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Hard truth in memoir? (1 Viewer)

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MichelD

Senior Member
I have a chapter about my best friend in my memoir in which I name him.

His first wife shot herself at 19 and a month later their landlord blew the top of his own head off.

It was not openly spoken of but suspected in the village we lived in that they had been having an affair.

I also wrote that I believe that this stepfather beat him as a kid and also that his stepfather deliberately caused an industrial accident that severely injured my own father on the job site. My dad told me this, it is not speculation. There are people alive still from these families.

Dare I write this?
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
Having been in the same place and having asked the same questions, some advice.

Despite the current trend amongst the privileged and thirsty few, a memoir should be about you and how you were influenced by the people and places and events along your path.

It should not be about those people -- not their secrets, their errors, their crimes. Nor should it include their speculations or reportage about other peoples' secrets, errors, or crimes.

Why? Because it is memoir. That makes it a recollection from your point of view. It is about you, then and now.

Tell all you want about yourself. But tell nothing private about other people without their permission.

When I was confronted with this question and felt extremely constrained by the various answers, I asked a trusted and true-blood journalist friend, figuring, Hey they have to deal with this issue all the time.

They said, "What good will come of it, other than maybe an edgy reputation and a few extra bucks for your one salacious story? Ask yourself: What necessary and productive good will likely come from you telling those things? And what unnecessary and destructive bad will surely come from you telling those things?" And they paused and finished, "Do more good than bad. Leave things in better shape."

I had only to think of the lives I would affect with my writing. Think of the look in their dozen pair of eyes when they discover a four-decade-long truth of theirs, and all the other lives sprung from that, was based upon a terrified young person's panicked lie.

No. I won't write that. I'd become Heath Ledger's Joker walking from the exploding hospital in "The Dark Knight" movie.

But I will surely mine the facts and abstractions of the situation for my fictions for as long as I can. People can do the damnedest things, cause the most spectacular mayhem, when pressed to their limits -- real or imagined.

[2021-06-30 1501]
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
The short answer is NO. It's actionable unless you can present facts to back it up.

Defamation Law is the opposite of all other law (I'm assuming USA here). In most legal cases the plaintiff must prove their case. In a defamation case, the DEFENDENT must prove what they wrote or said was true. It's the only area of law I'm aware of where the defendant must prove a case without the plaintiff having presented convincing evidence. (The plaintiff must show damages, and may show evidence the alleged defamation is false, but the defendant MUST show evidence the statements were true, or the defendant loses).

So "everyone thinks" or "my Dad said" can cost you a damaging judgement against you.

Plus, while it's sensational, it's just rude to publish something like that about a friend or acquaintance without their prior knowledge, approval, and permission.
 
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