How Writing a Memoir Reshaped My Approach to Fiction

My memoir Sweet Hell on Fire was written about a year in my life when I worked at a prison. It was the darkest time to date, and the most transformative. When I started writing, I thought it would be—if not easy—a rather straightforward process. Just write down the facts, right? The recounted events already happened, so they can’t hurt me anymore and they can’t do anything else to me. Or so I thought. Writing about them changed me both as a person and as a writer. As Hemingway said, “It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.” That’s what I did. I sat down at my laptop and opened my veins all over the page. I cried the whole time I typed certain chapters of the book. I usually send my work to a beta and/or a critique partner, but I didn’t do that with this one. I simply kept bleeding. Every time someone opens that book, every time they take that journey with me, they’re opening those scars all over again. Prying them wide, like some horror peepshow. They’re free to inspect every weakness, every sorrow, and all the dark places […]

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