Memoir or fiction? That is the question!

David W. Berner, my WOW! Women on Writing guest today, and I have something in common. After writing memoir we both turned to fiction stretching ourselves, as David says, as writers. We both took a true story, settings, and characters and made up things let our imagination have its way with us to enhance the story’s effect. My fiction book though not ready to be published yet takes off in a whole new direction from the true facts. My family members would definitely know the people and places I write about, and might even have a problem with the way my fictionalized version of our family history turns out.  Well, I’ll deal with that when the time comes.

I applaud David for using his wonderful memoir, reporting, and teaching skills to become a successful fiction writer. His first fiction work: Night Radio: A Love Story, has already received rave reviews.

Thank you, David, for being here at Choices today and telling us about your journey into fiction writing a story I very much relate to.


How a Memoirist Learned to Write Fiction
by David W. Berner

The choice for me was this: Should Night Radio be a memoir or a novel? This was the question I asked myself when I began to write the manuscript a couple of years ago. I’d written three other memoirs previously. Did I have another one in me? Or, would fictionalizing this story reveal bigger truths?

The background of Night Radio is college radio, the music of the 1970s, and a storyline that questions whether dreams can still be had if we stumble too hard along the way all in some way a part of my personal story. But as I was writing I began to feel limited, stuck in sticking to the truth, the facts. I really wanted to say something bigger, something deeper. I wanted to stretch as a writer, but also stretch my story to allow for explorations of more complex ideas and emotions. So, I began to imagine. I began to make it up.

I’ve been asked: Are some of the scenes in Night Radio true? Did those things really happen? Not necessarily but sort of. Some of what is on the pages of Night Radio is what I would call experiential truth, the setting and the essence of what happens is true in a very general sense, but the details are not. Some of it is completely imagined, but based in a reality of my own experience.

So, how does a memoirist learn to make it up? What I discovered is that story is story, no matter the material. There is conflict, reflection, and dialogue in both memoir and fiction. The craft, in many ways, is essentially the same. Transformation is important in either kind of story. Revelations are crucial in memoir, creative nonfiction, and in fiction. So, how would this memoirist turn his craft into a novel? The same way I would write a memoir tell a relatable story, a tale that sheds light on the human condition. Whether it is true or imagined, I believe its essential to have these elements in a story. The reader has to care about the people in the story whether they are real or made up. He has to be compelled to find out what happens next and understand what is at stake. This is crucial to any kind of story.

Anton Chekov was believed to have said, Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me glint of light on broken glass. This may be the best description of good prose ever uttered and it doesn’t matter whether you are writing memoir, fiction, poetry, or even a cookbook. It’s all about creating a moment in the reader’s mind that resonates with his or her life. Chekov never says his advice is only for the memoirist or singularly for the novelist; it doesn’t matter. It’s about good writing. Many authors have admitted they have taken from their own lives in order to write fiction. Ernest Hemingway may be the most famous to admit this. He once said write what you know, and added that he’d planned to write one story about each thing that I knew about. But either way, Hemingway was simply trying to write the best prose he could produce, trying to write about the glint on the broken glass.

Parts of my novel Night Radio may be based in truth, but the story is not journalism, it is not creative nonfiction. However, it is a story, a new world built around what I already know. Just like Hemingway.

Characters are characters, events are events in memoir or fiction and all of it has to stand alone ring true, whether it is or not.


Thank you, David. I love the Chekov and Hemingway quotes. They are a couple of my faves and spot on. Please, Choices readers, share some of your favorite writing quotes in the comments section below.


Summary of Night Radio: A Love Story: From the award-winning author of Any Road Will Take You There and Accidental Lessons comes a truly American story.

Jake Mulholland dreams of becoming the next great rock ‘n’ roll radio personality. But like his father, his appetite for love conflicts with his thirst for success, leading to an unforgivable mistake. Jake finds fame but also the excess of celebrity, and just as he begins to rediscover his authentic self, he’s shaken by the news of a life-altering secret. In an effort for redemption, Jake plans a special New Year’s Eve broadcast that will be the biggest challenge of his life.

Night Radio is a love letter to music and rock ‘n’ roll radio of the 1970s, the story of an American boy, an American family, and of dreams just out of our reach.

“Night Radio adds a unique and valuable dimension to today’s literary fiction by combining a gripping plot with a deep character study and a haunting, thought-provoking narrative.” Renee James, Windy City Reviews

Paperback: 351 pages
Genre: Romantic Fiction
Publisher: Cawing Crow Press (May 25, 2016)
Amazon Link

davidwberner5About the Author: David W. Berner is the award-winning author of three memoirs: Accidental Lessons, Any Road Will Take You There, And There’s A Hamster In The Dashboard. Night Radio: A Love Story is his first novel. Windy City Reviews calls Night Radio a unique and valuable dimension to today’s literary fiction by combining a gripping plot with a deep character study and a haunting, thought-provoking narrative.

David works as a radio reporter and news anchor for CBS Radio and teaches writing and radio documentary at Columbia College Chicago. His book Accidental Lessons won the Golden Dragonfly Grand Prize for Literature and has been called a “beautiful, elegantly written book” by award-winning author Thomas E. Kennedy. Any Road Will Take You There a 2013 Book of the Year from the Chicago Writers Association is the author’s story of a cross-country road trip with his sons and the revelations of fatherhood. The memoir has been called “heartwarming and heartbreaking” and “a five-star wonderful read.”  There’s A Hamster In The Dashboard, a collection of essays, was named one of the “Best Books of 2015” by Chicago Book Review.

Mixed Media Tour Dates
Friday, July 15th @ Bring On Lemons with Crystal Otto
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway!

Monday, July 18th @ Mari McCarthy’s Create Write Now
Readers at Mari McCarthy’s Create Write Now are in for a special treat as David W. Berner pens today’s guest post “Radio and the Beauty of the Human Voice how radio touches us, one voice at a time, and can inspire the storyteller in you. Learn more about this and Berner’s latest novel Night Radio.

Thursday, July 21st @Selling Books with Cathy Stucker
Stop by for an interview with David W. Berner and find out more about his newest novel, a love story titled Night Radio.

Friday, July 22nd @ Android After Forty 
Linda Peters of Android After Forty offers her thoughts after reading David W. Berner’s latest novel Night Radio, and one lucky winner will receive their own copy of this humorous and touching love story.

Tuesday, July 26th @ Android After Forty
David W. Berner pens today’s guest post at Linda Peter’s blog Android After Forty. Learn more about Berner and his novel Night Radio as you read about: “How My Hippie Past Still Grounds Me we are what we are when we were young. it stays with us and it can inspire us to be artists.”

Thursday, July 28th @ MC Simon Writes
Readers can find out what David W. Berner has to say on the topic of: “Using Real Life to Write Fiction or I Told You It was Fiction, Sort Of Night Radio is a novel, but there is a lot of truth in it.” Learn about this and more about David’s novel Night Radio

Friday, July 29th @ Hott Books with Gina Hott
David W. Berner writes today’s guest post at Hott Books: “How Hemingway’s Ghost Got Me to Write” I’m the writer-in-residence at the Hemingway birthplace home in Oak Park. I write there and work there sometimes. Did I see a ghost?” Read this and find out more about Berner’s literary fiction Night Radio. Don’t miss this exciting stop on Berner’s blog tour.

Thursday, August 4th @ Kathy Pooler’s Memoir Writer’s Journey
Kathy Pooler hosts guest author David W. Berner. His guest post is titled: “Why Rock ‘n’ Roll Inspires Me to Write how music is a motivator and one of the best engines for writing.” Don’t miss this enlightening guest post and opportunity to learn more about Berner’s latest novel Night Radio.

Friday, August 5th @ Jerry Waxler
Fellow memoirist Jerry Waxler interviews David W. Berner about Berner’s current novel Night Radio find out memoir about this novel as well as Berner’s many memoirs.

Monday, August 8th @ Choices with Madeline Sharples
Today’s guest post at Choices is:  How a Memoirist Learned to Write Fiction I’ve written memoir most of my writing life, so how did I learn to write a novel?” Don’t miss this excellent guest post and opportunity to learn more about David W. Berner at his latest novel Night Radio.

Tuesday, August 9th @ Linda Appleman Shapiro
Linda Appleman Shapiro hosts David W. Berner as a guest author on her blog today. David’s topic is “Why I’ll Never Forget My College Girlfriend the influences of those we love in our formative, inspiring college years.” Don’t miss this exciting blog stop and inspirational post.

Thursday, August 11th @ Building Bookshelves
David W. Berner pens today’s guest post at Building Bookshelves. Find out more about David’s recent novel Night Radio and hear his insightful guest post titled: “How Bob Dylan Helped Me Become a Author My Story of Music and its Link to My Writing.”

Friday, August 12th @ Linda Appleman Shapiro
Linda Appleman Shapiro reviews Night Radio by David W. Berner and shares her thoughts. You won’t want to miss the insight from this highly acclaimed memoirist, speaker, therapist, historian, and psychotherapist.

Thursday, September 15th @ Frankie Picaso on the Radio
FrankieSense interviews David W. Berner live at Click the “LISTEN LIVE” button in the upper right corner and from noon till 1 pm central time on September 15th listeners will learn more about Berner’s literary accomplishments including but not limited to his latest release, a novel titled Night Radio.

Thursday, September 22nd on Voice of America’s Empowerment Channel
David W. Berner visits with Irene Conlan the show airs live on VoiceAmerica’s Empowerment Channel broadcasting at 12 noon PDT (2pm Central Time). Hear from David and find out more about his latest novel Night Radio.

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