knows. You can find information about the sister if you google – I did, but there seems to be limited information about her.

Our Gentle Sins has a character who is a recovering drug addict – I know a few. One of my friends asked me if he was the inspiration for the character of Jack. It’s actually fiction, but it is inspired by experiences of many people I’ve known or talked too. I felt it was an important story, but I would never use someone’s personal story who dealt with such personal struggles.

Drug addiction is a serious issue. Recovery is very personal. I admire those who are successfully maintaining their recovery. Jack is my tribute to them.

If you’re local – stop by and talk with me! Enjoy Our Gentle Sins – a fictional novel with inspiring characters recovering from whatever life has thrown at them!

The Writer’s Brain – Handle with Care

I’ve had skunks on my mind, mostly because they’re in my yard, successfully being trapped by a professional who seems to have gotten skunked recently. Beyond that actual getting caught in the crossfire of a skunk’s ire and ass, I think the odor is akin to smoking; after awhile the scent adheres to the clothes, hair, skin and, even though every one else can tell, the smoker or in this case the skunker can no longer detect the scent that has seeped into their being.

Therefore, my dreams of becoming a skunk skank, earning $$$ for hauling away critters who are relatively harmless other than their last method of defense which renders the person if not friendless then at the very least dateless, have been set aside.

However, I wonder about the skunkers and their lives. Do they have dates? Do their spouses get used to the smell? I read something recently that said we are attracted to people with similar scents. Are there skunkettes? Ladies who have taken to catching and releasing the cute little critters with the stinkpot defense? Or are there people who prefer the rough and rugged smell of burning brimstone and smoldering sulfur?

I’m more of a lavender and eucalyptus person myself.

The skunk and skunker smell lingered so long and loud in my yard and on my front patio, that I worried that it’d adhered itself to more than just the fine hairs of my nostrils, so I asked a mere stranger at the shop if I smelled like skunk. He laughed and said, “no or else I would have put on my mask to be polite.”

When a writer’s brain starts asking questions – handle with care – whatever happens next can spark, igniting a blaze of ideas.

Later that night, I was walking in the cool breeze with my dogs pondering the skunker’s plight. I returned and stood in the shade of a big sycamore tree when a homeless man approached my trash cans that lie in wait of the garbage truck. The recycling had been collected, so most of those persons who collect the recycling had come and gone. This man, however, reached into the black can, the real trash of old food and cat litter, picked up a bag, and carried it over to the emptied recycling can and upturned it. I stepped forward and said, “don’t do that,” to which he responded by grumbling incoherently before launching into a low growl similar to that of the Howler Monkey, then he rambled off to the neighbor’s trash and did the same thing.

Click, click, boom, boom – something sparked in my brain and a story began to form. 

More tidbits – the neighbor appeared; sticks – a cat curved around the corner; leaves – a car backfires somewhere in the distance; fuel for the fire. My mind has been set ablaze.

I love when that shit happens. 

Ready, Set, Release!

Hello, dear readers!

I’m so happy to announce that today – today – today is the day Our Gentle Sins is available at your local bookstore.

You can also order here –

Another wonderful review came in by my good friend, Jo Rousseau.

“Ms. Lace has written a novel that is both gritty and tender. Her ability to create very real characters with very real emotions makes this novel a satisfying read. What makes the short fiction of Noreen Lace stand out is, not only Lace’s facility with language, but her ability to connect with her reader. She lays the soul of her characters at the feet of her readers and it’s impossible not to respond. In her fiction, Ms Lace creates a world of darkness and warmth. Her characters, although flawed, find a way to triumph over the hand fate has dealt them, moving forward and rising up through enormous odds. The journey: there-in lies the tale.” 

Jo Rousseau can be brutally honest – she told me numerous times during my writing process when the story wasn’t adding up, needed changes, or didn’t follow to a natural end. So – when she gives me a compliment, I know it’s as authentic as she is.

Once you order you read – please, please write a review. Thank you!

Book Review for Our Gentle Sins

Thank you to my fellow author and friend, Ron Terranova, for his review of my upcoming release, Our Genlte Sins, June 21!

  “Lace has woven a wonderful tale with themes and characters that are universal and recognizable. Such issues as a woman’s personal sovereignty within a relationship, the oppressiveness, both subtle and overt, of patriarchy and the mixed blessings of liberation are explored. A wonderful, readable story, ideal for Summer reading. Kudos to Noreen Lace.”

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Review of Our Gentle Sins

When a Publisher’s Weekly reviewer writes “energetic prose” one gets excited!

Yes, that is what they said about Our Gentle Sins, “energetic prose” in a preliminary book review!

as well as –

“Lace takes a familiar story… and suffuses it with intriguing family drama.”

and finally –

“this is an appealing novel with relatable, flawed characters.”

More reviews to come.

Release date: JUNE 21!

A Journey of Souls

Sometimes it’s challenging to tell your story in just a few short words – but Our Gentle Sins is the journey of two souls who are recovering from past mistakes. Aren’t we all?

Cover Reveal!

Finally – title and cover reveal! Our Gentle Sins – due out June 21, 2022.

Our Gentle Sins follows the journey of Valerie who must face and rectify her mistakes and Jack is working hard to recover from his past and stay clean for his future.

But making a a new life for yourself is never easy, especially when the secrets of others are working against you.

Beautiful News

My short fiction story, All the Beautiful People, has been published by Hoxie Gorge Review!

With much appreciation to Hoxie Gorge!!

Postpartum Writers

Have you heard of Postpartum publication syndrome? It appears to be a real thing for many writers.

Many of us have heard of or referred to our “babies” when writing. The act of creation – creating – we are bringing something new into this world. A good book takes years of hard work, anxiety, and challenges.

Then it’s finished, it’s published, and we have to release it into the world. It is, in some ways, no longer ours. The precious little life we have brought into this world is out, and… well… I know we’re supposed to be excited, ecstatic, but somehow, for some reason, we’re feeling down.

It’s a gain, no doubt, but it’s also a loss. It’s a transition from one phase to another, and the hard work is not done yet. In some ways, it’s beginning again, in another way. We are no longer alone in the dark at a desk, but we got comfortable there. And this change from releasing our darling into the world is harder than we imaged.

Many writers go through a phase of mild depression once their work is published.

I’ve heard many “cures” for this postpartum publication syndrome, which include:

  1. Start writing something new. (Of course, I feel writing is the best way to cure my blues.)
  2. Talk to other writers. (It does seem to be a good idea to talk to those with similar experiences.)
  3. If it doesn’t pass quickly, talk to a professional. (Yes. Good idea. There are a number of types of professionals who deal with writers (there has to be, we are a questionable bunch)
  4. Absolutely know that you are not alone.

So – look at me – book’s not even released yet! haha. No worries! I’m okay. 🙂

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(this post, by no means, insinuates that the very serious topic of postpartum depression new mother’s face can be solved easily or taken lightly)