Friday, December 02, 2011

A riveting memoir--and the Bookish Frogs

Let me tell you about Gerald Duff. He's the author of fifteen books, with five coming out this year--poetry, novels, short stories. But I want to talk about his memoir, published (of course) by TCU Press. Home Truths is a memoir about growing up in Deep East Texas. Gerald spoke tonight to the Bookish Frogs, the friends group of the press, and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I've had in a while.
Home Truths, when I first read it, was titled Home Lies, because much of it is about  the lies he had to tell--and tell himself--to cope with growing up in a land of narrow-minded, fierce opinions where tradition rules over intellect or common sense. It's both a humorous book and a bittersweet one. Tonight his talk had  listeners laughing out loud, but there was much serious truth to it. He talked about the therapy of writing a memoir--how it makes you examine your life and get to know yourself, although he admitted there are some things in his life he still won't talk about, won't deal with. He quoted Socrates: "The unexamined life is a life not worth living." And he talked about guilt, that emotion that few of us escape.
But he also told funny stories--he believed his mother lied when she said she played basketball with Babe Didrikson Zaharias, until years later he saw a picture of the high school team that included both young women; the time he finally relented and confessed his faith in the Southern Baptist Church--well, I mean his faith in Jesus Christ but the confession was a ritual of the church--and he didn't feel any different afterward; the wedding of a cousin where the groom had a cigarette behind his ear, ready to light at any minutes. He was honest and forthright about the things that made him uncomfortable, but he could joke about the time he didn't recognize his second wife. He wove in advice he gave to students as he told anecdotes and read from the book, and he said that when he writes fiction, he gets one or two sentences down and sees what develops. He writes not plots but characters and sees where they will take him. It's a maxim I've heard all my writing life: listen to your characters. Now retired as a university administrator, Gerald used to write from 5:30 to 9:00 a.m. when he was working, and he believes that it's perspiration not inspiration that gets books written. It's also discipline--he aims for two pages  a day but now, with more time, he sometimes writes six or seven if the words are flowing. So, this was part memoir, part lesson in writing, and a lot of humor--a delightful evening. And the book will provide you with the same wonderful mix. I heartily recommend it.
A postscript about Bookish Frogs: for those of you who live in Fort Worth, it's a group that meets about every two months for a potluck supper--the food is delicious!--and to hear an author. Once a year there's a dinner, where every member gets a free copy of the press' "big" book from the year before. Interested? Write me at We'll be sending our information shortly after the new year.

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