Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Onward and ... I dunno

Fresh when it gets here from Julie Barrett
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The post-holiday blahs are starting to set in. I had been doing so well on my diet, but just killed it in the big week. I'm not exactly skinny to begin with, but now I feel so bloated. Maybe with this warm weather I can get out and walk. See the next entry for some pics.

Weather-related. NOT my body. You're welcome.

Chris sent me an e-mail from school yesterday to tell me that he's going to do Mannerchor after all. He had been told he wouldn't be able to participate as he wasn't able to be in choir last fall and hadn't had an opportunity to learn the music. (Mannerchor is a school-based program to encourage boys to stay with choir. They have a big concert every January.) So now he has to get his tux today, go to a rehearsal tonight, and the concert on Thursday. He insists that his dress shoes still fit. I hope he's right.

Just one more thing.

This afternoon I have to go for an eye exam. Now if I can just get the rest of my body taken care of. That's probably part of the reason for my general lassitude.

Spent a little time on some web work last night, learning the art of the DSN-less connection. If you're not a web geek, you don't care. Managed to get it figured out.

What really consumed my energy yesterday was this Smoking Gun report on James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces. This whole thing just astonishes me, but it does bring up a valid question: Where should the line between truth and fiction be drawn?

I suggest you read the Smoking Gun report, and also visit Frey's web site (linked through TSG) - if you can get through. It seems to be pretty bogged from traffic. You can read my rattlings, but checking out both sides of a story is always a good thing. You may also want to check out what people are saying via Technorati.

I saw this book a few months ago at my local B&N. I was intrigued by the cover art and thought it was fiction until I took a good look at the cover blurb. To be honest the story didn't interest me, so I put the book back down. Let's be fair: If a publisher could find a way to interest everyone on the planet in a particular book, they'd keep their recipe in a safe somewhere.

I forgot about the book until yesterday when Miss Snark brought up the topic. Looks like the effluence is about to come into direct contact with the swiftly rotating ventilation device.

AMLP is a memoir. The definition of a memoir seems to vary by person, at least judging by the comments over at Miss Snark. A memoir is generally the recollections of one person, told from his or her POV, and they usually want to make themselves look good. I'm not surprised when I discover that a memoir contains a few embellishments, that a couple of events might have been moved or combined, or especially that some names were changed for legal reasons. Usually there is a disclaimer. A quick perusal of the book at over at the Amazon site reveals no such disclaimer. (If someonee finds one, please comment so I can make a correction.)

I decided to take a look inside. The whole book appears to be written in present tense. Then I realize that there is absolutely no paragraph indentation or any real visual cues to deliniate grafs. Conversation is not put in quotation marks. Nouns are seemingly capitalized in a random fashion. As a work of fiction this might be considered "voice," but as a memoir? It doesn't work for me. Perhaps if the author is already well-known for this particular style it might work. True or not, it reads more like a work of fiction.

I've have several memoirs and biographies on my shelf that are good reads without having to resort to showy literary devices. Even if Frey's story is 100% true, what little I've seen doesn't have a ring of authenticity for me. He's lost me as a reader. And to be honest, he doesn't need me as clearly this is a best-selling book.

But Miss Snark brings up a very good point: Is there a fact-checking process at publishers? How do you check facts on a memoir? Miss Snark mentioned that she'd start by looking at the arrest records. Apparently TSG was just looking for a mug shot before they discovered the issues outlined in their article. That's all for the lawyers to sort out. I honestly don't know if the man simply took a bit of literary license or if he's an outright fraud, or something in between. Whether or not Frey is vindicated, this could color perceptions of the publishing industry.

The scientific arena has its own cases of outright fraud or sloppy research, as in the recent case of a stem cell researcher. What drives this? Ego? Money? A need to produce results for backers? I don't know.

Sloppy work and untruths can even get through in an organization that has a vetting process in place. Look at Jayson Blair. But it would seem that if these allegations have any truth to them that an editor or publisher could have done some fact-checking on the more high-profile incidents in the book.

If I had written this type of memoir (and I won't because a couple of traffic tickets in and of themselves don't make a compelling story) I would not only have material available to back up my claims, but encourage the editor/publisher to dig. If it's all out in the open to begin with, it would be difficult for anyone to use it to hurt or discredit me.

Credibility is what it comes down to.

Wow. That's more than I'd planned to write, but I leave you with one more link that needs no further comment:

William Shatner DVD Club.

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Filed under: Life   Writing   James Frey      


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