Williamson writer is sorry for book’s error

This was a front page headline in yesterday’s [Nashville] The Tennessean. The author of the article is Jonathan Marx, whom I will quote below.

The book is A Guitar and a Pen, a collection of stories by Music Row songwriters. Robert Hicks is a co-editor.

“The book has raised questions about its accuracy and authorship in a town [Nashville] where people pay close attention to writing credits.”

One of the stories, “He Always Knew Who He Was,” was attributed to music business veteran Hazel Smith.

“‘I did not write that,’ said Smith…”

“Presented as a real-life first-person narrative, the piece describes Smith accompanying bluegrass legend Bill Monroe on a trip to Washington, D. C., where he performed at the White House and received an honor from then-President Clinton.”

She did not go on the trip, and it turns out that the trip happened when Reagan was president.

Hicks has admitted to writing the story himself and is apologizing for some apparent inaccuracies. “His desire was to include Smith as part of A Guitar and a Pen … rather than having Smith write a story, however, he chose instead to ghost-write the anecdote…”

Hicks says, “The biggest problem, it seems, is a huge communication gap that occurred between Hazel and me. I thought she was aware which story (I was ghostwriting). Clearly, in hindsight, I find out she wasn’t.”

Robert Hicks is the author of the best-selling novel The Widow of the South. This is a poignant rendering of the Battle of Franklin [Tennessee]; the story is fictional, but based on the true story of Carrie McGavock, whose home, Carnton Mansion, was taken over by the Confederate army and made into a hospital during the battle.

I don’t know the inner workings or the inside story or the full story of what went on with A Guitar and a Pen. I just know what the newspaper printed. Even so, this is yet another reminder of how careful we writers have to be to get the nonfiction true and accurate and to get the fiction as far away from the truth as we can, so that not even one reader can recognize the characters in our stories. And we must make every effort to tie up all the loose ends.

[Quotations are from the above-mentioned article in The Tennessean, May 13, 2008]

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4 Comments on “Williamson writer is sorry for book’s error”

  1. gnossos says:

    That’s not entirely how it happened. I’m familiar with what happened, and I think I can clear some things up.

    First, Robert Hicks did not invent this story. Hazel Smith did, and has been telling it for years.

    Second, Hazel Smith wanted to be in the anthology, but didn’t want to actually write down one of her stories. Hicks volunteered to write down one of her stories for her.

    Third, Hazel Smith is being paid for her contribution. When it came time to sign the contract, she was offered the opportunity to read and edit her story. She refused.

    Fourth, On March 17, Hazel was so excited about her contribution to the anthology, that she wrote about it in her “Hot Dish” feature on CMT News: http://www.cmt.com/news/hot-dish/1583468/hot-dish-alan-jackson-and-ashton-shepherd-excel-with-their-new-albums.jhtml

    Fifth, because Hicks did not invent this story — Hazel Smith did — errors of fact are Hazel Smith’s. Hicks merely volunteered to help an old friend (and they are very old friends) by writing down her story for her, at her request. There are dozens of people in Nashville who have heard her tell that story just that way, with all of those so-called “facts”.

    Hicks agreed to include her story in the anthology, and even did the work of writing down the story she often told to the best of his recollection. He offered her the opportunity to edit it, to make sure he’d put down the story as she remembered it, and she refused. And he did this all out of real love for Hazel Smith. He has a picture of Hazel Smith above his desk, for heaven’s sake. He’s had her sons out to the house to play for industry folks, to help them out.

    They’ve been friends for many years, and now she throws him under the bus. Very nice and very Christian of her.

  2. inktarsia says:

    Maybe these various fictional nonfiction pieces have been floating around for years, but there does seem to be a large rash of ’em lately. Is this the literary equivalent of premeditated bankruptcy? Publish what you want, in any form you want, and then if you’re caught in the lie, just say OOPS. Darn, sorry about that.

    I realize that getting caught kills a book (at least one hopes), but perhaps a publisher should recall the books, including sold copies. If other businesses are expected to stand behind their products, why not editors and publishers? Puts a great burden on editors/publishers of smaller projects (such as a local anthology)–guess a good stiff legal contractual clause and a fact-checking effort would be in order–but nonfiction bankruptcy devalues the entire genre.

  3. John says:

    Kathy-

    I first read about this yesterday, and I have to say it is a strange story. How could Hicks think this was an appropriate thing to do? Furthermore, how could he have possibly thought he’d get away with it and no one would find out? Very interesting.

    John

  4. inktarsia says:

    Interesting insight on the story, gnossos. Kathy – you’re so right. This underscores the need for good, clear communication.


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