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The Catch-22 of Memoir Writing
Written by
Jessica Barraco
October 2017
Written by
Jessica Barraco
October 2017

When I started to write The Butterfly Groove, which follows my search for answers among my mother’s mysteries from her past, a decade after losing her, I had a hope that I set too high on my list of Miracle Writer Tactics. Not only was I going to write a great book with journalistic integrity, unravel a thrilling family mystery, and, tell it from a dual perspective, I was also going to open people’s minds about who my mother was to them. I was going to make them see why she behaved poorly sometimes, and greatly others. They were going to reassess and empathize that her being sick for nearly 20 years takes a toll on somebody, and that she couldn’t be blamed for her illnesses, as a lot of them liked to believe. (“She was too stressed out, they’d say, “She was her own worst enemy”).

My mom was particular and private. Two characteristics that typically society isn’t thrilled with, I’ve found, as I am the same way. I am incredibly particular about what makes a good relationship (family, friendly, or romantic), and I am private. I, too, suffered some great health issues this year (and so far am quite luckier than my mother was), but when these things happened to me, all I wanted was privacy. I wanted the choice to tell a handful of people the truth, and anyone else who had to know (my employer, etc), a minimal version of the truth. I wanted my own space, and I just wanted the people in my life to respect that. Especially the ones on the fringes, who perhaps I had once been close to once, but have chosen to distance myself from.

The Butterfly Groove came out on August 4th, and since, have received some excellent and favorable reviews from readers who are strangers (might I call them fans, now?), bloggers and media. Since the 4th, I have also experienced some back-handed reviews, from oddly (or not oddly) enough, in-law relatives of my mother, and people who had been on the fringes of her life, at least for the time that I knew her. I was told things like, “The writing was impressive, although it was romanticized at times since I knew your mother.” (Stings). And, “Your book was interesting a great, read. But I feel that I have to tell you that your mother made herself sick, her doctors even told her so, I know because I went with her once.” (I now have an emotional bruise). One person is someone I don’t believe my mom met more than three times during cross-country family get-togethers, and another is someone who my mom distanced herself from for reasons I know to be legitimate. And this is what they have to tell me about her, 16 years gone, and even more than that removed from her life.

It is sad. That is the truth. I have learned you can write a great book, come to your own understandings and conclusions about somebody, and open your heart to that person’s trajectory, but such is life, other people will just focus on the negative, feeling stuck in their jealousy, negativity, biased thoughts (fill in the blank). Like I experienced when researching and writing my book, it was the strangers I found from my mom’s past, and not family, who gave me better and more truthful information about her.

The Butterfly Groove (in its creation and its execution) has enforced a lesson we all have learned, and keep on learning. You can’t please everyone. And more than that, not everyone evolves: even if you write a great memoir, and still sadder, even if they read it.


About Jessica Barraco

Journalist by heart, marketing professional by day, and writer by moonlight, Jessica Barraco is a graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She has contributed for EliteDaily, ModernLoss, 944 magazine, The Denver Post and more. She spent three years working at HarperCollins Publishers headquarters across all of its imprints, working on both nonfiction and fiction books. The Butterfly Groove, Barraco's debut investigative memoir, tells the story and research behind her late mother's mysteries and hidden love affairs from her past. Barraco resides in her home state of California.

View the book trailer here >
For more information on The Butterfly Groove >

* This article was originally published in August 2015.


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  • Heidi Hornbacher

    Thanks for this. I'm working on something about my mom too and it's good to get it through my head early that there will be those who disagree and those who are hurtful no matter what. Best of luck!

  • Jessica Barraco

    Also, my book is a dual perspective told both through my eyes and realistic fictional accounts (from my research) of my mother's life. It's how I could bring her back to life, in a way. It's an approach Jeannette Walls took in Half-Broke Horses for her grandmother, except mine is more dominantly my memoir, with some storytelling elements from my mom's perspective. 

  • Jessica Barraco

    Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the positivity and good vibes! I hope you all can be a bit more inspired after reading The Butterfly Groove. I am doing book club discussions, so if you know of any book clubs who would enjoy my book, contact me here or email me at [email protected]

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Very much enjoyed reading this post. 

    Have been thinking about writing a memoir, but have held back quite a bit, not sure where I want to go with it.   Sometimes tempted to write it as a fiction piece...or to just work in memoir-ish details in my fiction writing through my characters' histories.  I know that even without writing a memoir, my motives for making certain personal decisions have come under attack (like choosing an Attachment Parenting style and home-schooling my daughter) from my parents' generation on both sides.  Members of the extended family have accepted it more than those closer.  I try to  imagine putting it all out there in a memoir for others to see and read. Not ready for that yet, perhaps.  For now, I'll work on my fiction and see where it leads.

  • Patricia Robertson

    Loved your book trailer! Well done. As for the naysayers - Illegitimi non carborundum - don't let the b******* get you down.

  • RYCJ Revising

    Jessica, I had to slip in here to give a supportive vote. Reading memoirs the way I do, I am quite familiar with naysayers challenged on how to appreciate "personal" truths. This is why it's critical that memoirists stick to their story, which sounds like you have done. Every last one of them, particularly those that go one to be widely read, are always contested, whether publicly or privately... some to a larger extent than others. I'm adding your book to my to-read list. Congratulations! 

  • Judith Liebaert

    Thank you for sharing this experience. Writing a memoir has to be the most difficult decision any writer can face. I continue to sit on the fence.

  • Jessica Barraco

    Thanks, everyone!

  • Linda Joy Myers

    Hi Jessica, your post resonates so much with many memoirists I'm sure, and for me. I think it's powerful to find our voice and write a story that can only present our best efforts at truth, our point of view, and no matter what we witnessed or know or experienced, others may not see things through that lens; or they have their own agenda. Sometimes people just want to chime in--who knows why--for revenge, to judge. To be "right." It's great that you wrote and published the book that you needed to write and explore the past so you can put it to rest perhaps, or at least partly so. I had to give up on my extended family even though I left out some of the truths I could have told, because it was too threatening to them, I am guessing here, to have someone who would examine the past and ask nosy questions and try to understand what people had done --so I could find compassion and forgiveness. They didn't understand that part.

    Good luck with shaking off the tough opinions that will come at you, and celebrate  your story. Others will celebrate with you.

  • Michelle Cox

    Great post, Jessica!  I will follow-up on the forum.