There’s a reason that saying exists. Worse, there are people who keep on providing us with more reasons for saying it. This week, trending on social media is a story of folk who are decorating their male dog’s bits in – erm – glitter. You’ll be relieved to hear that’s not the point of my post … which is writers who make things up, by which I don’t mean fiction.
I first came across this phenomena when I caught up with Jon Ronson’s So You’ve been Publicly Shamed on my swaying TBR pile. He kicks off with the fall from grace of Jonah Lehrer. Who’s he do I hear you ask? Well, the Guardian describe him as a neuroscience whizz-kid, and he’s just published his fourth book (although two of his previous books were withdrawn following substantiated claims of plagarism). My link above is to his wikipedia page, but if you prefer, check out his blog where his ‘about’ page simply states “I’m a writer”.
A memorable scene in Ronson’s book describes Lehrer offering a public explanation and apology, while sharing a stage with a screen showing the live feed from Twitter reacting to his speech. Talk about being publicly shamed. And yet, four years later, his fourth book has been published. Putting aside whether the examination it receives is fair or foul, how was he given another book deal so quickly after his transgressions were so publically aired, especially as others have subsequently added their voices to demonstrate that his transgressions were widespread rather than one-off?
Jonah Lehrer’s public shaming started in 2012 and his fourth book was published in 2016, but two more current WTF moments I’ve fallen across are:
First off, Book Riot featured a report that former New York Times editor Jill Abramson has been accused of plagarism in her new book Merchants of Truth. Is it notable that the claims have been made by the same man who finally brought down Jonah Lehrer? The quick answer is I don’t know. But I suspect it is.
The second is the article I read concerning Dan Mallory – pen name A J Finn – author of supremely successful debut novel Woman at the Window. The full story is contained in an excellent New Yorker piece. This time it’s not a matter of plagarism, rather one of a fabricated life – with attention being drawn to parallels with Tom Ripley by the New Yorker – including the alleged death of his father, brother and mother – the latter from cancer (all of whom are actually still alive and well), as well as his own brain cancer – which he described variously as causing him to lose the sight in one eye, and somehow just clearing up. He’s held his hand up to having bi-polar disorder but, as the sorry tale has been rambling along for quite some years, people are now questioning everything he says and has said.
Still, as a bestselling author, I imagine another book deal won’t be out of the question. Am I envious? You betcha. Am I bitter? No, I don’t believe so. But I do wonder WTF is going on sometimes. Like I say, nowt so strange as folk eh?
© Debra Carey, 2019
This is weird! Why would a publisher want to take a chance on someone whose previous works had to be withdrawn for being plagiarised?
You may or may not have heard the story of Helen Demidenko, an Australian case. She wrote a book, The Hand That Signed The Paper, which made huge sales because it was so controversial. Anti-Semitic stuff about World War II. It won awards! It was defended by major literary critics. It got the author interviews everywhere. The thing is, she was claiming to be Ukrainian, that the novel was based on her family history, and wore a cute little dirndl to her interviews to make her heritage clear.
She was a fake. Her family was British, not remotely Ukrainian – their actual name was Darville. The “family history” was fake. And – shock, horror, there was a fair whack of plagiarism in it. Suddenly all the literary critics who had been championing it had egg on their faces. (“I never liked her!” snarled one who had had a cosy, enjoyable chat with her on the radio). Not only that, but she plagiarised some more and got into trouble again.
Nowadays she is self publishing and going by the name of Helen Dale. You couldn’t make this stuff up, eh?
LikeLiked by 1 person
I hadn’t heard of Helen Demidenko/Darville/Dale Sue, but then I didn’t go looking. I guess my mind was in a particular place after reading the Ronson book on shaming and so the tales of these other two writers quite literally jumped out at me. I’m wondering just how much of this kind of thing does go on, as maybe that explains the reaction of publishers?
It’s weird, I thought publishers won’t touch writers whose earlier work has been accused of plagiarism.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I know, right, me too. It’s hard enough to get published without that rule being broken/ignored …