Beware of libel risk when writing a memoir

Updated: 2013-06-12T00:15:59Z


Universal Uclick

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m writing a memoir and want to write honestly how I experienced incidents involving other persons, while including the caveat that the other persons may have felt very differently about the same incidents. I think these other people would rather I not write about them at all. Where does self-expression and one’s right to tell one’s memories end, and other people’s right not to be included in my written memories begin?

GENTLE READER: Every writer must be a voracious reader. Miss Manners recommends that you read libel law.

It is true that your parents will probably not sue you for saying you had a rotten childhood, and that plenty of successful writers have written about people they know in ways that may not have pleased those people.

Miss Manners is not saying that you should not attempt this, thus possibly discouraging what may be a great piece of literature illuminating the human condition. She is only asking you to be aware of the effect on others and not sacrifice their feelings unnecessarily.

Much of mourning has been lost

DEAR MISS MANNERS: There is a line in one of my mother’s favorite country music songs — something to the effect of “he stopped loving her today; they placed a wreath upon his door.”

I believe the song’s author is saying that “he” died. What can you tell me about the tradition of hanging a black wreath upon the door of a house in mourning? Is this a symbol that would be recognized today? Is the practice still in use? Should one have a black wreath on hand in the event a household member passes?

GENTLE READER: Etiquette used to have dozens of ways that the bereaved could warn people to treat them gently, such as black clothes, black-edged writing paper and black wreaths on the door.

But those were the days before the bizarre notion arose that what they really needed was to be urged to get past their grief and get on with their lives. Formal mourning has been dropped so thoroughly that few now understand what is disconcerting about bridesmaids in black dresses.

Miss Manners is afraid that conspicuous mourning would probably now have the unfortunate effect of encouraging the self-appointed therapists who think they can solve what they see as an attitude problem. If you put a black wreath on the door, they would only tell you that you should have taken down your Christmas wreath before it atrophied.

Uninvited words from wedding printer

DEAR MISS MANNERS: The vendor I hired to make my wedding invitations has printed the following: “at half past six in the after evening.”

Is the use of “after evening” appropriate? I cannot find it anywhere online.

GENTLE READER: “After evening”? Isn’t that the time when the guests are supposed to have gone home?

Miss Manners hopes that you are not being charged by the word. Not only is that “after” senseless, but “in the evening” is also superfluous. Formality eschews word clutter and believes that people have the sense to realize that weddings are not generally held at 6:30 in the morning.

© Universal Uclick 6/12

Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com, or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

Deal Saver Subscribe today!


The Kansas City Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Kansas City Star uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here