With the continued revelations of writers suffering from James Frey Disease, nonfiction publishers perform their daily ritual of puckering their sphincters – especially when they read an article that questions yet another author’s faulty memory. I’m being nice. Nicer than I’d feel if one of those authors were mine. Actually this sort of thing makes me want to sew voodoo dolls and raid the local JoAnn’s Fabric of all their straight pins.
This latest kerfluffle involves Luis Carlos Montalvan and his book, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him. This is the type of book that invades my dreams and wishie lists of a dream book, and it’s agonizing to find out that his story is being questioned by those who served with him.
This is the main fear I have when I review query letters. James Frey (and yes, it still bugs me that he’s been given so much credibility) and Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame have ruined my sense of trust. Instead of accepting experiences at face value, I’m forced to measure my ability to vet any given story. That inability could prevent me from accepting a book of real worth.
On the other hand, maybe it’s good those who dance around the truth have been exposed. If lying is the new paradigm, perhaps it’s best my rose-colored glasses were ripped from my face. After all, if it’s good enough for our politicians, it must be good enough for us. This is a trickle-down idea I can live without. I mourn the loss of honesty and a moral compass.
And I find it particularly shocking when much is made of someone’s honesty – like the guy who returns a wallet, still filled with $20,000…like honesty is as novel an idea as mixing Twinkies and bananas.
Lying is expensive – not necessarily to the one perpetuating the lie (hello James Frey) – but to the publisher, who is left holding the bag. People scoff and believe that a publisher can shoulder this kind of financial hit if they decide to remove the book or offer refunds. But I can promise you that when this stuff happens, people lose their jobs. So while Frey and Mortenson go about their days without a care, someone is taking the hit for their folly.
Lying is intentional. Someone is actively trying to pull one over on you, and hoping you’re dumb enough or trusting enough to pull it off. I wish society condemned lying, but it seems that these are passed off as “transgressions” or “remembering wrong.” Remembering wrong? Have we become so blasé about the truth that we’re willing to forgive and forget? If so, stop the world and let me get off.
If there was no profit or advantage in lying, it would cease to exist. As a publisher, I’ve had my eyes ripped open and I’m more careful about vetting than I ever have been. There have been any number of queries I’ve received where it was painfully obvious the author had no filter for lying, and I could reject them as easily as I can down one of the beagle’s margaritas. But it stinks to reject someone because I know there are big claims they’re making that I can’t ferret out without hiring a detective or researcher.
So to the three people I rejected the other day, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I didn’t have the guts to admit that I was rejecting you because I couldn’t believe you without rock-solid proof. No one appreciates having their integrity questioned, and I’m sorry you were the blowback of the Freys, Mortensons, and Montalvans of the world. I hate that I’ve had to become cynical and suspicious in order to protect all that we’ve worked to build. And my heart goes out to the publishers whose authors have cheated them.
Until society takes the profit out of lying, I’ll continue to keep my sphincter muscles in good working order.
How do you feel about those authors who have been caught lying?