Karr, 60, is the author of three memoirs ó "The
Liarsí Club" (1995), "Cherry" (2000)
and "Lit" (2009) ó four volumes of poetry
and the book currently holding steady on bestseller
lists, "The Art of Memoir." The short volume
is not just for people working on their own memoirs;
Karrís comments apply to any prose that involves the
first person and the presentation of a memory, an object
both fluid and stubborn. "The Art of Memoir"
(Harper, $24.99) also works as a readerís guide,
addressing Karrís own shifts in perspective as sheís
written down her life.
Texan whoís lived in Los Angeles, she now lives in New
York. She speaks almost exactly as she writes,
delivering blunt answers in graceful, quick sentences
(except the real-time Karr curses more than the
published author). Sitting outdoors, in 90-degree heat,
she improvised a cooling method, soaking two napkins in
this on the back of your neck. Itís gonna change your
life," Karr said. "In Mexico City, everybody
walks around the street with a towel on their
In "The Art of Memoir," you wrote about Greg
Mortenson and James Frey, two authors who had to admit
parts of their own memoirs were fabricated.
If I got busted for something that was untrue, I would
fall on my sword. I would be humiliated. I would say,
"You know, I canít believe I did this Ö forgive
me, bla bla." All these guys who get busted like
that take it to the nth degree of defending it. It was
interesting to that Mortenson and Frey both talk about
their lies in the same passive voice ó "mistakes
were made." Iím thinking about all my friends who
work in nonfiction, and these are people who kill
themselves to get it right. Junot Diaz said something to
me when Frey was going on TV and saying all that stuff.
I remember Junot saying, "You know, I donít think
he lied, because who would do that? Who would make that
stuff up, and have to go sit down and eat dinner with
your whole family over the holidays? Think about
It must be like giving yourself an ulcer. You must know,
at any moment, that your time bomb could go off.
I have that sense anyway. When I send the pages out, I
have this feeling that I havenít been honest, or this
canít be right, or I canít remember all this. Thatís
really how I feel. I worry about the bone of it.
Do you worry especially when youíre discussing people
who are still alive?
I tell people in advance. I call people up and say look,
"I want to write about growing up. Itíll mostly
be about me. Here are the things Iím gonna write about
that might make you uncomfortable. I lost my virginity
at your motherís house; if I write that, your mother
might be upset." Stuff like that.
Thereís a bit in "Art of Memoir" where you
sort of apologize for not having suffered as much as
others, and you go right into that sentence about seeing
your motherís mouth turn into a straight line, which
meant she was drunk. So many people would recognize a
moment like that.
Even if your parents are nice all the time, thereís
the day their mouth became a straight line, or the time
your dad was screwing his secretary, or someone got
cancer and went broke and had to sell the house, and
your sister went to live with your aunt, whatever. Very
few people get out ó thatís why the stories are
interesting. Because we all suffer. I think the writing
is just honoring what your suffering is, trying to
occupy it as you did when it was happening.
Thereís another passage where you look back on your
childhood and decide you werenít the genius kid you
thought you were. What happened?
After I wrote my books, I looked up my school records. I
never did before, only after. I missed 87 days of school
in the sixth grade. I essentially didnít get a high
school degree because I just didnít go to school on
Monday or Friday. I just didnít. In a way, thatís a
more interesting story than if I had been a genius kid,
to an average reader. Because we all delude ourselves,
we all have things that we like to think about
Do you feel like when people read these books that they
know you? Or does it just feel like a process you go
through for yourself?
No, I always do it for readers. The readers I had in
mind for my first book were my mother and sister. And
someone like Don DeLillo.
If you hadnít become a writer, what might have
I would have been a massage therapist. Iím a body
person. I gave everybody in my family massages. My fella
gets a massage from me like, three nights a week.
Sounds kinda L.A. Can you talk about whatís going on
Yes. We pretty much have the pilot written. Mary Louise
Parker is playing my mother. Who knows? Itís
What was the process for writing the screen adaption?
It was me, and my son helped me on the pilot with a lot
of the "Liarsí Club" stuff, the first third.
Ö I think heís better than most of the scriptwriters
out here. Heís a 29-year-old filmmaker, but heís a
Whoís playing you?
Some 8-year-old. Who knows? Ö
Do you have a dream casting?
Not really. Iím open. I swear to God, I would love to
see the young Tommy Lee Jones as my dad, or Bradley
Cooper or Brad Pitt, one of those great blue-eyed pretty
boys. I need a man whoís a man, you know. Not somebody
whose eyebrows are so perfectly waxed that you donít
know how much hair they have.