Two more cases of fictional memoirs… This time, a bestselling Holocaust memoir turned out to be fake. As The New York Times writes, “The author was never trapped in the Warsaw ghetto. Neither was she adopted by wolves who protected her from the Nazis, nor did she trek 1,900 miles across Europe in search of her deported parents or kill a German soldier in self-defense. She wasn’t even Jewish.” Particularly humorous is the author’s excuse that “Ever since I can remember, I felt Jewish.”
That instance was followed by today’s news that an acclaimed memoir of gang life is also untrue. The New York Times writes that the author “is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed.”
Galley Cat points out that the fake gang memoir is published by Riverhead, the same company that put out James Frey’s fake addiction memoir.
So here’s what you should do if you intend to get a memoir published:
- Start with your basic story. You’re an insurance agent. You’re rehabbing your grandfather’s cabin. You’re trying to find a job. Take whatever you really want to write about but no editor or agent will bother to read and no customer will ever buy.
- Add in one-part drug addiction. The more horrific the better. Don’t just stop at a little weed. Go all the way for teeth-falling-out meth issues. Or, shooting heroin in between your toes.
- Mix in two-parts abuse. Sexual abuse is more effective, however physical abuse can be used as a substitute. Be sure to dwell on the gory parts but also impart a sense of triumph as you struggle but inevitably overcome the tortures.
- Pour in two cups of straight vodka. A little booze goes a long way in a memoir. Alcohol is a good bridge in between other issues in a memoir. So you beat the addiction in Step #2, but then you fall of the wagon a bit and land in a vat of gin.
- Top off the mixture with terminal illness. Politically charged illnesses work well (see J.T. Leroy). Although if you can work in some cruel irony, that’s effective as well. Instead of just being an insurance agent, say that you’re an insurance agent who was just discovered by a top modeling agency. However, as you’re booking your ticket to Milan, you suffer an attack from a flesh eating virus that turns your gorgeous face to mush.
- Be sure to use words such as “triumph,” “struggle,” “inspiration,” and “overcome.” Include tons of references to “giving voice” and “sharing my story.”
Voila! You’re now well on your way to a bestselling memoir. The trick is to hide your lies well enough so they don’t get immediately discovered. In spite of the public scorn, James Frey and his publisher made millions. But in the case of Margaret B. Jones (real name Margaret Seltzer) who penned the fake gang memoir, the book has been recalled and the tour cancelled. So be sure to cover your tracks.