J.M. Reep

Newsflash! Fiction Writers Are Liars

In Commentary on June 21, 2009 at 11:27 pm

(This is a post originally intended for, and recently posted to, another blog of mine. I thought it was relevant to Post-Publishing, so I’ve edited it a bit and posted here.)

I read a story recently (here’s a link to it) about a blogger who has stirred up quite a bit of controversy because she lied about the events she was blogging about. Her name is Becca Beushausen and her blog documented her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, April Rose — who then died suddenly a few days after she was born. The only problem: Becca wasn’t pregnant and she didn’t have a baby. She made up the whole series of events. This might not have been a big deal if Becca’s blog had attracted only a handful of followers (like most blogs do), but apparently, Becca’s blog quickly attracted thousands of loyal followers and well-wishers.

Apparently, suspicion that she wasn’t being completely truthful began when she posted pictures of her new baby, which some followers of her blog thought looked more like a doll. In fact, that’s exactly what it was.

When the full truth finally came out, followers of her blog were furious, and people began speculating about her motives and state of mind. It wasn’t enough to call her a liar — is she also a malevolent hoaxer?  Is she a con-artist? Is she a sociopath? Does she have some kind of mental or emotional disorder? Surely, there must be something very wrong with this woman. The reaction has been so harsh that she has deleted her blog and in its place posted an apology.

My thought? Maybe she’s just a fiction writer. (Beushausen: “I’ve always liked writing. It was addictive to find out I had a voice that people wanted to hear.”)

It is baffling to me, though, why her former readers are so angry. Some of them, after the baby was supposedly born, sent Beushausen gifts and donations. Those people have a right to feel upset and have a right to demand their gifts returned. All of the other followers — those who simply enjoyed Beushausen’s blog and the story she was telling — in my opinion, ought to write to Beushausen and thank her for entertaining them with such a compelling story.

I once had a professor who described fiction writers as liars. Even when they gave interviews or wrote about their work, he claimed, they were predisposed to lie. Novelists are professional liars, he said; that’s just what they do. I tend to agree. When one writes a story, one is creating a world that may resemble this one (or in other cases doesn’t resemble this world at all) but which isn’t this world. One writes about characters that seem to be real, but who don’t really exist. No one gets upset, after reading Harry Potter, to learn that the story never really happened. Why are those readers of Beushausen’s blog, even those who feel like they were tricked, so upset to have learned that the whole story was fiction?

Is there an expectation that the content of blogs should be exclusively non-fiction? If there is, I don’t think there should be. A blog is simply a platform; it’s simply a tool for writing. It shouldn’t dictate what the content of the blog ought to be. Blogs are like those journals you can buy at office supply stores: the nice, leather-bound books filled with empty pages. The owner of such a journal is free to fill the book with stories that are true, or stories that are made up. There isn’t any sort of requirement that a journal writer only write “the truth,” nor should there be any sort of requirement that all bloggers only write “the truth.”

Indeed, I’m always skeptical when I read any sort of autobiographical writing that what I’m reading is the honest and objective truth. Reality itself is not an objective thing. Events are subject to our different perspectives, colored by our different experiences and beliefs. An event might occur, about which we can gather facts and objective data, but that event — and the facts and data surrounding it — may still be interpreted in any number of different ways according to the perspectives of the people observing the event (see, for example, reality television). So I don’t believe there is such a thing as a blog — even a “non-fiction” blog — that always tells the truth.

My other blog is a creative writing blog. Readers of that blog may or may not be surprised to learn that I have told lies in that blog. In fact, I have told many lies. Some of these lies have been big lies, some of them small lies. Some of my lies should have been obvious to readers, while other lies were carefully disguised (carefully disguised lies are always the best lies, of course). Even when I tell the truth, I don’t necessarily tell the whole truth. I may only tell part of the truth and leave the rest out — lies by omission.

In fact, lies are essential to that blog. It just wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t wrapped in a web of lies. I’m not just documenting my process of creation, but I’m using that blog as one of the sources of that same creative process.

I don’t think I’m alone in my deception. I would wager that every creative writing blogger out there has also told some lies in his or her blog, too. And why not? We writers of fiction tell stories. We make things up. Lying is fundamental to what we do.

So let Becca Beushausen be. She is a fiction writer. Let her tell her lies.

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