Have you ever made frosting for a cake or for cookies? We're looking into the mixing bowl, and the creamed butter and sugar and vanilla, and it's just that: vanilla frosting. What we need is pink, and just a drop of red food coloring will do the trick. We reach into our baking supplies cupboard, take out the small vial of red, unscrew the tiny yellow cap, and watch one drop of red bing into the frosting.
We turn on the mixer, and lo and behold, the entire mixture first becomes swirled like a candy cane, and then, aha, it's pink. All of it. No way to change it.
Fact and fiction is like that: one drop of fiction into the facts and ***poof*** it's all fiction. Too bad for the memoir. Great for us fiction writers.
I wanted to share the NYTimes op-ed column by Tim Carvell, a writer with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Please! No laughing.
A Million Little Corrections
By TIM CARVELL
Published: January 11, 2006
IT is with great sorrow, and no small amount of embarrassment, that I must confess to some inadvertent errors, omissions and elisions in my best-selling memoir, "A Brief History of Tim." In the wake of the recent revelations about the work of J T Leroy and James Frey, it seems inevitable that some of my small mistakes will come to light, and so I feel duty-bound to be upfront and honest with you. Plus, I hear that reporters have been sniffing around.
I feel that none of the slight liberties I took in writing my memoir really affect the overall work, but nonetheless, you should know a few things: I am not, in fact, black.
Nor am I, to the best of my knowledge, a woman. Anything in my book that suggests otherwise is the result of a typographical error. That this error was compounded by my decision to pose for my author photo and bookstore appearances in drag and blackface is, I will acknowledge, unfortunate.
The portions of my book dealing with Depression-era Ireland are, I have been reliably informed, copied verbatim from Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes." I can only conclude that I accidentally confused my manuscript with my notes for my memoir in which I copied large portions of other writers' works, just to see how they were structured. In hindsight, the fact that I was born 40 years after the Depression should have been a tip-off.
My parents are both alive; any reference to my being orphaned at age 12 was meant to be strictly metaphorical.
Furthermore, my parents and their lawyers would like it known that neither they, nor any other member of my family, ever beat and/or had sex with me. I thought it was clear that those parts of the book were meant as a joke. (That's what the emoticons were for.)
In writing a narrative, it is sometimes necessary to compress or combine certain incidents for dramatic effect. I did much the same thing in the chapter of my book dealing with my prison term, although in reverse: in the interest of dramatic clarity, I expanded my 1993 arrest for jaywalking into a seven-year stint in Sing Sing for manslaughter.
Okay, it wasn't so much a jaywalking "arrest" as a ticket.
Fine, it was a stern warning. Happy now?
The death of my older brother, my ensuing severe depression and subsequent emotional breakthrough with the help of a caring psychotherapist did not happen to me, but rather to Timothy Hutton in the film "Ordinary People," which I saw at a very impressionable age, and which I could have sworn happened to me.
Ditto for the part about accidentally hacking into Norad and being saved from causing a global thermonuclear war, with an assist from Dabney Coleman. That was "WarGames." Really, the fact that I could remember his name only as "Dabney Coleman" should have given me pause.
And, finally, since people are getting all "fact-checky" on me, I should just confess that my life did not, in fact, shatter into a million little pieces. I just went back and recounted. It was six pieces. Consider it a rounding error.
Tim Carvell is a writer for "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."