Friday, January 9, 2009

Truth or Truthiness

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” –Spencer Johnson

When I started writing yesterday’s blog, I went off on a totally different tangent than I had planned. That happens often when I write, so I tend to just go with the flow.

I’m not using this blog to promote Oprah (like she needs that to begin with). But the point I meant to get to yesterday is why is Oprah blamed for memoirs gone wrong? I’m sure you remember the flak she took for James Frey’s book, A Million Little Pieces. More recently, she’s been criticized for not knowing that Angels at the Fence, by Herman Rosenblat also was doctored with a bit of fiction.

Straight from Hel has a really good and in-depth blog on this subject so I am just skimming the edges and voicing my opinion. Which is—writers should have the integrity to market their work honestly. If it’s a memoir with facts about actual events and real people, it’s non-fiction; if it’s a memoir embellished with things that did not happen, it’s fiction. How difficult is that to understand?

Perhaps a few authors have confused the definition of truth and Stephen Colbert’s word, truthiness. The definition of truth - the true or actual state of a matter (Random House). The definition of truthiness - the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts (Urban Dictionary).

I believe most authors are honest and it’s not Oprah’s responsibility, or ours, to vet the authenticity of each and every memoir released. What are your views?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Truthiness, Spencer Johnson, Oprah, Frey, A Million Little Pieces, Rosenblat, Angels at the Fence, Colbert,

14 comments:

Joan De La Haye said...

I think in some cases the bending of the facts is done to protect someone and in others...well...it's a grey area. It's still pretty much that persons life even if minor bits were changed. It's still a good book and if somebody learned something from it...

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

That's a good point Joan. But, wouldn't it be better to sell the book as a fiction based on true experiences if you are not sticking to facts? I know I learn from reading fiction as well as non-fiction.

Katie Hines said...

I, too, believe that writer's should be person's of integrity, and not blame others for their woes (as readers or writers).

Sharon - John's Legacy said...

I guess we all hope that everyone we deal with is a person of integrity but in the real world, that just isn't so. But it still shouldn't keep us from operating in integrity and honesty to the best of our ability. We struggled a bit with how to handle our son's journal which we decided to publish. It was filled with fantastic lessons anyone could learn from. We opted to change names and leave out a few things that could have been interpreted as negative. But we said right up front that that was what we were doing. We call it John's Legacy and the last entry was made 6 days before his hike into the Kohala on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Shari Lyle-Soffe said...

Jane

So true! What is the problem with being honest? If the book is good people will buy it whether it is fact, or fiction. Oprah has to take the blame because she is on a pedastal and people want to knock her off to make themselves feel bigger.

Shari

Christina E. Rodriguez said...

In a way, Oprah has a lot of responsibility to her viewers. Some folks really trust her and would do near anything for the woman! She has the power to make or break a book, so I'm sure some folks feel a little betrayed that she unintentionally led them to buy lies. It's really not fair to Oprah, of course, but that's the price of fame I guess.

Beth Groundwater said...

I think authors who make up imaginary events in their lives and pass them off in their "memoirs" as the truth are snake oil salesmen!

Annay Dawson said...

I have to wonder sometimes how much the author really remembers to begin with and how much is just fill to make the story better. The worst part is that later they find out that what they have believed true all this time may not have been and are left in a truly precarious position.

Joy said...

I read several accounts about this book that Herman Rosenblat wrote. I don't understand why, after it was discovered to have been embelished it just wasn't re-marketed as a fictionalized account of his life. I did read that the book deal was cancelled but that the movie deal was still going through. (It will make a great movie)
Oprah went with what she was told. Maybe she should have had her staff investigate the story a bit more for authentisity, but, from what I've read it's a story people wanted to believe was real.

Joy Delgado
http://www.laughing-zebra-children-books.com
http://goingbeyondreading.blogspot.com/

Cindy said...

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Morgan Mandel said...

Truthiness - that's a good word for fudging a little with the truth, kind of like a book based on fact, but completely factual.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://www.morganmandel.com
http://twitter.com/morganmandel

Helen Ginger said...

It is a fine line since memoirs depend on memory, unless the author has kept an extensive diary for all the years the book covers. Even then, it's the author's interpretation of events. But isn't that what most biographies and political books are?

In this case, the author threw in stuff that he knew were not true. So, IMO, it should have been fiction based on truth. The part he lied about, though, was the driving force of the book and what sold the movie rights.

As to Oprah, she actually did not promote the book. She had him on to tell his story of his time during the Holocaust. Still, it would have been good if she could have caught the lies. But his fellow Holocaust survivors did, once they began to hear what he was writing for the book.

Holly Jahangiri said...

It seems to me that autobiographies comprise a special category, generally. They will never be the absolute, objective truth. They are one person's perspective on the truth. However, if that one person completely and deliberately makes up stuff (lies outright) and calls it "fact," then the book rightfully falls into something more akin to "historical fiction." Maybe we need a new genre: "biographical fiction."

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Holly, I think you have come up with the perfect solution. I like the idea of biographical fiction.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world