1.27.2006

Wave of the future?

Dear Miss Snark,

Did James Frey muck it up for the rest of us memoirists?

I've been reading that publishers are going to be leery about taking on memoirs, that there's going to be tough fact checking, etc. I you had memoir making the rounds, how worried would you be?

Is there a contrarian view that any publicity for a genre is good publicity. After all, sales of Frey's book book of lies continue to be brisk. His reappearance on Oprah will probably only help sales.

A good friend of mine reminded me that the public's appetitie for deception can be satiated. That this whole thing will blow over in a couple of weeks.

What's your take on the state of the memoir market in the aftermath of Frey (who continues to cry all the way to the bank).



I do have memoirs making the rounds; two of them. One can be substantiated pretty easily since it's the life of a public figure. I've told my author to be prepared to cough up documentation. The other memoir is the more personal kind; stories of what happened to someone and how she reacted. Documentation is very sketchy. If anyone challenged us, I'd be hard pressed to verify. On the other hand, she doesn't claim to be "an addict, a criminal and a bad bad man".

MLP didn't pass the sniff test. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE who read that and didn't think it was hyperbole in at least some part is an idiot. Nan Talese isn't an idiot. Neither is Sean McDonald. Neither are Oprah's producers. And Oprah isn't either. I've said before, I'll say it again: everyone in publishing KNEW that book wasn't completely true. What we are seeing now isn't "oh my god I've been hoodwinked" but "oh my god, we got caught".

The Smoking Gun caught the obvious lies: the jail time. There were other things that triggered my disbelief, principally the dental work stories. That combined with everything else (principally how everything always worked out in Frey's favor) made me think it was off.

My memoirs pass the smell test. I'm not sure if editors going ask my authors for birth certificates and copies of memos, but if they do, and they've got money on the table, you bet we'll cough it up. The nice thing of course is ...we can.

Will that happen? No. Frey is today's fun topic. It's absolutely meaningless as an indicator of a sea change in publishing. As you point out, everyone is still making money off this. If Doubleday took a bath, then you'd 'sea' change.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, as someone who lived in Eastern Europe, I can tell you that most dental work is done without anesthesia, children included. (I, personally, had my adenoids out without anesthesia -- not dental work, but you get my point). So that part didn't particularly bother me...

Alina
http://www.alinaadams.com

Miss Snark said...

Last I looked Minnesota isn't in Eastern Europe. And lots of dental work was done without anasthetic in this country too....but not in the last ten years. Context is all.

Kirsten said...

Or maybe this is the beginning of a new category: Freymoir :-D

Bernita said...

...visions of people lining up to give Frey dental work - with anesthetic.

Mark said...

"My memoirs pass the smell test"

So do mine but they haven't sold yet contain out of the ordinary travel and investigations into environmental degradation that are real. They do lack personal "oh woe is me" faux trauma. Happily for me.

countessolenska said...

Now, see, I honestly don't think I'm an idiot but I did trust the fundamental facts of MLP. I didn't consider it "reportage" but I also didn't automatically assume it was a whole cloth construction.

Anyway, I agree with Miss Snark's opinion that this kerfuffle will lead to no industry-wide change. Publishers will continue to vet books when there are potential libel, false light, invasion of privacy, etc. concerns. But widespread fact-checking? Nah. I may be wrong but it seems that Department of Factual Verification (credit to Jay McInerney) suggestion is being pushed mainly by those with a background in journalism, not book publishing.

Anonymous said...

if he wrote published a novel, I wouldn't believe it

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I read that Frey originally shopped the manuscript for MLP as fiction and there were no takers!

Grady said...

John Dolan wrote some more about probable plagiarism from Eddie Little:

I've been reading Little's two memoirs, Another Day in Paradise (1997) and Steel Toes (2001), and I'm amazed by his talent-and the brazen, obvious ripoff of his books Frey got away with. Frey's a classic example of cunning stupidity; there's a very effective method to his thefts from Little. He takes the tone and basic plots of Little's stories and then flips all the grim details into happy fantasies. Even Frey's celebrated dental ordeal, in which he loses his front teeth and endures root canal without anesthesia (another lie, of course) is lifted from Little's second novel, in which Eddie has his teeth bashed out with a steel bar in a racial brawl in prison. Little doesn't even mention the pain; it's not exotic in his world. Only for someone like Frey is pain remote enough to be eroticized.

AnimeJune said...

"Frey's Book of lies"?
Every fiction book out there is a book of lies. "Million Little Pieces" wasn't an autobiography, it was a memoir - there is a difference.

And now all these ridiculous people are suing him for "damages". How damaging could reading the book be? Most people seemed to enjoy reading it. Would knowing that parts of it are exaggerated ruin the enjoyment? Puh-leeze.

Sherry said...

I agree, animejune. It's very simple. Be truthful, but if you must tell a lie, make sure it's about something that cannot be verified.