Reflections on a Memoir

A wise old writer once said, “When you write a book, you do it for yourself.” I agree with that premise. However, after my memoir, A Tale of Survival, was published, I came to the quick realization that the premise may not always apply. Writing a memoir is one thing, but being as brutally honest as I’ve been will bring friends and relatives out of the woodwork. The relatives that complained surprised me but not as much as their comments, which were less than complimentary. I thought for sure they’d be proud of my triumphant story but their reaction bordered more on hysteria than pride. Their outcries of, “How could you say such things,” are common and perhaps that is a reason many prefer to leave their stories undocumented. What is trivial for one ethnic community is taboo in another. This can be especially true of the Latino community.

Interestingly, I’ve come to realize that not many out there, regardless of ethnic and racial background, want to see their name appear in someone’s journal, especially if their role appears strange to them. In other words it becomes a rude awakening to see themselves portrayed by the author in such a manner that’s totally different from the way they view themselves. Conversely, I was taken aback to hear old friends complain they weren’t included in the story. Some who complained were in fact in the book but they didn’t recognize themselves in the disguises I presented them. You can’t win for losing!

And then there is the hometown’s reaction. In my case, I didn’t have to leave the country as Thomas Wolfe did when he wrote Look Homeward Angel about his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. Wolfe’s book was an autobiographical novel while mine is a memoir, no holds barred. To this end, it shouldn’t have surprised me that a welcome wagon wasn’t parked in the town square waiting for my arrival. I didn’t think the townspeople would care what I wrote since the story reflects the times of my young and innocent life---good, bad or indifferent.

While accolades follow me everywhere I go, I’ve yet to receive an invitation to do a reading or do much of anything else with my book in my hometown. As a matter of fact, when I inquired about wanting to promote my book at the town’s museum or at the library, I was presented with excuses why it couldn’t be done at either place. While I suspect some residents have quietly purchased my book most residents don’t want me dredging up old stuff. I can understand those that discriminated against us Mexican-Americans not wanting to see their past behavior raise its ugly head. But I am somewhat surprised that my fellow Mexican-Americans are not in the mood to look back any more than the Anglos. Fear of the Anglos so gripped our barrio that perhaps some still fear that the old Anglos that have gone to the far beyond will rise from the dead and string ‘em up for reading my book.

I knew I had done the right thing in writing my memoir when readers called enthusiastically to say, “I can’t put this book down, I love it!” Every writer dreams of such a compliment and I for one, became even more energized to promote my story. But promoting one’s book can at times be more difficult to do than writing the actual book. Understanding the book promotion culture is a must never mind having a mailing and email list a mile long is just the beginning. I am blessed that so many of my friends and networks across the country have come forth and offered to help.

My book promotion began at the Texas Book Festival in October 2011. As a member of the Comadres Book Club, I was their featured author at the festival. Strangers flipped through the book with immense interest. To them, reading about the history of south Texas was intriguing but even more so was the story a young girl’s journey from a barrio in south Texas to Washington, D.C., who ended up being appointed by three U.S. presidents, Republicans all.


By Grace Flores-Hughes