By Claudia Ricci
OK, confession time.
The letter to Random House that I posted here yesterday, it was a fake. There is no contract. There is no Alison Crandall, well at least, there is no Dr. Alison Crandall who works as an acquisitions editor for Random House. There IS a Random House, but the way things are going in the book publishing business, with books "dying" and all publishers in peril, who knows how long the giant will last?
I want to apologize to the readers of the Sister Mysteries blog. I want to say I'm sorry for lying. I made a promise in Chapter One of Sister Mysteries that I wouldn't lie anymore. "Believe me," I wrote, "because I'm not lying this time." In that chapter I wrote about the fact that I had unsuccessfully tried to write Sister Mysteries as fiction, for a long, long LONG 16 years. It all fell apart. So now I am committed to telling the true story.
So why did I turn around three chapters later and start lying?
I could say that I was just making a point -- showing you how easy it is to fool people with words.
I could say that I can't help myself. That I can't help lying because I am a fiction writer, and lies come easily to me.
I could explain that as a child I lied so well that my parents could never tell what end was up.
I could say that I learned how to lie from my character Antonie, who spends countless hours in his sickbed constructing fabulous lies about his poor cousin, Sister Renata, who in turn writes the truth in her diaries. I could say that as I was posting Antonie's second tale, "Roseblade," -- a story about how Sister Renata shaves his face in a highly-charged, highly-erotic manner -- I just fell into the lying game myself and did the same thing that Antonie did. Constructed a very believable fabrication.
I could say all that, but that still doesn't excuse my lying here, in this blog. It is absolutely ESSENTIAL that I tell the truth in Sister Mysteries, not only because I promised, but because I need the reader's trust. I need the reader to know that everything else I have written so far in this book -- all that about the nun psychic talking to the dead, all that about my cancer being "diagnosed" by a medical intuitive -- all of that, I swear, is absolutely true.
But of course, how can you believe me now that I have lied to you?
I will never lie again, at least not in Sister Mysteries.
When I say that I will never lie again, I think immediately of James Frey (the guy who wrote and sold 8 million copies of A Million Little Pieces, his supposed "memoir" that was faked at least in parts.) Frey has just recently found himself swimming in a whole ocean of new hot water because of the "Fiction Factory" he has launched. Reading about his latest venture in a New York magazine story that a student at Columbia University published earlier this month, about the slippery (and many would say, sleazy) guy that Frey is, I ask myself, Holy COW, how can this guy do what he does and still sleep at night?
Still, Frey brings up important issues, ones we cannot ignore. Speaking in a graduate writing program at Columbia earlier in the year, Frey told students that "there's no difference" between fact and fiction. He also said that truth "doesn’t exist, at least not in the journalistic sense." He's got a point, and it's a point that I was trying to make writing the Random House letter. In that article in New York magazine, author Suzanne Mozes says that Frey's goal in launching his fiction factory is to throw the literary world into upheaval. Says Mozes: "he’s in it to 'change the game' and 'move the paradigm'."
Sister Mysteries -- away for free, right here, on a set of blogs. (Not so, though, for my second novel, Seeing Red, which is coming out next week; that book I'm selling the old-fashioned way, in paper, and for real money. Stay tuned!)
To the extent that Frey is telling the truth about wanting to "change the game" and "move the paradigm," I'm on board. That's exactly what I'm trying to do here, in my cluster of blogs known collectively as Sister Mysteries. I am trying to show readers that it is impossible to know exactly what is true and what isn't; Antonie's stories, contained in the "inner story" I call Castenata, paint Sister Renata as a flamenco-dancing seductress in a red satin dress.
Renata's diaries deny every story he tells.
What fiction writers realize perhaps more clearly than anyone else is that truth is all relative; that "narrative" can have oodles of emotional truth even though the facts might be made up. Writers of journalism traditionally have aspired to "objective" truth, or at least they used to. But Frey says, and I agree totally, that there is no objective journalistic truth.
Today, there is...chaos.
Today, there is Fox News constantly billing itself as being "fair and balanced," while meanwhile shilling 24-seven for the Republican agenda. Today there is the right-wing demagogue Glenn Beck. Today there is all kinds of crazy commentary coming at us from every direction.
Today's journalism, as my class at Georgetown demonstrated to grad students last year, is totally "UPSIDE DOWN." The Internet is just hurrying the process along: not only is the Internet helping to put newspapers out of business, and forcing drastic changes in HOW they do business, it's also having a fundamentally "game-changing" influence on how we think about news, and stories and everything else.
As blogs and internet sites and cable programming increasingly take over, we are forced to ask, what exactly is news? And, who is a journalist? Those questions are getting more and more difficult to answer. One of the books we read at Georgetown last year was Scott Gant's We’re All Journalists Now. While I am firmly behind the training that journalism schools offer, I am also prepared to agree with Gant's premise that anyone can be a journalist today. Of course, that doesn't mean anyone can be a good journalist, or an ethical one. That doesn't mean that today's journalists will be committed to doing lots of careful reporting and fact-checking, or that they will display integrity and a commitment to truth.
What passes for journalism today is often just so much fluff. More and more, the line between news and entertainment has gone fuzzy. Most of the young people I know --including most of my journalism students-- aren't the least bit apologetic or concerned that they get their "news" from those twin comedy giants, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Speaking of Colbert, there are still folks out there who don't really understand that he is faking his conservative views; when my husband, health care activist Richard Kirsch, appeared on his show to discuss health care legislation, several outraged friends and family members called or emailed my husband to say, "How dare Colbert act that way!" or "He was so right-wing, how could you stand it?"
My husband was astonished that these viewers didn't get it -- the fact that Colbert is putting everybody on. (Colbert by the way, according to my hubby, is a terrific guy who seems deeply committed to health care reform and other progressive causes.)
OK, back to my lying.
I apologize for the fake letter, and I make this promise: every single word that you will read henceforth on the Sister Mysteries blog will be absolutely as true as I can make it. I spent years working as a journalist so I do still remember what "facts" are. I know how to present facts in an objective manner.
And I will do that, whenever I am writing as Sister Renata.
Meanwhile, though -- and I do this in the spirit of full disclosure -- I will keep lying as I am writing Antonie's lies in Castenata.
Antonie's lies are so wonderfully convincing. They feel like the truth. And back in 1883, in a crowded courtroom, Antonie's lies actually convince a judge and jury in California to put Renata in prison, and sentence her to hanging.
(Stay tuned to see how she gets free.)
Antonie's lies, while incredible, are deadly. They are like the arms of an evil and insidious octopus, reaching out, grabbing hold of Renata, threatening to sink her. I know exactly what that octopus feels like, because for years, this book was like an octopus trying to sink me.
Not anymore though. Now that I am writing Sister Mysteries, finally I am free.
Sister Mysteries is part of the Albany Times Union's Writing In Motion project, in which several authors are committed to completing their books by the end of the year. Sister Mysteries is contained in a series of interconnected blogs, one of which, Castenata, is a story of a nun, Sister Renata, who in 1883 was falsely accused of murdering her cousin Antonie.