Consider this observation by Tim Rutten, writing in yesterday’s LA Times:
O.J. Simpson’s trial and acquittal on charges that he murdered his ex-wife and Goldman have spawned a small library of books. . .
This week brought perhaps the strangest of all the additions to the Simpson library — an odd and repellent book called “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer.” You can search the cover in vain for the author’s name, though making your way through the cast of listed contributors is a bit like sitting through the technical credits at the end of a George Lucas film, something you do purely out of inertia.
Released Friday, the book is already listed as the top seller by Barnes and Noble and Amazon reports it is in the number two sales spot. Many booksellers, large and small, refused to include it in their inventory. Some cited moral objections, while others characterized their decision as motivated solely by the low demand for it they anticipated.
However, what those booksellers apparently did not anticipate was the “Oprah factor” which seems to account for the book’s surge in sales following the appearance on her show of Fred and Kim Goldman, as well as the prosecutors who failed to secure O.J. Simpson’s conviction, Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden.
While insisting that she has not and will not read the book, Oprah shared salacious details, contending that they were provided to her by her staff. She also interviewed Denise Brown, who has been and continues to be outspoken about her belief that the book should never have been published. In light of their change of heart about the book’s publication after a Florida bankruptcy court awarded them the rights, Ms. Brown refused to share the venue with the Goldmans.
Originally as repulsed by the idea of Simpson’s allegedly hypothetical tale being in print as Ms. Brown, the Goldmans now insist that they are punishing Simpson by “taking something away from” him, i.e., the sales proceeds that will go toward satisfying a portion of the $38 million wrongful death judgment they won.
“It’s sending him a message,” Kim Goldman said. “He put hours putting together this confession about how he killed Ron and Nicole, and he worked hard thinking he was going to make millions off of it. And we snatched it right out from under him.”
The Internet is buzzing today with debate about whether or not the book should have been published, whether or not the Goldmans should have been involved and whether or not the American public should purchase it.
But from my vantage point as a writer, what seems to be missing from the dialog taking place is any consideration of the issues surrounding authorship of the book. After all, Simpson is not a writer.
Enter the ghostwriter. Pablo F. Fenjves is a supposed screenwriter and co-author of three prior books, including “A Million Little Lies,” a parody of James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” and “How I Broke Into Hollywood: Success Stories from the Trenches.”
Interestingly, Simpson now feigns little involvement in the book’s creation, but Fenjves insists not only that the book is the product of his extensive discussions with Simpson but, in fact, he was informed by the original publisher that it was, from the outset, intended to be a confessional vehicle. Simpson was acquitted of murder and cannot be re-tried on the same charges.
In the book’s prologue, he describes his dealings with Simpson, including the fact that Simpson protested inclusion of the chapter in which the murders are described in chilling detail — but when reminded that the chapter in question was the very reason he had entered into the book deal in the first place, “never said it was untrue or imagined.”
Ponder this: Fenjves was one of the witnesses in the murder case, testifying that he heard the “plaintive wail” of Nicole Brown Simpson’s dog in the evening after the murders took place. Fenjves was one of her neighbors.
So what, if any, are the ethical and moral implications of a writer’s participation in such a project? Is he/she simply a scrivener charged with memorializing the subject’s observations and memories? What considerations should dictate whether or not a writer agrees to participate in such a project?
And what about the fact that Fenjves served as a witness in the criminal trial?
If you were Fenjves, what would you have done when asked to write “If I Did It”? Would you have written what the LA Times calls “a work of pornographic grief”?
To be continued . . .