Mika Brzezinski is the co-host of MSNBC’sMorning Joe and Citadel Media’s syndicated radio show The Joe Scarborough Show. In January of 2010 she published her memoir All Things At Once which became a New York Times Bestseller. A native of New York City, Mika lives in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters.
As a reader my first passion is fiction, but I also love to read all sorts of non-fiction, including memoirs. I actually find memoirs to be very inspiring to me as a novelist—and that’s not because so many recent ones have turned out to be fiction. The best memoirs have a wonderful authentic voice that compels you to turn pages. And that’s what you want in fiction. You have to create characters that sound totally credible and fascinating.
One memoir I loved reading recently was All Things at Once by Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of Morning Joe, a show I’ve been on twice and have become addicted to watching. The stories Mika tells in the book are utterly engrossing. She takes you through the harrowing period when she accidentally (and seriously) injured her infant daughter as she raced around like crazy one day, the way so many working mothers do when their to-do lists go on for miles. She also describes the humiliation and anguish she went through after being fired by CBS. But what also makes the book so compelling is her voice. You feel you are right there with Mika, experiencing every awful moment but also the joy when things turned around. I think Mika has two great lessons for authors, whether they write fiction or non-fiction.
First Tip: Mika’s brutally honest when she writes. “The part about my daughter’s accident was the worst,” she says. “I wept a great deal over my computer keyboard while editing. I wanted to be honest about what happened and I was, but it was hard. Hard to look in the mirror. Hard to relive those desperate moments and why they happened. And the answers always came back to me and my decisions. But I wanted to write a book that didn’t hold back.”
Second Tip: Mika spoke into a tape recorder during the process. She did so mainly because she was working with collaborator Dan Paisner, but it clearly helped make the book sound very real. “The most important thing,” Mika says, “was to make my voice and narrative accessible to busy women who are interested in having an honest, real conversation about family and ambition and how those goals can often clash or intersect.”
I think tape recorders can be a good tool for fiction writers, too. Read some of your pages, particularly those with dialogue, into a tape recorder and then listen. See if the words sound real and honest and compelling. Most importantly, do you want to keep listening?