musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


March 9, 2008

Memoir fraud

A few days ago the New York Times ran a story headlined Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction, about Margaret Seltzer, alias Margaret B. Jones, and her memoir that wasn’t a memoir at all. She has admitted it was fiction. Today Alternet reports on yet another memoir writer who lied, in Literary Frauds Strike Again … and Again.

So, let’s see if I understand this. We’re supposed to sell our fiction as memoir now? Is that what I’ve been doing wrong? Is this what they mean by creative nonfiction? I’m confused.

I guess the little hand slap mainstream media gave James Frey, not to mention his second book contract, weren’t very good deterrents to the hot new trend in books — memoir fraud.

Readers expect a memoir to be true, if from a limited perspective of the writer’s personal experience and memory of events, which can of course be slightly skewed. We don’t all remember events that happened when we were growing up the same way our siblings or parents remember them. Obviously a lot of other nonfiction is opinion, or facts mingled with theories, presented from a single biased viewpoint. But a memoir isn’t supposed to be deliberately made up and then presented as the author’s own story. That’s called fiction.

These so-called memoir authors sold what they wrote as their own life stories, when they knew the stories either weren’t true or weren’t their experiences. They could’ve called their stories novels, or fictionalized accounts, but they didn’t. They called them memoirs. Some of them (Frey, at least) made a lot of money.

I don’t know about you, but when I spend hard-earned money on a book, my expectations are still pretty high. Those expectations are being fulfilled by books less and less often these days. I’m starting to think it’s no wonder people are reading fewer books, and I think the problem boils down to simple greed.

We all need to make a living. But most of us try to work hard and put in an honest effort at something for our living. We don’t resort to cheating, theft, fraud, and sloppy ethics. So who’s to blame here? Are these people just laughing at all us dummies who bother to actually be honest about our work? Laughing all the way to the bank?

The LA Times has published another opinion on why this type of thing happens in Why we fall for the fakes, an editorial that blames not just the writers, but the publishers, and finally the readers who keep purchasing these books.

What do readers think about this? If you pick up a memoir to read, do you want to know the person is at least attempting to be honest and accurate? Do you want to believe the publisher did their part in making sure they weren’t helping to perpetrate a fraud, or even instigating it? Do you think the writer is making a promise he or she is responsible to keep? Or when you pick up a memoir do you expect a certain amount of fiction?

What do you consider getting your money’s worth from a book? What are your expectations of authors and publishers as far as honesty? Are consumers partly to blame when we keep buying and don’t demand quality and integrity from the companies selling us products? Are we the readers to blame for books that fall below standards in either quality or integrity? Are we voting with our dollar for dishonesty? Or is that just an easy excuse for those who knowingly sell us shoddy or misrepresented products? Isn’t that blaming the victims, something like the purse snatcher saying, “Well she was just walking along the sidewalk. What was she doing there if she didn’t want it stolen?”

Perhaps most important of all, how does this make you feel about telling young people they should read more books?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 11:40 am PST, 03/09/08

February 17, 2007

Indie publishers ask for less and win

Less turns out to be a good thing at times in today’s corporatist economic and political scene, and especially in the publishing arena, where seven very big fish own almost everything, having devoured nearly every other fish in the water. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:25 pm PST, 02/17/07


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