Writing 101: Can a Memoir Be About a Liar?


One of the most pointed comments I ever received from an editor upon reading “The Invention of Marriage” is that it would be hard for readers to believe me if right off the bat it is revealed what a liar I’ve been.  I mean a big time whopper teller for much of my life with nearly everyone around me. I got away with so many lies that they became truths for me, my own actual facts about who I was. It was an addictive rush  to get people to believe me which, in turns, is the why my life became so tenuous and eventually led to a daunting crisis. It took me a long time to realize the damage my lies caused me and how they had warped almost every relationship I have ever had, most especially with my husband.  My marriage is the memoir’s scaffolding upon which I display what I have to lose if  I ultimately do not come to understand how bad the situation I created was.  It is the most basic tenets of storytelling–revealing what is at stake for the protagonist and how high the stakes are for her survival. The revealing has to come to some kind of resolution–not necessarily all tied up neatly but absolutely clear in its impact.  Why did I lie? How much chaos did it create? Will I loose the closest person to me? How will I begin to resolve even overcome this dilemma? This is my memoir.

I tell my students all the time that the power of memoir is in making a truth about life comprehensible. To accomplish this the reader has to trust  that you’re not manufacturing events, cutting corners, blowing what happened out of proportion.  The reader has to bond with you so your experiences becomes their own. The reader requires you to reveal enough of yourself to make them understand something about themselves.

Given this, I have to have a lot of faith that my reader will trust “Invention” enough to stay with me to its ultimate resolution.  That’s the risk for me–my reader’s belief of what I tell them about the cost I paid and what it took for me to find who I really am.  Forget the fact that family and friends will be horrified, may never forgive me for all those years of falseness. They either will or they won’t and I’ll have to come to terms with what I have done. But my reader has to care about me enough to look past my transgressions and keep her faith in me. This is why I confess to  the first lie I told my husband in the beginning section of “Invention” I posted a couple of weeks ago.  I want my reader to know  that I won’t cover up my faults, or make myself more likable in my deceptions, nor shy away from bloody repercussions.  I felt it was imperative I  stated up front what was the first lie I told my husband because I  want them to know I am telling the truth.

This second “Invention” section starts showing what a  fault line lying is already creating between me and the man I am falling in love with.

Fact or fiction: you have to believe me that this is a fair subject to explore in a memoir.

Check #2 out at:


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pat willard

Grew up in Philadelphia. Live in Brooklyn. Written four books best described as about memory and cultural history, food and some pretty good recipes. Works in progress may be viewed at www.patwillard.org

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