Monday, March 22, 2010

If it looks like a duck ...

A writer friend of mine is excited because the publishing house she likes is accepting non-fiction. She's writing a memoir and I'm encouraging her to call it fiction because she has told me it would be a 'fictionalised memoir' with bits of it made up. She is a journalist who blogs about her life and I know that in her blog entries she has embellished - no, lied - to make things sound more interesting. That's not journalism and that's a whole other story. I've told her how angry and duped readers of A Million Little Pieces felt with vast portions turned out to be fabricated. How would you classify her manuscript - is it fiction or non-fiction?

If she's making up more than the odd childhood conversation and name of her favourite TV show - and some leeway is given to memoir writers because we all understand you can't remember all the little details - she's writing fiction. If her life isn't interesting enough to make a memoir that people want to read, she shouldn't try to get her memoir published. That doesn't mean she wouldn't write a great novel. And while it's okay to pretend it's true on her blog - she's the only one responsible for that - it's not okay to pretend it's true with her favourite publishing company's money and reputation riding on it.

A couple of other points to make:
1. I love it when people say they have a 'favourite publishing company' because this is usually only based on the books they've seen in bookshops, not on anything else they know about the company. And while that's fine if you're buying the books, what about when you're wanting to get published? What about the other publishing companies? Some of them may be just right.

2. James Frey's A Million Little Pieces was hugely controversial but there is a story - perhaps apocryphal - that it wasn't his idea to label it as a memoir. He apparently wrote it as fiction. And is now rumoured to be writing all sorts of fiction stuff under pseudonyms.


Sharon Mayhew said...

YIKES!!! I'd have to be matter whether my life has been boring or not. I have to be true to myself and part of that means the whole truth and nothing but the truth...I used to tell my students, if part of the paragraph is not true it is FICTION...I still believe that to be the case. How would you like it if your milk was only partially milk, but claimed to be 100% milk?

Anonymous said...

Interesting thought.

To go off on a slight tangent, it bugs me to even hear that something is "based on a true story." More often than not, it seems that a movie or a book will take on small event and then build fiction around it. This, to me, isn't basing something on a true story -- it's writing a completely fictional story with one element of truth. Maybe that's just me though.

Out of curiosity, what is your favourite publishing company?

Anonymous said...

I'd always felt it was much more fun to write a book, call it fiction and let people speculate about which bits, which saucy bits, just might be true. This is more like a roman a clef, I think. We knew Nicole Richie was writing about Paris Hilton (wow, making the character a redhead instead of a blonde, way to throw us off scent) and that made it fun to read because she sure wrote some bitchy stuff about her supposed BFF.

And we knew the Devil in the Devil Wears Prada was really Anna Wintour and we were fascinating.

Truth pretending to be fiction = much more fun than fiction pretending to be truth.

The thing is, my friend doesn't know any celebrities, isn't a celebrity herself and hasn't had an interesting enough life for a great roman a clef.

Anonymous said...

D'oh - please scratch out "fascinating", I meant "fascinated".

Lynda Young said...

I'd definitely call it fiction. Like you said, if small portions aren't 100% accurate then that's ok, but if the writer even discribes the book as a "fictionalised memoir", then it is fiction.

The whole thing that makes memoirs interesting is that they are supposed to be true. If the fiction, however, isn't interesting enough to be called fiction, and needs to be sold under a different label, then you have to question whether it's all worth it.