Going On The Account: Spotting False Flags

The whole debate about whether writers just “make stuff up” or draw from their life experience, and if so how much of each, took an interesting turn when Jay Caspian Kang broke down a passage from his novel The Dead Do Not Improve over at Gawker.  It’s an interesting read, watching him take apart his passage and declaring which bits he made up and which he lived.


Frankly, I don’t know if I’d have the guts to do that.  A certain amount of what I share online is obviously fictitious, such as, say, firing four pounders at square rigs off the coast of Florida, so I’m not ashamed to highlight where the heavy schloffing took place.  Frankly, I’m rather proud of my schloffing, truth be told, or not…


As for pointing out where the drawing in the IRL materials occurred, I don’t know if that’s my place to do that.  I have fond memories of pursuing an English degree, watching professors proudly share their research where they tore apart text to show where a writer got his or her inspiration; who am I to deny scholars a chance at building tenure from reading my work by spoiling it for them…?


I personally blame James Frey for this. Hell, I’d blame Dick Cheney on James Frey if I thought I could get away with it, but this charge is more likely to stick, but anyway…  After Frey’s A Million Little Pieces came out, he tried to pass that off as a memoir, an account which could not be verified by The Smoking Gun when they failed to find his arrest record, leading the whole thing to shatter into a mill-

OK, yeah, that was going to be glib; gotta watch that…


But then, after all of that, he’s still writing, going on to use his name to become a hack mill, getting someone else to do the heavy lifting because he could offer someone access.  And I thought that when you did write-for-hire like that, you were supposed to be working under a better quality name that that, which means either H. L. Mencken was right (again) or there are way to many desperate MFA holders out there…


The point is, does this really matter this much?  Do all writers of fiction have to have some sort of authenticity to make their work credible?  Do we ignore the people who write if they admit that they dreamed up too much of their work?


If we did go that route, that would mean I’d have to give up on one of my inspirations, Stephen Vincent Benet.  Here was a writer who could move quite comfortably between historical, fantasy, SF, Westerns, and go further afield into poetry.  Would a man of pure letters still find an audience among readers demanding “authenticity”?  Would someone with talent who didn’t conveniently stick to just one genre still be taken on by an agent or a publisher, if they thought he couldn’t be properly branded?

That’s an authentic concern, right there…


1 Comment

Filed under Fiction, Writing

One response to “Going On The Account: Spotting False Flags

  1. Writing historical fiction can be hard when certain events have conflicting reports. I do try to make specific details as accurate as possible but do take creative license with some things for the sake of the story. Since my books are used in schools, I do make sure that any inaccuracies are stated in an ‘Author’s Note’ at the back and I will describe which facts are true, so the kids will learn the history properly. Sometimes, though, readers don’t really care what parts are real and what parts are made up. 🙂

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