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Could Jane Austen, one of the most celebrated and popular writers in the English language, get published today? To find out, David Lassman, director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, typed up some opening chapters of her books, added a cover letter with plot synopses, and sent them off to publishers. He changed the titles of the works, renamed the characters, and called himself "Alison Laydee," but otherwise he didn't change Austen's prose. Here's the rather predictable result of Lassman's experiment, as described by the Guardian:
the deception was not spotted and the rejection letters thudded on to Mr Lassman's doormat, most notably one from Penguin. Its letter read: "Thank you for your recent letter and chapters from your book First Impressions. It seems like a really original and interesting read." Only one person appeared to have spotted the deception, Alex Bowler, of Jonathan Cape. His reply read: "Thank-you for sending us the first two chapters of First Impressions; my first impression on reading these were ones of disbelief and mild annoyance, along, of course, with a moment's laughter. "I suggest you reach for your copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I'd guess lives in close proximity to your typewriter, and make sure that your opening pages don't too closely mimic that book's opening."
If Lassman's prose was not original to himself, neither was the hoax itself. This type of hoax has definitely been done before. It's periodically perpetrated by disgruntled authors hoping to reveal the superficiality of the publishing industry. Lassman, for instance, is nursing a grudge because his novel Freedom's Temple, "a modern take on the story of Theseus and the Minotaur," has failed to find a publisher. But though the hoax has been done before, the lesson it teaches is one that's worth repeating -- namely that relying on talent alone is probably not enough to guarantee getting published. A little bit of luck is also necessary (and having contacts inside the publishing industry doesn't hurt either).

Some recent examples of this genre of hoax, reported here: The Wraith Picket Experiment, in which chapters from the award-winning Australian writer Patrick White's novels were submitted to publishers and rejected; and Booker Prize Winners rejected, in which chapters from the works of V.S. Naipaul and Stanley Middleton were rejected by 20 publishers.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 20, 2007
Comments (11)
Yes, it's another questionable literary enterprise. You've probably heard of "The Secret," a self-help book/cultural phenomenon. As with any such thing, it's Oprah-approved.

"The Secret" claims to reveal a Secret of the Universe, which is (SPOILER ALERT!) that you can have whatever you want, if you just think about it REALLY HARD. OK, that's a wee bit flip, but that really is the gist of the "secret."

Well, you also have to be a good person and you can't wish for bad stuff, but other than that, if you want it, you can and WILL get it.

It's all based on the "Law of Attraction," which author Laura Byrne says governs the universe. She goes on to explain, "The law of attraction says that like attracts like, and when you think and feel what you want to attract on the inside, the law will use people, circumstances and events to magnetize what you want to you, and magnetize you to it."

Not to be a big Cosmic Party Pooper or anything, but if you're going to propose a Physical Law of the Universe and compare it to magnetism, just for starters you really ought to know that with magnets, OPPOSITES attract. Just sayin'

I could go on and on about why this kind of thing really pisses me off, but I'm more interested in what you all have to say. So, here's a link.

Ok, have at it!
Categories: Literature/Language, Science
Posted by Cranky Media Guy on Tue Jun 26, 2007
Comments (32)
This is a weird one. A book allegedly written by a young man, JT LeRoy, made a sensation recently. JT was a truck stop hooker, got involved with drugs, was possibly transgendered and generally had a pretty screwed-up life. The book was billed as non-fiction, supposedly the true story of JT's life. Naturally, it sold very well.

Oprah loved it, the movie director Gus VanSant and other Hollywood types were interested in it. Then the JT LeRoy saga started coming apart. Funny story, turns out there is no such person as JT LeRoy.

Even funnier, also turns out that more than one person, some of them female, portrayed JT at book signings and other appearances. As you'd expect, the people who put up good money to produce a book based on "JT"'s life story didn't see the humor in the situation. They sued Laura Albert, the woman who really wrote the book and who recruited friends and relatives to play JT.

The case came to trial this week. I don't want to spoil the ending for you, so click on the link and see how the case turned out. Oh, and you're gonna LOVE Albert's lawyer's defense of her actions. It's, uh, creative, I'll give him that.

AOL News, JT LeRoy.

OK, this is annoying. The article that link takes you to had a summary of Albert's defense of her actions, but it's been changed since I originally copied the link. The gist of it is that the lawyer said that Albert suffered from "multiple personalities." Now you *might* be able to buy that, but she claims that her multiples were contagious (my term) to explain how other people portrayed "JT" when the "author" needed to make an appearance. I've found the reference elsewhere, though.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

Albert and her lawyers say the matter is more complicated.

The middle-aged Albert testified during the trial that she had been assuming male identities for decades as a coping mechanism for psychological problems brought on by her sexual abuse as a child. To her, she said, Leroy was real — something akin to a different personality living inside her, but one that was capable of transferring to the people she hired to impersonate him.


If the meme of the 90's was, "I know I did something wrong, but I apologize from the bottom of my heart and, by the way, I've found Jesus," the Ought's version seems to be, "I have no idea why you think what I did was wrong. I'm a misunderstood genius unappreciated by philistines like you."

I direct your attention to:

Gawker story on J T LeRoy.
Categories: Con Artists, Folklore/Tall Tales, Identity/Imposters, Literature/Language
Posted by Cranky Media Guy on Mon Jun 25, 2007
Comments (11)
The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the Lane family from New York City in which the father named one of his sons Winner and the other Loser. (Actually, the article is a few years old, but it was new to me.) At first the article struck me as sounding too weird to be true. Why would a father name his son Loser? But apparently it's true. At least, it's been reported elsewhere by credible sources, such as in this article by the Freakonomics authors.

The story is that the father, Robert Lane, decided to call his son Winner, thinking it would give the kid a boost in life. Three years later he had another son, and on the spur of the moment decided to call him Loser. As the Freakonomics authors say about his decision, "Robert wasn't unhappy about the new baby; he just seemed to get a kick out of the name's bookend effect." If the guy had a third son he should have called him "Lover." That, at least, would have fit with the last name.

The punchline to the story is that Winner Lane ended up as a loser in life, a petty criminal living homeless on the streets. Loser Lane, on the other hand, has been a success in life. He's a detective in the South Bronx.

I should add Loser Lane to my unfortunate names thread.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 14, 2007
Comments (12)
Jesus on Google Maps
Brian Martin claims that he saw the shape of Jesus in the clouds above Mount Sinai.
(Thanks, Madmouse.)

Cat Gives Birth to 'Puppy'
Following on from the Japanese poodle scam hoax, this made me laugh.
A cat in Zhengzhou, China has supposedly given birth to a litter of four, one of which looks like a poodle. There are no pictures to accompany the article, however.
(Thanks, Robert.)

Sexism in Tetris
It seems a lot of people didn't realise the April 1st post on this computer site was a joke.
(Thanks, ponygirl.)
Categories: Animals, Literature/Language, Places, Religion, Websites
Posted by Flora on Wed May 02, 2007
Comments (6)
A book coming out next month, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein, by independent scholar John Lauritsen, argues that Mary Shelley did not write Frankenstein. Instead, Lauritsen argues, the credit should go to her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Why? For one, Lauritsen suggests Mary was too young and inexperienced as a writer to have penned a classic like Frankenstein. (She was nineteen at the time.) Lauritsen also suggests that the language of Frankenstein sounds like something Percy would have written. The Sunday Times reports:
He says some of the language, with lines such as "I will glut the maw of death", were pure Shelley, and that the young aristocrat wrote a handful of fashionable horror tales that echo the later tone of Frankenstein. Lauritsen said Shelley had many reasons to disguise his authorship, including hints of "free love" that had already driven him out of England and an undertone of "Romantic, but I would not say gay, male love". Another factor may have been the critics, who hated it. The Quarterly Review of 1818 said the story of Frankenstein, the Swiss scientist who creates a monster from body parts, only to see it run amok, was a "tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity".
Most literary critics aren't buying Lauritsen's argument. Germaine Greer, writing in The Guardian, argues that Mary Shelley must have written Frankenstein because a) the book is actually pretty badly written, as one would expect from a 19-year-old, and b) the underlying theme of the book is a very feminine one:
"The driving impulse of this incoherent tale is a nameless female dread, the dread of gestating a monster... Percy was capable perhaps of imagining such a nightmare, but it is the novel's blindness to its underlying theme that provides the strongest evidence that the spinner of the tale is a woman. It is not until the end of the novel that the monster can describe himself as an abortion. If women's attraction to the gothic genre is explained by the opportunity it offers for the embodiment of the amoral female subconscious, Frankenstein is the ultimate expression of the female gothic."
I'm inclined to believe that Mary Shelley is the true author of Frankenstein. But it is an interesting question to think about.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 17, 2007
Comments (16)

Save Boston
A little game based on the Boston bomb scare.

Children’s TV Presenter Accused of Obscenity in Sign Language
Mr Tumble, a presenter on the children's BBC programme Something Special has been greeting the viewers with controversial signing. The BBC claim that the misunderstanding was due to their use of Makaton sign language, as opposed to British sign language.
(Thanks, Madmouse.)

Man Banned From Pub for Farting
Since Scotland's smoking ban came into force, an Edinburgh man's 'unbearable stench' has led to him being barred from his favourite pub.
(Thanks, Matt.)
Categories: Entertainment, Literature/Language, Miscellaneous
Posted by Flora on Tue Mar 27, 2007
Comments (3)
SUMMARY: An interesting and informative read, and one that's sure to raise a few laughs. The Museum of Hoaxes awards it four out of five banana peels.

Sir John Hargrave, as he’s now legally known, is host of the website. He has authored Prank the Monkey, a humourous book chronicling the various pranks, tricks and hoaxes he has perpetrated on deserving parties over the course of his prankster career.

John says: ”It’s not that I have a problem with authority; it’s that I have a problem with senseless authority. I have no problems with rules, just ridiculous rules."

Prank the Monkey certainly follows through on his reasoning. The book covers pranks involving everyone from Wal-Mart to Ashton Kutcher, from real-estate spammers to US senators.

For a full review, please click here.
Categories: Literature/Language, Pranks
Posted by Flora on Fri Jan 05, 2007
Comments (6)
A number of incidents involving animal throwing have been reported in West Point, Miss., leading one to the conclusion that the sport is the new fad for those to whom cow-tipping is just too passé.

Mayor of Lebanon Sends Chain Letter
The Mayor of Lebanon was not available to comment after he discovered that the Make-A-Wish chain letter that he sent to 33 other businessmen was a hoax.

Woman Sues Over Fake Avocado Dip
A Los Angeles woman has filed a lawsuit against Kraft, claiming that what they label as guacamole... well, isn't.
Categories: Animals, Food, Literature/Language, Pranks, Urban Legends
Posted by Flora on Wed Dec 20, 2006
Comments (14)
A few months ago one of the site-related projects I was working on was revising the Tall-Tale Creature Gallery. Before I got totally sidetracked by having to focus on my next book, I managed to add quite a few new creatures to it. I also added a feature allowing people to post haiku about the creatures, thus returning to the theme of hoax haiku first seen here two years ago.

I didn't expect to get many haiku contributions. After all, I hadn't told anyone that I had updated the gallery, and it usually only gets a few visitors. But to my surprise people have found it and have been posting haiku. So I wanted to give a heads up about it here on the front page in case anyone else feels like trying their hand at poetry. Here are a few examples of contributions so far:

The Tree Squeak
Tree hugging tree squeek
why do you squeek so loudly
hush I cannot think.

The Haggis
Shy, furry haggis
lover of the highland glens
stay safe in your den

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
Eight armed octopus
Swinging through the trees above
what on earth was that?

Eventually I want to integrate hoax haiku throughout more of the galleries, but that will have to wait until I have more time. Though I definitely plan to add it as a feature to the Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes before next April 1, so if anyone wants to start posting haiku in the comments there, feel free to do so. A few of the hoaxes in the 'Hoaxes Throughout History' Gallery also have haiku in the sidebar: The Shroud of Turin, Pope Joan, The Feejee Mermaid, Cardiff Giant, Piltdown Man, Cottingley Fairies, Loch Ness Monster, War of the Worlds, and Bigfoot.
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales, Literature/Language, Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 05, 2006
Comments (16)
image The literary world has been talking about a work of fiction that managed a brief masquerade as nonfiction. The book is An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin, by Rohan Kriwaczek. As the title suggests, it tells the history of that popular genre of music, funerary violin music. The Guardian reports:
By the early 19th century, the book says, virtually every town had its own funerary violinist, but the tradition was almost wiped out in the Great Funerary Purges of the 1830s and 40s. The author, Rohan Kriwaczek, describes himself on a site on as being the president of the guild that represents a dwindling band of musicians dedicated to this largely forgotten art-form. But all references to the guild lead back to Kriwaczek, and several experts on the history of the violin say they have never heard of him or the tradition.
The book will be published next month by Duckworth Publishers in Britain, and Overlook Press in America. The publisher claims that it believed the book to be a work of genuine nonfiction. Or rather, it didn't care too much whether it was fiction or nonfiction because it thought the book was interesting. The hoax was "exposed" by a book-buyer in Iowa City who saw the book described in Overlook's catalog, thought it looked fishy, and brought it to the attention of David Schoenbaum, an expert in the history of the violin and also a reviewer for the New York Times. The Times then revealed the hoax.

Personally I'm thinking the publisher probably had a hand in the exposure of the hoax. What better publicity could a book get than to be "exposed" by the Times right before its debut?
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 09, 2006
Comments (15)
Laura Albert, the writer behind J.T. LeRoy, has finally confessed to the hoax.

She says that her psychiatrist encouraged her to write when she was in therapy.
In terms of her attitude to perpetrating a hoax, the article says: When asked if she felt any shame about misleading people, she replied: "I bleed, but it's a different kind of shame... If knowing that I'm 15 years older than (LeRoy) devalues the work, then I'm sorry they feel that way."

Although it was fairly clear that the young man was fictional, even when Geoffrey Knoop (the partner of Laura Albert, and half-brother to LeRoy's 'public face', Savannah Knoop) confessed to his part in the scam, he said he doubted Albert would ever admit it, and was quoted as saying:"For her, it's very personal. It's not a hoax. It's a part of her."

Seems he was wrong.

Previous posts on J.T. LeRoy:
February 07 2006 Knoop Confesses JT Leroy Was a Hoax
October 10, 2005: Is JT Leroy A Hoax?
January 9, 2006: JT Leroy: An Update

(Thanks, J.)
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Literature/Language
Posted by Flora on Thu Sep 28, 2006
Comments (3)
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