Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Truth or "Consequences"

Here we go again. The fake memoirs are sprouting like Daffodils. Must be the first sign of Spring.

Margaret B. Jones' "Love and Consequences" is fiction. Released last week by Penguin's Riverhead Books imprint, the alleged memoir tells of a girl growing up in gang-infested South-Central Los Angeles. Looks like Ms. Jones never counted on her big sister calling Riverhead and saying, "Excuse me??"

Jones also fabricated her credentials, stating she's a graduate of the University of Oregon when she is not. (Can universities sue for libel when somebody makes a false claim they are alum?)

And then there was the revelation that Misha Defonseca's alleged memoir "Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years" is also fake. Guess what? Four-year-old Misha didn't actually walk 1,900 miles across Europe with a pack of wolves searching for her real parents. Her real name is Monique De Wael. And here's the topper: Misha isn't even Jewish!

American publisher Jane Daniel fell for the story back in the 1990's, and apparently never dug all that deep into Misha - Monique - whoever's background. You know, little things, like why can't we find your name in the archives? And Wolves? Really? Oh well. Maybe now Monique - Mortisha - whoever can finally settle that lawsuit with her ghostwriter Vera Lee.

OK, I'll probably get snubbed at the writers conventions for this, but I think it needs to be said. Here's the thing. It's my opinion that far, far too many memoirs are being published. There, I said it. Unless you are a REAL holocaust survivor, a president or a prime minister, the Pope, Dali Lama, Billy Graham ("Just As I Am"), George Burns ("Gracie"), created Bugs Bunny cartoons ("Chuck Amuck"), or drew "Peanuts" for roughly 50 years (If you want to read Schultz's memoirs, read the strips.) you are not deserving of having your memoirs published. You are, to put it plainly, just a regular person doing what comes naturally to all of us at one time or another - trying to draw attention to yourself.

Yes, that includes me. If I didn't want attention I wouldn't spend time writing a blog, now would I?

And that's OK. You can draw all the attention you want. Actors, rappers, models, comedians, TV anchorpersons, and, yes, some authors, make a career out of drawing the spotlight. It's their jobs. If we don't like them we can just change the channel or not buy their stuff. I don't like rap, but a rapper who claims he's from the block when he's not gets called on it by his fellow rappers damn quick. He's damaging the reputation of all rappers. You gotta respect that.

The same holds true for fake memoirs. Monique De Wael has insulted real holocaust survivors and done a disservice all Jews. How many people are looking at their shelves of books on the holocaust now wondering if the stories they tell are true? And I wonder if the president of Iran is now pointing at this and telling his people, "See? They made it all up!"

We deserve a higher standard from the publishers. They need to do their homework. Check the research. Yes, I know how busy editors are, and they don't have time to proofread every manuscript and fact check every paragraph - but, dammit, somebody should. Make phone calls. Ask an expert. I may not be a brand name editor with an office in Manhattan, but at least I know that if somebody tells me they hiked across Europe with a pack of wolves I should check with somebody who's knowledge of wild animal behavior doesn't come from the pages of Kipling.

And to the writers, I ask that if you want to create fiction, go ahead and create fiction and call it fiction. If fiction is a lie that tells the truth, then please stop telling me "the truth."