Monday, August 31, 2015

Last Vacation Day: Every Agent's Fear

The story broke, as these kinds of stories do now, on the internet. The "author" of THE BOY WHO CAME BACK FROM HEAVEN wrote an open letter saying the book published as non-fiction was, essentially, not.  He had not gone to heaven and met Jesus. He'd made it all up.

One of my followers on Twitter asked me what I'd have done if that had been my book.

The easy, self-righteous answer is "this would never happen to me cause I don't do those kinds of books." Which is true, I don't handle books that are intended for the Christian book market.

But the question made me ask myself what would have happened if I did sell a book that turned out to be made up. And let's not all rush to say "that would never happen to me" because it could, if the book was was shelved in one of my blind spots.  I've got a couple of blind spots: I generally believe the victim of a crime; I always believe stories of rape and harassment; I always believe stories of sex abuse.  I recognize those are my blind spots.

The people involved with Alex Malarky had blind spots too. His family, the literary agent, and the publisher  all have strong Christian beliefs. What Alex described was entirely possible for them. It would have seemed like a message from God, something that should be shared. Something they had an obligation to share.

There's even scripture to bolster the idea "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." [Matthew 11:25]

Five years later Alex is eleven, not six, and it turns out he made it up to get attention.

Cue the scoffers and the gotcha crowd to say "of course it was all made up" and just to add insult to injury, make fun of the kid's surname.  This was a story made for the social media mob.

Before we all take up the burning pitch torches and light fires under vats of oil, let's remember there are many people out there who made stuff up and got away with it for a good long time.

And that's what my fear is: in wanting to believe something, I'll overlook what should be red flags.

I don't know how anyone involved in this story could have avoided this unfortunate turn of events other than to simply not believe it, but that's like saying "you can avoid drowning by not going in the water."

I don't know how to avoid falling in to the blind spot trap. 

Which means the answer to the question is "that could have been me, and boy am I glad it's not."


Unknown said...

The truth is tricky. It's not 'simply the facts, ma'am'.

I remember when my first dog died. I was eleven and it was around Christmas. No, says Mother. You were eight and it was during Thanksgiving. No, says my sister. You were a teenager and you weren't even home when Rex died.

We have no back up so we like to argue about it every time we're together. But if I were to write about it, in my long-anticipated autobiography (HA. Can't even type that without guffawing), I'd put my memories in the book, not those of someone else.

Is Young Malarky sure it didn't happen? Didn't he see his grandfather or something that confirmed the story in his parents' eyes? And does it take away from the story? Is it still a well-told and interesting story?

Kitty said...

You'd have to become very cynical in order to avoid that blind spot trap, and I think that would be worse.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I remember when the James Frey MILLION LITTLE PIECES story broke and turned out to be not real. I hadn't read it yet, and was frankly bewildered. I hate sweet little old ladies shoving it across the library counter at me with bit-a-lemon sour mouths, saying things like "I am so disappointed."

So I read it.

And holy shit, they wanted all that to be true? The sordid drug doing detail, all of it? Or were they just mad that they were "tricked" into reading all that sordid stuff, for the redemption at the end, so they could feel safe as homes and satisfied that somebody somewhere pulled themselves out of the hole, at no benefit or detriment to you or your life, and wrote about it so you could experience that bourgeoise thrill of a genuine life or death struggle?

As you may have gleaned, I mostly do not give a shit whether a memoir is true. I'm sure I'm an outlier here, but all I want is for it to be a good story. I'd be upset if there was too much extrapolation in what I took to be a researched documentary, like Devil in the White City, say, or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (and even then, the stories were so good, and I enjoyed the writing so, my pitchfork would stay in the shed). And even then, if I still learned something, or was inspired to do my own research further, good show.

So the Malarky family's book isn't true. And maybe Todd Burpo's book along those lines is also not true (HEAVEN IS FOR REAL). I haven't read either. But even if I had, it has no effect on my life, no impact on my faith. If I need a kiddo I don't know to confirm for me absolutely the state of Heaven, God, and the angels.....well, I need to go back to church and do some serious soul searching.

(side note: I do need to go back to church. But that is a story for another day).

Just give me a book I want to read. Fiction, non fiction, picture, whatever. It's not my job to keep you honest.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

For twenty years I wrote my memoirs. After showing the third novel length manuscript to a friend she told me I'd probably be blacklisted if I published it. Now I write fiction. It's more fun to invent stories and I don't want to exploit my family or friends.

I feel sorry for the boy.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

"I want to believe" – wasn't that a poster on Fox Mulder's office wall? It's the enemy of clear thinking. But of course, we all have that chink in our armor, the crack in our otherwise impenetrable wall of logic, that lets errant nonsense come rushing through and drown our critical faculties. The trick is to remember that believing and knowing are not the same thing, and to constantly ask, "Says who?" about things. But you're right, I don't see how that would have changed this story. Because the family, hearing the story, would have said, "Says who? Oh, little Alex. Of course I believe him."

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sometimes we want to believe so badly we overlook the obvious preposterous nature within the story. Who would not want to believe the boy? It makes sense of what many of us fear and wonder about. As a (it’s all about me) non-fiction writer I could easily embellish but I choose not to. Readers would never know if I lied but I would. And, Karma is a bitch.
A child looking for attention is very different than an adult writer seeking market. On one level, it is very sad, yet understandable, on the other it is blatantly deceitful. I cannot even imagine the parental fallout, let alone that of the publisher and agent. Which begs for the question, do we turn away from that which offers the answer to a question humans have grappled with since we slithered out of the swamps and climbed trees, or do we wait for the answer as we face the divine on our own?

InkStainedWench said...

I'm a fact hard-liner. If you present something as non-fiction, it better be factual. If you need to pretty-up the story so it reads better, do it with good writing, not by making stuff up.

Now memoir is a special kind of non-fiction, because it is, by necessity, subjective. I'll cut the memoirist some slack about perceptions and biases, but not falsehoods.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

A lie can make its way around the world twice before the truth gets its pants on - Winston Churchill.

The media has shifted from journalism to propaganda. Most news shows should be called "Lie to Me". A 6 year old making up a story to sell a book as non-fiction instead of a perfectly lovely bit of fiction is far less loathe some than what Rolling Stone did with a totally made up rape story. People can scoff all they like but there are hundreds of crap news stories pretty much every day that deserve far more disdain.

I loved the show, House. The title character's defining belief was that all people lie. And they do. So we must hunt for the truth amid a sea of deceits.

There is a reason Lucifer is called the father of all lies. A lie can do far more damage than a bullet. We who write, even those of us in the fiction realm, must have a care. A little boy's lie may be a little thing but it will be used to diminish faith and that is something we can ill afford right now.

Careful the spell you cast.
Not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen
-Stephen Sondheim

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Jennifer R, I’m with you.
Personally, I know what’s up, up there, because I believe.
My Monday morning quarterback-version, I don’t think I’d stake my livelihood and reputation, and that of others, on a kid’s version. A modern day Fatima, I don’t think so.
And that my friends is my self-righteous answer.

Kregger said...

The kid was six. I don't believe what comes out of my six-year-old granddaughter's mouth on the best of days.
Well...there was that time she told me where to find a million dollars. Turns out, the money was hidden at Disney World.
Smart kid, gullible Papa.

Colin Smith said...

First of all:

"...what would have happened if I did sell a book that turned out to be made up."

Isn't that called fiction--what a large number of your clients write, Janet? ;D OK, sorry... had to get that off my chest, even though I think a season of grading papers in the Carkoon salt mines is now in my immediate future...

Seriously, though. From a Christian perspective, yes, we believe we will one day meet the Lord. And any Christian parent would love to know that their child will be numbered amongst the Lord's--especially if that child is in a coma. What comfort to think that during a son or daughter's most life-threatening time, Christ himself came to provide comfort and assurance! I understand, to a non-Christian that idea doesn't pass a secularist standard of credibility. But for a Christian, armed with verses such as, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14), or Psalm 8 in the KJV: "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies..." the idea that one's child could receive direct divine communication in this way is very appealing.

However, the Christian church--and that includes all aspects of the church, including the Christian publishing industry--needs to learn discernment. Unfortunately in our day, many have thrown off the idea of having a solid theological foundation for a "whatever feels right" mentality. Feelings matter, but feelings aren't revelation, and Christian theology is based upon divine revelation, first in Christ himself, and then in His Word: the Bible. The moment Christians stop treating Scripture as revealed truth, and the foundation for understanding what God would have us to know about Himself, that's when the very name "Christian" becomes meaningless. From that point, you're making up the rules as you go, and that's not the intention behind passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

If the church wasn't so quick to elevate experience and feeling over truth, if the parents and their church leadership had weighed the child's testimony against Scripture, if they had even said, "we're not sure, so let's not rush to publish, but give the child a few years of reflection before acting" this whole situation might have been avoided.

OK, sermon over. Well, not really--I've only touched on some points I could write many blog articles about. But this is not my blog, so I'll leave it at that. :)

Susan Bonifant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donnaeve said...

Jennifer's already mentioned the two books I had in mind when I read this post.

Those aside, I think E.M. makes some very valid points about distortions in the news, as well as how the disbelievers might use this story to further their case, and, as said, "diminish faith." As if we need that now.

As to blind spots, I still adhere to the old saying, "truth is stranger than fiction." I still think some near death experiences are truth. I am also fascinated by the children studied for reincarnation - where they can recount details of their past lives including a knowledge of a foreign language they have no way of knowing.

How anyone would avoid what someone tells as a truth when it's not, is as hard as knowing what will come tomorrow. I guess it comes down to gut instinct. I still like that old saying, "even a broken clock is right twice a day." Maybe there was some truth to Alex's story and his parents reaction is what propelled him to keep on. I haven't read it so I don't know.

Donnaeve said...

As you can see, I like old sayings and I cannot lie.

Timothy Lowe said...


I agree mostly with you - a story is a story is a story, unless the author's real-life personal politics destroy the beauty of the vision he/she's created.

Remember "The Education of Little Tree"? Beautiful story of a Native American struggle, written, it turns out, by some guy with neo-Nazi leanings?

How would we all feel if Harper Lee turned out to be racist, or if (gasp) Atticus Finch turned out to say some really off-color things in a draft of the novel that was then churned out for a dirty dollar?

A story is a story is a story. But you can't be a turd-ball and then write about racial harmony. Well, maybe you can, but in this day and age you might not get away with it.

(BTW anyone remember Jack Nicholson in As Good As it Gets, when asked by the ditzy clerk how he writes such convincing women?)

Public persona does matter. Who you are does matter.

My two cents!

french sojourn said...

I remember reading "The forgotten Soldier" about a german soldier in the western front. He was dragged up and down the slope of facts, and how he could never have been in the places and engagements he claimed. I enjoyed the book and hoped it was real, as I have always found that campaign interesting in the horror of its scope. Twenty years later it was reviewed as most unlikely being false. I believe Guy Sajer, the author was still alive to see the horror he experienced finally believed.

Maybe a tangent, but hopefully relevant.

I believe Christianity is a belief based faith. I believe, but not in an individual, but more as a set of truths. Don't get me wrong, I admire those who worship the individual, but for me its more of a self enlightened belief of doing only right and not being concerned about being noted for good deeds.

And some may wonder about my foul mouthed behaviour in Flash fiction contests....well thats fiction, my life is non fiction.
be well,

Unknown said...

Well said, Jennifer.

It's with that kind of passion a writer should write.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Truth is most often self evident but the denial of reality in the service of an agenda is a ubiquitous human trait. We believe lies because they're more convenient for us, that's essentially how politics works, people choose to believe the lies they're invested in. You can see it in personal relationships too, when disputes arise, observe the course of any discussion among those acquainted with the controversy, do you see a pattern in the way allegiances form? I bet you anything you do and it has nothing to do with the veracity of any case.

So a kid lied to get his work noticed, yeah that's the first time that's ever happened hasn't it, anyone recall Chatteron or William Henry Ireland? I've not read the book but if it's any good, he did the world a service by puncturing the wall of discretion that excludes talent from publishing. If it's rubbish, well it's just another over sold book to throw on the pile, only this time the deceit behind it has been revealed.

Religion? Well you can't explain faith to an atheist, trying to, is as fruitless as trying to explain the difficulties of fitting two of every species of animal in a boat, to someone who proffers a literal interpretation of a text; rewritten, translated and preferentially edited over thousands of years.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Donna, I read about the children's reincarnation stories. Fascinating stuff, it made my heart thump a few extra times. After I read it, for fun, I jumped on a website that you put (only) your birthday in and it tells you who died on or around your exact time of birth. It's supposed to mean maybe they became you.
For me the wife of a long-dead president popped up. Yeah right, I thought. Um, she was born in the same town I was and her Maiden name is a common version of my first name. Kind of spooky.

About the Malarky boy, wouldn't it be something if what he experienced in the coma was real and that he's rescinded his statements to get attention now.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OT question for Janet.

So...what if you did invest your reputation in the grand-story which turned out to be a grand-scheme? How would it actually affect/effect (I never know which one)future dealings with authors and publishers?

Regarding us blog-yahoos we'd stand by you but I'm interested, could something like this bring a well established and reputable agent down?

Colin Smith said...

DeadSpiderEye: Species, a modern scientific category, is not the same as the biblical "kind", and, as a long-time student of Old and New Testament textual criticism, I'd be happy to discuss the origin and transmission of the biblical text with you sometime. Unless you're just goading the faithful... :)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I don't read memoirs to "get the facts." It's about context. And since when do we expect 6-year-old children to see the world, interpret it, and understand facts in the same manner as adults? That's cruel and unrealistic.

Are we not constantly trying to make meaning of our lives, turning that prism, staring at it, frowning, taking it to the sunlight to turn it, and seeing something anew? And through the years, sometimes we come up with different possible answers.

Logic and facts has been the go-to interpretation for the modern western world. There are other ways to interpret life and living. Mysticism, sixth sense, dreams that foretell, the ability to "see" something other people cannot.

But then again, I am comfortable living with a certain amount of ambiguity (which is NOT the same as habits scattered amuck as I dig among boxes in a new home to adapt routines such as my morning blog reading now happens at a dining room table by a fireplace). Others need more black and white solidity in their lives.

Will this affect that agent's job? Will their agency fire them? Will they never be able to get another job as an agent again? Or would they only be hired in a non-Christian area since the dust-up is happening in that arena?

Unknown said...

I was five, visiting the Bronx zoo, having a great o'l time in the petting section, swarmed by baby goats trying to eat from my tiny paper cup. A bit like a ride on Noah’s Arc.

That’s when the 800 lb baby spotted me. And charged. A moment later I was encircled, and pushed slowly into the red slatted fence. The rough red texture of the wooden fence. I vividly remember that. My face lightly pressed in. Then gentle pressure, his trunk wrapped round my body, feeling me up, pinning my arms. And warmth from his skin. Grey and weird. The thin flap of his ear. His funny lips. His twisty tongue.

Screams. Mothers, and dad’s swarming. “Let him go! Let him go!” and pounding on his other side. “Let him go! Let him go!” He and I strangly calm.

“I love you,” he said, and released me.

A zoo keeper slowly led him off. Another asked if I was okay, along with Mom and my sister, crying, hysterically. The elephant and I staring.

After a several years I told that story, but just a few times. It was clear by about the second sentence that nobody would ever believe I’d actually been attacked by an elephant. I never even got to the last parts. So I stopped telling it. And then I stopped believing it happened. A false memory. Some weird dream. And then I almost forgot, foggy memories floating in the back of my head.

Years later, at a Thanksgiving dinner if I recall correctly, the family was talking about how fickle memory can be. So I mentioned that for years I believed I’d been attached by a baby elephant. And my family sort of laughed.

“Oh no,” Mom said. “That really happened.”

“The scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” my sister added.

And so now I believe. Again. And that’s really the key word isn’t it? Memories, like dreams, aren’t real. They’re both just shadows of reality. What we believe.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Colin Smith:

Hi, I didn't intend to goad the faithful, it's not my thing, allow me to express my contrition if that's the impression I gave. Species, as a word that has acquired connotation specific to a particular context, a bit like gender or pagan. I could just say, kind of animal, as you mention and it would be literally synonymous but species, as defined in the context of zoology/taxonomy has implications that impinge on the viability of reproduction, so that seemed apt.

My days as a delver into biblical script are far behind me, so I'm gonna be a bit rusty but I did take it seriously at one time, very seriously. Yeah so if you wanna throw something my way, feel free and I'll have a gander.

Dena Pawling said...

When I worked at the Public Defender's office, my clients lied. We kept a “bad cop” file for police officers who lied.

In my current job, tenants lie all the time. So do landlords. Sometimes parties lie at the suggestion of their attorneys, who we label as the “slimy” ones, those who bring down our profession.

The purpose of a trial is to “decide the truth.” Juries [and judges for non-jury trials] are tasked with the duty to figure out what really happened, or at least to decide which version is “more believable.” Testimony is conflicting. Who is telling the truth? Who is lying? Or are all witnesses telling their honest perception of what they remember, even tho inconsistent with the memories of others? The purpose of cross-examination is to expose the lies as well as what is conveniently NOT being said.

There's a reason for the legal adage “if it's not in writing, it doesn't exist.” Then again, many times the writings aren't true either. I see that all the time – forged/fraudulent rent receipts and/or leases and/or documents purporting to sell the property and/or photos of roaches taken several years prior in a different property entirely.

I try to be honest in my job, mostly because years of hard work and money went into obtaining my law license, and I don't want to throw it away because of a bad decision. A local news reporter, many years ago, was exposed for fabricating sources and stories. Her entire career, gone in a blink. Very sad.

Colin Smith said...

DSE: My point with "species" is that it's unfair to expect an ancient text to conform to modern definitions. Indeed, a key principle to interpreting any ancient text is to define terms according to the way those terms were defined at the time the author wrote.

How's your Greek and Hebrew? :)

Naturally, if this conversation is to continue, we'll take it off-line since it is waaaay OT... :)

Janice L. Grinyer said...

Imagine working in a career where you meet that kind of deceit almost every day.

And you have to make judgement in order to do your job. Sometimes quickly. Too quickly.

If you make the wrong judgement everyone hears about it - especially the media.

You make the right judgement? No one hears about it at all.

That is what it is like working in Law Enforcement.

D. B. Bates said...

I will spearhead an initiative to refer to this sort of thing as "Getting Frey'd." Because he wasn't the first, and he won't be the last, but he sure is among the funniest.

Tony Clavelli said...

I don't often read creative non-fiction but when I do, it's more for the truthiness of it than for that elusive Truth. I want the same kinds of feelings that i get from fiction. What's frustrating in the post's example (and those others mentioned above) is less that the story was made up and more that the writer says "I lied."

So much truth can be gained from fiction and non-fiction alike, but it all kind of burns down when your premise is proven false or announce that it is. Good writing is loved for its honesty, so it really feels pretty icky to me when this happens.

If this happened to Janet, it would be no fault of her own. I'd like to assume the industry would able to recognize the honesty we all see, and that they'd be supportive.

Anonymous said...

This will be long, too long, so forgive me.

I was terribly disappointed when I read this was a fictional account. Terribly. Not because I don't believe it could happen, but because it just gives people like my ex more ammunition to batter at me about my faith. He's of the opinion the only people who need God are those with weak minds.

When my daughter Mirinda was dying, my neighbor who had taken me to the hospital, came to me. The doctor had drugged me so I was completely out of it. Romia woke me up and told me Mirinda wasn't in good shape, did I want to call the minister to Christen her. I called him and he came up to the hospital and argued theology with me for 30 minutes, saying it wasn't necessary. I said I knew that, but this may be the only thing I could do for her and I wanted her Christened. Finally, Romia told him if he wasn't going to do it, she'd get the hospital chaplain. He Christened the baby three minutes before she died.

I spent the next hour on my knees begging God to let her live. No one would tell me she was already dead. The nurses finally MADE the doctor come tell me. His consoling words were, "Mrs. Weathers, the baby died."

The hospital wouldn't release me for five days because Don was in California and there was an airline strike. The airlines would have him wait and then bump him, then send him to another city, rinse and repeat. He finally wound up driving his truck home.

I spent a lot of time crying, "I want my baby."

My mother-in-law came to visit and said, "I knew you were going to kill that baby." A friend was sitting with me and when Vickie kept prattling on, Debbie told the lady with Vickie to get her out of there.

A lady from the church came to visit with a plant. She gushed over how beautiful the baby was and how happy she was for me. I could feel the blood draining from my face. "Where did you see her?"

"She's in the nursery."

We went to look. Sure enough, there was a bassinet with the name, Mirinda Dawn Weathers right by the window with a dark-haired baby in it. Doretta looked at me and asked what was wrong.

"Mirinda died this morning, Doretta."

The baby moved and I came very close to fainting. The morons had left Mirinda's card on the bassinet and put another baby in it.

Doretta kindly offered to give the plant to someone who didn't have any flowers and apologized profusely. Not her fault. She didn't know, but was that a heart stopper for me.

I didn't eat because they put me in a room next to an old woman and she complained because that "nut in the next room cries all the time." Their solution was to keep me drugged as much as possible. When food arrived, I'd try to eat, but couldn't hold the fork. After a few days you lose your appetite and don't care. It never occurred to any of the nurses to notice the food was untouched.

Finally Don got home. I had arranged everything from the hospital except the casket and funeral details. Bless my friends. They bought dresses for me and Mirinda and brought them to the hospital for me to pick out. Romia contacted the cemetery and got details and a plot plan, etc.

Anonymous said...

The salesman at the funeral home kept apologizing because there was such a small selection of baby caskets. Business was so good they couldn't keep them stocked. About the fifth time he apologized for the lack of selection I started to get up to beat the sh!t out of him. Don told him, growled really, it was fine. Let's move on.

I felt very much felt Mirinda's death was my fault. If I hadn't done this or that, she wouldn't have been born premature. If I had stayed awake I could have insisted they fly her to Lubbock to the neo-natal unit there, which had great success with premies. If I this, If I that. It all boiled down to the fact her death was my fault.

I hated God for letting my baby die. Despised Him.

I attempted suicide three times. I would have succeeded the third time if two couples who were very good friends hadn't decided to go out to dinner. One of them said out of the blue at 8:00 at night. "Let's swing by Julie's first and say hi." I had figured out the right amount of sleeping pills to take to kill yourself. Hint. If you take too many pills, you throw them up. There's more to this, than you think. It's kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

I will always believe God stepped in.

I couldn't sleep. Every time I'd go to sleep, I'd dream someone knocked on the door. I answered it and three old women were standing there. One would lift a blanketed bundle that had dirt on it as if it had just been dug up. Then they'd laugh. "Here's your baby, dearie," one hag would say.

Always the same dream, every time I tried to sleep. I could go for days without sleeping. I'd sit in the chair in the corner at night, knees drawn up and stare at the door, waiting for the knock.

I didn't sleep in our bedroom when Don was gone, and he was a long haul truck driver so he was always gone. I went back to the bedroom to put up clothes one night and saw Mirinda lying on the bed in her Christening gown. I screamed, threw clothes everywhere and slammed the door. After that, I went to the bathroom before it got dark and didn't go again until morning because the bathroom was next to the bedroom. Yep, I was going nuts.

One night I was lying in the twin bed in the spare bedroom. I was exhausted. I wept because I was so tired. I closed my eyes to try and sleep and the vision of the three women came immediately. I said without thinking, "Jesus, give me peace."

I was instantly filled with such an indescribable sense of love and peace. It felt like my body was filling with warm honey oozing through every fiber. I drifted off to sleep and slept the entire night with no nightmare.

So started the path to healing.

God is real for me. I don't have to take Him on faith. When I read books like Heaven Is Real, they make me feel good, but I don't need them to know the truth. said...

This probably has already been covered—

I believe here's the "red flag".

Any writing that proposes to be “Christian” FACT should be checked against what the Bible says, it being the foundation of the Christian faith. For example, in Jesus parable about Lazarus and Abraham, he speaks of the chasm between heaven and earth that cannot be crossed.

In other words, you don't "go" and then "return"--at any age.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: Yes, that was long, but what a story! Thank you for sharing. We mustn't derive our theology from feelings and experience, but that doesn't mean God doesn't relate to us on that level. He often does, when we most need it and, perhaps, when we least expect it.

Anonymous said...

Getting back to the topic at hand. Historical fiction that distorts the truth is a pet peeve of mine. So, if someone presents something as true and it isn't, that really irritates me.

We were discussing cataloging books on Books and Writers the other day, because my Civil War collection is getting unwieldy. I needed to get organized. Diana Gabldon said she uses LibraryThing also, which was the system I tried. She has 2,300 books so she had to organize them. She also posts her list so people can see which books she uses for research.

That's one reason I enjoy her books. I know first hand how much effort she puts into research.

Lisa: "I don't read memoirs to "get the facts." It's about context."

Yes and no. I'm reading a lot of memoirs now for research on my current book. I note things of interest in the memoir and then cross check it against other references. If it holds up, I'll use it.

I read Memoirs Of The Confederate War For Independence by Heros Von Borcke a Prussian aide de camp to J.E.B. Stuart. It's an interesting read, but he makes himself out to be a great hero in many events, which was simply not true. So, I'll have to pick out some details for flavor and discard the rest.

Mosby was pretty careful in his memoir and backed things up with references to documented evidence. The lawyer in him was very evident.

I could pull crap out of the air, this is fiction, but I won't. Truth is stranger than fiction as someone has already said. I couldn't in a hundred years make up some stuff that actually happened and I have a very fertile imagination.

What would Janet do? I don't know. As Jayne said to Mal, "Well, that's going to be an interesting day." It would be a horrible position to be in.

Colin Smith said...

Memoir is a tricky beast. I almost want to call it "interpreted history"--but then again, ALL history--even that written by historians from a supposedly objective viewpoint--is interpreted. The historian brings to the period his/her presuppositions and the reflections of his/her predecessors on the subject. But memoir is interesting because it's subjective. This is how I understood this event as I experienced it. Whether or not my understanding is accurate is not the point. You get to see my point of view, and how that event affected me.

And yet there is an expectation that memoir will be presented as fact, and will, therefore, conform to some verifiable standard of fact. I guess people differ on how high that standard should be.

Just thinking out loud, folks... :)

Anonymous said...

Children's brains work differently from adult brains. They're less restricted by reality. They can believe things that aren't real, or things that are real but adults don't believe. They can see things that adults don't see, because adult eyes just skip over them as being mundane or unreal. It's entirely possible the 6-year-old did see what he said he saw, or that he really believed he saw that. As he grew older, he learned to disbelieve it. But it's also possible that, yes, he'd simply been a child looking for attention.

I'm not saying the book is true. I don't know an awful lot about the book or the story behind it; this is the first I've heard of it. But seeing through a child's eyes - in a book or by listening to them talk - opens the adult mind to a world of wonder.

When my niece was 3, she lost her great-grandmother. She asked me a couple times why great-grandma had to die. I told her that God wanted her in Heaven with him, and I asked her what she knew about Heaven. She told me a wonderful story about an airplane in the sky, with Jesus and all the dead people on board, and it was always a sunny day up there and everyone was happy... and it was so beautiful to get that glimpse into her mind. She's in her 20s now. I doubt she remembers any of this.

We don't have to believe everything a child says, and often it's not wise to do so. But if we let a child talk, we might experience the wonder they see. And we might see things we might have missed otherwise.

Is the story told from a child's point of view? If so, then it's very possibly truth, as seen by that child. Then as the child grew older, he rethought what he'd *known* he'd seen.

Julie: Your story brought tears to my eyes. I can't say I've lived through anything like you have, but I, too, need that peace. God bless you.

Colin, there's a difference between theology and faith. Theology is a study. Faith is knowledge, often based on feelings and experience. I know I wouldn't be here if it weren't for God, but I don't know that through study. I know it through feelings and experiences.

Hermina Boyle said...

Rob, thank you for the great story!

I know my middle schoolers HATE to be reminded of things they said / did when they were six or younger. It's as if that part of them never happened or that they want to distance themselves from that younger, silly child now that they're so much older wiser.

I can't help but wonder if Alex might have lied about the lie, or simply found it easier believe it didn't happen.

A wise Carmelite friend had this definition: "Truth is that which you need to know in order to live."

Colin Smith said...

bj: Not the place to really get into it, but faith is based on theology. Everyone has a theology--even an atheist, and even a child. And that theology informs one's presuppositions, which in turn affects how one processes feelings and experiences. Some people have degrees in theology. Some people just have "what I think about that." But we all have theological ideas that shape the way we see and experience the world. You can't separate faith and theology.

Another one for off-line discussion, if you like. :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

When I was a kid, all stories happened "when I was three". Some of them actually did, I imagine, but 3 seems to have been my Big Consciousness milestone and where my memories really gelled. It's when I was 5 that I decided yes, I wanted to be Christened, and wanted to be Catholic like my grandparents. Arguably, a 5 year old "can't" make that decision. Arguably, a 5 year old "should be allowed" to make that decision. So.

I didn't know THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE was written by a Neo-Nazi and at the age I read it, I wouldn't've known what that was anyway. It's like how I didn't know The Sound of Music was about Nazis the first time I watched it (I read DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL when I was ten), and it wasn't 'til high school that I came to that lightning bolt realization. So I guess that's another wrinkle in my reading habits and need for truthiness; I frequently don't care who the author is. What were Daphne DuMaurier's politics? Dunno. Or my aforementioned Erik Larson, don't know that either. It's like how I enjoy bands, but frequently can't name members therein (unless they broke up and toured after. It's why I know the members of Led Zeppelin, more or less, and a couple names from Pink Floyd).

nightsmusic said...

Julie, you're getting a huge, virtual hug from me right now. I'll have to 'talk' to you sometime. My experience wasn't quite the same, but every bit as bad for me.

I haven't read the book in question. I tend to stay away from stories like that because it only fuels my depression. I've felt God comfort me on more than one occasion and yet, I panic myself into a corner for weeks at the thought of dying. Go figure. So I don't read that stuff. But as much as I want to believe things like that happen, I'm too much of a bible student to know that they do. Near death experiences? Maybe. God will have to explain that someday when I stand before him. But spending a lot of time there and returning? I can see a six year old's mind telling the story.

I worked in a hospital and know that coma patients really can 'hear' what people are saying around them. They can, if they come out of the coma, sometimes repeat conversations that took place in their room almost verbatim. Maybe this boy heard that and interpreted it to be more than what it was.

But when a book like this is presented to an agent, ANY agent, that agent is also going on faith if you will, that the story is exactly what it is. I don't think, unless the agent knows the truth and buries it, that they can be held responsible for an author's intent to defraud.

HEY! No cabbages! No picture at all.

Colin Smith said...

It makes me smile when my 11-yr-old tells stories of things that happened when she was "a kid"... :)

Jennifer: My 19-yr-old realized only in recent years the WWII backdrop to The Sound of Music. That might have something to do with the fact that she's much more aware, and much more interested, in WWII history than she was when she first saw the movie. :)

LynnRodz said...

42 comments in, I'm sure the topic has been covered so all I'll say is:

Susan, always listen to your intuition. It's God's way of speaking to us.

Julie, the things I can tell you that have happened in my life where God or His angels have intervened. Well, let me just say, like you, I know God is real. Thanks for sharing.

Colin Smith said...

BTW: If I've offered off-line conversation on a topic, I do so for the sake of trying to help the comments stay reasonably on-topic. If you want to take me up on such a conversation, my e-mail address is linked to my Blogger account. I'm not going to presume you want to engage the topic, so I'll wait for you to contact me. And if you decide not to, that's perfectly okay.

S.D.King said...

I am a believer based on both theology and experience. The bottom line is that any valid experience must line up with the truth of the scripture. (I think that is Colin's point, if I am reading correctly)

What a delightful day to hear of other commenter's journeys of faith!!

My son often used a phrase that we thought was gibberish, but as he got older, he used it as a name. He insisted that the person was with our family all the time.

"You know, Mom, that guy who eats dinner with us all the time." (we never had a guy over).

"You know, Mom, he always sits in that chair." (never had a guy sit in that chair)

This is the son who is a Phd and as a child was brilliant beyond our reckoning - analytical, logical, never engaged in make-believe unless he was putting on a play for us.

We have come to think of this man as my son's guardian angel. I won't reveal the whole name, but the first name is Latin for "white."

We know that people have seen and spoken to angels in Biblical accounts. I am comforted to think that children's eyes may be more tuned to see the unseen world around us. (hence my comment a few days ago about the opening of Elisha's servants eyes to the unseen.)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

When taken to a cemetery for the first time, (my nephew and his wife were placing flowers on a relative’s grave), their little boy, at almost three, stood staring across the gravel road and waving at someone. They were alone in the cemetery. When my nephew and his wife asked the little guy who he was looking at and who he was waving to he said, “Grandma”.
He was an infant when she died.
He was looking toward her headstone. “Hi Grandma,” he said.
How did he know the stone was hers?
Did he see her standing next to it?
Did she appear in order to see her much loved great-grandson?
Children are sensitive to the unexplainable. That little boy, in first grade now, has forgotten the incident but his parents and the rest of us have not.

No one, not even the Malarky child who now claims he did it for attention, knows the real truth.

Rob’s elephant story is exactly the point I’m making.

Memory torments and sometimes protects, by doing that which it is not supposed to do, forget.

And to Julie W. my heartfelt condolences to you.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: Oh, and there's a whole nuther rabbit trail. Memory. Do we ever really forget, or just choose not to remember? And if remembering is the forging of connections in the brain, how much of what we claim to have forgotten is actually just lying around in our brains somewhere until one day, a connection is forged...? Any neurologists in the audience? :)

Elissa M said...

As others have said, memory is a slippery thing. Our perceptions are not photographic, either. Three people can witness the same event, be questioned immediately afterwards, and you'll have three different versions of the event.

The Truth may be out there, but it's very hard to pin down.

When something is billed as the truth, or at least not fictionalized, I want it to be as truthfully accurate as possible. I don't want to read a memoir just for a good story. I want to know that it depicts the truth as the the author experienced it, and if I find out it was made up, I will be more than a little irritated. If it's fiction, market it as such.

As to the Janet's example, I don't think anyone should get too stirred up over a child's revelations, whether he's six or eleven. It comes back to the memory thing again. The six-year-old may or may not have "made up" his story. The eleven-year-old may or may not accurately remember what the six-year-old self experienced.

I'm always surprised by people that require faith to be bolstered by "proof". In my book, Faith is what you believe in the absence of proof. Even more, Faith is what you believe when the "facts" say otherwise.

Amy Schaefer said...

Everyone has blind spots. I suppose the only thing we can do is be aware of our own weaknesses, and remind ourselves to be extra cautious in those areas. How do agents generally deal with non-fiction? I imagine it is something along the lines of 'trust, but verify.'

I tend to get very annoyed with 'non-fiction' that is actually fiction. I love fiction. I have no objection to making up a good story. Give me all the good stories! But don't pretend they are true. We use these different labels for a reason. Fiction explores what could happen to people. Non-fiction records what did happen to people. Clearly, some people care more about the distinction than others. And I'll keep thinking about why it matters to me.

Joseph S. said...

Follow up questions, Ms Reid
Clifford Irving wrote an autobiography of Howard Hughes. He claimed he worked with Howard Hughes on it. He lied. Because he convinced the publisher to pay money to Howard Hughes, which he and his wife kept for themselves, he served 17 months in prison for mail fraud.
Clifford Irving later wrote a book called “The Hoax” detailing the events surrounding the fake Howard Hughes autobiography.

The questions: If you were the agent for the fake Hughes autobiography, would you represent Clifford Irving on The Hoax? If you weren’t the agent for the Hughes autobiography, would you represent Irving on The Hoax?

John Frain said...

I planned to comment on the original post, but then I read the story from Julie. It stopped me, and erased my memory.

I have nothing to offer you, but I hope it's cathartic to tell the story, and know that there are many people out here that wish you well always. There are things in life you never get past, and I'm inclined to think that must be one of them.

Thinking of you. And grateful for the people in your life that kept you going.

CynthiaMc said...

When my mother was taking care of my great-grandmother just before she died she would have conversations in Spanish with her long-dead husband. Everyone assumed she was delirious until she told him very firmly "Vicente, I can't go yet." The door slammed and my mother heard footsteps going down the hall. When the footsteps passed the gaslight in the hall it flickered.

When my grandfather was very ill my mom was taking care of him. Out of the blue he asked if she ever had a baby he didn't see. My older brother only lived a few hours. My mom and her father were estranged at the time and she never told him about Joseph. She asked Grandpa why he asked and he told her a young man had been visiting him and told him he was his grandson and his name was Joseph.

My father traveled a lot. When he came home he would always come by my room, give me a kiss and say "I'm home." One night I heard him say it but when I opened my eyes he wasn't there. I went out into the hall and Mom was there. She said "Did you hear Daddy?" The phone rang and it was the doctor telling her Daddy had a heart attack and passed away. My brother was on a military exercise in Europe and couldn't be reached. Shortly after he landed in Germany he called home. He told Mom he dreamed Daddy said "Call your mother" so he did.

Our son was 3 months premature. He was airlifted to a neonatal intensive care unit several hours away. They wouldn't release me until the next day and I was really upset. I was praying and asked Daddy to help me. In my mind's eye I could see him by my son's incubator. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up. The next day we drove over to the new hospital and one of the nurses said "Oh your dad just left." I asked her what he looked like and she described him perfectly down to his favorite green sweater and glasses in his pocket. She clearly thought I was strange asking her that. I never told her my dad died when I was twelve.

Anonymous said...

Julie, you're breaking my heart today. I'm so sorry you went through that and very glad you found solace and a way to begin healing. You've enriched my life by your stories and presence here and I'm grateful for you. And good grief, anyone who thinks there's anything even remotely "weak" about you just isn't paying attention.

Janet, as others have said, I'd much rather be guilty of wanting to believe something than be so horribly cynical and jaded that I'd never be "fooled" by innocence. Hope you're enjoying the last day of vacation and feeling recharged by the time away.

After clicking the link and getting a bit of background, I just feel sorry for this kid. And he is just a kid. One who survived trauma and is now paralyzed. Sounds like he's trapped between two parents, now divorced, who manipulated the situation and continue to do so, for whatever reasons. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

I like Colin's point that God doesn't have to speak/relate to us through feelings and impressions, but that He sometimes does, anyway.
And I'm glad you got that peace, Julie. I can't imagine a worse thing happening to a mother. I'm just so grateful that God grants us peace when we pray for it, because this life would be unbearable sometimes if not for that.

As for the book- I heard some rumours about it being fake a couple months ago, and was just surprised it hadn't made bigger news. It's not something I ever believed anyway (I believe in a literal heaven and hell, but I also believe that the time of prophecies and visions is over, and that we have the complete revealed Word of God now). It's nice to know that the kid is being brave and saying what he knows is going to result in a LOT of flak.

At the same time it makes me sad that (as Julie says), it gives other people another reason to mock Christianity. It's one thing to be mocked by people because we're doing the right thing: it's a shameful thing to be mocked for doing what's wrong. At least the little one came out and admitted it, which I think mitigates his lying a fair bit.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

As a lawyer, I have to give my clients' stories a certain amount of weight. Some have convinced me of stuff that later turned out to be utter bullshit. You roll with it.

First question to yourself is, "Did I willfully ignore warning signs?" If, when you look in your heart, the answer is "yes," you deserve the whirlwind you are about to reap.

Someone asked me the biggest mistake I ever made as a lawyer. The answer is I trusted a client to tell me the truth about his criminal record without verifying it. He swore up, down, and all around that his two previous cases had been reduced to misdemeanors. I negotiated the plea based on that. They were felonies. He went to prison for 15 months because it changed his criminal history score. The guy was just so conditioned to lie, he did, even to his lawyer, even on something obvious, and even to his detriment.

If this happened to her Sharkiness, she'd open a bottle of scotch and start working the phones and then when damage control reached its maximum efficacy, she'd sever relations with said client. I'm sure the retainer has a candor clause in it. Not that your book is honest, but that you aren't withholding anything that would damage the agency. And if a publisher tried to sue because of it? There's that lovely "hold harmless" clause in the contract.


On this one, the agent and publisher willfully ignored warning signs. No. Just. No. There were so many ways to couch it - as a dream, as fiction, as a parable. Not as non-fiction.

RachelErin said...

I definitely don't like being willfully lied to, but I agree with the others about making sure we factor in normal six-year-old development. There is a huge difference between his situation, even if he did it on purpose when he was six, and the adult examples.

There is no way this situation could make me as angry as scientists who fabricate data, both to further their own career and to encourage funding of a particular agenda, and somehow six or eight other experts in the field manage to miss the glaring holes in their procedure and recommend publication in the the most prestigious scientific journal.

When the scientific peer review process can screw up so badly, with experts letting themselves be blindsided despite training to the contrary, I can't be too upset at literary agents and kids.

The neuroscience of confirmation bias and memory are both fascinating. It's basically impossible to protect yourself completely.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Julie, yes. Hadn't thought of that as I also have used some books for research and am trusting, perhaps not so much in having all the facts in place, but in finding a voice and sense of place for the years I'm trying to write.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

None of my comments say that I am without my own faith or that I don't believe in other worlds than these. I'm working on a new concept that directly incorporates some of those beliefs.

It is fiction with a capital F.

And that is the difference. Practitioners can beat me up on ritual, presentation, etc., but at no time will I claim that a stamp of non-fic should go on it.

Of course this is turning into a discussion of what is and isn't true in faith. That's not how it works. This is about adults exploiting the whimsy of a child. The more attention he got, the bigger the story got. And the adults went for it. Not one scrap of blame goes onto the kid. Not one.


Unknown said...

Jennifer Donohue: " has no effect on my life, no impact on my faith. If I need a kiddo I don't know to confirm for me absolutely the state of Heaven, God, and the angels.....well, I need to go back to church and do some serious soul searching."

Yes! This! This is why it really shouldn't matter. But anyone who's ever been hurt (which is all of us, on some issue or other) is so eager to get a bit of their own back and feel justified and healed. Thus mud-slinging is inevitable.

Like you said, Janet: I'm just glad I'm not involved.

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Really, I think it's big of the kid to be able to fess up at eleven. It would not be an easy thing to do. He's just a child, and I hope he doesn't get torn apart for this. As for the adults involved, they wanted to believe, and that's not a terrible thing. I agree with you, we all have our blind spots.

Unknown said...

I believe most everything in the spiritual section is made up.