Fabricating Memoir Should Have Consequences

March 6, 2008 § 7 Comments

mediabistro has a nice entry on the Love and Consequences controversy, ending with:

“Seltzer probably signed a contract that said that what she was representing as fact was, indeed, fact,” comments one literary agent, preferring to remain anonymous. “Penguin should sue her for return of the advance and by doing so, scare the shit out of any fake memoirists in the future… It would be nice if a publisher with deep pockets went after one of these liars and scared away the one percent of memoirists who are fakes, so the other 99 percent can be treated fairly in the future.”

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§ 7 Responses to Fabricating Memoir Should Have Consequences

  • Sarah says:

    As a writer, this only pisses me off a little bit. Not much more than it pisses me off that there are seveteen gossip rags by the cashier at the grocery store, but not one copy of Harper’s or Utne Reader.

    As a reader, though, it makes me furious. What book or books wont’ I get to read because this one took their place in the imagined market? What girl’s story that might have given me greater understanding of poverty and race was turned down because this was already in the pipeline?

    Lying is bad. Coopting a conversation as pivotal as this one is, well, evil.

  • As for scaring future fake memoirists: this sounds a lot like the argument that capital punishment reduces the murder rate by making potential murderers think twice before they commit the killing. The evidence I see tells me that’s not actually happening.

  • Bradley says:

    I don’t really think publishers punishing faux memoirists can really be compared to capital punishment. Murders usually occur unexpectedly, passionately, in the heat of a moment; or out of some sense of desperation. The fake memoirist has to sit down and think, “Well, apparently my novel is trite and contrived. But maybe if I tell people it really happened, that all of these outrageous experiences come from my life, I can sell the book, get on Oprah, option the film rights, and be applauded for my bravery. And if I’m discovered, I’m no worse off now than I was before I sold the book.” So maybe some amount of fear should figure into their deliberations.

    Don’t get me wrong– I’m against execution for murderers and nonfiction fabricators alike. But surely such actions deserve some type of punitive response?

  • I’m not sure I was comparing “publishers publishing faux memoirist” to “capital punishment,” but in any case, the death penalty is typically given to 1st-degree murderers, who’ve planned out their crime. Passion-murderers get life sentences, or less.

    I, too, think lying memoirists should be punished, held liable for their deceptions, but I expect there’ll continue to be people willing to take the risk, expecting not to get caught.

  • George says:

    Have we really degenerated to the point that we don’t understand literary fiction, where the writer writes from their life, which has tons of non fiction accounts in the fictional form. Some memoir strikes me as reality television for readers. She should have just called it a novel, and been done with it…

  • You’re right, but if she’d called her book a novel, it would have had to survive on its literary merit (I’ve not read it; perhaps it’s written well…) not on its “real-life grit.” Many authors and publishers know that a “nonfiction” book will sell better because people love that “reality” stuff. The more sensational, the better.

    I wish they hadn’t pulped the book, so I could not buy it, twice.

  • Bradley says:

    “I wish they hadn’t pulped the book, so I could not buy it, twice.”

    Well said.

    (Actually, your entire response was great, but that last line was the icing…)

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