They call it fiction for a reason

Two articles in the New York Times yesterday examined hugely popular memoirs that are proving to be fake. James Frey’s A Million LIttle Pieces is his story about his addiction and rehab efforts, told in excruciating, heartwrenching detail. (I read it and really enjoyed it.) Oprah chose it for her book club and it has been read by millions. It really is one heck of a story, and is very well told. But is it true? The evidence is piling up that it is not. Frey himself admitted he embellished details “for obvious dramatic reasons.”

And then there is the case of JT Leroy. The Times article said he was “young truck-stop prostitute who had escaped rural West Virginia for the dismal life of a homeless San Francisco drug addict” who is HIV positive. It was claimed that Leroy, with the help of a married couple, Laura Albert and Geoffrey Knoop, turned his life around and wrote three well-received novels based on his painful experiences. (I have not read any of Leroy’s work.) Evidence is now mounting that JT Leroy is a completely made up person and the books were written by Laura Albert herself. The person who appears in public (in dark glasses, a hat and wig) claiming to be Leroy, is actually Savannah Knoop, Geoffrey’s half sister.

These people really fry me. Why? The authors are lying. They are not content to let their work stand on it’s own. They have both dreamed up horrific backstories to make their work “more real” – grittier, and thus make their achievement of writing a decent book seem all the more astounding. It is a slap in the face of those people who really have endured the kinds of lives that these fakers are pretending to have gone through. And it is an insult to the reading public, a con.

I’ve been uneasy with the memoir genre for a long time, and Frey’s unveiling in particular, confirms the reasons for my uneasiness. Most authors (including me) use bits and pieces of their life as ingredients for their writing. But the point of writing fiction is that you make a bunch of stuff up. You find dramatic embellishments in your imagination. Memoirists like Frey want it both ways. They are too lazy to dream up an original story, so they lean heavily on the details of their own life. But they know that their life is truly not interesting enough for a book contract, so they throw in bits of fiction and pretend it is all true.

I guess I’m a purist. I love biographies. I love novels. When I’m reading them, I want to know where reality ends and imagination begins. I don’t like being conned.

93 Replies to “They call it fiction for a reason”

  1. sick

    What’s truly sick is that he/she used this persona to gain sympathy and solicit money from people,
    selling his stuff on ebay (artifacts the he/she claimed to own during his/her supposed past)
    telling people that he contracted AIDS, playing into people’s heartstrings
    it’s just sick and base and an ultimately bankrupt action

    My Opinion is that JT Leroy is just the outward projection of Laura Albert’s alter ego, trying to infiltrate the inner circles that she couldn’t gain access to by being herself. So she concocted this elaborate hoax. It’s a very calculated move, it’s probably one of the biggest literary hoax ever concieved.

    I’m surprised it’s not a very televised “outing”

  2. sick

    What’s truly sick is that he/she used this persona to gain sympathy and solicit money from people,
    selling his stuff on ebay (artifacts the he/she claimed to own during his/her supposed past)
    telling people that he contracted AIDS, playing into people’s heartstrings
    it’s just sick and base and an ultimately bankrupt action

    My Opinion is that JT Leroy is just the outward projection of Laura Albert’s alter ego, trying to infiltrate the inner circles that she couldn’t gain access to by being herself. So she concocted this elaborate hoax. It’s a very calculated move, it’s probably one of the biggest literary hoax ever concieved.

    I’m surprised it’s not a very televised “outing”

  3. sick

    What’s truly sick is that he/she used this persona to gain sympathy and solicit money from people,
    selling his stuff on ebay (artifacts the he/she claimed to own during his/her supposed past)
    telling people that he contracted AIDS, playing into people’s heartstrings
    it’s just sick and base and an ultimately bankrupt action

    My Opinion is that JT Leroy is just the outward projection of Laura Albert’s alter ego, trying to infiltrate the inner circles that she couldn’t gain access to by being herself. So she concocted this elaborate hoax. It’s a very calculated move, it’s probably one of the biggest literary hoax ever concieved.

    I’m surprised it’s not a very televised “outing”

  4. I’m so with you on that — I read about both of them in Publishers Lunch yesterday (and more about Frey in The Smoking Gun). I agree with all that you said, and would add that there’s an additional danger: these “memoirists” don’t just write about themselves — the include information about other people. Frey manufactured a role for himself in a fatal train accident, which directly impacts the families of the two teens who died in it. How will all the scrutiny impact those people, who have already suffered a tremendous loss? Do these so-called memoirists have no sense of responsibility or remorse? Also, don’t they negatively impact the entire field by making readers increasingly skeptical about what’s true and what’s invented?

    So many points to ponder.

  5. I’m so with you on that — I read about both of them in Publishers Lunch yesterday (and more about Frey in The Smoking Gun). I agree with all that you said, and would add that there’s an additional danger: these “memoirists” don’t just write about themselves — the include information about other people. Frey manufactured a role for himself in a fatal train accident, which directly impacts the families of the two teens who died in it. How will all the scrutiny impact those people, who have already suffered a tremendous loss? Do these so-called memoirists have no sense of responsibility or remorse? Also, don’t they negatively impact the entire field by making readers increasingly skeptical about what’s true and what’s invented?

    So many points to ponder.

  6. I’m so with you on that — I read about both of them in Publishers Lunch yesterday (and more about Frey in The Smoking Gun). I agree with all that you said, and would add that there’s an additional danger: these “memoirists” don’t just write about themselves — the include information about other people. Frey manufactured a role for himself in a fatal train accident, which directly impacts the families of the two teens who died in it. How will all the scrutiny impact those people, who have already suffered a tremendous loss? Do these so-called memoirists have no sense of responsibility or remorse? Also, don’t they negatively impact the entire field by making readers increasingly skeptical about what’s true and what’s invented?

    So many points to ponder.

  7. That makes me so mad. And actually, I’m suprised the authors just had so little common sense. If they hadn’t lied, both of them could have been known as good, or even great, authors. Now, all they’re going to be known for are “those authors who lied.”

  8. That makes me so mad. And actually, I’m suprised the authors just had so little common sense. If they hadn’t lied, both of them could have been known as good, or even great, authors. Now, all they’re going to be known for are “those authors who lied.”

  9. That makes me so mad. And actually, I’m suprised the authors just had so little common sense. If they hadn’t lied, both of them could have been known as good, or even great, authors. Now, all they’re going to be known for are “those authors who lied.”

  10. Memoir

    I dunno about the second one, but as for James Frey, his book is sold in the fiction section (at least it was at Borders when I was working there). Hmm… My professor a couple of years ago was asked to explain the difference between Memoir and Autobiography. He said AB is fact. memoir is embellished and played with and doesn’t have to always be fact.

  11. Memoir

    I dunno about the second one, but as for James Frey, his book is sold in the fiction section (at least it was at Borders when I was working there). Hmm… My professor a couple of years ago was asked to explain the difference between Memoir and Autobiography. He said AB is fact. memoir is embellished and played with and doesn’t have to always be fact.

  12. Memoir

    I dunno about the second one, but as for James Frey, his book is sold in the fiction section (at least it was at Borders when I was working there). Hmm… My professor a couple of years ago was asked to explain the difference between Memoir and Autobiography. He said AB is fact. memoir is embellished and played with and doesn’t have to always be fact.

  13. The one I really loath is Go Ask Alice. Generations of teen girls read this as truth, for many their first “honest” look at issues dealing with alcohol, drugs, and sexuality…but to any adult reader with their wits about them, it is obviously propaganda of the worst kind, that I feel is more damanging because it misrepresents the truth so far that it doesn’t give teens any good information to work with. And that is what readers want when they read this stuff. In the book The Gift of Fear (one of my favorite pieces of non-fiction) the author talks about how people slow down for car wrecks…it isn’t because we are morbid or cruel…it is because we want to learn and avoid these mistakes ourselves. These books frustrate me, because the readers believe they are being given a truth to learn from, when in fact there is a bunch of b.s. going on. I’ve gotten to the point where I prefer the type of truth fiction carries instead, the truth of story.

  14. The one I really loath is Go Ask Alice. Generations of teen girls read this as truth, for many their first “honest” look at issues dealing with alcohol, drugs, and sexuality…but to any adult reader with their wits about them, it is obviously propaganda of the worst kind, that I feel is more damanging because it misrepresents the truth so far that it doesn’t give teens any good information to work with. And that is what readers want when they read this stuff. In the book The Gift of Fear (one of my favorite pieces of non-fiction) the author talks about how people slow down for car wrecks…it isn’t because we are morbid or cruel…it is because we want to learn and avoid these mistakes ourselves. These books frustrate me, because the readers believe they are being given a truth to learn from, when in fact there is a bunch of b.s. going on. I’ve gotten to the point where I prefer the type of truth fiction carries instead, the truth of story.

  15. The one I really loath is Go Ask Alice. Generations of teen girls read this as truth, for many their first “honest” look at issues dealing with alcohol, drugs, and sexuality…but to any adult reader with their wits about them, it is obviously propaganda of the worst kind, that I feel is more damanging because it misrepresents the truth so far that it doesn’t give teens any good information to work with. And that is what readers want when they read this stuff. In the book The Gift of Fear (one of my favorite pieces of non-fiction) the author talks about how people slow down for car wrecks…it isn’t because we are morbid or cruel…it is because we want to learn and avoid these mistakes ourselves. These books frustrate me, because the readers believe they are being given a truth to learn from, when in fact there is a bunch of b.s. going on. I’ve gotten to the point where I prefer the type of truth fiction carries instead, the truth of story.

  16. I’m with you– I haven’t read either of these authors, but I do have a journalism background, and dishonesty in print flat out ticks me off.

    I wonder, though, about your thoughts on works like Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, which fictionalizes the life of a real person. About halfway through the book I realized that I no longer cared where the real details of her life stopped and the fiction started… and I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about that. Any thoughts?

  17. I’m with you– I haven’t read either of these authors, but I do have a journalism background, and dishonesty in print flat out ticks me off.

    I wonder, though, about your thoughts on works like Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, which fictionalizes the life of a real person. About halfway through the book I realized that I no longer cared where the real details of her life stopped and the fiction started… and I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about that. Any thoughts?

    1. That book actually inspired me to go read real biographies of Marilyn Monroe, because I wanted to know what was true and what wasn’t. I had the same experience, where I realized I didn’t care. And I loved the book. Monroe is an interesting example, as well, because many of the details of her life and death are up for dispute anyway (the biographies tend to disagree as well). Ultimately, Oates made no bones about her work being fiction, several times, so I can respect that.

      I recently finished Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood, which is similar in that it builds off a real life. She handled the issue neatly, I thought, by using a few pages at the end of the book to explain where she had extrapolated or plain made things up, and from where she had taken the original information.

    2. I haven’t read it, but would like to.

      It seems that Oates is straight-forward about her ingredients and aim with the story. That’s what I want… I want to know what the rules of the game are.

    3. I just finished a course where we wrote in a genre called “Creative Nonfiction.” My professor said this is a fairly new genre, and i wonder if Creative Nonfiction is another name for Memoir, or for what Memoir has become in recent years. Anyway. We were allowed to embellish small details of events that had actually happened to us, and of course my professor was asked how much embellishing was allowed. Her answer was that, since the genre was relatively new, such boundaries haven’t been precisely established yet, and we should use our own judgment. And i guess the point is that not knowing how to feel is quite normal, and even writers of this stuff aren’t certain how to feel. I guess…

      …Unless of course almost an entire book is fabricated, in which case you ought to be flat-out ticked off!

      1. Creative Nonfiction is IN COLD BLOOD and CAPE FEAR RISING (which is wonderful), books that are essentially factual but use fiction techniques. These books don’t purport to be the authors’ life stories.

        1. Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying! (Also, Laurie, thanks for further explaining the boundaries in the 1/11 post)

      2. Creative NonFic

        I am taking a Creative NonFic course with Donna Ladd (editor of the Jackson Free Press) currently, and she says, no, you cannot embellish at all in creative nonfiction. So maybe my old professor was wrong? O rthis is something there are two set ideas on?

  18. I’m with you– I haven’t read either of these authors, but I do have a journalism background, and dishonesty in print flat out ticks me off.

    I wonder, though, about your thoughts on works like Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, which fictionalizes the life of a real person. About halfway through the book I realized that I no longer cared where the real details of her life stopped and the fiction started… and I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about that. Any thoughts?

  19. I enjoy the memoir genre, but i tend to believe essayists more than book-length memoir writers. It’s sad that James Frey’s book might not be true. I just bought it recently and was looking forward to it.

    Over the winter break I read Augusten Burroughs’s memoir Dry and loved it. It too is about rehab and believable. I then went on to read his first memoir Running with Scissors but found it pretty unbeleivable. This made me made because I wanted so much to believe his other book. He says the events are true, and even reiterates himself in the book (that causes me doubt when he needs to assure his readers flat out).

    Tomorrow I start a class (graduate) that is entitled “The Personal Essay,” and we’re going to be looking at the personal essay as the fourth genre. I had the professor last semester for an editing and pub class, and we had many debates about Oprah’s book club, and James Frey’s book came up once or twice, I’m interested in what he will have to say.

  20. I enjoy the memoir genre, but i tend to believe essayists more than book-length memoir writers. It’s sad that James Frey’s book might not be true. I just bought it recently and was looking forward to it.

    Over the winter break I read Augusten Burroughs’s memoir Dry and loved it. It too is about rehab and believable. I then went on to read his first memoir Running with Scissors but found it pretty unbeleivable. This made me made because I wanted so much to believe his other book. He says the events are true, and even reiterates himself in the book (that causes me doubt when he needs to assure his readers flat out).

    Tomorrow I start a class (graduate) that is entitled “The Personal Essay,” and we’re going to be looking at the personal essay as the fourth genre. I had the professor last semester for an editing and pub class, and we had many debates about Oprah’s book club, and James Frey’s book came up once or twice, I’m interested in what he will have to say.

    1. I read Augusten Burrough’s memoirs, too. I had the same thoughts as you over Running With Scissors… I liked Dry a lot better. It was said how funny Running With Scissors was, but I thought Dry had more humor whereas Running With Scissors was just too weird to be funny.. I found it sad.. and doubted much of the events in it as true.

  21. I enjoy the memoir genre, but i tend to believe essayists more than book-length memoir writers. It’s sad that James Frey’s book might not be true. I just bought it recently and was looking forward to it.

    Over the winter break I read Augusten Burroughs’s memoir Dry and loved it. It too is about rehab and believable. I then went on to read his first memoir Running with Scissors but found it pretty unbeleivable. This made me made because I wanted so much to believe his other book. He says the events are true, and even reiterates himself in the book (that causes me doubt when he needs to assure his readers flat out).

    Tomorrow I start a class (graduate) that is entitled “The Personal Essay,” and we’re going to be looking at the personal essay as the fourth genre. I had the professor last semester for an editing and pub class, and we had many debates about Oprah’s book club, and James Frey’s book came up once or twice, I’m interested in what he will have to say.

  22. “It is a slap in the face of those people who really have endured the kinds of lives that these fakers are pretending to have gone through. And it is an insult to the reading public, a con.”

    I completely agree, and I find it sad that they would plaster “memoir” on the novel—which is probably more of a reason for people to be astounded by it. If they read a fantastic story and it’s told to be a memoir- it’s like.. WOW I can’t believe this actually happened.. or something.. it makes it more amazing, that this stuff wasn’t made up. But to give that impression for this reaction and bestselling success… it really kind of makes my stomach turn. It’s like those movies sometimes that claim that they are based on real stories, but are embellished and exaggerated, and it makes me sad that they think it is the interpretation of something horrifyingly real—something they probably will never understand but pretend to.

  23. “It is a slap in the face of those people who really have endured the kinds of lives that these fakers are pretending to have gone through. And it is an insult to the reading public, a con.”

    I completely agree, and I find it sad that they would plaster “memoir” on the novel—which is probably more of a reason for people to be astounded by it. If they read a fantastic story and it’s told to be a memoir- it’s like.. WOW I can’t believe this actually happened.. or something.. it makes it more amazing, that this stuff wasn’t made up. But to give that impression for this reaction and bestselling success… it really kind of makes my stomach turn. It’s like those movies sometimes that claim that they are based on real stories, but are embellished and exaggerated, and it makes me sad that they think it is the interpretation of something horrifyingly real—something they probably will never understand but pretend to.

  24. “It is a slap in the face of those people who really have endured the kinds of lives that these fakers are pretending to have gone through. And it is an insult to the reading public, a con.”

    I completely agree, and I find it sad that they would plaster “memoir” on the novel—which is probably more of a reason for people to be astounded by it. If they read a fantastic story and it’s told to be a memoir- it’s like.. WOW I can’t believe this actually happened.. or something.. it makes it more amazing, that this stuff wasn’t made up. But to give that impression for this reaction and bestselling success… it really kind of makes my stomach turn. It’s like those movies sometimes that claim that they are based on real stories, but are embellished and exaggerated, and it makes me sad that they think it is the interpretation of something horrifyingly real—something they probably will never understand but pretend to.

  25. Fiction…

    I think I read that Frey first submitted the book as fiction but they didn’t want to publish it as fiction, he (supposedly) edited out the “fictional” parts before publication.

    I’m with you…I want to know if it’s reality or fiction. I wonder what Oprah will say!

  26. Fiction…

    I think I read that Frey first submitted the book as fiction but they didn’t want to publish it as fiction, he (supposedly) edited out the “fictional” parts before publication.

    I’m with you…I want to know if it’s reality or fiction. I wonder what Oprah will say!

    1. Re: Fiction…

      I just read that too! So weird!! And it says that they were much more interested when it was a memoir– from a publicity standpoint– the fact that they could sell such a story as truth rather than something made up. Ahhhufhdsfhdsfjhsd.. so.. something. annoying.

  27. Fiction…

    I think I read that Frey first submitted the book as fiction but they didn’t want to publish it as fiction, he (supposedly) edited out the “fictional” parts before publication.

    I’m with you…I want to know if it’s reality or fiction. I wonder what Oprah will say!

  28. Re: Fiction…

    I just read that too! So weird!! And it says that they were much more interested when it was a memoir– from a publicity standpoint– the fact that they could sell such a story as truth rather than something made up. Ahhhufhdsfhdsfjhsd.. so.. something. annoying.

  29. Re: Fiction…

    I just read that too! So weird!! And it says that they were much more interested when it was a memoir– from a publicity standpoint– the fact that they could sell such a story as truth rather than something made up. Ahhhufhdsfhdsfjhsd.. so.. something. annoying.

  30. I read Augusten Burrough’s memoirs, too. I had the same thoughts as you over Running With Scissors… I liked Dry a lot better. It was said how funny Running With Scissors was, but I thought Dry had more humor whereas Running With Scissors was just too weird to be funny.. I found it sad.. and doubted much of the events in it as true.

  31. I read Augusten Burrough’s memoirs, too. I had the same thoughts as you over Running With Scissors… I liked Dry a lot better. It was said how funny Running With Scissors was, but I thought Dry had more humor whereas Running With Scissors was just too weird to be funny.. I found it sad.. and doubted much of the events in it as true.

  32. That book actually inspired me to go read real biographies of Marilyn Monroe, because I wanted to know what was true and what wasn’t. I had the same experience, where I realized I didn’t care. And I loved the book. Monroe is an interesting example, as well, because many of the details of her life and death are up for dispute anyway (the biographies tend to disagree as well). Ultimately, Oates made no bones about her work being fiction, several times, so I can respect that.

    I recently finished Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood, which is similar in that it builds off a real life. She handled the issue neatly, I thought, by using a few pages at the end of the book to explain where she had extrapolated or plain made things up, and from where she had taken the original information.

  33. That book actually inspired me to go read real biographies of Marilyn Monroe, because I wanted to know what was true and what wasn’t. I had the same experience, where I realized I didn’t care. And I loved the book. Monroe is an interesting example, as well, because many of the details of her life and death are up for dispute anyway (the biographies tend to disagree as well). Ultimately, Oates made no bones about her work being fiction, several times, so I can respect that.

    I recently finished Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood, which is similar in that it builds off a real life. She handled the issue neatly, I thought, by using a few pages at the end of the book to explain where she had extrapolated or plain made things up, and from where she had taken the original information.

  34. An interesting point to remember, though, amidst calls for fact-checking, is that memoir is a terribly biased art form. The way I remember a fight with my sister is probably a world apart from how she remembers it. Neither of us are necessarily wrong, and that’s a strength and weakness of the genre. Now, clearly, this doesn’t apply to all of Frey’s missteps. I think it’s more telling that he felt the need to add fake details like this, and also, I wonder if some of it is how he actually remembers/wants to remember the incidents? After all, he was supposedly on narcotics in addition to being as stubbornly self-biased as the rest of us. We all live in our heads with fictions that are easily disprovable, it’s just we don’t all get our memories on Oprah’s Book Club. To draw a parallel, I felt very outcast and alone through high school, even though most people you ask probably wouldn’t agree with my self-assessment. Maybe his memory of high school, then, is “tainted” (insofar as a memory can be) by that lingering feeling.

    I’m not excusing what he did–only saying, odds are many of us would make similar mistakes, though hopefully, not to the same occasionally really fubared (see: co-opting the train wreck) level.

  35. An interesting point to remember, though, amidst calls for fact-checking, is that memoir is a terribly biased art form. The way I remember a fight with my sister is probably a world apart from how she remembers it. Neither of us are necessarily wrong, and that’s a strength and weakness of the genre. Now, clearly, this doesn’t apply to all of Frey’s missteps. I think it’s more telling that he felt the need to add fake details like this, and also, I wonder if some of it is how he actually remembers/wants to remember the incidents? After all, he was supposedly on narcotics in addition to being as stubbornly self-biased as the rest of us. We all live in our heads with fictions that are easily disprovable, it’s just we don’t all get our memories on Oprah’s Book Club. To draw a parallel, I felt very outcast and alone through high school, even though most people you ask probably wouldn’t agree with my self-assessment. Maybe his memory of high school, then, is “tainted” (insofar as a memory can be) by that lingering feeling.

    I’m not excusing what he did–only saying, odds are many of us would make similar mistakes, though hopefully, not to the same occasionally really fubared (see: co-opting the train wreck) level.

    1. Take a look at the piece on Smoking Gun… it goes beyond misremembering, in Frey’s case.

      In memoirs that are well-written and written from a sense of integrity, there is an acknowlegement of the fraility of memory. I like that. It’s something I can understand and accept.

      These two authors lied about their lives to give more credibility to the stories. That’s what I can’t stomach.

  36. An interesting point to remember, though, amidst calls for fact-checking, is that memoir is a terribly biased art form. The way I remember a fight with my sister is probably a world apart from how she remembers it. Neither of us are necessarily wrong, and that’s a strength and weakness of the genre. Now, clearly, this doesn’t apply to all of Frey’s missteps. I think it’s more telling that he felt the need to add fake details like this, and also, I wonder if some of it is how he actually remembers/wants to remember the incidents? After all, he was supposedly on narcotics in addition to being as stubbornly self-biased as the rest of us. We all live in our heads with fictions that are easily disprovable, it’s just we don’t all get our memories on Oprah’s Book Club. To draw a parallel, I felt very outcast and alone through high school, even though most people you ask probably wouldn’t agree with my self-assessment. Maybe his memory of high school, then, is “tainted” (insofar as a memory can be) by that lingering feeling.

    I’m not excusing what he did–only saying, odds are many of us would make similar mistakes, though hopefully, not to the same occasionally really fubared (see: co-opting the train wreck) level.

  37. Take a look at the piece on Smoking Gun… it goes beyond misremembering, in Frey’s case.

    In memoirs that are well-written and written from a sense of integrity, there is an acknowlegement of the fraility of memory. I like that. It’s something I can understand and accept.

    These two authors lied about their lives to give more credibility to the stories. That’s what I can’t stomach.

  38. Take a look at the piece on Smoking Gun… it goes beyond misremembering, in Frey’s case.

    In memoirs that are well-written and written from a sense of integrity, there is an acknowlegement of the fraility of memory. I like that. It’s something I can understand and accept.

    These two authors lied about their lives to give more credibility to the stories. That’s what I can’t stomach.

  39. I haven’t read it, but would like to.

    It seems that Oates is straight-forward about her ingredients and aim with the story. That’s what I want… I want to know what the rules of the game are.

  40. I haven’t read it, but would like to.

    It seems that Oates is straight-forward about her ingredients and aim with the story. That’s what I want… I want to know what the rules of the game are.

  41. I just finished a course where we wrote in a genre called “Creative Nonfiction.” My professor said this is a fairly new genre, and i wonder if Creative Nonfiction is another name for Memoir, or for what Memoir has become in recent years. Anyway. We were allowed to embellish small details of events that had actually happened to us, and of course my professor was asked how much embellishing was allowed. Her answer was that, since the genre was relatively new, such boundaries haven’t been precisely established yet, and we should use our own judgment. And i guess the point is that not knowing how to feel is quite normal, and even writers of this stuff aren’t certain how to feel. I guess…

    …Unless of course almost an entire book is fabricated, in which case you ought to be flat-out ticked off!

  42. I just finished a course where we wrote in a genre called “Creative Nonfiction.” My professor said this is a fairly new genre, and i wonder if Creative Nonfiction is another name for Memoir, or for what Memoir has become in recent years. Anyway. We were allowed to embellish small details of events that had actually happened to us, and of course my professor was asked how much embellishing was allowed. Her answer was that, since the genre was relatively new, such boundaries haven’t been precisely established yet, and we should use our own judgment. And i guess the point is that not knowing how to feel is quite normal, and even writers of this stuff aren’t certain how to feel. I guess…

    …Unless of course almost an entire book is fabricated, in which case you ought to be flat-out ticked off!

  43. Would it be considered fiction or a memoir if an author wrote a story about a part of their lives but with different characters and from a different viewpoint?

  44. Would it be considered fiction or a memoir if an author wrote a story about a part of their lives but with different characters and from a different viewpoint?

  45. Would it be considered fiction or a memoir if an author wrote a story about a part of their lives but with different characters and from a different viewpoint?

  46. Creative Nonfiction is IN COLD BLOOD and CAPE FEAR RISING (which is wonderful), books that are essentially factual but use fiction techniques. These books don’t purport to be the authors’ life stories.

  47. Creative Nonfiction is IN COLD BLOOD and CAPE FEAR RISING (which is wonderful), books that are essentially factual but use fiction techniques. These books don’t purport to be the authors’ life stories.

  48. Is it all a con?

    What you are looking at with this kind of fakery is the basic problem of contemporary publishing. To get into print you need to have an angle, something that publishers can use to gain reader interest. It is the man bites dog vs dog bites man syndrome.

    We might stamp our feet and say these people are taking advantage or being disrepecting of real people who have undergrone these kind of experiences, but we might also say, hey, these guys are consumate showpeople, these guys have got business acumen. I wanna get a wig and hat and pretend to be downtrodden and write my life story I never lived.

    Kev

    http://devilpa.blogspot.com/ (live journal server would not take my url, so I am posting it here)

    I am not coming down in either camp, I know for a fact that a hell of lot of this kind of thing goes on in publishing, not to mention ghost writing which is probably the biggest con of all, and as a writer I tend to have to resolve it in myself by saying well, hey, I am not going to behave unethically to sell my work but I am a writer of fiction, I am a trickster myself. But I still understand why people do it. They want to be heard, even if for their imagination, and they want to make living, and may be, just may be they want to have a laugh doing something outrageous and a bit naughty.

    The fact that it brings in the issues of aids, only begs the question of where the cut of point is for ethically acceptable practical jokes of this kind. Is it alright if someone pretends to have one leg, is it alright if they pretend to be a woman when they are a man, is it alright if they make up some stuff about their life. I don’t know. I cannot, despite my slight anguish at the mockery it might make of the suffering of poeople with serious problems, stop myself from smiling at the audacity of getting someones half brother to run around in a wig to keep the ruse up. Feature films and stories in themselves are made of this kind of thing, and are in themselves a story to tell.

    It says something about how desperate and to waht length people will go to be successful, and it also says something about how so much of life is fiction, and we believe in fact because we are told it is fact. We always have to take stories, supposedly true or not at face value as best as we can, but with a pinch of salt. No one is telling the truth, not really.

  49. Is it all a con?

    What you are looking at with this kind of fakery is the basic problem of contemporary publishing. To get into print you need to have an angle, something that publishers can use to gain reader interest. It is the man bites dog vs dog bites man syndrome.

    We might stamp our feet and say these people are taking advantage or being disrepecting of real people who have undergrone these kind of experiences, but we might also say, hey, these guys are consumate showpeople, these guys have got business acumen. I wanna get a wig and hat and pretend to be downtrodden and write my life story I never lived.

    Kev

    http://devilpa.blogspot.com/ (live journal server would not take my url, so I am posting it here)

    I am not coming down in either camp, I know for a fact that a hell of lot of this kind of thing goes on in publishing, not to mention ghost writing which is probably the biggest con of all, and as a writer I tend to have to resolve it in myself by saying well, hey, I am not going to behave unethically to sell my work but I am a writer of fiction, I am a trickster myself. But I still understand why people do it. They want to be heard, even if for their imagination, and they want to make living, and may be, just may be they want to have a laugh doing something outrageous and a bit naughty.

    The fact that it brings in the issues of aids, only begs the question of where the cut of point is for ethically acceptable practical jokes of this kind. Is it alright if someone pretends to have one leg, is it alright if they pretend to be a woman when they are a man, is it alright if they make up some stuff about their life. I don’t know. I cannot, despite my slight anguish at the mockery it might make of the suffering of poeople with serious problems, stop myself from smiling at the audacity of getting someones half brother to run around in a wig to keep the ruse up. Feature films and stories in themselves are made of this kind of thing, and are in themselves a story to tell.

    It says something about how desperate and to waht length people will go to be successful, and it also says something about how so much of life is fiction, and we believe in fact because we are told it is fact. We always have to take stories, supposedly true or not at face value as best as we can, but with a pinch of salt. No one is telling the truth, not really.

  50. Is it all a con?

    What you are looking at with this kind of fakery is the basic problem of contemporary publishing. To get into print you need to have an angle, something that publishers can use to gain reader interest. It is the man bites dog vs dog bites man syndrome.

    We might stamp our feet and say these people are taking advantage or being disrepecting of real people who have undergrone these kind of experiences, but we might also say, hey, these guys are consumate showpeople, these guys have got business acumen. I wanna get a wig and hat and pretend to be downtrodden and write my life story I never lived.

    Kev

    http://devilpa.blogspot.com/ (live journal server would not take my url, so I am posting it here)

    I am not coming down in either camp, I know for a fact that a hell of lot of this kind of thing goes on in publishing, not to mention ghost writing which is probably the biggest con of all, and as a writer I tend to have to resolve it in myself by saying well, hey, I am not going to behave unethically to sell my work but I am a writer of fiction, I am a trickster myself. But I still understand why people do it. They want to be heard, even if for their imagination, and they want to make living, and may be, just may be they want to have a laugh doing something outrageous and a bit naughty.

    The fact that it brings in the issues of aids, only begs the question of where the cut of point is for ethically acceptable practical jokes of this kind. Is it alright if someone pretends to have one leg, is it alright if they pretend to be a woman when they are a man, is it alright if they make up some stuff about their life. I don’t know. I cannot, despite my slight anguish at the mockery it might make of the suffering of poeople with serious problems, stop myself from smiling at the audacity of getting someones half brother to run around in a wig to keep the ruse up. Feature films and stories in themselves are made of this kind of thing, and are in themselves a story to tell.

    It says something about how desperate and to waht length people will go to be successful, and it also says something about how so much of life is fiction, and we believe in fact because we are told it is fact. We always have to take stories, supposedly true or not at face value as best as we can, but with a pinch of salt. No one is telling the truth, not really.

  51. Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying! (Also, Laurie, thanks for further explaining the boundaries in the 1/11 post)

  52. Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying! (Also, Laurie, thanks for further explaining the boundaries in the 1/11 post)

  53. What?

    I loved a Million Little Pieces. How deceiving (sp?) for him to lie. I could never write a life story of myself, but I think all writers include a bit of themselves into writing no matter what. Just shocked me though about James Frey. Kinda makes me mad.

  54. What?

    I loved a Million Little Pieces. How deceiving (sp?) for him to lie. I could never write a life story of myself, but I think all writers include a bit of themselves into writing no matter what. Just shocked me though about James Frey. Kinda makes me mad.

  55. What?

    I loved a Million Little Pieces. How deceiving (sp?) for him to lie. I could never write a life story of myself, but I think all writers include a bit of themselves into writing no matter what. Just shocked me though about James Frey. Kinda makes me mad.

  56. true or false?

    This type of thing might make it tougher to actually KNOW what non-fiction is true and which is false….It might even make people shy away from this type of ‘memoir’, which of course, long term, means lower sales for bookstores and the author.

    Not to mention a legit author with a REAL true story to be able to SELL their story as a book.

    Thanks alot Frey…………

  57. true or false?

    This type of thing might make it tougher to actually KNOW what non-fiction is true and which is false….It might even make people shy away from this type of ‘memoir’, which of course, long term, means lower sales for bookstores and the author.

    Not to mention a legit author with a REAL true story to be able to SELL their story as a book.

    Thanks alot Frey…………

  58. true or false?

    This type of thing might make it tougher to actually KNOW what non-fiction is true and which is false….It might even make people shy away from this type of ‘memoir’, which of course, long term, means lower sales for bookstores and the author.

    Not to mention a legit author with a REAL true story to be able to SELL their story as a book.

    Thanks alot Frey…………

  59. Oprah says it’s okay

    Wow…
    on http://www.cnn.com theres a link you can go to and watch Oprah call into the Larry King show and give her seal of approval.(For those of you who cannot watch the segment, Oprah called in (Frey was the guest) and she basically said that a very small portion of the book was in question and that actually if anyone read his story and it did in fact HELP them with whatever they were going through, that THAT was in fact REAL. And that THAT was what is important.

    (by the way, (if I read correctly) the book has sold over a million copies so far in paperback. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.)

  60. Oprah says it’s okay

    Wow…
    on http://www.cnn.com theres a link you can go to and watch Oprah call into the Larry King show and give her seal of approval.(For those of you who cannot watch the segment, Oprah called in (Frey was the guest) and she basically said that a very small portion of the book was in question and that actually if anyone read his story and it did in fact HELP them with whatever they were going through, that THAT was in fact REAL. And that THAT was what is important.

    (by the way, (if I read correctly) the book has sold over a million copies so far in paperback. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.)

  61. Oprah says it’s okay

    Wow…
    on http://www.cnn.com theres a link you can go to and watch Oprah call into the Larry King show and give her seal of approval.(For those of you who cannot watch the segment, Oprah called in (Frey was the guest) and she basically said that a very small portion of the book was in question and that actually if anyone read his story and it did in fact HELP them with whatever they were going through, that THAT was in fact REAL. And that THAT was what is important.

    (by the way, (if I read correctly) the book has sold over a million copies so far in paperback. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.)

  62. Creative NonFic

    I am taking a Creative NonFic course with Donna Ladd (editor of the Jackson Free Press) currently, and she says, no, you cannot embellish at all in creative nonfiction. So maybe my old professor was wrong? O rthis is something there are two set ideas on?

  63. Creative NonFic

    I am taking a Creative NonFic course with Donna Ladd (editor of the Jackson Free Press) currently, and she says, no, you cannot embellish at all in creative nonfiction. So maybe my old professor was wrong? O rthis is something there are two set ideas on?

  64. bah

    I’ve read two of Leroy’s books – back in high school on a couple of people’s recommendation – and really all I can remember is the shock value. His writing is disturbing, and while he does address issues important to youth like abuse, family, gender identity, etc. etc., I distinctly remember how uneasy I felt after reading him, and not in the “Oh good, that made me think,” kind of way. There’s a turn to his writing that I don’t quite like, and while it was fascinating, I tried to forget it, because it wasn’t helpful.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the accusations about him are true, and it’s all actually a front by this woman. His writing is definitely poser enough, which is sad. There are probably many true stories out there that might now suffer from lack of credulity.

  65. bah

    I’ve read two of Leroy’s books – back in high school on a couple of people’s recommendation – and really all I can remember is the shock value. His writing is disturbing, and while he does address issues important to youth like abuse, family, gender identity, etc. etc., I distinctly remember how uneasy I felt after reading him, and not in the “Oh good, that made me think,” kind of way. There’s a turn to his writing that I don’t quite like, and while it was fascinating, I tried to forget it, because it wasn’t helpful.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the accusations about him are true, and it’s all actually a front by this woman. His writing is definitely poser enough, which is sad. There are probably many true stories out there that might now suffer from lack of credulity.

  66. bah

    I’ve read two of Leroy’s books – back in high school on a couple of people’s recommendation – and really all I can remember is the shock value. His writing is disturbing, and while he does address issues important to youth like abuse, family, gender identity, etc. etc., I distinctly remember how uneasy I felt after reading him, and not in the “Oh good, that made me think,” kind of way. There’s a turn to his writing that I don’t quite like, and while it was fascinating, I tried to forget it, because it wasn’t helpful.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the accusations about him are true, and it’s all actually a front by this woman. His writing is definitely poser enough, which is sad. There are probably many true stories out there that might now suffer from lack of credulity.

  67. they call it fiction for a reason

    I haven’t read Frey yet but I am currently reading Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl (I love a food memoir!). Reichl states in the author’s note, “Everything here is true, but may not be entirely factual. In some cases I have compressed events, in others I have made two people into one. I have occasionally embroidered. I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story.”

    At least she tells us this right off the bat!

    Leslie (from Park School)

  68. they call it fiction for a reason

    I haven’t read Frey yet but I am currently reading Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl (I love a food memoir!). Reichl states in the author’s note, “Everything here is true, but may not be entirely factual. In some cases I have compressed events, in others I have made two people into one. I have occasionally embroidered. I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story.”

    At least she tells us this right off the bat!

    Leslie (from Park School)

  69. they call it fiction for a reason

    I haven’t read Frey yet but I am currently reading Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl (I love a food memoir!). Reichl states in the author’s note, “Everything here is true, but may not be entirely factual. In some cases I have compressed events, in others I have made two people into one. I have occasionally embroidered. I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story.”

    At least she tells us this right off the bat!

    Leslie (from Park School)

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