Filed under: Literary Hoaxes
Here’s the sixth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.
LiteratEye #6: Tracking an Elusive Author
By W.J. Elvin III
March 19, 2009
In the last column there was a sort of drive-by mention of author Stephen R. Pastore and the possibility that some of his prominence and recognition as an author is self-imposed. That observation was inspired by a reporter’s challenge to him and some questions raised by Wikipedia editors regarding his credibility. So far, rather than coming to the fore in his own defense, Pastore seems to be fading deeper into the literary mists.
This is beginning to look like a story that The New York Times and Washington Post will be digging into soon. So of course I wanted The Art of the Prank Blog readers to be able to say they saw it here, some of it at any rate, first. Why haven’t the heavyweights weighed in already? Well, venturing a guess, Pastore hasn’t yet appeared on Oprah, and that, the way I’ve got it figured, is the trigger for national media attention these days. First you spoof Oprah, then you show up on big media radar.
Pastore is a winner of the Aldous Huxley Prize for literature. The prize may not ring bells of recognition with you, but it was listed on a site devoted to literary awards. However, that site has since disappeared. When you dig it out of the Internet archives, there is indeed mention such an award, but details have been scrubbed.
One possibility is, the award never actually existed and whoever invented it attempted to erase any tracks. Could be. What’s another possibility? Fill in the blank __________________________.
Our featured artist has a dozen or fourteen books to his credit. Some are listed on Amazon as collaborations with such greats as Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and the Beat poet Gregory Corso. Since a number of those persons have taken leave of this vale of tears, must be Pastore completed long-lost manuscripts they left behind. Another possibility is, he edited collections of their work. I can’t find a review of his “Unnatural Acts of Intercourse” and the book is out of print (Maybe I should try a web search without filters? You try and let me know, I have a weak stomach). “Stephen M. King” is listed as co-author, but the work doesn’t come up as that of the popular author Stephen King, so there’s another puzzle.
The publishing houses for Pastore’s books all seem to trace back to him, no big deal. I self-published a book. It was on a topic of such limited interest I couldn’t imagine a publisher going for it. And I am publisher (editor, writer, chief of security, superintendent of maintenance) of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly, also an independent project. But I didn’t have the clever foresight to call myself “The Harvard Press,” as Pastore did.
You don’t suppose buyers in a hurry would take that for “Harvard University Press” by any chance? Well, not to worry, it’s disappeared too. For that matter, lots of sites connected with Pastore can no longer be found. In a discussion among Wikipedia editors it was noted that some publications and sites mentioned in reviews and articles substantiating Pastore’s credentials also cannot be located. One that I checked on shows up in a listing of “expired and deleted” web addresses, and others are available for anyone to grab. I’m still chasing them around.
In the last column, it was noted that Pastore possesses a world-class collection of literary fakes and frauds, and I wondered if some of his forgeries were forged. That would be difficult to establish, involving chain of ownership, comparative analysis and possibly forensic testing. Detective work of that sort would only come into play, possibly, if he were to sell the collection. Some forgeries are quite valuable – the work of Chatterton, Wise or Hofmann, for instance — so why wouldn’t the field be attractive to forgers? I posed that question to an expert and will let you know what I hear.
You have to wonder why, with all the questions raised here and there, Pastore has yet to comment. Could be he feels he needs no defense, having done no harm. Maybe the whole scenario is a CIA mind-control experiment, or the yet-to-be revealed work of a master prankster. Pastore himself has said of fakes and frauds: “It’s very difficult to fool people if they’re naturally suspicious, but they’re not. People want to believe this stuff, that’s a big part of it.”
As far as harm done, it might be that some has come to light as a result of my inquiries. Alicia Grega-Pikal, the enterprising reporter for Electric City, a Pennsylvania arts, theater and entertainment weekly, who first raised questions in print, reacted with suspicion when I asked where things stand with her challenges to Pastore. “As far as I know,” she replied “you, Pastore and Joey Skaggs are all the same person.” An interesting conjecture, but a combination the world just isn’t ready for at present.
Further, “I’m not interested in playing games with pranksters. I prefer to focus my energy on positive contributions to the community.” Well, it is true that pranks are often pure foolishness and sometimes very misguided. But what I learned from Joey Skaggs in my years of reporting on his performances is that they can also be tools for teaching and for consciousness-raising. His pranks have brought people face-to-face with issues they would as soon keep under the rug. As for pranks as an art form or theater, I haven’t evolved beyond cave-paintings in art appreciation and respectfully decline to assess that angle.
But back to the reporter who unearthed the problems with Pastore. Here is further evidence of the potential for harm. She says “it offends me that Pastore submitted false information with the expectation I would publish it as fact. Had I trusted he was well-meaning, my job would surely have been threatened when the truth was revealed. I have two children to support. Such recklessness, no matter how justified, is unacceptable.”
Grega-Pikal has hit on something here that I think is quite important. The internet, with all its wonders, has greatly diminished the role of the journalist. All sorts of information can be had without need for the middleman, and most newsworthy events can be streamed directly to an audience. So, my guess is that the role of the journalist in years ahead may be that of “authenticator.” The journalist would be someone trusted to vet the crap that floats around the Internet as “news,” providing a source readers could trust to sort the wheat from the chaff. And this, Grega-Pikal has done, or at least begun, in the Pastore case.
PS to Mr. Pastore: it seems probable that you follow the occurrence of your name on the Web. I would like to extend an invitation to address questions posed by the Electric City reporter and others, and perhaps you agree that The Art of the Prank Blog would be a forum par excellence for that effort. Kindly include a phone number for verification. Contact me via: Fionamagazine @ gmail.com