Author who posed as prostitute faces NY fraud case By Edith Honan
Wed Jun 20, 8:40 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A best-selling novelist who pretended she was a 19-year-old male prostitute sought to defend herself in court on Wednesday against claims she defrauded a film company that bought the rights to her book.
"Sarah," about a transgender boy who works alongside his mother as a truck-stop prostitute, was published in 2000 under the name J.T. Leroy, who was described as a teen-age male prostitute. But it was actually written by Brooklyn mother Laura Albert, who is now 41 and lives in San Francisco.
Antidote International Films bought the rights to adapt "Sarah" as a movie, it said, in part because of the unique life story of its author.
Its lawyers said in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Wednesday that Albert had constructed elaborate ruses to mislead people about her identity. The company claims it was falsely induced into the movie contract and is seeking to recover $110,000.
For example, in radio interviews done by telephone to publicize the book, one of which was played for the jury, Albert pretended she was Leroy, speaking in a West Virginia accent. When Leroy needed to appear for a reading or a photo shoot, Savannah Knoop, the half-sister of Albert's boyfriend, donned a blond wig and play the part.
Albert said in court she did not mean to trick anyone and had assumed the identity of Leroy to help cope with painful episodes of abuse in her own life.
Addressing a packed courtroom and breaking down repeatedly on the witness stand, Albert described a New York City upbringing in which she was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriends, teased mercilessly about her weight and eventually given up by her parents and sent to a home for troubled girls.
Bloomsbury Books, the novel's publisher, has said it did not know J.T. Leroy was not real. The book was well reviewed and sold briskly in the United States and Britain.
While authors have written under pen names for centuries, Albert's efforts to make Leroy seem real, including enlisting someone to impersonate him, were far more elaborate.
Albert repeatedly denied that Leroy was made-up but the truth came out in 2006 in a New York Times article.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
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Didn't want to trick anyone ... What a patently absurd statement! Ms. Albert undoubtedly knew what James Frey learned, which is that "memoirs" are more marketable these days than novels. I'm sure the folks who are suing her will say this is also true of movies. Unfortunately, the personality of the author is of great interest to the consuming public these days; Ms. Albert traded on this in a monumental and grossly misleading way. The extent of her "identification" with her alter ego is irrelevant, both morally and, I assume, contractually. (When John Banville chose to write a name under a pseudonym, he didn't get his sister-in-law to prance around in a wig!) And aren't we tired of people blaming their bad behavior on their childhoods? Take some responsibility, people! Tirade over ...
Pen names that protect are one thing.
Joe Klein might've sold more books if he'd marketed himself as the insider he was. George Sand probably wouldn't have been taken seriously if she put Baroness Amandine Aurore-Lucie Dupin Dedevant on the cover.
Pen names are a fine way to hide an author's output, too. Stephen King and Dean Koontz both used pen names to keep from glutting the market. Joyce Carol Oates writes mysteries as Lauren Kelly. No harm, no foul.
What gives me the creeps about JT Leroy/Albert is that she invented a whole persona explicitly to give her work a ring of authenticity. It's the sort of thing you'd expect from a get-rich-quick real estate huckster.
Albert wrote well. She should have kept it at that...
Writing under a pen name is acceptable, even expected, but lying to your publisher and the people who bought the movie rights to your book about your age, gender and ahem, occupation, when all three are an integral part of the marketing for said book and movie???
That's like marrying a guy who thinks you're a gay, twenty year old man, when you're really a 41 year old housewife with two kids, a balding husband and a morgage to pay off... otherwise known as FRAUD.
I would never represent an author who put on such a ruse, so what I'm wondering is is did her agent know?
I was wondering how she got an agent without this person being aware she was not a young boy. Do agents chose to represent manuscripts without meeting the author?
I also think misrepresenting memoirs is more common than people know. I heard an author read once from his memoir and he was happy to point out to us the parts that weren't true. An argument ensued about the ethics of this. He was astonished that anyone would be bothered by his "fudging" of the truth especially since he was honest about it.
The argument then drifted into false memories, faulty memory, and when two people remember the exact same event differently.
Such ruses as a publicity stunt would be fine... provided your publisher and agent know!
And if they don't?
Then you're just a damn liar.
In this case, I'm guessing the book wouldn't have sold nor sold well if it had been written by the real author, eh?
Do agents check out/confirm a writer's credentials/background? I guess this is more important in non-fiction, but maybe not.
Are there instances where a writer claimed to have a Nobel prize in physics and a Ph. D from Harvard when in fact they're a high school drop-out pig farmer from Podunk, Idaho?
Other than googling to verify publishing credits, how much digging does an agent actually do when considering a client, especially post James Frey?
I was wondering the same thing Lori, because I found it fairly surprising that her publisher didn't. *shakes head* If you go to such lengths to put on an alternate face - you really are trying to trick people.
It's mildly annoying for those of us who are being honest and trying to sell our works on their merit alone and not "who we are" that publishers (and the public) eat this stuff up. I suppose I feel like in a way they got what they deserved by being duped.
*laughs* But that's me rambling this morning.
I did a little re4ading up on this and Ira Silverberg was her agent. He was taken in by this cam and I do beleive him. I'm sure he took her on because she came to him through all his edgy-hip clients who has been hood-winked via email to support this struggling transgendered HIV-positive teen writer. That they vouched for her made it seem real.
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