A Memoir. Sort of. – C. E. Gatchalian speaks about Authentic, part 2.

A Memoir. Sort Of.

C. E. Gatchalian speaks about Authentic

Do you remember James Frey? He’s the drug addict-turned-writer who authored A Million Little Pieces, a “memoir” that Oprah selected for her hallowed book club six years ago.

A storm erupted when it was revealed that Frey had fabricated much of the stuff in the book. Oprah publicly scolded him and withdrew her endorsement of the book.

A similar “is it/is it not a memoir” agon took place in my own head while writing my podplay Authentic.

A fifteen-minute audio play. Piece of cake, right?

As it turns out, writing Authentic was one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had as a writer.

When I was greenlighted to write this podplay, the story called to me, despite myself. I’ve always stubbornly clung to the Eliotian ideal of hard, uncompromising impersonality, so writing something as directly autobiographical as what Authentic promised to be smacked of a too-easy surrender to our reality-TV-infested Zeitgeist. But the extreme intimacy of this particular art form lends itself to confessionalism, and it dawned upon me that some not-too-shabby writing also emerged from the gut-spilling, private-life-exposing likes of Berryman, Ginsberg, Roethke and Plath.

So, with Authentic, I decided to spill it—guts, ejaculate, what have you—like never before. Meaning: I made no pretense to myself that what I was writing was fiction.

Meaning: this play is about my love affair. The central character is me.

Writing the first draft was wrenching—I was obsessed with transcribing every aspect of the relationship and every nuance of my thoughts and feelings about it as exactly and precisely as possible. Therapeutically, it was helpful; but it did not make for a good play—certainly not a good podplay.

But with each subsequent draft the how took over from the what, and, slowly but surely, I nudged it up into something I could be reasonably proud of. The extreme time and geographical constraints of the form forced me to cut everything that may have been personally meaningful but that, dramatically, was superfluous and unnecessary. Eventually the story came to deviate somewhat from actuality, and details were altered and in some cases invented for dramatic logic and flourish.

Suddenly, Mr Frey became something of a kinsman.

So, the product is a semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional audio play whose central character is mostly me and partly not me, dealing with a New York lover who is mostly my actual New York lover and partly other lovers/would-be lovers/imaginary lovers/friends/acquaintances.

So here is Authentic. A memoir.

Except I’m small-fry compared to Mr Frey and will fortunately never get into trouble for calling it that.