What would a memoir blog be without a category for memoir controversy? Can you trust the label of memoir when it appears on a book? Today’s writers, editors, and their lawyer’s are continuing to ask Pontius Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”
Most readers, myself included, expect that the basic facts reported in memoir correlate to observable reality. Otherwise, we have a novel by another name.
With the help of blogger Gutsy Writer I discovered this Writing Your Life into Story website, one place that tells one of last year’s publishing scandals–the story of Margaret Jones, AKA Selzer, who claimed to be part white, part native American and pulled into the gangs of South LA. Problem with the story? Margaret grew up in Sherman Oaks and went to a private school. Like James Frey, Selzer fictionalized much or most of the story but called it memoir. In an interesting twist, she was “outed” by her sister before the book hit the stores.
I will also catalogue controversies as they pop up on the scene. By now, editors and publishers must be careful to ask for documentation for memoir.
But the question remains, what does it say about our culture, and about the publishing industry that writers make up stories worse than their own and then claim them to be true? It used to be that people lied to inflate their resumes, and in business they are still doing so. When novels ruled the publishing world, we did not have this problem. Memoirs (note the s) were still written by ex-presidents and CEOs, and very few people without huge name recognition expected to publish the stories of their lives.
Is the issue as simple as the rush to a trend (everyone trying to outdo Frank McCourt of Angela’s Ashes for misery?). Or is something even deeper at work in our collective psyches?
What do you think?