Books I Loathed discussion

Stupid phony memoirs

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message 1: by Liz (new)

Liz (liosaidh) | 9 comments Okay, is anyone else getting incredibly sick of these people who feel the need to write a "memoir," only to confess that it's made up?? There's a genre for that, you know... it's called FICTION.

(If you don't know, I'm referring to James Frey, Laura Albert, the woman who posed as the novelist J T LeRoy, and now Margaret Seltzer.)

Seriously. Ugh.

message 2: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (giraffe_days) They really do set themselves up for a long fall. No sympathy from me. I guess, if they marketed it as fiction, the critics would be quick to say "the writing's crap and the events ridiculous", whereas if it's a "memoir" all is forgiven because they've gone through such hardships blah blah blah.

Is their plan to get more attention by fessing later, do you think? After all, people are still reading Frey's Million Little Pieces.

message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason (gireesh42) I don't see what the big deal is. I'd rather abolish genres altogether. The only books with stories where it really matters in my mind are maybe biographies. Maybe not. I want fiction to bleed into life more often, I want our reality indistinguishable from our dreams. My judgements of someone's writing vary little with genre.

message 4: by Liz (new)

Liz (liosaidh) | 9 comments But that's just it — these people marketed their books as autobiographies. I take major issue with someone, in this case Margaret Seltzer, who claims she is part American Indian, that she moved from foster home to foster home as a child, and got involved with gangs and drugs, and lived the "hard life" — when in fact she's a white girl grew up with her biological family in a fairly high-end Sherman Oaks neighborhood in LA, and graduated from a private Episcopal day school.

She wrote a good story. I don't take issue with that. I do take issue with someone trying to pass off hardships that never happened to them as their truth. She went to the extent of getting people to pose as her foster siblings to try and convince the editors her story was true. Why? So that she could reap the benefits of a story that wasn't even hers. That I'm sure someone out there actually lived through.

message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason (gireesh42) first it was memoirs now autobiographies. i was referring to biographies. entirely different. but this is all beside the point. whatever genres we want to lump together i still can't see what it matters, unless you picked up the book for the express reason that you wanted research into the life of seltzer. but for the most part people will pick up the book because of the story, and if the story intrigues, entertains, or in any way attracts you what is wrong with calling it fiction, biography or cookbook?

she didn't lie to the public personally, she lied to herself and to some extent her publishers (who are in the business of marketing really, and therefore liars themselves) and that was her choice. i applaud her ability to hoodwink her publishers and think it is ridiculous that they are recalling the book. of course, they will republish it as fiction and it will sell like hot cakes now.

as far as other people experiencing her story, i have to be finicky here. sure, other people have grown up in central LA and lived shitty lives, but their story is not hers. hers is a collection of words on a page while theirs are private memories. if they managed to write their story it would be completely different, probably harder to read, and unpublishable. and if it were good to read and publishable, then it would be a different story by a different person. she's not depriving these imaginary South Centralers of their own stories. if anything, there will be more attention given to that reality now.

i guess i'm more concerned with separating the author from the work, while you seem to want to believe they are the same and have equal responsibilities to the public.

message 6: by Kirk (new)

Kirk | 1 comments I guess I see it differently. I think there's an ethical obligation when you write nonfiction---it's not unlike journalism. People like Seltzer only screw publishing up more when they pull this bullshit. It's pure opportunism. They recognize that most of the market is geared toward nonfiction, so by passing off stuff they makeup as true, they further diminish the relevance of fiction. To me it's a sign of how important fiction really is that people like Frey resort to it when they don't think their real lives are worth a book. Personally, I think there ought to be a 1-and-done rule: you get caught lying, you're through---period. No hide-away-for-a-couple-of-years and then come back, Frey-style. There are plenty of people out there waiting for their shot---and they're not likely to defraud the market.

message 7: by Skylar (last edited Mar 06, 2008 04:41AM) (new)

Skylar Burris (skylarburris) | 32 comments It's simply a matter of truth in advertising. If you're writing fiction, don't advertise it as nonfiction. You disappoint people who are titillated by the idea that "wow, this really happened!" We don't read nonfiction simply for a "good story"; that's why we read fiction. We read nonfiction because we have some interest in the fact that it really happened. Why that makes a difference to us, I don't know, but it does, and you kill the enjoyment with a bait and switch.

I think this also annoys people because often authors of memoirs have political or philosophical agendas, and they're basically inventing anecdotal evidence to support their point of view.

message 8: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 7 comments Jason (message 3), I really do want to know if I am reading truth or fiction. One I read in an effort to understand this world and another I read to escape this world.


message 9: by Jason (new)

Jason (gireesh42) I read everything only to understand. When I want to know if something is non-fiction it is because I want to understand in the particular for a specific purpose. A story about someone's life remains a story in my mind, true or not. But this is just a difference in the way we approach the world, I suppose.

Then there are those who choose to believe truth is a fiction, what do we do in instances like this, and where would they fall in this spectrum? For instance, there is a man who has been observed to live off sunlight. He stares at the sun in the morning and evenings and rarely eats and drinks only a little water and sometimes tea and survives. I've read the story and told my coworker about it, but he refuses to believe though I know it to be fact. People like this abound, with issues far more relevant and verifiable than sun-gazers.

Advertising is always a lie. From teh beginning of time. That's the whole point. Or if not a lie, a small truth enriched by fiction. I see no ethics in writing unless you are writing something you know for certain will definitively harm another person. The only ethical obligations a writer has is to himself. Of course, I can understand if you are pissed because you would have not bought the book if you had known, but it wouldn't be the first time a lying advertiser swindled you out of hard earned cash.

message 10: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 7 comments Maybe I'm getting a little obsessive about this author lying in her memoir, but I started fact checking myself.

I live the the same county as Margaret Seltzer and was in the County Building for another reason, I decided to find out how hard fact checking might be. I discovered that the house the New York Times says she owns belongs to a couple with the same last name who live in Van Nuys California (her parents maybe?). Considering that she supposedly was a foster child with no relatives in a position to buy her a house, it might be the sort of clue that the publisher should have someone spend a couple hours checking out her the story.

message 11: by Judy (new)

Judy (judy5cents) | 26 comments Okay, Jason. Where exactly is your sungazer and how do you know he doesn't sneak a Twinkie or a ham sandwich when no one's looking? And how'd you find out about him?

I ask, because Margaret Seltzer's story sounds credible when you read it in the New York Times and it shows that even the most reliable of sources can be wrong.

I've been hearing variations of the Oprah defense for James Frey--"The story still resonates, even if it isn't completely factual." Seltzer's and Frey's story and all those other made up "true" stories resonate because people reading them believe they're true. That's what makes this story stand out from the stack of well-written novels on your nightstand. It really happened and the author is right there in the New York Times talking about eveything she went through.

I have no problem with these people writing books that are made up. I am angry that they get so much publicity passing these made up events as their own experiences. It's still lying and it's still wrong.

message 12: by Jason (new)

Jason (gireesh42) I understand. I just couldn't care less, I suppose. This is also why I don't read traditional news sources regularly--i'm only ever going to hear about people who aren't worth my time.

message 13: by Inky (new)

Inky | 8 comments The whole idea of faking a memoir is just sad -- does that mean the author is living a life not worth writing about? I just don't like being sold one product disguised as another.

Bloomin’Chick (Jo) aka The Eclectic Spoonie (bloominchick) as a writer, i'm very disappointed with this 'here's my made up memoir' trend going on lately because i think it only helps undermine writers as a whole (regardless of genre) and perpetuates the stereo type that writer's are not to be taken seriously. if you're going to claim your book is a specific genre, like memoir or autobio, then that's what it's supposed to be ~ if you're going to make up an entire life that in reality wasn't actually lived, then it's fiction and should be labeled/promoted as such. i just can't believe the publishers & agents are falling for this stuff without first looking into the author's info to make sure at least some of it can be verified! (didn't vanilla ice serve as lesson to all?!)

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Or how about Milli Vanilli?

message 16: by nina (new)

nina (ladeeda) | 14 comments I've never read one of these, but I remember some guy confessing on ,like, Oprah cos A Million Little Pieces wasn't REALLY all that truthful. Wtf makes a person lie like that? I just don't get it.

message 17: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 19 comments Has anyone read Reagan's biography "Dutch"?

The writer used an interesting "device" in placing himself in Reagan's life as a peripheral character. They supposedely went to the same highschool and then they keep bumping into each other throughout the course of Reagan's life.

This writer said he did this as litterary tool to emphasize certain events and flesh out some of the iconic moments taking place through out the country in the 40's-80's

All this was done with the knowlege of the Reagan family.

Ironically, Ron Reagan Jr. said it was the most accurate biography about his father.

It was a good read. But I was a little uncomfortable with this writing concept.

message 18: by Erica (new)

Erica | 66 comments I completely agree. After the James Frey debacle, which itself was quite entertaining to me, a lot of people said haplessly, "Well, it's still a really great book. Its being fiction doesn't change that." But it does!

I, too, don't know why the fraud made such a difference to me, but that "I just can't believe it! That's so amazing!" factor is so entrancing; it doesn't work in fiction. Just doesn't.

Also, authors of miserable autobiographies DO earn my sympathy, and I feel so cheated when I wasted it.

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