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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Are Hoaxes In Book Publishing Commonplace?



In a recent New York Times edition, a fairly large obituary was written for a man known to have perpetrated a fraud on the American public. His name was Mike McGrady, a prize-winning reporter for Newsday, a New York newspaper. He helped get a book published called Naked Came the Stranger. He was a co-editor of the novel that was written by 25 other reporters and editors at the newspaper. The only problem is the book listed a woman as the author, providing a fake photo as well.

The 1969 novel spent 13 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. Eventually the real authors confessed to writing the book.

Some might say there’s a little bit of fiction in every book.  Some intentionally lie, cover-up the truth, distort facts or edit in a favorable way.  Others don’t double-check facts or question the facts.  They use shaky sources or write unknowingly out of bias.  Few books, is fully scrutinized would stand up to be 100% accurate. 

Of course there are well-known hoaxes but for each one that is discovered, how many go unchecked?  In the movie, The Hoax, Richard Gere plays a writer who was published without anyone knowing that the story was fabricated.  The book purported to feature interviews with billionaire recluse Howard Hughes.  It was a fraud.  True story. With the recently published A Million Little Pieces, author James Frye was praised by Oprah only to be exposed as having fictionalized considerable portions of his “memoir.”

The list goes on.  I am sure there are books right now that received rave reviews or hit best-seller lists that have at least some suspect material in them, whether it was done intentionally or not.  

And what of people who use pen names?  It’s an old practice that is used to protect an author’s identity but is it a lie perpetrated upon the public that leaves unfair impressions?

If we read a book thinking someone is a man but is really a woman, will that change how we experience a book?  If we are told an author has certain credentials and then find out they don’t have them, does this call into doubt what we read?  How about a novel like Primary Colors, originally published by an anonymous author that was later found to be NY columnist Joe Klein?  Did it matter that the novel was supposed to be a based-on-truth fictionalization of Bill Clinton’s first political campaign for president?

I had one author inquire recently about having us promote his book. He seemed angered that I raised concern over him using a fake name for a book that he really wasn't qualified to write in the first place.

Not only do the major book publishers get fooled by hoaxers or those that review and recommend their book, the public is getting duped now on a daily basis due to the fact so many self-published authors disseminate information with books that are not filtered by a professional editor.

I guess the reader of any book has to always realize that what is published is at best, one piece of a puzzle. It is one perspective of the truth, one piece of potential evidence. No one book can serve as a grand jury on a topic and even with a grand jury-like approach to a subject, the book is only as good as what is known and understood at the time of its publication. As time goes by, new information undoubtedly comes to light. History books constantly revise what happened in the past. The past never changed but our awareness and understanding of it has.

Every book should come with a warning label that says: “The book you are to read may not be the complete truth or 100 percent accurate. It only shows one person’s effort at one point in time to conclude what the truth may be.”

That disclaimer should probably go on every press release as well. And on every blog post.


Interview With Author Rachel Hunter

  1. What type of books do you write? I write Speculative Fiction novels, including fantasy, science fiction, and my new favorite: steampunk. I adore how words can sweep readers off their feet and carry them into other worlds. This is what I aspire to do through my writing. I also share an infatuation with poetry, so when I write, it is to a beat rhythmic beat in my head. Stringing words together is truly an art form, and I appreciate the opportunity to share my creation with the world, as well as enjoy the work of others.

  1. What is your latest or upcoming book about? My latest piece is a fantasy novel, titled, Empyreal Fate. It is published through Hydra Publications, and is available in both print and ebook formats. Here is the book copy:

Filled to the brim with forbidden love, an ancient evil, and a nation in disrepair, Empyreal Fate is  a tale of riveting bravery and mortal corruption.

The land of Llathala lingers on the brink of war between men and elves, a dark history surrounding each race. Stirred by tensions of the land, a shadow of the past reemerges, taking precedence in reality and consuming the very soul of mans’ mortal weakness. Darrion, the son of a poor laborer, is ensnared in a hostile world, forced to choose between loyalty to his king or the counsel of the elves. Yet Fate has other plans in store, tying his course to Amarya, an elven royalblood of mysterious quality and unsurpassable beauty. But this forbidden connection incites betrayal from members of their own kin, marking them as traitors to the crown. In a land torn asunder, only Fate’s decree can allow such love to coexist with an ancient enmity.

Behold: A Llathalan Annal: Empyreal Fate – Part One.

My next project is a steampunk novel, featuring a blend between science fiction and the fantastical. Stay tuned for future works and other such shenanigans (also, feel free to visit any of my links below and introduce yourself. I'm always fond of meeting new readers and authors):

  1. What inspired you to write Empyreal Fate? My deep-seated love of words and my fascination with the fantastical realm inspired me to begin Part One of my Llathalan Annal series. I've always enjoyed how the words on a page can capture the emotions of its characters and the vibrant imagery of new lands, and I wanted to create such a scene for myself - to bring to life new people and dangerous conquests, strange lands and vicious creatures. I was inspired by works before me, as well as the majesty of printed words.

  1. What did you do before you became an author? Well, I've always been an avid reader and writer, and that aspect of my life still hasn't changed - and, perhaps, never will. Though I am also a psychology and nursing student at the University of Oklahoma, a yogini, a biker, a swordsmith, and a jedi knight. (Okay, so many not the lightsabers or swords... but in my head, I am whatever I wish to be).

  1. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? It’s a wonderful feeling indeed; quite surreal. It is what I have been aspiring to accomplish since I was but a little girl. And having accomplished it at the age of nineteen, I am quite proud, to say the least. I say this to everyone - not just writers - but as far as advice…. READ. Seriously. And write to your heart’s content. It doesn’t have to make sense at all (in fact, the more nonsensical, the better). But the Muse must come out somehow; it must be beckoned and tamed, and then it must be heeded and groomed. But without the “experience” of literature under one’s belt – from reading, writing, and even research - the craft of writing will fall in shadow. At least – I find that immersing myself in words helps spark the creative flair. It gets the cogs turning, at the least.

  1. Where do you see book publishing heading? I see publishing as ever-expanding. Print books will (most likely) always exist, but the electronic medium will indeed stretch farther. Unfortunately, as the popularity of e-readers and e-devices increases, I foresee the decrease in the number of independent booksellers. But, alas! One cannot see the future, and the future as we know it is never certain. I suppose we will just have to wait and see – and make the most of the now.

For more information, please consult: Blog: http://www.rachel-m-hunter.blogspot.com and


Interview With Author Margarita Engle

  1. What type of books do you write? I am the Cuban-American author of young adult novels in verse inspired by the island's history.  The Surrender Tree is about a nurse who hid in caves and jungles during Cuba's three wars for independence from Spain, healing soldiers from both sides with medicines she made from wild plants.  The Surrender Tree received many awards, including the first Newbery Honor ever received by a Hispanic author.  My other YA novels in verse include The Poet Slave of Cuba, about a slave who wrote poetry while he was still enslaved, Tropical Secrets, about Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, The Firefly Letters, about a Swedish suffragette's exploration of Cuba, and Hurricane Dancers, about Cuban Indians whose first contact with outsiders was with a shipwrecked pirate.

  1. What is your latest or upcoming book about?  What inspired you to write it? My most recent young adult novel in verse is The Wild Book, inspired by stories my grandmother told me about her childhood.  She grew up in Cuba during the chaos following U.S. occupation of the island after the Spanish-American War.  She also suffered from dyslexia, which at that time was known as 'word blindness.'  She lived with the illusion that there was actually something wrong with her eyes.  I incorporated the inner and outer turmoil of her youth, along with rural Cuban traditions, including the essential role of poetry in the daily lives of farm families. 

  1. What did you do before you became an author? I have always written poetry, but I was also a botanist and agronomist.

  1. How does it feel to be a published author?  Any advice for struggling writers?  It feels like I have received a precious gift.  Nothing can ever be taken for granted.  Published authors, no matter how well established, have no guarantees that the manuscripts we are now working on will ever be published.  Each book is an exploration, a quest, and a challenge. Struggling writers should never give up.  Summer Birds, my first picture book for young children, was recently published after languishing in a desk drawer for three decades. There is always hope.  I would also advise young writers to write passionately about themes that mean the most to them, not what they think is marketable, because markets change quickly, while writing is slow.

  1. Where do you see book publishing heading? Since no one can accurately predict the future, I would rather talk about where I would love to see book publishing heading.  I would love to see more originality, more creativity, fewer formulaic stories, fewer predictable sequels, and definitely, absolutely, always, more poetry.  As the world around us grows more callous and materialistic, we need poetry more than ever before. 


Interview With Author Norman German

What type of books do you write? I have published one prize-winning historical novel based on the life of an ex-slave woman who became a slave owner, one baseball novel, one murder mystery, and one pseudo-True Crime novel (a fictionalized version of the life of Toni Jo Henry, the only woman executed in Louisiana’s electric chair). Their titles are No Other WorldSwitch-PitchersCripple Bayou Two-Step, and A Savage Wisdom. Another, The Liberation of Bonner Child, is no longer in print. It dramatizes the reaction of a group of friends to an early case of AIDS, then called GRID (gay-related immune deficiency).

How and when did you know that your destiny was as a writer? I never felt that writing was my destiny. I completed my Ph.D. in American literature in 1982 and had to “publish or perish,” as they say, so I published scholarship for over 20 years (on writers as various as Hemingway, Hawthorne, Poe, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Ray Carver, and James Dickey). During that time, I also published short stories and novels, but now I write fiction exclusively.

What is your latest or upcoming book about? Oddly, my latest book is a vocabulary book based on interesting word origins (etymology).

What inspired you to write it? I taught an etymology course for 15 years and became disappointed in the textbooks because they lacked color, humor, and graphics. The Word on Words was awarded “Best of 2011” in Arts & Letters by Kirkus Review  (see http://www.kirkusreviews.com/lists/indie-arts-letters/). Because of that “Best of” award, a prestigious press in China (of all places!) contacted me and purchased a 6-year copyright to the book. I received the check last week, and literally the day before yesterday, I used the advance to pay off some of my home mortgage.

How does it feel to be a published author? Writing a quality book is hard work, but it is occasionally very rewarding (though if young writers think they’re going to make a million bucks, they should probably go into advertising). A few times, I have met people in non-literary or non-academic settings, and as we talked casually, they would suddenly say, “YOU’RE they guy that wrote [a certain novel or story]?!”  I’m from Louisiana, and once a professor from Massachusetts told me that she had been teaching one of my short stories for over 20 years. Others have recognized my name because it showed up repeatedly in their students’ term papers, especially on Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” and Ellison’s “Battle Royal” (the first chapter of Invisible Man). Another gratification is occasionally having one of my high-school classmates tell me that they would never have guessed that I (apparently a juvenile delinquent in their eyes) would have made ANYTHING of myself, much less a writer!

Any advice for struggling writers? Learn how to write what Hemingway called “one true sentence.” It is NOT easy. If you think you’re a great writer at 20, you’re not. Start from scratch and do the hard work of learning the language, starting with words, then building them into clear sentences. Think about your own psychology and that of others. Explore what Yeats called “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” Read about language, including GRAMMAR, every day. (For instance, there is a difference between “everyday” and “every day”!) Study great short stories and novels. At least once a month, read Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1949/faulkner-speech.html


Where do you see book publishing heading? It is by now a cliché to say that there has been a world-changing “paradigm shift” in publishing. Digital books are the future. Print books will never pass away completely, but digital formats allow GOOD writers who have been rejected by the major presses to self-publish their novels and test them on the almost-free open-market of capitalism—especially Amazon and Barnes & Noble but other venues, as well. If a good novel sells thousands of copies, those same publishers will go begging to those previously rejected writers, offering them generous contracts to publish the novel they rejected because they deemed it “too risky.”

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for hosting me today and for sharing the interviews with other authors. It is always interesting to discover the creative spirit of others in the publishing industry, and I enjoy making new introductions.

    Truly,
    Rachel

    ReplyDelete