Interview with Barbara Alfaro on writing memoir

Today, I’m posting an interview with author, Barbara Alfaro, author of memoir, Mirror Talk available in paperback and Kindle editions.

First, a little background on Barbara:

A graduate of Goddard College and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and a recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award, Barbara’s essays and poems  appear in various publications. Mirror Talk, her memoir about a Catholic girlhood and working in  theatre,  won the 2012  IndieReader Discovery Award for Best Memoir.


ALFARO: Carla, thanks much for sharing this  interview with your blog.

SARETT:  What’s the source of your interest in memoir?  

ALFARO:  A memoirist weaves the past and present together and that is  a kind of  writing  I find very appealing.


SARETT:  There’s a term “creative nonfiction.” Does that mean that the author is at liberty to play with facts?

ALFARO:  If the facts cannot be accessed through memory or research,  some  memoirists are comfortable with making them up. Another way, the one I chose, is to simply acknowledge   that you don’t remember certain facts.  Fictionalizing a memoir dilutes its truthfulness. A Moveable Feast, the memoir by Hemingway, is a great read but it probably has equal amounts of truth and fiction.


SARETT:  I’ve often wondered about the definition of a memoir, as opposed to creative nonfiction or autobiography.  How do you see the difference?

ALFARO:  Memoir is one of the forms of creative nonfiction and “creative” in this instance does not mean false or imagined, it means true stories so well-crafted that  they read like good fiction. Risking intellectual heresy, I disagree with Socrates - the unexamined life is worth living but those of  us who can’t help examining our lives and reflecting on what we’ve examined are memoirists.  

Autobiography usually tells the  whole story of a person’s life  or a large part of it, in a more formal voice than memoir. A key difference between memoir and autobiography is that the memoirist selects those memories she wants to share. Memoir tells some of the story. Autobiography tells all of the story, sometimes in excruciating detail -- “It was a rainy Wednesday in October, at four p.m., when Granny Utz put the macaroni and cheese in the  Corningware casserole dish that was a gift from her sister Eloise who Granny Utz thoroughly disliked because of the pigtail incident.”


SARETT: I’ve always worried that I wrote a memoir, maybe I’d offend some folks along the way-- not all truths are happy ones.  Did you have similar fears?

ALFARO:  Yes, and I still do but a Pollyanna memoir where there is no sadness or pain and everyone is some sort of angelic presence who never harms another is immediately recognizable as  false. In Mirror Talk, I softened some of my most painful memories with humor  as that works for me in my life and in my writing.


SARETT: There are many choices to be made in the tone of a memoir?  What tone were you were interested in creating and how did you go about achieving it?

ALFARO:  I wanted a warm, conversational tone. A reader told me that she felt like I was sitting next to her when she read Mirror Talk and I thought yes, that’s what I wanted.  I think strong doses of humor help  achieve a gentle, informal tone.


SARETT:  How would you describe your approach to writing, and in particular Mirror  Talk.  Did you pick the incidents first, and build around them, or let it flow?

ALFARO:  I am a poet and, for me, writing poetry is different from other writing, including memoir. The first lines of a poem appear, already written, in my mind and it’s my part to complete the rest of the poem. I know writers  sound daffy when they say things like this, but that is how poetry happens for me.  Writing memoir and fiction is more structured, but I’m definitely a “let it flow” writer. I then make myself a little crazy editing what did flow. I suffer from the perfectionist disorder!


SARETT:  Who are some of your favorite memoirists?  What did you learn from them?

ALFARO:  Nuala O’Faolain, Frank McCourt, Russell Baker, Kathleen Norris, Mary Karr.  I don’t  know that I learned anything. I do know that I admire their courage, their wit, and their exquisite writing.


SARETT: What are your current projects?

ALFARO:  I’m working on a novel tentatively titled Roses and Vices.


You can find Mirror Talk in both paperback and Kindle versions  at Amazon
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