Tuesday, March 4

Big Mom must be so disappointed...

There's a story about the New Orleans Police Department looking for a body out in the bayou, a notorious dumping ground for murder victims.

The chief homicide detective took a class of police academy cadets out to the swamp to help in the search. "Remember," he warned, "we're looking for a white male, six feet tall, with blonde hair. If you guys start yelling every time you find a dead body, we're gonna be here all day."

I'm starting to feel the same way about these stories of memoir writers revealed as liars...if I start featuring every single one, we're never gonna get anything done.

Today's story is some chick who wrote a hilariously awful book I'd never heard of about being a white girl who was a drug runner in South Central. Do publishing industry players have their heads so far up their asses that this story even sounded remotely plausible?

Anyway, the best part is that she was busted by her own sister:


That article is notable for a couple of other things:

1. How confusing the Times house style is when the article includes more than a handful of players...good luck keeping all those Ms.'s straight!

2. It also feeds into my current obsession with pictures of what people my own age look like. For the record, that is what a lady I could have gone to college with looks like now. Huh!

Back to Margaret Seltzer for a minute. She was the recipient of a lot of pre-publication buzz from the Times, including a glowing review by Michiko Kakutani and a Home & Garden profile that I guarantee you will be the funniest thing you read all day:


Gawker wonders: could it have anything to do with the fact that Seltzer's long-time editor is the daughter of veteran Times Book Review editor Charles McGrath?


This nugget blows me away: "A Book Review editor, Barry Gewen, said last year he had never met Kakutani in 18 years at the paper."

Finally, there's this blog post from Book Reporter, which reads like an email forward my mom sent me:


Now send this to ten other people or something bad will happen!

The post sets out some good (if a bit obvious) points, but I want to take issue with number four:

"4) Did you ever think....hmmm...this could be a powerful fiction story? I do not need to make it MY story!"

The fact is, we're in the middle of a huge memoir craze right now, and any vaguely successful memoir sells about ten times better than any novel that's not about a boy wizard. This isn't to take any culpability away from the authors in question--they're not just liars, they're greedy liars!--but it explains why these books are written as phony memoirs instead of poorly-written novels.

When James Frey was being busted, he claimed that he had submitted the work as a novel, but the big bad publishing house insisted he call it a memoir instead. At the time this seemed like the last refuge of a despicable worm, but since then we've heard this from other writers as well. Considering how profitable the memoir business is, it's not too hard to imagine, is it? If the lie isn't caught, great. And if it is, just throw the writer under the bus. "We feel shocked and and betrayed by this author's actions..." and so on.

But I'm more concerned with the idea that a memoir and a novel are indistinguishable aside from where they're shelved in the Dewey Decimal system. A memoir is an entirely different form from a novel, with completely seperate rules of construction, and those who are saying "just call it fiction" are being disingenious at best.

Imagine slapping "A Novel" on phony-baloney memoirs A Boy Called It or Running With Scissors. Forget for a second that Pelzer and Burroughs are mediocre writers...that's not what I'm talking about here. Considered as novels the books just don't work: the timeline is too compressed, the viewpoint is too narrow, the prose is too matter-of-fact. They literally couldn't be marketed as novels. Memoirs and novels have different goals, and you can't just call a memoir--real or imagined--a novel any more than you can call a personal essay a short story.

As for why the authors didn't just write them as novels in the first place...well, I know we're not supposed to make value judgements about genres, but let's be real: writing a novel is fucking HARD, and uses different muscles from telling a straightforward story about your upbringing. I don't want to get into a pissing match about genres, but I think it's safe to say that writing a bad memoir is much easier than writing a bad novel.

I should know: I'm a huge liar AND a bad novelist.

1 comment:

Johnny said...

Fair cop: all the links featured in this post were originally found on Buzzfeed: