Is there any thrill more complete, any joy more unadulterated, than that of stumbling upon a new-to-you literary genre/subculture? Can any of life’s more typical pleasures–chocolate suckers from See’s, a sparkly-clean bathroom, a rollicking orgasm–possibly hope to compete?
Nope. They can’t.
And that’s why it brought me such unmitigated happiness, whilst idly clicking about online (I was looking for a discount subscription to Real Simple, if you must know), to discover the tawdry yet engrossing True Confessions magazine.
"Chained to His Bed!" "Seduced by a Priest!" "I Earned a College Education the Hard Way… On My Knees!" The stories’ titillating (hee hee) cover slugs only hint at the delights to be read therein. From underage seduction ("I Was a High School Hoochie!") to Hatfield-McCoy crime sprees ("My Brother Died in My Arms–Killed by My Boyfriend from a Rival Gang"), no stone in the murky marshes of lower-middle-class Americana goes unturned-over to see what wriggles beneath.
Though these magazines’ editors reportedly require authors to sign affidavits of their stories’ factual basis, I have my doubts… see this excerpt from "Makeover Disaster."
“Blaze, this is my sister, Kelsey,” I said, a flat tone in my voice. I couldn’t look at Blaze’s reaction.
“Hi Blaze, it’s so nice to finally meet you,” she purred as she sashayed over to him. Her high heels emphasized the sway of her walk and she reached out to take Blaze’s hand.
She glanced slowly down the length of his body, and then slowly back up at him. When her eyes reached his, she slowly batted her long, darkened eyelashes, licking her shiny lips. “You know, I think you look just like the lead singer from that rock band, Sane Lunatics.”
I stared at the floor, dejected. He did favor the guy Kelsey referred to, with his wavy shoulder-length blond hair and brown beard and long narrow face. He had rock star good looks. We all know what kind of women men like him fell for.
OK, besides the fact that my exhaustive research on Rhapsody reveals no such band as the Sane Lunatics (maybe the author was thinking of Nelly’s hometown crew St. Lunatics [warning… egregious Flash misuse]?)… sociological research has revealed that men are only named Blaze in ABC soap operas and the half-baked fantasies of the sort of women who slap their children in Wal-Mart.
Confession stories hew to a strict formula: low- to lower-middle-socioeconomic class woman is driven by financial, familial or romantic crisis to engage in transgressive activity (in the ’20s, it was "smoking dope"… now it’s pimping your teenage daughter or boffing the Schwan’s man). She eventually summons up the courage to confront her dilemma head-on, usually by confessing all to a Trusted Friend or Loved One (though apparently one confession isn’t enough, since she then feels compelled to share her story with thousands of Dear Readers). She is rewarded by a neat wrap-up of her problem that reinforces Middle American values of home, family, patriotism and coupon-clipping. All is well in the state of Denmark.
Apparently, I’m not the only person fascinated by the phenomenon of confession magazines… I found this cool article by John Marr of the SF Bay Guardian which goes a little more into their history and culture (and isn’t nearly as snide as I am. Kudos, John.).
You can also learn how to write confession stories of your very own from Michael Bracken at SFWA.
Go forth, read, enjoy! And remember… even if your mother forced you into 48 hours of sex with a fat banker, then sold nude photos of you to a horny sheik and reinvested the proceeds in a meth/gun-running racket… you can always churn out 2000 to 6000 words about it and sell it for a modest profit.