Regarding the fake memoir crisis, and its effect on budding writers: sometimes, your life, or the lives that touch yours, are so "bafflingly fucked" that the only thing to do is write about it. After the jump, two memoirists (one published, one not) with Dickensian backgrounds talk about the Frey/Leroy/Seltzer clusterfuck that conspired to cast doubt on their stories. (One way to prove that your homeless memoir is true? Dump memorabilia from your years as a waif on their desks!)
Says one writer, currently shopping a memoir to agents:
"Boilerplate responses to partials are part of the game, to be sure, but I have certainly noticed a sway in the 'current climate' that may or may-not be related to lying writers. I finished my book and called it a novel because I thought it might play well with the agents if I were to say, 'With all these lying writers, what if I told a true story and called it a novel?' The story I tell in my novel is all fact and is as tragic as it is hilarious. I grew up in squalor, under a set of huckleberry circumstances so bafflingly fucked that the only means of keeping it together was to work - and to write it all down and make fun of it."Next, author Janice Erlbaum on how two separate fake- memoirist scandals affected both her books:
"After I finished the book and queried some agents, I had ten requests for the manuscript. Four have turned it down... A better question might be: who gives a fuck? I look on the bright side. My story is implausible - there's no way anyone will believe it in the "current climate". I keep rooting for Charles Bock and the other etceteras who seem to be moving forward with their true-to-life coming-of-age tales which are now getting published as novels."
"I'm a two-time loser when it comes to fake memoirists fucking me up. My first book, Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir, was eight weeks away from release when the James Frey story broke... I wrote to my editor right away to say, "Hey, you guys know you can trust me, right? How about if I come in to your lawyer's office with all my memorabilia and show you that I really was an unsavory, promiscuous, drug-addled kleptomaniac teenager?"
The good folks at Random House granted me an audience, and I shlepped a bag full of old notes, journals, photos, and report cards up to the office, where I dumped them all on the desk - "Look, here's a song I wrote to the tune of 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,' about stealing from my job at the snack stand at Sheep Meadow. And here's a report card - 'Excessive absence!' Isn't that great?"
My publisher was satisfied, but the press wasn't - many reviews for the book questioned my credibility.
I thought things were going to be different this time around - just four weeks ago, my second memoir, Have You Found Her, was released. This time, I'd shared all my source materials with my editor and the lawyers at Random as I was writing the book; fortunately, I'd been detailing most of the events in real time on my blog, and my editor met many of the people I'd written about, so there was little question that I was being truthful.
I've been trying to stay calm and just keep promoting the book, but now every interviewer wants to know about Margaret B. Jones. And nobody wants to know about Janice D. Erlbaum.