At Kimberley Cameron & Associates, K is for korruption.
With the summer season upon us, it’s well to take a moment to reflect on safe driving and safe workshopping. Safe driving we all know about, but safe workshopping, you ask?
It’s no secret that the publishing industry is in distress, with a midlist that’s all but moribund. This means it’s harder than ever for even talented writers to break out with a first book deal. As for the less talented…
This summer, many of us will travel to writers’ conferences where we hope to improve our writing craft. At least, that should be our main goal; but brochures often tout the presence of literary agents and a chance to press their flesh, wow them with an elevator pitch, and perhaps slip a well-honed chapter into their Gucci handbag (if not padlocked or booby-trapped).
Judging by the apocrypha emerging from faithful attendees at prior conferences, we can also assume a fair amount of time will be spent osculating the posterior of said literary agents, for it is well known that when the sphincter is thus palpitated, this spurs agents on to greater zeal in finding a publisher for even second-rate manuscripts.
Such osculation is not illegal between consenting adults, and helps to fill the awkward silences at literary gatherings — those moments when the last of the Chardonnay has died a poetic death, and no amount of patchouli oil can cover the stench of naked literary ambition. In such moments, it’s considered wise to pucker up. (Tip #1: Always lubricate the lips with ample hyperbole, e.g.: “You’re a God among literary agents! I would travel to the ends of the earth in hope of a mere glance from your well-connected countenance…”)
This has become an accepted, customary, and even obligatory ritual in the flirtations between writers and literary agents. But what if an agent asks you to go beyond accepted norms and engage in activities considered risky or extreme? What if the agent is Elizabeth Kracht?
As documented in the extended article “Can Salon Learn From Rolling Stone’s Mistakes? Part 1,” in May 2014 blogger Edwin Lyngar planted a false story in Salon. His literary agent, Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates, set him up. She put him in touch with a fabulist source who was a close personal friend of hers from high school, Celia Corona-Doran, who would feed Lyngar a false story which would hang him. His chances of ever being taken seriously as a journalist would be ruined. Naturally, Lyngar didn’t fact-check.
Kracht had twisted personal motives for wanting to see a false story planted in Salon. As recounted on her blog, she had been in hot romantic pursuit of two handsome brothers when their mother verbally smacked her on the snout, telling her “in no uncertain terms” to “stay the hell away from her sons.” This was circa 1986 when Ms. Kracht had become a follower of Sri Chinmoy, and was supposed to resist such temptations of the flesh in order to work toward her own enlightenment.
The “Can Salon Learn” article itemizes details which I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say this was vendetta journalism and the product of a corrupt arrangement. Salon readers weren’t told that Kracht was the driving force behind the story, weren’t told about her romantic vendetta, that she was Lyngar’s literary agent, and that Lyngar had an unpublished memoir called Guy Parts which he was dying for Kracht to shop to publishers, so he could finally quit his day job as a Boating Safety Instructor with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. For a case of beer, Lyngar will also perform a 30-second atheist wedding, optionally wearing a chicken suit. (I wonder, should we call his peculiar brand “chickensuit journalism”?)
He is perhaps not the world’s most talented writer (his specialty is rants against religion where he drops the f-bomb), so when Kracht said Jump! Lyngar asked How high? Perhaps How low? would have been the better interrogative.
Ironically, Lyngar sometimes writes for The Good Men Project, “A website that examines what it means to be a good man in today’s society.” To paraphrase George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove: I don’t want to condemn the entire program on the basis of one failure. 😉
Still, it’s worth pondering what a good man or woman would do when asked to plant a false story in the media or join in a smear campaign. This short video helps illuminate the ethics:
As discussed in “Can Salon Learn,” the libel committed by Lyngar, Kracht, et al. was particularly hateful and aimed at smearing good people who couldn’t easily defend themselves. It was a Bambi vs. Godzilla situation, with Salon in the role of Godzilla. I’m also reminded of the film A Few Good Men, which dealt with the so-called Nuremberg defense (“I was only following orders”):
The film’s closing message is that the young marines on trial for killing a weaker kid were supposed to stick up for him. They were supposed to “fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves,” not take cheap shots.
Fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves is what good men do, but it’s not what Edwin Lyngar does. When asked to engage in a harmful act of journalistic corruption, Lyngar couldn’t even stand up to his own agent. And while Elizabeth Kracht deserves much of the blame for using Lyngar as her personal attack dog, he had long ago marked his territory as a propagandist for hire. Indeed, Salon recently published his manifesto advocating the abandonment of journalistic principles which better writers have spent their whole lives mastering:
I’m a former right-winger and I know the playbook. Here’s why liberals have to learn to talk big — and play dirty…
As a member of the frothing right wing, I always spouted nonsense, even when I wasn’t sure I believed it. Sometimes I would throw out really crazy stuff just to see how it fit the big picture and sometimes to get a rise from the opposition. Rhetorical bomb throwing is well respected on the right, and it’s not always a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with trying out ideas, letting them roll off the tongue to see how they sound. I’m always playing with ideas, most of which get discarded before I let myself believe them or write them down.
I call on my fellow liberals to embrace the rough stuff. Engage in battle with people who hate you and feel free to throw crazy right back, even if you only half believe it. Let it out and taste it on the way by. See if it flies. If it doesn’t, screw it — just fix it up next time. Refer to your political opponent as “the honorable shithead from New Jersey.” Use the words, images and for god’s sake, the passion of the street. People who hate and fear you will always hate you unless they die out, change their minds or we can beat them in a heated contest of ideas. You’re not playing checkers — and they’re winning by giving zero shits about reality, so cut the crap and fight like you mean it.
— Edwin Lyngar, “The Angry Right’s Secret Playbook”
Call me old-fashioned, but I think people who “talk big and play dirty” are scum. Lyngar has repeatedly shown himself to be a practitioner of post-truth journalism, where facts are considered irrelevant. His recklessness infuriates journalists across the political spectrum who, despite their differences, nevertheless believe that truth matters.
Still, even writers as clueless as Ed Lyngar deserve to be treated with a shred of decency by their agents. He might one day have developed a conscience and the critical skills needed to practice professional journalism. Now, thanks to the machinations of his agent, he’s consigned to the same bin as Sabrina Rubin Erdely — the bin marked Do not trust. Driven by ideology and ambition. Doesn’t check facts. Libel suit waiting to happen. Do you suppose Kimberley Cameron will refund whatever cut they took on the false Salon story? Not bloody likely, given the corruption factor.
It seems like Elizabeth Kracht is one agent to avoid, unless you’re willing to go beyond traditional posterior osculation and engage in risky behaviour which may be hazardous to your literary health. It’s your call as a writer.
Some of the places you might avoid Elizabeth Kracht include:
- TMCC Writers’ Conference (where she first met “her” author Edwin Lyngar)
- Kauai Writers’ Conference
- Idaho Writers’ Rendezvous in Boise
- Chuckanut Writers’ Conference in Bellingham, WA
- Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, OH
- Book Passage Mystery Writers’ Conference in Corte Madera, CA
So be careful how you drive this summer, and be careful who you osculate at conferences. Most literary agents are fine folk with sound ethics who’ll care about the quality of your writing and want to see you move in good directions — but a few could turn out to be vultures in disguise.
How far should you go to get a book deal? Do everything that’s legal, ethical, and consistent with the high mission writers have to be a voice of truth in our society. If you’re a less talented writer, polish your skills and your integrity rather than trying to advance by kissing up.
And if you must osculate, at least find a clean posterior! — one not mired in publishing industry corruption.
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
Sidebar: Why does truth matter?
Truth matters not just for high ethical reasons, but also for very practical ones. When journalists lie, people are harmed — not just the targets of the lies, but also the journalists themselves and the publications they write for.
On 12 May 2015, Dean Nicola Eramo of the University of Virginia filed a defamation suit against Rolling Stone, Wenner Media, and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, seeking $7.85 million in damages. The suit is an outgrowth of the false story “A Rape on Campus” which Rolling Stone published in December 2014 and later retracted. One takeaway from the 76-page complaint is that the defamatory statements “were not the result of an innocent mistake. They were the result of a wanton journalist who was more concerned with writing an article that fulfilled her preconceived narrative … and a malicious publisher who was more concerned about selling magazines[.]”
The same is true of the false Salon story, albeit a different set of prejudices, Internet-only circulation, and a corrupt literary agent added to the mix. The article “Can Salon Learn From Rolling Stone’s Mistakes? Part 1” analyzes the Rolling Stone story in depth, and shows how Salon committed the same journalistic blunders. If you’re a writer torn between standing up for truth and selling out to rank demagoguery, read the analysis, and read or skim the legal complaint against Rolling Stone. Then reread Ed Lyngar’s glib, abecedarian rant about fighting dirty, throwing out really crazy stuff you only half believe, and fixing it later. Such thinking is the reason Rolling Stone is being sued for 7.85 mil, and the reason journalists are often held in low esteem by the general public.
A first-rate literary agent would say: This guy Edwin Lyngar is an uncouth demagogue. But maybe if I give him some good advice and ask him to come back in a couple of years, maybe, MAYBE he’ll turn into a writer. But Liz Kracht’s thinking is more like: This guy Edwin Lyngar is an uncouth demagogue. But I happen to know that Salon is hiring uncouth demagogues to drum up page views. So we can make money off him today, plus I can use him as a kind of literary leg-breaker to help me with my personal vendettas. That’s why you should stay away from Liz Kracht (unless you’d rather become Luca Brasi than Italo Calvino).
To me, Kimberley Cameron & Associates is like Genco Pura Olive Oil Company in The Godfather. On the surface, everything looks very genteel; but scratch beneath the surface and you see that Kimberley Cameron is skimming money from the politics of personal destruction and the demise of fact-based journalism.
Why should you care? Because deep in your heart you know that truth matters, and the politics of personal destruction leaves no one standing.
Ed Lyngar: I made the hit.
Kimberley Cameron: Good boy. Some day we gonna make-a you a made guy!
What’s the ethical lesson here? If you’re an olive oil importer, don’t get mixed up in cutting off horses’ heads and leaving them on people’s pillows. If you’re a literary agency, don’t get mixed up in media smear campaigns which intentionally and maliciously harm innocent people. If one of your employees unapologetically engages in an act of wanton corruption, fire him/her and hire someone who doesn’t live their life in an ethical haze. It may be the Internet, but truth and integrity still matter. Sober words for an agency that increasingly seems “under the influence” — of hubris.
Note: Sharp criticism should thrust up. As a lone, non-commercial blogger with minority views and a small readership, I sometimes go after people who use demagoguery, sensationalism, and false sexual slurs to attract a large commercial audience. Those people are appropriate targets for criticism. Calling them out on their unethical behaviour is one way to effect positive change. See my About page for further discussion.