Memoir Writing: A How-To

A funny thing happened on the way to my conversion from reporter/columnist to fiction writer: I wrote a memoir.

It was unintended, which is to say, never intended, never planned, never imagined.

But my wife made a special request, and, well, here we are.

First, I’m old but not that old. Which is to say, I do have some things I remember.

Second, I thought I had something worth remembering and writing about. You see, while other men of my age cohort in the Baby Boomer Generation were moving heaven and earth to avoid the draft and stay out of the ugly, bitterly divisive and deadly war in Viet-Nam, as a second year student in college I actively pursued that goal, to witness the war from Vietnamese eyes. That out of the ordinary experience, while not unique, was worth remembering, especially since it involved getting kicked out of Viet-Nam and spending two years in Southeast Asia.

Over the years, I tried unsuccessfully — really unsuccessfully — to write up the 10 or 12 most interesting stories from that formative period. Eventually I let it drop and the boxes of journals, notes and books from that era filled the least accessible storage space in our basement. (Photo of the boxes coming to a post soon.)

Third, as I was struggling to learn the ins and outs of novel writing — it’s harder than it looks, even for a long-time journalist who knows his way around a dictionary — life handed my family one of those crises that make everything (and I mean everything) pale in comparison. My concentration went out the window, and I simply could not write one more detail that needed to be invented.

My wife’s solution: Pick up the memoir again. You don’t need to make anything up. You just have to remember.

Thank you, honey. That was good advice.

And so, about a year later, I wrapped up HIDDEN WAR: A Memoir of the CIA’s Secret Crusade in Laos.

And here’s how I did it:

(To be continued.)

BTW, we weathered the crisis, and I am now immersed in rewriting the first book in what I expect will be the Demon series: Mark of the Spider. It’s coming along nicely — all right, in fits and starts — but I’m back on fiction.

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