As I'm sure most of you are aware, right before the Christmas break, a story broke that Angel at the Fence, a memoir of two Holocaust survivors who met at the Buchenwald fence and then had a blind date 12 years later was a hoax. The book was to be published by Berkeley, and was already an Oprah pick.
It was another example of poor vetting on the publishing side of the spectrum (why can't publishers use the same yardstick as journalist's? Make the author give written or corroborating verbal proof?), as well as another example of an author making up a (believe it or not) romantic Holocaust past (Misha, the fake memoir about the woman who was brought up by wolves after escaping the Nazis). As well as yet one more Oprah-backed memoir that was too good a story to really be true (James Frey). I know it makes the reading pubic question the veracity of memoir, and that's not a good thing.
But, I looked in my email this morning, and had a very long blog entry from a man who claims he helped expose the Holocaust blind date hoax, and I thought it was an interesting backstory. I did not vet it, so I post the link here with that warning.
dan has left a new comment on your post "The New Year":
BRINGING DOWN THE HOAX
Friday, January 2, 2009
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You would think that after James Frey everything would have been scrutinized.
Wow. That's pretty lengthy post and it is also a head scratcher.
Some old guy who's a self professed blogger does not post this to his ongoing blog, but instead creates a brand new blog with no information whatsoever about himself. No page where you can find information about the author nor is there any method to contact him except by leaving a comment.
Then he leaves the first comment on his own blog (or maybe it is merely a coincidence that they are both named Dan) *and* when you click on the hyperlink for Dan you find that his profile is unavailable.
Why the secrecy if you are trying to claim credit for your work?
Frankly, I don't care if someone nudged a reporter to look into this story or not. Over the years when I've been agitating for various political causes I have worked hard to get reporters to be interested in covering events, news stories, etc. and I know firsthand how difficult it can be to get a story - of any length - into print.
Whether or not some dude in an internet cafe in Taiwan was able to interest Gabriel Sherman to investigate this story is of little interest to me. I doubt that this blog named "Bringing Down the Hoax" is going to have many more posts, so I won't be subscribing to it in Google Reader.
Frankly what I find to be most tragic in this whole story is that an agent who I met at a writers conference last year was deceived by a client. It feels personal to me because I know who this happened to and I feel sick that she went to bat for a liar and convinced a publisher to care about his story enough to have a contract made for publication. The other tragic aspect of this story is that the publishers might be hesitant in buying worthy memoirs due to the actions of some dishonorable few.
The first time I went shopping for an agent for my first novel, one of the big-time agents who expressed interest in the book told me I had to turn the novel (complete fiction, not autobiographical at all) into a "memoir", or else it wouldn't sell. He made his offer of representation conditional upon that. When I protested, he said "no one will ever know".
I refused (my ethics would never let me publish a lie), so he didn't offer representation, and that novel remains unpublished in my trunk. But I think given my experience and what you've seen in the James Frey situation (where the editors of that book were complicit in the deception), that the reason this keeps happening is because certain segments the publishing industry have a direct hand in deliberately publishing fake memoirs out of profit-seeking.
I used to be a journalist, and was trained as such. I published this blog post because when I was a neighborhood newspaper publisher in Manhattan, we often had whistle-blowers and intense insiders giving us leads, and it was our job to follow them up. One of them lead to an expose of the Lyndon LaRouche cadre trying to infiltrate the local school board, so it's always the right thing to look into a lead. But it just doesn't happen as often as it used to because journalism has changed from information to infotainment.
I really don't even get why memoirs are so popular. I can't stand them.
Memoirs seem to be a risky business these days. Particularly since James Frey, memoirs have been subject to more scrutiny, making more memoir authors hesitate, I believe, when they write. We all have instances in our past that we may remember incorrectly, oftentimes, innocently.
When Robyn Scott, author of "Twenty Chickens for a Saddle" visited my store last year for a signing, she also wrote a post for my blog which dealt with how she approached writing her memoir. Her blog post can be found here.
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