File Under: Ho Hum Yawn Whatever

January 9th, 2006 · 10 Comments
by Booksquare

We admit it: we spent about five minutes last year trying to work up enthusiasm for the mystery that might be JT Leroy. Hmm, that’s a lie. We only made it three minutes, tops. As it turns out, we didn’t care, don’t care, and probably won’t care in the future. Unless there’s an opportunity for making fun of someone or something. Then we will invoke our gender-given right to change our mind.

Apparently Leroy has a stand-in for public appearances. Also, apparently Leroy doesn’t exist. Or not. It appears the name is a pseudonym that comes complete with backstory. Quite possibly this matters to someone, but at this point, we don’t know who or why.

In unrelated news, the fine folks at The Smoking Gun have spent far too much time ticking and tying James Frey’s real life versus the life he lead in prose. It seems he Made Stuff Up. We cannot, in good conscience, fault a man for doing what we advocate, though we do like to remind people that when you are caught in a lie, it is better to admit the truth with grace. This will make your future lies more believable.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

10 responses so far ↓

  • Brenda Coulter // Jan 9, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    I’m with you. I just don’t care who or what or if JT Leroy is. They’ve been trying awfully hard to turn this into a Story, and it just isn’t working for me.

    Somebody please wake me when it’s over.

  • Booksquare // Jan 9, 2006 at 11:10 pm

    Yeah. I only have so much time for obsessions. A fake person (writer, gender, whatever) barely blips my radar. However, I am not above making fun of anyone or anything. Even the transgendered. Those who fall in that category who know me (and they do exist) would expect no less.

  • Lorra // Jan 10, 2006 at 7:30 am

    From a devil’s advocate to Booksquare:

    Let’s just hope those poor souls inspired by Frey’s no-holds-barred, soul-baring, if-I-can-do-it-anybody-can story to seek sobriety don’t view his lies as a convenient excuse to fall back into the despair of addiction.

    AND, will the literary world now be tarred with the same brush staining the reputation of Congress? Will readers be skeptical about everything writers call non-fiction?

    Don’t mean to sound soap-boxey, but I truly wonder about the impact of these revelations.

    Lorra Laven

  • SusanGable // Jan 10, 2006 at 8:21 am

    I’m with Lorra. If you want to write fiction, that’s fine, well, and good. (Hey, I LIKE fiction.) If you want to write your memoirs, great – but don’t write fiction and tell me it’s your memoirs.

    This is why so many new writers who come to a local writing group and announce, “I want to write the story of my LIFE!” are met with some audible, but many more inaudible, groans. Let’s face it, most of our lives are NOT all that interesting.

    But this guy has the nerve to parade himself on national tv like he’s some kind of poster-child for Pulling-Yourself-Up-by-Your-Bootstraps. That’s what appealed to Oprah, and to many of the folks impressed with his book. (Haven’t read it – couldn’t take the “style” – the lack of fairly decent grammar made me leave it in the bookstore.)

    I’m also appalled that lying has become so passe, so run-of-the-mill in our society. This guy’s book will probably sell even MORE copies now that people suspect it might be a bunch of BS. He tried to sell it first as fiction, and when it didn’t fly that way, he made some changes and sold it as his memoirs.

    I’m more concerned that people don’t find this a “big deal” anymore. Oh, so what, another writer lied, said he was telling the truth when he wasn’t. (sigh) We have media lies (NYTimes, CBS, others I’m quite sure), we have scientists who make up research data (stem cell research, drug trials, even the stats for the number of Americans who die related to obesity were admitted by the CDC to be…ummmm…inflated)…politicians? We won’t even go there.

    Ooooo, I know. I think I’ll go write a book about my experiences living through the Hurricane Katrina disaster. So what that I was up here in PA at the time? I’ll lie about it. My book will be filled with horrifying things, vomit, blood, bodies, and probably sex. (g) And while I’m at it, I’ll include stories about how I saved other people. Yeah. A first-hand account. Yeah. That’s the ticket. Should sell like hotcakes. (I’m being totally sarcastic here, so don’t pelt me for using a real disaster in my example. But this would be the same thing as what Frey pulled.)

    I hope, but don’t expect, Oprah gets ticked off by this whole thing. I hope she sets her own people into researching the TRUTH of the Frey story, and that she’ll let her viewers know what that TRUTH is. I really hope she doesn’t blindly accept this (cough) writer’s claims about his life. Because the guy is out there, telling people they don’t need a 12-Step program, they just need to do like he did.

    Lie about it.

  • Lorra // Jan 10, 2006 at 9:30 am

    Susan, thanks for supporting my point of view and for your insightful comments.

    Frey’s self-serving lies angered me not only because he betrayed the public’s trust, but because of an explosive story I’ve been sitting on for years. (I promise you if it ever breaks, it will make headlines all over the country if not the world.)

    A year and a half ago when I sent a version of the story out to agents, representing it as as a faux memoir which it was, agent after agent told me I had to write it as non-fiction or forget about getting it published.

    I didn’t take their advice – even though I’m sure it would have resulted in representation — rewriting it instead as a work of fiction which I have again started sending out . . with the same response: “You have to write this as non-fiction if you want to get it published.”

    I can’t and I won’t because the fallout would be too great.

    I’d absolutely get sued, but since it is fairly inexpensive to take out a rider for libel/slander on my homeowner’s policy for 20 million – and yes, based on the people involved, I would need that much to defend myself because they would throw every high-priced lawyer at me even though I’d eventually clear my name since I’m positive the extensive list of witnesses I’ve spoken with while researching the book wouldn’t all perjure themselves in a court of law.

    What I couldn’t live with is another suicide among the boys involved. There has already been one that I know of and another attempt (I know that because my son had to intervene to stop the boy from killing himself.) If I published an account of everything I know, I am positive it would sell amazingly well, but I’m also positive it would lead to additional suicides.

    Unlike James Frey, I have a conscience, so for now, the story will remain on the shelf and I will concentrate on writing pure fiction . . .and sleeping well at night.

    I’m not writing this to show you what a wonderfully altruistic person I am — I’m not — but I’m also not a liar.

    Lorra Laven

  • Booksquare // Jan 10, 2006 at 9:59 am

    I hope Oprah does get ticked off — but here’s where I am with this. First, of course, I didn’t read the book. Won’t read the book. Most lives are unbelievably dull — one expects that even in memoirs there is a certain level of enhancement, however you want to define that. Had Frey sold his book as fiction, maybe it would have found an audience, maybe it wouldn’t have.

    Second, and this makes me a bit sad, the publishing industry is quite insulated (all industries are insulated from reality to some degree). This is a huge scandal inside our business. Time will tell if the noise reaches the general public (if Oprah addresses it, then I say it will; if she doesn’t, well). Looking at this from a purely business perspective (personal in next paragraph), scandal is good. I don’t think this will cast aspersions on fiction, and maybe it will make people think about the so-called advice being floated in self-help books. Clearly Frey didn’t have the credentials to write about his topic — but how many other authors really have the credentials to help people through real problems?

    Addiction is a fact of the human condition. Ultimately, the decision to change your life comes from you. If you’re making this change — however you make this change, and some do manage without a twelve-step program, some simply cannot go it alone, I know both kinds — a book might inspire you, a book might serve as a mirror, a book might show you a path, but a book will not sober you up.

    Though the evidence is damning, I do like to remember that Frey has not been convicted, except in the court of opinion (oh, that’s so disgustingly fair of me; I take that sentence back). He owes apologies all over the place — it is the only thing he can do at this point.

    More later — I’m late for a very important date, but still have a few spare thoughts rambling around.

  • SusanGable // Jan 10, 2006 at 10:33 am

    Ewww, disgustingly FAIR! Well, that doesn’t make for good blog reading! (VBG) (See, it’s all about the sensationalism, isn’t it?)

  • Lorra // Jan 10, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Sorry Booksquare about bringing such a heavy discussion to the blog – I read you daily because you’re funny and snarky and full of useful info.

    But you have to admit it felt good to vent.

    Anyhoo – gotta run – left my cape at the cleaners and they’re closing in about fifteen minutes.


  • Booksquare // Jan 10, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    Lorra — the beauty of being the boss of booksquare is that I get to be as light or heavy as I want (in other words, I am tall, blonde, and willowy beyond belief). I hope the cape is safe and sound.

    You brought up an interesting point: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Non-fiction writers have a responsibility to not only their readers but also to those discussed in the work. Your need to put it all out there might impact someone else’s mental health. Truth is a funny thing — though I am perfectly happy to Make Things Up here, I find honesty is a virtue I appreciate more and more. Of course, my truth and your truth? Well, that’s where judgment comes into play.

    I find it odd that I’m defending Frey — as noted, I’m not into his subject matter nor have I read the book. And while I can appreciate a good hoax (a requirement in my household), I don’t find this one particularly amusing or beneficial. However, I see a lot of lack of controls in this process. Frey wrote the story and sold it as non-fiction, but the publisher bought it and didn’t seem to do a lot of fact-checking. Oprah trusted the publisher to provide quality goods. We’ve turned into a society where scandal and hot stories trump logical processes. That’s sad, and if there’s a real boon here, it’s that some publishers might slow down a little bit.

    Go forth and sensationalize now…

  • Booksquare // Jan 10, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Also, never apologize for continuing the discussion. I prefer to be challenged — it makes for more fun. And I live for fun.