Wednesday, June 09, 2010


This is a big topic. Professionalism entails meeting deadlines, submitting an eloquent-as-possible manuscript, behaving with respect to colleagues. I could go on here, and we could all contribute. And then there's the actual story-telling. Is there a truth in fiction that we writers should seek? Is there an element of veracity or honesty to a story to which one must adhere? Slippery concepts, I know. And everyone makes mistakes. We’re human. But what happens when it’s not a mistake, and fudging the facts is just convenient?

It’s easy to make a mistake. I’ve made my share of bloopers. It’s hard to get everything right—and the easiest time to make a mistake is when the author is so convinced she’s right that she doesn’t check. Oops! I’m guilty.

Did anyone read the New York Times review of Ted Mooney’s The Same River Twice? Sounds like a compelling novel, and Danielle Trussoni had some nice things to say about it. I think I’ll see if the library has it, though, and here’s why. It’s a novel about a Parisian clothing designer and her partner, who are approached to smuggle Soviet-era May Day banners out of 1998 Russia. A major part of the tension is apparently built on the premise that the duo could be executed for smuggling the flags. Trussoni points out that this is pretty far-fetched for 1990’s Russia. There is also a point about a character spending his rubles on Caspian caviar and Georgian champagne because rubles couldn’t be taken out of the country on departure. This isn’t accurate; travelers had no problem leaving Russia with their rubles in 1998. I’m going to read the book to see if these details bug me, but it is the kind of thing that often makes me lay the book down because the author loses his credibility.

It would be really easy to get worked up about the recent memoirs that turn out to be fiction (memoirs, apparently, sell better than fiction). And a few notable biographers have been dinged for embellishment in ways that weren’t historically accurate. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Ambrose, and a few others have had plagiarism problems. And then there was Janet Cooke, a Washington Post reporter, who won a Pulitzer in 1981 for an article about an 8-year-old heroin addict—who turned out to be fictional. Big oops.

Then there’s sheer gag-me. As an employee of the New Republic, Stephen Glass not only plagiarized, he made up stories that he passed off as non-fiction. He even substantiated them with fraudulent websites and non-existent phone numbers. Fired in a noisy scandal, Glass turned his infamy to fame in order to publicize his book, The Fabulist, a “true” account of his disgrace. Hollywood made a movie about it, called Shattered Glass, starring Hayden Christian as Stephen Glass.

I’ve got heartburn. I think I’ll tackle Helen Thomas on another blog. She screwed up and she’s possibly losing her marbles, but I’d rather sit next to her at dinner than Stephen Glass.


Vicki Delany said...

I absolutely hated The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe. Supposedly such a great police procedural, the author didn't know much about Canadian policing and didn't bother to find out. It was a mash of Americanisms, Britishisms, and stuff no cop in any democracy would do. I read it, won't read another by her (him? it?) becuase to me veracity matters.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Me too! I felt that way about The DaVinci Code, too, but am definitely in the minority on that one.

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