Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Six Word Memoirs

JR: Today we welcome Jen Forbus, a diehard mystery fan, book blogger and the force behind a very interesting project which she's going to tell us about.

JF: Wow! This is the first time I’ve been asked to guest blog. I’m so flattered that the wonderful women of Jungle Red are hosting me today. And even better, they’re letting me talk about my pet project – “You Have the Right to Six Words: Six-Word Memoirs from Crime Fiction’s Greatest Writers.”

Just before I started highlighting authors on my blog, a friend showed me a book called NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING: SIX WORD MEMOIRS OF WRITERS FAMOUS AND OBSCURE. It was compiled by SMITH Magazine when they revived the challenge that was rumored to have been given to Hemingway: “write a story in six words.” (RO: If I'm not mistaken Hemingway's six word novel was For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.)
I enjoyed the memoirs. Many were funny, some were thought-provoking, but none were written by the authors I most wanted to hear from. That’s how the question became part of my regular interview on my blog.

It didn’t take long for me to see the response to that question. People would comment about the authors’ responses, they’d email and mention the memoirs in conversation. The authors responding often remark that they liked the question. It was fun; it was harder than they thought; it made them really think. Everyone was looking forward to that question with each interview. So, a scheme started to hatch in my brain. I wanted to find a way to recap all the memoirs that had been submitted in interviews, but I also thought maybe there would be authors who didn’t necessarily have the time or the desire to do an entire interview, but they would be interested in just submitting a six-word memoir. I could blend the recap together with new interviews and make it a feature of its own.

When the little wheels start turning in my brain, they don’t seem to be able to stop - once in motion, they stay in motion! So, at this point the wheels are turning, and I did some calculations: how many new authors would I need to be able to do this for 9 or 10 weeks? It could be a summer feature. So, I sent out my first four invitations to the six-word memoir project. I thought, “What the heck? All they can say is say ‘no’, right?” When James Lee Burke responded with the first six-word memoir submission, I almost fell out of my chair. Then I floated on Cloud 9 for about a week. More submissions started to come in, and with each submission, I grew more and more energized about the project.

Initially I spent about two months collecting memoirs before anything was posted. The response from readers to the first post was overwhelming, which only fueled my enthusiasm that much more. I continued collecting memoirs and 29 weeks later, I wrapped the first season of “You Have the Right to Six Words: Six-Word Memoirs from Crime Fiction’s Greatest Writers.” I guess technically I should have titled it “You’ve the Right to Six Words,” but regardless of what you call it, I had such a wonderful time talking to authors, meeting NEW authors and sharing with readers. If you peruse the whole series you’ll notice quite of few of the ladies from Jungle Red participated. There are writers from all over the world in every sub-genre of crime fiction. I feel very blessed that the crime fiction community was so generous with their time; this project really is precious to me. I think it embodies what the crime fiction community is all about. Everyone made it work, not just me. I had willing authors, excited readers and an unbelievable support network. The only problem is I’ve lost my signature final question for my interviews. I’m still trying to come up with a new one.

Since the feature has been so popular, I have decided to try and make a Season 2 next year. I’ve started contacting more authors already, and I’ll work on collecting up the memoirs to start again next May.

In the interim, I created a tangible memento of this project. I made a scrapbook of the memoirs. It’s actually expanded to two scrapbooks now and it isn’t finished, so we may end up in the vicinity of four scrapbooks before all is said and done. But, I worked very hard to finish all the memoir pages of those authors who would be at Bouchercon in Indianapolis. I had each of the authors sign his/her memoir page, and I’ve started adding pictures of the authors as well. As I find the chances to meet more of the authors who participated, I plan to collect more and more signatures in the books. Maybe one day they will all be signed!

The one memoir I would have loved to have gotten but wasn’t able to was Robert Crais, so if anyone knows how I can manage to snag that, let me know! ;)

O.k., I couldn’t come as a guest to Jungle Red without bringing a gift. So, I’m going to give away a Mystery Lovers Bookshop $15 gift certificate and tote bag to a reader who shares his/her favorite memoir from this year’s collection. (And if you’re not aware, if you spend $10 online at MLB, shipping is free in the U.S. – so that’s $15 of stuff no matter where you live in the U.S.) All you need to do is read the memoirs over at my blog
( ) and then leave your favorite one in the comments here at Jungle Red. On December 26th I’ll take all the entries, put them in the hat and pull a lucky winner. Make sure you leave a contact email so I can get a hold of you if you win.
Thanks so much to Jungle Red for having me today and for everyone stopping by to visit! Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!


  1. Great project, Jen. And so many great memoirs! One of my favorites:
    "Thought small sins pointless. Dreamed big."

    -Edith Maxwell (edithmax at gmail)

  2. What can I say, Jen? It was my favorite then, and it remains my favorite - Dennis Lehane's "I owe it all to libraries." Me, too.

  3. Hi Edith and Lesa! Thanks for stopping by. Yes Lesa, Dennis' memoir IS fabulous.

    Edith, that's a great one, too! I gave you guys a big challenge, though, because I still can't pick one fav for me. So, cheers to you both for being able to narrow it down! :)

  4. Hi Jen! LOVED finding you here today!

    I love this project of yours and picking my very favorite was actually easier than I thought.

    Reed Farrel Coleman's "My mom, at the mirror, empty."

    Those are just some hauntingly beautiful words. AND full of mystery.

    Hugs to you and to the Jungle Red women!

  5. Hi Kaye!! Thanks for stopping by to visit me on my first guest blogging experience! Reed's is great, isn't it? I'm looking forward to putting an interview together with him.

    Love ya Kaye!

  6. After reading the list and going over it again, I pick Dennis Lehane's "I owe it all to libraries." I have used libraries since I was old to visit one and at 69, I still use them and so thankful for them.

  7. Jen -- Absolutley fabulous project!

  8. What a wonderful project and such interesting memoirs. I'd say Andrew Grant's "The best is yet to come" is a favorite.

  9. Hi everyone! This is see which memoirs you like the best. Keep it coming and thanks so much for the kind words.

  10. As I've said before, the "Six Word Memoirs" is what got me hooked to your blog, Jen. LOVE it! I can tell you right off the most memorable for me was Marcus Sakey's, "F**king spectacular! Can I go again?" Of all these great memoirs, that one is always the first one I think of because it's enthusiasm is infectious! As a reader and fan, I greatly appreciate the authors taking the time to participate in this project!

  11. I am such a huge fan of your series and already waiting in suspense for it to return (fingers crossed!). You introduced me to so many new crime fiction authors, some of whom I am determined to read because of what they contributed for their memoir. A perfect example of this may be my favorite from Hilary Davidson, "Thought small sins pointless. Dreamed big."

    Keep me posted on when you're starting up again and I'll see what I can do about Mr. Crais - I owe you one!


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  13. Love your project Jen--and it's so nice to see you here!

  14. As I scanned through these, I noticed how many of the 6 words included the word dream -- what would authors do without them? And let's hear it for The Mystery Lovers Bookshop ...just announced (and well deserved) winner of the Raven award!

  15. Christine, you aren't alone. I know everyone grins and chuckles when they read Marcus' memoir. He's so full of life, isn't he?

    Lydia, I'm definitely going to take you up on that. Project will be starting back up in May. And Hilary is wonderful. I can't wait for her first crime fiction novel to come out in 2010. I predict she'll be a huge hit!

    Dream is a recurring word. It's so uplifting to see it so often. In a genre that has a tendency toward "dark", there's so much light and energy! Very, very cool!

    Roberta, thanks for having me today! :) I'm so honored.

  16. Jen, I loved your Six-Word Memoir project. It was a wonderful way to showcase mystery authors, and it introduced me to some terrific writers that I wasn't familiar with. I was so honored when you asked me to take part in it.

    I have several favorites, but the one I keep quoting is Charlie Huston's: "Never did fix that attitude problem."

    Edith and Lydia, thanks so much for mentioning my Six-Word Memoir. My grandmother used to say "If you're going to sin, sin big." I took that to heart!

  17. Oh, Jen, your book is so beautiful..remember when you showed it to me at Bouchercon? I burst into tears. You;re amazing.

    But you know, may I change mine? It was: Tried my best. And very grateful.

    But now I think it shoud be: Trying my best. And very grateful.

    Perfect time of year for this, right?

    And yay for Mystery Lovers' Bookshop Raven award. (And all the other honorees!)

  18. Welcome, Jen.
    I was asked to do this once (It wasn't by you, was it?) and found how hard it is--which aspect of myeslf do I want to reveal in those xix words.
    Perhaps I should have said, "Which me today? I can't decide."

    Keep up the great work and then put them into a book. They reveal a lot about character.

  19. It might only be my penchant for blue language, but I find there is an energy and a joie de vivre as well as hope for a hereafter all summed up in Marcus Sakey's six little words: "Fuckin' spectacular! Can I go again?"

  20. Hank, I couldn't possibly forget! While I surely didn't want you to cry, it was the greatest compliment anyone could have given me! And I think you're right, present tense is much better! :)

    Thanks so much everyone for your wonderful words and for sharing your favorite memoirs with me. It's just amazing to hear everyone's favorites and to see why those resonant with you the way they do.

    It truly means a lot to me that people enjoyed this as much as they did.

  21. This has been my favorite series of the year, Jen. For my pick, I'll go with this one by Theresa Schwegel's memoir: "Always curious, sometimes content, never convinced." My thanks, too, to the Jungle Red women for this post.

    p.s., the other contenders for me were -

    Adrian McKinty's memoir: "stillness, iceberg,
    crash, listing, sinking, stillness

    Craig McDonald: "Born to write; writing to live.".

  22. Hey Jen thanks for doing this and glad you're going for more...these are great. It meant a lot to me in Muskegoo when you showed me mine in the album...

  23. Hi Jen! Nice to see you over here.

    It's hard to pick just one memoir but I think I'll go with Jeff Parker's "I walked into a beautiful room." Even if you allowed Jeff only three words, he'd probably manage to make my heart sing.

  24. Wow! I never get this many comments on my own blog. I think I should try this guesting gig more often! Thanks everyone!

    Cara, it meant a lot that you participated. I was so tickled to be able to meet you in person in Muskego, too!

    PCN, I love Jeff's too. He's definitely got a way with words, doesn't he?

    Michael, so glad you mentioned Adrien's. Bless his heart, when I contacted him, he said, "I'm surprised you even know who I am." How cute is that? And that memoir is one that really sticks with you, isn't it?

    See why it's hard for me to pick a favorite? The other factor for me is that I've had the great honor of talking with so many of the writers who crafted these and I see the connections to the individuals and that makes the memoirs so much more powerful!

    Thanks for letting me gush about them with you all! You've made my whole week!!

  25. Let's see, if I had to do a six word memoir ... "Tell me stories; I'll explore life."
    Great project, Jen, and what memories as well as a legacy you're making.

  26. My favorite is Lesa Holstein 's "Found life's passion in sharing books".

    Thanks Lesa for a blog that has brought many great books into my life.

  27. What a great project, Jen! It was so fun to be a participant. Thanks again for doing it--I'd love to see more of the scrapbooks sometime...

  28. You all are so great! Thanks for stopping and commenting and being so nice. What a great holiday gift for me!

    PK, you're wonderful, thank you.

    Helen, you're absolutely right about Lesa. I just love her to death and wish she still was in Ohio! :)

    Meredith, you absolutely HAVE to see the scrapbooks one of these days because you have to sign your memoir! Thanks so much for participating. It means the world to me.

  29. Hi Meredith,
    You do have the see the book in person. It's amazing! I just didn't appreciate all the work and creativity that went into it until I saw it at B'con. It took the sting out of losing the Anthony!

    I think we should all write to Robert Crais on Jen's behalf...

  30. Oh, Helen!

    Thank you so much. All of those wonderful memoirs by authors, and you picked mine. Thank you for taking time to visit my blog regularly. It means a great deal that people are discovering books through my reviews and author interviews. Thank you, Helen. And, thank you, Jen, for giving me the chance to write that.


  31. I don't think I'm doing this right. In fact, I'm quite sure I'm cheating, but...

    After having read the listed memoirs, I saw where you had an interview w/Craig Johnson. I slid over and read it. I'd like to pick his Six Word Memoir: "Good man, yes it is so." Because I do get the connection to his books, and well...his books and that memoir just give me a big sloppy grin.

    (but if I have to pick one of the others I'll go w/Reed F Coleman because he's just plain awesome.)

    What a fun project. Creative people leave me slack-jawed.

  32. Ginger Kid, don't you just love how Craig tied that into his memoir? He's somethin' that Craig is. And it's definitely not cheating to pick his. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Thank you everyone. You sure know how to make a gal feel special. This project is special to me, but it means so much more because I've been able to share it with so many people. Nothing makes me happier than to hear someone say, "you introduced me to a new author and I just love him/her." I'm not exactly sure why it's so rewarding to me, but it is. And I'm honored that people are willing to share a love of mystery/crime fiction with me. You are all wonderful!

  33. Thank you, Ro! One of the true highlights of 2009 for me was having the chance to meet you; I look forward to the next time we can cross paths!

  34. Hi all,

    Just wanted to thank you once more for the great comments here. And to let you know that Kaye Barley was chosen by that Random Number Generator as the winner of the Mystery Lover's Gift Certificate.

    Happy New Year!!