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by Jess Lourey
Unspeakable Things

"Part suspense, part coming-of-age, Jess Lourey’s Unspeakable Things is a story of creeping dread, about childhood when you know the monster under your bed is real. A novel that clings to you long after the last page.” —Lori Rader-Day, Edgar Award–nominated author of Under a Dark Sky

Memoir or Fiction?

If you subscribe to my reader newsletter, you already know that the most personal and challenging book I've ever written releases in a few short months. Unspeakable Things lands somewhere between suspense and coming-of-age. Think Lovely Bones meets Where the Crawdads Sing. It's about a Minnesota girl who lives with terror in her home and terror in her community.

It's about my childhood.

I decided two weeks ago that I was stepping out from the shield of fiction and claiming my story. 

In Unspeakable Things, I collapsed timelines, added dialogue and detail and characters, and in the end, it's the truest thing I've ever written. And now I'm contemplating writing a memoir. My whole gig (18 novels and counting) has been working through pain and trauma and joy and life in fiction (see my TEDx Talk below), but I'm wondering about the power of memoir.

When aspiring memoir writers attend my workshops, they all have the same concern: how do I tell this story without rocking the boat (hurting my family, shocking my coworkers, losing friends...)? Sometimes the question isn't that clear. Sometimes they ask if they can use a pseudonym (yes, but it's harder to sell the book), change the names of the guilty (yes, and unless there is a public record of the guilt or the guilty signs off on it, you'll definitely want to do this), or write it as fiction (always).

I get it. My mom, dad, and sister are no longer speaking to me, not because of Unspeakable Things but because I was no longer willing to keep silent about the trauma in our home. Claiming your story often comes with consequences, but I find you deal with your past or it deals with you, and I was tired of it dealing with me. I wanted to live in the sunshine. 

My life is better in so many ways since I began writing and now claiming this story (and I think the raw truth inside the novel is why it landed me a book contract in the big leagues), but I miss my mom and sister. All this is to say: I get it. If you're thinking of writing memoir and you're afraid of the consequences of telling your story, I get it. But I also think memoir offers healing--for writer and reader--that fiction doesn't.

I don't know this for sure, but I'm going to check it out, starting with reading the books below and writing some exploratory essays. My goal is to create some online memoir writing modules, a memoir-writing retreat, and possibly even write my own memoir. You'll hear it all first.

In the meanwhile, let me know if you have any writing questions I can answer now, and big love to you.

Memoir-writing Research

I'm looking forward to digging into these! If you have any recommendations for other great memoirs or books on writing memoir, let me know. If you want to hang out in person, here are my current workshop dates: Jess Lourey workshops.


“You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” —Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly  and an all around badass

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3948 Market Street #24581
Minneapolis, MN 55410

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