It seems that there is fiction and then, there is "fiction". On June 22 2007, a federal jury in Manhatten NY found that author Laura Albert was guilty of defrauding a production company that had bought the rights to an autobiographical novel she had written.
Albert has been found to be the actual author of the book "Sarah" which was sold as the autobiographical story of a truck stop hooker, not the male prostitute, JT LeRoy. She claimed that the LeRoy alter ego was a psychological necessity but the jurors found it to be fraud and after a short deliberation, awarded $116,500 to Antidote International Films Inc. U S District Judge Jed Rakoff said that he will determine later if attorney's fees will be awarded in addition to the money Antidote was awarded by the jury for punitive damages and the $110,000 they spent developing a film based on the book.
This is far from the first time that an author has used a pen name, Kurt Vonnegut used Kilgore Trout for several books and Stephen King wrote out of genre as Richard Bachman. Countless other authors have used them to keep their "bill paying" writing seperate from their novelist name. The charade that Albert attempted to pull off though, is closer to some several now famous lies in writing.
On October 26 2006, Oprah Winfrey hailed James Frey's non fiction memoir as her latest selection for her powerful book club and Frey spent the show explaining the events in his life that he had written about. Within six weeks, The Smoking Gun revealed that their investigation showed that Frey had taken huge liberties in protraying the "real life" events he chronicaled in his "non fiction book. Winfrey had him return and vented her disgust of his actions and the public was soon informed from several sources, that no one had wanted his run away hit memoir when he marketed it as a fiction novel.
Clifford Irving and Konrad Kujai took writing fake biographies to the pinnacle of fraud. Irving convinced his publisher, McGraw-Hill, that Howard Hughes had commissioned him to write his biography. In a January 2000 CBS interview with Mike Wallace, he claimed Hughes was too ill to repudiate the book and probably felt very safe in that statement since he hadn't been seen publically since 1958. Irving was eventually found out, he and his accomplices were charged federally with mail fraud, by the state for grand larceny and forging documents along with other charges and he was given a two and a half year jail sentence.
Kujai forged the now famous "Hitler Diaries" that were bought by the German magazine Stern, later sold to Newsweek and published by The Sunday Times in Britain. His forgery was first questioned by Lord Dacre on the eve of the Times first installment publishing, April 24 1983 of the more than 60 volumes Kujai had written himself. It was after the diaries were proven to be a forgery that Kujai was captured, put on trial and received a four and one half year sentence.
While Albert tried teary eyed to explain to the jury that she has taken on male identities for years as a coping mechanism for the psychological problems brought on by childhood sexual abuse, it is her other methods that are a blatent fraud. I would give more credibility to her statements if she alone had worn the disguises and not the friends she had recruited to wear wigs and impersonate LeRoy at book signings. The numerous authors who use pen names legally do not sign contracts or obtain copyrights under that "bogus" pen name as Albert had done.
For whatever reason she had, Albert stepped far over the line by trying to sell a work of fiction as the truth and she should probably feel lucky for not having to serve time for her lies.