Thursday, March 06, 2008

And Nothing Like the Truth


There I was, paddling down the Zambezi hell bent for leather, with 100 ferocious pygmy warriors in hot pursuit.

Up ahead, a raging hippo squatted in the water with his mouth wide open waiting to devour me.

I was about to dive overboard and swim for shore, but I saw the Loch Ness Monster doing the butterfly crawl just below my canoe. Then Big Foot started throwing boulders at me from a nearby sandbar. Who invited him?

It was looking pretty serious when suddenly a zeppelin being piloted by Charo and Margaret Thatcher came sailing over the horizon.

I somersaulted out of the canoe and onto a dangling road ladder, climbed up to the gondola and hopped straight into a hot tube, where Angelina Jolie declared her undying love me while text-messaging Brad Pitt that it was all over.

Now that was one hell of a weekend.

All right, so, maybe I'm exaggerating some of the stuff in that story. As a matter of fact, there are no facts in that story; I fabricated the whole thing and tried to pass it off as the truth.

My big question: So what?

I ask because truth, reality, and those ever so annoying facts seem to mean less and less today, at least when it comes to publishing books.

The newly-released “memoir” Love and Consequences has just joined the ever-expanding list of fraudulent non-fiction.

The author—liar?—told the harrowing tale of living in South Central L.A., surrounded by rampant gang violence and drug dealing. The book contained details of shootings and murders and all sorts of terrible things happening on the streets of a major American city.

There was just one problem. The whole thing was fake, including the author, who, it turns out, was not a mixed race gang banger living on the edge, but a Wonder Bread suburban princess who went to a private Episcopal day school.

Details, details—why is everybody being so picky? It’s not like this is the first time this has happened.

Who could forget A Million Little Pieces--though I’m sure a lot of people would like to?

Or the incredible J T Leroy, aka Laura Albert? Or the book about the Holocaust that just happened to be, oh, shucks, a total falsehood? What were you expecting from these books, anyway? The truth?

Well, yeah, I guess I was.

It is asking to much of a non-fiction writer to tell us a true story? And if you can't handle the truth--and apparently a lot of these writers can't--then maybe you could just drop the "non" part and write, oh, I don't know...fiction?

When did novel writing become such a disgrace? When did creating something with your imagination fall out of favor? Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Mickey Spillane--those guys all wrote fiction and it didn't do them any harm. At least, I don't think it did.

The Love and Consequences story--the story about the book, not the one in the book--is particularly interesting to me, as I followed the writer's rise and fall.

One day I'm reading a glowing review in the Times. The next day I'm reading an article about the author and how she's making a new life for herself in Oregon.

And then, just a few days ago, right on the front page, I find out the whole thing was a lie. It was like April Fool's Day came early.

Apparently there's not much book publishers can do about this kind of noxious creative writing.

Nan A. Talese, publisher of A Million Little Pieces, was quoted in the Times as saying "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.”

Say what? How about the author-reader relationship? You remember us, the readers, don't you? We're the ones who buy the books.

I'm feeling pretty insulted myself whenever one of these truth-less tomes hits the book stores. I feel like nobody gives a rat's ass that I'm being force fed falsehoods. That's rather divisive, don't you think?

Maybe these authors should try working on a daily newspaper, where editors question your stories from start to finish. They'll call you at home if they have to, and that's the way it should be.

There's nothing insulting about trying to nail down the facts. It beats getting nailed by the facts.

You have to wonder what makes people think they can actually get away with this kind of thing, particularly in this Internet age when so much information is available just by taking a couple of laps around Google.

Cross My Heart and Hope To Lie

I’ve long since given up on people being honest, forthright and truthful. I’m just amazed at their stupidity.

And what is the point of doing this, beyond the obvious acquisition of money and fame? Either you get caught or you spend your life worrying about getting caught. That seems like too high a price for me.

Does celebrity mean so much to them that it completely clouds their minds to--you should pardon the term--consequences? Or do they start believing their own lies and become victims of the con game they created?

I don't begin to accept the argument that a well-written story is all that matters and the truth be damned. The truth is being damned, damn it, by these damn lying sons-of-bitches.

If someone walked up to you on the street and told you what they claimed was a true story and that story turned out to be a lie, I doubt if you would be entertained. I suspect you'd be rather pissed.

No story can be a flawless recitation of the facts. People see things differently, remember them differently. I do my best when I blog about things that happen in my life, but I'm only giving my side of things.

There are bound to be some gray spots. But the gray shouldn't cover the entire book.

A lot of writers like to boast about their street cred, how they lived amongst gangsters, drug dealers and murderers, and barely survived to tell the tale.

And that's okay, as long as your bad-ass resume is true.

But this current crop of keyboard con artists wants to tell war stories without actually going to war. They want to tell us all about the blood and the guts and the mayhem, but they want to skip all the pesky fighting.

That "street" part is a bitch, ain't it?

My father fought in the Second World War and he had dozens of stories to tell, and I always draw a crowd whenever I repeat them.

But he paid an unimaginable price to acquire these stories. He saw his friends killed and wounded, lived in nearly constant fear and we wonder just how much damage the war did to his mind.

It's impossible to believe that you can come away from such an experience without any scars. I think we're seeing this being played out again, now that some of the Iraq War veterans have come marching home.

I always cringe when I see a movie tagline reading "Based on a True Story." The key word is "based" or maybe it's "debased" given the abuse reality usually takes in these films.

And a film that's inspired by a true story seems even further away from reality. Inspired could mean you drove by someone's house one night and were inspired to write a horror movie.

I'm working on a crime novel, but I'm not trying to pass myself off as some low-level mobster or street corner survivor. I remember when I told my aunt that I was working on a Mafia story.

"You're not like those people!" she declared.

And she's right. I'm not a soldier, or a wiseguy, or a button man. I'm not a thug or a tough guy.

I'm just doing the best I can in the research department to give my book a feeling of accuracy, but I'm inventing the characters and events.

Now there's a novel idea. And I'm sure Angelina feels the same way.

3 comments:

Calamity Jen said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned celebrity. This twisted society is fascinated by celebrity in all its forms. Has-beens are showing up on reality shows populated by "personalities" who never made it past the B-list. Being known is more important than what one is known for. It's pathetic.

Rob K said...

Yes--look at Britney-mania.

Everybody swears up and down that they don't give a damn about celebrities, but somebody sure as hell is watching all these gossip shows and buying the magazines.

Jackson said...

How awful that the Rosenblats lied about their story and that the publishers and movie makers fell for it. Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which was a great book and now movie, never pretended to be true. The Rosenblats, like Madoff, are harming the good Jewish name and it's terrible.

I read a New York Times article about Stan Lee and Neal Adams the comic book artists supporting another TRUE Holocaust love story. There was a beautiful young artist, Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, who painted Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on the children's barracks at Auschwitz to cheer them up. Dina's art became the reason she and her Mother survived Auschwitz.

Painting the mural for the children caused Dina to be taken in front of Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death. She thought she was going to be gassed, but bravely she stood up to Mengele and he decided to make her his portrait painter, saving herself and her mother from the gas chamber as long as she was doing painting for him.

Dina's story is true because some of the paintings she did for Mengele in Auschwitz survived the war and are at the Auschwitz Birkenau Museum. Also, the story of her painting the mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the children's barrack has been corroborated by many other Auschwitz prisoners, and of course her love and marriage to the animator of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the Disney movie after the war in Paris is also a fact.

I wish Oprah would do a story about Dina and her art not about the Rosenblats who were pulling the wool over all our eyes.