The publishing world has produced another non-fiction fantasist. Margaret Seltzer, Peggy to her Sherman Oak friends, tried passing herself off as Margaret Jones, white-girl gang-banger of South-Central LA in her supposed autobiography, Love and Consequences. Now the publisher has recalled all remaining copies of the book, while Peggy tries to explain how she wound up selling a lie (via Memeorandum):
In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.
The problem is that none of it is true.
Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed.
Riverhead Books, the unit of Penguin Group USA that published “Love and Consequences,” is recalling all copies of the book and has canceled Ms. Seltzer’s book tour, which was scheduled to start on Monday in Eugene, Ore., where she currently lives.
In a sometimes tearful, often contrite telephone interview from her home on Monday, Ms. Seltzer, 33, who is known as Peggy, admitted that the personal story she told in the book was entirely fabricated. She insisted, though, that many of the details in the book were based on the experiences of close friends she had met over the years while working to reduce gang violence in Los Angeles.
Is it just me, or is this a trend of late? As a three-time novelist wannabe, I can attest to the difficulties of publishing fiction — although it helps if your novel doesn’t stink, as I also discovered the hard way. It seems that some have found a way around that path by simply changing the genre from fiction to autobiography, and that the politically correct nature of the subject matter gives credulousness a big boost.
Let’s take a look at the examples given by NYT book critic Mokoto Rich. In Love and Consequences, we have a half-white, half-Native American getting sucked into gang life and prevailing over it. In Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, the author wanted to sell herself as a Jewish victim, although her real life story might have proved at least somewhat interesting, had she decided to tell the truth. And in the Oprah Winfrey-endorsed A Million Little Pieces, James Frey wanted to amplify his status as a drug addict through exaggeration and outright lies.
All of these tales fit perfectly in the current culture. All of these authors used autobiographical frauds to show themselves as secular martyrs overcoming culturally-approved victimhoods. Both Seltzer and Misha Defonseca even went so far as to appropriate false ethnicities to make their stories more compelling, and in Defonseca’s case, believable at all. In fact, they presented stories that apparently were too good to check.
The professional media and publishing industry insists that they produce quality products because they have layers of editors and fact-checkers. Either those gatekeepers have declined in quality over the last few years, or the emergence of the New Media has shown that they had done poorly all along. Stephen Glass, Scott Beauchamp, Margaret Seltzer — they all told stories people wanted to hear, and the people who claim to ensure veracity were all exposed as well.