A few readers seem to have a problem with my choosing to write Later With Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz as autobiographical fiction instead of a memoir. I will admit, at first this decision was driven mainly by a desire not to advertise Millie’s troubled personal history as my own. But equally compelling was my belief that I could not present this story as entirely factual. I was prompted to write this book once I found out about events that had occurred before I was born, were deliberately concealed from me, or took place behind the scenes of my own life. How could I proffer such inherently secondhand, after-the-fact information as absolute truth?


But now, after receiving comments that Later With Myself should have been penned as a memoir, I decided to delve into the issue further. While this exercise has only confirmed that I made the right choice, I am more confused than ever as to what genre of book I did write.

According to educator and author Ed Davis, autobiographical fiction allows the author to change names, make up characters, present different points of view, and favor dramatic action over exposition, which is what I thought I did. But apparently, it isn’t that simple.

“Word Nerd” Taylor Houston (who pens a blog called “Writer’s Cramp”) claims that autobiographical fiction is “primarily comprised of made up events and characters that may be based on the author’s own experience and self.” According to Houston, in autobiographical fiction, the protagonist “might be modeled after the author and do at least some of the things the author has actually done in his or her life,” but “the ratio of truth to fiction will be somewhat small.” (See http://litreactor.com/columns/autobiographical-fiction-using-your-real-life-to-craft-great-fiction.) Okay, now I’m confused. Later With Myself is mostly true, with only a few made-up story lines and events. So according to Taylor, I did not write autobiographical fiction.

Houston seems to use the terms “memoir” and “fictionalized autobiography” interchangeably, which gives me pause. As I understand it, the main difference between a “memoir” and an “autobiography” is simply a matter of time or scope: Both are nonfiction genres, but an autobiography covers the author’s life from cradle to present, whereas a memoir focuses on a shorter period, or particular aspect, of the author’s life. Taylor, however,  distinguishes between “fictionalized autobiography” and “autobiographical fiction,” claiming that, while both contain “tidbits” about the author’s life, the former is “mostly a truthful telling of the author’s experience with sections fictionalized to ‘protect the innocent’, [fill in] gaps where memory fails, and occasionally [rearrange] events for maximum narrative effect.”  Hmm. I did all of that, too. So, did I write a “fictionalized autobiography,” as opposed to autobiographical fiction? Now I’m really confused.

Maybe Diana Raab can shed some light on all of this. She’s a “memoirist, essayist and poet” with a Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction Writing. In her post, “Autobiographical Fiction vs. Fictional Memoirs” (http://dianaraab.com/blog/2011/08/30/autobiographical-fiction-vs-fictional-memoirs/), Ms. Raab characterizes “fictional memoir” as something that “generally focuses on an actual story, time or event in the writer’s life, but also incorporates . . . fiction or fictional technique.” Okay, that must be what I did. But wait—aren’t all memoirs, by definition, nonfiction? That being the case, how can one possibly write a “fictional memoir?” Had James Frey known this, he might have had a handy comeback for both Oprah and Doubleday!

Raab goes on to say: “An autobiographical novel . . . merges autobiographical and fictional techniques. . . [T]he names and places in the book are typically changed and events are recreated to give the story more of a dramatic arc. In other words, the events in the author’s life may be altered and thus the writer uses his or her ‘fictional license.’” Well, okay, I suppose I did that, too. So what kind of monster have I created? Is Later With Myself autobiographical fiction, “fictionalized autobiography,” or “fictional memoir”?

I hold a J.D., not a degree in creative writing (like Houston) nor an M.F.A. (like Raab), so I am hesitant to challenge these genre classifications (even though this humble lawyer questions whether they exist at all). I only know this much: I did the stupid things twelve-year-old Millie did, practically to the letter. I changed names and places in my novel. I fabricated or embellished certain scenes. I made up “Uncle Joey,” and speculated about “Cassie’s” and “Lee’s” motivations in doing some of the things they did. Do I know for a fact that “Cassie” coveted my bone marrow to save her son? No. I offered this as a possible explanation for why “Lee” sidled up to me when I turned eleven, causing me to lose my already flimsy emotional footing. Do I have “hard” evidence that my father imported drugs for the Mafia? No, I do not. But it’s certainly plausible, and adds color to an already compelling story. So, what have I done? Can someone please tell me?