What on earth could this have to do with the genre of memoir, or more specifically with my memoir in progress?
Just this: my memoir would appear to be lost in the relative space between two related but distinct genres. Is it a memoir with commercial appeal or a family history/life story of interest only to relatives and close family friends?
I met with my client yesterday prepared to discuss feedback from various readers of the manuscript. The consensus appears to be that, while the book is well written and the story worthy, many of the passages will appeal more to family and close friends than to the general memoir-reading public. One chapter in particular, an extended discussion of the subject's experience coaching his sons, crossed well over the family history line in the estimation of more than one reader. On top of that, my client and his wife have appealed to me to include more scenes about the children (children who, for the purposes of literary punch, promise nothing to work with; they would seem to be paragons of filial perfection.)
That last request would seem to kill the cat once and for all. The book, as stands, falls squarely into the family history box.
Hammering the nail into the coffin of this box is my editor's latest feedback: it would seem that my client's story is not all that unique. According to the publisher she works for, about one third of the submissions she receives have as a theme the refugee/immigrant/self-made man plot-line. As if to bury this hatchet of news into my skull, when I arrived at my client's house yesterday, what did I see on the table where we do our work but a copy of the book German Boy, which recounts a story quite similar to my client's.
Yet...I am not ready to bury the cat. I believe my client's story is one that could have wide appeal to a general readership. I believe there are aspects of his story that stand out from the crowd. And I believe, along with my client, that his voice is one that deserves to be heard.
So today I return to the drawing board. With the help of my friend and editor Kathy P., I am going to give it another round. I am going to identify a dramatic point in the narrative and start from there. I am going to hone in on the passion that drove my client to achieve what he did. I am going to axe whatever does not fit in with this theme. And (per my husband's advice) I am going to attempt to enliven the narrator's voice.
I may end up with two distinct books this way, but at least I will not have a dead cat on my hands.