Monday, June 08, 2015

The Memoir Is Fiction With Added Fiction

When you think of memoirs these days, you think of all those memoirs that turned out to be fiction with an extra dose of fiction. There was the million pieces of fictionalized memoir, and the three cups of fictionalized tea and the novel about surviving the Holocaust that was sold as memoir but it wasn't real at all.

Memoirs are not quite non-fiction, according to the definition. Books labelled as memoir are recognized as someone's collected memories of certain events. So there's a little leeway granted for creativity. But only a little.

If you are a writer and you want to get your manuscript slotted in the most marketable slot, you'd want to be selling a memoir as opposed to a novel, which is a much tougher sell. So you write about what you know, make up most of it, and then tell a literary agent that it's the best you can recall of your time living in, say, Manhattan, among the, let's make it the wealthy and socially prominent. Literary agent Miriam Altshuler certainly believed one particular author.

Everyone loves a tell-all about the posh in their exclusive homes in exclusive areas that none of us will ever see. What could be bigger blockbuster than an expose from someone who entered that world like an anthropologist, to study the culture for six years and then report back to us?

Wendy Martin apparently had an idea for a book that was based on what she knew, or at least on what she had experienced for a time. But when you approach literary agents with a novel about life on Manhattan's Upper East side, a book about motherhood among the mean girls of means, you may not get far without a degree in creative writing or a long list of literary awards to open a few doors.

Ah, yes, but send your query off and claim that you've penned a memoir about your time in the Upper East Side, mingling with the very people you are exposing, and you're getting requests for pages and drawing some serious interest.

Who could fact-check what you've written, anyway? It's your memoir. It's not as if the legal department at Simon & Schuster could ring up Socialite A or Patron Of The Arts X and ask them to verify some unseemly conduct involving them.

Primates of Park Avenue was published as a memoir but the New York Post has done the fact-checking that the publisher did not do and it turns out that yet another memoir is just a work of fiction.

Wendy became Wednesday when she became an author, but who can argue with a woman who wants to use a pen name? That's but one minor course correction on this long journey through the parenting skills of the Upper East Side dweller.

Wednesday 'Wendy' Martin was a denizen of the region for a much shorter time period than her memory, clearly flawed, would indicate. She was not pregnant when meeting with the board of the co-op where she hoped to reside, and so it's not possible that she met with the co-op's board while confined to her bed under the obstetrician's orders. Shops she mentioned did not exist when she recalls their presence. She uses Uber's taxi service before it came into being. Memory's a tricky thing, isn't it.

You would think that a 'mean girls' oriented story would sell without an author having to resort to false advertising, but for whatever reason Ms. Martin thought she could use her experiences, expand them as a novelist would use life experiences to flesh out a story, and then sell it as a memoir. The novel that Ms. Martin called a memoir is said to be witty and fun, but is it as witty and fun if you understand that the tale is fictional and not an actual account of life among the elites? Does it then become just another novel like so many others?

The publisher has pulled back a bit and will add a corrective note to future editions, to warn the reader that some objects in Ms. Martin's mirror are actually much further from the truth than they might appear.

How long will it take publishers to cop on and treat memoir like fiction? It's become a type of fiction, hasn't it? Or do authors have to resort to trickery to get their work published because the publishers can't figure out what's good and what's drivel?

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