Guest post by Laurel Saville, author of the new memoir, Unraveling Anne, just $4.99 on Kindle.
Like most aspiring writers, my dream was to write the Great American Novel, not the Great American Memoir. I confess to being a memoir-skeptic. I am not a fan of our confessional culture. But I am a writer with a mother who was a compelling, charming, maddening, enchanting, flawed and ultimately tragic character. And so I began to write.
As I did, I was faced with all the usual writerly challenges, along with a few others I put before myself. I wanted to be gentle with the inherent drama of my mother’s story. I wanted my writing to be as good as her story. I was also acutely aware that had my mother lived, she would not have approved of me, her disappointment of a daughter, as her chronicler.
It took years of writing and re-writing to address these concerns. I have drafts that followed a conventional time line from my mother’s experiences as a 50s-era, Hollywood bathing beauty to her demise as a murdered street person. I have versions of Unraveling Anne that focus on her immersion in the heady art and hippie scene of 60s and 70s Los Angeles. I have chapters told in the voice of the shy, sullen, scared child I once was. As I worked over all of my memories and material, I also continued researching everything from the legendary airplane my grandfather designed in 1937; to the artists of the seminal Ferus Gallery, who were my mother’s friends; to my grandmother’s Depression-honed values; and my mother’s many flawed relationships with men, from Marlon Brando to my own father.
Ultimately, I realized I was writing less of a memoir and more of a detective story. Not of how a beautiful, talented, gifted woman who was given every advantage and opportunity squandered it all and ended up stabbed and strangled in a squalid, burned-out building, but of an adult daughter trying to discover who her mother really was. Unraveling Anne uses my mother’s life story to tell a tale about a journey many of us embark upon: that is, to discover who our parents are, how they came to be, and what parts of them we want to carry forward as we shape lives of our own.
And what about that novel I dreamed of writing? Well, I’m working on that, now.