Mini-Memoir – Great Things Come in Small Packages


In a post on the U.S. edition of the British Guardian website, journalist Anna Baddeley cites several mini-memoirs published by celebrity authors. In conclusion she opines that mini-memoir is “An exciting trend in journalism that one hopes will soon take off over here.” I hope so too, as a reader (what's not to like about a book you can finish in three hours or less), as a writer (what's not to like about a book you can finish in two or three months rather than years?), and as a teacher (more of my students can publish!).

So what is a mini-memoir? Basically, mini-memoir is the non-fiction equivalent of a novella. To date, this short form has not received much attention, though you can find a few in Amazon if you search on that term. One of the titles that pops up on this search is Adventures of a Chilehead: A Mini-Memoir with Recipes, by Yours Truly. The term seems to be used in two ways. Some use it to recount memories limited to a tightly focused topic. Some overlap the definition of mini-memoir with flash memoir, the topic of my most recent post.

I couldn't recall hearing the term before when I popped it onto the cover of Adventures of a Chilehead. As far as I knew, I was coining a phrase, one that seemed apt for a concise collection of short stories crafted around a unifying theme.

Here's how the book evolved: A dozen years ago I wrote two stories featuring adventures I’ve had eating hot chile. About four years later I wrote a third, "Great Balls of Fire," within days of the featured event, almost before my mouth quit burning. I considered that story to be my declaration of independence from stomach-scarring scoville levels.  For eight years I referred to these three stories as my "Chilehead Trilogy." I wanted to do more with them, to turn them into what I refer to in The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing as a "story album" (otherwise known as an anthology).

Last year the light dawned. I could publish that trilogy as a Kindle book, just for the heckuvit. Just for fun. When I began working toward that end, I thought of more stories. Three stories evolved into ten chapters, plus the section of recipes. What began as a simple Kindle compilation expanded enough to work as a print version.

Weaving the eight stories into a cohesive whole, ensuring adequate background without repetition was a challenge, Drafting the introduction and concluding chapters even more so. But as typically happens with memoir, while massaging those stories and reflections, my love for this pungent fruit grew even deeper, along with my understanding of the way it grounds and roots me in the land I hold dear after  fifty-some years away.

Aside from the subject matter and recipes, this book differs from full-length memoir in an important respect. It's focused more sharply. It's about chile and me. Nothing more, nothing less. I mention relatives and relationships, but they stay in the background. I mention place, but only in passing. Yet within that strict focus, you can see changes in my thinking. Learning and growth did happen. I wrote as much as I have to say about chile, and let it go at that rather than forcing the issue and straying from truth, chasing elusive word count.

Just as tiny memory fragments power flash memoir, themed memory clusters illuminate mini-memoir, a great hit with busy readers. With Kindle and maybe CreateSpace, you can transform stacks of loose stories into themed mini-memoir for friends and family — and the rest of the world if you wish.

Write now: pull together an assortment of related stories. Look for the common thread linking them together. Find a logical order, reduce repetition and add elements to showcase that thread. Share with friends for feedback, add a cover and the requisite promo material and you're good to go to Amazon.

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