back to the Black Table

Man, it's been a rough few weeks for gritty literary memoirists. J.T. Leroy, supposed a transgendered, HIV-positive former hustler and all around punk-rock guy, was exposed as the creation of a pair of failed rock stars, an actor and a roll of duct tape. James Frey, alleged former junkie, glue-sniffer and screenwriter, is apparently polite to cops. It's really hard to know who to trust anymore.

The good news for those of us who would like to be famous is that, clearly, anybody can be. You just have to be willing to lie. Because I love you, and because I needed to organize my own plan of attack, I have devised a handy seven-step plan to get us there.

Step #1: Come up with a bogus name.

The rule here seems to be that you either have to sound like a gangster in film noir, or you have to sound like your literary career was something funny that happened to you on your way to the House of Lords. Initials are good. I am ahead of the game here, having cast off my original name, Geraldine Hoopenschtaddle, some years ago because of the spitting. My new name was chosen to maximize my appeal with Slovac Lutherans from St. Charles, Illinois who eventually wound up in the Northeast. It's really important to know your audience.

Once you decide on a name, you'll have to figure out whether or not you want to go public with your name change. Augusten Burroughs, who was recently sued by his adoptive family for allegedly exaggerating the poopiness of his childhood home, changed his name in order to distance himself from years of childhood abuse. However, he's pretty open about it, since he is, in fact, a gay white man who lives in New York City, etc., just as it says in his bio. (In fact, he'll even sign your book with his old name, if you ask him nicely.) J.T. Leroy, on the other hand, is really an actress named Savannah Knoop, so he's less forth-coming. And James Frey was dreamed up by Jerry Stahl while he was waiting for the methadone to kick in, and can barely speak at all.

Step #2: Invent your persona.

What kind of fake person do you want to be? A criminal? A victim? Some combination of the two? Anything is possible. The important thing is to throw in implausible details: J.T. Leroy supposedly carried a fax machine with him while he worked the streets, and, after achieving literary fame, never appeared publicly without sunglasses and a wig. James Frey curses a lot. I plan to merge these approaches and giving them my own special twist, by carrying a full-size scanner while working at Starbucks and saying "gee whiz" just *constantly*.

Step #3: Mix in one or more STDs.

J.T. Leroy has HIV, but I don't think I need to get so extreme. The idea, I believe, is to match the STD with the genre you're working in. For example:

  • Gritty Memoir = AIDS, as previously noted.
  • Lad Lit = Anything curable. (Gonorrhea is always good. Chlamydia will work. Crabs will do in a pinch.)
  • Young Adult = Teen Pregnancy. (Classic!)
  • Magical Realism = Syphillis. (Note: Only when cholera is unavailable.)

And of course:

  • Chick Lit = HPV. (That's a gimmee.)

Just to make sure, I have contracted every curable disease, and gotten myself knocked up. My syphilitic baby will be born in March. I expect my book deal to materialize sometime in, oh, say, May. (I don't want to overload myself, what with the baby and all.)

Step #4: Don't forget the love story.

The love story is an essential part of the hard-luck memoir. People aren't going to feel good about reading about you beating a French priest to death, unless you can also tell us a sad story about your thwarted love affair with a particularly impatient crackhead. This is merely an extension of all great literature, and literary back-stories: Think F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, or more recently, Dave Eggers and Neal Pollack. (Remember: It's important for things to end badly.)

I have carefully documented every single one of my three-week-long relationships, and plan to trot them all out for your reading enjoyment. (Note to anyone who might want to date me: This is such a lie. I would never write about you, baby. Unless you break up with me, you bastard, and then you're FAIR GAME.)

Step #5: Get an agent.

Unless you want to wind up distributing your sad story in pamphlet form to college students in Union Square (or, if you're too lazy to do that, writing a blog), you're going to have to get yourself an agent. This is where I really expect to shine. While most people content themselves with mailing off proposals to listings they find on the Internet, I plan to meet my agent during the course of my summer job at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch. This will add a layer of sex and pathos to my story, making it irresistible to the public.

Failing that, there's always prison.

Step #6: Make famous friends.

J.T. Leroy has Courtney Love, Mary Gaitskill and Shirley Manson. James Frey has a pet mobster. I have the Black Table. If you think that lacks the same rock-n-roll cache, wait til you hear my cocktail party anecdotes about hanging out with Will Leitch, swilling chocolate milk and recklessly resist efforts to bring us to a barber. We laughed. Oh, how we laughed!

Step #7: Exposed as a fraud? Don't despair!

The only thing America loves more than a wunderkind is a wunderkind with a tragic back-story. And if that back-story is fake, well, then, so much the better. That way there's always a chance that we'll get to watch our victim, er, superstar cry on national TV, all televangelist-style. It takes our mind off things. We're so bored of the Iraq War.

I can promise you one thing: When exposed, I plan to cry buckets. And then I plan to write about it.


Jen Hubley blogs her ass off at and fronts the semi-popular Boston-based ska band Seven Naked Dog Dicks and One Nude Rat.