Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Margaret Selzer et al


I'm trying to come to an understanding of why writers like Margaret Seltzer, James Frey and the rest of the growing number attempt to dupe the reading public. Do market demands value a memo over a novel to this degree? Or is there a pathology at work with these writers? Is it just more fun to become the character in your work? Is the game afoot from the beginning or at some point, do they begin to see either a monetary,a personal or psychological advantage in turning a novel into a memoir?

Clearly Ms. Seltzer went to a lot of trouble, coming up with collateral witnesses to boost her deception. Yet wouldn't any sane person realize that such claims were just too far from the truth not to be invalidated. And by a sister who didn't want the family name besmirched. Did she want to be caught? What do you think?

14 comments:

Josephine Damian said...

I see this across the board in the twenty-something generation: the belief that doing something unethical, especially for profit, is OK (I sure do see it a lot in the kids I go to school with). That coupled with the pervasive celebrity culture - the Paris Hilton effect - famous for no good reason - has had a profound influence on everyone - especially the You Tube generation.

Just yesterday I read how much easier it is to get a non-fiction project published and for a desperate fiction writer that's got to be enticement right there - just re-label your fiction "non-fiction" - James Frey said what motivated him were the rejections he got for his novels.

No, deception is not ok, but I can see how the biz can drive a writer to make stupid mistakes.

Guess I'll be crossing of this book from my TBR pile now. My first reaction was that the sister might have been jealous over this author's success, or perhaps just offended by the lies the author told about being raised by foster parents... or both.

I guess what surprises me is the lack of extreme scutinity on memoirs after the Frey debacle.

Todd Mason said...

The current 20y0s are hardly the first greedhead fame-whores, though...we briefly discussed fictional "memoirs" on a list I'm on yesterday, and among the examples that came to mind for me as having been firmly questioned, to say the least, were MILES by Miles Davis (challenged by no less a source than Dizzy Gillespie), PENTIMENTO by Lillian Hellman, WITNESS by Whittaker Chanbers, and a few more obscure examples. But, yes, being a clown and scoring off the mutual exploitation that corporate publishers engage in (see THE WIRE) seems only like playing the game you find yourself in. I listened yesterday, on WBUR's HERE AND NOW, to the publisher of the "Misha" Nazi camp "survivor" "memoir" attempt to justify her utter cynicism or utter credulity (or both) in publishing an account of a woman adopted by a wolf-pack among other less improbable improbabilities without bothering to do any sort of checking; she was hardly in her 20s.

TM said...

"...do they begin to see either a monetary,a personal or psychological advantage in turning a novel into a memoir?"

Have you ever noted how many dull or at least unthinking people, upon hearing a story or joke, ask first, "Is that true?" As if the anecdote being true improves it as a narrative. HarDoubGlomCo, Publishers, are at the ready to fulfill that audience, assuming it isn't sated by OPRAH (the show, not the book club titles, though those too) and the NATIONAL ENQUIRER.

Sophie said...

For some reason this gal ticks me off *waaay* more than Frey et al.

I hear you about desperation to be published, but I sure don't have sympathy for anyone who takes shortcuts. There is, always has been, and always will be one answer for every complaint the aspiring writer has (and this includes me in spades) - Write Some More.

:)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am almost curious to see the book-to see if she could have sold it as a novel or if she's not that good of a writer and it's only the flammatory nature of it that sold it.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, it would be interesting to see the book because, c'mon, Big Mom? Bloods and Crips? maybe she sat in a south central Starbucks or maybe she watched TV and YouTube clips.

What I find interesting is there is a quite active and vibrant 'genre' in US publishing these days called Urban Lit, which covers this ground pretty well in fiction and non-fiction.

Is this another case of publishers looking for a 'white face' to put on the story?

pattinase (abbott) said...

An article in the NYT detailed what proof had been offered to the publishers, but they admitted they'd taken it pretty much at face value. It was just too tempting to look the other way--as evidence on The Wire this season.

Josephine Damian said...

Patti, one thing that I realized during the Frey feeding frenzy was, no matter what, he still had great story telling ability - even without Oprah, people loved that book. So it came as no surprise that he got a fiction book deal once the smoke cleared.

It's a pity the biz didn't see it sooner. It's a shame he didn't hang in there and keep trying to sell some fiction.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess as it has become more difficult to sell fiction, this is one consequence. You're right. Too bad because there has to be more art to it. Creating is more artful than reporting.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess as it has become more difficult to sell fiction, this is one consequence. You're right. Too bad because there has to be more art to it. Creating is more artful than reporting.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

I think we all have to face that what is wanted in fiction is another Da Vinci Code. If Frey had written his book as a novel he would never have sold it. I'm not condoning these people, but no one would want to read his story as a novel. Or hers either. Publishing is a business and the bottom line is all that counts. I've watched publishing change over the years and it's all very sad.

Todd Mason said...

SETH SPEAKS, Sandra. Bridey Murphy. Carlos Casteneda. Erich von Daniken. Nothing new...lies sell. Nobler lies of fiction so labeled is a tougher sell, sometimes.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

I agree. It's what's happened to fiction that pains me.

Clea Simon said...

I'm with you all on this: It's harder to sell fiction. The advances are smaller. It's easier to sell any crap as a "true story," and easier to publicize, too.

To quote Clay Davis, "Sheeeeeeeeeeeeee-it."