Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Y'all are liars!

So first it was James Fey and his fake memoir of substance abuse, crime and rehabilitation, A Million Little Pieces, which probably got more attention than it needed or deserved due to Oprah's very public and awkward flaying of the author.

Then last week, news broke that Misha Defonseca's Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, in which the author describes being raised by wolves during the Second World War after her parents were deported by the Nazis, is complete and utter fiction. For some strange reason, this news surprised people. (Seriously? Raised by wolves??)

And on the tail of that news, we hear that Love and Consequences, a story of gang-life and poverty in Los Angeles, is also fake. The author, Margaret B. Jones, is in fact Margaret Seltzer, and she bears pretty much no resemblance to the person she claims to be in the book.

I have several questions. First and foremost, "What the h*ll is wrong with you people?"

Now that I have that out of the way, I am prepared to engage in more articulate consideration of why people feel compelled to create these wildly outrageous LIES ('cause they are lies, folks) and risk everything -- career, reputation, family -- to publish these LIES as biographical truth. Because one could, if one felt really compelled to write a story about, say, a little girl being raised by wolves during a period of global conflict, write that story and publish it as fiction. "Here is a story (fictional) about a (fictional) person growing up in L.A amid tremendous proverty and gang-activity," one could advertise.

I can hear the counter-argument to that. The counter-argument is that the genre of Biography or Memoire is EXTRA-compelling (and therefore marketable) because the stories are TRUE! People will be more willing to buy these extra-compelling books because they can read TRUE stories about REAL people and be amazed by the tremendous courage/intelligence/tenacity demonstrated by the subject.

To this counter argument, I call BULL. The choice to publish fictional material as truth isn't clever marketing; it's laziness. It is the job of the author to write stories that are compelling to the reader. And if the author can't do that without tagging the story with "AND IT'S ALL TRUE, FOLKS!" then the author is not a very good one and should think about doing something else.

And I know that because I have read hundreds and hundreds of fictional books by fantastic authors that have made me cry or laugh or feel nauseated or get angry or be touched. And at no point in reading those books did I say to myself, "Well, if only this book were a memoire; then it would be REALLY good."

What makes me so angry about these stories is the damage they cause to real people who have chosen to tell their real stories in writing. What happens to the poor woman who really WAS raised by wolves during the Second World War and wants to tell that story to the world. Well, instead of interested readers, that story now gets met immediately by doubt and suspicion. I'm being facetious in my example, but the difficulty is a real one. The damage caused by these kinds of LIES extends beyond the damage to the author and his/her reputation, and to those who are genuinely devoted to the art of biographical writing.

This concludes my rant.


Songbird said...

Well ranted!

Jan said...

I echo Songbird-->good words and needed ones!

ccw said...

Great vent!

Good fiction with well built characters could easily stand was as real people in a memoire.

(Unless it's something like Stephen King or the like - then the characters could be real but suspended reality would be an issue)

Chunklets said...

Indeed, an excellent rant, and right on the money I think!

I admit, though, that I have encountered readers who will shy away from reading fiction. A typical conversation with one such goes something like:

Person A, to Chunklets, who is reading a book: "Oooh, what are you reading?"

Chunklets: "[insert name of fiction author here]. Do you know him/her/it?"

Person A, in smug and patronizing tone: "Oh no, I only read non-fiction!"

Chunklets: "[censored]"

Such people are a very small minority though, so I don't think an author needs to pass off fiction as non-fiction simply on their account!