As part of my Memoir March challenge, I posed a two-part question to several memoirist friends. What was the most difficult part of writing your memoir? How did you overcome this difficulty? Here’s the answer that Dr. Jessica Vogelsang gave. For the others, see To Drink from the Silver Cup by Anna Redsand, The Spoon from Minkowitz by Judith Fein, and Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable by Liane Kupferberg Carter.
About the Book
You can’t always count on people, but you can always count on your dog. No one knows that better than veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang.
With the help of three dogs, Jessica is buoyed through adolescence, veterinary school, and the early years of motherhood. Taffy, the fearsome Lhasa; Emmett, the devil-may-care Golden; and Kekoa, the neurotic senior Labrador, are always by her side, educating her in empathy and understanding for all the oddballs and misfits who come through the vet clinic doors. Also beside her is Kevin, a human friend who lives with the joie de vivre most people only dream of having.
From the clueless canine who inadvertently reveals a boyfriend’s wandering ways to the companion who sees through a new mother’s smiling facade, Jessica’s stories from the clinic and life show how her love for canines lifts her up and grounds her, too.
Above all, All Dogs Go to Kevin: Everything Three Dogs Taught Me (That I Didn’t Learn in Veterinary School) reminds us, with gentle humor and honesty, why we put up with the pee on the carpet, the chewed-up shoes, and the late-night trips to the vet: because the animals we love so much can, in fact, change our lives.
The Narrative Arc & the Agent
Ask a simple question, get a 5,000 word answer–always the problem of posing a query to a writer, yes? For me, the biggest challenge in writing was getting the proposal together. When you read a memoir in its final state, you see this nifty timeline and a definitive narrative arc that propels the story forward, but it’s hard when it’s real life because it doesn’t really work that way. How do you take this messy barrage of life experience and make it into something coherent and narrative? I was very fortunate to have a wonderful agent who worked with me quite a bit to ensure the proposal was what it needed to be before forwarding it to the publishing houses. I am certain I would never have made All Dogs Go to Kevin happen without Steve’s help.
I also struggled a little bit with how to write other people. My instinct is to do what I do with everything–exaggerate, lend a bit of literary license to a story to embellish and make it more entertaining, but then my conscience would always kick in and yell at me that these are real people here who I’m talking about without their knowledge or consent. That’s where the composites come in. I think in today’s internet age there’s this real urge to play ‘gotcha’ with authors and it shows a real lack of understanding about the purpose of a memoir. I always feel so badly for authors when someone decides to “fact check” their memoir and comes up with this list of all the facts that are ‘wrong.’
Well, of course it’s not exactly how it went down! It’s not a biography, it’s a memoir! I’d get sued if I told you exactly what went on in some of those exam rooms, down to the way someone’s face would contort when they called me a selfish bitch because I wouldn’t do a procedure for free. Sometimes the unvarnished truth isn’t what people really want to read. Even James Herriot, the most beloved veterinarian in the world, wasn’t really James Herriot. His name was Alf, he practiced in the 60s not the 40s, and he suffered from extreme anxiety and depression.
Once I knew the tone to take and the general outline of the stories I wanted to tell, it went quickly. I always tell people it took me six weeks to write and two years to plan.
About Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang is a veterinarian and bestselling author from San Diego, California. Her award winning website pawcurious.com is one of the first and most well known veterinary sites on the internet. She specializes in veterinary hospice care and palliative medicine with Paws into Grace and frequently lectures on ways to make the end of life transition better for families. She is a regular contributor to petMD, Vetstreet, Crayons and Collars, DVM360, and Petfinder and was a featured expert on NatGeo’s Animals Gone Wild. All Dogs Go To Kevin was published in July 2015 to stellar reviews and is an Amazon bestseller.