I’m re-blogging today’s piece from the Brevity blog (if you’re not following their awesome, topical work, you’re missing out). As the title implies, it’s about writing about our family members–something we bloggers, and especially those with personal, even confessional, blogs do a lot. It’s a funny, short essay, but it gets at some serious questions of privacy in writing memoir or anything else personal. I’d love to know what you think about the issues the author, Joanne Nelson, raises. As you might have suspected, I’ve been swamped by writing work–both my development writing for universities and other nonprofits and my creative work. If you’ve got time and are looking for the latest in bold short stories, flash, poetry, and creative nonfiction, I hope you’ll check out the fresh and new summer issue of Parhelion Literary Magazine, where I serve as associate editor: parhelionliterary.com. In the mood for Rust Belt interviews and author interviews, check out my categories, above. Let me know what you’re reading and writing this week–are you taking names?! More soon…Rebecca

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

NelsonpicBy Joanne Nelson

“Have you asked them?” A friend inquired after noticing I was using my kids’ real names in essays. Actually, I hadn’t. And then it seemed wrong that I hadn’t. I used pseudonyms for parents, neighbors, and childhood friends, assuming they deserved some modicum of invisibility from my faulty memory. Hmm, and the kids and spouse and my brother didn’t?

Years ago, I made a chart of names and aliases, deciding on the perfect alter ego for everyone I wrote about. The list took me several afternoons of overthinking and unfortunately, has been misplaced. I’ve memorized the key players’ pen names though, and now think of them as family members. My spouse, in fact, goes by “Bruce” in most of my work. I like thinking of him as a Bruce—especially as the change honors Bruce Springsteen. Truth be told, I like thinking about Bruce Springsteen in all kinds…

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9 thoughts on “Who’s in a Name? On Writing About Family

  1. The Brevity post raises that timeless question of whether or not to use ppl’s real names. For my first self-pub endeavor, I didn’t use real names. I had fun instead. Referring to my students as Acorns #1-20, and giving the faculty animal names like Mr. Skunk. And I didn’t use the school’s real name but the location was true.

    For my next memoir, I’m using real names and I haven’t asked for permission. I suppose I should, and maybe I will. I’m still working on the book so I have time to figure it out, but I kind of don’t care what they think? Is that horrible to say? I mean, I care, of course, but it’s my story and anyone close enough will be able to figure out who’s who – I think those who don’t know the family personally, simply won’t care or bother.

    What do you think?

    Also, congrats on your editor promotion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Acorns and animal names–I love that! It was a Waldorf school, right? And, I didn’t know you’re writing a memoir now. That’s awesome! I guess the only time you could get into real trouble would be if you put in something salacious enough that someone would want to sue you for slander. Regular life stuff, and I can’t imagine most people getting worked up about. Of course, this whole question assumes that family and close friends (who might appear in a memoir) actually read our work!

      Thank you, Lani, on the kudos and for stopping by. Happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, very good point. We automatically assume they will read it and care! I’ve heard funny stories where folks read about themselves in someone’s book and have no idea it is them!

        Take care, xo

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this Rebecca. Stories are incredibly powerful and precious. And sometimes they’re not ours to tell. I try to get permission from my family before I post images or comments from them. Both my husband and son have given me a “Go ahead. I don’t care.” But I am still careful what I put up.

    Liked by 1 person

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