My interest in writing can all be traced back to that one incredibly underrated Nickelodeon movie, Harriet the Spy. My mom brought home the movie on VHS tape, and ever since, I knew that when I grew up I wanted to be a writer just like Harriet. I maintained this line of thinking all throughout my childhood and was greeted with encouragement from my family, teachers, and friends. However, this changed quickly once I graduated high school. All of a sudden it was no longer cute to grow up to be a writer. I'd tell people that I wanted to be a published author and they'd look at me with concern before asking me if I had any back-up plans.
Writing isn't an easy or overly profitable profession. Only a small margin of writers make it big in their field, a fact that discourages many people from pursuing that career path, myself included. So when the Claire Tow Theater's Verité introduced me to Jo, a wife, mother, and writer, desperate to publish her novel despite her husband's pressuring her to "get a real job," I felt an immediate connection with the character. I have never tried to publish a novel, much less attempt to do so while raising a kid, but I do understand what it's like to pour so much of yourself into your writing and then have it not pay off. It can make you feel hopeless, especially if you plan to write for a living. This is the state Jo is in when she meets Andreas and Sven, a rather sleazy pair of business men dressed in nearly identical grey suits who read and responded very enthusiastically to the manuscript of her novel. They brought up the concept of publishing her book, but not the fantasy novel about dragons and dwarves that she had spent so long creating. They had an entirely different direction in mind, suggesting that she use her strong and resonating voice to write a memoir.
Now I didn't trust these men the second they appeared on stage. I could just sense that they were scam artists, and that poor woman was too determined to get her big break to realize. Maybe it's the New Yorker in me, but once these complete strangers offered Jo a $50,000 advance to write her memoir, my brain was screaming that something was not kosher. I wanted to take Jo under my wing and shield her from the big, bad, world. She seemed way too sheltered for a grown woman. Even her little boy with his constant witty comebacks appeared to be more street smart than she was.
However, all too quickly, my empathy for Jo vanished. The once fragile, aspiring author that I had related to at the start of the play morphed into a narcissistic, power-hungry, woman who was willing to hurt those she loved to further her career. I couldn't help but think of that former Oprah's Book Club book, "A Million Little Pieces." You know the one. The author marketed it as a memoir when in actuality, several elements were fictionalized, which is not only dishonest, but an action that discredits all of his writing.
Verité made me question. Period. It made me challenge the authenticity of many memoirs I've read and loved. Although there are those who call into question certain aspects of Dave Pelzer's controversial account of his own child abuse, A Child Called It, I still consider it to be one of my favorite books. And more importantly, I WANT to believe that he told the truth.
Does that make me less of a person?
What makes us put so much trust in the written word anyway?
We expect creative liberties with fictional pieces, but if an author takes some liberties with non fiction, does that then take away from the writing itself?
Or is it merely enhancing the truth?
In the context of Verité, I guess what it comes down to is:
Is it preferable to be an unsuccessful, but honest writer or a successful, but deceitful one?
I know what I'd choose.