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

July 9, 2007

Gloria Steinem proposes a new film genre label

Gloria Steinem: In Defense of the ‘Chick Flick’:

“I propose, as the opposite of “chick flick,” films called “prick flicks.” Not only will it serve film critics well, but its variants will add to the literary lexicon.” (read article)

Maybe the term “prick” is too strong. It’s not the word I would’ve chosen, yet it answers the fact that a lot of women are put off by the tone and expression, if not the word, used when we hear the term “chick flick.”

Steinem’s editorial reminds me of something that occurred in a “Modern Fantasy” literature class I took, back in the seventies, when Mary Stewart’s first two Merlin and Arthur novels, The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, were recent bestsellers. One of the young men in the class was so taken with them, he asked what other books Mary Stewart had written. I told him she’d written mostly romantic suspense in the past. I had an entire collection of her books at home, older hardcover editions gleaned from thrift store shelves. I thought when he expressed an interest that here was another new fan. But when the young man heard the word “romantic,” he took on a look of utter distaste and lost interest.

Some female mystery novelists still publish today using their first and middle initials rather than their full first names, in order to stretch past that still-existent gender barrier in many male readers’ minds, a practice reminiscent of the Brontës publishing under masculine names. One would’ve hoped that by the time this century rolled around we’d have advanced further. I don’t have statistics on this, but I’ll hazard a guess that there are more women who read and write fiction containing a predominately masculine point of view than there are men who read or write fiction containing a predominately feminine point of view.

Yet I know women, myself included, who enjoy a good action film, of the type once considered a favorite of men. Why is it that women, both in their reading and writing, as well as in movie preferences, might more readily cross old gender barriers?

Mind you, many men do take an equal interest in less violent or less action-oriented movies and books, and I admire men who are open to genres and interests considered historically feminine. I also admire women who open up more to interests previously considered masculine. More women today are sports fans than ever before, and don’t restrict their interests, as I do, to figure skating. My lack of interest is mostly due to bad experiences in physical education classes — I was that awkward, non-athletic kid always picked last for the team. It has nothing to do with my admiration of any outstanding achievement, physical or otherwise, and I enjoy watching good sports-related movies.

What is it that continues to keep some men from enjoying what they term as “chick flicks?” Is it that they truly don’t enjoy more thoughtful, slower-moving, or less action-oriented stories, once they give them a chance? Or is there another reason? Is it adrenaline addiction? (Understandable, among men and women, in today’s world, though perhaps best not encouraged.) Is it fear of what their friends will think? I’m trying not to make assumptions here. I’d really like to know, especially as a female writer trying to sell my fiction.

We all have types of stories we don’t like, or even parts of movies we like that we could do without. I personally back away from anything about child abductions, gangster movies that are overly violent onscreen, comedies that resort to tasteless bathroom humor (bathrooms have doors for a reason), and horror with too much blood and gore added for shock value. As far as I’m concerned, vomit and excrement belong off-screen. There’s enough of them in real life, and they’re not entertaining. They’re certainly not the kind of realism I’m looking for in a story.

I can understand someone not liking romance, even though I usually enjoy it provided it’s not overly sappy. But no one’s personal preference for certain types of stories and not others explains why we need the term “chick flick,” and especially not why it so often seems to be used as a derogatory term. Do the men who don’t like “chick flicks” prefer movies with only men? Is that what it boils down to?

I’m reminded of a line from Frank Herbert’s Dune regarding taking the “waters of life.” It mentions the place in their minds the Bene Gesserit mother superiors (women) fear to go, a place they believe only the fabled Kwisatz Haderach (a man) can access. The Kwisatz Haderach, once he accesses that place, becomes a superior being destined to lead his people to freedom. I wonder about the allegory Herbert intended, if any. Is there a place like that inside the female psyche, where some of the toughest men fear to go? Is that what they fear about “chick flicks?” Will they gain power if they find a way to access that, or will they lose power, possibly even die, as many men did who attempted to become the Kwisatz Haderach? Or will they simply gain a broader understanding of life and the world around them? In that case, maybe it’s worth a shot.

Gloria Steinem makes an interesting observation about power, and about nouns and adjectives in labels:

“Just as there are “novelists” and then “women novelists,” there are “movies” and then “chick flicks.” Whoever is in power takes over the noun — and the norm — while the less powerful get an adjective. Thus, we read about “African American doctors” but not “European American doctors,” “Hispanic leaders” but not “Anglo leaders,” “gay soldiers” but not “heterosexual soldiers,” and so on.” (read article)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:35 pm PST, 07/09/07

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

September 13, 2005

A second viewpoint character

My current novel started out as a story told from a single point of view, that of a young woman named Iris Somerset, who’s a tarot reader. She gets caught up in a murder investigation, mainly because the police don’t believe she had a psychic vision of the murder. She doesn’t really blame them. She can hardly believe it herself.

The first draft seemed to go great, and I finished it quickly.

It felt a little flat to me. There was a lot more story seeping into my mind, as the original idea developed and morphed over time, than was apparent in that draft. The main problem was the limited viewpoint. After debating with myself for a while, I decided the story needed a second viewpoint character. Actually I have to admit the character himself told me this. Yeah, sounds a little crazy, huh. But this is fiction. He was coming to life, and he wanted a voice.

The character was already there. I just had to make him a viewpoint character, change some scenes that involved him so he could tell a portion of the story from his perspective, reveal some of what he knew.

It sounds so simple. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:39 pm PST, 09/13/05


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