The “Garden Variety” Writer Exposed

Okay, the cat’s out of the bag. I can finally say that I knew Brian Plante’s Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers was fiction for most of its run. I began e-mailing Brian shortly after the series started, taking issue with the way he was playing unfairly with the writers in his group. He responded, in a rather civil and friendly way, but said that he planned on continuing the blog despite my objections and those of the other people who had e-mailed him to complain.

Encouraged that there might be a person with a real soul behind the e-mail, I continued the thread, and discovered that Brian really did care very much about how he was coming across, and he assured me that he had gone to “much greater lengths” than I could imagine to protect the people in his blog. I even did a little investigative web browsing, trying to point out to him how poorly the people were protected. I pinpointed the library where the group was meeting, the city they were in, and even attempted to check through back issues of the magazine in which he claimed to have found the ad for the group. I wasn’t able to find an exact ad, but I was convinced that an enterprising photographer (read out-of-work paparazzi) could hide out at the Hemby Bridge Library and snap blackmail photos of the group entering and exiting.

There was only one problem. I found reference to the county’s library system, and that it serviced the Hemby Bridge area. I could not find references to the shopping mall that Plante described. Enough of the details fit, however, that I was convinced Brian was endangering the trust of the people he was writing about. I could only think of one alternative, and that was that it was all fictional. At the end of one of our e-mails, I said to Brian that I hoped this was all made up so that he wasn’t playing with the lives of real people. He wrote back to confirm my guess the next day.

Brian asked me to keep quiet about it so the experiment could run its course, so I made mention of it in this journal a few times to see if I could assist in the experiment without directly exposing it. I did tell a few of my friends in Colorado about the blog’s fictional nature, because it hard sparked quite a controversy among us.

How do I feel about it now? I think it was a good experiment, and now that Brian has come clean about the nature of the blog, I think it succeeded. It’s a good way to illustrate some of the positive and negative workings of a writer’s group without betraying the trust of any real people. However, I also think it was a very risky thing for Brian to do to his career, and I know of a couple of people who lost respect for him because of the way he presented the fiction. Hopefully most editors and readers will look upon him with favor for daring to take the risk, rather than being upset with him for duping them.

Speaking of writer’s groups, the Melanie Tem group met tonight. I read what I had of “Chesterfield Gray” and got good feedback from the group as to where they thought the story should go. At the end of the meeting, I played “Ode to Billy Joe” on the guitar while Melanie sang the lyrics, aided by a few of the class participants. The assignment is to write something about what we think the narrator and Billy Joe threw off the Tallahatchee Bridge. I hope to come up with something completely off the radar and wedge it into a vignette before the next meeting.

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