And for the Pixies
There's an interesting debate going on over at Pimp My Novel about how factual memoirs should be. This is an old problem, fiction in memoir, that keeps resurfacing. The latest kerfuffle revolves around Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson. The WSJ has a piece here with specific allegations against him, but they are basically of two counts: Greg Mortenson made up parts of the story in his memoir and he misappropriated funds due to his charity.
Obviously the misappropriated funds is black and white - it's just wrong, no question.
But making up stories is a harder thing to prove, to qualify.
I met a mom at a PTA event recently and she told me she was a writer too, but that she wrote non-fiction. We got to talking about writing groups and decided to start one up together.
OKAY. We actually met at a PTO event, but I changed it to PTA because I thought that was something more people would understand (Parent Teacher Association/Organization, for the un-kid initiated) And she actually told me she was a teacher at a community college, then told me she wanted to try and write non-fiction someday. I tightened that bit up, made it less boring. Also, can 'recently' be 'over a year ago'?
Finally, we did talk writing groups, I had already started one, and she said 'no thanks' to joining mine.
See? Even in this no-account blog, I'm embellishing, adding, editing to make things seem better than they are. I do it all the time when I'm talking to people, when I'm pretending to listen to family tell stories I've heard a gajillion times before. I'm dissembling. LYING.
Where is the line of truthiness? Where is the art (short for artifice) in the memoir? What's an acceptable lie, one that doesn't hurt someone? What's unacceptable? One that makes the author seem more heroic, admirable, marketable than she really is? Is it intent that matters?
This is a subject that fascinates me because I feel like I'm a pretty good liar (as I've mentioned before). I try to lie for good, not evil by being a writer, but I would never write non-fiction, I couldn't trust myself. And, despite being a liar, I have an adverse, visceral reaction to people like James Frey. If you're going to be a liar, for chrissakes be honest about it.
What do you think about fiction in memoir? How stringent should the standard for factuality be? What is a lie too far?