Sunday, March 9, 2008

No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

Remember James Frey, the guy who wrote the partially faked memoir A Million Little Pieces? (After Frey said the book was 95% true, David Thayer remarked that this still left 950,000 real Little Pieces, which he thought was quite a lot.)

Harper is publishing Frey's new novel this summer, with a claimed 350,000 print run. There was speculation that he had also placed a collection of short stories. According to the New York Times:

Reached by telephone before the announcement, Mr. Frey denied rumors that he had sold a short story collection, saying, “I have never written a short story in my life.”

But Mr. Frey published a short story last fall in a catalog for an exhibition by Malerie Marder, a Los Angeles-based artist.

Well, okay, we already knew Mr. Frey had some issues with telling the truth.

Faked memoirs seem to be popular; a woman named Margaret Seltzer just went down for one last week. But I suspect fake memoirs will be even more popular now—Mr Frey has demonstrated they seem to be a good route to getting a top agent and a big publishing deal for your novel.

On the other hand, Laura Albert, who wrote two novels under the pen name JT Leroy, was successfully sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars—because the publisher (and production company who optioned his/her books) knew that what she was writing was fiction, but bought the books in the belief that their author was a more interesting person than the author actually was.

Now, let me get this straight:

1) Frey lies in a book claimed to be non-fiction, and is rewarded with a huge fiction contract.

2) Laura Albert sells a novel and gets saddled with a massive debt because she, the author, isn’t as interesting as the person they believed the author to be.

Is it just me, or is that messed up?

DISCLAIMER: For the record, I would just like to assert that neither I, nor any of the fiction-writing visitors to this site, are interesting people in any way whatsoever, nor have we ever represented ourselves as being interesting people. Should anyone ever buy any of our novels, or procure the rights to them, or even happen to glance at them in a bookstore, they should not do so under the mistaken impression that we, ourselves, the writers, are interesting. We are dull as dirt, which is why we sit in rooms by ourselves making up stories about our imaginary friends. You can find more interesting things than us under your sofa cushions. Do not under any circumstances buy our novels, no matter how exciting they may be, under the illusion that we, ourselves, must be even more exciting. We are somewhat less sexually attractive than Yoda (though we have better syntax and some of us, at least most of the women, have less hair growing out of our ears); we are less witty than the defensive line of an American football team; and we are slightly less charming and socially adriot than a herd of flatulent hippos. So, even if our novels happen to be exciting or interesting, you have no grounds for taking legal action against us in the belief that we, ourselves, ought to be more interesting. We aren’t, and we warned you in advance, so there are no grounds to sue any of us. The days of the wild bohemian artist is long gone.

[Note to other novelists: We’re having another get-together here. Drinks, nose-candy, and exotic snacks will be provided free, but if you need any “equipment” you’ll have to bring it yourselves. Although we discard any left-behind needles, please do check the lost and found before leaving—we’ve got four pairs of thigh-high boots, a whole wad of thongs (we laundered them), and any number of rather unique, um, devices, none of which fit us. And, please: be considerate. If you insist on going all Sylvia Plath, please do it elsewhere—our oven is electric, and many of our guests need to get home to relieve the babysitter, and don’t have time for yet another police inquest! ]


David Thayer said...

Peter Winkler has some scholarly things to say about fake memoirs citing the Clifford Irving affair from lo these many years ago 1969?
This is the opposite phenomenon of the steroid hearings, that is say no one remembers taking steroids, I certainly don't, so, on the one hand, no one remembers anything, while, on the other, memoirists remember things that never happened.

Jen Ster said...

I have never faked a memoir in my life. It's all true, from the barroom brawl in Birmingham to getting arrested in Sweden to smooching the world famous bagpiper. Or it would be true if I've written it, which I haven't.

Incidentally, one of the recently busted false memoirists said something like, "It's not actually true, but it's my truth." To which I can only say, huh?

PS. The boots are mine. And why did you launder the thongs? They were just getting interesting.

David Isaak said...

Hi, David--

Yeah, memories were pretty bad during the Watergate hearings, too. Maybe they were all on steroids?

David Isaak said...

"...And why did you launder the thongs? They were just getting interesting."

All that barbeque sauce was attracting ants.

Joan said...

I'm reminded of a quote from another writer with self-admitted memory problems:

"When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened." -- Mark Twain's Autobiography.

Jen Ster said...

"Yeah, memories were pretty bad during the Watergate hearings, too."

You can't possibly be old enough to remember those...

David Isaak said...

Hi, Joan--

That describes me precisely. Which is why I will never write a memoir.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

Watergate? Oh, of course not. But I learned about it last year, in our 11th-grade government class.

Charles Lambert said...

I'm boring. Boring. OK?

David Isaak said...

There you go, Charles--simple insurance against any future lawsuits.