Mea Culpa: Another Raging Nonfiction Scandal
May 17, 2010 § 9 Comments
Brevity has offered a forum wherein Patrick Madden, past Brevity author, founder/keeper of the extraordinary Quotidiana website, and author of the essay collection Quotidiana, can admit his various nonfiction transgressions. Frankly, we here at Brevity are still shocked that one of our idols has stooped this low, but kudos to University of Nebraska Press for offering an apology, and a reasonable refund procedure.
As the phone calls, the letters, the legal summonses mount, and the Smoking Gun “journalists” harass me, my family members, and my friends, I have decided to come clean, to declare my guilt preemptively, before I am unmasked by those muckrakers with nothing better to do than to flush a fledgling writer’s career down the toilet. I admit it: I fictionalized key parts of my supposedly nonfiction collection of personal essays, Quotidiana. As a long-time committed nonfictionist, one who teaches his students not to lie, to select and shape their real experiences into literature, I feel so ashamed. I sincerely apologize to those readers who have been disappointed in my actions.
What’s perhaps most disappointing, to me at least, is that it’s been my wife, my father, my mother-in-law, and a good friend who’ve tattled on me. For instance, on page 31, I claim that I only bought ub40’s Greatest Hits when Karina and I were filling out our order of free cds from Columbia House. Karina now assures me that, no, I actually bought this cd from a brick-and-mortar store as a gift for her. And on page 22, where I say that Karina gave our first son the nickname “Pato,” I know now that I should have credited Karina’s mother instead. I can only imagine the anguish I have caused unsuspecting readers who have taken my word for these events. Later in the book, on page 101, I write, perhaps erroneously, that “Helen sang alto harmony to my grandmother’s soprano melody.” Who knows why my father, who had read this particular essay in an earlier form, waited until the book was published to express his doubt about the veracity of this statement. Maybe, he told me, it was Helen who sang the soprano part. Or maybe not. The truth is, right now, we don’t really know. Perhaps the Smoking Gun “investigators” can tell me for sure. And on page 65, at the end of a long, italicized list of Spanish names for fruits and vegetables for sale at Montevideo’s Mercado Modelo, a section of the book that nobody actually reads, I briefly mention the Uruguayans’ preferred word for pineapple, ananá, which I note in contrast to the more widely used piña. Although I have made no claim about the word’s origin, my friend Eduardo Galeano, a wonderful Uruguayan writer, has nevertheless offered the following critique of my research:
I like the book, but here’s just a small observation: if I’m not mistaken, the word ananá is Guaraní, Tupí-Guaraní to be exact, because the fruit comes from Brazil and was unknown outside of tropical America before the European conquest.
I offer the correction or expansion here, in the spirit of penance for my sin of omission. But I suspect there is no forgiveness for the greatest factual error I’ve yet encountered in the book. On page 126, just joking around, I quote some lyrics from a Rush song, replacing “it’s a part of us” with “hippopotamus.” I attribute these lyrics correctly to Neil Peart, but place them in the song “Entre Nous,” which is blatantly false and an embarrassment to me. I claim to be a staunch Rush fan, so how could I not know that these words are from “Different Strings,” the song after “Entre Nous” on 1980’s groundbreaking Permanent Waves? To this humiliating question, I have no sufficient answer, only excruciating guilt and sorrow.
I regret my decisions to falsify my experience in these (and perhaps other, yet-undiscovered) ways, or my slothfulness in neglecting to check these vital facts of my life. I recognize that I have discredited myself in irreparable ways. I only hope these revelations will not alter my readers’ faith in the book’s central message, whatever that may be.
Thankfully, my publisher has assured me that they will take all steps necessary to put things right with the defrauded public. Taking a page from the Doubleday playbook, they’ve issued the following statement:
The potential for controversy over Patrick Madden’s Quotidiana will possibly in the future cause serious or perhaps only mild concern at the University of Nebraska Press. It is not the policy neither is it the stance of this or any other company that we might or might not know of that it doesn’t matter whether a book sold or lent from libraries as nonfiction isn’t false, or that it might not be misconstrued as having arisen from certain unverities or misfacts. Readers wishing to receive a refund on their purchase should simply cut out the kookaburra from the book’s jacket, paste it on a popsicle stick, and create a YouTube video of the animated bird chanting a page from Quotidiana, making sure to change voices for and properly cite any block-quoted passages. Send your link to email@example.com along with your contact information. The best rendition (as voted on by a panel of expert judges) will receive a check for one-tenth of the book’s current lowest Amazon Marketplace price. We try to bear a certain responsibility for some of what we publish, when we can, and we apologize to the reading public for any unintentional confusion, bewilderment, or mystification surrounding or concerning the publication of Quotidiana or any other books, ever.
This post is too brilliant for words. Better than my morning cup of coffee.
I for one, as a staunch supporter of truth, am grievously offended. This happened to me with James Frey, too–I was right in the middle of A Million Little Pieces when Oprah exploded all over him. Why, Patrick, Why?
Actually, now that I think about it I’m not really harmed or offended. The only personal harm I feel in this so far is the whole “staunch Rush fan” thing. Capturing subjectivity on the page is important and all, but when those mental snapshots are so jarring and mind-bending, I have to stand up and say: you’ve gone too far. So the class-action lawsuit I’ll be embarking upon against you is only in the interest of defending myself against Rush.
Patrick, how could you? I’m shocked. Horrified. Betrayed . . . UB40? I’m pasting the Kookaburra on a popsicle stick right now and he’s going to sign “Red Red Wine” in a falsetto. Seriously, though, great post.
Man, I thought that the “hippopotamus” line was from “Different Strings.” I even thought of digging out the CD and checking (the urge was quickly squelched). But who am I to doubt the staunch Rush fan?
Non-fiction, my hoo haa…it’s simply lies, all lies! Oh…it’s “creative” non-fiction – still, the RUSH thing…unforgivable.
In recent news, studies show that a young child’s ability to lie is an indication of higher intellect! Lie to me, Baby!
BTW, I’m a fricking genuis!
This post has the potential to unleash a veritable tidal wave of confession. Save us!
@Meg Harris, I think this study is not yet matured.
I think there’s some truth to it–only from practical experience. My youngest child is genius and she’s been a brilliant prevaricator since she was very small. Happily she’s given up such habits. Well except for the occasional fish tale…