Thursday, January 12, 2006

Okay, I’ll Join The Party

Seeing as how I started it a while ago with the whole “suck it” thing, which I actually came to regret, not just because Big Jim wrote me a snarky email, but because I’m at least a little nicer than that, usually, and had second thoughts about saying something that harsh to someone that I probably wouldn’t say to their face, and even though I still disagree wildly with his whole “hold on” thing, I’m sort of over it. That said, I am reminded now of why I write fiction; so I don’t have to keep track of what I made up. Well, that and it’s just fun.
All that said, longtime readers of standBy Bert know my feeling about categories. I think, excluding journalistic and biography-type writings, which have a clear-cut responsibility to documented truth, in terms of what my dad likes to call the litrachah, there should be two:
I enjoyed very much Megan’s take on this and I will add my two cents:
Cent one: fiction can be all made up, partly made up, exaggerated, stretched out, blown out of proportion, over the top, maybe even not made up at all, if you change names and don’t care if people recognize themselves and maybe hate you.
Cent two: nonfiction can not be made up. If you’re going to say it’s true, I believe there is a responsibility on the part of the author to write to the best of their memory. Yes. There is a certain amount of gray area in terms of what the word “truth” means; memory can be tricky. (I suspect I’d remember pretty well whether I was in jail for a day or three months, drunk even, and so yes, I think it matters very much.) However, can nonfiction be extremely creative? Absoefffin-lutely; witness Dave Eggers. Some say he made stuff up too. The difference? He flat out said some of it was made up. This is some of us in the biz call “cross-genre.” And I have no issue with this if it’s billed as such, in fact, bring it on, I say, especially if it’s flat out fun to read, as A Heartbreaking Work of SG was. Not so much A Million LPs, that on top of being allegedly untrue – had it been a brilliant book in either category, I might be more forgiving. The whole thing about this book was the supposed horrifying truth of it. And to me there’s a difference between my version of the truth, someone else’s version of the same truth, and what might be gray about that. I had on a blue sweater vs. a gray one, not so critical, and probably unprovable. I am a horrible criminal vs. a guy who spent a night in jail – there’s gonna be papers. It casts into doubt the whole rest of it, in my mind.
Perhaps a new category, if it wouldn’t mess up the librarians too much:
Maybe it’s True, Maybe it Isn’t.


Matt said...

I think you are being too diplomatic. There have always been three types of literature---fiction, non-fiction, and fraud. The nuances you bring up have been bandied about for years. "Little Pieces" is manipulative fraud.

What I think is different about "Little Pieces" is the level of complexity and complicity in the fraud. "Big Jim" shopped that slop around to twenty different publishers as a novel before Talese/Doubleday agreed to publish it, with the caveat that it be published as "non-fiction". "BJ" had 50,000 reasons at the beginning to comply with that stipulation, so, aside from respectability, honor, and basic human ethics and compassion, what did he have to lose?

More of the blame should go to Talese/Doubleday. They knew that as fiction, "Pieces" was hackneyed and wouldn't see the better half of a Barnes and Noble bargin bin. However, as non-fiction, "Pieces" fits into the pat, cloistered stereotype of what drug addition is to people who have not seen it first hand. Throw in a few trite cliches and a bit of redemption and you've got yourself a cultural phenomenon. Dang! I betcha even ole Oprah will jump on the bandwagon.


The main thing that is different in this case is that someone called them on the fraud. Aside from something like the "Hitler Diaries", can you think of many literary scandals that broke pre-Internet? In the past, all "Big Jim" and his publisher would have to worry about would be a few law enforcement agents who reputations he besmirched, the memories of some ex-classmates from whose tragic deaths he profited, a poor priest (and the Catholic Church as a whole)who he accused of sexual malfeasance, and anyone who wanted a realistic picture of addiction and recovery.

Oh...and anyone who writes as a vocation or reads. But, who cares about them.....

/recommends either "Junky" or "Confessions of an English Opium Addict" if you want the fiction/non-fiction debate of Betsy born out in an honest and true fashion using drug addiction as a subject matter

//doubts that Oprah will have either one of those on any of her lists any time soon

/// "Vishnu hated me and Seeva laid wait".....Now, THAT's a visual image....

Matt said...

er...sorry if the above post was a bit too pit-bullish. Can you tell I feel passionately about getting jerked around by writers who seem less than honest in pursuing their craft?

I blame cold and flu season and stupid weak antibiotics which can't even clear up a simple stuffy head.

Betsy said...

Rock on, cousin! No apologies necessary, very well put and I'm glad you mentioned some of the important details I left out, like the twenty fiction rejections, and the horrifying use of someone else's tragedy for his own benefit. I do agree that the publishers are at the very least equally accountable, and I hope this discussion continues in the publishing industry, because although it seems Frey is more or less off the hook (see: renewed by publisher and perhaps more importantly, O), no small part of what's important about the discussion is what it all means in terms of where the publishing industry is right now. Personally, my beef with him, before I even knew it was somewhat fabricated, was about his attitude toward 12-step programs. I don't care if that's not someone's choice for sobriety. But I find it terribly irresponsible to advise addicts to, in times of wanting to use, to "hold on", which as Ben pointed out to me is only a variation on the never-popular "Just say no." I'm sure he's an addict. But it's clear to me that Big Jim has a willfulness not to use unlike any of the addicts I've known, and I've known... more than Tom Cruise... and not one of these great numbers ever had the will to not use without a little more than "Hold on."
I'll stop now.
Feel better!

Betsy said...

/hey email me so I can get your email address, willya Matt? Can't seem to find it...