Here’s the tenth 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 #10: Poetic Injustice
By W.J. Elvin III
April 17, 2009
Every generation has its crop of dazed and confused kids, looking for somebody to be. Years ago, the actor James Dean was somebody to be. And then, at the age of 24, piloting his new silver Porsche 550 Spyder, he left us wannabes behind and headed for the stars.
So I was enthused, in a nostalgic way, when I discovered a book, “Rebel With a Pen: the Poetry of James Dean.” How wonderful. I mean, that was the Beat era, so I figured reading Dean would be reminiscent of Jack Kerouac and the “sporadic bop prosody” poetry gang.
The fact is, James Dean didn’t write these poems. But you won’t learn that from the book’s cover, where all indications are that it’s genuine James.
Inside, you discover they were channeled to Carlton Hayes, whoever that is. We are not given many clues. “I look at the pillow where once you lay your head” implies a rather close relationship with Dean, but no record of any such thing exists.
It’s a fairly slim volume, 44 pages, priced at $22. That’s 50-cents a page. Well, you have to charge a hefty price for poetry. It’s harder to write than plain English, plus you have to line sentences up so it looks like a shopping list. And in this case, there’s also the extra work of hitting the capital letters key when you write bad words (“SHIT”), plus having to remember back to eight years old so as to write what seemed secret and shameful back then.
Speaking of channeling, I notice in the accompanying poster that autographed copies of Dean’s book will be on sale at the reading. Dean died in 1955. The book was published in 2008.
Well, let’s cut to the chase.
I wrote to the James Dean Museum for comment on the poems but they declined. I got the same non-response from one of his biggest fan clubs.
As noted, the book doesn’t offer any way to contact “editor” Carlton Hayes. He doesn’t turn up in a Web search. Maybe he’s in the spirit world, too, and channeled the book to a publisher? Let’s ask the publisher.
The title page says the publisher is “Dover Press.” So does the spine.
Officials at Dover couldn’t quite get their heads around what I was telling them. I can sympathize with that. Why the hell would anybody put Dover’s name on a title page if Dover didn’t publish the book? But I think they got it when put in monetary terms, their good old reliable name adds credibility at “point-of-sale,” where a customer would see it before heading for the cash register.
Elsewhere, on the Web and in official documents, the publisher is listed as the obscure Cohort Press, a company that no longer exists, if it ever did as anything other than a name. You can still find footprints, though – there are Cohort pages among web archives, and there was a screenshot of it’s disappeared opening page on a site maintained by a web page designer. She’d saved it as an example of her work.
If the front cover and title page are baloney, what about the back cover?
The back cover offers several quotes in praise of the work. Try tracking down sources, though, and three of the four lead to dead ends. No such author, or no such publication. But at last there is a “live one,” from the Reader Views web site.
, attributed to reviewer John Cartwright.
Irene Watson of Reader Views said, yes, Cartwright had reviewed some books for the site. But when she looked for a review of the Dean book, it wasn’t anywhere to be found. “It certainly is possible the review was fabricated under our name.”
So, let’s see, we’ve got a real web site, a real reviewer, but a fake quote. Doesn’t add up. I asked if there was a way to contact Cartwright for a possible explanation.
Turns out she’d had some bad experiences with Cartwright around “nasty” and “horrible” emails, so he was banned from further reviewing, and she’d flushed his address.
Reader Views caters to new authors and poets and is generally kind, and, she said, Cartwright’s reviews tended to be “scathing.”
Although I couldn’t find Cartwright anywhere, at least not the right Cartwright, that word “scathing” stuck in my mind. I’d read some scathing reviews lately, but not by Cartwright. I’d followed around after Stephen R. Pastore (see LiteratEye #6: Tracking an Elusive Author) and some of his alter-egos on Amazon as they reviewed various books, and those reviews were often nothing but “scathing.” Coincidental?
I don’t think so.
It happens that Pastore’s major literary work under his own name is a revisionist history titled “Never On These Shores.” Out of curiosity, I went back to Reader Views to see if that book had been mentioned on the site.
“Never On These Shores” met with mixed reviews in the book world. “It might just be the worst book I ever read,” wrote Diane Neer on the Live and Let Di book review site. And this lady has read a lot of books. “I just hate to see anyone part with money for a book that is such a sham,” she told me, “when there are so many great authors out there who deserve both the dollars and the readership so much more.”
Diane Neer does not stand alone. Another reviewer’s dismissal included: “I hated this one.” I could dig out more but you get the gist of the general reception.
There was also praise, some of it quite possibly legitimate, but most of it traces back to the extraordinary artistry of Stephen R. Pastore. I can’t imagine how much time and effort went into weaving the tangled web of phony reviewers and fake publications – hopefully, he’ll come forward soon to accept the recognition he so richly deserves.
Well, sure enough, back at the Reader Views site I found a review of “Never on These Shores.” It is lengthy and it glows. To cull a few phrases: “”¦there is so much good writing in this book that one could spend hours talking about it “¦ What an immense joy it is see such a book emerge “¦ moments of true great writing “¦ Pastore leaves us wanting – no, begging – a continuation”¦”
Wow. The reviewer is obviously much taken. And by strange coincidence — here we go again — the reviewer is none other than our old pal from the back of the James Dean book, John Cartwright.
I think at this point Irene Watson was getting a little edgy about my poking around. But, though obviously frustrated by the weirdness that was turning up, she gamely replied to my next inquiry regarding Cartwright/Pastore: “It’s obvious they are friends…or the same person. I think they are friends.”
One way of developing some information about a book is through the ISBN (International Standard Book Number), a code for the country of origin, the publisher, and the edition. No luck. If you punch this book’s number into a search box, all you get is the name of a distributor.
So you need one of two expensive tomes that list the codes and relevant information. Out here in the boonies those books aren’t handy, but I did find someone to clue me in. (I need a ratty raincoat, stub of cigar and a Peter Falk accent for this one: “What a surprise finding you here, Mr. Pastore.”)
Yep, though he’s mentioned nowhere in the Dean book, the ISBN’s owner is none other than Stephen R. Pastore.
By the way, a tip of the hat to the Art of the Prank reader who sent along Pastore’s email address! The elusive author hasn’t replied to a note, but who knows? Maybe we’ll hear from him “¦ or Carlton Hayes “¦ or John Cartwright “¦
Or maybe we’ll hear from the man himself.
Have we got a clear channel, James? Hey, got a question for you, man. Here on page 29 of this fake book of your phony poems. Could you just give us some kind of sign, something to assure us, now and forever, that you never, not in a million years, wrote anything even remotely like the line about “Music from a gramophone that squiggles on the celluloid of my heart“?
(Copyright 2009 WJE, exclusive to The Art of the Prank, for reprint rights contact Literateye@gmail.com)