When I was 13, my best friend’s father, the pastor of my church, came out as gay. Years later, I decided to write about the experience.
I had this memory of my best friend being harassed by members of our church congregation as she walked home from school, but when I asked my mom about this, she reminded me I couldn’t have been walking home from school with my friend since we didn’t attend the same school. I had created that memory out of stories I’d been told.
Suddenly, this new insight gave me a fresh angle on the story and about the way I had created it’s importance in my memory. Now the essay became something more powerful—the story of how I had come to own my friend’s pain when she could not do so. A little quick research with my mom totally changed my writing and made it better.
Why You Should Interview Someone For Your Memoir
When most of us think about research, images of libraries and archives, books and papers dance in our heads like dusty sugarplums. But research doesn’t have to mean reams of paper and hours of squinty eyes. Instead, it can simply be a matter of a cup of coffee with another person.
Interviews are profoundly valuable ways of conducting research for any type of creative nonfiction, including memoir. Think about your project–who could you find who might be an expert on the topic? A professor at a local college, an author’s whose work you admire, a friend who just knows a lot about it? What if you just sent an email or Facebook message and asked if you could interview them for a few minutes? I bet you’d be surprised at how many people take you up on the offer; after all, we all love to talk about our passions, right?
Or if you’re wondering how to write a memoir, what if you interviewed people–friends, family, community members–about the events on which you’re writing? Could you ask your mom about that time when you were six? Or might the mayor of the town in which you were living be willing to talk about that big event from your 9th grade year?
Our memories are not whole things; they limit us to our perspective, but one cup of coffee can both clarify and deepen our writing.
Practice deepening your writing by doing an actual interview (just by email though—very easy).
Step One: Look at your current project and see where a little “research over coffee” might help fill in some gaps or deepen your story.
Step Two: If it will, make a list of three people you could interview to get more information.
Step Three: Then, write out two questions you’d like to ask those people.
Step Four: Email them you're questions, and grab a cup of coffee while you wait for their response.
Post your questions here in the comments section as proof that's you've done it.