Nearly twenty-five years ago, I happened upon a short blurb about a book in the Quality Paperback Book Club newsletter. That’s going to be a hit! I thought, so I ordered a copy, read it, and watched the world of story roll over in front of my eyes. What was the book? The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr, but the reason I am choosing Karr’s memoir as the best I’ve read may surprise you.
Yes, it told a riveting story in a voice we fell in love with, but something else was going on behind the curtain. The Liars’ Club brought back to life a form of story telling that had always been around—memoir—but had been sleeping in the corner for awhile, at least in terms of publishing
For decades it had not drawn much attention to itself; rather it existed as a category where important people chronicled their important lives, or so the genre was seen by readers, writers, agents, and publishing executives.
Then along came Karr, and the floodgates opened.
That’s why I single out Karr and The Liars’ Club, not so much because she showed us that everyone has a story and people will read those stories (which indeed she did), but because Karr—along with Frank McCourt and his book Angela’s Ashes, published a year later—changed the game in publishing.
I see her example as an important lesson, a paradigm of what needs to happen again to keep the genre of memoir from miring into a cesspool of celebrity tales and unremarkable writing. Karr illuminated a path to follow, if you’re smart. Likely she didn’t plan what was to come; it was just a convergence of right thing/right time, but still, she showed us a way to capture the market by taking a category (memoir) that hadn’t received much hoo-ha, snatching it back from its slumber, and popping it into the spotlight.
So, the question becomes, if you’re slugging along on a personal story that may be like so many others that have already been published: How can you make yours different by using a form of story telling that has been overlooked, or fallen from favor?
You can make a career out of just such a stroke of genius.
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