March 17, 2008

Fiction: A Novel Idea

In the last couple of years, we’ve been faced with a string of “memoirists” who turned out to have fabricated large parts—and sometimes the entirety—of their “memoirs.”

I wondered why these authors commit this kind of fraud. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with making up a story—I do it all the time—but you have to be honest with your readers about whether you’re writing history or fiction.

Margaret Seltzer, for example, made up a story about a south LA drug runner, called it Love and Consequences, and then marketed it as her autobiography. When found out, she admitted that she had claimed this fiction was her memoir because she believed “there was no other way that someone would listen to it.”

In a recent Boston Globe column, Steve Almond summed it all up better than I can. I find his conclusion troubling.

He writes: “Over the past few years, publishers have responded to declining readership by developing an insatiable hunger for books that come with ‘author survivors’ attached. Why? Because they know that such books are about 100 times more likely to get reviewed and featured on National Public Radio and anointed by Oprah.”

In other words, it’s easier to promote these books than, say, lengthy fantasy novels, which I'm told—more often than I care to think about—no one wants to publish.

This bothers me, of course, because I’ve written a lengthy fantasy novel.

Publishers seem to believe that readers only want to buy the autobiographies of people they see on Oprah.

They seem to have missed that whole “Harry Potter” thing, which, if you didn’t notice, was seven volumes worth of lengthy fantasy novels.


  1. as for me, I tend to avoid the books Oprah recommends.

    Also, I loved your book.

  2. Thanks, WB. Now, I just need to find an agent who feels the same way!