The end of a tree

I didn’t go on about it too much at the time, but Christmas this year was amazing. My husband worked his butt off finishing up various construction projects in time for the big day, and we decorated the house so beautifully I never wanted to go to sleep; I just wanted to wander from room to room for days on end saying drippy things like “Oooooh, pretty lights!” and “Ribbons and pine cones – how tasteful!”

Yeah, I know. Pathetic. But it really did look nice.

We fulfilled one of my lifelong Christmas fantasies this year: we had two trees – the living room tree, and another one in our bedroom. (Yes, they were both live. We don’t do plastic.) I didn’t think about the implications of removing the upstairs tree when I was decorating it. I was too busy drooling and saying “Pretty lights!”

Yesterday while I was obsessing about the details of the ending of my novel, my husband took care of tree removal.

Wait until you see what he did to it

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.

2006 Mail Call #1

Katie from J-D Middle School writes: I am in seventh grade. For Language Arts, we are doing a favorite author report. I chose to do you as my author because I have read all of your books and think that they send very important messages. I wanted to find out how you thought up the story line and such. To find all the information I need, I would really like it if you took time out of your busy schedule to answer these few questions.

1. What are some people or events that have influenced you to write your books?
2. Did the people or events who influenced you affect the storyline/plot of your books?
3. What was your childhood like?
4. How did you think of what life was like for Melinda in Speak? And what she went through and felt like?

Ah… author reports. It still feels weird that students do them about me. Not sure if I will ever get used to it.
1. My father was a huge influence on me. (Still is.) He writes poetry and taught me from a very early age that books are important.
2. I think the teens that I meet are the ones who drive my choice of plot. I don’t ever take the story of one particular kid, but I take the concerns I hear from many of them and try to address them in my books.
3. My childhood was a blast. We lived in a great neighborhood just off Syracuse University’s campus. We walked to school. We played for hours outside (this was before cable TV was invented). It felt like the world was a good and safe place. And then I became a teenager and everything fell apart.
4. I was sexually assaulted and I know what it feels like. I have also dealt with depression on and off for thirty years (as have several family members), so I am familiar with that, too.

I hope the report turns out OK.

Elise writes: I think your book FEVER 1793 is very good. I haven’t finished it yet but I am building up suspense. It has a great plot and very interesting characters. I can’t wait to read any of your other books when I am done with this one. I don’t really know what book I will read next. I may read SPEAK next. All in all, I think I realy love FEAVER 1793.

Thank you, Elise!
I did get your note, Jessica, but it got eaten in my email system and I cannot find it for the life of me. And thank you, teacher John, for the very kind note.

We had a small 75th birthday party for my mom yesterday and I finally cooked macaroni and cheese that she said met her standards. My cousin and her husband were able to join us and we had a sweet evening. I am so grateful that we were able to move my folks up here and be a part of their lives in the last chapter. I take Mom to her oncologist’s office today to make sure that the evil cancer beast that lurks in her bones is still under control.

Still hammering away at final revisions for my WIP. I think I may be within hours of sending it off to my editor…. I keep reading it out loud and fussing with little changes. Revision is hard.

Back home in the country

Got in from the funeral last night…. it sounds strange to say it, but it really was wonderful. People from all different parts of Pop-Pop’s life turned out to honor his memory and that was a comfort to his family. A good life filled with love and service, and a good death. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Stef came back with us for a few days which means if she ever wakes up this morning, we’ll enjoy the last round of Christmas gift exchanging. Wake up, Steffie!!!!

Are you one of those women who hates looking at magazine covers because the models all seem inhumanely perfect and it feels like they are setting a standard that us normal chicks will never meet? It is all a lie. (Thanks, Stef, for the link.)

BH has gone to get the Creature With Fangs out of the Doggie Hotel. (We use Paws and Effect in Oswego, NY – we highly recommend them, if you need a place for your critter.) She has the fangs under control now… she needs a new name. I’ll work on that. I’m also working on my resolution. Will post that tomorrow.