(I joke a lot but what I’m about to tell you is not a joke.)
A comment came in to my blog today. It came from a high school friend who seems to admire my writing. I never mind receiving compliments.
The problem with the comment that came in today was that part of it involved a fraud.
Just as my friend remarked that I am “talented and unique,” she also referred to certain “childhood letters to celebrities” written by me.
Over the space of several years beginning around 2009, there existed a Facebook page called “Letters from Clay.” On it were pictures of letters composed by an eight- or nine-year-old Clay Russell of San Antonio, Texas. The letters were addressed mostly to movie stars (Gene Kelly, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra) and public officials (President Nixon, Governor Reagan, J. Edgar Hoover).
In those letters the writer complained, complimented and commented on various affairs of the day, always with precocious fervor. People seemed to enjoy reading the letters, and they believed that I wrote them.
It was reasonable that they so believed because the letters captured a certain smart edge that I had as a child and like to believe I have now. In fact as a child I did write letters to government officials and corporate executives when they did things I appreciated or wished to criticize.
But I didn’t write the letters on that Facebook page, nor did I operate the Facebook page at all. It was made up. I was all but certain about who was generating the material for the page, but because folks seemed to enjoy the whole thing I for the most part played dumb. That was a mistake on my part. When people in the early days of the Facebook page remarked on “my” letters, I’d hold up my hands and say with a grin, “That’s not my page and I’m not in control of it.”
That went on for a while, even as new letters emerged from Clay Russell to Hubert Humphrey, Dean Martin and Julia Child.
Sometime around 2012, however, I decided to try my hand at serious writing, meaning for publication or money. I began sending essays to websites with readership far, far broader than my own. I launched my blog.
It was then that I at last approached the person I was by then sure to be the source of “Letters from Clay.” For all the charms of the Facebook page, I said, I worried that it could muddle my online identity. I asked that “Letters from Clay” be taken down.
The page’s owner, with little discussion, agreed to do as I asked, and that was that. Or so I thought.
A year later, maybe less, I received an email from a friend. Just as today, that person expressed admiration for my writing, and just as today I felt a chill of satisfaction.
“And I saw your book on Amazon!” she said.
“On Amazon! Your book!”
A quick search by me produced evidence that such a book indeed existed.
It was a punch in the gut.
I composed an email to the author, conveying my dismay and disappointment about the book based on imagined letters by me. He did not deny what he had done and agreed to remove the book from Amazon.
The deceit brought, for the most part, the end to a long personal relationship.
I wrote many letters as a child but none of those in “Letters from Clay.”