Writers – Fake it to Make it

August 24, 2008 at 4:58 am | Posted in Writers Write | 1 Comment
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Writing is a tough gig. I can certainly understand a writer being tempted to elaborate their resume or exaggerate their experience. However, some authors have done irreparable damage to their reputations and careers by misrepresenting themselves and their work.


Oprah Winfrey has been caught in the middle of two media messes. In 2006 James Frey’s bestselling “A Million Little Pieces” was found to have fictionalized elements and Random House agreed to refund readers over $2 million. Clearly the publisher bears partial responsibility for the misrepresentation, but I wonder how much.

Do writers succumb to pressure from editors or do editors rush through promising manuscripts without due diligence?

According to Samuel Freedman, a professor at Columbia University Journalism School, “Editing is more than just line editing,” he says. “It also requires the editor to ask the writer, ‘Where’s the corroborating evidence? Where are the other documentary sources for this?’”

After the scandal and Oprah’s wrath, you would think other memoirist would stick to truth. And yet…

Misha Defonseca, author of “Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years” confessed that it is “nothing but pure fiction.” How did a story of living with a pack of wolves to escape the Nazis and trekking 1900 miles across Europe not raise a few eyebrows?

Or Laura Albert, who posed as Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy. She created a backstory of prostitution, drug addiction and vagrancy, prior to the publication of his first novel in 1999. Albert went so far as to dress for the part to attend press conferences and book readings.

Nasdijj, the Navajo author of “The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams,” a father’s story of his son’s death due to fetal alcohol syndrome; was actually Tim Barrus. In this case, both the author and the child were fictional.

Margaret B. Jones is another author to fool with Mother Oprah. Her memoir, ‘Love and Consequences’ tells the story of a half white, half native American orphan living with a black foster family in South Central LA. Come to find out, Ms Jones was a fictional character created by Margaret B. Selzer; who grew up in Sherman Oaks and graduated from an exclusive private school in the San Fernando Valley.

It was Selzer’s sister who called the publisher, Riverhead, with the truth and the promising book, released to rave reviews was recalled. According to a statement from the publisher, “Prior to publication the author provided a great deal of evidence to support her story: photographs, letters; parts of Peggy’s (i.e., Seltzer’s) life story in another published book; Peggy’s story had been supported by one of her former professors; Peggy even introduced the agent to people who misrepresented themselves as her foster siblings.”

She had to know the truth would come out with publicity. We can only wonder why a talented writer would gamble on a no win situation.

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  1. I was the (micro) publisher of Misha Defonseca’s “memoire.” I can assure you, not only I but just about the entire Jewish community in the Boston area were taken in by her. She had been speaking about her Holocaust experiences for five years before I met her at such lofty venues as NYU and Brandeis.

    Not only did she fabricate a hoax, but she then sued me for not making her book a bestseller in the U.S. After she and her ghost writer won a $33 million judgment against me, the book went on to become a bestseller in 18 languages and the subject of a French feature film.

    I have chronicled this bizarre case in a new book “BESTSELLER!” which will be available initially on Amazon at the end of September.


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