Thursday, July 21, 2011

Author Karen Walker

 Author Karen Walker is well known for her memoir, Following the Whispers. (Back in May of this year, I reviewed her book.) She agreed to stop by today to talk about her newest writing adventure - a book of fiction. Now that she’s stepped across the abyss between the two genres, she’s here to tell us her experience and to answer the question:

Writing Memoir Versus Writing Fiction - Is There a Difference?

If I had been asked this question before I began writing a novel, the answer would have been a resounding, “Yes,” because I didn’t think I was a fiction writer. I’d been writing non-fiction for 30+ years as a public relations professional. And it took 10 years for me to bring my memoir into the world.

With memoir, I didn’t need to dream up characters--they were the people in my life. There was no plot invention--it consisted of actual events. No creating scenes with dialogue. I simply had to remember.

Good memoirs read like novels. You care about the characters. The story moves forward with the main character facing obstacles. There is a beginning, middle and end. The difference, then, is that the memoir is true. I won’t get into the controversial issue of truth in memoir--that’s a whole other blog post. So, for the reader of memoir versus fiction, the fact that it’s a true story may be the only difference.

For me, the writer, however, the difference has been huge. With memoir, I had my entire life to draw upon. Yes, I had to choose which events to include, whom to leave in and out, what snippets of dialogue would convey what I wanted. With a novel, one only has their imagination and some research.

You might wonder why I chose fiction now, rather than stick with a genre I’m familiar and comfortable with. I didn’t. It chose me. I was vacationing in Ireland when a voice asked me to tell its story. I’ve been discovering who and what the voice is ever since. I’m not ready to talk about the story yet, but I can say it isn’t easy opening up, allowing it to emerge.

Memoir isn’t easy either. I opened in a different way, willing to speak my truth about bad choices and tough decisions. Being a fiction writer is a different kind of tough. Whichever genre you work in, the craft similarities are there. It’s the emotional journey, I think, that makes writing them so different.

Helen, thank you so much for allowing me to guest here today. You are such a gift to writers of all genres.


Thank you so much, Karen!

I don’t write memoir, so I find it fascinating to hear from those who do - and who also write fiction. Karen, not only has written her memoir, Following the Whispers, she’s published essays in newspapers and magazines, as well as an anthology series. She’s also spent more than 30 years in marketing and public relations. One, among many, things I found interesting about Karen is that after those 30 years, she went back to college to complete a Bachelor's degree and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2005 from the University of New Mexico's University Studies program with a major emphasis in Creative Writing. One thing she might not tell you, but I will … she does international folk dancing and has a beautiful singing voice.

What about all of you? Do you write both fiction and memoir? Would you like to? What questions or comments do you have for Karen?


  1. I only write fact in my poems(except the odd one about nature and scenery) all my poems are true as to what has happened to me and within my family. Some people have a great imagination and can write fantastic stories ie: Harry Potter
    I love what I do .
    Good post Karen and thanks to your host.

  2. And your memoir was very moving!

  3. I love hearing these new facets of Karen's life as I follow her about the blogosphere. Thanks for hosting her, Helen. I know you don't write memoirs but your fans wish you'd write the Diary of a Mermaid...

  4. Can't wait to read your fiction, Karen! Looking forward to hosting you tomorrow.

  5. Jan, you gave me my first laugh of the morning. Thanks. And thanks to everyone for stopping by to meet or say hi to Karen.

  6. Karen and Helen, Hi! Very thought-provoking post. I write both fiction and memoir, and my experience makes me believe that even our fiction draws on deep personal veins of truth to give it the power to connect with our readers. Perhaps that's why Karen is experiencing this broad range of feelings as she starts her first novel. Thanks to you both for posting and hosting!

  7. So inspiring, Karen. I think you have to be very brave to write a memoir. With fiction, you can hide behind characters; with memoirs, you can't.

  8. Yvonne, your love of what you do shines through your words.
    Diane, thank you very much for your kind words and your love and support.
    Jan, absolutely, Helen needs to write Diary of a Mermaid. Can we vote?
    Alex, I can't wait to read it either
    Helen, thanks so much for hosting me today.
    Nancy, very perceptive - I think you're right.
    Liz, brave or stupid, not sure which!

  9. My hat's off to you, Karen ... I'd write a memoir too, but it would be awfully short ... I can't even remember what I did last week.

  10. I'm so glad you're following this whisper, Karen! Best of luck as you continue your journey; I wish you sturdy hiking boots and plenty of water.

  11. LOL, Christopher. If I had to write it now, it would be the same for me.
    Elspeth, thanks. Right back at ya!

  12. Thanks for posting this. I have considered writing a memoir. I'd never thought about it as having the same outline as a novel.

  13. Great post ladies. I've never considered writing a memoir - fiction is enough for me :)

  14. Cozy in Texas, it's just one way to look at it. How you structure it depends on the story you want to tell.
    Jemi, thanks - I don't know if I'd tackle it again, either.

  15. Nancy, I agree with you about fiction drawing on deep emotional truths.

    Memoirs can have so many different structures. It's up to the writer to decide what will "tell" the story with the most power and truth.

  16. Hi Karen,
    I am so intrigued by your comment that the fiction"chose you". I am currently so entrenched with memoir writing that I can't see beyond it but have had passing thoughts about what writing fiction would be like. Certainly,it can't be forced. Sounds like you are "following your whispers" on this one :-)

    Enjoyed the post~very thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Kathleen, thanks so much. Yes, there are days I wish it hadn't "chosen" me, but chosen I am.

    Helen, thanks so much for hosting me today. It's been fun hanging out here and meeting some of your followers.


  18. Karen, you said it perfectly when you wrote that good memoirs read like novels. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who’s heard a voice asking me to tell her story.

    As a former newspaper reporter, taking the leap over to fiction was challenging. I can’t imagine leaping yet again to reveal myself via a memoir—but then I never knew I’d be writing historical YAs. :)

    Helen, thank you very much for hosting Karen; I'm delighted to be a new follower.

  19. Thank goodness we're all writers! There are some who would not understand characters talking to us. ;-)

  20. So relieving to hear another writer say, " I was vacationing in Ireland when a voice asked me to tell its story." I swear non-writers looks at me like I'm crazy when I tell them a character popped into my head and won't leave me alone until I write his/her story.

    But it's so true: they talk to us and there's nothing we can do about it but write.

    I write both fiction and memoir. I am in the midst of editing my memoir now. It is so much more difficult than fiction. But I love it.

  21. You are so right about this. If the memoir doesn't tell a story like a story, what is the incentive to read it? We don't want just the facts, but also the feelings and thoughts behind the facts and that are inspired by the life story.

    Tossing It Out

  22. Really enlightening post! I haven't written a memoir, but I love hearing that it should read like a novel. That would make a life story much more interesting.

    Thanks for hosting Karen, Helen!



  23. I would never write my memoir, but I am finding that I like to read memoirs.

  24. Karen's book is an incredible read. I am tempted to write a memoir later in life, but am not at the right place in time right now.

  25. Hi Helen and Karen .. now your book is on its way - I shall understand more .. I can see what you're saying re writing about our lives, v using our imagination to tell a story ..

    Interesting that you were called to write a fiction story while spending time in Ireland .. I just feel you'll be making a success of it -

    Lovely being able to read and learn a little more here .. cheers Hilary


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