Thursday, June 03, 2010

What to Do When Creepy Moves Next Door

Author Joe McGinnis has moved next door to Sarah (and husband, Todd) Palin to glean more information about a book he's writing about the former Alaska governor. The Palins are debating a move at least for the summer from their Wasilla home.
Todd decided to check out the new neighbor and walked over to introduce himself. He and McGinniss had a brief conversation, during which Todd challenged McGinniss about a magazine article he had written that was critical of then-Gov. Palin’s handling of a gas pipeline project. Todd was unconvinced by McGinniss’s claim that he only wanted to be a good neighbor: “What we read is he’ll nice you to death and then stab you in the back.”

“It’s very creepy. Knowing that someone is going to be writing a hit piece, and he’s 15 feet away from you.”
The Palins have added onto their fence and are now debating legal action. McGinnis is now making the talk show rounds trying not to appear "creepy."

Many nonfiction authors I know of have done similar "creepy" things, like basically doing a job or activity just to write about it. (See Bare: The Naked Truth About Stripping or Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper  or even Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All 50 States.) To me, that sounds repellent. I know that was advice from several in the industry, and quite a few other nonfiction mentors will likely suggest it, too, but if my life isn't interesting enough as it is then that's how it is. I think going into a situation "to write a book" is just dishonest and, well . . . creepy.

It's not for me, but maybe it's perfectly fine for many others. Because it's already a contrived scenario that will have to be crafted into a story. You conned an editor into a premise where you downgraded yourself to a mere actor in play. Is that really nonfiction? Or is it really fiction from the very beginning because the whole action onlyl exists for the specific reason of writing a book about it?

McGinnis moving next door to the Palins is similar, but doesn't quite fill me with as much ickiness. At least he's making no attempt at objectivity and no one expects it.

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