Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Books, Lies and Duplicity

The talk for about a week now has been about two authors who wrote what they claimed were memoirs, but were actually lies. Remind you of James Frey’s A Million Little Lies, er, Pieces?

Two authors within a week have been exposed.

According to the Baltimore Sun, one book, though not out in the U.S., has already been “disseminated worldwide, translated into 18 languages and made into a feature film in France.” In Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years, author Misha Defonseca claimed to be a Jewish woman “orphaned at age 4 and forced to wander alone through the forests, where she was protected by a pack of wolves.” Turns out she’s not even Jewish.

Then there’s Margaret B. Jones, the protagonist of the memoir Love and Consequences who is “a half-Native American, half-white girl who sold drugs for a gang in Los Angeles.” Not. Her name’s Margaret Seltzer, she didn’t sell drugs and she comes from a privileged background.

So what’s going on here? How are publishers to know what is the truth? Should they demand corroborating evidence? In the case of Margaret Seltzer, she had photographs, letters, people pretending to be her foster siblings, a professor. Misha Defonseca had pictures and letters.

Are editors going to have to become more cynical? Are they going to have to do background checks? Are they and the public just going to have to accept that some people lie and will hoodwink readers? Nan A. Talese who published the discredited A Million Little Pieces said, in The First Post, "I don’t think there is any way you can fact-check every single book. It would be very insulting and divisive in the author-editor relationship."

One author you don’t have to worry about is Lynda Sappington. Her latest book is a fantasy fiction – and she’ll be here tomorrow for an interview and to answer your questions. Plus, she’s giving away two copies of Star Sons – Dawn of the Two. See you then!


  1. I agree with Ms. Talese - no way to fact-check every piece of writing that comes along. What about creative license on the author's part? Does that not account for anything? Creative nonfiction uses real events or knowledge of things and allows the writer to have the creative license to fictionalize some of the info.

    Memoirs are no different - they are what the person perceives happened to him in the past. Some of it is right out lies and others are stretched truths.

    Guess one reason I don't read nonfiction is because at least with fiction you know that everything is made up. No worries - those who read the memoirs at least should be entertained - that's my take on it

    Good posting - E :)

  2. Hi Elysabeth! There are some who argue that memoirs are nonfiction and some who argue that memoirs are creative nonfiction. Either way, most agree that memoirs should be as close to nonfiction as the author can manage. They may have to make up some things, such as conversations, but they keep them to as close to the facts or truth as they can or as close to reality as they remember. The problem with these recent books is that the authors presented them as memoirs, even had false evidence t back them up, when they knew they were flat-out lies.

    And you're right ... memoirs have to be entertaining. Who would buy them if they weren't? Nowadays, we (authors, readers, agents, editors, etc.) are scrutinizing memoirs more carefully than in the past.

    You hit the nail right on the head.


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