Friday, 19 May 2017

Writing - Liars, liars

There have been literary scandals throughout the ages - Shakespeare for example, was it him or Bacon or someone else that wrote this play or that - or the Hitler Diaries? Well there are modern scandals as well.

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J T Leroy

J T LeRoy

JT LeRoy was the nom de plume of Laura Albert, a 35-year-old Brooklyn author who, around the year 2000, wrote several books, short stories and articles that became hugely popular for their uncompromising accounts of the lives of an underclass of drug addicts, truck drivers and prostitutes in the American South.
Albert fabricated an exotic identity for LeRoy, who his followers believed was a transgender, HIV positive, teenage prostitute pimped by his mother in the truck stops of West Virginia.
As 'his' novels grew in popularity and he gained cult status, Albert asked her sister-in-law to start making appearances as LeRoy in disguise.
Albert and a team of co-conspirators managed to sustain the illusion for several years. The truth was eventually revealed by Stephen Beachy in a 2005 article in New York Magazine. In 2007 Albert was found guilty of fraud for signing the contract for the movie adaptation of one of the novels she wrote as LeRoy under a false name.


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Jean Shepherd

I, Libertine

Possibly the most overt critique of the system of literary PR and reviewing, New York radio personality Jean Shepherd’s prank began in 1956 on his late night New York radio show.
Frustrated by a system that valued requests for forthcoming books in bookstores as highly as actual sales, he wanted to demonstrate how a sensation could be produced artificially.
“What do you say tomorrow morning each one of us walk into a bookstore and ask for a book each of us knows doesn’t exist?” he asked his listeners.
The response was overwhelming. Ideas for the title were phoned in and Shepherd settled on I, Libertine.
Faced with a barrage of requests, baffled booksellers sent questions up the food chain and soon demand for the phony novel saw it placed on the New York Times bestseller list.
The prank was eventually revealed by the Wall Street Journal but not before the publisher Ian Ballantine, of Ballantine Books, had commissioned a new title of the same name to capitalise on the craze. The proceeds were given to charity.


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James Macpherson

The Tales of Ossian

In 1762 James Macpherson published Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books, together with Several Other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal, translated from the Gaelic Language, purporting to be a modern translation of the work of a third-century Gaelic poet.
The subsequent influence of Ossian’s ‘work’ can’t be overstated: some argue Macpherson’s were the founding texts of the European Romantic Movement, inspiring writers like Goethe, who translated in into German. Napoleon is said to have carried a copy of Ossian into battle, and in Britain Matthew Arnold, William Blake, Walter Scott and Elizabeth Barrett Browning sang its praises.
Unfortunately, when challenged, Macpherson was unable to present the source texts he claimed to have in his possession. Some dismissed him as a fantasist, but to others the work - even if only an amalgam - should be appreciated in its own right, or as an early example of oral history.

What are these scams other than attempts to improve sales? So what have the perpetrators done? They have identified an opportunity, or cause, and gone for it big style using considerable publicity. So they had to have the bottle to take that leap, risk, and in doing so have convinced a section of literary society that they are telling the truth. In some ways writers are prodigious liars. What else do we do but make up tall stories!

God Bless