Misha Defonseca's memoir left a sticky trail of lies about escaping Nazis and living with wolves. (It turns out wolf saliva isn't an antiseptic.) Tired of careless fabricators, Slate writes a how-to for aspiring fakers:
- Keep it vague. Dates are verifiable—"awhile" is not.
- Watch out for tattling siblings. Revenge can be dirty, especially if you kill them off in your faux memoir (as Margaret Seltzer recently discovered).
- Check your paper trail. That goes for elementary school registers, which gave away Defonseca's real whereabouts.
- Proofread out the truth. Defonseca left her real name in one edition of her book, her birthdate in another.
- Important: Don't tell anyone. Nadine Gordimer confessed to her biographer that she embellished an autobiographical essay, then cried foul when he told.
- Avoid keen eyes. Asking a scholar to blurb your book is like handing a bloody knife to Sherlock Holmes.
- Confess wisely. Don't deny that you lied, but call it the emotional truth. Says Defonseca, "It's not actually reality, but my reality."