By Adam Langer
If I could blame any particular place or event for giving me the idea to write a novel about con artists scamming the publishing industry, it would have to be BookExpo America. It was at the Javits Center in New York City that I was first introduced to young, soon-to-be-infamous author James Frey. At the Staples Center in Los Angeles I met another possibly quite-soon-to-be-infamous author of a memoir more preposterous than anything James Frey ever wrote. And at Chicago’s McCormick Place, I learned that if I wanted to succeed as an author, I’d have to become a bit of a con artist myself.
Throughout the industry’s history, it has been plagued, or graced, by hustlers, grifters, hoaxers, and writers and booksellers on the make. The prevaricators and crooks who populate the literary world in my new novel, The Thieves of Manhattan (which was published this week by Spiegel & Grau) are just the latest players in a long, infamous tradition. If you don’t believe me, here’s a little quiz to jog your memory — all the quoted passages are from Kirkus Reviews.
P.S. There are more answers than questions, so respond carefully.
Match these questions above with an answers below:
1 – This “hardened voice of experience, steely and honest” hid her prep-school past and claimed to be a onetime foster child who grew up in rough-and-tumble South Central L.A.
2 – Supposedly “born on a Navajo reservation” and “raised by alcoholic parents,” this author of erotica actually had no known Native American ancestry.
3 – It was “disturbing to encounter a 20-year-old who knows this much about life’s seamy side.” Perhaps this was because the real author was actually twice his/her alter ego’s age.
4 – An “18th-century adolescent poet-forger…reviled by his contemporaries,” this scribe passed his work off as that of a 15th-century priest before ending his life at the age of 17.
5 – This serial exaggerator was lauded for his debut, which “create(d) striking accruals of verisimilitude and plausible human portraits…”
6 – Arguably the greatest hoax in Australian literary history, the work of this fake poet inspired a Booker-prize winning “Nabokovian masterpiece.”
7 – In a work that “bravely defies Islamic fundamentalism and repudiates her homeland,” this alleged con artist passed herself off as a witness to an honor killing in Jordan.
8 – This “hack” was “celebrated for a memoir about growing up on the mean streets of New York City,” though his street cred was “limited to copping an attitude and inserting ‘yo’ at the end of every sentence.”
9 – The “episodic memories of growing up Mexican-American in the Los Angeles barrio” was actually the work of this Kansas-born graduate of Andover and Yale who claimed that he used a pseudonym because he had been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
10 – A classic memoir of a “Cherokee boyhood of the 1930s remembered in generous, loving detail” was actually the work of this reputed white supremacist.
A – Clifford Irving, The Autobiography of Howard Hughes
B – Magdalen King-Hall, aka Cleone Knox, The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion
C – Asa Earl Carter, aka Forrest Carter, The Education of Little Tree
D – Blade Markham, Blade by Blade, featured in Adam Langer’s The Thieves of Manhattan
E – Margaret B. Jones, Love and Consequences
F – Orson Welles, writer/director of F for Fake
G – Norma Khouri, aka Norma Bagain, Forbidden Love
H – Jed Roth, Blood Is Thicker Than Nothing
I – Daniel Lewis James, aka Danny Santiago, Famous All Over Town
J – Ern Malley, The Darkening Ecliptic
K – Kaavya Viswanathan, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life
L – James Frey, A Million Little Pieces
M – William Francis Mannix, Memoirs of Li Hung Chang
N – JT LeRoy, aka Laura Albert, The Heart is Deceitful, Above All Things
O – Nasdijj, aka Timothy Patrick Barrus, The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams
P – Thomas Rowley, aka Thomas Chatterton, “Elinoure and Juga”