I had planned to write a long, lovely post today about how to prep your initial chapters for sending out to editors and agents, but I have received very upsetting news. Remember a couple of weeks ago, when I was waxing poetic about memoirists often being misunderstood, threatened, and occasionally even sued when they are telling the truth? Well..
I am hugely, horribly, terribly upset. Is there anything more awful, anything that makes you revert to a child-like breathlessness at the injustice of it all, as being attacked for telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
Okay, let me calm down and tell you what is going on. The Philip K. Dick estate has renewed its threat to sue if my memoir, A FAMILY DARKLY, is published. Yes, that’s right, the one that’s already available for pre-sale on Amazon, the one for which I won the PNWA’s Zola Award in 2004, the one that I’ve been running myself ragged to get out the door this year. My baby, in other words. To make matters worse, I was just finishing up the final edits!
The estate has known about the book for over a year, and has had the manuscript since June, but now, in September, they’re suddenly on the warpath; perhaps they believed that when they asked me for changes, their copy of the manuscript should have magically changed before their eyes, HARRY POTTER-style. I shan’t bore you with the details of what they’re claiming I have done, but it’s all terribly ugly; all in all, they generally assert that it’s the worst book since MEIN KAMPF, and I gather that they wouldn’t be terribly sorry to see me burned as a witch.
Let me translate that for those of you not accustomed to being sued by people with pots and pots of money: the underlying fear here is that my telling the truth (which actually isn’t anything horrible; just aspects of the man that hadn’t been written about before) might harm attempts to sell certain short stories by a famous science fiction writer who shall remain nameless to a gargantuan studio known for harboring a certain big-eared mouse. As nearly as I can tell, the objection seems to be that my memoir depicts Philip as funny — which he undoubtedly was. The prevailing fear seems to be that the mouse might prefer its late artistic geniuses devoid of colorful habits and waggish personalities.
As I understand it, the mouse — and the estate, which has never threatened to sue a biographer before, as far as I know — has no objections whatsoever to the many, many bios that depict the famous SF writer in question as a drug-addicted maniac; the idea that he might have had friends is apparently far more disturbing to rodential sensibilities than anything he might have ingested in his lifetime.
Oh, lordy. Preserve us from dealing with those with no sense of humor.
I hear you asking: wait, I thought it wasn’t legally possible to slander or libel the dead? And isn’t truth an absolute defense against libel? And aren’t good people everywhere generally dead set against the practice of censorship?
Well, yes, yes, and yes. Doesn’t seem to be stopping ’em, though.
I’m frantically searching my mind for some instructive tidbit I can glean from the horror of today, to pass along to aspiring memoirists, to help them along their path, but honestly, I’m too upset at the moment. Unless the moral is this: maybe it’s a waste of time and valuable energy to try to please people you can’t respect.
Because, honestly, I don’t know what I could have done to avoid this outcome, other than flatly lying, twisting the Philip I had known into a shape more palatable for relatives who had met him only three or four times in their lives. I spent MONTHS asking for input, dancing around egos, even making tiny, insignificant, silly changes that someone or other thought were monumentally important because she’d missed the point of this anecdote or that. I was incredibly accommodating — only to learn, via a letter on very expensive lawyerly letterhead, that the people I had been trying so hard to please had chosen to ignore all of the changes I had made at their request. I learn, only at this very, very late date, that they now claim that I didn’t tell them I was writing a book at all.
You’d think that the prize for best NF book would have tipped them off, but hey, some people need more obvious hints than others.
Dearly beloved, does this make any sense to you? It doesn’t to me, I confess, and I’m the one who’s been living through it.
I guess all I can add, when all is said and done, is this: even with all this furor, even staring in the face the very real possibility that my book may be yanked from the shelves for the most specious of reasons, I still feel it has all been worth it. There is nothing in the world that feels better than telling the truth, especially a truth that you’ve been holding in for a very, very long time.
I hope I’ll be able to be more upbeat tomorrow. In the meantime, keep up the good work, and I’ll keep you posted.
– Anne Mini