The Fallout Continues

First, big ups to Caitlyn Hunter for her blog post that contained the following bit of important wisdom:

I don’t know who to be more pissed with on this one; the authors for trying to dupe their readers or the editors/publishers for being blinded by all those dollar signs flashing in front of their eyes.

That one’s a toss-up, but the thing that really ticks me off is the thought of all those struggling writers out there—myself included—who would do just about anything to make it as an author

…except lie, cheat and steal.


Edited to add: Barb Ferrer sent me a link to the Eugene, OR, Register-Guard, the home paper of Margaret Seltzer, which has an article today with some very telling information:

When questioned by The Register-Guard last week about calling the book a memoir despite the acknowledged changes in facts, Seltzer said publishers “didn’t want to buy it as fiction.”

And finally, Sandra D sent me a reprint of an article from Slate from 2006 that was reprinted today which asks, “Why are book editors so bad at spotting fake memoirs?”

Many editors think it’s not economically feasible to fact-check every book; intellectually, it may not be feasible either, given the degree of expertise brought to certain subjects. The publishers’ predicament is a real one….

Elisabeth Sifton, senior vice president at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, said, “There aren’t official procedures, but the supposition is that editors need to be smart and well-trained enough to spot this stuff….”

About issuing disclaimers in cases like these, Sifton said, “It’s purposeless, except to save face.”

As the trifecta of “oh shit” continues to unfold in the publishing world, some things become have become more clear as to the ways and means of books: if you make up some fiction, co-opt the painful history of a minority as your own, and call it the truth, that’s a problem.

If you co-opt the truth in other people’s writing, as well as the painful history of a minority as your own, and put it in your fiction without attribution, that’s ok. In fact, it’s on sale now.



The Link-O-Lator

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  1. 1
    Jackie says:

    That’s it. For my next project, I’m writing THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ZORT, EVIL OVERLORD, A MEMOIR*

    *as told to the author through months of stressful Ouija sessions

  2. 2
    FoxieMoxie says:

    I just wonder why the child soldier felt the urge to lie about his timeline.  It seems like his story would be interesting enough without the exaggerations.  The Holocaust story seems like it would have been incredibly good even marketed as fiction and her life story is interesting in its own merits.  It just seems so pointless to me.  Why tarnish your actually GOOD story by lying about it?  I mean, I know the answer, but seriously.

  3. 3
    Mala says:

    Is it some sort of prerequisite that when you get caught plagiarizing or making shit up, your husband must answer the phone for you?

    I’m starting to think there’s a handbook for this sort of thing out there.

  4. 4
    Marta Acosta says:

    My feeling about the false memoirists is:  good for them for pulling off the hoax for a while at least.  Good for them for getting paid for writing fiction.  The literary con is a fine and honored tradition.

    Every con has to have a mark willing to believe something that is obviously not true.  The con artist gets money out of the con.  The mark gets something valuable to him or her, too.

    In the cases of the sordid memoir, the mark gets a feeling of superiority and a vicarious thrill off the degradation and violence.  That’s why these books about horrible childhoods sell so well.

    The fact that Margaret Seltzer claimed to be biracial helped, since the mark could also have confirmation of his/her racial assumptions.

  5. 5
    michelle says:

    Does anyone else remember The Education of Little Tree? We had to read it in high school. It was the supposed autobiography of a Native American boy. It was a really sad story, and I remember thinking “Oh, this poor guy.” And then after we were done the teacher told us it was actually written by a white supremacist. It was like a total violation of trust, AP English style. Still makes me feel icky.
    I guess my question is, why are all these people pretending to be oppressed minorities? Whatever your excuses are for lying at all, doesn’t that part at least seem wrong to them? Isn’t it just that much more offensive, that you’re not only putting one over on the public, but that you’re using someone else’s suffering to do so? It’s like buying a wheelchair and holding a fundraiser for yourself so you can go on a ski trip. Gross.

  6. 6
    Teddypig says:

    Oprah here I come…

    Title: Little House on Hells Kitchen ~ The Black Footed Years

    Chapter 1: It was a dark and stormy night. Mom chittered at me from the window of our third floor apartment in Manhattan. I must confess, I was raised by a family of Black Footed Ferrets after the death of my crack addicted parents.

    Yes Mom! I’ll bring home some prairie dog chow mein for dinner tonight. Do you want Duck sauce with that?

  7. 7
    oakling says:

    True story. I knew someone who had the same beef with Middlesex – apparently there was someone who was actually intersexed whose story Eugenides had stolen for the book, without even changing enough to make it seem like he didn’t steal it. And meanwhile, everyone drools over how powerful and revolutionary and innovative it is for him to tell that story.

  8. 8
    SonomaLass says:

    I hope that publishers are embarrassed enough about these incidents that we might see a little more checking.  While I understand that you don’t want an acrimonious/suspicious relationship between a writer and her or his editor, doesn’t somebody need to be protecting the ethical reputation (*koff koff*) of the publishing company?

    This editorial quote from our local paper, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat says it all for me: 
    Officials at Riverhead Books, a unit of Penguin Group USA that published “Love and Consequences,” say they’re stunned by the revelation. But they sound a little too much like Captain Renault of “Casablanca” fame, declaring “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”

  9. 9
    EJ McKenna says:

    “But wait, there’s more”

    Holy cow, the hits keep coming. What’s with the excuse ‘they wouldn’t buy it if it was called fiction’? Does that mean it’s not really a very interesting/well written book?

    Mind is still boggling. I remembered who the other “Aussie” was this time, Norma Khouri. She wrote about an honour killing in Jordan, but the timelines didn’t match up and another book/career bit the dust.

  10. 10
    bibliotecaria says:

    Here’s one you haven’t mentioned yet: Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia—biography of Indian woman; debunked by David Stoll in an entire book just on that topic—Rigoberta Menchú and the story of all poor Guatemalans.

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